What it’s like to narrate an audiobook

by | Oct 30, 2019 | Nathan's Books, Self-publishing | 2 comments

Me making an audiobook.

So. You want to self-publish an audiobook. But should you read it?

In order to help you decide, I thought I would share a bit about my experience recording the audiobook for my guide to writing a novel at John Marshall Media in Manhattan.

You might be surprised to know that there was murder! Intrigue! Suspense!

Just kidding. It all went pretty smoothly.

Arriving for the reading

One Saturday morning I woke up and traded some beautiful summer weather for an eight hour session in a windowless box in Hell’s Kitchen.

(For those unfamiliar with NYC geography, Hell’s Kitchen is a neighborhood in Manhattan that is not quite as ominous as it sounds).

Luckily my booth was comfortable. And state of the art, which came in handy later.

I made myself some tea (they helpfully had honey on hand), I sat down, adjusted my iPad, and when I got the go ahead from the sound engineer, I started reading.

Sort of. Haltingly. Way too fast.

Luckily I had this guy

This is Juan, who was kind of enough to spend one of his Saturdays coaching me, pumping me up and being extremely gracious when he had to stop me a million times saying “Let’s try that again?” any time I stumbled over some words or when my stomach growled.

I know you’re wondering: “What happens when you mess up?”

Here’s what happens when you mess up.

Juan would stop me, then he’d replay the last un-messed-up sentence in my headphones, then I’d pick up where I left off and do-over the one I flubbed and just keep going.

At first I could only really do this by starting over at the beginning of sentences, but as the day went on I got good enough that I could pick up mid-sentence and keep going.

There were a few tongue-twisty sentences where I just could not say them for the life of me and I was tempted to shout, “Who in the hell wrote this stupid book!!”

Yeah. Me.

It’s not easy

You know how most people hate the sound of their own voice? This is basically like being forced to listen to your own voice for eight hours straight. There were times when it almost felt like an out of body experience.

Perhaps the hardest element is maintaining a sense of verve and energy throughout the day. The whole reason I wanted to narrate my own audiobook in the first place is that I am extremely passionate about this book, helping authors, and recording something I also can use when I need it later.

So I waved my arms like a crazy person, tried to smile the whole time I was reading, and remembered how excited I was when I wrote the words in the first place.

We had originally allocated two days for the recording, but I was able to power through and finish in just one day. I exited the studio a little bleary eyed but relieved I could go home, watch TV, and not hear my own voice for the rest of the night.

Getting the files

When I received the finished files, they were utterly flawless. I couldn’t believe it. My voice sounded clear, everything was stitched together seamlessly, and you’d never know I spent a lot of the time stumbling over words and repeating sentences.

I thought I found an error and that there was some missing material, but it turns out I just ended a chapter kind of awkwardly. Whoops.

I now see the value of having professionals handle this stuff. I was able to get everything uploaded to the audiobook distributors without a hitch.

Thanks to John Marshall Media for making the audiobook sound incredible and helping me create an edition I feel great about.

Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!

For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.

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  1. Wendy

    Thanks for this, Nathan. Utterly fascinating. And all done and dusted in one day? 0.o

  2. jon

    How times change. About 1985, when audiobooks had just become a thing (and were called “books on tape” because virtually everyone either had or had access to a cassette tape player) I considered starting an audiobook business. I had a small recording studio that was adequately equipped to record both music and voice and I had recorded numerous bands and advertising jingles. Not knowing anything about the logistics of the audiobook business, I spend a few hundred dollars on media consultants who collectively informed me that not only would I have to enlist known personages to read, I would have to negotiate audio rights and underwrite duplication and marketing expenses. Most of this I already knew, but was a bit confused about who exactly were these “known personages”. Turns out that every one of these consultants named movie stars: Schwarzenegger, Stallone Streep, Fonda, Willis, Ford, Mirren, etc. Obviously, I was sort of gobsmacked but the best was yet to come. When I asked about capital requirements, to a person every consultant recommended having no less than $100,000 (in 1985 dollars)for start-up capital. Inflation adjusted, that works out to, according to my handy-dandy inflation calculator, exactly $235,478.66 in 10/30/19 dollars. Obviously, that was it for me. Took the highway out of there and never looked back.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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