Ten years ago, I had just released First Name Basis and was excited that my book was in a physical format. I could grab a paperback copy of my book and flip through it just like any other big-name author. However, when I tried selling this book, most people would ask, “Is it in eBook format?” This question confused me because I figured anyone could make an eBook. It takes a bit more effort to produce a physical product like a paperback. After finally caving and creating an eBook for First Name Basis, everything was fine…for a few years. Now, everyone asks if it’s in audiobook format. *sigh*

Don’t get me wrong; I understand the appeal of audiobooks. The majority of the books I read each year are in the audiobook format because I can multitask something menial while also absorbing a book. For self-published authors, the problem with audiobooks is that they are significantly more complex to create than an eBook or paperback. “But isn’t it just reading the book out loud and recording it?” you might ask. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. What’s worse is that if a self-published author doesn’t have the right equipment or understanding of dramatic readings, the only alternative is to pay someone else to record the audiobook for them. An author will have to sink a few thousand dollars into a good audiobook narrator if they can’t do it themselves.

An audiobook should not be the author just reading their book.

With the 10th anniversary of First Name Basis happening this year, I wanted to create an audiobook version but didn’t have the funds to pay someone to do it. However, I’ve listened to enough audiobooks to know roughly how they should be narrated. I also have some background in the dramatic arts from high school and college, which helps with character voices and line readings. Another hobby of mine in college involved a lot of audio editing, so I felt prepared to deal with that aspect of this audiobook project as well. All of these skills would come in handy as I set out to record my first novel in a new format.

As part of releasing the 10th Anniversary edition of First Name Basis, I read the entire book out loud again so I could do another polished edit. I didn’t find too many things wrong with the content, but some of the wordings hadn’t aged as well as I initially thought they had. Making these tweaks helped make the audiobook recording process much smoother. Granted, this was the easy part. Next, I had to figure out my setup for recording this audio. From what I had seen of voice actors performing their art, I would need a good microphone, some sound dampeners, and a stand for my manuscript. In true DIY fashion, I gathered together my iPhone, a comforter from a guest bed, and a box for a Christmas tree we weren’t using anymore.

This was my “recording studio” setup.

Late at night, when the world outside (and inside) my house had gone to sleep, I set up my “recording studio” in my basement office. This is the quietest place in my house and has the least background noise when I record. I plugged an IK Multimedia iRig Mic Studio USB Condenser Microphone into my iPhone to improve the sound quality, draping a light washcloth over it to act as my pop filter. I clamped the comforter to a shelf to provide sound dampening so my voice wouldn’t echo back into the microphone. I placed my tablet on the Christmas tree box to have my manuscript readily available for me to read while I was standing. Using the “Voice Memos” app on my iPhone, I started recording each section of First Name Basis.

Before I started recording, I made sure to check the requirements on Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) so that the files I created would need the least amount of work to be accepted for sale in the Audible, Amazon, and iTunes online stores. This required me to ensure my iPhone settings for Voice Memos were set to “lossless” so the audio I was recording didn’t have any compression artifacts. Using the iPhone’s built-in audio editing for voice memos, I was able to trim the silence at the start and end of each section so it met ACX’s standards. I also (eventually) figured out that the little magic wand in the corner of the audio editor helped reduce any ambient noise that the microphone might have picked up. Ultimately, I needed to run each file through Audacity (a free audio editing software) to increase the volume of each section, but I’ll get to that part in a future post.

Be aware of the noise around you.

While I could control a lot of noise from inside this basement room, there were noises outside of this area that I needed to handle. When I started recording this audiobook in February, it was cold enough in the middle of the night that the furnace would turn on and add a lot of background noise. I had to turn the thermostat down during these recording sessions to ensure my audio was as clean as it could be. Additionally, a vent flap outside my house kept clattering when it was windy out, which prevented me from recording for quite a few nights. I eventually found this vent and put a pad on it to prevent this noise, but I was in a bit of a recording hiatus by then.

Something I learned very early on in this process was that it’s important to be adequately hydrated. This might seem like an intuitive statement, but there is a danger of being over-hydrated. One of the first microphones I tried to use for this project was positioned close to my mouth, which merely accentuated all the “mouth sounds” that horrified me when I listened to the audio I had recorded. The key here is to be hydrated enough that your mouth isn’t dry and “sticky” (which creates clicking and smacking noise) but not so hydrated that the excess moisture creates the same effect. I had to plan ahead and hydrate throughout the day so I wouldn’t load all my water drinking close to when I wanted to record and end up over-hydrated. Narrating an audiobook can quickly dehydrate you, so be sure to have some water on hand to take sips between takes.

Even though this post mainly covered how to get the best audio on a budget, there is more to an audiobook than just recording good audio. Next month, I’ll discuss some of the techniques I used to produce an audiobook that ACX accepted.


How many audiobooks do you read each year?
Do you prefer to read books in audiobook format?
What are some things you like about audiobook narration?

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