$0 Cost Do It Yourself Audiobooks
An audiobook in 4 hours with no microphone, no narrator, and no cash? Yes, yes, and yes. After a ton of authors reached out to ask how I made my first audiobook, I decided this would be the best way to answer them all. Hello, blogging. Let’s jump in.
Why do it yourself?
It’s fun, you might be broke or unwilling to invest the money, and hey, maybe you have some time—or are looking for an excuse to pull away from a frustrating novel and you want to break up the monotony. No judgments. XD I wanted to see if it could be done. It can be. Really well. It can make you cash, too, which is a marvelous reason to play around for a day learning new things.
There’s a familiar diagram you may have seen, a triangle of Time, Money, and Quality with the caveat of two options balance the third. You can have something done cheap and fast, but the quality will go down. You can have something for good quality and quick, but you have to pay loads of money. And if you want something cheap but of good quality, you must invest the time. A do-it-yourself audiobook is all about time to get quality, because, whoot! You can make an audiobook for $0 starting out!
If you want to get an audiobook done on the cheap, I can point you the tools available, but know quality will depend on the time you’re willing to invest. Time to learn software, time to record the book, time to ensure the pacing of the speech is right, that the mistakes the text to speech voice makes are fixed, and everything is understandable. Tech has come a long way, but it’s still not perfect.
Why you might find doing it yourself for an audiobook to bite you on the ass
For every market, a sub-market grows.
So not every platform will allow audiobooks made with a synthetic voice. Audiobook creation is a service and there are those who would rather these services be bought instead of people doing it themselves. ACX is one of those services. From what I can see, Amazon uses them primarily, so don’t expect to have a synthetic voiced audiobook Amazon next to your actual book. I wouldn’t expect to have any voiced audiobook next to your actual book unless you go through ACX and pay a narrator and accept a 40% royalty for your audiobook. I can’t even find how audiobooks end up on Google Play, and I’m usually pretty good at these searches. I’m assuming ACX has a big corner on the market. Smashwords doesn’t offer audiobooks—you have to remember, audio files are large while an ebook can be pretty damn tiny. Which is why I don’t recommend storing them on your website unless you can afford the bandwidth to have them downloaded.
So, for now I’d say focus on selling on your website through Payhip, or a file sharing system, such as mediafire, and/or finding places where you can host podcasts such as SoundCloud. I specify podcasts because it’s audio that’s expected to be long, not short like a song track. Erotica, naturally, gets the shaft and you need to ensure your work is ‘acceptable’ on these sites. Assume they’re not *eyeroll* and expect at some point, any erotic sounding scenes may be the reason your file suddenly disappears. Anywho, if you’re not a dirty writer XD there are plenty of places you can host a sample of your book, or even the entire book if you want to give it away for free.
Basically, if you do it yourself in an ‘unapproved’ way, you’ll find your audiobooks aren’t welcome on the big platforms. As an erotica writer, I’m used to this kind of bs. Normal writers might find it not worth the time or effort if they can’t get their audiobook next to their kindle book on Amazon. It could also be a nice test to see if your readers are interested in an audio version without coughing up hundreds to get a narrator and studio involved. It’s up to you.
I don’t see this is as a huge setback, btw. As a self publisher, it’s been super important from the beginning to make my website the center of my book hub. Everything should link back to the website, and what better way to have that happen then to mention if you want the audiobook version you can go to www.sadiesinsbooks.com, in every description on every platform I sell my books on?
Creating an Audiobook
Okay, let’s get into the actual audiobook creation. We’re going to need text-to-speech software, an audio recorder, and an audio editor. But first…
Prepare your text file.
Copy and paste your finished book and save it with the word Audio in there. You do not want to ever mistake this file for your book file. By the time it’s done, it will be unreadable. For example, with Demon Bonded, my main character Ky had to be named Kye for the speech recognition, backyard became back yard, tear (as in to rip) became tare, lives had to be spelled liives, jaw became jah, minute was minet, commas were added and removed depending on pacing and pronounciation.
Don’t skip this simple step of making a new file. You will need a new file. XD Keeping a little notepad open for what becomes what is very useful later when you go to make another book, too.
Text to speech readers.
So this was, in my mind, the most important aspect of everything. If I couldn’t find a voice that sounded real enough, I didn’t think there would be any use to even going through with it all. I remembered this really cool, open-source realistic text to speech program a year or so back—maybe more, I was sick—and found out they were gone. It looks like Amazon bought them out, or at least one of the voices. That’s when I learned about Amazon Polly, and after the pain in the ass it was to sign up to AWS, I decided I was going to stick through with it long enough to see if it was worth all the fuss. I think it was.
Amazon Polly through AWS
So you signed up for AWS and you can’t find Polly? Welcome to the club. There is so much on that damn website. Here’s a link.
Charged $4 for every 1 million characters read aloud. It works out to about $2 for 80-100,000 words (understand, I’m pretty sure they’re counting spaces in those characters.)
Things to watch for. Timing, pacing, clarity of voice. Sometimes it goes too fast, sometimes it skips syllables, soft ‘t’ sounds on some words. Mispronunciations completely. You have to trick it, such as when you want bow (the verb instead of the noun) you need to spell it boww. Sometimes you need a comma or period just to get a more defined word, and then you have to go in and delete the extra pause in the spacing. Sometimes you have to delete commas altogether because the flow is just so bad, or it causes such a hard sound when the next word starts, that a pause deleted can’t soften the sound.
There’s a limitation of how much text you can put into the box at the time. I think it’s a good idea, actually. It forces you to pay attention. If you have a feeling you’ll be coming up across text that will give you trouble (lol, like Frrrling, and Chrrl and Grrr—as Demon Bonded XD) you can isolate it, pause the recording and figure out exactly how you want it to sound, and then record from there.
I honestly would put the most amount of time in the recording aspect. Stopping and fixing it at this point is far easier than having to go back in the middle of editing to get a better sample of the right pronunciation. The first episode I did, I ended up having to redo so much, it tripled the time spent because I flew through the recording aspect. Learning curve. So, although recording requires the most attention and focus, it will save you work later.
Audacity. It’s free (my favorite!) it’s simple, and easy to learn. Get the plugins, including the MP3 conversion. The quickest things to learn are record, stop, cut, delete, and save and export. Learn the settings for your saves. Wavs are best if you’re editing the file after, or putting them together into one long audio track. You can find all the info you need with some googling.
Save/export as a wav. They’re larger, uncompressed files and allow you to work with a higher quality audio. I like to save in scenes. Chapter One, Scene One. Chapter One, Scene Two. Etc, etc. That way when you put it all together, you know how it all goes together and if something happens—something lost, your computer loses power, what have you—it’s very easy to know where you lost data and rerecord. It’s also just more manageable and great places to have a meaningful pause pacing wise so your listener could take a breath too. Also, once you get to the editing stage, you’ll find it useful for how you save the final format.
I started out using Wondershare Filmora. I got this for video editing. They have a free version—I forget the difference of them all but you can look it up. I like things that work, and after fighting with a free program that didn’t work, I found this one and latched on. XD
After fiddling around, I realized I just liked working in Audacity with audio so much better. It’s easier to read, easier to see what you’re doing, and once I started seeing all the plugins available, I was able to work with the equalizer and get a consistent sound. I recommend you save all your wavs first, and then create a book project—or ‘chapter’ project of the book depending on the length. That way you can copy/paste the wavs you want to work with into the project without losing the raw data. Save the project, and then go from there.
So, I initially held back using Audacity for editing because I didn’t think you could combine audio files. You can. You just need to open up the wav you want to add, select the entire file, copy, and then paste it where you want to place it (usually the end of the project.) I like to give it a big space so I can see it and make sure I adjust later for a nice breath of air.
Fiddle. Play. See what happens. This shit is all new to me, and all I can say is the only way to really learn something is to nearly break it. XD Have fun and see what you can do to make that voice sound compelling and as far from synthetic as possible.
This is all about making things easy on your listener while trying to keep the quality as nice as possible. Size is a huge thing with audio. You don’t want your book to be dismissed because it slows down someone’s phone/computer. Fiddle, play and see how things sound. You can use Audacity to compress it down to your specifications now that you’ve got a final wav to work with. Final step after all the editing, aka, don’t compress beforehand!
I read a statistic that with Audible, a minute of audiobook mp3 is about a filesize of .23 mb or 230 kb. So, in that calculation, an hour should be 13.8 mb or 13800 kb.
So, after some fiddling with saving as an MP3 with Audacity, to get the rate above compression wise (remember, you want a mono file.) Set it to 32 kbps when exporting as an MP3. It shouldn’t degrade the quality of the recording (too much) and your listener’s computer will thank you.
You have your audiobook. Now what?
Soundcloud will host audiofiles. I found them because the podcasts I listen to are all here. They have privacy modes, and an ability for listeners to download the file too. I don’t know if they compress or not—I found the audio through them to not sound as good as the original file.
Amazon S3 is another service through AWS and it will allow you to not only store your audio, but play it on your website too. It’s not a file sharing site like Soundcloud, though, so you may be more interested in a setup where people can browse and find you through another platform.
MediaFire It won’t play on your website, just jump for a download, but it doesn’t give a fuck about content, size, obscenity, etc. I’m rather fond of the simplicity of it.
Maybe you want to splice your audiobook into imagery and make a movie you can put on Youtube for people to find. You can do anything you want, be creative, and see how people respond.
So, I’m just figuring this all out myself. I thought I was going to end up having to use my website shopping cart to sell through the site while using MediaFire—which is a fine option, but then I saw Payhip offers the ability to sell audio files. Sweet! It’s presentable, easy, and I’m already set up with Payhip, so super easy for me to add new products.
Payhip has a really easy product creation page. One page, upload your ebook or audio, upload a cover image, description, price, make sure you add a mailing list and you’re done. Made for the do-it-yourselfer who doesn’t need a million keywords and shit. Easy-peasy. Add the link to your website, or spam the fuck out of it on social media if you don’t have a website, and you now have an audiobook for sale.
And that’s it. Simple stuff, no cash lost–Amazon Polly will charge you eventually, but if you sell one audiobook, I think you have your costs covered just like that. Good luck, peeps, and have fun being a badass entrepreneur who doesn’t wait for someone to give them permission to get shit done. <3