Creating Audio Books

Creating Your Own Audiobooks

Recording an Audiobook

There are as many ways to produce an audiobook as there are microphones and audio software. However, in this section, we will be discussing the most inexpensive ways to go, but which produces very good quality recordings.

To create audio recordings, you need the following:

1. Soundproof room (or the quietest room you have or can create).

2. Recording software.

3. Microphone.

4. Computer with a decent sound card, and sufficient space on your hard drive for the length of your recording.

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn:

Soundproof Room

How on earth do you create a soundproof room in your home? Well, it can be quite a challenge, especially if you have an active household, pets, or noisy neighbors. Here are a few options which have worked for myself and many others.

Record In A Quiet Room:

The easiest way to record is simply to find a quiet room and set up your computer, monitor and microphone. Many people will choose a bedroom to record in. If the room sounds as though it echoes when playing back your recording, try taping blankets or quilts to the walls to deaden the echoes. You do not have to cover the entire surface of all the walls in a room, but a couple large blankets or quilts can make a huge difference.

If you hear dogs barking, kids playing outside, or the sounds of traffic, try doing your recording at night when things are a bit quieter.

Record In A Closet:

One of the things my wife Sasha and I do is record in our master bedroom closet. With all the clothes hanging in there, it makes a pretty good sound dampener and we get very little echo at all.  I place the computer outside the closet on the floor, resting on the carpet to keep vibration down. Why do I put the computer outside? To keep the whine of the fans and whir of the hard drive from being recorded. A good microphone will pick up just about anything, and you want to eliminate all sounds but your voice if possible.

Placing your computer a good distance from your microphone is a good idea, but how do you do it? By using an extension cable for your monitor, mouse, keyboard and microphone. Monitor extension cables can be up to seventy-five feet. I use a twenty-five foot cable, which is plenty to run from outside the closet to where I have set up a TV tray table to set the monitor on. I use another twenty-five foot USB extension cable for my USB microphone, which is mounted to a small microphone stand I purchased from Amazon.com. The microphone sits on another tray table along with my mouse and keyboard. Yes, I use twenty-five foot extension cables for both my mouse and keyboard as well. Just perform an online search for keyboard extension cable; mouse extension cable; monitor extension cable and USB extension cable.

I would suggest that you sit on a chair that does not squeak or make other sounds when you sit and shift weight, or when you move away from the backrest. The microphone will pick up those squeaks and pops and will clearly be heard on your recording. They can be very difficult to edit out!

Build A Recording Booth:

If you’re handy with tools, you can build a folding recording booth. I saw one that worked great. It was constructed from four pieces of plywood. The four panels were connected using hinges so the whole thing could be folded and placed against a wall when not in use. Two edges of the panels did not have hinges and simply had handles on the inside. That way, the panels could be arranged, leaving an opening, which could be pulled shut once you were inside.

The setup I saw used four old, fairly thick quilts hung on the inside panels using Velcro. Another old quilt was tossed up over the panels to create the roof. I was very impressed with how well this homemade recording booth worked!

The computer was placed about twenty-five feet from the recording booth. The monitor was used inside the booth to read the manuscript and/or to run the recording software. The microphone was placed in the booth along with a comfortable chair.

Build A Recording Box:

If you do not want to build a large foldable booth, you may buy or create a box which will sit on your desk with the microphone placed inside. The box is placed on the desk with the open end facing you, into which you place your microphone a short distance.

This type of arrangement is used quite a bit in home recording studios. You may create the box from wood, plastic or I have even used a cardboard box many times with great results. The trick is to pad the inside of the box to deaden any echoes. You can purchase professional audio foam panels but a lot of people will glue old, wadded up t-shirts or sweaters to the sides, back and top of the box, then crumple up a shirt or sweater on the floor of the box.  Set the microphone about half-way back into the box… or about nine to twelve inches inside, dependent upon the size of your box and the audio gain of your microphone.

Most of the microphones you will choose for doing audiobooks at home will be Large Diaphragm Condenser microphones. These microphones are very sensitive and fairly directional but do pick up sounds to the sides and back. By placing the microphone into a box which has sound deadening material on all sides (other than directly in front of the microphone) your recording will be much cleaner and the majority of the back and side noise eliminated.

Purchase A Professional Sound Booth:

This option is beyond most home recording projects since these generally start at around $1,000 U.S. Dollars and run upward to $5,000 – $8,000 for a home version.

Purchase Small Sound Reflection Filters:

These are small but very effective curved filters which attach easily to a microphone stand. Your microphone is placed in the center near the back. The foam on the inside of the curve absorbs sound coming from the sides and back of the microphone, effectively eliminating those sounds, allowing (for the most part) just your voice to be recorded.

Here are a couple of examples:

sE Electronics Project Filter

sE Electronics Project Studio Reflection Filter $199.00 U.S. Dollars

Primacustic Filter

Primacoustic’s VoxGuard $99.99 U.S. Dollars

The above filters, sound booths and a large variety of microphones, may be found at Sweetwater.com.

Recording Software

You’ll have a lot of options for your recording software, however, FREE is always a great place to start!

The most popular FREE and feature-rich recording software is known as Audacity®. You may obtain a FREE copy at: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

I have recorded and sold commercially, audiobooks using this free software, and do not hesitate in recommending it to authors wanting to produce their own audiobooks.

However, your recordings will only be as good as your microphone and the sounds it picks up (and the unwanted sounds eliminated). To put it plainly… a cheap microphone that comes with many computers will not give you good enough recordings for commercial use, and you must insure the best audio pickup by using one of the recording methods discussed above to eliminate the sounds of barking dogs, children playing, people talking, whines and whirs from your computer, etc. Also, the headset microphones sometimes used for online communications such as Skype™, or headset microphones used for computer dictation such as Dragon Naturally Speaking etc., are not good enough to be used for audiobooks!

If you plan on producing your own audiobook(s), invest in a decent microphone!

The Audacity® recording software is easy to install and easy to learn.

You will record your audio in a format known as “wave” which has the file extension “.wav” Audacity will allow you to process your recording and eliminate a good deal of pops and clicks using some of its many included filters. You can even add echo effects to the recording if you like to represent someone thinking instead of talking… great effect.

Microphones

Yikes! This is the most controversial area of recording. Huge volumes have been written on the subject and any in-depth discussion is outside the scope of this short section.

However…

Microphones range from a few U.S. dollars, to over $5,000 U.S. Dollars for a single microphone. So… what type of microphone will do the best job for the least money?

Again, no matter what I say I’ll be wrong to many. Why? Because your microphone choice is a personal one. Visit any professional recording studio and they will have dozens of microphones to choose from. Again why? Because many are used for recording musical instruments. Others record in two or more directions to accommodate multiple speakers or singers. Some are designed to pick up more bass, others more of the high notes. Still others are for voice only.

Since you are doing a vocal recording, you do not need microphones which will pick up the very high end nor the low end of musical instruments – which eliminates thousands of microphones.

Do you choose a USB microphone that you simply plug into your computer and record? Or do you choose a microphone which needs to be connected to a separate power supply and pre-amplifier prior to entering your computer? Which is better? Again, honestly, it is a matter of personal choice.

For most audiobooks created in your own home studio, I would suggest to start with a decent USB microphone. Just plug it in and you’re ready to record.

There are thousands of places to find microphones, but one place I like to visit is Sweetwater.com. Once there, click on “Recording,” then “Microphones,” then on “USB Microphones.” I am not affiliated with Sweetwater nor do I receive any payment from them. I simply like their selections and their outstanding customer support. Feel free to check out other suppliers online.

For vocals you want a Large Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone.

Yes, there are hundreds of USB microphones to choose from, so, which one?

I can’t answer this question for you, but I would say from my personal experience, having tried dozens of microphones over the years, that most microphones from around $200 U.S. Dollars and up work pretty well.

Which microphone do I use? Well, for most of the recording my wife Sasha and I do, I use the Sure PG42USB microphone, which at the time I purchased it, ran about $249.00 U.S. Dollars. I like the mic. It is high quality and a full audio range for Sasha and me, and is very sensitive. Once placed into our master bedroom closet, or using a box stuffed with crumpled clothing, the recordings are more than good enough for creating a commercial-grade audio book. However, take a good look at all the microphones in your price range and make your decision based on your needs or on whatever the latest technology in vocal microphones may be at the time you are ready to create your studio.

You may at a later time wish to upgrade your microphone, and perhaps move away from the USB type into the higher end microphones, which need the pre-amplification prior to entering your computer.

Computer, Sound Card and Storage Space

Your computer should have a good sound card, already included with most modern computers. If you are using a very old machine, you may want to purchase and have installed a newer high quality sound card. This will be worth the investment since you will want to create commercial quality audiobooks.

High quality audio takes up a LOT of space on your hard drive. How much? Depends on the length of your recording and what is known as the “bit depth” you record at. If you have several gigabytes free on your drive, do a few recordings at say, 5, 10, 30 and 45 minutes, then see how large the files are. That will give you a general idea of the storage space you may need for your completed book.

If you don’t think you will have the space on your internal hard drive, you may wish to invest in an external hard drive, which is relatively inexpensive.

Also, the quality of the sound card within your computer is important – but the quality of your microphone comes first!

Once you are happy with your recording, I would suggest you do something that will generally take your recording from being good, to very good, possibly even achieving professional quality, dependent upon the recording quality to this point. I suggest you download and install…

The Levelator®

The Levelator® is a FREE standalone software program designed for professional audio recordings. This software will take your saved audio Wave file and run many audio algorithms on the file, eliminating many pops, clicks and other sounds most audio software will miss. It will also do something which all audiobook distributors insist on –  maximizing and leveling the volume of the recording to keep it consistent over multiple volumes. In other words, when someone switches between one tape or file of your audiobook to another, they will not have to constantly readjust the volume each time. This is HUGE! If you want to produce the highest quality audio recordings possible, PLEASE… run your finished Wave file through this software. You will be amazed at the end result!

You may download your FREE copy at: http://www.conversationsnetwork.org/levelator

To use the Levelator®, you simply drag and drop your Wave file onto the graphic image of the Levelator®. It will instantly begin doing its thing. When it is finished, it will automatically save a new copy of the file, with a different extension, to the same folder as the original. There are no settings you need to play with. Just drag, drop and forget it!

Once your audio has run through the Levelator®, open it in Audacity and save it to whatever type of file you like. Most of the time, you will save the file as an MP3 file, which can be played over the Net, on iPhones, iPads, iPods, etc. And, many online audiobook distribution companies will only accept Wave or MP3 files. So, be sure to save your recordings in at least those two formats.

You may upload your finished books to several places on the Net or to your own website (or others), to your blog (or others blogs), or burn your book to CD or DVD and sell it however you choose.

How Long Will It Take To Record My Book?

Great question and here is the place to get a darn good estimate:

Words-To-Time-Calculator

Edge Studio is a website for those doing voiceovers. It has a great words-to-time-calculator which will give you a pretty good idea of how much recording time you may need. However… it does NOT take into account the many “do-overs” or “retakes” you will need to do (due to coughs, lip smacking, loud swallows, sniffing, losing your place and saying “uh,” excessive pausing, or a wide variety of interruptions) while recording. All these can substantially add to the overall time of your recording. In addition, these calculations do not take into account playing around with the recording once finished, such as adding echo effects, using various filters to remove pops, clicks, hum, etc.

The calculator is simply a good way to get a general idea of straight recording time using different speaking tempos. Taking this estimated recording time, then multiplying that time with how much disk space is required per minute of recording, will give you a pretty good idea if your current drive will hold your completed book, or if you will need to invest in an external drive.

Sasha and I generally record no longer than forty-five minutes at a time, then save that to disk. Why? Well, there are several reasons actually. First and foremost is the fact that research has shown that most people listen to audiobooks while commuting. The research indicated that most commute times run between thirty to forty-five minutes. Therefore, the ideal “Segment” time would be the same. What the heck is “Segment” time? Well, it’s called many things actually, but it simply means that if you record your book in segments of thirty to forty-five minute chunks, it’s easier for those commuting to finish a Segment each way of their commute.

Personally, I have never found this to be true for any commute I have ever taken.

However, there is another reason, which makes much more sense… Serialization.

Huh? What the heck is Serialization?

Serialization is very interesting… and very important.

Serialization simply means breaking your audiobook up into multiple files.

If you had a short story that you could record in an hour as a single file, that would not be Serialization. Serialization is when your story is broken into two or more file segments.

Consider this: In my Amanda Ackers novel series, the first book, “Amanda Ackers and The Deep Forest Elves,” is 242,349 words in length – not including the front matter or Appendix.

Now, the words-to-time calculator above indicates that the straight recording time for this book would be 22 hours, 26 minutes 22 seconds… if read at the tempo of 3 words per second, which is considered the average speaking rate for an audiobook.

Twenty-two hours of audio in a single file would be HUGE! Imagine someone attempting to open that file online and streaming it to their device. Yikes!

There are places on the Net where you can store your audiobook for a listener to download. One such site is Podiobooks.com

Podiobooks.com allows anyone to place their books on their site for FREE, but you cannot charge for your books. So, why would you want to put your book up for FREE? Several reasons. One is to get your name out there. People visit sites like Podiobooks.com to download and listen to audiobooks while driving or to their iPods, iPhones, iPad’s, computers and other devices. Once they get to know you as an author, and like your work, they will be more likely to purchase your eBooks, print books, and yes, your audiobooks.

Podiobooks.com requires Serialization, meaning your audiobook(s) must be recorded in segments or chunks which they call “Episodes.”

An Episode may be a single chapter or several chapters combined. An Episode might even end somewhere within a chapter and begin where you left off in the next Episode.

By providing your book in smaller file chunks, it’s much easier for someone to simply download and listen to a single Episode at a time or to download a single Episode to one’s device or computer, without using up all or most of its memory. Many devices have a very limited amount of memory and downloading my 22+ hours of audio may be more than their device can handle, along with everything else they have!

How long is a single Episode? Well, again, the research suggests between thirty to forty-five minutes. However, even Podiobooks.com will tell you that you can make an Episode as long as you need it to be.

I’ve seen Episodes from ten minutes to an hour and a half, and everything in between. Generally, my personal feeling is to use a watch or stopwatch, read a chapter and note the time. If you can get one or more chapters in forty-five minutes… great, if not… adjust.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that, while driving, you may listen to an audiobook for an extended period of time. But while walking around or siting at your computer and listening, there are just too many other things to distract or demand your attention. Therefore, unless one is in a commute, shorter lengths seem to work better… again in the thirty to forty-five minute area. I would not go over an hour unless you really need to, but use your own discretion.

The same applies when you burn your book to CD or a DVD. Either record chapter by chapter or combine one or two chapters together, so it is easy for the listener to jump to the chapter they wish to listen to. Having to scrub a CD or DVD to find your place in a 22+ hour file would be a little irksome, don’t you think?

Don’t overlook putting a few of your audiobooks up for FREE, then telling folks at the end where they can find other works you’ve created, such as eBooks, print books or other audiobooks and their cost. These FREE audiobooks provide great marketing for you. Once you have one or more books online for FREE, use Twitter, Facebook, websites and blogs to send people to these FREE audiobooks so they get to know you as an author – and each of those audiobooks directing them to your other work(s). I cannot stress how great this marketing can work for you, but YOU need to promote the site you place your audiobook(s) on. With today’s social networking you should not have much trouble.

Also, don’t forget that many local newspapers are always looking for stories of interest. Let them know you, as a local, have just published a FREE audiobook online and provide the address. Same for your eBooks or print books. The worst that can happen is they say no – for now. Many radio stations look for new and interesting stories. Being a local author may just get you a FREE plug on the air too.

Things To Consider

There are many things to consider while making an audio recording. If you sign up at Edge Studio, you will have access to many areas that discuss audio – everything from how to eliminate lip smacks, controlling breath “plosives,” (those annoying poofs from your “B’s” and “P’s” which ruin a recording). Lip smacks and “plosives” are tough to eliminate once recorded so learning how to control these while recording is very important!

Timing and pacing is important as well. By this I mean the tempo in which you speak. Many speakers when doing audiobooks, speak too quickly, making it hard for the listener to follow along, and it becomes tiring to try to keep up. Others speak way too slow, dragging out the text to the point that people will run out of patience and decide to listen to something else.

Whatever you do… please do not speak in a monotone! Nothing puts your listeners to sleep quicker than a monotone speaker who uses no inflections whatsoever! Try to make your story interesting by varying your tone. You don’t have to be theatrical, but keep things flowing at a good tempo and vary your tone.

I would suggest you listen to several audiobooks and see which ones you like, and ask yourself why. Find the ones you like, look at your watch when you hit play, then record a minute or two. Count the number of words per minute. Yes, this takes some doing but once you find the tempo that seems the most pleasant, it will give you a place to start. Then try to keep your tempo at the same rate. It will take some experimenting, but pretty soon you will find the right tempo, and find that you can, with practice, keep to that tempo over a lengthy reading.

Do not try to record a full length novel in one sitting. Do a chapter or two, then rest for an hour or so, then continue or only do a chapter or two per day. It’s interesting to note that as you listen to an audio, you’ll be able to hear the difference in someone’s voice as they tire after speaking for half an hour or longer. Do a little at a time, the suggested length varies of course, but I have read many times, to not go over an hour without taking a half-hour break. You will eventually find what works best for you.

One thing you may want to do is visit the following link for The Voice Over Mistake Chart, (if it’s still active). Click on the links for some of the errors voice talents often make, which will give you an idea of what you may wish to work on yourself.

 

That’s it for now, I hope this will help you get started into the profitable arena of audiobooks.

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6 Responses to Creating Audio Books

  1. Anna Marie May says:

    Loved the article, I’ve been wanting to do some audiobooks but didn’t know where to start. Thank you.

  2. Excellent post. I have done a post about audiobooks – mainly because I love being able to “read” a book while being on road trips. Thanks for letting author know it’s not that difficult to do it yourself.

  3. Deena, thanks so much for your comment. Audiobooks are a lot of fun to create. I wish more authors would record their books. Only they can really tell the story as it played out in their head. I created, owned and operated a website design company for five years. I did over 1,500 websites, and did voice overs for all of them. With some free audio software, a good microphone and a quiet place to record, authors could make a good deal of money selling their books in an audio format.

    Thanks again for your comment, and Sasha and I will see you on Twitter 🙂

  4. Mark says:

    Excellent article – we are just about to start recording our ebooks to audio and this has given us a lot of useful information – thanks

    • Hi Mark. Thanks for reading the little article. Audio recording is a lot of fun, but can be frustrating too, making mistakes, then having to record those areas again, and make them sound natural, blending in with what said prior to that retake.
      Sasha and I wish you and your wife well with your adventures into the creation of audio books.
      Glenn.

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