Should I make an audio version of my book? Short answer: Yes.
Here are some reasons to record, then some of the decisions you need to make before you start.
Reading (and recording) your novel is the best investment you can make in editing your work. As you read — and as you listen to the playback — you will notice infelicities in phrasing, awkwardnesses in order, accidental repetitions, purple flourishes, unconscious mimicking of other writers, and occasions when you are beating the dead horse of too much detail. You will be doing what good and great authors alike have done for centuries, and as a special benefit, you will understand what is meant by ‘finding your voice.’
Some people like hearing books as opposed to reading them. Some want to listen as they drive long, boring distances. Some are visually impaired. Some just like hearing someone read them a story. They constitute an audience that isn’t served by print or e-books.
Reason # 3
People who listen to books sometimes buy them. The jury is out on how much this is true, but my preliminary analysis is optimistic: in the two months after Astreya: The Voyage South was available in podcast audio, sales of the physical and ebook improved significantly, some of the bump being sales of volume two of the trilogy, presumably purchased by people who wanted to know what happens next. Moreover, I received fan mail asking me when they would be able to listen to the next book in the trilogy.
Audiobooks offer instant download, just like e-books, but with audiobooks, you can track where you’re selling as well as how much. Podiobooks.com and its technical provider LibSyn provide detailed analysis of when and where your podcast version is being downloaded and read. I discovered that (as I expected) my major market was the US, then Canada, then the UK, New Zealand and Australia. However, I was surprised and delighted to find that I also had listeners in Norway, Germany, and a long list of other places including (!) Thailand. Why? — My guess is the ex-pat community of people who speak English in countries that don’t.
OK, you’ve decided. What’s next?
Before you start, you should know that you are about to invest time (for sure), money (a little to a lot) and effort (above and beyond what you have already put into your completed manuscript).
Sell or Give?
Decide whether you want to sell your audiobook version, or give it away. I give mine away, free. Podiobooks encourages listeners to “tip” the author. So far I’ve received nothing, but I’m encouraged by Reason # 3, above, to believe that far from hurting sales, my audio version is encouraging them.
You can make your audiobook available through your website, but you need a server “behind” your site. At SeymourHamilton.com you can click on podcasts of my books, chapter by chapter and either listen, or download to listen later. The recordings themselves are not on my site because that would cost far too much beyond the cost of standard site, because there is no “room” on most sites to store, provide access and manage the recordings and the accessing needs of people all over the world. You need a specialized sound service such as SoundCloud or Podiobooks. Podiobooks.com specializes on books. Its servers contain and manage recordings of my books and many, many more by authors old and new. Podiobooks offers people in search of free audiobooks a “bookstore” where they can browse, knowing that they will find an acceptable technical quality of recordings and the electronic delivery thereof. Behind Podiobooks is LibSyn, the server/technical service, which is system of servers “where the recordings are” and where I go to find constantly updated statistics on how my books are doing.
Free is fine, but on the other hand, who can argue with a royalty check? However, before you go to an on-line company that will pay you per download, consider both your percentage of the take, and your up-front costs. There’s a saw-off between a turnkey approach wherein you send someone your manuscript and wait for the money to roll in (don’t hold your breath); and taking control of the process in one of more of the roles of producer, reader and technician.
Cost/Quality decisions: Hire a reader or read it yourself?
There are lots of out-of-work actors out there who would love to read for you — at a price. Don’t decide only on the basis of how the actor sounds to you — still less on how he or she looks. Work “blind” by email, listen to recording samples. Have the actor audition by reading a page or so of your book. Insist on credentials, preferably in podcasting, radio or voicing animated cartoons. Find out if he or she is sufficiently qualified and experienced to do the electronic technical work. If not, either get yourself a producer or do the sound-editing and processing yourself.
On the other hand, do it ALL yourself. The cost of recording at home is low. You need a quiet room and a good microphone — not just the one that comes in your computer. I use a Blue Snowball for around $200. A friend loaned me a more expensive mic, but it was so sensitive that in the context of my reading, it was like putting a gold link in a copper bracelet. Software to record and process is free-to-inexpensive. I use Audacity to record and Levelator to process, both of which are free.
Recording your book takes time. A lot of time. I’m on my third book and getting better, that is, more efficient, but I find that every hour of completed, published podcast of 45 minutes to an hour requires at least five hours of recording, editing and processing at my desk with a microphone and my trusty MacBook Pro.
Caveat: this isn’t my first rodeo. I acted in plays at school, was subjected to singing lessons, did free-lance work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the 70s, and lectured at universities about Dead English Poets for more than 20 years during which I always read the poems out loud.
Now go back to Reason #1. Whether or not you go audio, decide to read your book out loud into your computer, and then listen to what you have recorded. Once you get over the fact that your voice sounds completely different from what you’ve been listening to for years while you were talking, you’ll find that you have a secret weapon for improving what you write. So, read what you write BEFORE you send it away to be published! If nothing else, your descendants will be able to hear you reading your stuff, long after you are no longer punching away at your keyboard.