The audiobook market is growing rapidly—it’s expected to reach $33.5 billion by 2030.
And as an author, you want to take advantage of this massive opportunity.
But how do you get started?
There are tons of options and opinions when it comes to making an audiobook.
…And the stakes are high.
Choosing the wrong path for your situation can have severe consequences—from going wildly over budget to ending up with a completely unusable audiobook.
That’s why I wrote this guide.
I’ve been in the publishing industry for years and have guided countless authors through this exact decision.
And in this guide, you’ll get clarity on how to make a great audiobook with your budget, needs, and goals taken into account.
Why Should You Make an Audiobook?
The audiobook market is growing rapidly for a reason.
Audiobooks offer a level of convenience and engagement that other book formats can’t match.
You can “read” them while you’re driving, working out, doing the dishes, or folding laundry. And according to a recent Statistica study, more than 45% of Americans have listed to an audiobook at some point.
That means if you don’t have an audiobook version of your book, you’re missing out on huge income and reach potential.
Plus, audiobooks offer a more immersive experience that can deepen your reader’s connection to your story.
Good narrators can make your characters come alive and transport listeners into the world you’ve created.
And when done well, an audiobook can be a powerful marketing tool that helps you sell more books across all formats.
How to Make an Audiobook: The 7 Main Steps
1. Determine if your book is a good fit for an audiobook.
Not every book is a good fit for becoming an audiobook—some books just work better in other formats like print or ebook.
Here are a few things to consider when trying to decide if your book is a good fit for an audiobook:
- Is your book heavily reliant on visuals? If your book has a lot of illustrations, tables, or other visual elements, it might not work well as an audiobook.
- Is your book really short? Short books can present you with a challenging business proposition because you can’t charge as much for them and they have similar production costs as longer ones.
- Is your book very niche or technical? Sometimes extremely technical books don’t work well as audiobooks (especially if they rely on visuals). This isn’t always the case, but something to consider.
These are simply questions to ask, not rules to follow.
Many authors have found ways to work around these constraints and have created audiobooks that generate passive sales.
It’s just important to know what kind of market is out there for your audiobook.
So, be sure to conduct competitive research and find other similar books in your category on Amazon. It’s a good sign if there are a bunch of audiobooks in your niche that get good reviews.
2. Prepare your content.
The written word and spoken word are vastly different.
And that means you need to create a script version of your manuscript.
It’s not enough to have your narrator (or you) read off your manuscript.
You need to prepare that content to be read aloud.
This doesn’t require any changes to the content itself–just a little restructuring.
Here are the main things you’ll need to do before sending your manuscript off to a narrator or reading it yourself:
1. Remove Visuals
You can have the narrator make a statement before the audiobook begins saying listeners can go to your site to see the visuals.
2. Create descriptions of the visuals.
Create verbal descriptions of those visuals so the narrator can describe them to listeners. The description needs to be good enough for listeners to get a good picture of what the visual explains without ever seeing it.
3. Provide pronunciation information for difficult words
Make sure you give instructions to your narrator on how to say any complex or industry-specific words in your manuscript.
Don’t simply assume they’ll figure it out.
4. Give a vision for the voice.
If you’re working with a narrator or publishing service, give any details about how you want your book to sound before you send it off. With nonfiction, this usually just means the type of energy you want the narrator to have or ways you want them to change their voice as they read.
For example, if you wrote a business fable or even quoted others in your book, the narrator needs to know whether to have different voices for each character (and what each should sound like).
3. Determine who will record and produce your audiobook.
This is the biggest decision you’ll make, so consider your options carefully.
Your ultimate goal should be to create the best audiobook possible.
That means whoever narrates it should be a professional who can provide the experience you’re looking for and whoever produces it should be able to make it sound just as good as any other audiobook on Audible (and Amazon has strict quality requirements).
With this in mind, you have 4 main options when it comes to creating an audiobook:
1. DIY Audiobooks
This means you narrate, record, edit, master the audio and export the files yourself.
It’s the least expensive option on the list, which also makes it the most popular for most authors.
But be warned…
If you don’t have professional narration or audio production skills, this is a bad idea.
There is a certain level of quality listeners have come to expect from audiobooks.
And if yours doesn’t live up to that standard, it will hurt your brand and you’ll be out countless hours of work.
Not to mention the fact that you have to purchase a ton of equipment and software to make this work.
And that means you have to invest a few thousand dollars and upwards of 50 hours to create your own audiobook.
2. Hire a Narrator Only
This is for you if you have audio production skills.
It’s less expensive than outsourcing the whole thing and takes less time than doing everything yourself.
The main issue with this option is that finding a great narrator can be tricky.
If you’re not using a platform like ACX, you’ll have to hunt good talent and then listen to tons of auditions. That can take 10s of hours alone.
And even using ACX has its setbacks–you’ll often have to split royalties with your narrator.
There are a few other good places to look (listed below) outside of ACX. Just make sure you don’t go with someone on Upwork. You want a proven professional.
- Referrals from other authors
- Freelance job boards for voice actors like Voice123, Voquent, and Voice Crafters
3. Hire a Narrator & Producer
You can also hire both a narrator and a producer. This option effectively outsources most of your work.
But it’s very costly and you still have to manage the whole project.
You also have to sift through even more portfolios and applications to find two people who will work with your budget, timeline, and needs.
4. Audiobook Production Services
The final option is to explore working with a company that will record and produce your audiobook for you.
This reduces your work to the bare minimum and ensures you get an outstanding finished product.
These companies (and we are one of them) already have the equipment, narrators, and producers so they can truly offer you a turnkey solution.
The main downside of this type of service is simply the cost. It can be one of the most expensive options, but it’s also completely done for you.
I have a much more detailed post covering the costs and pros/cons of each option here.
4. Make sure your audiobook is perfect.
Don’t fall into the temptation of publishing your audiobook the same day you get the files.
You need to listen to it several times for any errors or last-minute changes.
Your audiobook should be as close to perfect as possible.
Hundreds, even thousands of people are likely going to listen to it. Any mistake or part that doesn’t sound exactly how you want it will be amplified indefinitely.
Don’t let this stop you from ever publishing your audiobook, but keep it in mind while you’re polishing.
You’ve put time and money into this audiobook and it deserves to be as good as it can possibly be.
5. Create your audiobook cover art.
This is pretty simple.
Assuming you already have a killer book cover, you just need to create a landscape version. This likely will involve changing some elements of the cover to accommodate this orientation change.
If it does, make sure you get your designer involved.
People even judge audiobooks by their covers.
This is going to be many listeners’ first impressions of your work. Don’t rush through it.
If you have graphic design skills, that’s great, but otherwise, avoid trying to do this yourself in Canva.
6. Pick a compelling retail sample.
When you upload your audiobook to a distribution platform, one of the things they’ll ask for is a retail sample.
This is just a 1-2 minute clip from anywhere in your book that potential listeners can use to get a feel for what your audiobook is like.
You want this sample to be engaging. The goal is to make people want more (i.e. to purchase your whole audiobook).
This is an important decision, which is surprising to many authors.
If you pick a boring sample or one filled with music or credits, you’re turning potential listeners away.
Your sample should immediately pull them in.
It should create an “open loop” where a story or principle is started but not finished. Because of how our brains are wired, this is a powerful way to entice listeners to buy your book (where they will receive all the content and close the loop).
Your sample is another chance to convince people to buy your audiobook.
7. Upload to a distribution platform.
Once your audiobook is polished and exported, it’s time to get it on stores like Audible.
ACX (owned by Audible) is the biggest and most popular option for distributing audiobooks. They distribute your audiobook to several libraries, most notably Audible and iTunes.
It’s also one of the easiest platforms to use. You can upload your files, set a price, and start selling in just a few minutes. And they take care of all the behind-the-scenes work like encoding and processing payments.
But ACX is by no means your only option.
They get you on Audible, sure, but they don’t have access to specific libraries and audiences.
For instance, if most of your customers use Google Play, ACX might not be the best move since they don’t distribute there.
One of the other most popular distributors is Findaway Voices. They offer 40 retail and library partners and might offer you a better commission. The main downside here is the smaller audience and absence of Audible.
Signing up with a distribution platform is a must to get your audiobook in front of tons of readers. But make sure you read the fine print.
Review the commissions and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of the audiences you’ll have access to with each platform.
And I have another guide on your best options for selling audiobooks that you can read here.
Now You Know How to Make an Audiobook From Start to Finish
This is a ton of work. But it’s worth it.
Creating an audiobook version of your book gives you access to a whole new audience of potential customers you wouldn’t have otherwise had.
But make sure you do it right.
Far too many authors make the mistake of doing DIY audiobooks and end up with something that’s either unusable or reflects poorly on their brand.
I would argue it’s actually better to not create an audiobook at all than to have a bad one.
If you’re looking for the easiest possible path to creating an audiobook, it’s definitely working with an audiobook publishing company.
We offer this turnkey service at Best Seller Publishing (as a full-service audiobook production company). You get an incredibly high-quality audiobook without having to do any work.
Yes, it’s one of the more expensive options, but when you count the time you’ll have to spend either doing it all yourself or hiring people and the equipment you’ll need, it’s really not much of an expense.
You also get to avoid any chance of having a less-than-stellar product.
If you’re interested in learning more about our audiobook services–including how I generated $61,852 from a single audiobook over 2 years–simply click here.