How to Self-Publish an Audiobook: A Writer’s Journey
The year is 2020, and I suddenly have all the time in the world. I muttle around the house, work a job where I drive for five hours a day, and suddenly don’t have any of the activities available with which I could usually fill my time.
Not everyone has fond memories of that year, but for me, it will always be the year of the Audiobook.
In that year, we relied heavily on the arts. Movie marathons, music, reading; the arts kept us sane. And artists were like gods in a world that was gray and without texture. They brought color and stories into our lives. People broadened their horizons, consuming new media at a prodigious rate. And for the entertainment industry, it was a truly motivating time with output and innovation to help those stuck at home distract themselves from the drama of world events.
For me, my exploration of new media came through an Audible subscription. That one year, I listened to more than sixty audiobooks.
“Joe,” I said to myself, “ you are not going to get soft while you are in lockdown, and you are going to use this suddenly available time to better yourself. You’re going to work out, read more, and eat healthier than you ever have before.”
I had a gym membership. But it wasn’t long before gyms were closed and that fitness goal went out the window. Then with a life spent indoors, Door Dash became my best friend. I became a statistic in a phenomenon known in my area as “gaining the COVID 20”.
I gained weight, and when I was home after a long work week, I was mopey, depressed, and like so many others, exhausted by the constant strife that was out our front doors.
Ideological wars were waged on television, and the constant loom of the unknown made us fearful of the year ahead. I was scared for my family — until I turned off the news.
Instead, I turned to the renaissance of art that was blooming in this time of trial. I turned to my Audible account, and instead of seeing the hatred of politics and fear of the unknown, I found the immense creative talent and output of the global writing community instead.
That’s when my journey really began. I started small, reading audiobooks that were only five to ten hours long. I had a Stephen King phase, where I caught up on all the books I had meant to, and I reread H.P. Lovecraft’s The Necronomicon. I read The Terror, by Dan Simmons, which enthralled me so much I didn’t know what I was going to read after.
Once I had eaten through my whole ‘To Be Read’ pile, emerging from the depths after more than sixty books, where was I to turn? Sure, there was Booktube, Booktok, Bookstagram, Book Twitter, but instead, I turned my sights to indie authors.
On average, these books were faster reads but felt a little more like refreshing little snacks after a summer of large meals. I was burning through them, my hunger not satiated until finally, I had built up more than a thousand hours of reading time.
One fateful day after finishing a novel, my phone died in my work truck. It felt like going back to another time when we didn’t have such easy access to media. Suddenly, I was forced to be alone, and quiet with my own thoughts. The music on the radio started to feel repetitive, and talk programs threatened to send me right back to the reason I’d given up the news in the first place, so instead, I sat in silence, and let my thoughts wander.
I remembered the doubt I’d felt when publishing my own books. I thought about how I’d overcome those doubts and done it anyway. I thought about my love of audiobooks, and how I’d started to consume more self-published works, and it suddenly dawned on me that it was another publishing avenue that I simply hadn’t considered exploring! I’d overcome my doubts before, so why should audiobooks be any different?
It was settled. I would self-publish an audiobook. That night I decided I’d lock myself in my study until I was able to emerge YouTube certified in audiobooks.
It wasn’t easy.
At the time I had a newborn, my wife was in nursing school, and I had three older girls who were all bored after a long day of Zoom schooling. On top of that, I had no clue where to begin. What websites were good? How does the process work for publishing an audiobook? Is it so expensive that I’ll have to lock myself in a coat closet and record my own audiobook because it’s cheaper that way? I even spent a good few hours researching how to record and upload my own audiobook just in case hiring someone went wrong.
Then I found it; I saw it in an interview with another indie author who mumbled out a website called ACX.
This was the breakthrough I needed. After all the audiobooks I had listened to that summer, I finally found a way to add mine to the Audible library. ACX walked me through the technical process for it all, and while it was overwhelming at first, I stuck with it until I discovered my favorite aspect of the site.
I found a page dedicated to auditions and audio files of different narrators. I went far into the night, fantasizing about how each one would sound, and whether they were right for my book. Being able to aurally imagine how my book would sound, and how I wanted readers to experience it excited me, and gave me a second creative spark for each of my novels.
I learned that ACX keeps everyone accountable for their work. It means that you’re less likely to be scammed, and are all but guaranteed to get what you paid for. I’d been burned by other freelancing sites in the past, so this was very important to me.
But even so, research was important. I had to find the narrator who would be the right fit for me and my vision. I discovered a podcast personality named Michael Butler, who hosted a show called Forgotten Cinema. To do my due diligence, I stalked his show, listened to him a bit more, and not only fell in love with his show but found the perfect narrator.
When you search for a narrator, ACX has a filter system. It’s fun to play with, and a great way to discover new talent. You can specify age, gender, voice type, language etc. When I found Mike, I searched for someone who had a middle-aged male voice that had a heavy brooding style to it. A great filter for suggestions through ACX and my own due diligence meant I found someone I knew would be perfect for my books, and we’re already planning on working together in the future.
For the rest of the process, because I had a seasoned narrator, he helped guide me through what had to happen next. After he’d agreed to narrate my book, what he needed next was my manuscript. He informed me that it’s often difficult for narrators because they are someone not given finalized manuscripts. I don’t have to be a narrator to know what kind of stress that would put someone through.
Through ACX, Mike was able to send me clips of scenes, asking if he caught the right tone for it or to clarify certain pronunciation. In my book, The Vacation Planet, for instance, I have a character named Bass, so we had to discuss which pronunciation of the word was the correct one.
But ACX isn’t just great for authors. It treats the narrators well too. When my audiobook was finished, I couldn’t move on to publication until my narrator had received his payment (another filter you can add is cost per finished hour). For any author looking to expand into audiobooks, this is something I think is very important. No matter what platform you use, making sure the service providers are treated as well as the people who use those services makes a huge difference in the quality of work you can expect.
Unlike writing a novel, releasing an audiobook is not a process you have to go through alone. Just taking the plunge and deciding to do it taught me a lot. 2020 may have been a long year of learning for many of us, but my greatest lesson was how easy it is to stress over something until you learn just how simple it actually is.
I was inspired by the creativity of other writers and let that inspiration lead me on a journey I’d never considered before. Learning about audiobook publishing for indie authors was a great decision to allow my books to reach a wider audience. I plan to use what I’ve learned for each of my novels in the future and encourage other self-published writers to take the plunge and do the same.