DIY Audiobooks . . . Tempting but not always advisable

by Kimberly Peticolas

Audiobooks are big business these days, but for self-published authors it means one more arena to invest in—and it’s not a cheap one. It can be tempting to try to do it yourself. There is a time and place for this approach, but wherever quality plays such an important role, investing in a professional is usually worth the money.

I’ve worked on several audiobook projects and worked with several audiobook professionals. Here are some great takeaways I learned from them.


Good narration is essential to your audiobook project. It can make or break the book. There are those who believe that authors can’t narrate their own book. I haven’t found this to be the case, at least not in nonfiction. However, you still need to ask yourself if you really have the talent to do the job well. Try recording a sample and listening to it. Then ask ten other people to listen to it. If they agree the narration is good, consider doing it yourself. Otherwise, there are great narrators on Audible and on other websites where you can hire freelancers.


Let’s look at doing it yourself first. Here are some tips from the pros:

  • Buy decent equipment; there are several kits you can buy now that are affordable and provide quality sound. Your setup should include a mic that has a usb connection to your computer, and a pop filter.
  • When recording, make a separate recording for each chapter, as well as the front credits and end credits, and do each chapter in a single recording.
  • If you make a mistake, clap your hands and start that sentence or paragraph over. This will make the audio mastering process simpler.

Hiring Help

If you decide to hire a narrator, ask about their equipment, experience, and process. What kind of equipment do they use? Are they familiar with the requirements for Audible? Do they do accents and different voices? Do they dramatize their narration?

Make sure to ask for examples, preferably in genres similar to your own books. ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange, the major marketplace for authors seeking book narrators) requires a two-page audition sample for their narrators to bid on your project. But, if you want to be extra careful, you can ask the narrator to do the first chapter as a sample. However this should be a PAID sample to make sure you are getting their full effort.

Most narrators offer prices in terms of finished hours, or the final number of hours in the recording. This is not the number of hours they are actually devoting to the project, which will be much higher, so be respectful of your freelancer’s time.

Editing and Mastering

This is another area where it can be tempting to DIY. There are several audio editing programs that are cheap or even free. However, I know from experience that they often have a steep learning curve if you want to get truly professional results. If you are willing to put in the time to learn how to use them, by all means do so. However, I would advise most authors to spend their time doing what they do best . . . writing.

Hiring an editor and audio mastering service is usually well worth the investment. Some narrators will do this for you as a part of their service. If they do, make sure they have the proper experience to produce professional sound quality and understand the requirements of audiobook files. Otherwise, there are several companies out there that can help you out. Make sure the service you hire knows the file requirements and standards for audiobooks on Audible as well as other distribution sites. These might include things like file naming conventions, how much silence to start and end each file, correct file formats, consistency in levels and tone, and other such requirements. Audible has very strict acceptance criteria and if your files fail, you will have to fix it or even re-record it. This review process can take time, and if you have to fix files, you could extend that time by weeks, affecting your sales and profits.

Final Takeaways

The audiobook market is in high growth and high demand, especially for nonfiction books. While not everybody will be able to take advantage of audio right off the bat, investing the time and money may be very worthwhile. But, this is one area where every author should take a hard look at whether the DIY approach will serve your book well. Like elsewhere in independent book publishing, there are instances where you can do some of the work yourself, but in general I recommend investing in professionals.

There are all sorts of resources to help you find the right pro for your project. Below are a couple I recommend. If you’d like more information about Audible standards and requirements, how to interview narrators and audio masterers, or other information related to audiobook projects, please reach out to me and I will see how I can help you.

For Authors:

For Narrators:

For Audio Mastering: (Ask for Chris, I’ve worked with him and I highly recommend his work!)


Kimberly Peticolas, Author Coach

Kimberly Peticolas, Author Coach

Kimberly Peticolas is an experienced editor, writing coach, and consultant working with clients from a variety of backgrounds. No matter your publishing goals, she’s here to help you achieve your writing dreams. With a la carte services ranging from one-on-one author coaching to detailed manuscript editing or proofreading, even extra help to improve your writing skills, Kim has you covered.



3 thoughts on “DIY Audiobooks . . . Tempting but not always advisable

  1. I’m wondering if anyone has done an ROI (return on investment) for midlist authors who hire a narrator (I’ve heard that runs around $2,000, which is fair enough). Even without allowing for the author’s time, which is considerable, I haven’t heard that the investment pays off unless your book sales are substantial. But I’d love to see facts and figures!

    1. Hi Jackie!

      I’m actually in the process of hiring a narrator right now. If you’re paying up front (not royalty share) it seems that most run between between $200 – $400 per finished hour of audiobook. My book is 78k words, which ACX estimates will end up about 8.4 hours. So my cost is going to run somewhere between $2000 – $3000.

      As for earning back, I’ve talked to a lot of other fantasy authors about their audiobook sales. It varies widely. The main advice I’ve gotten is to hire the best narrator with the biggest following you can afford, and expect to breakeven no sooner than 3 months after release. However, several of the authors I’ve talked to make a significant portion of their income from audiobooks (but not every author says this).

      I’ll be writing a post on the nitty gritty of audiobooks for later in the month. Stay tuned!

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