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Like most bloggers, I’m constantly getting offers to provide blog content, and it always seems to range from mildly to wildly inappropriate. But I’m a fan of the mostly free advice and professional referrals on Reedsy, so I was interested when Savannah Cordova offered a guest post on the pros and cons of audiobooks for indie authors. [Note: no compensation of any sort was exchanged.]

Should You Record an Audiobook for Your Indie Title?

Guest post by Savannah Cordova

Guest blogger Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading (and listening to!) contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

“Audiobooks vs. paper books” has become a pretty hot topic over the past decade or so. Some readers say they retain less information when they listen than when they actually have pages to turn. On the other hand, audiobooks make stories more accessible to everyone and are an awfully convenient way to read more while doing other tasks (commuting, exercising, household chores, etc.). For these reasons and more, the audiobook market has grown impressively in recent years.

But what bearing does this have on your book? Should you publish an audio version for it — especially as an indie author with fewer resources immediately at your disposal? It depends on the type of book you’ve written, your audience, and whether you’re prepared to take on the costs and work involved in creating an audiobook as an indie author. Here are some questions to help you make this critical decision!

1. Is there a market for your audiobook?

Start by looking through the bestseller lists of any distributor. You’ll find that their top audiobooks tend to fall into the following categories: commercial nonfiction (particularly self-help books and memoirs), fantasy, and suspense (mystery and crime novels included).

Why these three? Well, nonfiction books can be a bit taxing to read, and many people find them more engaging when they can listen. On top of that, readers tend to enjoy the personal touch of a self-narrated self-help book or memoir! As for fantasy novels, their lively world-building makes for an extra-enjoyable listening experience; readers can simply close their eyes and be immersed in the world. And when it comes to suspense, many of those books follow well-established story structures, creating the kinds of satisfying narrative arcs that readers — and listeners — love.

If any of these genres apply to your book, you might find there’s a higher-than-average number of people interested in an audio version. This is not to say you must create an audiobook if you’ve written a nonfiction, fantasy, or suspense novel. Rather, it’s a reminder to do some market research before diving in.

Exactly who would be your target market for this audiobook? Are your current readers interested or are they fine with reading the old-fashioned way? Can you identify a substantial new audience you might be able to reach? Are there a good number of highly rated audiobooks in your specific niche? Basically, it won’t be worth the investment to get your book narrated and audio engineered if there’s low demand.

Note that this research is even more important for popular genres, where you’ll be up against fiercer competition. The key is to find the right niche so you know exactly to whom you are marketing your audiobook when it comes out.

2. Can you handle the costs?

As I’ve touched on, cost is another important consideration when creating an audiobook. There are several production options for indie authors, each of which has a different price tag: you can do it yourself for slightly cheaper, or you can work with professional narrators and sound engineers via a platform like ACX or Findaway Voices.

[image credit: Heights Library]

If you do it yourself, your expenses will depend on what you need to buy in order to create an at-home studio, including microphones and other recording equipment. These things are often pretty affordable: you might need to spend $30-$50 on soundproof foam, and maybe $100-$200 for a decent microphone.

Spending a bit more on soundproofing (and on a pop filter!) to ensure you sound great is still strongly recommended, as audiobook distributors can be picky about sound quality. Regardless, the DIY route can save you a lot of money because you won’t be paying professionals to record and edit your audio files; as the name implies, you’ll be putting in the work yourself.

For the serviced route, Findaway estimates the full cost of producing an audiobook to be in the $1,300-$1,600 range. This might make the DIY route sound more tempting, but the product you’ll get with Findaway or ACX is guaranteed to be high-quality, with narration that meets or exceeds the standards of audiobook distributors. And that’s not even to mention that services like these provide access to marketing resources, and — perhaps more importantly — allow you to rest easy, knowing your audiobook is in capable hands.

Since the audiobook market can be competitive, the serviced route is often a sounder option (no pun intended!) that will make your marketing work less challenging, especially if you’re just getting started. But either way, you should be ready to foot the bill — often while maintaining other marketing and publishing-related expenses! — before you take on audiobook production.

3. Should you self-narrate your book?

If you have any experience in audio production (e.g. through contributing to a podcast), if you’re confident that you can learn the ropes, and/or if you’re curious about a new creative challenge, then you might decide to narrate and edit your own audiobook from start to finish.

But before you dive in, be aware that narrating goes beyond simply reading your work out loud; it’s really a form of voice acting. Your tone, volume, and enunciations will all affect how readers receive your story! Professionals are trained to do these things perfectly — they’re experts at expressing the right emotions and adjusting their diction to build the atmosphere, especially in dramatic genres like mystery and thriller.

Authors, meanwhile, aren’t typically trained actors; you’d have to learn from scratch how to modulate your voice, as well as how to transition between characters. This certainly isn’t an impossible skill set to gain, and you may have a natural leg up if you already listen to a ton of audiobooks — but it will still take some practice to get the right intonations for your story.

With memoirs, self-help books, and other kinds of nonfiction, there’s a bit more wriggle room for an amateur narrator. Particularly if you’ve written a nonfiction book about a topic close to your heart, self-narrating might be a considerate touch to make the experience more intimate and memorable for the reader. You’ll still have to figure out how to adjust your voice to sound professional, but at least you won’t need to worry about sounding like different characters.

In any case, once you’ve perfected your book, done your research, and you’re ready to invest, audiobooks can be a super-interesting and even profitable field to venture into. Just proceed with care and preparation; no matter your genre, audience, or even personal goals, don’t jump on this bandwagon if you’re not ready for it. With the slow and steady approach, your audiobook — once published — is sure to be well-listened and well-loved!

How about you authors? Have you released any of your books in audio format? What was your experience? Any advice for audio wannabes?