A DIY Guide to Becoming a Voice in Someone’s Head

Because audiobooks are the new Netflix.
Dhvani Solani
Mumbai, IN
October 19, 2018, 8:51am
DIY guide to publishing an audiobook

I don’t know if it was the clear mountain air that my city-soaked lungs were not used to, or the magical setting that included in its backdrop a house straight out of a childhood dream, or the voice that seemed like if you listen to it long enough, you could get pissed drunk off it. I don’t know what it was, but all of us sitting in our chairs under the bright sunshine were in a bit of a trance. We were listening to an audiobook at the Himalayan Echoes literature and arts festival in Nainital a couple of weekends ago.

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The Himalayan Echoes festival was set against a magical backdrop.

As I type this story, I am revisiting the Hindi poems that made this audiobook. And it feels like I am back in the mountains instead of the glass-and-steel building (with free beer) that VICE works out of. I guess that’s the power of an audiobook—you get a complimentary follow-up holiday.

Over lunch that day, I met up with Delhi- and Dehradun-based Viky Arya, a thoroughly unpretentious, petite, bespectacled lady who had written the Hindi book of poems—Angan Mein Ek Ped.

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It was the probably the first time in India that three versions of a book were being launched in tandem: print, ebook and audiobook. Joining us was Giriraj Kiradoo, publisher at Storytel India, an audiobook subscription service that has published her 18-minute audiobook made of evocative, natural world-inspired, bite-sized poems.

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Viki Arya (second from right) and Giriraj Kiradoo (extreme right) at the launch of the print, ebook and audiobook versions of Arya's book at Himalayan Echoes festival in Nainital.

Together, they tried convince me how I should expand my book-writing dreams to book-recording ones. And they charted out a roadmap for others like me to get to the bestseller status, that takes advantage of the ubiquitous smartphone and high-speed internet now available to many. Sharing their step-by-step guide here so you too can endeavour to become the next big thing in audiobooks-and-chill:

Step 1: Prep your book for reading

Congratulations, you’ve managed to sit down and write a whole frikkin’ book—that’s massive. Now, think about whether your book can be better enjoyed by someone on their way to work, who wants to get more books in without actually reading. “Poetry is not two-dimensional; you have to feel it and because my poems are very visual, I thought an audiobook would make it more evocative,” says Arya. According to Kiradoo, genres like drama, crime, self-help and sex work really well for sales. If you’re convinced your book can work as a performance piece, revisit it as a script where you add natural pauses and emphasise certain words. You may also have to rework clunky or long sentences that work well to read but not so much when spoken.

Step 2: Find your narrator

“I felt like my own voice didn’t have the depth and texture for my poems,” says Arya. “So, I looked for professional voice-over artists who would be able to evoke the feelings.” As tempting as it might be to narrate your own book because you might feel that only you know its nuances, consider if your tone and pitch work, and get a pro on board if not. Figure if you want to pay by the hour or for the entire text. Judge your running time not on the basis of how many pages are in your book (font sizes may vary) but by the word count. When auditioning narrators, make sure you give out bits that have dialogues, especially if they require particular accents. If you need music and other sound elements, consider buying samples or commissioning personalised audio pieces.

Step 3: Record your book

Book a recording studio ahead of time, budgeting for post-recording editing as well. An audio producer might sound like an expensive proposition, but if you don’t understand the technicalities of the job, the producer can be a dealbreaker in terms of the book’s quality. If you want to go indie-ninja on the book and record at home itself, invest in a good USB mic, a pop filter to eliminate popping sounds, and an audio software for recording or editing (look up Audacity, or Garageband if you use a Mac—both are free). Pro tips: Read in a small, carpeted area, and from a device to avoid page-turning sounds.

Step 4: Put it out there

Audiobook creation Exchange (ACX) is a popular choice for author as it puts your book on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible in one fell swoop. There’s also the Google Play store as also StoryWalker 365, a homegrown children’s storytelling app. Royalties are not bad either, and Kiradoo says that your audiobook might garner more money than print versions since the costs in making and distribution are far less.

Step 5: Or just seek out a pro service

At Storytel, if you manage to pique their interest with your story pitch, the pros there will work with you right from the writing/scripting stage in order to develop a Storytel Original. “In that sense, we work episodically, and it’s more like writing for cinema or TV than print,” says Kiradoo. Storytel has also launched a voice-over hunt across the country, to scoop out aspiring VO artists. If you have a print version ready, you can also approach them to figure if they could be interested in buying audio rights to your book, or sell them a finished audiobook itself, like Arya did. “As comforting as it might be to have a physical copy of a book and flip the pages yourself, having someone’s beautiful voice read out to you is a magical experience,” says Arya. “It’ll change the way you read.”

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