Table of Contents
- Before you get started…
- The Art & Science of Creating Serialized Audio Books
- Audio Content Requirements
- Tech Specs
- Submitting your first episode
- Additional Info
Before you get started…
There seems to be a wide gap between the number of times this guidebook is downloaded and the number of initial submissions we see at Podiobooks.com. Our assumption is that while many people like the idea of making their book available as a serialized audiobook, many find the process to arduous and give up early, or maybe even before they’ve begun.
To combat that – because we know first hand what a powerful marketing tool a serialized audiobook can be – we’ve decide to provide some services for those who read this guide and thing “Wow, that’s a lot of work.” It’s still a lot of work, but maybe we can help.
Option 1: The Classic Model
Podiobooks.com built its reputation on freely hosting – that means without any fee at all – the worlds largest collection of serialized audiobooks, all created by authors and publishers who took the time to learn the vagaries of in-home audio production. If that’s you, then you can skip the next two options and dig into the meat of this guide. Smooth sailing! See you soon!
Option 2: Valet Service
For a small fee – currently $9.99 a month – we’ll take care of all the technical stuff in this guide. You’ll still be responsible for recording your narration of your book, but all of the things required to make it into a serialized audiobook, we’ll do on your behalf. So if you’d rather not worry about bit rates, ID3 tags, or file naming conventions, we can do it for you for a modest fee. Best of all, there are ways we can make this service free to you, and even provide a revenue stream with one of our sister sites. If you’re interested in our Valet service for your book, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll fill you in on the details.
Option 3: Concierge Service
OK, so maybe you don’t want to do any of the work, including the narration. No sweat. Over the years, several of our contributors have discovered they’ve a special knack for doing just that. If you choose our Concierge Service, we’ll collaborate with you to find the best voice for your book… and then we’ll take care of the rest of the process, from start to finish. All you’d need is a completed and edited manuscript. (Note: This isn’t a cheap option, but it is less expensive than sourcing the services yourselves.) To get a quote, send and email to email@example.com to start the conversation. A total word count is helpful!
Again, we want to stress that for the D.I.Y author or publisher, Podiobooks.com was, is, and shall remain a free service. And that’s what this guide is all about, so let’s get to it!
The Art & Science of Creating Serialized Audio Books
Back in 2005, a handful of authors had – isolated from one another – the same basic idea. They would harness the power of new media via podcasting to get their book in front of a wider audience. And to our delight, the idea took root and grew.
It has been many years since those first pioneering audio files were released. The audience for serialized audio books has grown significantly. That handful of authors has grown to hundreds, producing close to a thousand serialized audio books. An uncountable number of listeners have enjoyed books delivered in this fashion. Expectations, as you’ll note, have been established.
And now here you are, ready to create a serialized audio book of your very own and having us help distribute it on Podiobooks.com. Outstanding! There’s plenty of room.
Your first question is probably “how do I do it?” To which we have a simple answer: learn from those that have come before. That, and take sage advice found in this brief document.
This guide is not a comprehensive how-to manual. Making a serialized audio book blends together a variety of arts and sciences. Creating the definitive work on the subject is an endeavor that would lead to a 300+ page tome. This is not that 300+ page tome.
No, this guide assumes you’re going to do the bulk of the learning on your own. There are plenty of great books on the subject of home recording, podcasting, writing, editing and performing that would serve you well to read. There are also plenty of experienced people offering advice. If you aren’t sure where to start, you’re probably a little early to be reading this document.
Specifically, this guide answers some very specific questions on file preparation for Podiobooks.com. Please follow the guidelines contained within to the letter. If in doubt; find out.
A quick note on our “acceptance” policy: Podiobooks.com is not a publisher, at least not in the traditional sense. We are a distributor of serialized audio books. As such, we do not judge the quality of what you have written, recorded or produced. Our measuring stick for inclusion starts and ends with technical specifications. Meet those and your book will be listed on Podiobooks.com.
Audio Content Requirements
Consider for a moment that you are (or will be) creating serialized content. That means that your audio book will be delivered in a sequence of audio files rather than a single downloadable file. An individual short story or a very short book that is contained within a single audio file is, by definition, not able to be serialized. Only material that can be divided into multiple files can be serialized.
We call these discrete files episodes, and multiple episodes make up the entire serialized audio book. There can be many different ways to prepare the audio files for these episodes, but some general accepted practices have evolved over time.
How many episodes are required? How long should each episode be? Both are valid questions. Yet both do not have a firm answer. Books need to be as long as books need to be, which naturally leads to the conclusion that … episodes need to be as long as episodes need to be.
But in general, the “sweet spot” for episode length is 20 to 40 minutes. Not surprisingly, this closely mirrors the average commute time for many. Also, people tend to prefer books where the episodes are of a consistent length. You don’t have to re-write chapters of your work to make them longer or shorter, however. An episode does not have to contain a single chapter. Many authors combine chapters to achieve a more consistent length. Others have chapters span one or more episodes rather than create 2 hour audio files.
I cannot stress enough the importance of producing episodes with consistent volume levels. I speak of consistency within an episode, across all episodes of the book, and across other media files that play in someone’s speakers or headphones.
Please make sure you are maximizing your sound. You do not want to run the risk of being drowned out by the sounds of traffic, or forcing your listener to scramble for the volume control when your all-too-quiet file ends and their next audio in queue starts playing – at ear splitting levels. We highly recommend using Auphonic to normalize and maximize your sound. It will give you the correct volume level. Always. And it has some rather nifty automation tools to help give you the right encoding settings, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Assuming you’ve listened to some of the more popular books on our site, you probably noticed three distinct “parts” of a single audio file or episode:
- Beginning (intro)
- Episode content (the “meat”)
- Ending (outro)
Intro and outro sections are most often canned. In other words, they are exactly the same across all episodes, with the possible exception of a new “all finished” outro on the last episode of a book. Content and production varies widely across titles, but they should contain these elements:
- Intro: Name of the book, author, narrator and episode number
- Outro: Special attribution (music, publisher, etc.), web address, Creative Commons statement, and thanking the listener
A note on music and sound effects
Both the intro and outro should have appropriate bed music under your narration. It helps set the mood if you will, and acts as an aural clue for those who don’t listen to your files all in one sitting.
But what bed music you select makes a difference in what else you can do with this audiobook you’re creating. For example, most of the books on our site use Creative Commons licensed music that expressly forbids any commercial use. That’s fine for Podiobooks.com, as we make the books available to listeners for free. But there are other sites, like Scribl that allow our authors to actually sell, in a single download, all of the files that make up a podiobook. If you’ve used Creative Commons licensed music or effects, you’ll have to strip those out before letting Scribl distribute your book to paying marketplaces. A better option might be royalty free music, or getting the express permission from the rights holder (usually for a modest fee) to use their work in your fee-based audiobook. As we’ve said before; choose wisely.
Intros tend to be well under a minute in length. The shorter; the better. Say what you need to say, and then get on with the story. Your listeners are going to hear this 10 or more times before they complete your book. Keep that in mind. And be sure to have your bed music fade out before you give the episode descriptor. It’ll leave you more options later. Trust me.
Outros can be longer, but only if necessary. Resist the temptation to have a “credit roll” at the end of the file, or to play the entire track of the music you used for your bed. Remember that people have more files than just yours in their listening queue. Be respectful of their time.
The primary content area should be all story. You can – and probably should – use some sort of audio cue to denote chapter and/or scene changes. You can also use appropriate sound effects. Note the word appropriate. Some authors score their entire production with music, effects and sound environments. I posit this is very time consuming and a true art form. When considering adding effects of this kind, treat them as if they cost you money. And you are on a tight budget.
There are lots of right ways to format audio files. And as of right now, none of them matter except for ours. Please don’t ask us to make exceptions. We won’t. The specs below are set to ensure that your .mp3 files are as compatible as possible. If you’re doing something slightly different for other distribution services, fine. But you’ll need to go back to your master files and encode, tag and name your files to our specifications before submitting episodes to Podiobooks.com.
And if you don’t understand what we’re asking for below, then you may be jumping ahead. Grab a book on how to create MP3 files. Any podcasting book will cover it in detail.
- Bit Rate: 128 kbps
- Sample Rate: 44.1 kHz
- Stereo Mode/Channel: Joint Stereo (not Mono or just plain old stereo)
It’s easiest if we provide an example of completed tags.
- NAME (also called TITLE): You can choose whatever name you want for a specific media file. But so that it doesn’t get confusing, I suggest using a short name for your book (one word or and abbreviation) and then a double-digit sequential order of the episode in question. This helps people find your episode(s) inside their larger list of episodes from multiple sources.
- ARTIST: The name of the author or person who gets the main credit for the book. Do not change this from episode to episode. Make sure your capitalization and punctuation stay consistent across episodes. If you are submitting a compilation, use the name of the compiler, not the individual episode author. Media libraries on your computer or mobile device often will use this field to group files, so be consistent.
- ALBUM: The full title of your book. Note that this may be different than the shortened or abbreviated version you are using in the NAME field. Make sure you keep the same capitalization and punctuation across all episodes. Not doing so looks sloppy.
- TRACK: The sequential number of an episode, starting at 1. This should match the number used in the NAME field, if you took my suggestion. You should also enter the total number of episodes in the “of” field that accompanies track number, assuming your ID3 tagging program supports it. If that’s confusing, it won’t be when you’re ready to tag episodes.
- YEAR: Set this to the current year that the serialized audio book version was released. It’s likely the same calendar year in which you upload the file.
- GENRE: Always set this field to “Podcast”, as the episodes are primarily delivered via the podcasting mechanism. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s where we live today.
- ARTWORK: Every episode of your book should contain embedded artwork. That artwork is likely going to be the cover of your book, but you may chose something else. Should you deviate from your cover, please embed images no larger than 300x300 at a resolution of 72. Going larger or higher quality simply increases the size of the media file for no good reason.
I again stress the importance of filling out the above-mentioned ID3 tags exactly as we have outlined. Failure to do so will result in the rejection your initial episode, delaying your continued production and eventual launch on Podiobooks.com. Not good.
Note: Any other tags you see that are not mentioned above are optional. Fill them out or leave them blank if you like. It your choice.
Now that you have your file properly encoded to our settings, assigned and edited the ID3 tags, and embedded artwork for your episode, it’s time to name your files the proper way. We use this format:
Here’s how to decipher that:
- PB: This signifies the file is a part of Podiobook.com and helps keep our files together in playlists or portable media players.
- -: The dash is used as a separator of the elements making up the name. No spaces, please.
- [ShortTitleofYourBook]: If your book has a short name, use the whole thing. But if it gets large, shorten it. You may opt to use the shortened version you used when filling out the NAME ID3 tag. Capitalize the first letter of each word, and run them together. Spaces cause all sorts of problems with filenames, so don’t even think about it. Also, don’t use any “funny” characters. Stick with A-Z and 1-9.
- [##]: This is the sequential number of your series of episodes. It starts with “01” and it increases in whole number increments until you reach the final episode of your title. Even if you have chapters 1, 2 and 3 all included in one file, you’ll still call the first one “01”. If your first complete episode is a prologue or introduction, you will still name the very first file “01”. It’s an episode number, not a chapter number (though they can be and often are the same).
Following this naming convention, your mp3 files’ names will look like one of these:
Remember, start at 01 and increment. Always.
Submitting your first episode
Ready? Good. Before you submit, please double check you’ve done things correctly. It’s shocking and sad how many first time authors fail to read these instructions. Doing it right isn’t hard, and it’s frustrating when we check a file to see that something was left out. Check. Double-check. Triple-check if you must. Please?
Ready? No, you probably are not. Do yourself a favor and get a second opinion. Use the Podiobooks.com Mentorship Program to your benefit. You want these people to check your work. Seriously. Only about 1 in 10 files submitted by first-time authors make it on the first pass. Please use the Mentorship program before submitting. You’ll thank me later. And I’ll thank you right now.
Once the folks in the Mentorship program have had their way with your and you’ve specifically asked them to verify that you have all the tech specs correct, it’s time to submit to the powers that be at Podiobooks.com. Buckle up your courage and go to this URL:
… and upload the file that you previously sent to the Mentorship Program. Immediately after that, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of the file you uploaded. We get a LOT of files submitted, and need to how to contact you after your file has been checked (and hopefully approved).
We (and by we I mean I) do not sit around checking for new files each and every day. It usually only takes a day or two for us to check and reply, but it can take up to a week. Please don’t email asking the status until a week has passed.
Our process of checking for compliance starts with a check the naming convention first, then moves on to ID3 tags. Finally, and only if it passes the first two tests, we’ll download the file and open it up in a waveform editor. We will not listen to your entire file, but we may make some spot checks. Errors in recording –- including repeated lines, coughs and other issues – will be missed. It’s your job to make sure your narration and production values are high, not ours.
If the file fails any of those tests, we’ll email you back and tell you what part failed. No, we cannot offer specific how-to, step-by-step details on solving the problems. The Mentorship Program probably can help, which you should have used before sending the file to us anyhow. Had you done so, you would have passed the first time. Seriously. Use the Mentorship Program.
When your file passes the check, we’ll send you more information on how to get us the remainder of your files, plus the additional information necessary to get your book live on Podiobooks.com. But relax, the hard part is over.
Why are we such sticklers for this stuff?
Because we’ve been doing this for a very long time and have a pretty good handle on how people enjoy consuming serialized audio books. Over the years, I’ve heard authors come up with some very interesting thoughts and ideas about how people listen -– or how they might listen -– to their books. In every case, these authors have been making assumptions based largely on how they themselves like to listen.
Those assumptions are always wrong.
The reality is the people have different ways they want to listen. You cannot cover them all. Do not even try. Your job is to provide the files in such a way to allow the maximum enjoyment for the maximum number of people. If you follow the guidelines set forth in this document, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Part of our job is to figure out ways to make it easier for your potential audience to listen to your book. We’re doing a good job, but frankly have a long way to go. We’re working on it. That may mean we come back to our authors in the future with some changes. So you really, really want to hold on to your master files. Storage is cheap. Or stick ‘em on a DVD somewhere. Just make sure you have an archive that you can easily manipulate in the future.
With that … see you on the site!
As mentioned previously, this is not a complete guide on how to record, edit and publish an audio book. There are lots of guides like that out there, but we recommend Podcasting for Dummies. Then again, we may be a little biased.
If you’re struggling with getting your encoding settings right, check out Auphonic. It’s an automated tool that takes your raw .wav or .aiff file and will – like magic – convert it to the the 44.1 kHz, 128 kbps, Joint Stereo requirements we have.
In fact, Auphonic can make it super easy to stitch your intro and outro to your completed chapters. That means all you have to do is record and edit one intro, one outro and a whole bunch of “meat” files for your book. Auphonic will take care of the rest. Really. It’s a sweet little tool. And it’s free.
Keep in mind that if you choose to distribute your audio book with Podiobooks.com – you keep all the rights. By going through the upload process, you’re granting us a non-exclusive world-wide license to distribute the audio files. No, we don’t charge you for this service. And no, we don’t charge our listeners. Free can be a good thing, and we don’t want to muddy it up with commerce.
Yes, you will see a Tip button on the site. Tips are just that, and authors probably should work for tips. Any tips we get are split 70/30 with the author or producer, and you get the bigger half.
Finally, you may recall a time when our site used to release in-progress audio books. At the start of 2012, we change our policy to only accept serialized audio books with all episodes produced and ready to be released. This was in response to consumer demand, and our downloads – and our authors’ readership – spiked because of it.
If you would like to take the “one episode per week” approach (and we think that’s a fabulous idea), then you’ll need to release the book on your own site/feed first. When you’ve gone through that initial delayed release cycle, we’ll be happy to list your book on Podiobooks.com. Consider us your archive!
Finally, we have to thank the fine people at Libsyn for their generous support. They donate the media file storage and badwidth, so none of this is possible without them. Tell your friends!