Inception: 28 May 2020
LIVE: 9th October 2020
Total Days: 134 days
The whole process took me 134 days and it was my most stressful time of the year. I think I almost went bald at some point.
Audiobooks were initially planned as a 2021/2022 company milestone but due to COVID, I had to take pretty drastic measures to digitize my business. (eg. revamping my site and putting all my books on Amazon PrintbyDemand and Kindle) Like the over-enthusiastic risk-taker that I am, I decided to dive headfirst into the world of audiobook publication without really researching on how to do it. I did a quick google search and found some “American/UK/Canadian” blogs talking about how easy it was and validated my project goal. Learning and formatting e-books were pretty tedious but it was bearable, to say the least. Audiobooks shouldn’t be TOO different right?
I was nauseatingly wrong. The process was utter…(insert a synonym for cesspool here) and I kind of understand why nobody does it here. What made the whole process bearable were the people I chose to work with on this project. They were so forgiving towards me and my errors in time estimations, budget, and requirements. I’m writing this down so that if you ever, for some reason would like to jump on this crazy one-wheeled wagon into the messed-up world of audiobook publishing outside of the US, you wouldn’t have to go through the unnecessary stresses I went through. Hopefully, my mistakes will both provide you entertainment and education on the matter.
I’ve never been so pumped up to document a process like this one.
1. Sourcing your talents and Setting a Budget
After selecting the book you want to narrate, you’d need to pick a voice. This is très importante to take note. Record only one voice. You only need one if you want to upload it to an online aggregator. In my case, I used Author’s Republic. Decide if you want a Female/Male/Ambiguous voice and stick to it if you have a limited budget. You’re also not allowed to use an artificial voice or have google read out your book. It has to be a real human.
😭 My Mistakes:
I was adventurous. I wanted both Female and Male voices on my Midnight Monologues audiobook and so I engaged Karyn Ong and Julien Buteau and got them on board with a shabby quote of RM1k budget each. I also estimated a 1.5 hour recording time for the whole book. I gauged the budget on some prices on Fivver and my talents’ experience level on voice acting but it ended up being a 13-hour recording session each and I had to raise the sound producers and two talents budget to RM2k each. My initial budget of RM3k blew up to RM6k! I had to LIVE them now, there was no turning back. Luckily, I had my website where I could still sell both tracks.
Who you need:
1. One voice talent
2. One Sound Producer who has experience in mastering audio for radio
How did I source for talent?
Being in the creative industry, I had a plethora of creative talents all around me. Of course, social media works too.
🎤 For voice talents:
🤔 Picture where do you want your listeners to be listening to your audiobook. Doing this will really help in defining the type of vibe you want for your book. Mine was:
“In bed, as they are about to sleep”
“Trapped in a traffic jam”
“While nursing their children”
🤔 Define the type of voice you want in your book. I defined mine as a “hero-esque baritone-ish boyish voice” for the male talent and a “calming-ASMR-lullaby voice” for a female with no prominent accents.
🤔 Send them a sample of your text and have them read them out to you in a voice note sample. I did mine over WhatsApp.
This was my message to my talented friend Farouk. Oh, how unaware was he about how ‘fun’ this was going to be?
Securing talent and budget is the easiest. Let’s move on to the hard parts, shall we?
2. Searching for an Online Aggregator
While sourcing for talent, I was also on a lookout for aggregators who would help distribute my audiobook title to all platforms like Audible, iTunes and etc. Upon Googling, ACX pops up on many tutorial blogs because they seem to monopolize Audiobook publishing. ACX is a part of Amazon, so there’s no surprise there. Point no. 2 took me 2 months to sort out, so it was happening all through point 1 to point 3 of this post.
😭 My Mistakes:
I created an ACX account and linked my existing Midnight Monologues title from Amazon to it. Problem?
The answer is no. You just can’t. I initially planned to get my uncle to help (since he’s a taxpayer in the US) but he told me it wasn’t worth it because it’s extra tax auditing work for him and it wasn’t worth it for us too because of his high-income status which cuts our profits by half or something. Tried asking my friends too but they all said the same thing. At this point, I was in full panic mode as I’m already halfway through recording. I started emailing support emails of different distributors like Kobo (they were so nice) and Audiobooks.com for ideas and solutions. And thank the LORD, Audiobooks.com replied to me with this:
Register for Author’s Republic
Proceeded to register for an account on Author’s Republic while massaging my hair follicles. Since AR has the capability of distributing to 45 different audiobook platforms, I ditched the idea of uploading the audiobook on individual platforms. I tried creating a title for Midnight Monologues just to try but Author’s Republic wouldn’t let me because I’ve already linked Midnight Monologues to ACX. The thing about these platforms (AR/Kobo/ACX) is that you always have to send emails to get things done. If you want to remove an audiobook, you have to drop support an email. If you want to delete an account, email. Unlink a book to Amazon, email. Why.
Check out AR’s distribution channels! It’s crazy. But with great capabilities, comes great restrictions. I’ll talk about that more on point 5.
Make sure you relinquish all rights on other platforms
As mentioned previously, I drafted and linked Midnight Monologues on ACX only to find out that it was impossible to launch an audiobook directly through ACX because I wasn’t living in those selected countries. I’ve also received an email from the Author’s Republic regarding this matter.
Without a second to lose, I emailed ACX to cancel and remove my audiobook product draft on their platform, as well as to remove my ACX account. Not to worry, if you do this, your product on Amazon will still exist. You just won’t personally lay claim on your title as an audiobook anymore. I was very close to having a heart attack at this point. Somehow life always throws me into hard mode.
So after THAT’S done, I finally had a clean record on Author’s Republic and I’m able to upload Midnight Monologues.
3. Preparing for Recording
OKAY, these are the tracks you need to prep your talents for.
To prep your Sound Producer:
1. Tell him how many separate tracks you are planning on recording. Send this list to your voice talents too.
This was my example audio track splits:
1. Intro/Closing track
2. Copyright page
9. Short Stories – in all different tracks each
10. Acknowledgements (my voice)
11. About the Author
12. Preview/sample track
Split up your audio tracks properly so that you don’t miss out. I recorded my short stories separately because there’s a time limit of 120 minutes for each track.
2. Your Intro Track and your Closing Track can be the same. You should narrate JUST the title, the author, and the narrator’s name. For example:
Midnight Monologues by Charissa Ong, Narrated by Karyn Ong.
3. Your sample/preview track should be at least 2 minutes. This is the track that will give potential customers a sneak preview of your audiobook on the retailer site. My Sample Track had background music on it so make sure to let your Sound Producer know if it’s needed. My previews are pretty versatile to edit because all we had to do was add a poem or two to lengthen the track. If you are planning on adding a paragraph from your novel as a preview track, make sure to have it between 2 to 4 minutes to be safe. Here’s a sample:
1. Reads 3 excerptsI kept the Call to Action generic because it was going to be sold on many different retail platforms.
2. For more, purchase the audiobook. Happy listening!
4. Let him know that all tracks need to have at least 0.5 to 1 second of complete silence in the beginning. This can be done is post-editing but it’s good to just let him know. Anything longer than 1 second is a hard NO-NO for most retailers.
5. Retailers require RMS to be between -23 and -18 decibels. So make sure to have your audio balanced out in post, or to just not have any sudden screaming or shouting in your audio.
6. Make sure the recording environment is quiet. Any sort of noise will get your audiobook rejected immediately. Book a studio. That’s my main advice. I was being really cheap and Farouk was nice enough to offer up his home studio for recording, so we ended up opting for that.
7. Record it in Mono, not Stereo.
8. Audible for example requires that all files be encoded as MP3 files at 44.1kHz and 192kbps or higher. Make sure you set your bounce settings to Constant Bit Rate (CBR) as many publishers will reject Variable Bit Rate (VBR) submissions.
To prep your Voice Talents:
Send them a couple of video references of the vibe you’re looking for and advise them to drink lots of warm water and to not eat anything fried or spicy the day before. Send them calendar invites with the location instructions so everyone gets to the location on time.
Location: Sound Producer’s Home (Farouk)
Time: Early, like 10 am
For Karyn Ong, we recorded for a full day of 13 hours.
For Julien Buteau, we recorded for the same amount of time but split it into 3 days. Farouk’s home had construction noise outside his condo throughout the day so we had to cancel the recording on the second day.
What I really liked about being with the voice talents while they are narrating is that I could make sure they got the concept and characters right. If they had any questions, I was there to answer them straight away. That was the risk I would have taken if I were to hire a voice talent and have them record it remotely.
1. Take frequent breaks with your talents to maintain the quality of the narration.
2. Make sure you do not schedule full-day recordings because wearing earphones all-day will hurt your ears and damage your hearing.
3. Book a studio. It will cut your recording time in half.
4. The author should be present at all times during the recording to direct the tone and answer questions for different sections of the book.
There was incessant car and motorcycle honking throughout the whole recording process. If it didn’t exist, we could have finished recording in half the time. It was terrible.
5. Editing your Audio Files
This is the most difficult part of the process but Author’s Republic Support person ‘Heather’ was extremely helpful. I love Heather. So let me break down the issues for you guys in point form. I think I might have submitted my audiobook for approval for about 30 times in total. You’ll be chatting with support quite a bit if it’s your first time uploading. You can find this in the ‘Edit/View book section’
Adjusting the RMS
There were problems with the RMS because one of my tracks involved higher-pitched characters who shouted quite a bit. I had these errors sent back to my email when I submitted my tracks along with images.
“Tracks such as “14_Chapter4_ShortStories_AbigailAndHerSearchForTheMeaningOfLife” are interlaced with noise.“
“All tracks are outside required volume RMS. Retailers require RMS to be between -23 and -18 decibels. Our operations team member was measuring values lower than -24 through-30 decibels. Levels this low would be rejected by or retail partners.”
So to fix it Farouk had to readjust the volumes manually to make sure they were between the tracks. I double-checked it as well on Adobe Audition with the help of some youtube videos. Again, due to panic, I panic-learned RMS. Just pulling in all your files and making sure they were in between -23 and -18 db. As you can see, some loudness levels are at 17.99. Not good.
This is the easiest error to fix. So apparently my tracks had tiny noises and I forgot to tell Farouk that the first 0.5-1 second of the audio track had to be complete silence. Complete silence meaning that that area of the track has to be removed because they could detect even the littlest sounds of air conditioning or breathing. Thanks Heather.
So the problem rose again from my Abigail short story. At this point, I just wanted to give up. Farouk was getting busy with his music preparations and my deadline of August 8 was slowly approaching. I had no choice but to postpone my live date to 9th October, which isn’t so bad because it was my birthday anyway. Back to the noise issue, Heather and her audio team sent me a screenshot of the noise found on my track. She suggested that I adjust the volume by lowering it while maintaining the RMS values. We tried it one more time but it didn’t work.
Then came Heather and team to the rescue.
I was over the moon! She helped fix our files and I proceeded to rename them and submit it for the last time. Had a scare when I had another ‘Please fix your errors and resubmit your audiobook file again’ email but she reassured me that it was an error from their end. *phew*
6. Publishing it on Author’s Republic
Again, to remind you, the closing track and opening track could be the same. You just need to rename your files differently. The process of uploading is pretty straightforward, but you might want to rename all your files on the platform to something more readable for your readers. Upload your files with number conventions so that the platform knows its order, then rename them after they have all been successfully uploaded.
This is the example of the files I’ve uploaded on the left and the new naming conventions I have given to them on the right after they have been successfully uploaded.
7. Checking Live Links
Author’s Republic said that my audiobook would take about 30 to 90 days for it to be live on their partner platforms. It may show Green for distributed, but you would still have to track them individually on those sites to make sure that they are really LIVE. It’s extremely tedious.
We basically set up a google doc and pasted the links there. We check all the links once a week.
8. Publishing it on your Website (WordPress if you have)
You may skip this step if you want.
Because I had two tracks and I need the Return of Investment of recording both voices, I LIVED my audiobook products on my website for purchase. All I did is set up the hero images for the products, wrote a very convincing description and inform Wei Han (my business dev/WordPress expert) on the Promo Code enabling for those products. He also helped me enable the Sample Track audio on the products because it wasn’t part of the WordPress template.
9. Marketing it
KOL marketing (Key Opinion Leader)
Julien actually gave me this idea. Basically for a short period of 3 months, any sale made through Karyn or Julien’s promo code would garner them a cut from the sales! This is my first time doing this and I’m pretty excited to have it live! Had Weihan help enable the promo codes when living the audiobooks on my site.
Social media marketing
I worked closely with Siti Aishah, my talented, hardworking intern to produce some countdown feed and story visuals for our socials! Our audience was excited.
Audiobook Promo Video
Booked a cyclorama room at Yellow Hive studios for a short promo video shoot for Karyn. It was just a quick low budget video to push Karyn’s sales during the promotional period. We took 2.5 hours to film this. It was lip-synced to the same sample track I’ve uploaded onto Author’s Republic. It turned out really well! I love the outcome.
Videographer: Kyle Low
Video Assistant: Kyle Chung
Makeup Artist: Rachel Fong
Voice Talent: Karyn Ong
Sound Producer: Farouk
10. Final Thoughts
If you’d ask me to do it again, I would. It’s definitely an experience I won’t forget. Heck, I still have a perfect memory of the whole process while writing this blog. 😂 What a milestone! One thing I’m hoping for in the future of audiobooks is that ACX opens up to countries outside of the US, Canada, the UK, and Ireland. I’m also really hoping that audiobook production and consumption picks up in this part of the world. I’m optimistic and I’m glad to be one of the few who have attempted at producing it.