Are you ready to record your audiobook? Before you start doing vocal exercises, let’s discuss some of the logistical and legal considerations that all authors must be aware of.
Do you control the audio rights for your book? If you published your book with a publisher, it’s likely that they own the rights and not you. Ask the publisher if you’re not sure. If you’ve self-published, you probably do own the rights. Check this one off and move to the next decision point.
Do you have the time to record your book? Most authors will need two hours of recording time for every “finished hour” of audio. Let’s put it this way: if the final runtime of your audiobook book is 4 hours, expect 8 hours of recording time or roughly 1.5 days in the studio.
To estimate how long your book will be, divide the total number of words in your manuscript by 9,000. (A typical voice actor will read about 9,000 words per hour.) That will give you the “finished hours,” or final length, of the audiobook. Then double that number to estimate how long you will be in the studio.
Here’s an example:
Manuscript word count = 45,000 words
45,000 / 9,000 = 5 hours
Multiply the estimated finished hours (5 in this case) by 2 to get the studio time
So, 5 x 2 = 10 hours of recording time
Remember that the studio/engineer will need some time to set up, get levels, do backups, and do file & script sending after the session. This can take 30-60 minutes per session. For this reason, it’s more efficient to use as few sessions as possible to record your audiobook.
Additionally, the number of hours you spend depends on how many breaks you take, how many interruptions there are, and how focused you are during the session. If you take a shorter lunch, are super focused, have prepared, and are willing to push yourself, you can accomplish a lot in a single day of recording. If everything goes well, you can expect to complete 3+ finished hours of work in a day.
We sometimes book two days of studio time and have an author blow through the book in one long day without affecting the quality of the final product. We’ve also had authors spend an extra day or two in the studio.
There are many things that affect how long it will take to record your audiobook, but if you use the simple equation above, you should get pretty close to estimating the actual time it will take to record your book.
There is a lot to consider when deciding whether to record your book yourself. There are budget, content, and technical considerations that will all affect your decision.
Contact us for a more comprehensive discussion of the process we walk authors through to figure out if they should record their own book.
If you decide not to record the book yourself, hire a professional to record your book and not your neighbor who has a good voice. For more info related to hiring a narrator, contact us.
Have a professional sound engineer record you, preferably someone with audiobook experience
I don’t recommend that authors record themselves. No, this is not a ploy to get more work!
Audiobook recording is not a skill that is easily learned. There’s a lot happening when you record an audiobook. Here’s a sampling of some of the things a good recording engineer will need to pay attention to while the recording is happening:
Well, you get the idea.
Ideally, the person you select will have audiobook recording experience. This will ensure the best product. However, we understand that not everyone will have the budget to hire a professional studio. In this case, I would look for an “intern”-type person who is looking to learn. They may not have experience in long-form narration, but they understand the recording process and are committed to the project.
This person might be just out of recording school and looking to get some real experience. They may do other types of recording but be interested in audiobooks. The key is having someone there who can identify and solve major recording issues. Things like chain distortion, hums and buzzes, and phasing will probably be caught even by a newbie.
You may be able to fix issues after the recording is complete. To do so, you will need to hire an experienced engineer with expensive software (which can be very pricey). Fixing things after you record is not ideal. The cost of fixing issues in post production can be more than the entire fee to hire an engineer in the first place!
Recording issues should be avoided since they can dramatically impact the sound of your audiobook downstream. All of the companies who sell audiobook for download will be compressing the heck out of those files. As they do, troublesome issues begin to manifest as strange sounds. Think of noises that came from a scene of a bad horror movie. I’m not kidding. Recording artifacts in highly compressed audio sound really terrible and will annoy most listeners.
If you have the budget, the best approach is to have a professional audiobook studio (like Verity!) record you. This will ensure that all the solvable problems are avoided and that your audiobook is at the quality level needed to have a retail-ready product. Verity’s studios are triple soundproofed and acoustically tweaked specifically for recording audiobooks. They are extremely quiet and they sound natural. We have industry-standard recording equipment and a stable environment that doesn’t change. All of that means consistency. More than all that, though, we have the knowledge.
At a minimum, have someone with you during the recording who understands the audio recording process and can help you avoid the issues that will derail your audiobook.
The primary question to ask yourself is this: Will the listener have a better experience if I read my book or if a professional does? This will depend on many factors, but one thing to keep in mind is that some book genres are more suited to having an author read and some a professional.
For fiction, we typically recommend that the author hire a professional. This is especially true for books that have a lot of characters. Many authors struggle to create believable character voices and dialogue. This is especially true if your characters are from other places. I have heard authors stop themselves about 10 seconds into an attempt at a Southern or British accent to ask the question, “What should I do here!?” There’s not much to do at that point!
The author is typically an appropriate choice as narrator when the content is personal. As good as the pros are, they aren’t always able to create the authentic voice that naturally comes from the author. Some examples of genres that work well are:
For obvious reasons, memoirs can be better when read by the author. The personal nature of the content lends itself well to an author read especially if the books include stories that are deeply personal.
Keep in mind, of course, that the right professional narrators can tell your story well. At Verity, we’ve won more awards in the memoir category than any other.
Self-help content works well as an author read because it is also typically full of personal stories, anecdotes, and examples. Since most of us want to be inspired by someone who has actually done the things they are writing about, authors in this category can inspire us since they typically write from a position of authority and personal experience.
The ideas authors write about in nonfiction books are passionately written and expertly researched. Who better to disseminate the information than the author? Many times, the author is writing that book because they know the content better than anyone!
To sum up, there are times we lean towards casting the author and times that we don’t. We always encourage the author to spend some time practicing. This will help you decide if you think you are the best choice. If you discover that you don’t enjoy reading out loud, we can help you hire a pro. If you find it invigorating and find that you read well, then hire yourself!
Are you curious whether or not you should read your own book? Send us a sample and ask us for an opinion!
Great! You’ve worked through the “before you record” checklist and have avoided some of the upfront issues that can affect your audiobook.
By following the suggestions below, you will be able to tackle your recording like a pro and make the production process efficient for everyone involved!
Before You Record…
Reading your book out loud, before getting into the studio, is an important part of the preparation process. The process of reading your book out loud beforehand can save you a ton of stress when you are in the studio. Here are some of the reasons we suggest it:
Sitting down to read your book out loud will allow you to get comfortable with doing just that…reading out loud. Most authors have never read their material out loud prior the recording. Doing so will give you a feel for how you’re going to sound. It will make the recording process go more smoothly and help make the content fresh the day of recording. For that reason, you’ll want to do it a few days prior to the recording—not weeks before.
Many authors come into the studio and say things like, “Wow, my book sounds a lot different when I read it out loud!” or “I wish I would have done this beforehand!” Even Elizabeth Gilbert, during an interview to promote the release of Big Magic, mused that recording the audio version of her book made her wish for the time to do an extra round of edits. So you’re in great company if you’re continuing to tweak things as your recording sessions draw near.
You will probably want to make some changes to your manuscript to ensure your audiobook is the best it can be! Typically, there are a lot of decisions to be made when recording a book, and it’s best to make those decisions BEFORE you start recording and not in the studio when you’re trying to give the performance of your life! Some of the issues authors face in manuscripts are as follows:
If you only have a PDF, you may not be able to reformat your book completely. In that case, I’d suggest marking the script with a program like iAnnotate. You can cross out things, make notes, and write problem pronunciations in-line with the text. (More about iAnnote a little later!)
Another reason to read your book out loud prior to recording is to make sure you are aware of any issues you might encounter during the recording. The book is final, right? What issues could come up!? We’ve seen major things pop up on recording day. Say, the book has A LOT of typos in it, or changes weren’t made (that you thought were supposed to be made). All of the sudden, you’re not sure if this is the final, recordable script! The editor, unfortunately, is in Belize on vacation. It’s Saturday. Well, you get the idea. It’s better to know what you are getting into before you sit down in the chair.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, Hey, I wrote this book. I know what’s in there. Well, we all know it takes a village to write a book, and sometimes the villagers aren’t as reliable as we hope. They go to war. They cheat and steal. If we’re not paying attention, we pay the price. Point is, final changes by editors are common. Many items improve the book. Others are unwelcome. Better to know up front!
In summary, you don’t want to be running into frustrating things on the day of your recording. It will put a damper on the day and can really affect your mood. You can avoid all this by doing a little prep upfront.
Here are some of the issues we see in “final” manuscripts that cause authors consternation:
Knowing this up front gives you a chance to fix the problems, mark them or reschedule the recording.
A character list is a list of every character in the story, where they’re from, and a little about them. It’ll save your butt with fiction. It’s more important when you’re not recording the book yourself, especially when you’re using a professional to read AND they’re reading the book cold.
Cold reads happen way more than you’d think. Many authors assume that narrators spend a great deal of time prepping to record fiction. The truth is that some do and some don’t. Some need to, and others don’t. I’ve worked with narrators who read fiction cold and knock it out of the park, while others I’ve sent home to do more prep. Regardless, having a character list helps everyone, including the engineer/director who has probably not read the book.
In fiction, problems arise when characters are introduced and not enough information is given at that point in the story. Over the course of the book, details about the character trickle in and you find out that she is Australian, she speaks slowly and methodically or has a habit of taking crystal meth! “Dang, wish I knew that!”
Knowing about the characters in your story can really help the talent get the performance right. Remember that even if the talent does prep the book well, they may not read every page. Missing something important can cause issues in post like having to pick up a bunch of dialogue (which is never good). It can really break the flow of those sections.
The best character lists also provide a bit of plot summary and something about the motivations of each character. They will have written pronunciations of the character names as well.
You don’t need to write another novel to explain your novel. Keep it simple and just write a sentence or two about each major character and a ½ page to explain the overall plot of the novel.
Scan or read your book and look for pronunciations that may be an issue for you. Write out phonetically how each should be spoken.
Some of us can read well and some, well, can’t. It’s always awkward when an author comes into the studio, sits down, and starts reading, and you realize that they can’t string three words together without a mistake. Let’s face it, not everyone is good at reading out loud. Even super smart people have trouble with it.
Recording an audiobook takes an enormous amount of focus and concentration. It’s really hard work. Some of the authors I’ve worked with who were gung-ho about reading their book pass on reading the next time the opportunity comes around.
In some cases, reading your own book can be detrimental to the effort of marketing your book. Since publishing is all about marketing, this can be a big problem. You don’t want to receive a bunch of negative comments and reviews about the audiobook. It’s bad marketing for the book. Sometimes, these bad reviews spill over onto the print book reviews and pull your rating down there.
The bottom line is this: read to your ability. If you have trouble pronouncing some words or fumble here and there when you read, don’t stress about it too much. We can take a lot of that out, and mistakes can easily be re-read. However, if you want perfection, that may not be possible or even worth shooting for.
Do your best, and most importantly, don’t stress. Relax and trust yourself. If something just doesn’t sound right, reread it but resist the temptation to re-read too much. If you’re starting a sentence over in every paragraph, then you’re probably self-correcting too much. Lower your expectations slightly. Ideally, you’ll be stopping 6-8 times per page (10-12 at the most).
Self-directing is a huge problem with authors. That is the biggest reason projects fall apart. I’ve worked with authors who want to re-read every sentence multiple times to get “the best take.” This has resulted in situations where the studio and editing costs are prohibitive and the book is never released.
If you have a strong perfectionistic instinct, consider hiring an experienced audiobook producer or engineer who can help you get what you need. Trust them. Give them the freedom to stop you, and keep reading if they don’t! They’ll know when something needs to be redone.
Many studios will ignore the problem and just let authors run with it. Why not, they’re getting paid by the hour! Bad idea. This type of apathy can create a tricky situation for you and your post team. It’s extremely difficult in post to get a cohesive product when the talent reads content over and is constantly starting and stopping. When reading a new sentence, non-professional readers tend to begin slightly louder with increased energy and force. This makes piecing the takes together a monumental task for the editor.
Our approach is to help authors focus on making a connection with the text. Your listener will accept reading that is less than perfect if they sense you are passionately engaged with the text. Remember, the listener is there to learn something. They’re looking for information that will change their lives. They’re not nearly as concerned about a word that didn’t come out perfectly!
One of the most difficult things for some authors to do is to sit still. If you move in the studio, it will probably be heard. Even if you’ve taken our advice and you’ve worn the right clothing, taken off your jewelry, etc., small movements that happen while you record will likely be heard.
Some authors want to keep the energy and stay animated. They envision themselves on a stage speaking to thousands. When that mental exercise results in waving their arms, the engineer will probably stop you!
When authors arrive at our studio, one of the first tips I give them is to be perfectly still when recording. For those of you who aren’t sure if you can keep still, the following tips might help:
Reading a book out loud requires a monumental amount of focus and energy. That said, we all know that it is difficult to do anything well when you’re tired. The night before your recording session is not the best time to catch up on the fourth season of Breaking Bad. Better to get to bed early, and don’t forget to drink water the night before your scheduled session.
Drinking a lot of liquids is one of the most important things you can do when recording your audiobook. Drinking will help you avoid mouth problems in the studio and will keep you alert and fresh throughout the session. It will improve focus and keep swelling down (since you will be sitting so much of the day!).
If you must have coffee in the morning (like me), limit your intake on the days you record to maybe a cup or two. Why? Coffee dehydrates you. Every cup puts you further behind in staying hydrated for your session.
Why all the hype? Dehydration causes your mouth to be dry, and a dry mouth causes one of the most problematic issues we deal with in the audiobook recording process: mouth noise. Mouth noise sounds like small clicking noises when the person speaks. These noises are extremely problematic because they typically can be heard over the reading and are very difficult to fix (if not impossible). Mouth noise can actually be distracting enough to cause someone to stop listening to your book!
Quick note: Some people produce more mouth noise than others. If that’s you, it’s critical to follow all of the steps above to stay hydrated when you are in the studio.
Recording microphones pick up everything, and I mean everything. Stomach noise, swallowing, quiet breaths, etc. But the thing that causes the most problems in a recording session can actually be completely prevented: it’s your clothes.
If you simply move or rub your shirt while speaking into a professional microphone, the sound will be heard, and you will need to back up to re-record what was just read. Below are some tips to avoid fighting with your clothing on recording day…
We had a famous athlete come in last year in a full nylon suit. It was causing problems left and right in the session. We had him take the jacket off and sit completely still so the pants didn’t make noise. This was not easy for him. It was a nightmare for both of us. A week later, he was back in sweats and a tee shirt. That session went a lot better!
To figure out if you’re dressed right, go into a quiet room and start moving around. If what you’re wearing seems to be noisy, change before going to record.
Anything hanging, especially on your wrists, can make noise. Make sure to remove that Brighton 40 charm bracelet before you get to start recording, or, better yet, leave it at home. It will make sounds that will show up in the recording. Watches with metal bands also pose problems.
It’s best just to remove all jewelry, except maybe your ring(s).
Remember, you are recording an audiobook, not participating in a fashion show. Nothing is worse than sitting in a chair for 5 hours and finding out that your jeans are too tight, or that you’re overdressed or uncomfortable.
So, what does work?
The director/engineer will probably be in sweatpants and a tee shirt. He’s there to make a great product, and probably won’t even notice what you’re wearing. Don’t feel the need to dress up for your recording session. Nobody else there will be!
Studios can get cold. They also have a lot of gear running, and without the air on, it can get hot in there, too! Also, the temps in the control room and the booth can be different. That’s because studios typically have to control how much air noise goes into the booth. To compensate, we may cool the booth down before you arrive to get ahead of the heat. We want you to be comfortable, and making it a little cooler upfront will help the temps stay more comfortable later in the day. So bring an extra layer!
Phones are distracting. They buzz and beep and go off during the session, surprising and annoying everyone involved. The recording process is an all-in endeavor and requires the focus and dedication of all. Don’t let your phone hold you back from creating the best product you can make.
Printed scripts are so 2014. I remember the year we went paperless in the studio. It was a bit of a transition but once we did, I don’t think we’ve had a paper in our studio since. Here are some tips to make sure you don’t have paper rustling in your audiobook recording!
(we use the larger iPad Pros)
You need to record without paper to make sure you don’t make noise in the booth. In the pre-iPad days, when the talent needed to go to the next page, they had to move the sheets just before reading to the end of the page. If they tried to move the sheets while they were talking it would make a rustling noise.
The director or engineer would instruct them to read up to the last paragraph and then to stop and turn the page. Sometime the talent would forget. This would mean then reading to the very end of the page, taking a short pause, and then some memorizing of the first part of a sentence on the next page. It was very cumbersome. Not to mention the fact that every paper turn needed to be removed later by the editor. No bueno.
The engineer also needs an iPad. She will use a program to mark the manuscript for the editor. She will note mistakes, script issues, re-reads, noise, and any other issues the editor needs to know. Doing this digitally saves time since we can send the script and audio right away and get to editing that very day! Before the digital manuscript era, we had to physically mail the marked script to the editor.
For annotation, we use iAnnotate in our studios.
Programs like iAnnote are typically pretty sophisticated, if not downright confusing. It’s recommended that you spend some time up front to get to know how to use your annotation software. This will include downloading it and clicking around or watching some videos to learn about the features it offers. You will only use a fraction of these features, but they complicate the interface and can make doing even basic things challenging in the app. Annotation software can be overwhelming when you first use opens it.
As the author, you won’t be doing much in the program except maybe marking some things you want to remember after the recording. Marking issues as you record is recommended because it will give you a permanent record of what needs to be fixed before printing (or in the next run). Alternatively, you can ask the engineer to mark things for you and send the script after the session.
Taking breaks is important. It will improve your mood and performance and make the whole process more enjoyable for everyone. Not to mention that people need to use the facilities every once in awhile! I’m a big-time coffee drinker in the morning. When a session goes on and on, at some point when I’m supposed to be completely focused on the book, all I can think about is relieving myself! Breaks are necessary, and they help create a rhythm that will make things go smoothly.
Some authors find recording painful. Since they don’t enjoy the recording process, they will sometimes decide to try to get out of dodge and bang the whole thing out as quickly as possible! They will read quickly and avoid taking breaks. This does not help us get you the best audiobook possible In these situations, we will force the talent to take breaks at least hourly, if not more often, even if it’s just a few minutes.
Too much coffee the morning you record
Excessive alcohol use preceding the recording
Showing up tired. (Get a lot of sleep the night before you record.)
Forgetting to hydrate the night before, the morning of, and during your session.
Bringing your entourage
It’s best not to bring others with you the day of the recording. If you do need to bring along someone for moral support, we recommend bringing no more than one person. A large group will make a lot of noise and create distractions. Even though most studios have a pretty good separation between rooms, many sounds can still be picked up. As I’ve been hammering home, recording audiobooks is all about focus, determination and working with a competent engineer/director to get the best product you’re capable of. The group will probably not have the experience to help in that process.
Many professionals believe that dairy can cause problems when you record. We recommend authors drink tea with lemon and honey but not milk or cream. Not everyone is affected by dairy. However, if you’re susceptible to issues like digestive problems, bloating, and mucus production that can come with dairy consumption, it’s probably better to skip the dairy before and during the recording of your audiobook. Also, keep in mind that avoiding dairy may not be as painful as you think since you can always substitute coconut, soy or almond milk.
Recording is really hard work. Most authors can’t appreciate the amount of energy it takes to do what the pros do…record 100+ pages of audio a day, day in and day out.
A good rule of thumb is that you can spend about 4-5 hours recording (not including breaks). This is just a guideline. I’ve seen authors burn out in an hour or two, and others go 8 hours with very little issues or variance in their voice or performance. At that point, I’m the one who’s tired!
Most authors burn out after about 4 hours of actual recording. I will stop an author if I begin to hear a rasp in their voice, or if I believe the performance is suffering due to overexertion.
A note: I’ve seen some authors online who suggest doing a lot of shorter sessions. There’s give and take to this approach. This requires your engineer and director to travel to the session more times than is necessary. They probably won’t like this approach, since they’ll be blocking out their entire day but only making a portion of what they could make on another job.
Additionally, most studios won’t book short sessions. Unless it’s off-hours, the studio will have a minimum of, say, 4-6 hours, since it probably won’t get any other work that day. Most studios plan to have their booths booked for a full day.
To sum up, let’s say you are able to record the standard 3-4+ hours in a day. With set up and breaks, you’ll pay for 4-7 studio hours of studio time per day.
As the talent, remember your position in relation to the mic and keep it consistently in the same spot. If you shift in your chair and move positions, this can potentially change the sound of the recording. A good engineer will quickly notice a change in the sound, but many who are new to recording may not.
One thing I’ve seen happen often is that the talent will move the mic out of the way when they leave for the break. After the break, they’ll come back into the booth, sit back down and start recording…
The mic at this point is completely off axis (out of recording range for the spec of the mic) and the recording sounds completely different. If this happens, it’s likely that you will need to go back and re-record the affected sections or suffer from much lower quality. This will also seriously impact your ability to pick up mistakes in those sections if any are found since it will be nearly impossible to recreate the sound of those sections in a later session.
When I was a new engineer, I made that mistake once. We tried to fix in post but were not able to. It was embarrassing, but I had to ask the talent to return and re-record several chapters. Although they appreciated our commitment to quality, they obviously weren’t super excited about the oversight. Now, I glance into the booth though the window after every break. It’s a good habit to develop if you want to avoid mic placement issues in your sessions.
The very best voice actors read the content in front of them with total conviction. As an author, you have some passion around your book. You want people to get the content so that it can change them in some way. Them believing that you believe what you’ve written will go a long way. Possibly the best way for you to convince a reader that you believe your content is to read the words you’ve written as though you do.
Many authors get caught up in how they’re sounding, how many mistakes they are making or things they discover in the text. All of that matters much less than delivering a fully engaged and convincing read for the listener.
If you have any questions about audiobook recording or are looking for a place to record, feel free to contact us. We would love to help!