Audiobooks have kept me company on long drives, distracted me while completing mundane chores, and carried me through books that … let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten through. (Moby Dick, I’m looking at you.)
So, of course, I wanted my own books in audio format! (Though hopefully people want them because they enjoy the story, not for Moby Dick reasons.) Unfortunately, hiring a narrator is expensive. It is possible to split royalties with a narrator instead of paying up front, but then you’re bound to that contract for years.
Because of the cost and the limitations, I ruled out both.
Another indie suggested I generate AI audiobooks. It’s free, and the voices aren’t too unrealistic. You can also make little adjustments to the text the AI voice reads to further improve the sound. However, AI audiobooks are controversial. Some retailers won’t accept them, and some readers don’t like them.
Still, for a little while, that was looking like my best option.
Then I learned about a course that would teach me to narrate my own audiobooks. The course and equipment were about half the cost of hiring a narrator to produce just one of my novels into an audiobook. With that investment, I’m now able to produce as many audiobooks as I want!
The course is called Audiobooks Made Easy, and it lived up to its name. (If you’re interested, here’s my affiliate link to the course, which does give me a commission but also gives you 20% off – a win-win!) I checked off modules and followed the steps. I hung a comforter on the wall of my living room, set up a table, a mic, and my laptop, and was ready to record.
Or was I?
Oral storytelling is an ancient art form, and modern listeners have strong opinions about how it should be done.
ACX, the audiobook subsidiary of Amazon.com, posted a free audiobook narration series on YouTube that shared so much wisdom on how to bring stories (and the characters inside them) to life.
One piece of advice they offered repeatedly?
Study the text to understand the author’s intentions, then use your voice to convey that emotion.
As the author myself, I figured I had a leg up! Encouraged—and better prepared—I started recording.
But the learning didn’t stop there.
I quickly discovered the importance of correctly caring for and using my voice. This involved drinking enough water, working up to reading for longer periods, taking days off, and more.
I also learned through experience how to differentiate one character’s voice from another while also not going overboard. (One of my audiobook pet peeves is when a woman tries to imitate a man’s voice and ends up sounding silly. Thankfully, the ACX tutorials had great tips on this!) Because I got so much better at differentiating voices as I recorded, I ended up redoing the opening after I finished recording the end of the book.
Though the course offered guidance on editing the audio file, I tweaked how I did the noise cancellation effect so the background would be consistently quiet. Oh, and I learned the hard way not to run the washer or dryer while recording.
A normal part of audiobook narration is recording retakes of lines that don’t sound quite right. This, too, turned out to be an art form, since my voice sounds slightly different from one day to the next. Also, if the microphone is placed just a little differently or the background noise is different, the newly recorded line can sound very different than the surrounding audio. Sometimes it took several tries to get it right!
And one last thing I learned? To appreciate what my voice is capable of. In the past, I’ve suffered the same dislike for hearing my recorded voice that I think I lot of people feel. Working in a call center, where our calls were sometimes recorded and played back to us, helped me get past some of that, but it wasn’t until this project that I really learned what my voice can do.
In the end, recording To Bring You Back was far more time-consuming than I expected, but I’m also thrilled with the result. Can you tell? ;)
Writing stories is a personal endeavor. When authors talk about “voice,” we mean all the little choices a writer makes that result in a narrative having a flavor and mood unique to that writer. These choices include wording, tone, point-of-view, focus, and more. Voice is a big reason why one hundred writers could start with the same idea and still produce one hundred different stories. It’s also the reason I think I could pick up an unmarked book tell you whether my favorite author had written it.
Lending my literal voice, with all its nuances, to my writing “voice” adds an additional, very personal layer of my heart to this story that’s so dear to me.
If you give it a listen, I hope you’ll agree that this was a better route than using AI. But more than that, I hope the story will resonate with you more because of the beating heart on the other side of the keyboard and the microphone. And, since I write Christian fiction with strong faith threads, I hope that under it all, you’ll hear the heart of the Father who loves you.
If you’d like to check it out, To Bring You Back is available from most major audiobook retailers, including Audible (Affiliate link), Amazon, Google Play, Sribd, Kobo.
I have plans to record the rest of the Rhythms of Redemption Romances. In the meantime, since it’s new and shorter, I went ahead and recorded Now or Never, and you can find it on Audible (Affiliate link) or Amazon, with other retailers coming any day now. If you don’t see your favorite listed, check! It just might be there.
Did anything about the process of recording an audiobook surprise you? What are your must-haves in an audiobook?
I found it very interesting! I don’t do audio books, though. I tried before, but I either pay attention to the work I’m doing or to the book. I will never try it while driving!!!
Emily Conrad says
It’s so important to know what works for you! Safety first! There are times, such as in heavy traffic, where I pause audiobooks, and I don’t like to listen to them while walking my dog, because I like to hear what’s going on around me (like a stray dog running up!), so I get it.
This is such an interesting post! I’ve learnt a bit about getting audiobooks recorded from other writer on her, but how amazing that you learnt to do it yourself! It sounds s really difficult thing to do, particularly differentiating the voices, I fine it hard enough when reading to my lids lol.
I also had no idea people are making AI audio books. I don’t think I like the idea of that, I am a big fan of audio books and I like the idea of a real person reading.
Congratulations on recording your first two books, I hope the rest of the series goes well.
Emily Conrad says
Thanks so much, Ruthie! Different voices are tricky. I tried to keep the differences subtle, because I think they’re less distracting that way. And AI is everywhere these days, isn’t it? But I agree that the human voice adds to the story in a way a computer doesn’t.
I didn’t realize how much work recording an audio book entailed. I am so glad you have found a way to do it that benefits you.
Emily Conrad says
Thanks, Bonnie! Me too!
Merrillee Whren says
I bought an online course a year ago and the equipment to do my own audio books, but I still haven’t started. I’ve been busy with other aspects of being an author. But your post has given me inspiration to get busy with my attempt at audio books.
Emily Conrad says
There are a lot of different tasks that take our time as authors, aren’t there? I hope your audiobook recording goes well!
Hi, Emily! Your post is spot on. I have experience as both a stage actor and a voice actor (though neither have been a paying gig, lol :)). You have touched on all the challenges here. Of all of them, the one that has been the biggest for me is voicing characters so that the differences are believable, consistent and genuine.
As an actor, it’s easy to choose from a repertoire of character voices which are your old standbys. The more experience you have, the bigger the selection. The problem is that those voices tend to be fun to listen to just because of their sounds. For example, how many times have you heard someone mimic Bugs Bunny or some other cartoon character or Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. Foreign accents are another set of “interesting” sounds to draw on like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets or someone with a pronounced southern drawl.
But it is a rare thing that a novel features a character whose literal voice is so unique. In fact, the comments that I have heard from writing teachers is that you should be *very careful* when it comes to writing in dialect or trying to write so as to imitate an accent. Writing, obviously is intended for the eye and the imagination. While audio storytelling still invites us to use our imaginations, it makes something concrete (the sounds of voices and the emotions expressed in speech) that written stories do not. Hence the whole new set of problems to solve as a storyteller, many of which boil down to simple genetics.
How do we create voices for characters of the opposite sex without sounding hokey?
How do we express a full range of emotion while speaking in a voice of the opposite sex?
How do we distinguish between two sisters with plain mid-western accents?
The list goes on and on. I think it is totally AWESOME that you have created your own audio narrations. (Perhaps I should say I am awestruck :)).
Having said all that, I’m with Trudy when it comes to actually listening to audio books. My mind wanders so easily when I don’t have the actual written words to focus on. So, I stick with ebooks and the very occasional paperback.
Thanks for such a fun and informative post and congratulations!
Emily Conrad says
Oh, lots of great points! You’re so right that audio books add some elements of the story that the written word leaves to the imagination. Hopefully there’s still room for imagination, of course, because–speaking of characters with unique voices–rather than try to actually sound like I think Gannon sounds, I did what I could to convey the idea of his voice, if that makes sense. Maybe someday I’ll do a dual narration audio book with my husband to get closer!
I am late. I love the oh don’t run the washer and dryer when recording. I actually almost laughed cos I have had similar issues doing things. I tried to record how loud my cats purring was when he was sitting on my lap and still don’t know what the background noise was but there was something going in the background.
I don’t like the sound of my recorded voice. I hadn’t realised others feel the same way. but you mentioning it made me think others like the way a voice sounds or like to chat to us in person so why should we dislike our own voice. I guess its the same as I didn’t like having a photo taken cos I look bad in them but then that is how people see me. I am doing better but know a lot comes from having a low self esteem (which I am better with now)
Emily Conrad says
You’re not late at all! I subscribe to comments on my posts, so I’ll get a heads up whenever someone drops by to join the conversation, and I’m so glad you did!
I’ve had that experience too, where something I thought was loud didn’t get captured on a video I took. And, I once recorded a video for work without realizing my dog’s quiet snoring was audible in the background. Ha! So that happens to all of us!
Also, yes, you’re in great company with not liking the sound of your voice when it’s recorded. It’s something I heard about all the time when I worked for that call center where our calls were sometimes played back to us. It’s common enough that it was mentioned in the audiobook training course too! I’ve heard it’s because our voices sound different from inside our own heads vs. what other people hear, if that makes sense. In any case, the Lord gave us each our unique voices and they’re oh so dear to our loved ones <3 So grateful you were able to join the conversation today!
Judith McNees says
Thanks for this info. I’ve been considering dipping my toes into audio books as well, and I wasn’t quite sure where to start. Very interesting post!
Emily Conrad says
Happy to share my experience! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions I didn’t cover!