In our modern world, audiobooks have become increasingly popular, with the average person listening to over eight of them per year.
As more and more distractions come into our lives, the ability to consume books while on the go has become increasingly desirable. Over 70% of audiobook listeners do so while multitasking.
So, it’s pretty clear that releasing your book in audiobook format could lead to some extra sales.
But not all authors know what goes into making an audiobook, and that’s why we’ve created this guide.
We’ve teamed up with Timothy Howard Jackson who also records Romance as Jack Calihan. Between the two names he has narrated more than 130 audiobooks in just over 3 years for some information from the narrator’s point of view.
Without further ado, let’s jump into our ultimate guide on creating an audiobook!
Table of Contents
Why Make an Audiobook
The main reason an author would want to create an audiobook is, well, to make more money.
Audiobooks have the opportunity to capture a completely different audience than an eBook or printed book would.
People are discovering that they can enjoy a book while they do other tasks, like commuting, exercising, or housework.
So if you don’t create an audiobook, you have an untapped market.
Another reason to create an audiobook is that they are a new form of art.
Allowing a professional to interpret your words and add something to them – to give even more dimension to the emotions and events that unfold in your work is something incredible. This applies even if you do it (well) yourself.
Why Not Make an Audiobook
The first reason an author should not make an audiobook is if they do not have the necessary funds or time commitment to produce one.
It’s very difficult to provide an expected cost to produce an audiobook, but expect the average length audiobook (10 hours) to cost around $3,000.
Some authors try to bypass this investment by doing a royalty split, but in the event your book succeeds you’ll lose a lot of money in the long run.
It all depends on how much risk you’re willing to take.
Another reason to not create an audiobook is if you’re expecting the book to generate sales for the book itself.
An audiobook will not rescue a failing book, no matter how incredible your narrator is. On that same note, creating an audiobook to become a “complete” author is a poor reason.
The last reason to not make an audiobook is if you’re expecting the same market size that exists in the physical book market. Audiobooks are growing in popularity, but still have a long way to go to catch up with the size of the traditional book market.
Research The Process
Now that you have an idea of whether or not it makes sense for you to create an audiobook, for those who it makes sense for, it’s time to begin the process.
And like most things in life, the first step in the process is to do some research.
The first step in the research process would be to investigate what audiobook sales look like in your genre. The more that you can narrow this down the better idea you’ll have of what you can expect to make.
Amazon and other platforms intentionally make this data relatively private and hard to find, so there aren’t many easy or free methods to find this out.
You’ll also want to investigate how much time and money it will take to create an audiobook.
We mentioned the benchmark rate of $3,000 for a ten-hour audiobook, but this might not hold true in your case.
Let’s jump into what you can expect to pay in the next section.
What will making an audiobook cost?
There is a lot of work that goes into producing an audiobook, such as:
- The narrator pre-reading and taking notes on the manuscript
- Research into pronunciation of people’s names, place names, and specific phrases that regional or in a foreign language
- The narrator recording and taking time to fix mistakes, re-record sections for clarity or working around outside noises that leak into the recording space
- A proofer listening while following along with the manuscript to find errors in the audio
- An audio engineer making sure there are no anomalies in the audio and mastering the files so that they sound their best
- Other administrative tasks like uploading and downloading files
For every hour of audio ready for listening, expect around seven hours of work by all members of the production team.
With that out of the way, let’s jump into the three most common ways to pay for narration of your book.
Per Finished Hour (PFH)
Per Finished Hour means that for every hour of audio that is ready for retail sales you pay a set amount.
In general terms, a 93,000 word novel will have an expected audio run time of about ten finished hours, but this completely depends on the speaking speed of your narrator.
As we stated in our audiobook statistics article, the average rate per finished hour is anywhere between $150/hr and $450/hr.
In the real world the hours of narration is calculated to the minute and you pay for the exact length of the actual run time.
There is also an industry standard of a minimum of one finished hour. If a narrator is chosen for a part that doesn’t have audio time of a full hour, they are paid for one full hour.
In this scenario, you’re buying the finished audiobook outright from the narrator and never have to pay more in the future.
Upfront costs can be higher but you will attract a higher caliber of narrator and producer for the project. If you are hiring a narrator who is a member of the SAG-AFTRA Union, there are minimum PFH rates prescribed by the union.
Be sure to negotiate whether the cost of the narrator includes the post-production team. If not, you will pay another PFH fee for their services. If the narrator and producer are coordinating post-production their PFH rate will be higher.
A large majority of Production Companies or Publishers will charge you a fee based on PFH plus book marketing and distribution costs. This will also cover post-production.
Royalty Share plus Post-Production
The next method of payment is a royalty share + post production. This method is more of a pay over time plan.
Based on the contract, you agree to split profits with the narrator for a pre-decided period of time.
The ‘plus Post-Production’ in the name refers to you paying the post-production fees (or splitting those fees with the narrator/producer).
In this scenario you are committed to paying your narrator over time and you generally can’t make changes until the contract has run out.
Upfront costs will be lower but more risk is taken on by the narrator and/or producer.
By agreeing to pay (or split) post-production costs you have a better chance of attracting more seasoned narrators.
If you can show a history of a large number of sales this will be a more appealing option for the narrator.
The last method of payment we’ll discuss is more of a pay over time plan, known as the royalty share.
Based on the contract you agree to split profits with the narrator for a pre-decided period of time. The narrator and/or producer agrees to take on all post-production costs.
In this scenario you are committed to paying your narrator over time and you generally can’t make changes until the contract has run out.
Upfront costs in this scenario are minimal but you will probably only attract newer narrators who are looking to build a portfolio unless you have a proven record of a large number of sales.
Once the audiobook exists and is available for sale, it will need to be marketed to generate sales.
This means one of three things:
- The Production Company or Publisher will have been paid to market the book for you
- You will need to hire a third party to market the book for you
- You will need to market the book yourself
In rare cases your narrator can help in book marketing, but a majority don’t have the influence to make a large difference in that regard.
Decide What Type of Narration You’d Like
Now that we’ve got pricing structures out of the way, the next decision you’ll have to make when it comes to producing an audiobook is how many narrators you’d like to work with.
There experience of listening to an audiobook performed by a single narrator or multiple narrators is as fundamental as your choice, as whether you wrote your book in first or third person.
Each type of production can enhance the experience – ultimately it is up to you to decide which type works for your book. If you are not sure, fall back on your research of other books in your genre.
In a solo narration, all words in the manuscript are read by one narrator.
Most like the traditional storyteller, an individual or group gathering close to someone telling a tale.
This can invoke more primal, traditional experiences like having a parent read you a story.
Working with dual narrators is generally the same cost as solo narration as there is not much extra production involved.
This is usually done with the actors working separately, in their own booths. Each POV (chapter or section) is read by one narrator that identifies with that POV.
Often this is gender-based or two (or more) very different character POV-based. All the characters in that section are performed by that narrator, regardless. This can emphasize the change in POV in your book.
Lately, a lot of books are written in multiple POV and therefore listeners demand multiple narrators.
In duet narration, two different narrators work together to narrate the story. Lately, a lot of books are written in multiple POV and therefore listeners demand multiple narrators.
For example, narration of a female POV and all female dialog in a chapter or section are read by the female narrator.
All dialog of male characters in that SAME chapter or section are read by the male narrator.
This is most commonly implemented when there are different genders in the story, as listeners want to hear dialog in the matching gender.
Duet narration is usually more expensive than solo or dual as there’s more audio engineering involved to make the individual parts fit seamlessly together. This type of narration is usually done with the actors working separately, in their own booths.
The next chapter or section often switches POV and the male and female roles are reversed with the male narrating and voicing all male characters and the female voicing all female roles.
Next up is multicast, where all (or most) characters are performed by individual actors.
This is much more expensive than solo, dual, or duet narration, as again, there is a lot of audio engineering required to make the end product a seamless, coherent whole.
Narrators who’s part is less than an hour are, by the industry standard, paid a full hour.
This is usually done with the actors working separately, in their own booths but rarely actors are brought together to give a more seamless performance. Bringing actors together is very expensive.
Some small parts can be performed by a single actor who changes their acting style to portray different characters and there may or may not be a separate narrator from all character actors.
Sometimes the narrator of the book is a role for a narrator in itself and sometimes the narration is done by one of the characters and can be applied to books that switch POV – then different actors for each chapter or section perform the narration.
What are the Different Methods for Producing an Audiobook?
There are several different ways you can go about producing an audiobook, which we’ll cover next.
Method 1: Self-production aka Hiring a Narrator directly
The first method we’ll cover when it comes to producing an audiobook is self production by hiring a narrator directly.
The selection of narrators you have available will be entirely dependent on your budget, as well as timing.
Some tips for finding a narrator are:
- Listen to audiobooks in your genre
- Ask author friends for recommendations in your genre
- Listen to Audible/iTunes samples in your genre
- Find a willing narrator (who you would like to work with) to suggest other narrators – usually for other roles in a Dual/Duet/Multicast, but some will happily suggest competitors for the same role
- Narrator web sites
- In-person events
Now that you know where you can find a narrator, let’s talk a bit about what you should look for in one.
Professionalism – Does the narrator have a reputation of treating people fairly and taking the process seriously?
Voice variation/Skill – Does the narrator possess the ability to make the audiobook sound the way you want it to sound?
Accents – Make sure your chosen narrator can perform the accents contained in your manuscript by making sure you let them know about the accents up front and double-checking that they are proficient in those accents or allow enough prep time for them to become proficient to the level you require.
Tone, Pacing, and Passion– Does their voice convey the tone that you’re going for? Listen to some of their samples and variations. Same with pacing, can they switch up the pace? Are they genuinely passion in their work
Auditioning a Narrator
When choosing a narrator, auditions are a great way to make sure they’re the right for the job. The audition should be 3-10 minutes long (400-1400 words).
Understand that some narrators have personal limits on how much they will record – often around 5 minutes. Some will record it all. If some part is essential to the audition, make sure they know that.
Be sure to discuss themes and triggers of your manuscript. Narrators, like anyone else, have personal boundaries.
Some narrators are quite busy and may not be available immediately.
Below are some tips to ensure your audition goes smoothly:
Have your audition script ready – It doesn’t need to be one contiguous piece of your manuscript. Choose pivotal or representative sections of your book to make sure the actor understands the character(s).
Provide a short backstory – Explain who’s in the scene(s). Have some notes on hand explaining the character’s state of mind, motivation and situation.
Providing Manuscript – If you feel comfortable doing so, provide the full manuscript for the narrator to review.
Discuss themes and triggers – Narrators, like anyone else, have personal boundaries. Be respectful of them and share all relevant information they should know.
Once you have chosen a narrator to work with make sure you both agree on timelines, including:
- When they will get the manuscript from you
- When they will provide a pre-production sample for your approval (this is the time to make changes to narration style or character choices)
- When you will approve the sample
- When they will provide you with final files for approval (this approval is to ensure the work is complete and correct – not a time to make changes to narration style or character choices)
- How many days you have to pay the invoice
What to Expect When Production Starts
After choosing a narrator, they will require the audiobook manuscript well before recording is set to start.
The narrator will likely send a list of questions after they finish their reading of the manuscript. Responding as quickly as possible keeps things on track.
You should also receive a pre-production sample of the narrator’s style and character traits they have chosen for major roles for your approval.
As stated previously you can specify parts of the manuscript to be included or allow the narrator to choose.
An important thing to remember is that this is the time for adjustments. Let the narrator know as soon as possible in order to keep production on track.
This is typically the last time you’ll have major input into the sound of your audiobook, so listen well and respond thoughtfully. You may want a second sample to review and approve your changes.
Expect things to get very quiet at this point while recording and post production happens. Know that work is happening.
You should receive your final files on or before your due date.
You should at least spot-check the audio but it is best to listen to the entire book. Unless there is an egregious error in the final files the project is complete.
With the final files you should receive an invoice with the final time of the book down to the minute or hundredth of an hour, if expressed in decimal form.
Invoices are often due immediately or up to 30 days from the invoice date.
Remember you are working with a professional. Generally, you are not allowed to ‘direct’ the production. You have the chance to approve a sample and then the narrator takes it from there. Make sure you are working with someone you like and trust before you start.
At the very least, you should receive a pre-production sample from the narrator. If there are characters or scenes you want included in this sample you need to specify up front. It will generally run 15 minutes or one chapter.
In some cases, you can negotiate a higher level of interaction but this is rare.
A few narrators will allow you to review work chapter by chapter. This often makes production more costly as it takes much more work on the behalf of the narrator.
Who Pays for Audio Engineering?
Just like you want a professional editor for your written work, you and the narrator should prefer a professional audio engineer to polish the final audio files and make them sound the best they can be.
In most cases, the audio engineer should not also be the proofreader. The tasks are different and trying to do both can cause issues to be missed. Expect an audio engineer to run anywhere from $75-$125 per finished hour.
Who pays for Audio Proofing?
No narrator (or author, for that matter) should proof their own audio. It’s easy to miss issues when listening to words that you spoke or wrote.
Require that the audio be proofed by an outside professional. Most narrators and proofers are trying to achieve word-perfect accuracy between the text and the audio.
Expect professional proofing to cost anywhere from $25-$40 per finished hour.
Who should do this option?
Those with the time and temperament to shepherd the process themselves. There is more work involved but you have a higher chance of more involvement if the narrator agrees to do that.
You may or may not end up saving money. All the steps of getting a book into audio and ultimately into the ears of listeners still have to happen here.
Method 2: Recording the Audiobook Yourself
The next option when it comes to producing an audiobook is to record it yourself.
We’ll be upfront and say that this method is not for a lot of people.
There’s a few different things you’d want to consider when it comes to recording an audiobook yourself.
Do you have the desire to work through a very long process?
The first question is if you truly have the desire to push through this entire process.
As you’ve read above, the audiobook creation process is an extensive process with lots of moving pieces.
What is your motivation for self-recording?
The next question to ask yourself is what your motivation is for self-recording your audiobook. Is it because you want to save money?
That’s generally not a mindset that will lead to success. Or is it because you want your audiobook to be narrated by you?
We understand that a narrator is not going to have the same level of understanding of your characters or story. But if you truly want to narrate your story, consider getting some help via a coach or director to make it come out the best it can.
Do you have the skills to create an engaging recording that is free of errors and will encourage listeners to purchase?
It may not seem like it, but there’s a lot of skill that goes into creating a best selling audiobook. Narrators have practiced and perfected the craft over a number of years to be able to create what they do.
Do you have the equipment and setup to record an audiobook?
Having a proper recording setup is essential to your audiobook coming out perfect. Recording in your basement with a microphone is not going to come out well.
You want a quiet, non-reverberant space to record in, along with the following equipment and software:
- Microphone interface
- Digital Audio Workstation (the software needed to record and/or edit audio)
- A silent PC or PC you can place outside of your work area and access remotely
Who Will Do Post Production?
Once you’ve finished recording your audiobook, you’ll need to figure out how to go about post production.
Similarly to narrating an audiobook, this requires a lot of skill, and it’s not recommended for a beginner to do this themselves.
In order to find someone for post production, asking in Facebook audiobook groups is a good place to start. Other social media platforms are worth a shot too under relevant hashtags such as TikTok’s #BookTok.
Lastly, check out sites like https://narratorlist.com/production-personnel/ for production and narration related audiobook workers.
Who should do this option?
The best candidate for someone who can produce their own audiobook are authors of non-fiction that have a strong tie to the book. The best self-recorded audiobooks are produced by patient, passionate, engaged writers.
Method 3: Work with an Audiobook Production Company
The next option for making an audiobook is to work with an audiobook production company. Choosing a company to partner with that is right for your book is a process that can be a great option.
Different Production Companies provide different levels of assistance in the process. Brokers, like ACX and Findaway Voices facilitate bringing authors and narrators together and provide a contractual framework but that is all.
All negotiations in the process are between you and the narrator you choose to produce your work. The narrator becomes the actual audiobook producer and must provide their own post-production in order to submit retail-ready files.
Production Companies that are a level of service above brokers all have vetted rosters of narrators and will help facilitate the narrator selection process.
What separates Production Companies at this level is the amount of support they give the process, how much input you have and the distribution methods they employ.
Working with the company to choose a narrator
Brokers will garner you tens to hundreds of auditions based on the budget you choose to attach to your work. It is possible to reach out to individual narrators on these sites. Ultimately, it is up to you to listen and choose for yourself.
The companies that are a level of service above brokers will generally provide 3-5 narrator options per role and you will be able to choose your favorite. These 3-5 narrators will be chosen based on suitability, ability and availability.
The importance of the pre-production sample
This is when you have a say about what the finished product will sound like. Make sure you ask about what part of your manuscript will be used for the pre-production sample and make sure all of your main characters and any pivotal scenes are included.
Listen and respond as quickly as possible after you receive the sample to keep production on track.
Who should do this option?
Working with an audiobook production company is a great fit for authors who want to retain rights and have a higher level of involvement than hiring a Publisher but don’t want to take the time to do all of the oversight on the audiobook work
Method 4: Selling your audio rights to an Audiobook Publisher
The last method for producing an audiobook is to sell the rights to your book to an audiobook publisher. This method has the least amount of control over the audiobook creation process. This method does, however, let you get back to writing without having to deal with the audiobook production process.
In some circumstances, you may still have some say over the narrator selection process, and sometimes get approval of a pre-production sample, but that is about it.
Production & distribution is up to the Publisher.
Narrators and post-production people associated with Publishers are highly vetted and are very proficient in their work. You will get a high-quality product and can have high levels of marketing in your contract.
This all comes at a cost.
What are the different formats audiobooks can be produced in?
Audiobooks are created, during production, in the .wav file format, which is a lossless format. Once it’s time to turn in the file to a platform, it’s almost always submitted in MP3 format.
Some specific platforms require other file formats like M4A or AAX but this is rare and those platforms usually take MP3 files and convert them to the needed formats themselves.
What are the Different Audiobook Distribution types?
There’s a few different ways to go about distributing an audiobook onto the different platforms. Audible exclusive (aka narrow) is the most common way.
When distributed as an Audible exclusive, you’re limited to the platform in exchange for a higher royalty per sale.
Audible gives their best rates to authors who commit to the platform for 7 years. Expect to receive 35% royalties on audiobook sales if your book is exclusive to Audible.
Going wide will lead to your audiobook getting into more retail outlets, including libraries, so it has the potential to get the attention of more people.
You will get a smaller royalty from Amazon/iTunes but the greater number of outlets could cover or surpass that lower amount.
Prep Your Book for Audio Recording
Next, we’re going to discuss how to prepare your audiobook for a recording session. The first step is to remove any visuals you may have from your manuscript. The narrator doesn’t need them, and it will only slow them down by adding more pages.
You’ll also want to remove any unneeded text from your manuscript that won;t go into narration. The audiobook manuscript should contain the exact words a narrator will say and nothing else.
There are common elements of an eBook or print book that are not generally included in an audiobook. These elements are:
- Tables of contents
- About the author and other similar section
If one of these things is really important to you (like acknowledgements) explain that you would like them read
Think about whether or not you want to add backmatter/preview of the next title to a book in a series. This is becoming more common for the same reasons they are popular in eBooks or physical books.
Audiobook Manuscript Format
The Audiobook Manuscript is the document the narrator will prep from, usually including notes, coloring text, adding references to pronunciation, etc. So the more simple that document is, the better.
In a perfect world, the audio manuscript would be provided in both Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF formats, cleaned of items listed above.
- The Microsoft Word format is the most flexible and can easily be converted into Adobe PDF for narrators who work from PDF
- Clean, simple Adobe PDF documents can be provided and will sometimes convert cleanly to Microsoft Word documents but often require cleanup.
- Adobe PDF formats created for print or eBook manuscripts can be very problematic to use as a prep script. Trying to convert them to Microsoft Word is rarely without a plethora of errors
Prepare a character list
- Anything said about what they sound like in the book
- Their general attitude toward the world and the characters around them
- What the character looks like
- ‘Dream’ actor casting – someone who sounds perfect for the role
- Whether or not this character will reappear in later books (and in what capacity)
- Prepare a pronunciation guide
- Created words
- Regional words
Reading your manuscript out loud is one of the most effective tools for finding errors or awkward passages.
Understand that these issues will probably be found in the audio recording process and decide what you want to do with them. Leave them as is (so audio matches the text), fix them in audio only, or go back and fix them in your text.
Understand your timeline and be able to convey what you need/expect to a narrator, production house or publisher. When a production team is available may influence you when it comes time to choose.
If you miss dates for providing materials for the narrator/production team don’t expect production to pick up smoothly at that point. Many narrators are heavily booked and a slip means rescheduling when they have availability.
Finding a post-production team
If you are not using a Publisher or a Production Company either you or your narrator(s) will need to find a post-production team
Some beginning and a few seasoned narrators will do their own audio engineering, but most will charge for that service.
No narrator (and, for that matter, author) should proof their own work. It is very easy to miss things when they are words you have spoken or written.
Usually, Narrators will have teams that they have worked with and are comfortable with. You will need to coordinate multiple narrators through one post-production team so that the book sounds consistent
How Much Can You Make From an Audiobook
The main factors that will determine how much you make from your book are:
- Cost of the Book
- Total Sales
- Royalty Rate
Cost of The Book
On Audible, the most common way to pay for an audiobook is via an Audible “Credit”. Generally speaking, members of Audible receive one credit per month from their $14.95/m subscription.
As we said before, the royalty rate for an Audible exclusive is 40%. If you go wide, Audible’s rate will be 25%. Remember, if you decided to do a royalty split with your narrator, this will be even lower.
Below are some other platforms royalty rates:
- Barnes & Noble – 45%
- Kobo – 32%-55%
- Apple Books – 30%
# of Sales
The next factor that will decide how much you make from your audiobook is the number of sales you get. This is difficult to tell before you’ve released the book, but the amount of sales your print book is getting is a decent indicator.
A Few Examples
Let’s jump into an example for an audiobook that makes 100 sales.
(Total Sales) X (Price of Book) X (Royalty Rate)
(100) X (14.95) X (.40) = $598
So as you can see, this will hardly cover the costs of producing an audiobook.
Let’s look at another example for an audiobook that makes 1500 sales.
(Total Sales) X (Price of Book) X (Royalty Rate)
(1500) X (14.95) X (.40) = $8970
Considering we stated the expected cost of producing an audiobook is around $3,000, this example is much more like it. Not every author will be able to achieve this sales number, but it’s certainly possible.
Similar to writing a book, creating an audiobook is best for those with series, and for authors who are willing to play the long game. Don’t expect your audiobook to make you rich overnight.
**Examples in the potential sales section are for books where the author has paid PFH. In a royalty share scenario, they would share those profits with the narrator.**
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to make an audiobook?
This depends on so many variables, especially the way you go about producing your audiobook.
But expect to pay, at minimum, $300 per finished hour when working with a narrator or production house. The average book is around 10 hours of audio, so ~$3000 is a fair estimate, along with some proofing and engineering costs.
How Long Does it Take to Produce an Audiobook?
The absolute minimum amount of time it would take to produce a ten-hour audiobook is one month at a minimum, with the maximum taking around six months. Some delays you might run into are narrators or production companies not being available, as well as lags in distribution.
Can I make my own audiobook?
Yes you could as we stated above, but there is more to it than you may think. You need the right space for it, expensive equipment, proper technique, professional editing, proofing, distribution and last but certainly not least, marketing.
Do Audiobooks Need Different Covers?
Audiobooks generally use the same cover as the print version. That being said, as audiobooks were initially released on CDs, the dimensions are a little bit different, being more square.
We don’t recommend distorting the image to fit the new dimensions.
If you think you might do an audiobook at any point in the future, ask your cover artist for both covers when you contract with them.
It will generally cost more to go back and ask for the audiobook cover later.
How do I Pick a Retail Sample?
When deciding what to use for the retail sample, there’s two main approaches that you can take. The first option is the first five minutes, and the other being a random five minute section that won’t spoil too much.
Overall, audiobooks are a growing sector of the book industry, and should not be ignored. That being said, the correct timing for producing one will vary on a per author basis.
New authors shouldn’t worry about producing one until steady sales are coming through. For experienced authors who’ve put off making them, it might be something that you want to look at.
When it comes to the method of production, self production or working with an audiobook production company are going to be your best bet, depending on how much risk you’re willing to take on.
And that’s all we’ve got on producing audiobooks for now! If you have any questions, please let us know!