How to Create an Audiobook That Ranks High on Google

Abi Wurdeman
July 5, 2023

Audiobooks are having a major moment right now, and I, for one, have no idea what took so long.

This storytelling format allows us to blast through novels on road trips and learn new skills while folding the laundry. Plus, is there anything more soothing than sitting back while a kind voice tells you a story?

Maybe this video of a dog getting a massage. But only maybe. 

My point is, the world has caught on and it’s a great time to be an audiobook. It’s an even better to be the kind of person who makes an audiobook. 

But you and I aren’t the only ones who know that. There’s competition out there. So if you want your audiobook to rank high and sell well, you’ve got to know how to make a quality product.  

We’ll cover the entire process for how to make an audiobook. That includes:

  • Recording
  • Editing
  • Packaging
  • Distributing
  • Marketing 

If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. So let’s not dally.

Why Should I Make an Audiobook?

White headphones fitted over a blue book.

It’s entirely possible you shouldn’t make an audiobook. Some books don’t work well in audio form, like cookbooks and graphic novels. 

Plus, producing an audiobook will cost you a lot in either money or time—possibly both. Definitely weigh the potential benefits and losses as you consider whether to add an audiobook to your self-publishing business plan.

That said, the upsides to creating your own audiobook are pretty darn significant. Audiobooks are seeing the highest year over year growth of any publishing format. Revenue is expected to grow at a rate of 26.4% every year between now and 2030. The audience for your audiobook is definitely out there.

Plus, this particular format improves your book’s accessibility for audiences with reading or vision disabilities.

So how do you make an audiobook?

Well, you’ve got options.

Audiobook Creation

A microphone with an open and blurred computer screen in the background.

I’m assuming you’ve already written, revised, and polished an outstanding book

The process of creating an audio version of your masterpiece is long and challenging. But it can also be a lot of fun. So let’s get this party started.

Prepare Your Content

Comb through your manuscript, getting rid of anything that won’t work in an audiobook. This is especially an issue for nonfiction books that include things like:

  • Hyperlinks including anchor text that says something like “click here”
  • Images captions
  • References to diagrams or other visuals

Now, let’s say you still want to invite readers to sign up for your newsletter or download bonus material. 

You can include that information in your audiobook; just replace your anchor text with the actual web address. And make sure the web address is short, simple, and easy to remember. 

Once your content is audiobook-ready, it’s time to make a tough decision.

DIY vs. Hiring Talent

An audiobook narrator wearing headphones stands in front of a microphone.

There are a lot of ways you can go about doing this.

You can go full DIY, meaning you narrate, edit, and distribute the audiobook yourself. It’ll be a massive time investment, but it’s probably your least expensive option.

Or you can find audiobook producers, narrators, and audio editors on freelance websites like Voices, Upwork, and Fiverr

You can also make an audiobook using talent you find in the distribution platform you plan to use. Both Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) and Findaway Voices make it really easy to hire professionals through their systems.

As for the Cost…

Depending on the skill level of the team you hire, you’re looking at anywhere between $100-500 per finished hour. “Finished hour” refers to the actual playing time of your audiobook once it’s complete. For reference, about 9,000 words take up one finished hour.

ACX also gives you the option to create a Royalty Share agreement with your audiobook narrator. This means you don’t pay anything upfront but you have to split your royalties with them. But that’s a tough deal to strike if you don’t already have a strong sales record. 

So Which Should You Choose?

If you can’t afford to hire an audiobook team, have excellent narration and tech skills, and are willing to invest the time, try the DIY route. Just be aware that the narration truly does make or break your audiobook. Listeners will bail if they don’t like the narration. 

You also may have to invest some money in recording equipment if you DIY, like a quality microphone, soundproofing equipment, audio editing software, and potentially online courses on voice acting or narration.

If you can find space in your budget to hire professionals, go for it. Plus, the hidden benefit of hiring established voice talent is that they’ll likely promote your audiobook to their following, too. 

How to Hire a Narrator

A black sign with the word "WANTED" written in white chalk.

On any of the platforms I mentioned before, you’ll either search a directory of voice artists directly or post your project details and receive offers. If you ask for recorded auditions, be sure to provide a sample that gives audiobook narrators the best opportunity to demonstrate their ability to:

  • Capture the tone
  • Create distinct character voices 
  • Convey the emotions of your content

Find a voice artist who’s easy to understand. Ask yourself if this is a voice or a delivery style you’d want to listen to for several hours.

Finally, be clear about the parameters of the job. Explain exactly what’s needed, your desired timeline, and the terms of the agreement. 

Speaking of Timeline… 

Let’s say your novel is 90,000 words long.

That means you can expect your audiobook to be ten hours long. (90,000 words ÷ 9,000 words per finished hour = 10 hours)

A professional audiobook narrator takes up to two hours to record one finished hour. That means it’ll take them a maximum of 20 hours to record your audiobook. (10 finished hours x 2 hours of audiobook recording = 20 hours)

Now, after about two hours of recording, the voice gets tired and quality starts slipping. So you should assume your voice artist will only work on your book for about two hours each day. They’ll need ten days to record your entire audiobook. (20 hours of work ÷ 2 hours a day = 10 days)

Factoring in weekends, two weeks is probably the smallest turnaround window you want to ask for.

Now, what if you want to narrate your own audiobook?

Recording the Audiobook

A red light-up sign that reads, "RECORDING".

You’ll need to either rent a space or set up your own studio. These days, it’s entirely possible to set up a decent recording space in your home without dropping a ton of cash. 

But let’s consider all the options.

Renting a Recording Studio

Recording spaces are more prevalent than ever before. Even a lot of coworking spaces now include podcast studios. If you live anywhere near a mid-sized city, you’re likely to find a few good options in a Google search. 

Before you book a studio, do the math. By math, I mean:

Number of words in your book ÷ 9,000 = finished hours

Finished hours x 2 = recording hours

Recording hours x hourly rate for recording studio = Total cost

Make sure making a self-recorded audiobook in a studio is still more affordable than hiring a pro. 

With a little extra digging, you might find opportunities to use someone else’s space for super cheap or even free. Do you happen to know a voiceover artist with a home studio? Or a studio owner who would exchange recording time for copywriting services?

In Los Angeles (where I am), a few of our public libraries have creator labs that provide recording space for free. 

Setting Up Your Own Recording Studio

To record in the comfort of your own home, you need a quiet space. That means:

  • There’s no hum of machinery that can’t be turned off
  • You’re not getting constant street noise
  • It’s possible to block out the sound of your family or pets living their lives

Whichever space you choose, make it even quieter by covering hard surfaces with soft materials. Even some acoustic foam on the walls and a rug on the floor will help. I know voice artists who record in their walk-in closets—their clothes dampen the sound. 

As for equipment, all you really need is:

  • A computer or tablet
  • Recording software. Audacity (free) and Adobe Audition (paid subscription) are the most popular options.
  • A quality microphone
  • A pop filter to soften those ear-punching “p”s
  • Headphones

Turn off any fans or appliances, and you’re good to go.

Tips for a Successful Recording Session

Ready to nail this thing? Here’s how:

  • Keep water and lip balm on hand.
  • Read from a device to avoid page-turning sounds.
  • Breathe.
  • Be aware of any distracting sounds that happen because you’re a human person. Wheezy breaths, whistling nose, saliva sounds, that sort of thing. If you catch them, pause and re-record the line. 
  • Maintain a consistent distance between your mouth and the microphone.
  • Go ahead and gesticulate as you read. It helps the performance. Just keep your head still.
  • Remember to record the credits. (Title, author’s name, and narrators name at minimum)
  • Record each chapter as a separate audiobook file for easier editing.
  • Factor in breaks. 
  • Try to record at the same time each day. Our voices tend to change as the day progresses.
  • Listen to the last minute of the previous session’s recording before you begin. This helps you maintain a consistent rhythm, voice, and tone.

Once you’ve completed your DIY audiobook narration, you’re ready to edit.

Audiobook Production

A person's hands on a laptop, editing an audio recording.

You’ve written an excellent book. You narrated it brilliantly. Now, to make sure this is truly a high-quality audiobook, you’ve got to perfect the listening experience.

Here’s how.

Editing the Audiobook

The easiest way to edit an audiobook is to, you know, have someone else do it. You can find an audio editor in many of the same places you’d look for voice artists.

If you want to save some cash, you can try doing it yourself. The software you used to record your audiobook narration will be the same one you use to edit it. Here are some tips for doing the job well.

Listen With High Quality Headphones

Some aspects of audio editing are pretty obvious. You want to edit out those moments when you stuttered or your cat woke up and started screaming for dinner.

But you’re also going to listen for more subtle differences, like an accidentally gaspy inhale. Use quality headphones to make sure you catch all these details.

Keep Room Tone Samples on Hand

Keep audio samples of your recording space in total silence. This is called “room tone” and you need it for a couple reasons.

First, you’ll want to add room tone to the beginning and end of each chapter. You can also use room tone to create a pause or fix a pause that was ruined by background noise.

Now, why do you need a sample of silence from your exact recording space to do all this? 

Because there’s kind of no such thing as total silence. (Don’t think about it too hard; it overwhelms the mind.) There is always some kind of sound happening, even if we can’t fully perceive it.

Using the room tone of your recording space ensures that your entire audiobook feels uniform.

Remove Unnecessary Pauses

Keep an ear out for moments when you held a pause too long or lost your spot for a second. While you don’t want your narration to feel rushed, you also don’t want it to leave gaping holes that mess up the pace.

When you stumble across an unnecessary pause, cut it out.

Don’t Go Crazy With Sound Effects and Music

Include intro music with the opening credits and outro music with the closing credits. Some audiobooks also feature music between chapters, but some listeners find that annoying.

Make sure the tone of the music matches the tone of your story. Also—and this is important—triple check that the music you use is royalty-free and licensed for commercial use. A Google search will reveal loads of stock music websites like Storyblocks.

As for sound effects… oof. Sometimes sound effects can add to the audiobook experience. More often they’re cheesy or distracting. You really have to know what you’re doing to pull this off. Sound effects are also not standard in audiobooks, so your audience won’t miss them.

So unless you really want to give this a shot, I’d say skip it.

Mastering the Final Product

Mastering is the process of making sure your sound quality and formatting is consistent throughout your entire recording. It’s basically your final quality check before publishing an audiobook. And it can feel kind of intimidating if you’re not a big tech person.

Fortunately, both editing tools and audiobook publishing platforms have become pretty darn accessible to self-published authors. Your chosen distribution platform might even have some handy guidance, like this audiobook mastering guide from ACX.

For now, I’ll give you a quick overview at what this step entails.

For one thing, you want to make sure you meet your publishing platform’s requirements. 

How long are your files allowed to be in terms of minutes? What’s the file format? What are the size specifications?

You’ll also want to note the required RMS, peak values, and noise floor. Those are the measurements that ensure your volume levels are consistent and within a desired range.

There may be a bit of a learning curve as you figure out how to meet these requirements on your sound editing software. Just keep in mind that the learning you do today will set you up for a faster process next time. 

Audiobook Cover Design

Headphones on top of a phone with an audiobook open on top of a table on top of a hardback book.

Whew! That was loads of work. 

Now it’s time to put your masterpiece out into the world. But first, it needs a great cover.

Most self-published authors have already published their novel in paperback and/or ebook formats before they make an audiobook. If this is you, all you have to do is reformat your regular book cover. 

That probably means creating a JPG with a pixel resolution of 2400 x 2400, but check the requirements of the platform.

And suppose you don’t already have a cover for this story?

How to Design a Quality Audiobook Cover

We actually have a pretty comprehensive guide to cover design right here, so I won’t go too in-depth in this article.

Simply put, your audiobook’s cover art should: 

  • Convey the subgenre
  • Demonstrate the tone
  • Be uncluttered
  • Feature text that’s easy to read in thumbnail
  • Catch the eye and spark curiosity

Check out these examples of great book covers for inspiration. 

Audiobook Distribution

Red and black headphones on a yellow background beside a black smartphone with a play button in the center of the screen.o

Now it’s time to put this baby out into the world and sell, sell, sell. 

Step one:

Choose the Right Audiobook Distribution Platform

There are a ton of audiobook platforms out there that make it easy for you to upload and sell your work. We’ll just focus on the two most popular.

Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) is the top option right now. Publishing your audiobook through ACX means it’ll be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. 

But just as it does with KDP, Amazon tempts you to be exclusive with ACX by offering higher royalties—40% to be exact. Go wide, and it’s only 25%.

The other heavy hitter is Findaway Voices. This platform distributes your audiobook to all the major sales platforms, like Spotify, and includes the ones ACX covers. In return, you get 80% of the royalties. Note: that’s 80% of the royalties, not 80% royalties.

So if Findaway Voices puts your audiobook on Amazon and Amazon pays 25% in royalties for every book you sell, you get 80% of that 25%.

The upsides are that your book is available on more platforms and you don't have to upload it on each one individually or create and track a dozen accounts. 

Once you decide which approach is best for you, you’re ready to…

Market the Audiobook

If you want your audiobook to rank well, you’ve got to market it. 

There are a lot of ways you could go about this. Common strategies include:

  • Paid advertising on social media and Amazon
  • Organic social media marketing
  • Email marketing (like a regular newsletter and book launch updates)
  • Cross-promotion with other self-published authors
  • Virtual book tours
  • Giveaways
  • Book trailers

If your book already exists in paperback or ebook, keep in mind that having an audiobook version creates new possibilities in terms of social media and video marketing. You can share snippets of your recording and engage your audience on a new level.

And to Think It All Started With a Story

Of course, the number one strategy for making a successful audiobook is to write an excellent story. 

Dabble is here with you for the whole journey. From the endless resources in DabbleU to the supportive community waiting for you in the Story Craft Café, we’re ready to help.

That includes a free trial of Dabble’s one-of-a-kind writing tool. This thing has tons of features to make the writing process smoother, simpler, and more fun. And you can try it all for free for 14 days, no credit card required! Click here to get started.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.