How to Narrate Your Own Audiobook

For an author, a great way to connect with your readers and save money is to record your own audiobook. For some, this will be too much of a hassle, but for others, it’s a great opportunity.

As someone who has spent a lot of time working with audio for podcasting and YouTube, I can tell you that it is a lengthy process, but it gets much easier with experience, and the rewards can be incredibly high.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The pros and cons of recording your own audiobook
  2. The equipment and software you need
  3. Tips for a great narration
  4. Editing and mastering steps

To Record or Not to Record

This is not an in-depth article debating the pros and cons of recording your own audiobook. We recommend this article discussing some of the pros, and the cons are self-explanatory. Here’s a brief summary of why you might want it one way or another:

Pros:

  • You save costs
  • You can connect personally to readers
  • You stand out
  • It can help you improve your writing skills

Cons:

  • If you are not professional, it will sound horrible and turn away listeners
  • It takes a lot of time, effort, and equipment
  • There is a steep learning curve

However, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that you want to record your own audiobook, so let’s dive into exactly how you do that.

Step 1: Get the Right Equipment

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: you don’t have to have the most expensive equipment to record an audiobook.

In fact, even a cheaper Blue Yeti microphone will be enough to get by Audible’s standards if you do it right.

Most of the really expensive equipment has uses beyond vocals, such as music. If you were recording an album, you would want more expensive microphones and other equipment.

But you’re not recording an album, you’re recording an audiobook.

Instead, spend a little money on your equipment, but more time in the editing/mastering stage which we’ll get to later.

Here are a number of things you should probably have.

  • A microphone: podcasting microphones are a good place to look here. The Blue Yeti is good, and I also recommend the latest Rode podcasting microphone.
  • A computer: laptops are better because they make less noise.
  • Headphones: you’ll want something that you can use to listen in on what you’re recording. I found that a pair of wireless earbuds work fine, especially if they’re the kind that fit into your ear like earplugs.
  • A pop filter: this is one of those cheap options that will increase your sound quality by a mile. I highly recommend getting one of these.
  • Sound proofing: I’ll talk about this more in the next section, but you might want to invest in some sound proofing equipment, though the type of soundproofing equipment will vary wildly.

Once you have these, it’s time to move onto the next stage.

Step 2: Create Your Soundproof Setup

Now it’s time to select your setup. What this looks like will depend on your circumstances.

Do you have a dedicated office? Then this may work for you with some modifications.

If you don’t have a dedicated office, do you have a walk-in closet or small room that you could temporarily use as a recording studio?

The most important step here is to create sound absorption, which eliminates a tinny echo that can happen in your audio. Here are some things that create sound absorption:

  • Clothing on hangers
  • Bookshelves
  • Sound pads
  • Lining the walls with curtains
  • Putting a mattress up on its end against the wall

The point is that you don’t want a lot of flat walls. The more flat surfaces you have, the more that sound is going to just bounce right back at you.

Turns out, walk-in closets are great, because the clothing acts as a sound absorber, increasing the quality of your audio narration.

If you’re recording in an office or other non-closet, you might want to invest in some sound pads (these are very cheap to get).

Next, you’ll want to make sure you get your space as quiet as possible.

Here are some things to avoid:

  • A desktop computer if you can, but you can muffle the sound otherwise
  • A noisy laptop
  • Fluorescent lights
  • Air conditioner, internal heating. You can just turn these off if you need to
  • Other noisy appliances, i.e. the refrigerator
  • Outside noises like dogs barking, traffic, airplanes, etc. You can’t avoid these, but be sure to listen for them and pause recording

Here are some things that are okay to have:

  • A quiet laptop or an iPad to record the sound
  • A mouse and keyboard
  • A computer monitor
  • A tungsten or LED-based light
  • Your sound proofing equipment

Step 3: Select Your Software

There are two pieces of software that you need concern yourself about. There’s the best on a budget, and the best overall.

Best on a Budget

There is no better option for those who are penny pinching than Audacity.

All you need to do is download the software, pull open a few tutorials on YouTube, and get going. Here’s one that I recommend:

Audacity even has a plugin that you can install that will check your audio quality against ACX’s standards. This can be a huge benefit for those who want to record their own audiobooks.

Best Overall

If you want the best of the best when it comes to audio editing, there is no better name than Adobe Audition.

While I do recommend this for those who want the best quality, there is a slight learning curve, and it will cost you money.

Adobe Audition currently costs $20.99/month for just the one software, or $52.99/month if you get it with all the other Creative Cloud apps. If you also use Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, this could be a good option for you.

Step 4: Test it Out

Whatever you do, don’t just start narrating your book right away. You need to run a few tests first to make sure everything is working well.

Pro Tip: Try recording a short story first, running through the whole editing/mastering process and uploading to ACX. If it works, you can have some confidence that you can repeat the process for a full audiobook.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you are recording your first audio clip:

  • Make sure your microphone is plugged in and that your computer is pulling from the correct audio source.
  • Place your microphone close to your mouth, usually within 1-2 inches. This is where the pop-filter comes in handy.
  • Use headphones to listen to the audio you’re recording. This will help you identify background sounds that might be disrupting your audio.
  • Record a minute or so of audio.
  • Go back and listen to the audio.
  • Play around with editing the audio, maybe include a few deliberate mistakes when you record, so you can practice editing them out.

Before you record, you’ll want to sound check yourself. This is making sure that the volume and noise level are adequate before you start recording.

This is why recording a test clip, even before every recording session, can be a good idea.

When recording, you’ll want your voice to be loud, but not so loud that it “clips” the audio, meaning it moves beyond the range that the microphone can handle. Most podcaster mics will be able to handle what you need, but be sure to double check if you need to shout or raise your voice in the recording.

Pro Tip: Learn to understand dB or decibels. This is a scale where every 6dB indicates that your volume has doubled. Recording volume is measured in negative decibels. That means that 0 is the maximum your microphone can handle, -6dB is half that volume, etc.

ACX requires that the extra “noise” of your audio be less than -60dB, and your audio to be no louder than -3dB, with the average between -23dB and -18dB.

It will be hard, if not impossible, to record to ACX standards fresh from the microphone. However, with Audacity or Audition, it’s not problem to get it to these standards, which is where the mastering process comes in.

If your voice is too loud, try the following:

  • Lower the volume of your voice
  • Increase the distance between your mouth and the microphone
  • Adjust the “gain” knob on your microphone if it has one
  • Adjust the “recording volume” in whatever software you’re using.

If your voice is too soft, you can just do the opposite of these.

The point is to have your voice be as loud as possible without clipping. If your voice is too soft, then the background noise will be too loud when you bring it up to the right level.

Step 5: Get the Narration Right

The narration is the one part of the process that is less technical. Good narration can be an art form, and a lot of people will not listen to an audiobook based solely on a bad narrator, even if the book itself is good.

So with this in mind, here are a few tips to really nail that narration so your listeners will love it.

Listen to Audiobooks

Above all, the best thing I can recommend is to listen to audiobooks. Find out who the best narrators are in your genre, and listen to how they narrate.

And I mean, really listen.

Listen with the intent to emulate them, to learn what they’re doing well. While you may not be a voice actor or professional narrator, there are still many lessons that you can learn just by observing what has been done before.

Get the Character Voices Right

There are narrators who create separate, distinctive voices for each of the characters in a novel (assuming you’re doing fiction), and there are those who maintain a consistent voice throughout. Some are kind of in the middle.

None of these options are necessarily better or worse than the other. Infusing your characters with their own voices can be a great way to engage the listener, but on the other hand, if you’re not an experienced voice actor, you could make it sound horrible.

I would try to lean towards making your characters dynamic as an audiobook narrator, but don’t feel like you have to overdo it.

Speaking of which…

Be Careful in Voicing Opposite Genders

A common mistake for new narrators, especially if you’re the author, is to voice characters of the opposite gender in a highly exaggerated tone. Men voice women in a high and squeaky register, and women voice men with these gritty, gravely approximations.

Don’t do this.

It’s okay to voice both genders the same, but if you want to keep them distinctive, slightly raising or lowering your pitch can help. It doesn’t have to be dramatic.

Again, listen to what respected narrators are doing, and try to do something similar.

Breath Normally

You’ll become self-conscious about your breathing when you’re recording audiobooks, especially if you’ve gone back to have a listen at what you recorded.

Therefore a natural tendency is to try and hold your breath for longer, so you don’t breath as often. This leads to the audiobook narration sounding forced and rushed.

Breath normally, and it will sound the most natural when it’s played back for the audiobook listener.

Drink Plenty of Water

If you’re in the recording studio for too long, you can get winded, not to mention your vocal chords may need some lubricating.

So make sure that you drink plenty of water, both to keep yourself hydrated and to keep your pipes piping.

Speak Slower Than You’re Comfortable

This is one I’ve had trouble with, myself, so I’m making a point of mentioning it.

When you’re recording an audiobook, you will need to speak slower and with more distinction than you do in everyday speech.

This can become uncomfortable, and if you’re not careful, you’ll speed up as you record. Always make sure you’re able to enunciate every word carefully.

Speak More Dramatically Than You’re Comfortable

This is particularly true of fiction, but it can be applicable to high-energy nonfiction as well.

You’ll want to really put some emotion into your words as you speak them. Reading is all about emotions, making people feel things. Going just slightly over the top in your drama will help to get there.

That said, you can easily push the line too far and become overly melodramatic, so only push yourself a little out of your comfort zone.

Step 6: Organize Your Files

When you’re done recording, you’ll want to have a good system for organizing your files.

First, you’ll need to save your audio, one file for each chapter. This is very important because your audio will be submitted to ACX in chapter by chapter files. So best to start dividing them that way now.

The best format to save your file is as a 16-bit WAV file. This is a lossless (meaning it loses no quality) file type that should be the raw base for your files. And you’ll want to keep working with WAV files until the very end, when you’ll convert your files to an MP3 for uploading to ACX.

Make sure to have a decent naming convention for your files so that you never forget what they are. Something like MyBook-chapterX-RAW, might be a good place to start.

As you edit, you’ll want to keep a consistent naming scheme. So something like MyBook-chapterX-EDITED, MyBook-chapterX-MASTERED, MyBook-chapterX-FINAL.

These are just examples, but you get the picture.

Step 7: Edit Your Audio Files

The editing stage is where you go through your files to look for actual mistakes in the recording.

Here are a few things you’ll need to look out for:

  • Mouth clicks: These are the most common culprit you’ll need to look out for. Inevitably, you’ll smack your lips without thinking about it, and the audio will record this loud and clear.
  • Long pauses: These are self-explanatory. Sometimes when recording, you’ll end up spending too much time in places. You’ll want to remove those pauses to tighten up the flow.
  • Mistakes/mispronunciations: These are common and will likely require re-recording if you did not do so already.
  • Background noises: This is the place to carefully listen for any dog barking, airplanes, or traffic sounds that you missed while recording.

A note on re-recording: At some point when recording your full audiobook, you will most likely have to re-record something. Going back and re-recording can be jarring, as the audio will probably sound quite different than what was recorded previously.

To get around this, try recording a full paragraph, or better yet, the full chapter. This could end up giving you more work than it’s worth, so only re-record the full chapter if you have more than one mistake that you need to re-record.

And get used to catching as many of these mistakes as you record so you don’t have to go back and redo. However, even master narrators will make mistakes from time to time.

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Step 8: Master Your Audio

Mastering the audio is perhaps the scariest part of the process for most authors. It’s also the most technical, aside from maybe your initial setup.

By this time, you should have a WAV file for every chapter that is fully edited so there are no mistakes.

But there are a number of technical specifications that ACX requires that you need to make sure you follow. Here are some of the steps you’ll need to take in order to fully master your audio to their specifications:

  1. Room Silence: ACX requires that you have 1-5 seconds of “room tone” at the beginning and end of each chapter. This is what it sounds like when your microphone is turned on but you’re not speaking. True silence can actually be a bit jarring.
  2. Noise Removal: Both Audacity and Audition have options to remove noise from your recording. While optional if you have a high-quality mic, it’s usually a good idea to remove some of this noise. That said, don’t go overboard, as it can affect the vocal quality.
  3. Normalize the Volume: This is a process you can do in Audacity or Audition to bring your volume up to a normal level. You’ll want to do this and also compress it to make sure that your peaks are below the maximum threshold that ACX sets (about -3.5dB).
  4. Check: You can run an ACX analysis through Audacity to make sure that it meets their requirements.

This may seem hard, but once you learn how to do it, it’s really not a difficult process. You don’t have to be an audio engineer to do it.

The above steps can take no more than a few minutes per file, though you should definitely listen to each chapter after it’s mastered to do a last check for errors or weird audio issues.

If this process scares you, don’t worry, here are some tutorials to help you get through the process.

For Audacity:

For Adobe Audition:

Step 9: Publish Your Audio

Once your audiobook production is done, you’ll need to convert your final WAV files to an MP3 with a bit rate of 192kbps. Make sure that each file is either stereo or mono. Do not have some of both.

Then it’s a simple matter of uploading your finished audiobook to ACX or Findaway Voices.

Make sure to choose the correct royalty option when uploading to ACX. If you want to go exclusive to ACX you will receive higher royalties, but cannot upload it anywhere else.

If you go non-exclusive with ACX, you can also upload to Findaway Voices or wherever you want to distribute your audiobook.

The Bottom Line

While producing your own audiobook isn’t the best option for all authors, it can be a great way to decrease costs and personally connect with your readers if those are your goals.

If you are willing to learn a long and technical process, as well as invest in quality equipment, then it can be a great avenue for you.

Do you have any experience recording your own audiobook? Let us know over on our contact page with any additional information you may have. We’d love to hear from you!



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