ACX Storytellers: Joanna Penn

In addition to connecting authors and publishers with voice talent and studio pros, ACX offers those with completed audiobooks a pathway to distribution through the top audiobook retailers, Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. This DIY” workflow is a popular choice for authors who want to voice and even produce their own work. Author Joanna Penn recently completed the process herself, and she joins us today to share her experience recording Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur (out today) for ACX.

ACX Author and DIY Narrator Joanna Penn

ACX Author and DIY Narrator Joanna Penn

How to Record Your Own Audiobooks For ACX

Audiobooks are a fantastic growth market for authors, narrators, and producers alike, and I’ve been working with fabulous narrators for my fiction since ACX opened up in the UK in 2014. But as a listener, I prefer non-fiction audio in the voice of the author themselves, so I decided to record one of my own books, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur.

Here are the lessons I learned in the process:

1. Make Sure You Record the Highest Quality Audio

There are specific technical requirements one must adhere to when publishing an audiobook on ACX, so that the listener has the best experience possible. You can reach this level of quality by recording in your own home, but only if you can get rid of the various noises that may pollute the audio, which you may not even hear anymore.

I’m a podcaster so I’m used to recording and editing audio, but when I listened to the sounds of my flat, I could hear planes overhead, cars going past, the rattle of someone in the garden, and the occasional yapping of a dog outside.

AndyMarlowRecordingStudioInstead, I hired professional audio producer (and musician) Andy Marlow (pictured), who has a great little studio just a bus ride away from me in South London. We worked in two-hour slots and Andy made sure that the quality of the initial audio was excellent, and he mastered the file to produce my retail-ready audio for upload to ACX.

2. Prepare Yourself for Recording

It’s surprising how tiring recording audio can be. I was exhausted after each two-hour session, because it was essentially a performance. You have to put energy and expression into what you’re saying. And in a professional studio you might be shut into a small, padded box, which takes some getting used to! Here are my tips to manage yourself during the audio process.

  • Schedule sessions a few days apart if you’re new at recording to ensure you have enough energy. People can hear exhaustion in your voice, so respect your audience and make sure you’re at full strength when starting, and stop before your voice begins to drop. It took 7 sessions of 2 hours each to get to a finished audiobook of 6.5 hours, a ratio of about 2:1.
  • Try to avoid dairy before recording or anything that might give you excess phlegm or clog your throat. Try cleaning your teeth and create a routine so that you know your voice will be ready for speaking. If you’re ill or your voice is affected in any way, you’ll need to postpone, as audiobook listeners will be able to hear the difference.
  • Joanna Penn records her audiobook.

    Joanna Penn records her audiobook.

    When you’re recording, try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. I found that I needed to stop sometimes for deep breathing during longer chapters. I would consider a voice coach for help with this if I was recording more often, as it definitely affected my stamina. Professional actors and voice artists can record for a much longer period, as they have mastered this.

  • You’ll want to read from a Kindle or other tablet so you don’t encounter page-turning noises while recording. Remember to turn off any WiFi connection on the devices and set to airplane mode as they can make a static noise on the audio, even if you can’t hear it when recording.

3. Learn Some Editing Skills to Keep the Costs Down

You can pay a producer to edit the audio files as well as record and master them, but this will make your cost per book higher, meaning less profit for the project. Since I already edit audio for my podcast and I had high-quality raw audio files, I decided to do the edits myself.

Here are some specific tips:

  • You can use free editing software like Audacity to produce professional-sounding audio.
  • If you make a mistake when recording, clap your hands so you create an obvious spike on the audio file that you can use to find the error later (pictured).Clap in Waveform_01 Your error rate will increase as you become more tired, so make sure that you take breaks. I found that 40 minutes was the maximum time I could spend reading “in the box” before I needed a break.
  • The ACX technical requirements require you to add a few seconds of room tone at the beginning and end of the file. We recorded this separately, in the silence of the empty vocal booth. I then just used the pre-cut segments to begin and end each file, which made the process quick and easy.
  • After editing, there needs to be a full QC listen to the audio to ensure all the edits are done properly and the audio matches the book. Since I was truly sick of hearing my own voice by this stage, I employed my Virtual Assistant to do this step for me. Most of the files were fine, but there were a couple of instances where I had repeated myself without editing the error, so this QC step is crucial to avoid issues later.
  • High-quality audio files are very large, and because you’ll be sending them back and forth, you can’t use email for this. They will also fill up your computer memory really fast. I used Dropbox to send the edited files to my Virtual Assistant and the final files to the producer.

For more recording and editing tips, I recommend Audiobooks for Indies by Simon Whistler which has a lot of useful information, whether you want to record your own books or work with a narrator.

Would I do it again?

This process has given me a renewed respect for audiobook narrators, because now I know how hard the job is and how many hours go into recording and editing a book. It was much harder work than I expected!

businessaudioHowever, it was definitely rewarding and I will be recording other non-fiction books in the future. It also gives the entrepreneurial author another product in their business, and if you’d like to learn more about that, check out Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, available now on Audible.

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn. She also writes inspirational non-fiction for authors and is an award-winning creative entrepreneur and international professional speaker. Her site, is regularly voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers. Connect on Twitter @thecreativepenn.

16 responses to “ACX Storytellers: Joanna Penn

  1. Very cool to hear about the process like this. The claps are a good idea to remember. The only narrating I’ve done has been performance of kids books to my younger sisters while growing up.

  2. I second all these excellent tips, because I happen to do most of them myself. Right down to the Kindle (remember you can email the script to yourself as a MSWord file).
    There’s a hands-free alternative to a handclap to flag an outtake: a “tock” with the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth makes an unmistakable spike in the Audacity waveform. It’s an easy habit to acquire.

  3. I take it since you had to edit the body of your text and use the claps etc… you were saving money by only paying for booth time and a sound engineer to set you up and just press record, not the full services of an audio book producer? I only point this out because while you make it clear that “editing yourself” saved you money, it’s not clear that needing to do that editing at all was also a money saving choice. If an author pays for a specialist audio book producer there will be no post-recording editing to do (unless there are special effects or music to put in before mastering) because the editing will be done in the booth as you record. It takes a little more time in the booth but a lot less time in post-production, even for a professional. Audio books are one of the few art forms in which the best artistic result actually comes from the most economically efficient process!

    • Hi Darcy,

      Great info, and thanks for chiming in. To clarify, it sounds like you’re talking about the difference between “punch and roll” recording and “straight recording.” In the punch and roll method (as opposed to the straight record, which Joanna described above), the recording is stopped when the narrator makes a mistake. The last correct sentence is then replayed, allowing the narrator jump back in at the offending line when the recording starts again. This method takes longer in the recording booth, but greatly reduces editing time. Note that full edit and QC passes are still needed when the recording is completed – they will just be quicker and easier for the editor.

      – Scott

      • Hi Scott,
        Yep! Exactly what I was talking about. Straight recording is fine for a 30 second ad or 3:05 song but for audio books punch and roll is the best way to record, it’s not only more efficient (understatement, really, waaaaaay more efficient!) but results in a reading which flows naturally and is better absorbed/enjoyed by the reader.
        However, I would understand if an author decided that cost required some compromises to the finished product. Not everyone can afford a specialist audio book producer – there are probably only a few of us around! (It would be interesting to know how many, actually.)

  4. I agree with Darcy’s comment. Also – what do you mean by your Virtual Assistant to do quality control?

  5. Pingback: How To Record Your Own Audiobooks For ACX | The Creative Penn

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  7. This was really helpful information! I would never have thought of the clap idea. Thanks!

  8. Pingback: Tips for Running a Self-Publishing Business – Munificent Scribbler Press

  9. Very interesting and informative. It sounds easy to narrate and record something, but after trying I learnt that there’s a lot more to it than what I thought it entailed. The advice here is very welcome.

  10. Andrew Outerbridge

    I just recorded my first novel using equipment as suggested by ACX, NT1 microphone and Babyface midi. Overall a very high quality of sound…but..the balancing of voices gets quite tricky. I have over 40 characters in my story…each with a different voice, along with the narration voice…boy..can it get confusing when a group of five or six characters are in conversation…a mental nightmare! You feel like you have multiple personalities. lol. I then hired a sound engineer in the music business to take the raw recording and meet the ACX levels. As the narration includes both big voices and very meek voices the balancing becomes very tricky. I recorded in a stop and go style which I found very easy as it gives a continuous performance that requires only editing of breaks, breath and extraneous noises. I do not care how good your studio space is…noises somehow find their way! but a good engineer can clean it up as long as your floor levels have plenty of room. The bulk is in sequence,correct, clear, spaced and all mistakes are recorded over as a mistake is made…Never start mid sentence always go back to a natural break. Overall, it was a very arduous task, 330 pages!!…but I feel very excited about the results and cannot wait until it is ready to upload…A vocal performance brings your story to life.

  11. Very useful information ! thank you!… this is an exciting and rewarding gig for anyone who has a love for books!

  12. Stephen Lawley

    As a newbie to this recording world, it was very useful, with the DIY tips and comments.
    Will I be brave enough to take it from book to audio?
    “You Make Me Better – A Parent’s Worst Nightmare”.
    Working on “YMMB too” at the moment.
    Thanks again.
    Stephen Lawley

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