Table of Contents
- The Art & Science of Creating Serialized Audiobooks
The 11 Commandments of Podiobook Production
- 1. Listen to Other Serialized Audiobooks
- 2. Write, Edit, Re-write, and Then Produce
- 3. Find Your Quiet Place
- 4. Treat Yourself To Quality Headphones
- 5. Buy a Decent Microphone
- 6. Practice Anal-Retentive Audio Editing Skills
- 7. Normalize and Maximize Your Volume
- 8. Use a Little Music
- 9. Add Serializing Elements
- 10. Interact With Your Fans
- 11. Have Fun
- Buying Guide - Hardware & Software
- Audio Content Requirements
- Technical Specifications
- Submitting your first episode
- Additional Info
The Art & Science of Creating Serialized Audiobooks
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 have us help distribute it to the world via Podiobooks.com. Outstanding! There’s plenty of room.
Your first question is probably “how do I do it?” To which I have a simple answer: Learn from those that have come before. That, and take sage advice found in this less-than comprehensive guide.
Are You Reading The Right Book?
This guide is not a comprehensive how-to manual with step-by-step instructions for creating audiobooks from scratch. Creating the definitive work on the discipline of audiobook narration and production 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 at all comfortable with the thought of recording, editing, and producing an audiobook of your own, using your voice and equipment… then you probaby shouldn’t start this way. Don’t worry. Podiobooks.com has options for you!
This guide is specifically designed for the author or producer ready to create files for Podiobooks.com. It answers some very specific questions on file preparation that are unique to the Podiobooks.com environment. If you’ve produced audio files before, you should have no trouble meeting the requirements set forth in this guide. However, please understand that these guidelines are different than what you’ve done before, quite exacting in nature, and 100% non-negotiable. Again, you should not have any trouble meeting them. But I can almost guarantee you that the files you’ve created before are not exactly as we need them. The differences are subtle. But real. And to stretch the point, we won’t budge from our position. Sorry!
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.
But we like books that sound as great as they have solid tech chops. So if you’ll indulge me…
The 11 Commandments of Podiobook Production
I know you’re excited (and very smart) to join the ranks of Podiobooks.com authors. You’ve made a wise choice in embracing the concept that “information wants to be freed.” The good news is that the path has been well-blazed before you by authors who have learned things the hard way. You now have a well-paved path. So rather than fight against the tide, you can stand on the shoulders of giants and embrace these tips for success.
While I can’t promise breakout success, I can personally promise you that your path will be easier if you read and adhere to these 11 principles. With that…
1. Listen to Other Serialized Audiobooks
Please understand that the masses have expectations, and they expect you to deliver. Serialized audiobooks have been around since 2005. Millions of episodes have been downloaded. Lots of feedback has been provided. And the only way you can learn from that is to listen to other successful serialized audio books first, and then deliver on the promises they’ve already made.
I can’t tell you how many times I go through the setup process for new authors, only to discover that they have never listened to any other podiobook. I don’t get this. Hey, I’m all about breaking the rules and marching to the beat of my own drummer, but it pays to at least know the rules and be able to discern between a syncopated beat and random banging.
2. Write, Edit, Re-write, and Then Produce
Writing is hard work. Editing is harder still, and re-writing can be – to speak the common tongue – a huge pain in the ass. But all of those steps are important and should not be – must not be – skipped over, skimped on or skimmed over. Yes, there are a few notable examples that fly in the face of that. Yet I can categorically state that your book would be much improved if you took the time to have it edited (by someone other than your mom, please) and then re-written – an iterative process that need not stop for a few rounds.
Comparitively speaking, the work and dedication required to self produce a serialized audiobook version of your work is pretty simple. Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of work to be done behind the microphone and in front of an audio editor (and I’ll get to that in a moment.) But don’t assume that mad audio production skills can somehow make up for an inferior story that could have been made better with some judicious editing. Make the best written book you possibly can, even if you never plan on it seeing life in printed form. Then you can make it into a podiobook.
3. Find Your Quiet Place
The first step in having quality audio starts with having a quiet source. While it may be impractical to spend a thousand dollars turning your family room into an isolation chamber, it certainly is worth the investment in time and inconveniences to find the quietest place you can in your home to do your recording, as well as find ways to minimize ambient noises from your recording equipment (computers are such noisy things.)
A relatively noise-free audio track allows you much more flexibility when producing without having to worry about bringing up the background noise, too. Caution: Noise reduction software rarely works as well as you would like or assume. Some prior authors have done wonders from recording inside of their walk-in closet (the hanging clothes do a great job of absorbing echoes), making creative use of wall tapestries, and investing in computer-less recording devices (like the Zoom H4n.) Noise should be eliminated (or at least reduced) before it enters the microphone, rather than trying to scrub it out after.
4. Treat Yourself To Quality Headphones
Ask any audio recording professional and you’ll get the same answer: Quality headphones are the most important piece of equipment you can buy. I’ll go out on a limb and say that editing without using headphones (like using room monitors or your computer’s speakers) is tantamount to taking a photograph without looking through the viewfinder.
Headphones should block out much of the outside world, allowing you to hear the finest detail of your audio. When you hear something that isn’t quite right, like a chair squeak, barking dog, or annoying plosives (as made on the letter “p”) – fix them! I always use quality headphones when I record – cranked as loud as I can stand it – to catch these noises at the source. I also recommend using headphones to listen to your final file all the way through before you publish it. Yes, even though you just spent an hour editing that very file. Listen again!
5. Buy a Decent Microphone
Notice the word “decent” in that title. I’m not suggesting that you spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a microphone. All too often people assume that all of their problems will be solved with One New Microphone. Truth be told, that’s rarely the case. But that doesn’t mean you should be satisfied with the $20 USB headset you use for online gaming or the stick that came with your computer.
There are many things to consider when shopping for a microphone, and I’m not going to get into any of them here. Want more information? Buy a book or ask a friend. The arguments on what you should buy will go on forever. My advice? Go to your local music store and try out a Shure SM58 microphone and an AudioTechnica AT2020. Those are each quality mics, and you would be well suited to start your shopping there. After that, try out other more expensive models. When you’re happy, figure out a way to integrate your chosen mic into your current recording setup. Additional components may be required. See the Shopping Guide for more details.
6. Practice Anal-Retentive Audio Editing Skills
I’m going to dispel a horrid rumor. This will probably get me kicked out of the podcasters club, but here goes: Editing audio is easy.
There. I’ve said it.
To go one further: you can achieve fantastic production quality utilizing free audio editing software. Audacity works on PCs and Macs and, unless you have a good reason not to use it (i.e. you have experience with and access to better tools), then you should be using it. Plenty of your Mac-addicted fellow authors also use GarageBand, which is also a fine tool, but only for Mac and built into Mac computers.
The trick to either of these (any audio editor, really, even serious audio mastering tools like Hindenburg) is to be incredibly meticulous and methodical in your editing process. In other words, don’t rush through it. And don’t try and cram more than one step together. Think of it this way: You don’t try and format your text while you type out your chapters, do you? But when you are formatting, you correct any misspelled words or subject/verb disagreements as you encounter them, right? Then please do the same in editing your audio. Mispronounced a word? Re-record the whole sentence or paragraph and replace it. Hear that unnatural pause when you turned the page? Cut out some of the dead space. Wish you would have left more space between sentences or a longer pause for effect? Add it in! Audio editing tools are designed to do just that – edit! Go slow, take your time, and play around until you are as good with your editor as you are with your word processor. I promise you that it’s not any harder. Or it won’t feel so after you get used to it.
7. Normalize and Maximize Your Volume
While cutting and pasting inside of an audio editor is simple, the raising and lowering of sound levels inside of the file is less so. And that’s where tools like Hindenburg and Auphonic come in very handy. Both tools (the former is a software you buy and the latter is a pay-as-you-go web application) work their magic on your audio files by normalizing, leveling, and maximizing the volume or “loudness” level of your audio. That’s important so that the volume of your files is the same volume as other files. Because you don’t want to send people scrambling for the volume control when your way-too-quiet file is over, and a properly normalized file (read: everything else) starts to play next. Be kind: Normalize and maximize.
Many audio engineering gods will profess that they can do a better job on their own without using third party tools. I’m not here to argue against them and have heard many fine recordings where a skilled audio engineer managed to do it alone. So let me state it this way: If you are not using a third-party tool and you do not have a good reason to not use a third-party tool, then you should be using a third-party tool to normalize and maximize your files. Period.
8. Use a Little Music
In the olden days of audiobooks, adding in music and other effects was strictly verboten. Yeah, well… rules are meant to be broken. This one in particular. If you take a listen to the most popular podiobooks, they all feature appropriate bed music before and after the episode. Music – when chosen wisely and applied correctly – can enhance your audience’s listening pleasure by setting the tone and tenor of the book. Got a creepy horror book? Use creepy music. Full on bodice-ripper? Bring on the sexy. The Buying Guide secton of this document has some places listed to find good music. Word of caution: Follow the rules and respect copyrights! (And don’t get us in trouble!)
9. Add Serializing Elements
There’s a difference between the traditional, downloadable audiobooks you can find on Audible and the serialized audiobooks we distribute on Podiobooks.com. We’re much more akin to a television series or mini-series, where their stuff is more like a movie. For us, the media file for each episode (probably a chapter, but not necessarily) should have an opening section. Keep it short and sweet. Name of the book. Name of the author. Maybe the chapter name. And the episode number. Then get on with the story!
Likewise, each media file should have an outro. You can go a little longer here, but only if you need to. It’s a good place to thank your publisher, give attribution to the music (playing under your narrated outro as a bed), and to drive a little traffic to your website or social properties. Bonus!
10. Interact With Your Fans
The rules of engagement between author and reader/listener have changed. Listeners now have access to those who create the content they consume in ways never seen before. Capitalize on this. Embrace this. Look at the popular authors. In almost every case, they have incredible amounts of interaction with their fans. Read comments. Actively seek conversations. Participate in forums. Answer your emails. Go out of your way to embrace and encourage these people to keep spreading your words far and wide.
11. Have Fun
The minute this becomes more work than fun and you can’t see why you are doing it, stop. Seriously. It’s not for everyone. Those who do it, love it. But that doesn’t mean you have to love it. There are lots of ways authors can try and make a name for themselves. We’re but one. A fun one, right?
Do all 11 things (I call them commandments for a reason) I just mentioned and you’ll go far. Don’t do those things and you risk having people turned off by your work. You have one chance to make a first impression. Get it right!
Buying Guide - Hardware & Software
Of all the parts of this guide, I resisted writing this one the most. Yes, even though I had no trouble telling people exactly what to do in Podcasting for Dummies, I’ve resisted getting too specific with what equipment to buy and what software to use. But here goes.
Let me start by saying that you do not have to buy or download any of this. There are lots of different configurations, setups, and options at your disposal. I make no claims about what you’re about to read, save these two:
- If you buy/download these items, you will be well outfitted for the express purpose of creating a serialized audiobook at home.
- I either have used or do use the components listed here on a regular basis, so everything comes with my personal recommendation. Whatever that’s worth.
The process of creating an audiobook isn’t all that much different than writing. You’re familiar with the Write -> Edit -> Publish process, right? When producing an audiobook, it’s Record -> Edit -> Publish. Yes, it’s that similar. And that’s how I’m going to walk you through the buying process. If you think you know it all already, you can skip to the shopping list at the bottom of this chapter. (Though I hope you won’t, as there is some really good stuff in here!)
Your first order of business is to take the sounds that come out of your mouth and get them to a fixed, tangible medium as cleanly and as efficiently as possible. That suggests three elements: A (relatively) quiet environment, a microphone, and a recording device. I’ll make some recommendations on those in reverse order.
Professional Recording Device
Whatever device you’re reading this on – computer, tablet, mobile phone – that device probably has an available app that would let you use the device as an audio recording device. I counsel against using that. Computers have a tendency to crash at the most inopportune times. Tablets and mobile phones have limitations on inputs. Can you make it work? Sure. Should you? A much better question.
My suggestion: Buy the Zoom H4n. About the size of two decks of playing cards, there’s a lot of power packed into this little package. Not only is it noise-free (solid state recording to an SD card) and crash-proof (though you can connect via USB to your computer, but did you not just read the two preceding paragraphs?), but consider all these benefits:
- It’s super portable, so you don’t have to record up against the wall where you’ve shoved your desk
- There’s a screw hole (also called a “nut”, I hear) on the back that’s the same size as on your camera, so it’ll attach to your tripod or “gorilla pod” for better positioning
- It’s packed with a ton of built-in onboard effects, like auto gain, EQ, and other stuff you probably never will but certainly can use
- The X-Y mic on the top is outstanding and just may be your go-to microphone (we’re getting there)
- Two XLR or 1/4” jacks on the bottom give you more mic options
- Live monitoring (listening with headphones as you record) lets you know exactly how much background noise is getting into your recording (I’ll address this, too)
I love this little device. I’ve had mine for at least five years. A monkey even tried to eat it, and it’s still great. Minus the monkey slobber. Buy it.
Ok, so you’ll use the Zoom H4n (or one of its more expensive siblings) to handle the recording. But let’s talk external microphones.
Notice I didn’t write cheap microphone. Nor is headset listed here. Neither, you’ll notice, is phone. You need a professional microphone to record your audiobook. And yes, that’s going to cost you money. And yes again, the Zoom H4n has a built in mic. But you may want a different one.
Side note: I don’t engage in the never-ending condenser vs dynamic microphone war. Or the Mac vs. PC war. Or the Chevy vs. Ford war. Or any war. Make love, not war. Or at least audiobooks, not war. If you’re ignorant of this war, do everything in your power to stay that way.
For the money and quality, I find myself turning to the Shure SM58 microphone time and time again. It’s even more indestructible than the Zoom H4n, which is one reason why it’s the go-to house mic for most bars, clubs, and other live music venues. (The other reason is that there are seriously great components inside!)
I get a little grief from my podcasting and audiobook recording friends when I make that suggestion. They all tell me the same thing: “That mic was designed to pick up a singer’s vocals.” How they fail to see the irony of their statement is beyond me. Anyhow, it’s a solid mic. I carry two.
The AudioTechnica AT2020 is another popular option. I’ve used it. It works. I like how my voice sounds on the SM58 better.
If you’re ignoring my advice about buying an independent recording device and are dead set on using your computer, you’re on a different path. Both the Blue Yeti and the Rode Podcaster are excellent USB microphones with excellent components. You’ll sound good. But you’re risking recording on a computer. I’ve beat that dead horse enough. YMMV.
Whichever mic you choose, you’re probably going to want/need some accessories. If you go with one of the XLR mics and the Zoom, you’ll need a mic cable to connect the two together. Get a 6-foot XLR cable. They’re cheap and anything longer is just going to get tangled up, ran over, or add to the clutter and then annoy whoever you share your life with. You’ll probably want some sort of mic stand and something to hold the pages of your book. I’ve never used one, but something like this looks nifty to me. And a pop filter to keep your breath and exploding “P” sounds (plosives) to a minimum would help.
(Relatively) Quiet Place
Unless you invest in a sound isolation booth (or luck into a free one like some people), you’re going to have to accept some level of noise when you record. You can get rid of a lot of the ambient noise by turning off the air conditioning and unplugging the refrigerator… but you’re still going to have sound reflection, which negatively (to varying degrees) impacts your recording.
Enter the sound shield, a deceptively simple, low-tech solution. Some look like egg crates stuffed with foam. Some look like radar arrays lined with foam. Some look like panels you’d find in an office. I’ve never owned one, and can’t make a personal recommendation. I’ve used many, and they sure are nice. But before you spend the cash, try these possible solutions:
- Record in the closet. No, really. All those clothes hanging up make for a great sound baffle. Test it the next time you’re in there.
- Get under a blanket. If you can figure out how to avoid the problems of excess heat and a lack of light, this can work.
- Invest in tapestries. Big curtains. Hanging, puffy wall decorations. Anything that will absorb the sound on impact will help.
There are lot of tricks you can use to make your environment as quiet as possible. But how do you know if you’ve done a good job? You have to listen. And you have to listen with quality professional headphones. The Sony MDR7506 are perfect for the job. Great quality and not terribly expensive. They are much more sensitive than your earbuds. Plug them into the Zoom H4n, crank up the volume, and walk around your space. You’ll immediately hear the loud spots to avoid, as well as find the quiet spots you can work with. Also, professional headphones are required in the next step, so you’ll use them. A lot. Donâ€™t skimp.
(And don’t waste your money on headphones made by companies that spend more money on marketing and branding than they do on product development. It’s easy to beat the quality of those bozos.) (Man, I hope those jokes landed and I don’t get sued for being too obvious.)
Once your voice is on the Zoom H4n, you need to get it on your computer. Technically, you can edit on the Zoom. But that way madness lies! And even if you recorded directly to your computer (which I told you not to do), you’re still going to have to edit your narration session. Sorry. Them’s the breaks. Even pro narrators have to edit. Have to. It’s not optional.
As I stated in the “Before You Get Started” chapter, I can’t teach you how to edit audio. Not in this guide, at least. All I can do is tell you what software to download and leave you to find the right mix of tutorials and classes. Editing audio isn’t hard. It just takes patience. But let’s get to the software.
Audacity is free
Audacity is a free cross platform audio editing tool. It’s powerful (enough) to do what you want. Oh, and it’s free. It’s also what I’ve used since 2004. There are more powerful tools. There are more feature-filled tools. There are even more stable tools. But I still use Audacity.
And even though I’m not going to give you a detailed rundown of how to use the software (see above), I will tell you one productivity trick that works regardless of what software you use: When you are recording, just record. Focus on getting through the raw recording of one section (chapter, scene, whatever) at a time. If you screw up in the middle of a recording session, don’t hit the stop button. Instead, clap your hands twice – loudly – and start re-reading at the beginning of the paragraph where you screwed up. Don’t hit the STOP button until you’re at the end of the section, regardless of how many clap-marked retakes you have.
Clapping puts two big spikes in the waveform of the audio track. Those spikes helps you “see” the flub in the visual editor. And re-starting your narration at the start of the paragraph makes it a lot easier to delete the bad part than trying to join an edit in mid-sentence. It’ll feel weird, because you know you made a mistake. Stop (talking, not recording). Clap twice. Start (talking) again. When you reach the end of the section, then you can press the STOP button and switch to editing-mode.
Compress Dynamics 1.2.6 makes it better
Compression is, without getting too technical, what makes radio DJs sound so god-like. While I’ve no desire to turn you into a god or a DJ, I will suggest you install the Compress Dynamics 1.2.6 to make your narration sound better. That’s better as in more rich, full, and even. It’s like the little tool that makes cake frosting nice and smooth. Which makes it taste better, right?
Install the Compress Dynamics plugin for Audacity. You’ll find all the details you need on the link above. And Daniel J. Lewis has a very helpful guide on how to tweak the five sliders to give you the best possible sound. So really… why should I say anything more? I use this on every piece of narration audio I record. Always. Without fail.
A Better Way To Master
Once you’ve cleaned up all the flubs, umms, and page turns, and once you’ve used appropriate compression to embetter your voice, you’ll need to tack on the intro and the outro to each episode. Remember, this is a serialized audiobook you’re creating. Just like TV shows have an opening and closing sequence, so will each of the episodes that will make up the audiobook you’ll place on Podiobooks.com.
You’ll find more details in the Content section later in this guide. For now, we’re focused on the software you’ll need to “stitch” your intro and outro to the content you just narrated and edited.
You can use Audacity to do this. But I find Hindenburg Journalist Pro a superior tool to both master and put the final touches onto my audio files before I publish them.
What makes Hindenburg so much better at assembling the final file? Several things:
- Intelligent auto leveling: Consider yourself lucky if you’ve not encoutered blaring intro music that overpowers the narration. That’s never a problem with Hindenburg, as the software measures the “loudness” of each segment – your intro, your episode content, and your outro most likely – and then automatically sets the “level” of each piece for a consistent experience. It’s near magical.
- Drag and drop: Without switching tools and with incredible fine-tuning, you can place each element exactly where it should be. This is very helpful when dropping in effects or bringing outro music under the end of the narration. And it adjusts in live time, so you can hear the adjustments as you make them.
- Better .mp3 files: I’ll spare you the technical jargon and just say that the quality of the .mp3s generated by Hindenburg are far superior to that of Audacity or even iTunes. And who doesn’t like better quality files?
- Excellent EQ settings: Need a little boost in your bass? Have some high ends that are a little sharp? Hindenburg’s built-in EQ makes it easy to tweak the sound of your narration without impacting the intro, outro, or special effects. It’s handy.
- LUFS -16 exports: In short, LUFS -16 makes too quiet audio a thing of the past. It’s a (I wish I could say the) loudness standard adopted by broadcast radio. And it ensures that your files won’t be hard for someone to hear.
Just like with Audacity, I can’t teach you how to use Hindenburg Journalist Pro. But the company has an excellent series of tutorials, which reduces the learning curve. And a 30-day free and fully functional trial makes sure you aren’t wasting your money. Because it’s not cheap. But it is awesome. Hindenburg saves me literally hours every single week. I love it.
Good news: All of the audio work is done at this point. No more looking at waveforms, worrying about loudness, or trying to keep your plosives under control. Your file already sounds good. Now we’re going to make it (and you) look good.
ID3 tags are what control how your episodes display to your listeners. On their phone, music player… whatever. The Content section in the next chapter tells you what to add. Here I’m telling you how to add it. Neither Audacity or Hindenburg will do the trick, cool as they are. You need a dedicated ID3 tag editor. And, frankly, I don’t care which one you download.
Audacity’s shortcoming is that it won’t let you embed cover art (also known as album art) into your ID3 tags. That’s why you need a separate ID3 tagging tool. But the tagging tools won’t help you create your album art. Good news: Online image editor Canva will, and it’s free!
We’ll get into the specifics of what dimensions and format the cover art for your episodes should be in the next section. If you’re a wizard with Photoshop, keep using it. But for quick and darn good looking results even for non-designers (like me), Canva is great!
The Definitive Shopping List
OK, that was a lot of info. Sorry. I get wordy. Here is everything I just covered in a single list, in the same groupings and (mostly) order as the preceding chapter:
- … on a Zoom H4n
- with a Shure SM58 microphone,
- or maybe an AudioTechnica AT2020.
- You’ll need to connect them with a 6-foot XLR cable.
- A pop filter is nice,
- as is a mic stand
- and something to hold your book.
- Going straight to your computer? Try the Blue Yeti USB mic
- or the Rode Pocaster USB mic.
- Regardless which mic you choose, a sound shield is a good idea.
- When you listen with your Sony MDR7506 pro headphones, you’ll know why.
- Do your bulk editing with Audacity,
- but be sure to install the Compress Dynamics 1.2.6 plugin.
- Mastering with Hindenburg Journalist Pro will save you time and make a better .mp3 file.
See? Easy. Well, easy if you’ve got the cash to spend. But well worth it if you want a quality product. (Which you do… right?)
Audio Content Requirements
Remember 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 beserialized. Only material that can be divided into multiple files can be serialized.
We call these discrete, multiple 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.
Length of Episodes
How many episodes are required? How long should each episode be? Both are valid questions. Yet neither 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 serialized content where the episodes are of a consistent length. You don’t have to re-write chapters of your book 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 split chapters across multiple episodes rather than create a single two-hour long audio file.
Can They Hear You Now?
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 through someone’s speakers or in their 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. Earlier in this guide, I made strong recommendations for tools like Hindenburg and Auphonic. These tools will give you the correct volume level. Always. And that is very, very important.
What’s In An Episode
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 that makes up an episode:
- Beginning (intro)
- Story 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 different “all finished” outro on the last episode of a book. Content and production varies widely across titles, but here are some general rules of what intros and outros should contain:
- 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
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.
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 entire book all in one sitting.
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 within a file. 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.
A note on music and sound effects
The music and sound effects you select can impact 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 sounds, or getting the express permission from the rights holder (usually for a modest fee) to use their work in your fee-based audiobook. As I’ve said before: choose wisely.
There are lots of right ways to export .mp3 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 compatible with all the other files across our network. If you’re doing something different for other distribution services, that’s fine. But you’ll need to go back to your master files and encode, tag, and name a new set of .mp3 files to our specifications before submitting episodes to Podiobooks.com.
And if you don’t understand what I’m asking for below, then you may be jumping ahead. Grab a book on how to create .mp3 files. Any good podcasting how-to book will cover it in detail.
Please note that Joint Stereo is neither Mono nor plain old stereo. Joint Stereo, please.
It’s easiest if I 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 an 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 author of the content in the episode. 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 label, 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 choose something else. Please embed images no larger than 300x300 at a resolution of 72ppi. 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 outlined. Failure to do so will result in the rejection of your initial episode, delaying your continued production and eventual launch on Podiobooks.com. Not good. And it makes me cranky.
Note: Any other ID3 tags you see in your tag editor that are not mentioned above are optional. Fill them out or leave them blank if you like. It’s your choice.
Now that you have your file properly encoded to our settings, ensured it’s been properly ID3 tagged, and you’ve 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 Podiobooks.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. And no underscores or other potential separators. Dashes (hyphens) only.
- [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 I check a file to see that something was left out. Check. Double-check. Triple-check if you must. Please? Here. I’ll help you out with this handy checklist:
The Definitive Checklist
This short checklist is exactly the process I go through when reviewing your first submission:
- Is the filename correct? PB-TheTitleofMyBook-01.mp3 is what I’m looking for. No spaces. No punctuation. Yes, it must start with “PB-“. And no, it can’t end with the extension doubled, like “.mp3.mp3”. That happens a lot.
- Is the channel Joint Stereo? Because if it just says “stereo” or says “mono”, that’s not Joint Stereo.
- Is the bit rate 128kbps? Not 192. Not “VBR”. Not anything that isn’t exactly the number 128.
- Is there an image embedded? I should see the cover of your book, and it should be exactly 300x300 and at 72 ppi.
- Is the Artist tag set to the author’s name?
- Is the Album tag set to the title of the book?
- Is the Track tag set to “1”? (You’ll increment this by one for each of your subsequent files.)
- Is the Year tag set to whatever year it is right now?
- Is the Genre tag set to “Podcast”?
- Is the audio maximized and normalized? I’ll open the file in Audacity and check out your wave form. It should be pushing the upper limits, but not peaking.
- Does it start with a short intro? I’ll listen to the first part to check.
- Does the file end with an outro that can be slightly longer? I’ll skip to the end of the file and check.
If you read any of those and think “What the heck does that mean?” then you skipped ahead. And that’s a bad thing. Go back to the beginning of the document and start over. Right now. Because you’ve probably missed other things about this process. It’s not hard to do right, but without understanding the process, it’s very easy to do incorrectly.
If you are having trouble achieving these specs with whatever software you are using, ask a specific question in the Mentorship Program to get help. Be sure to tell them what software you’re using, and what problem you are having. There are lots of helpful people in there willing to assist, and someone from Podiobooks.com monitors the conversation, too. (Me, usually.)
Get Feedback Before You Submit
Even if you hit all 13 of those checks on the mark, you still need a secondopinion. 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 file 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. Namely… me.
Why We’re Such Sticklers For This Stuff
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 that 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.
How To Submit To Podiobooks.com
Listen: If you jumped to this level without reading the preceding information, I’m going to be very, very disappointed. And I’m going to know. So, seriously, don’t even try it.
If you did read everything, followed the checklist, and received the blessing from the peer group, then buckle up your courage and fill out our Publishing Request Form here:
And then you can relax, because the hard part is over.
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 I recommend Podcasting for Dummies. Then again, I may be a little biased.
If you’ve come this far and are thinking “what the heck have I gotten myself into,” don’t worry. We can probably help.
Our Valet, At Your 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 the narration of your book, but all of the things required to make it into a serialized audiobook, we’ll do on your behalf. 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.
“Can’t You Just Do Everything For Me?”
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, and it’s based on the length of your final book. Estimate roughly $1000 for an eight-hour long book. Which is less expensive than sourcing the services yourselves.
To get a quote, send an email to email@example.com to start the conversation about our “Concierge Service”. A total word count is helpful in coming up with an estimate.
A Note About Rights
Keep in mind that if you choose to distribute your audio book with Podiobooks.com – you keep all the rights. During the process and before your book goes live, you’ll grant 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.
Tips Are Welcome Here
But just because we offer free books, it doesn’t mean we won’t take people’s money! Every book has a Tip button next to it. Any tips we get are split 75/25 with the author or producer, and you get the bigger share.
Serialized Yet Complete
If you’ve been watching our site for a while, you may recall a time when we used to release in-progress audio books, dropping new episodes weekly or whenever the author/producer finished a new episode. At the start of 2012, we changed our policy to only list serialized audio books once all episodes were produced and ready to be released. This was initially a defensive move to reduce administrative costs, but then we noticed our total downloads – and therefore our authors’ readership – spiked in response.
If you would like to take the “one episode per week” approach (and I still 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!
Special Thanks to Libsyn
Finally, I have to thank the fine people at Libsyn for their generous support. They donate the media file storage and bandwidth, so none of this is possible without them. Tell your friends!