As a self-published author, I want to share my experiences and the lessons I learned from creating three audiobooks. Each time, taught me new tricks and pain points that may be useful to some of you.
This is the third read about audiobooks, proceed by a how-to and the personal aspects of transforming my written words into spoken form. While I devoured everything I could about creating audiobooks, there were some aspects I wasn’t prepared for. I highly recommend that you do your own research before embarking on this journey. Here, I try to add to your arsenal.
ENLIST YOUR ALLIES
Selecting the right narrator to create an exceptional audiobook is one of the hardest steps for an author to take. On my first book, I chose the narrator myself, after all, who knew my novel better than me. I had a strong sense of what I was going for. I am happy with the result, but there was room for improvement. The second time, I elisted my beta readers to help me decide. Admitting that there is a difference between what I wrote and what readers perceived took a mound of humble pie. But humble pie I did eat.
Like before, I weeded out the weak auditions, then whittled it down to a handful of excellent samples, making sure to include different styles, including ones that I wasn’t sure about. I asked my beta readers to listen and choose their top two. Humble pie made its way onto the menu again. They clearly picked two narrations, one of which I thought would be the worst ranked.
Being more comfortable with this go around, I thanked the rest and requested the top two to do second takes. I provided a few small notes from my beta readers and they happily sent me a new audition. Boy, was I surprised. One sent in not one, but two new auditions, saying that the latter one was out there, but could be great. He completely transformed one of the two main characters. It was outrageous in a way that fit him perfectly. This guy didn’t just provide a great and safe version, he put himself out there and showed he could embrace and embody the sardonic humor I intended. When I passed this on to my betas, they loved it. This new version overwrote all of our inner voices, but in a fantastic way.
I am so grateful that I asked for a second audition. If I hadn’t I might have made a huge mistake. Further, if I hadn’t listened to my betas, I never would have chosen the incomparable Brian Avers.
WHEN IT WORKS…
For my third book, I didn’t even bother auditioning. Because I loved every aspect of working with Brian, it was a no-brainer. In fact, I wrote the book with Brian’s voice speaking the dialogue and describing the scenes. Being amenable to direction, he gave me two samples before we started so we could decide together on which voices we liked better. Because I already trusted him, I gave him a little more leeway than the first time. Unlike last time, he didn’t go with any outlandish voices–except for a nutty Russian scientist that he nailed perfectly.
One of my favorite parts of working with Brian is that he wants feedback. He isn’t insecure, knowing that he’ll do a better job if he has a partner in crime. This isn’t to say he wants me to wade in on the minutia. That would have ruined his process and the narration as a whole. But, when something didn’t sit right, I’d let him know. More often than not, he had wondered about those sections and was glad that I pointed them out.
We went back and forth about every chapter. Sometimes I realized that I screwed up, and his recording made it glaringly obvious. He was amenable to let me fix the problem, usually changing one or two words to change the emphasis. Then he’d record that sentence again. Brian's commitment to staying in touch throughout the process gave me peace of mind.
WRITING FOR AUDIO
I wrote my first two books with the written word in mind. I approached my third book with narration as the ultimate goal. I paid more attention to dialogue tags, pacing, and overall structure to enhance the listener's experience. While visual readers practically ignore the “he said” and “she said” markers, they can ruin a verbal back and forth.
On the printed page, readers often translate between formal grammar and the way one might actually speak. But, if a narrator says those same words, it won’t be nothin’ but a bag o’ bugs on a pile o’ dung. I use Google's speech-to-text to listen to my books, so I can hear the difference. It usually takes me a few read-throughs to hone it in properly.
LETS TALK MARKETING
While selling ebooks and paperbacks is almost identical for most visual readers, audiobooks are an entirely different medium. Your written word friends aren’t necessarily your big listeners. You need to reach out to an entirely new audience. Auditory people often consume their news verbally, listen to podcasts, and frequent talkshows. Many of us are lysdexic or have other challenges consuming written words.
So, pre-gaming your marketing strategies is critical for success. For my third book, I built anticipation through social media teasers, engaging with my readers, and partnering with a few podcasts who have overlap with my readers’ interests. On my first book, I didn’t realize how far in advance I had to schedule out podcasts. While some are only a few weeks out, others take upward of six months. By investing time and effort into pre-release marketing, I aimed to reach a wider audience and generate excitement around my audiobook beforehand and encourage verbal-oriented readers to take a look afterward.
GENRES & DEMOGRAPHICS
Because each of my novels is aimed at different listeners (young adult, sardonic space opera, and apocalyptic) I had to figure out strategies to engage them differently and couldn’t rely on repeat customers. Do a little research on your target listener before you ever start the process. There are tons of audiobooks in young adult, and competing in that arena is far more challenging than the other two I ventured into. It has been easier to compete in the space opera and apocalyptic genres. If I’d tested the market before I made my young adult audiobook I could have saved a ton of money.
Identifying my ideal listeners for my second and third audiobooks helped me tailor my promotional efforts effectively. Beta listeners were helpful because they helped me identify who to advertise to, and who not to engage. They let me know what appealed them about the books and sometimes even wrote endorsements.
As a self-published author venturing into the audiobook realm, I faced significant financial costs. While I haven't sold as many audiobooks as I'd hoped, I remain positive and committed to earning back my investment and then some. The second and third book will eventually cover the painful loss I suffered from my first book. I move closer to my goal of paying off the production costs with each sale. If I stopped at the first audiobook, digging myself out of the red wouldn’t be possible.
Creating audiobooks has been a transformative experience, enriching my storytelling journey in ways I never imagined. If you have questions that I haven’t answered yet, please reach out via Twitter, Facebook, or on my website.
Support indie and self-published authors. They put a lot on the line to venture into new mediums. Their passion and dedication deserve recognition.