woman on her laptop recording an audiobook

DIY Audiobook Guide – How To Make An Audiobook For Cheap!

Producing a DIY audiobook is achievable if you have the right tools. 

As a continuation from our blog post, “How To Make An Audiobook: A Comprehensive Guide,” we’ll show you how to produce an audiobook by yourself step by step. No professional-grade audio recording equipment required. 

The journey won’t be easy, especially if you’re not a techie or don’t have any experience in audio production. 

But just keep at it! Soon enough, you’ll be able to create an amazing audiobook for your listeners that will have them glued to their headphones for hours on end.

Not everyone can lug around an 800-page behemoth of a tome like James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in their bag on a daily basis.

But almost everyone has a smartphone and a data plan. To read the classics, all you need to do is open the Audible app and poof! Thousands of audiobooks right at your fingertips.

 From there you can read (or to be more exact, listen) to all the books that you’ve been yearning to read since middle school. Some of them are even narrated by popular celebrities. Like Anne Hathaway for L. Frank Baum’s “Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Claire Danes for Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Maggie Gyllenhaal for Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” and many more.

According to Grand View Research, the audiobook market (which stood at $5.3 million in 2022) is expected to expand at a rate of 26% in the next few years.

From the numbers alone, we can see that audiobooks are, and will continue to be, a hot commodity. 

And of course, as an author, you want a piece of that pie.

DIY audiobook – how to make an audiobook at home and why

Most audiobooks are produced in a professional recording studio, with sound engineers and experienced audio professionals fine-tuning everything to a “T.”

“Can I make my own audiobook,” you might ask. “Can I wing this project, and do it DIY-style?”

There are a number of good and valid reasons why you would want to go DIY on an audiobook project: 

  1. Going for a full professional audiobook recording is too costly for you at the moment. 
  2. You have more than a passing interest in audio production and want this as a learning project. 
  3. You think you can do it. People have told you that you have a nice voice and you want to capitalize on that.

Special emphasis on the last two points. Audio production, even with the modern tools and software that we have now, can be iffy. If you have no interest in it whatsoever, you’d get bored fast. 

Having an interesting voice also helps. 

Because it’s not enough to have a nice voice— you also need to be a good storyteller.

Why you need to be a good storyteller

When it comes to DIY audiobooks, it’s all about how you tell a story. 

With audiobooks, the narrator’s voice and the way they narrate can change the meaning of your words. 

You can take the most mind-numbingly inane text, like some teenagers’ fighting over Justin Bieber and the boys from One Direction in a YouTube comment section, and turn it into a riveting and masterful performance with the right combination of voice and storytelling chops. 

Sophie Danze vs Jillianlovesthebeibs – YouTube Comment Reconstruction #1

youtube comment reconstruction screenshot

Or turn erotica, Like EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, into comedy gold when you have a voice like Gilbert Gottfried’s narrating it:

Gilbert Gottfried Reads 50 Shades of Grey

gilbert gottfried reads 50 shades screenshot

As an audiobook narrator, you have to know how to convey nuance and feeling through your voice.

Step by step tutorial on how to start producing a DIY audiobook

You have your manuscript with you and you’re fully committed to seeing this DIY audiobook project of yours to completion. 

You have the right drive, the enthusiasm, and the voice that you believe can make this a success. 

So, let’s get started. 

Step 1: Acquire a microphone 

Can you use your phone as a microphone to do recordings for a DIY audiobook?

Sure, you can. But it’ll sound terrible. So terrible, in fact, that you’d have a hard time cleaning it up and tinkering with it.

You can’t magically turn subpar recordings into commercial-quality audiobooks through elbow grease and editing alone. It’s simply not worth the effort.

A dedicated microphone is a must. This is the part of the recording process where you need to put a bit of financial investment into. 

When it comes to microphones, the general rule is that the more expensive the microphone is, the better the quality of the recordings it produces.

Thankfully, you don’t need to spend top dollar for a decent mic. There are microphones out there in the range of $50 to $100 that you can use for audiobook recording. While they won’t sound as good as expensive professional-grade microphones, they’ll get the job done. 

An important requirement for microphones: cardioid pickup pattern

BUT.. . don’t just pick up the cheapest USB microphone you can find! 

Get a microphone that has a cardioid pickup pattern. Here’s why this is necessary. 

Microphones have pickup patterns that describe the way they capture sound from their environments. 

Here’s what the cardioid, figure-of-eight, and omnidirectional pickup patterns look like. 

pickup patterns illustration
from Shure.com

The upper half of a circle is where an audiobook narrator is typically positioned during a recording.

For an audiobook, the only sound that you want to capture is the speaker’s voice, and nothing else. This is why a cardioid pickup pattern is perfect. 

The figure-of-eight and omnidirectional patterns are bad for audiobooks because they’re going to capture more environmental noise (e.g. the hum of your computer, a dog barking in the distance, your neighbor opening and closing doors, etcetera).

While more expensive mics have settings that allow you to go from one pickup pattern to another, cheaper mics might not have this feature. 

Three great mics for DIY audiobook production

That being said, below are some budget-friendly microphones that do offer the cardioid pickup pattern, making them a great option for tasks like voiceovers and DIY audiobooks.

FIFINE USB Condenser Microphone
fifine condenser microphone

Priced at around $40 (and even less) on Amazon. Small and portable. This is probably one of the cheapest cardioid mics on the market today. Fits perfectly with small desktop recording setups. 

Blue Snowball 
blue snowball mic

You’ve probably seen this beloved, cult favorite mic in a YouTube Let’s Play video or a podcast interview before.

It has a very iconic look— just a big round ball with the Blue logo in front. Best of all, it captures audio like a professional-grade mic. 

Blue Yeti
blue yeti

The Blue Yeti is another popular microphone from the same makers as the Snowball.

This versatile microphone can record crystal-clear audio in any recording environment, whether it be a professional recording studio or with your laptop on your kitchen counter. Offers four pattern modes: cardioid, stereo, omnidirectional, and bidirectional.

Pro-tip: Get a pop filter!

Since you’re already spending money on a mic, might as well get a pop filter while you’re at it.

pop filter pic from wikipedia

A pop filter (aka a “pop shield” or a “pop screen”) is a filter that you place in front of a mic to eliminate the “popping” sounds that you get when recording normal speech. 

These popping sounds, called as plosives in phonetics, usually occur when you pronounce consonants like b, d, g, k, p, and t.  

Why do we need to eliminate the sound of plosives? 

You can conduct this experiment to experience it for yourself.

Take a microphone, hold it close to your mouth, and record yourself saying this famous tongue twister:

“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.”

Notice how unpleasant and jarring those “p” sounds are? 

A pop filter blocks fast-moving air from hitting the microphone, which can cause disruptive popping sounds and wind noise in your recording. So not only does a pop filter drastically reduce the sound of plosives, it also reduces unwanted wind sounds like your breathing or the airflow that is blown from a fan.

Step 2: Set up your recording environment 

Record your audio in an isolated location inside your house, far away from windows and doors, to minimize outside noise

Ideally, your recording space should be as “dead” as possible. 

No, we don’t mean lifeless. “Dead” here means that there are little to no hard, flat surfaces in your immediate vicinity that can reflect sound back to your microphone. This way, unwanted echoes and reverb are kept to a minimum.

Making a space ideal for recording DIY audiobooks

How do you make a space “dead” then? 

Simple, just hang or put up material that can “absorb” sound on the walls of your recording area. 

Some of the stuff that you can use for this purpose include: 

  1. Heavy blankets
  2. Pillows
  3. Mattresses
  4. Rugs
  5. Egg cartons
  6. Acoustic foam

This helpful article from MasterClass takes you through the basics of setting up your own home studio

Alternatively, if you don’t have time to set up a home recording studio of your own then a small closet is another great option. Closets and walk-in wardrobes are filled with clothes that are good at blocking AND absorbing sound, thus making them a nice, cheap sound booth solution if you need one in a jiffy. 

How to record an audiobook in your home – other things to consider

As much as possible, you need to keep other electronics as far away from your recording equipment as possible. Your computer’s fans’ sounds might get picked up by your mic. Your phone can produce interference in your recordings. All of this can produce unwanted sound that you have to spend considerable time to edit out later on. 

You also need to find a way to turn the pages of your audiobook quietly. No mouse clicks, keyboard taps, rustling of pages, etcetera. 

Consider opening your manuscript on a tablet and then reading it from there. Or if you don’t have a tablet, try to move your recording setup away from your keyboard.

For mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, you can install rubber O-rings on your keys to make them sound less clicky. (Here’s an article about the various ways on how you can silence a noisy mechanical keyboard from MakeUseOf.com).

Next, you’d probably want to format your manuscript so that it’s easy to read for hours on end. 

Here are some of the things you can do…

  • Make the font size larger
  • Change background color to a cooler color that’s easier on the eyes (instead of just plain white)
  • Increase letter and line spacings
  • Use dark mode
  • If you’re writing notes for yourself on your manuscript, write it in a different font color and size from the rest of the text. 

Step 3: Install Audacity on your computer

We’re going to use Audacity, a popular audio editor and recording software. 

Why Audacity, you might ask? We picked this software because…

  • It’s free and open source.
  • Once you get the hang of it, it’s relatively easy to use. 
  • Works on all major operating systems (i.e. Windows, Mac, and Linux).
  • It has been around for so long that you can easily find tutorials and solve any issue through a simple Google search. 

To install, go to the official Audacity Download page. Choose the Audacity version for your operating system, follow the instructions, and finish the installation process. 

Making sense of Audacity

You now have Audacity up and running on your computer, great job! 

But… oh no, what is this!

audacity ui

The interface is unfamiliar. There are strange icons and sliders, and weird knobs and what-have-you. How can you possibly make sense of it all? 

Fret not, this is why this guide exists. Together, we’ll learn how to create an audiobook using Audacity for free, with minimal effort and an even minimal budget.  

Our goal: to produce a DIY audiobook recording good enough to pass the standards of popular audiobook marketplaces like ACX by Audible (also a subsidiary of Amazon), Google Play Books, and Apple Books.

But first, we’ll have to familiarize ourselves with the Audacity elements and tools that we’ll be using. 

Ensure your microphone is selected
default mic for audiobook audacity

If you’ve installed your microphone correctly, chances are that Audacity will automatically select it as default. Just look at the options next to the mic icon and check. 

Set the microphone input to mono
mono recording audacity

Next to the microphone selection box, you’ll find the input options. There are two choices here: Stereo and Mono. 

For DIY audiobook recordings, your mic should ALWAYS BE IN MONO. 

Stereo means sound is recorded and played back in two audio channels. This is the reason why speakers usually come in pairs. The left and right speakers output each of the two audio channels.

Mono, as the name suggests, only uses one audio channel. We use mono to record audiobooks because there is only one sound source—you, the narrator. We have no need to record another speaker and background noise. Only your voice. 

Using stereo to record just doubles the file size without benefit to sound quality. For this reason, audiobook platforms like Audible heavily prefer audiobook files to be recorded in mono. 

Check if you’re recording loud enough
audacity interface buttons

Let’s take a test recording. Click on the red button, and speak into your mic for around 10 seconds. Then click on the stop button once you’re done. 

wave form on audacity

You’ll see a waveform of your recording on Audacity. On the left side of it you can also see a linear scale of some sort. This scale measures the amplitude.

Ideally, your recordings should be around 0.2 to 0.5 on this scale. Too low and the audio might sound too quiet. Too high and your audio might start clipping. 

There ways on how you can control recording volume levels: 

A) You can either move closer to or away from the microphone. 

B) Check for a knob on the microphone itself. Many mics have a physical volume gain knob that you can adjust to either increase or decrease the volume. 

B) You can use Audacity’s mic gain slider. Here’s what it looks like:

mic gain audacity

Calibrate and test everything before you start to record. This is so that the audio that you’re inputting to Audacity falls within the ideal range for recording.

Install plugins to make Audacity more powerful

Audacity comes with a lot of useful built-in plugins. But if you need additional functionalities, third party plugins can be easily installed with no fuss. 

There are three plugins that we recommend that you use for a DIY audiobook recording. They are: 

a) ACX-Check.ny – A must-have plugin if you’re planning to publish on ACX. Checks if your audio is compliant with ACX’s publishing requirements. 

To use ACX-Check, select your audio track, and then click on Analyze > ACX Check. 

 b) DeClicker.ny – Eliminates unwanted mouth sounds as well as popping and clicking on your recordings. 

c) DeEsser.ny – Reduces the harsh sound produced by pronouncing any word with an “s.”

To install the plugins, simply download them from their respective Download pages. Then take the download .ny files and put them into Audacity’s plugin folder (C: > Program Files > Audacity > Plug-Ins.

Once they’re inside the Plug-Ins folder, they can be enabled by opening up Audacity, and then going to Effect > Add/Remove Plugins. Just scroll to the plugins that you’ve just downloaded and click on “Enable.”

To run a diagnostic test using ACX Check, select the audio track that you want to run a test on (or use Ctrl + A to select the entirety of the track) then click on Analyze > ACX Check.

Start recording!

Now all that’s left to do is to record! You can press the red “Record” button to start or just press the “R” key as a shortcut. 

If you want to take a breather in the middle of the recording, press “P” to pause. Then press it again to continue the recording. 

You can either record in just one go, which you can edit later. Or do the “Punch and Roll” technique, in which you record small bits of your audiobook at a time, and then edit them as you go through the entirety of your book. 

Below are a few tips to keep in mind while you narrate: 

  1. Try to be animated when you speak. Even if you’re reading the most exciting book ever made, it will sound like a grocery list if you’re reading it in monotone. 
  1. Avoid blowing air into your microphone. The pop filter and the DeEsser plugin can only do so much to reduce wind sounds. Should you have trouble doing this, try to sit farther away from your mic (at least six inches up to a foot). Or slightly offset your mic to the side a bit just so it doesn’t lie directly in front of your mouth. 
  1. Speak clearly and don’t talk too fast. Speaking too fast and you run the risk of mumbling or slurring your words. You want your listeners to be able to hear and understand every word you say. 
  1. Don’t be afraid to take multiple takes. Remember that your book is going to be read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Any small mistake is going to be amplified when listened to by that amount of people. 

Final Words

Creating a DIY audiobook on your own is not an easy venture— but it is a rewarding one. Not only do you get to practice your narrating and storytelling skills, you’ll also learn some of the basics of audio production through using Audacity. 

But we get it… not everyone has the time to learn such a technical skill like audio production or even go out to buy the necessary equipment needed to start learning it. 

Here is where Leaders Press comes in. As a hybrid publishing house, we can help entrepreneurs and authors produce best selling audiobooks to take their message to the next level. 

When you work with Leaders Press, you don’t have to worry about learning software like Audacity or struggling with equipment to edit your tracks. We’ll guide you through the intricate complexities of audiobook publishing and hold your hand every step of the way.

Don’t let the challenges of DIY audiobook production hold you back from sharing your message with the world. Schedule a meeting with Leaders Press, and we’ll help you bring your audiobook to life on your terms. 

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