How to make a great audio book without taking out a mortgage

Until recently the cost of recording an audiobook from your print/eBook tended to be prohibitive.

Recording audiobooks

State-of-the-art Old School Studios, Milton Keynes. Photo credit T Beezley.

Times have changed now, though. And being a tricky old goat I have found out some ways of making high-quality audiobooks that bring the whole project in at an affordable price.

How audiobooks are storming through to best-seller status

I have it on very good authority (yes, no sh*t) that … after Amazon has entered the audiobook market with its cohort Audible, it has found that audiobooks are on the way up, up, up. Audible’s competitors offering a similar service are building quickly.

Why, isn’t rocket science. Mainly it’s because today’s ‘now’ people have little time to read or watch the information they need to know. So how do they absorb it?

Via audio resources.

Audio is great because you can do other things while learning

Whether it’s driving your car to far-flung meetings, giving your car a DIY service, driving your kids to their after-school activities, doing the ironing or any other task that doesn’t required 100 percent of your concentration – audio tracks like Audible books, podcasts and even YouTube videos (you listen to it rather than watch the pictures too) can provide you with more information and/or entertainment than otherwise would be possible.

With time being ever-more at a premium in busy people’s lives, audiobooks provide welcome added value to time that would otherwise be spent staring at traffic or an ironing board.

Why was it so expensive to produce audiobooks in the past?

Reason One is that mainline recording studios were charging rates similar to those for advertising and documentary work which was fine for that purpose because the number of hours involved were relatively few. When you think that it takes at least 10, if not 20 recording hours to record a book and the studio rate is at least (if not more) GBP £100 / USD $125 per hour…yes, that.

Reason Two is that previously it was thought essential that your book be read by a professional voice-over artiste. At the time this made sense, but…

A lightbulb moment for one of my authors

When one of my favourite author clients, Jules White, said she would love to do an audio version of her book Live It Love It Sell It we wondered how we could do it without Jules having to take out the large mortgage that would have been needed a while back. But cheap can mean low quality, which was out of the question.

One critical reason for not doing a DIY job was that Audible, Amazon’s audiobook operation, are very picky about the quality of audio files they receive and the technical standard has to be very high. Not a job for a local / internet radio station or commercials studio, then.

recoding audiobooks

A high quality singer’s booth: perfect to record an audiobook. Photo credit T. Beezley

So where to find high quality recording facilities? Lightbulb moment: a music studio. The technical standards of music studios have to be high because of the complexities of a) recording and b) mixing all the different strands of sounds into one (hopefully) harmonious end product. And in the main they have superb voice recording booths, because to record singing you need the best quality of microphone and surroundings.

Enter Timfy and Old School Studios 

Timfy James is a successful musician, singer and composer and also runs one of the most sophisticated music studios in our region of the UK. Old School Studios, like most high-end music recording facilities, is very busy recording bands and solo artists. Most of them have day jobs or college so record in evenings and on weekends.

But Monday to Friday office/school hours? Dark. Not much going on, although Timfy does some work for major corporates and for the BBC during the week. Jules and I visited Timfy and explained what was needed, and a very reasonable hourly rate was agreed.

OK, now who will record the book’s contents?

As we’ve seen, professional voice-over artistes don’t come cheap, and that’s fair enough. They have worked hard to learn, develop and refine their craft. Some are now making a very good living, thank you, from recording audiobooks – like my dear old friend Simon Prebble who has recorded more than 750 books after a successful general acting and TV career.

But wait: listeners don’t necessarily want to hear it from a suave, professional-but-maybe-slightly-ersatz voice. They want to hear it from the author. In Jules’ case, problem solved: she has a great voice and does a lot of public speaking (including a TEDx talk) so took to recording like a duck to water.

recording audiobooks

Timfy at the main console, Old School Studios. Photo credit T Beezley

And this fashion for authors to record their books themselves is growing. It follows the current trend for more ‘human,’ honest and personal communication generally. Listeners don’t care if there is the odd stumble or ‘er’ (although technical experts like Timfy usually can edit those out afterwards). Listeners like to feel engaged with the author who is ‘talking directly to them.’

But what if your voice isn’t appropriate to read your book?

If you, as the author, feel your speaking voice sounds like a misfiring wood chipper and you definitely do not want to record your book, there are some options other than an expensive professional artiste.

Good places to look for people who will work for much lower fees are members of amateur dramatic societies, and drama / performing arts students. So have a Google for both of these in your area and see what turns up.

Anything else?

A couple of things, the first of which is don’t forget to have your book cover reworked into a square, not portrait shape. That’s the current requirement for Audible, anyway.

If you record and distribute podcasts, if they are of reasonable quality it should be possible to have an expert like Timfy ‘clean them up’ technically so – with editing – they could be turned into a lowish-cost Audible audiobook as well.

To find music recording studios in your area, Google ‘music recording studios (name of town or city)’ Check that they really do have proper facilities to record music – some say they do but don’t!


The audiobook of Live It Love It Sell It is now selling well on Audible / Amazon.  Jules took about 6 hours in all to record the book’s 35,000 words (over a few days) which is excellent for a first timer! Then Timfy worked his magic in the mixdown and edit, uploaded the files to Audible and voilà. Total cost was less than what you would pay for one day’s recording in a fancy London / New York / Los Angeles / Toronto / Sydney studio, yet the quality was comparable. Running time of the book is just under 4 hours.