How to Record an Audio Book With More Consistent Vocal Quality

Updated on January 15, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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Got a great question from one of my Udemy students about sounding different on different days of recording, and from chapter to chapter, for an audio book. This is a legitimate concern because ACX (Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange audio book publishing platform) requires consistency throughout the entire audio book.

Let’s examine why it happens and what can be done about it.

Practice, Performance and Persistence

Recording an audio book is a performance art. This is why ACX and other audio book publishing platforms usually suggest that authors hire professional narrators.

But some of the connection between author and reader is lost when someone other than the author reads it. Some readers actually prefer audio books where the narrator is the author. The only exception would be when the author is extremely bad at narrating.

So you, as an author, have a choice to make if your reading performance skills aren’t where they need to be: Either hire a narrator, or persistently practice your performance craft until you can narrate your book yourself.

The two key words are practice and persistence. This is a skill, a physical skill, that must be exercised regularly.

It is unlikely that you’ll get it right on your first recording. Maybe not even on your hundredth. It is only by doing it regularly that you will gain confidence and perfect your delivery.

And here’s another aspect of narration. Unlike podcasting which might be a totally off script affair, narration must be true to the actual written word. Not only is this so that your readers will receive a faithful reading of your book, but because on ACX, your eBook edition and audio edition must sync up to take advantage of the Kindle Whispersync feature. Whispersync allows readers to listen to the audio edition and then be able to pick up in the eBook edition where they left off.

So start practicing! Record yourself reading from one of your books every day. What you’ll find over time is that you’ll fall into a rhythm of reading that’s comfortable for you and provides a pleasant experience for your reader listeners. You’ll also find that the quality of your voice (volume, pausing, speed, enunciation, pronunciation, emphasis, etc.) will become more consistent over time.

Caring for Your Voice

Like any public speaker, actor, or singer, you need to start taking care of your voice to become an author-narrator.

Some things aggravate and impact your voice and may be out of your control, like the weather, stress, allergies, or getting a cold. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth making yourself feel worse. Could using your voice worsen your health condition, or frustrate you to the point of worsening your emotional health? Would you be better off waiting so that you don’t have to re-record a bad recording?

I’ve also found that keeping cool to lukewarm water handy at all times while recording, is helpful. Pause occasionally to take a drink to help eliminate throat dryness and scratchiness. Plus, it can help make your voice sound more fluid... literally.

How Can You Know If Your Voice is Good Enough?

The advice for improving the quality of your audio book is the same as for your text-based books: Practice effective self editing and enlist the help of beta readers (or listeners in this case).

As you record each chapter for your book, refrain from getting stuck on any particular chapter. Finish your recording and put it away for a few days. You’ll be able to hear it with new ears, edit more effectively, and make a less emotional decision about the necessity of re-recording it.

Avoid being hypercritical of your work and performance. Most authors and artists are their own worst critics. They obsess about this or that detail when an outside eye (or ear) would simply not be concerned about it. This is where beta readers/listeners can be of great help.

After you’ve completed recording and editing your audio book to what you feel is the best version of it, have a beta reader listen to your book and tell them to make notes about their experience with EACH chapter. Do not tell them what concerns you about your recording. That’s like telling someone to not think of a pink elephant, and all they can think about after that is a pink elephant. Those concerns you personally had might be completely irrelevant to your readers. See if they identify the same things you do.

Because you are more concerned about the audio quality of your book, tell your beta readers to only make notes about that. Since your book might be the audio edition of an existing book, you are not looking for commentary on the actual content. You only want feedback on the performance.

The Real Test of Vocal Quality for Your Audio Book

The real test of whether your audio book is good enough quality to be sold is whether it passes the quality test for your audio book publishing platform (ACX or whatever platform you’re using). They will tell you if your files pass their requirements. If they don’t pass, then you can decide whether it’s worth re-recording or just making additional quality adjustments to your existing files.

So that you can get a feel for whether your audio quality might be accepted by ACX, you might want to publish the audio edition of a short book or eBook you’ve already published, or a completely new short work. This would be strongly recommended if the primary book that you want in audio form is a very long book. You would hate to spend so much time recording this longer work, only to find out that you’ll need to put in a lot more practice and need to re-record it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      11 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Natalie! True, video and audio can be quite intimidating, especially at first. If you decide to dive into this in the New Year, be patient with yourself and practice... a lot! Keep us posted on your publishing adventures. Happy Holidays!

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 

      11 months ago from Chicago, IL

      I've been looking into different technology as new options for my writing but have been a bit intimidated by video and audio recording. You made the process of recording an audiobook seem clear and relatively straight forward. I will definitely be looking more into it after the new year. Thanks for the info.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Flourish! Yes, sometimes the vocal quality can either be a help or a hindrance. Thanks for stopping by and weighing in! Cheers!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      12 months ago from USA

      I'm not getting all of my notifications, so sorry I'm late to the party. This was a really good one. People should definitely get "beta listeners" as you recommend who are not relatives, spouses, or good buddies to provide them with honest feedback about the verbal annoyances that could drive an audience away. I've stopped listening before because of clicking and smacking sounds or because an accent was so irritating -- not often but it's happened. On the other extreme, a highly effective reader can who goes at the right pace and adds just the right emphasis can add interest to the text.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Pamela, you made a great point about audio books. Some authors (even narrators!) are just impossible to listen to. It depends on the tastes of the listener, too. Some listeners can tolerate even less than optimal vocal quality if they really want to hear the book.

      Thanks, as always, for stopping by and commenting! Have a lovely week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Liz, thanks for your kind words! And, yes, I need water with me almost constantly. Appreciate you stopping by. Have a great week!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      12 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I probably won't ever make an audio book, but I think your suggestons are excellent. I know the voice and the way a book sounds makes a big difference. I use to get audio books out of the library to listen to while traveling, and there were always some I wouldn't listen to because of the quality of the voice and the way it sounded overall.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      12 months ago from UK

      This article contains good advice not only for recording books, but also for anyone needing to do vocal recordings. When giving feedback for website testing I always find it useful to keep water to hand.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Mary, thanks for the kind words! Luckily, these days, audio books are becoming more of a possibility even for individual self published authors. Years ago, it was super expensive and only the big trade publishers did them. So let us know if you ever give them a go.

      True, patience and persistence are the name of the game for most everything. But it's especially so when doing audio books. I think that's what scares many self published authors away from doing them.

      Thanks, as always, for stopping by and commenting! Have a lovely weekend!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Bill, I know, I know. I'm a relentless taskmaster. :) Please do let me know when you jump into the podcast pool. I think you'd be great at it.

      Hope you're enjoying some downtime this holiday weekend. Cheers!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Linda, an audio book is quite a project! But thanks to technology, it is possible for us authors to do it on our own. Let us know if you ever dive into the audio book pool. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      12 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Heidi, you really are a good resource in the publishing business. I never even thought of audio books and your tips are great. Practice and Persistence are two that one can use in most things.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm still trying to find time to make a podcast,and here you are suggesting an audio book. Sheez, will you never be satisfied, Heidi? lol Have a great weekend, my friend.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I may never record an audio book, but if I ever do I'll follow your advice. Your suggestions sound excellent, as always.

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