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Audiobooks – Part 9

In Part 8, I talked about my old audio editing process, emphasising how time-consuming it was, and my acquisition of RX 9 editing software. Here’s the follow-on: my new process.

This involves running various editing routines in RX 9. For instance, I’ll run the ‘Mouth De-click’ routine on a 34-minute track. The routine counts how many clicks it has fixed. Typically, for a track that long, it will fix more than 25,000 clicks. Yep, you read that correctly. 25,000 clicks, that previously I was removing by painstaking fades, consigned to the ether in only a few minutes while I sit and watch with a goofy grin on my face.

There’s a lot of trial and error involved. There are many editing routines in RX 9 and each one has its own settings that can be adjusted to suit your voice. I fiddled around until I found the routines and settings that eradicated most of the extraneous noise without adversely impacting the narration I want to keep. It’s pointless laying out the settings I use because what suits my voice might not suit yours. You’re going to have to experiment until you find what works for you.

When I’ve finished running the various routines in RX 9, I end up with a track that’s significantly cleaner than when I started. Most clicks, pops, overly sibilant esses, slaps, breaths, etc. have disappeared.

Any tenuous excuse to include a dragon

Though not all. A few still remain, which I will remove as before using fades, masked by the Ambience track. And I still need to adjust pauses between sentences, paragraphs, scenes, etc to make them more uniform. However, the time it takes me to edit in Audacity has, at a conservative estimate, been halved. The time I’m saving has made every penny I spent on acquiring RX 9 worth it. Without reservation.

There’s one more change I’ve made to my editing process (from another tip picked up from the Facebook group). Occasionally, RX 9 is too keen and removes a sound I didn’t want to be removed, usually from the end of a sentence. Maybe it will take out an ess sound or remove the final hard syllable at the end of a word like ‘chuckled’ so that it sounds as if I said ‘chuckle’. I could adjust my settings to avoid this possibility, but I’d rather lose the occasional sound I need to keep than keep sounds I want to eradicate.

A simple solution is to add the unedited track as a third track and mute it. On those occasions when I come across a bit of over-vigorous sound removal by RX 9, I find the original section on the third track and simply copy the missing portion of the word back in to the edited track. One or two crossfades to mask the join and I’m good to go.

Here’s a screenshot of what my editing process in Audacity now looks like.

This is a chapter from The Reckoning—I’ve labelled the tracks in red to make it clearer. Track 3 is the original recording which has only been edited to the extent of removing the mistakes as described in Part 6 under Step 1. It’s greyed out because it’s on mute. Track 2 is my track of ‘good silence’ as described in the postscript to Part 6. Track 1 is the original recording, minus mistakes, that has gone through the editing routines in RX 9. Essentially, Track 1 is my master track to which I’m making final edits. When I’ve finished, Track 3 will be deleted, and Tracks 1 and 2 will be mixed together. The resulting track will be mastered and, when the audiobook is complete, uploaded to Audible and Findaway Voices for distribution.

This, in summary, is my new editing process:

  1. 1. Record as normal in Audacity
  2. 2. Export raw recording as WAV file (for back-up; also save it to the cloud)
  3. 3. Delete error sections and resave track (Track 3 in the screenshot)
  4. 4. Export as WAV file and import it into RX 9
  5. 5. Run RX 9 editing routines. These are the ones I use, though there are others:
  6. ‘De-plosive’
  7. ‘Mouth De-click’
  8. ‘De-click’
  9. ‘De-ess’
  10. ‘Voice De-noise’

6. Export edited track as WAV file and import it into Audacity (Track 1 in screenshot)

7. Import ‘Ambience’ into Audacity as second track (Track 2 in screenshot)

8. Import Track 3 (original recording minus mistakes) into Audacity – mute it

9. Edit Track 1 in Audacity as before, using Track 2 to mask fades and Track 3 for restoring any clips overzealously removed by RX9; delete Track 3 before mixing and mastering

Thanks to RX 9, the task of producing the rest of my works in audio has become significantly less daunting. And big thanks to the Facebook group Authors Who Narrate Their Own Audiobooks, whose members are generous with their advice and knowledge sharing.

I’m not sure whether there’ll ever be a Part 10. If not, for the final time, happy listening!

Audiobooks – Part 8


This post in its entirety turned out to be quite lengthy so I’m splitting it in two—there will, therefore, be a Part 9 along shortly.

It’s been a while since I wrote about producing audiobooks. Part 7, about mastering the edited track, was posted on 2nd April 2021. Part 6, about editing, was posted on 21st January 2021—this is the process I want to talk a little more about. As usual with these posts, they’re primarily aimed at writers who are considering producing their own audiobooks but don’t know how to go about it.

This is what I said in Part 6:

I am not claiming this to be the only or best way to edit audio using Audacity. On the contrary, it is not even an advisable method because it is massively time-consuming.

If you managed to wade through the rest of that post, you’ll know what I mean when I said my editing method was massively time-consuming. Although I managed to speed up my process a little by importing a second track of ambient room noise, it took me almost a year—a year!—to edit The Beacon, a novel of 104,000 words.

I took a much-needed break from producing audiobooks. When I returned to them, I procrastinated over embarking on the final novel in the Earth Haven trilogy, The Reckoning, since it’s the longest of them at 106,000 words. I couldn’t face taking a year to produce it. Instead, I finished producing the rest of my short stories in audio format.

Then, in mid-November, I couldn’t put it off any longer; it was time to begin recording The Reckoning. But I was mindful of what I’d also said in Part 6:

There must be quicker, more efficient ways of achieving the same outcome.

I needed to find those ways, and sharpish.

A few months back, knowing I’d eventually need to pick the brains of other authors who produce their own audiobooks, I joined a Facebook group: Authors Who Narrate Their Own Audiobooks. (I’m not sure what their policies are on linking to the group so I’m not going to post a link—if you want to find it, typing the group’s name into the search bar in Facebook should take you there.) I’d kept an eye on posts about editing and noticed discussion about a mysterious (to me) editing tool by iZotope called RX 8. It was time I looked into this in greater detail.

Long story short: RX 8 has now been upgraded to the latest version RX 9, and it was the standard version I needed because it contains a useful little tool called ‘Mouth De-click’. At the full price of $400, it was a little too costly for me. However, by first purchasing RX Elements (a basic package that doesn’t include ‘Mouth De-click’) as part of a Black Friday bundle and then waiting for an upgrade offer, I was able to purchase RX 9 for a combined total of $198 plus taxes, a decent saving.

That was the easy part. Next I had to learn how to use the software. RX 9 contains various editing routines, some (maybe all, I’m not sure) of which can be imported into Audacity as plug-ins. After much trial and error, I decided not to go down the plug-in route, but to edit tracks in RX 9 and then import the edited track into Audacity for fine-tuning.

It’s the editing process in RX 9 where the time saving comes in. And how! The chapters of The Reckoning are fairly lengthy and the unedited recordings are typically over 30 minutes long. Due to my deficiencies as a narrator and the limitations of my daughter’s bedroom as a recording studio, they contain a lot of extraneous noise: clicks, breaths, slurps and slapping and other moist mouth sounds (yeah, I know, eww), creaks, rustling, the occasional sound of distant traffic, mysterious little bangs, and so on.

My old process involved removing each sound in Audacity manually, using a combination of Crossfade Clips and Fade In/Fade Out*, and pasting in a short clip of ambient room noise to mask the fades—as set out in Part 6. That part also mentions the time-saving idea of using an entire track of ambient room noise, which I still do and is indeed a great time-saver in itself. That process, even with the Ambience track, was still massively time-consuming. To edit a 36-minute chapter might take me 30 hours or more. You can see why I needed to find a better way.

And I’m glad to say RX 9 is that better way.

In Part 9, I’ll talk a little about my new process. See you then.

* another way to speed up the editing process is to make use of Audacity’s shortcuts. By assigning two keys to each function, I can employ fades from the keyboard without having to use any dropdown menus. This, too, has helped speed up my editing times significantly.

Audiobooks – Part 7

To quickly recap, my three main concerns when embarking on the process of producing my own audiobooks were:

  1. a soundproofed workspace;
  2. differentiating between characters without using accents;
  3. learning how to edit and master.

The only item I haven’t talked about is the second part of number 3: mastering. You’ll be glad to know that this will be a much shorter post than the last one on editing.

Before embarking on this enterprise, I had no idea what mastering an audio track even meant. I’m still not much the wiser, except that I know it has to do with making the recording sound as good as possible by, for example, making the sound levels consistent throughout the recording. In other words, it’s a process whereby the track is optimised so that it sounds a lot more professional than it did before it was mastered.

Am I sounding a little vague? That’s because I am. And more than a little. Anyway, the point is that you don’t need to understand the tasks involved in this process to be able to perform them and produce audio of sufficient quality to pass Audible’s quality control checks.

If you’ve been using a second track to disguise fades (see Part 6), you’ll first need to mix both tracks together into one: in my version of Audacity, select ‘Mix – Mix and Render’ from the dropdown ‘Tracks’ menu. Then you’re ready to start the mastering process.

Before we go any further, here are a couple of links you’ll need.

If you’ve already begun the process of narrating your audiobook, you should already be familiar with the first—it’s ACX’s Audio Submission Requirements. When I first read these, the techncal jargon in some of the sections made my eyes spin. But it’s okay—you don’t need to understand most of it.

This is the godsend: Audiobook Mastering. I stumbled across this page when desperately seeking a straightforward method and explanation of how to master an Audacity recording. I downloaded a couple of the plug-ins they provided, followed their instructions and—hey presto!—finished up with a mastered audio track that passed Audible’s quality control checks.

I believe this page has been updated since I first came across it—and Audacity has definitely gone through a few upgrades that I haven’t kept up with—and the plug-ins might be called something different to the ones I use. To avoid causing confusion, I’m not going to talk about what I do. Suffice it to say, follow the three simple steps set out in the instructions and you hopefully won’t go wrong. They even provide a plug-in that enables you to check the track to see if it complies with ACX/Audible’s requirements.

If you do as they suggest and your track doesn’t pass the ACX check, they go on to talk about other things you can try to get it to conform to Audible’s requirements. I’m thankful to say that I have never needed to take any of those additional steps. Here’s hoping that you won’t either.

And essentially that’s it. Before exporting your MP3 track, you’ll need to add a short clip of silence at the start (by generating a half-second clip of silence from the ‘Generate’ dropdown menu) so that your opening clip of ambient room sound (what ACX’s requirements refer to as ‘0.5 to 1 second of room tone’) is preserved during export. Otherwise, it could be lost and your track won’t then satisfy Audible’s requirements—I was going to add a link to where I found the advice to do this, but I can’t recall where it was; probably some online forum. Whatever, it was darned good advice.

 

That’s really all I can say about the process of producing an audiobook. I hope that some of it, at least, will be of use to anyone embarking on the process for the first time.

In the meantime, I’ve recently completed the audio version of The Beacon, the second book in the Earth Haven trilogy. (Here’s a link to the UK Amazon page  where you can listen to the free sample.) It took me substantially longer to narrate and, in particular, edit than it did to write in the first place. Now I need a rest from audiobook production before embarking on the third book in the trilogy, The Reckoning.

Much to my delight, The Beacon has passed both Audible’s and Findaway Voices’ quality-control checks. So the process set out in Part 6, long-winded though it is, still works.

Findaway is an audiobook distributor who will make the book available in around forty different outlets. Due to the kerfuffle with Audible and its shenanigans over returns—see Returns—I have removed my existing audiobooks from exclusivity with Audible and distributed them, too, through Findaway.

Whether this proves to be worthwhile remains to be seen. I might report back at some point in a Part 8. And maybe I can discover a way to specifically promote my audiobooks—if I do, I can feel another Marketing for Muppets post in the offing, though I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Until next time, stay safe and happy listening!

Audiobooks – Part 6

In Part 5, I said I’d run through my audio-editing process. This is purely for the benefit of anyone who’s thinking of producing their own audiobooks, but who doesn’t have the first clue about editing.

I am not claiming this to be the only or best way to edit audio using Audacity. On the contrary, it is not even an advisable method because it is massively time-consuming. 

As I write this, I’m picturing experienced audiobook producers rolling their eyes. What a ludicrously time-intensive way of doing things, I imagine them thinking. I completely agree with them. There must be quicker, more efficient ways of achieving the same outcome.

What this method has going for it is that it works—i.e. it results in audiobooks that meet Audible’s production standards—and works for narrators, like me, who don’t have a professional recording space and who aren’t professional narrators. I was extremely doubtful that my efforts would pass Audible’s quality control checks—why would they with the limitations on my recording studio and narration capabilities (see Part 5)? To have had both short story collections accepted first time without the need to make any changes was a huge boost. It also makes me reluctant to depart from the method that I know works, no matter how painstaking it is.

Painstaking is right. I have speeded up a little, but my editing time probably exceeds half an hour per completed minute of recording time. When you consider that the novel I’m currently producing in audio—The Beacon —is coming in at over thirty minutes per chapter, and there are twenty-three chapters altogether, that’s a significant time commitment.

Seriously, I’m not recommending you use my editing process. If you look around, you should be able to find a far more efficient method—if you do, please let me know. I’m setting out what I do for those who can’t find another way of doing it to a standard that meets Audible’s requirements.

Editing – Part 2

Always back up first—you really don’t want to have to make a new recording if something goes wrong during editing and you lose the original. I usually export the raw clip from Audacity as a WAV file and then save that file to the cloud.

Step 1
Listen to the entire recording, deleting the mistakes. By ‘mistakes’ I mean the sections that I mucked up during recording or an external noise intruded or whatever and I noticed and so was able to re-record the mucked-up section immediately. There’s something quite satisfying about deleting the duff bit, leaving only a popping or clicking noise where that bit was. (That click will be eradicated later—don’t worry about it, or any other unwanted sounds, now.)

Raw recordings of each chapter of The Beacon might be as long as fifty minutes—I told you I make a lot of mistakes during narration. By the time I’ve completed Step 1, the recording will typically be reduced to around forty minutes.

Step 1 is easy since it is simply a case of deleting, without being concerned about removing clicks, etc. There’s no finesse required here and it might take me around an hour or two, depending on the length of the raw recording.

Step 2
I now need to create my ‘good silence’. I usually record around thirty seconds of silence after speaking the final word. This gives me plenty of ambient room noise to play with.

Although I’m only looking for around two seconds of good silence for the editing process, Audible requires around four seconds of room noise at the end of each chapter so I make sure I have at least four seconds at this stage.

What do I mean by ‘good’silence’? It’s ambient room sound (a distant background hum) without any external noises like traffic or breathing or rustling. It will show on Audacity as a flat line, unbroken by the spikes that represents sounds.

Although I sit as still as a statue to record the thirty seconds of silence, you can guarantee my stomach will rumble or a noisy vehicle will go past or the house will creak for no apparent reason. (You notice sounds like that when you’re trying to be especially quiet.) So I need to remove those extraneous noises, leaving only the ambient sound, using the effect ‘Crossfade Clips’ (see below).

Step 3
This is the time consumer. This is where the attention to detail comes in.

First things first—I add a second track (from the dropdown menu ‘Tracks’) and then copy around two seconds of the good silence I created in Step 2 to the clipboard*. You can paste that clip as many times as you want during each session, but it won’t remain in the clipboard after you close Audacity down. I therefore begin each editing session by going to the end and copying the two-second clip of good silence before resuming where I left off.

It’s then a case of working my way through every second of the recording to:
– shorten pauses between sentences and paragraphs to make them roughly the same length,
– insert a two-second pause between scenes, and
– remove unwanted noises: breathing, creaks, rustling, clicks, slappy mouth sounds (no matter how careful I am, I will inevitably make a few per recording that the microphone gleefully picks up), banging doors, passing vehicles, whatever.

There are two main methods I use—which one will depend on the type of change I’m trying to make. You can only work this out through trial and error initially, but it gets much easier the more accustomed to it you become. Don’t be afraid to experiment—one of the big pluses of Audacity is that it allows you to undo any number of steps (within that session), so if you make a mistake, simply undo it and try again.

Crossfade Clips:
I use this mainly to decrease spaces between sentences, to shorten mid-sentence pauses and to get rid of clicks left over from Step 1. It can also be used to eliminate clicking noises mid-word, though this can be tricky to achieve without losing part of the word and thus making it noticeable to a listener. You might need to use fade instead—you’ll have to experiment.

Here’s an example:

In A1, the space between two sentences, at over two seconds, is too long. I want to reduce it to about a second. Simply deleting a chunk of gap will introduce popping noises. To avoid this, use the Effect ‘Crossfade Clips’.

As shown in A2, highlight the area to reduce and apply ‘Crossfade Clips’ from the dropdown menu.

A3 shows the result. The gap has been reduced to just over a second. If I want to reduce it further, I can repeat the process, highlighting a smaller area if I only want to reduce the gap slightly. The larger the area highlighted, the greater the reduction. Only trial and error will give you a feel for it, but it will come with practice.

Fade Out/Fade In:
In the above example, I’ve reduced the gap between sentences, but I haven’t addressed the sounds (the clicks, pops, creaks and sighs) picked up by the microphone during recording and represented by the thicker dots and dashes. If I use Crossfade Clips again, the gap will become shorter, whch I may not want. Here’s how to eliminate unwanted sounds in the gaps between words and sentences without shortening the gap.

As shown in A4, apply Fade Out from roughly the end of the preceding sentence to around the midpoint of the gap. This will eliminate any unwanted noises, especially towards the end of the highlighted area. To get rid of noise from the start of the gap without shortening it, you can start/end a fade in a different place (but you’ll have to be careful not to introduce extra clicks or pops—generally speaking, so long as you perform a corresponding Fade In/Out that slightly overlaps the first one, you shouldn’t introduce any new clicks). Again, it’s a matter of trial and error—practice and you’ll become proficient.

As shown in A5, you then highlight from the centre of the gap to the first word of the next sentence and apply ‘Fade In’. You must ensure that the highlighted area begins just before the point where the previously highlighted area ended—the overlap I mention above—as otherwise you’ll create a new clicking/popping sound. Again, if this doesn’t eliminate sounds towards the end of the gap, you might need to do a Fade Out, but practice will make perfect.

The sounds you can see in the highlighted section in A3 have disappeared; the line in that section is now perfectly flat. However, if you do nothing further, you’ll be able to hear where the fades start or end, so you need to cover them up. This is where the clip of ‘good silence’ comes in. Simply paste it over the gap onto the second track, making sure the start and end of the clip corresponds with speaking on the main track (adjusting the length of the clip as necessary using ‘Delete’ from the ‘Edit’ dropdown menu) as otherwise the start/end of the clip will be heard as a clicking noise.

 

Okay, so that’s how I do it. If you’ve been struggling to find a way to edit that satisfies Audible’s requirements, feel free to copy what I do. It’s worth repeating the warning, though: it’s hugely time-consuming and there must be a better way to do it.

Next time, in a much briefer post, I’ll talk a little about mixing and mastering. (That makes it sound as though I know a lot about them—I don’t, I really don’t, but I know what to do to get it approved by Audible.) Till then…

 

* Since drafting this post, a way to reduce the editing time occurred to me. I recorded a lengthy section of ambient room noise. Then I used Crossfade Clips to remove any extraneous sounds, leaving only good silence. I spliced the clip together a few times (and used Crossfade Clips to conceal the joins) to leave me with a track of thirty-six minutes consisting entirely of good silence. It’s saved as a WAV file and labelled ‘Ambience’. When I embark on Step 3, the first thing I do is import ‘Ambience’ as the second track. This avoids having to paste a clip of silence over each edit and is saving me a fair amount of time overall. Wish I’d thought of it sooner. Here’s a screenshot of the current Beacon chapter I’m working on showing the Ambience track beneath the main track.

Returns

Although, on the whole, I think I’d rather be talking about film sequels, this isn’t a post about Return of the Jedi or Return of the King. It’s about audiobook listeners returning audiobooks. Yeah, I know. Big yawn, right?

Ordinarily, I’d agree with you. But something has recently come to light that affects many authors and narrators. Not in a good way. I’ll come onto it in a moment after I’ve laid out a little background.

Amazon has what I consider to be a reasonable policy for returns of its Kindle ebooks. A reader can return the ebook within 7 days* of purchase. Since it is possible to accidentally purchase an ebook you didn’t intend to with Amazon’s one-click function, it seems only fair that the reader who does this should be able to return the ebook without fuss. I also have no problem with a reader being able to return the ebook if they can’t get on with the writing style or subject matter and struggle to get past, say, the third chapter, or if the content is utter crap scraped from the internet and published as some sort of scam.

This policy can, of course, be abused. I have held conversations with people who have used Amazon as a lending library by reading and returning ebooks within the period allowed, but I believe Amazon has been clamping down on this practice. I usually get a smattering of ebook returns each month, but they seem to be far fewer now than they were two or three years back. Although the thought of someone buying one of my books, reading the entire thing and then returning it for a refund doesn’t exactly fill me with joy (since I don’t get paid for that ‘purchase’), it happens so infrequently that ebook returns aren’t really an issue for me.

How do I know that ebooks are returned infrequently? Amazon provides this information on my sales dashboard and in the monthly reports I download to compile sales figures. I also receive returns details from most other retailers through which I sell, such as Kobo or GooglePlay. Simple, transparent, as it should be.

So, what about audiobooks? More specifically, audiobooks sold through Audible (or Apple or Amazon via Audible’s distribution arm, ACX)? I’ll post some links shortly to more detailed explanations of the issue for anyone who’s interested; what follows is the potted version.

Audible members pay a monthly subscription, in return for which they have monthly credits (one per month with the basic subscription) they can use to ‘purchase’ an audiobook. Audible is owned by Amazon. It is alleged that both companies are encouraging members to exchange their used credit for a refund, i.e. to reuse the credit to ‘buy’ another audiobook with no questions asked. It doesn’t matter if the audiobook has been listened to and enjoyed in its entirety—the member can return the audiobook and reuse the credit for another book.

You might be thinking that sounds like a great deal for the Audible member, and I’d have to agree with you. But what about the author of the book in question and (if different and they are sharing royalties) the narrator? Ah, there’s the rub. You see, the cost of the refund isn’t borne by Audible or Amazon, but by the author and narrator. Some authors are claiming to be losing up to 50% of their audiobook income. For many of us, this income is part of our livelihoods.

To make things worse, unlike Amazon with ebook sales, Audible doesn’t provide authors with details of audiobooks returned. All we are given are the net sales figures. So, if I sold twelve audiobooks this month, but seven of them were returned by the listeners as allegedly encouraged to do by Audible, I would be paid for five audiobooks and wouldn’t know there were seven more copies sold but subsequently refunded.

To exacerbate matters even further, listeners aren’t limited to 7 or 14 days to return the audiobook for a refund. Fair enough, you might think—it takes longer to judge whether an audiobook is up to scratch than an ebook, so they probably get 21 or even 28 days. Nope, they get 365 days, Yes, you read that correctly. An Audible member could exchange their monthly credit for one of my books, listen to and enjoy the book, and return it up to a year later, whereupon Audible would recoup the refunded cost from me. If I had no sales during that particular month, I’d owe them money.

That’s not what I signed up for when I published my audiobooks on Audible. I was keen to enter the world of audiobooks as a means of getting my work to a wider audience and, naturally, boosting my writing income. I simply cannot afford to, in effect, give my audiobooks away for nothing.

I am deep into producing the second Earth Haven novel in audio. It is a massively time-consuming project that will have taken me the best part of a year by the time it is ready for publication. That’s at least as long as it took me to write, revise and edit the book in the first place. I’m wondering if it’s worth the effort. At the least, I’ll be looking to publish the completed audiobook in places other than Audible.

That’s the thing: unless Audible stops doing as alleged—encouraging returns and allowing them for up to a year without question—and unless it starts providing details of returns to authors and narrators, many content providers will be thinking twice about placing more content with them. What sounded such a good deal for Audible members will become increasingly less so as the flow of new content dries up.

A Facebook group has been set up to pool information and experiences, and to coordinate approaches to Audible. (I’ll link to it shortly in case you’re affected by this—I believe you’ll need to prove you’re an author or narrator before you’ll be allowed to join.) The initial response isn’t promising. While Audible has recently acknowledged there is an issue**, it appears thus far to be reluctant to provide details of returns to authors upon request.

I wondered whether I ought to talk about this. There could be audiobook listeners looking in who weren’t aware that it was possible to use Audible membership as, in effect, an unlimited lending library, and go trotting off to sign up. I am also aware there are people out there who believe that all digital content should be freely available to whoever wants it. Well, all I can say to them is that I, like many others, work my butt off to produce digital content and I simply cannot afford to provide it without any financial return. I hope that most audiobook consumers will agree that authors and narrators deserve to be paid for their work. If we’re not going to be, most of us will stop doing it.

* in the US; in the UK, for some reason, it seems to be 14 days

** from a ‘Letter to the ACX Community’ sent by email on 11th November:
“In addition, we’ve recently heard from members of the ACX community who are concerned about Audible’s overall return policy. While this customer benefit is for active members in good standing and suspicious activity is rare, we take your concerns very seriously and are actively reviewing the policy with this feedback under consideration.”

Links
Audiblegate! The incredible true story of missing sales
The Digital Reader
Facebook group

Audiobooks – Part 5

I had three main concerns when embarking on the process of producing my own audiobooks:

  1. a soundproofed workspace;
  2. differentiating between characters without using accents;
  3. learning how to edit and master.

In Part 4, I looked at the second concern and the process of narration generally. I’m turning now to the third concern. It’s a big topic—editing, especially—that’s going to need two or three posts.

Editing – Part 1

A few pertinent reminders:

  • I record in a homemade ‘studio’—my younger daughter’s bedroom arranged to block out as much external noise as possible.
  • I use the free software Audacity.
  • I have certain limitations: an inability to perform accents and a denture that makes me whistle or lisp or slur on occasions.
  • I have no previous experience of working with audio software.

What all this means is that my raw recordings are riddled with errors and stray noises that would have no hope of passing muster without serious attention. (The errors that I notice while recording and, as a result, simply repeat the messed-up section are usually the easiest to deal with because it’s merely a case of deleting the bungled bit and smoothing over the join.)

I’d practised and practised recording audio tracks until I felt I’d reached a level of competency upon which I was unlikely to improve without professional acting lessons. I’m an impatient so-and-so and was itching to begin to grasp editing—I knew it was time to sit down and make a start.

Before attempting my first edit, I bought a couple of books about producing audio and devoured the sections on editing, which didn’t take long. They made it sound pretty straightforward: all that’s required is going through the recording to eradicate any obvious foreign sounds or mistakes and then any remaining errors would be erased during the mastering process. Simple. Yeah, right. They failed to mention the endless hours of trial and error, the ‘fixes’ that introduced more problems than they solved, the frustrations and countless occasions when I thought I’d never be able to get the hang of it.

I recorded a short story from the collection Pond Life and used that raw recording for practice. The story is the first I ever had published: ‘Celesta’. Safe to say, by the time I’d finished practising editing, I was sick of the sound of the bloody thing.

At first I was completely clueless. Audacity has dropdown menus for sound effects I had a vague idea about, such as ‘Fade In’, but many more that I’d never even heard of before. There’s an online manual, which is of some use but that supposes a level of knowledge on the part of the reader that I didn’t possess.

After a lot of fruitless fiddling with various effects, I discovered how to delete sections of audio, and how to copy and paste. I edited ‘Celesta’ by deleting any background noises that shouldn’t be on the track and replacing the deleted sections with a second or two of silence copied from elsewhere on the track.

That only worked to a point. The problem was that I was introducing new sounds. Where I pasted in the section of silence, at the beginning and end of the splice popping/clicking/ticking sounds would appear that hadn’t been there before, caused by the background noise differential between the start/end of the new clip and the end/start of the old clips around it. It’s a little like inserting a section of text into a document where the start and end are of a different font or point size or thickness to the text surrounding it. The reader’s going to notice.

Try as I might, and I tried for hours on end, I could not get all the edges of the clips to join seamlessly. In despair, I sent out an SOS to my brother.

His job is like Chandler’s from Friends. We all know he works in IT, something to do with designing graphics for video and arcade games, but that’s about as well as we can describe it. In any case, the chance of him knowing a lot more than me about editing voice recordings was high. And so it proved.

It was he who alerted me to the effect in Audacity called ‘Crossfade Clips’. Now I use it all the time. It allows me to, for example, shorten too-long pauses or eliminate stray clicking sounds or soften whistled ‘ess’ sounds, without introducing new foreign noises. I’ll explain a little more about it in the next part—for now, it’s enough to say that it makes the job of editing abundantly easier.

My brother advised me to add a second track to the recording. I didn’t get this at first. Audible’s requirements are for a mono recording; to me, adding a second track meant the recording would now be stereo. Yeah, it doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is that I now have an effective way of making longer sections, such as the pause between sentences or paragraphs, silent. I use the effects ‘Fade Out’ and ‘Fade In’ to remove unwanted noise, and paste a clip of ‘good silence’ onto the second track to mask the fades. Again, I’ll explain more in the next part.

For now, here’s a screenshot of a track being edited. I’ve added annotations in red to show:

  • the ‘Effect’ drop-down menu (with the effects I use highlighted),
  • the main track, i.e. the original sound recording I’m editing,
  • the second track, which is added post-recording via the ‘Tracks’ drop-down menu, and
  • the clip of ‘good silence’, which I’ll explain a little better next time.

And that’s essentially it. Thanks to my brother, I can now edit raw audio tracks to Audible’s standards using only three effects—Crossfade Clips, Fade Out and Fade In—and a second track on which to add masking clips of good silence. As I’ll talk more about next time, it’s massively time-consuming, but it works.

In Part 6, I’ll run through my editing process step by step. This will be for the benefit of anyone who, like I did, sits down to audio-edit for the first time without the faintest idea where to start, but who, unlike me, doesn’t have a knowledgeable brother to call upon for advice when at their wits’ end.

Till then…

Audiobooks – Part 4

I had three main concerns when embarking on the process of producing my own audiobooks:

  1.   a soundproofed workspace;
  2.   differentiating between characters without using accents;
  3.   learning how to edit and master.

In Part 3, I talked about the workspace and how I had set up a ‘recording studio’ (such a grand title doesn’t fit the reality) in my younger daughter’s bedroom at the back of the house, away from the main road. Nothing’s changed there—this is the best I can do.

Time to talk about the second of my concerns. As anticipated, it turned out that my difficulties would amount to more than merely trying to differentiate between characters, so I’m going to look at the process of narration as a whole.

There are various aspects to consider before starting to record, such as the positioning of the microphone, and the time of day when your recording environment is likely to be quietest and your voice at its optimum.

Here’s something I learned the hard way: it’s vital to ensure your recording software is set to record using the correct microphone. Since my professional microphone ‘lives’ in the recording studio, I can only change the default setting once I’m all set up and it’s connected to my laptop.

One evening I recorded four short stories, one after another, while ‘in the zone’—my pronunciation and enunciation were top drawer, my pacing felt spot-on, I barely made a mistake. When I was back downstairs ready to start editing, that something was wrong became evident as soon as I opened the first recording. The wave pattern was peculiar: all spikes and no flat lines, not even on the silences. The sound coming through my headphones confirmed what my eyes had already told me: my voice sounded distant and tinny, overlaid by crackles and hums and weird popping noises. All four recordings were the same—worthless.

It took me a while to work out what had gone wrong: I had forgotten to set Audacity to record through the USB microphone. The stories had been recorded through the laptop’s inbuilt microphone, which I hadn’t been speaking directly into and which, in any case, is unsuited to capturing sound to the standard required. Live and learn—I haven’t made the same mistake since.

Another time I sat down to edit a new recording, only to find my voice overlaid by a distant humming noise that I hadn’t noticed while recording and which rendered another lengthy effort useless.

It again took me a while to work out what had gone wrong. One of my daughters had been charging her electric toothbrush in the bathroom next door to my recording studio. We live in a modern house where the internal walls are slightly thicker than cardboard and the microphone had picked up the electrical hum. Again, it’s now something I make sure to check before starting to record.

Onto the recording process itself and my physical limitations.

Over thirty years ago, when in my early twenties, two of my teeth—one of the front incisors and the tooth next to it—were snapped at the roots. My dentist was able to straighten them, but warned that I was likely to lose them one day. ‘One day’ turned out to be around eighteen months ago; since then I’ve had to wear a denture that affixes to the roof of my mouth. It was only when sitting down to attempt narrating for the first time that I realised the effect the denture has upon my speech.

Where the fake teeth butt up to my real teeth, there’s a gap which occasionally, especially on words with a pronounced ‘ess’ sound, causes me to whistle. My tongue sometimes slaps against the plastic denture plate. The denture causes me to slur or mumble certain words. (I’ve tried narrating without wearing the denture, but that’s worse—without it, I struggle on ‘th’ and ‘ff’ sounds; I can’t say fairer than that, boom boom.)

It’s a disadvantage for audio work. When I realise I’ve whistled or mumbled during recording, it’s fine because I simply re-record that part, knowing I can remove the bungled section during editing. It makes the recording (and editing) process longer, but it’s something I accept I have to put up with until I can get implants to replace the denture. It’s more problematic when I whistle/mumble but don’t realise at the time—more on that when I come to talk about editing in a future instalment.

As for my inability to perform accents, I’ve tried and failed, and concluded that it’s not something I can learn to do, except perhaps by having professional voice acting lessons, and probably not even then. I can do an identifiably Irish or Scottish or Australian accent for the odd stereotypical phrase or two (“G’day, cobber!”), but it lasts as long as the average sneeze before deteriorating into some weird intonation that sounds like a cross between Welsh and, I don’t know, Martian, or something off-planet.

How, then, to differentiate between characters holding a conversation, especially when there are only two speaking and so there may not be many dialogue tags in the source material? I experimented with having one character speak deeper and/or quicker than the other, but found it difficult to be consistent, and the finished recording usually sounded ludicrous and amateur. After many, and I mean many, hours of trial and error, I settled on not trying to differentiate between them at all and relying on the listener to know who’s speaking from context. Now and again, I might throw in an extra dialogue tag during recording if I think the listener needs an additional cue.

Then there’s lack of knowledge about pronunciation. I’ve blogged about The Avid Reader’s Curse, where a reader might only have encountered a word through reading and so has no idea how to pronounce it. There are a surprising number of them.

And there are words I know how to pronounce, but that nevertheless keep tripping me up. ‘Anemone’, for instance, and ‘algae’ (I keep wanting to pronounce it to rhyme with ‘guy’, instead of the correct ‘ghee’). Or ‘pasty complexion’; I know that ‘pasty’ is pronounced to rhyme with ‘tasty’, but my traitorous brain insists on making me pronounce it during recording as the meat-filled parcel of pastry.Some word combinations I stumble over for no apparent reason. ‘Smoky oakiness’ is one. ‘Or harpist’s’ is another. There’s a story in Pond Life with a character named Jake; at one point of the story, I kept calling him Jack, usually without noticing. Fortunately, it was during the practice phase and the recording would be deleted anyway. By the time I came to record the final version, I knew what to look out for.

The practice phase. Yeah, that lasted weeks. Hour upon hour of recording the same material, experimenting with distance from and angle to the microphone, voice tone, pacing, breathing. I kept at it until I could no longer stand reading the same stuff aloud knowing it would be deleted. It was time to start recording in earnest and get to grips with editing.

Editing, hmm. More on this in Part 5. Till then…

Audiobooks – Part 3

A brief update on my progress on producing my own audiobooks. There is so much to learn about the process, so much trial and error involved, that it has been all-consuming for the past few weeks and I haven’t made time to write any regular blog posts. So a hasty update it will have to be.

In Part 2, I mentioned my three main concerns. In ascending order, they are:

  1. I have no space in which to work that’s ideal for soundproofing;
  2. differentiating between characters without using accents;
  3. learning how to edit and master (and discovering what the heck ‘mastering’ even means) the recorded audio is going to be so steep a learning curve, the top is covered in cloud.

I’m only going to look at the first of these today—numbers 2 and 3 are very much still works in progress.

We have a small room at the front of our house next to the living room. We call it the study, a rather grand name for a space that’s big enough to hold a few slim bookcases, a small desk and not a great deal more. But it’s perfect as a workspace for a writer. It would also be the ideal space to record audiobooks, if not for one major drawback.

Our house fronts onto a busy road, separated only by a narrow path, some railings and a pavement (that’s a sidewalk for American readers). Vehicles go past with monotonous regularity. When it rains, which it does a lot here in Wales, the noise of the vehicles’ sloshing tyres is louder. Also, the wind tends to throw heavy rain against the study windows with the sound of hurled gravel. The noises don’t bother me when I’m writing, but would be a problem for recording clean audio.

I knew the study would be unlikely to work as an improvised recording studio, but nevertheless decided to give it a go. First, I taped up the windows with duct tape, hoping that would reduce the traffic noise.

Next, I thought of filling the window space with books, the idea being that any intruding traffic noise would hit the biblio-wall and die. I have enough books in the house to completely fill the window space, but the problem was that once I’d reached a certain height, the wall began to become a little unstable, being constructed as it was of books of varying dimensions and with only a narrow window cill (or sill, if you’d prefer) as a foundation. I didn’t like the thought of the wall toppling onto me in mid-narration so stopped construction when it was high enough to shield my desk and recording equipment, but with only about half of the space filled.

Finally, I draped a spare duvet over the window and biblio-wall, hung blankets on the wall behind me and came up with a nifty temporary blanket-hanging solution to cover the door so that it was a simple matter to uncover it to get in and out.

Then I was ready to record.

Yeah, it didn’t work. The road is too busy, my attempts at blocking the noise too ineffective. The sound of passing vehicles could be clearly heard on my first recordings. I began to pause narration whenever a vehicle was approaching but had to do that so often it was probably doubling the recording time and frustrating any chance I had of getting into a narration flow.

Time for Plan B. My younger daughter and her boyfriend have been living with us since graduating last year while they sort out permanent jobs and get themselves into a position where they can afford to get their own place. In the meantime, they’ve taken over the spare bedroom and my daughter’s bedroom has been used pretty much as a dumping ground. Her bedroom has one huge advantage over the study as a potential recording studio: it’s at the back of the house, away from the main road.

Long story short, we cleared the room sufficiently that I could position a desk with my back to a wall over which I could drape blankets or duvets and with space to do the same to the sides to provide an improvised sound booth. There’s room for a foldaway table to hold my laptop. I have surrounded my desktop sound booth with spare pillows and cushions to provide more sound insulation.

It’s still not a professional recording studio, obviously, but without the constant noise from the road, it is far more effective as a home sound studio and, apart from the occasional boy racer going past with an unmuffled exhaust, the roar of which reaches even my daughter’s bedroom, I no longer have to worry about external noise while I record my books.

That still leaves my narration and editing abilities. Hmm, perhaps lack-of-abilities would be more accurate, but I am improving. More on these in future posts.

Till then…

Audiobooks – Part 2

When I posted about audiobooks last year, I didn’t anticipate writing another so didn’t call it ‘Part 1’. Well, here’s Part 2 and there will be more parts to come.

Part 1 can be found here: Audiobooks. In it, I explain the process that went into having The Cleansing produced as an audiobook—in short, I hired a narrator and the book went live in November. I bemoaned the fact that I could not accurately estimate how many sales I needed to achieve in order to recoup the initial outlay but guessed at a ‘few hundred’. And I could not afford to begin the process of having the sequels produced in audio format until I’d at least recovered that up-front cost.

Almost a year on, I can now say that my estimate was a little short of the mark. The true figure is somewhere (due to the way ACX calculates author shares, I still can’t make an accurate estimate) in excess of 400 sales—I’m a little over a quarter of the way there so, at this rate, I’m not going to be in a position to have the sequel made for another three years. Oh, man.

Time for another rethink. I wrote this in Part 1:

I toyed with the idea of narrating the book myself to limit cost, but discounted it almost immediately. I don’t have professional recording equipment and I’m hopeless at doing accents. No, it would sound like an amateur production and I wanted the opposite.

You can probably guess what comes next. Yep, I’ve decided to narrate my own audiobooks.

From a financial point of view, it’s a no-brainer. My outlay on the necessary equipment will be a fraction of what it will cost me to hire a narrator for just one book. To have all my books produced in audio format could cost up to £10,000 and that’s if I limit myself to low-end narrators.

I have also been influenced by other authors who have narrated their own books, such as one of my guests, A. R. Kavli. Here’s his post: A. R. Kavli

I began to look into what I need. As always, there’s a bewildering choice of items like microphones and in a huge range of prices. Long story short, I have purchased a microphone, a pop filter*, a set of headphones and, suspecting I need all the help I can get, a desktop sound shield**, all for comfortably below £200. I have downloaded the free sound editing program Audacity and am ready to go, at least equipment-wise.

But I’m not ready any-other-way-wise. I have three main areas of concern. Here they are in ascending order:

  1.  I have no space in which to work that’s ideal for soundproofing;
  2.  differentiating between characters without using accents;
  3.  learning how to edit and master (and discovering what the heck ‘mastering’ even means) the recorded audio is going to be so steep a learning curve, the top is covered in cloud.

Yes, I’m concerned. At the same time, I’m as excited as a child at Christmas. Despite what I said in Part 1, I’m determined that my productions will not sound amateur. No matter how many YouTube videos I have to absorb about vocal and breathing techniques, no matter how many hours of practising and trial-and-error it takes to sound professional and get to grips with the software.

Here’s a snap of the equipment I have so far.

I shall report in Part 3 how I deal with those three main concerns (and the other issues that I don’t even know about yet but which shall, no doubt, arise). Keep your fingers crossed for me.

* I didn’t know what a pop filter was when I embarked on this process—it’s the black mesh, circular thingy in the photo that will go in front of the microphone and which apparently cuts down on the explosive sounds we naturally make when we say certain words; it also prevents the microphone becoming covered in spit, whilst presumably becoming rather damp itself.

** As I understand it, which may not be very far, a sound shield doesn’t aid soundproofing as such, but helps to dampen the voice and limit echoing. My sound shield doesn’t appear in the photo because, at the time of writing, I’m waiting for it to arrive.

Guest Post – A. R. Kavli

Today I’m pleased to host American author, A. R. Kavli, who is going to talk about narrating his own audiobooks. Around a year ago, I was dipping my toes into the audiobook market for the first time and faced the same considerations he’s going to discuss, so it’s a topic I find particularly interesting. Over to A. R.

DIY Audio

Let me start by saying that I’m at the beginning of my audiobook production journey. An audio amateur, if you will. But I can explain what seems to work for me, and sometimes it can be helpful to hear what others have experienced.

I was recently convinced by various articles and podcasts to try my hand (mouth?) at narrating. Audio is a growth market worthy of investigation for indies. Initially, royalty share options sounded like a dream: get an audio book made with no down payment and no work. Royalty share comes with two big drawbacks, as it turns out. One being that your book is locked in a seven-year, ACX exclusivity contract. The other is that narrators will have to believe your book will make money.

Both were issues for me, so I looked into DIY audio. Any endeavor requires money or time. I’m short on both, but I can wrangle more time than money at this point. So I bought an entry-level set up with mic, mic stand and preamp, and proceeded to learn what I could about the craft. I purchased a couple of online courses and have spent many hours on YouTube learning all about mouth clicks, mic position, and using Audacity to record, edit and master my audio.

There are some steep learning curves. And it is hard work. But I kept my goal in mind and when I gained some competence, I found recording enjoyable—despite my profanity-strewn outtakes. At this point I’ve only recorded my own work, but I think in the future, and with a bit more experience, I might put my toe in the market as a narrator.

Recording a full-length novel is a marathon. That makes it harder to maintain a constant sound day-by-day or month-by-month. I have two main, non-American accents in my novel, one Slavic, one French. On those days where I was struggling, my characters sounded like Count Chocula and Pepé Le Pew.

Less is definitely more when it comes to accents.

Editing the audio files is relatively easy. You have to listen and watch the track to each file, though. I’ve found noises I could hear but not see, and noises that showed up in the waveform that I couldn’t hear. It can be laborious to listen to the same track again and again, but think about how the listener will feel. When you have to later record over something to fix a mistake, it can be difficult to match the original voice qualities.

I still struggle with mouth clicks, both while reading and while mastering. You can’t get rid of them all, but I’ve learned how to adjust my speaking in a way to reduce the problem. Thank you, YouTube.

My cozy recording booth consists of a laptop set on my dresser surrounded by a PVC frame draped with a thick comforter.

I work in my bedroom corner, with roads nearby outside. It doesn’t keep out the noise, so I have to pause whenever someone wants to show off how loud their truck gets. Nor does my booth keep out the stomping kids, barking dog, or my own gastrointestinal misadventures. But it treats my recording space enough for a good, clean background noise level.

I enjoy the process, despite the extra work and frustrations of my DIY set-up. I think you have to enjoy it to keep at it for the long run. It is time-consuming and surprisingly exhausting. Oh, and my air conditioner has to be turned off, too. Very noisy.

I made the rookie mistake of deciding I didn’t need a final edit, then recorded my audio. In the course of that read, I came across many mistakes. I hired a final proofread and it turned up more word changes than I expected. My work was riddled with overused and improperly used words. Or, more accurately, it was a handful of words misused throughout. I knew there were comma issues, but dang. I’ve decided it would produce a better product—and probably be the same amount of work—to record the book over. And, I could apply the things I learned along the way to the beginning chapters.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I love the work, and I think you really must love it to be able to stay in it for the long term. Just like writing.

I’m hoping to finish the audio production in time to match the ebook and paperback release of my novel, With Our Dying Breath. It is already up for pre-order (reduced price for pre-order) in ebook format, with a release date of Aug 31, 2019.

A.R. Kavli is a U.S. Navy veteran, author, gamer, and long-time fan of all things science fiction and fantasy. His first paid writing projects were for role-playing game companies and his first book was published in 2011. He lives in Middle Tennessee with his wife of 24 years and four children.

Please visit arkavli.com/my-books to purchase and for more information on his work.