Is it worth going audio only?


Back in April the BBC told us that some authors are going “audio only”. Is audio only publishing something more authors should do or is it just a fad?

What is audio only publishing?

Audio only is exactly what you think. Publishing only in audiobook format.

Traditionally when we talk of publishing we are talking about words on pages in books or – more modernly – in ebooks and e-readers. However, that sentiment would ignore the growing world of audiobook publishing.

According to my sources, audiobook sales have risen steadily for some time now. The largest demographic for these sales – young men. Which is exactly what the BBC have been saying:

Their growing popularity was said to have been largely driven by downloads from commuters, as well as young men who may not traditionally read much fiction.

Reaching the largely untapped market segment of younger men explains the trend for skipping print and going for audio only.

What is required for audio only recording?

There are two ways to create an audiobook. Pay someone else to record it or record it yourself. Much like text-based writing, audio creation is something you can do at home. At the very basic level, you need a good reading voice, a microphone, and something to record onto – a computer or mobile.

My own setup includes microphones, stands, a desktop computer, a laptop, a mixing desk, a mini-disk system, and a range of audio software. That’s a collection that I have built up over time with a mix of purchases, swaps, and other people’s unwanted “junk” that I have been able to repurpose. However, to get started you do not need half of that.

In addition to your computer, you will want:

That’s it.

The only technical limit you will discover is computer fan noise. You will want to keep your microphone and your computer as far apart as cable lengths allow. That is to stop any sound from the fans on your computer ending up on the recording. Yes, you can often fix that after but it is better not to need to.

How long will my audio only book be?

A novel of roughly 90,000 words will end up coming out somewhere around the 10-hour mark. The’s 10-hours of finished audio. I can assure you that recording will take a lot longer than that.

Not only will you be hard pressed to record your book in a single take (or even a few takes), you may find that a single chapter requires a degree of stopping and starting. After which you are going to want to listen to it back at least once or twice and maybe re-record sections you are unhappy with.

Just assuming few false starts and smooth recording sessions, you could be clocking up over 40-hours of recording and editing time. Probably a lot more.

If that sounds like a lot, prepare for a shock. The advice I have seen from a lot of successful authors is that when it comes to audiobooks longer is better. Long audiobooks sell well, I am told.

Some considerations if you are self-recording

I am assuming that you are recording at home. For me that means not recording when my neighbour is leaving for work int he morning, nor when he arrives home. That’s because I know he rides a motorbike and, despite double glazing, it is going to get picked up by the microphone. Especially if I am using my high fidelity omnidirectional.

The chances are that you too will have times that are not suitable for recording. Family members, the telephone, traffic outside, and even the birds singing loudly right outside your window. All these things can slow the process of recording. You will quickly figure out how to work around these things but they can still slow you down. Particularly when you are just getting started.

On the other hand, you might actually want to include those sounds to add texture and colour to your recording. Audio has all sorts of interesting options to consider.

All that said, you could pay for someone else to record your audiobook.

Paying for talent

Just as you might consider paying for professional proofreading and editing services, with audio publishing there are services you can hire to make life easier. These include voice actors, audiobook narrators (such as myself), and sound technicians. None of these services come cheap but they can be worth it if your book is likely to sell well.

One website you may find useful if you are looking for a particular voice to record your work is ACX. It is a big marketplace and so a reasonable place to start your search. If you wanted to hire me, that’s where you would go.

Selling audiobooks

You can sell audio files (and thus, audiobooks) pretty much anywhere that podcasts and indie music is sold. However, there is one “big name” in audiobook publishing – Audible which is owned by Amazon. You are going to want an ACX account to use that.

I have not sold audiobooks myself so there is not really a lot I can tell you about this area. However, in the video below Chris Fox explains some of the basics of selling audiobooks.

Is audio only right for you?

One thing that audio only allows you to do is skip the whole punctuation and spelling stage of editing. It does not matter how you express your work with written words as long as you express your “writing” clearly and fluidly with your voice. For a dyslexic like me, that is most attractive.

Like typing, audio recording has its own quirks and inherent skills that you will need to strengthen if you are serious about working in this format. But the medium also offers a whole new range of possibilities for expression that printed books do not. Adding audio texture and atmospheric incidentals is not something I am willing to get into right now, but there is a whole new medium to explore if you wish to.

Audio only publishing, like print, has all sorts of self-publishing options. Also, like print, there are publishers that specialise in this market.

Is audio only right for you? Only you will know that. It certainly is an option and if you are getting into self-publishing it is certainly an area you might like to think about.

Have you found this article helpful? Did I miss something, you think people should know about? Have you published an audiobook yourself? Use the comments and let me know your opinions on the subject.


About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.

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