The White Musketeer audio book playing on a smart phone

How to easily make an audio book from start to finish

This article is copyrighted (c) to Christina Roberts. All rights reserved.

Check out my video about how to easily, simply make a high-quality audio book. I want to help you be able to take your projects to the next level without having to spend a bunch of money! My video reviews 4 software programs I regularly use to record, edit, and make audio books. Here’s the video transcript!

Video Transcript

Making an audio version of your book isn’t as hard as it might seem. The catch, however, is that if you intend to sell your audio on Audible or some other audio website, you’ll need more specialized equipment to meet their professional expectations. This video isn’t focusing on that. I’m focusing on showing you how I make audio books at a quality that is quite decent. You won’t need to spend a lot of money. If you already own the software and items I’m about to talk about, then you won’t need to spend any money at all! Let’s get started.

First, I’ll review the tools and software that I use. Full disclosure: I use Windows and most of the software I use is not compatible with both Mac and Linux. I will note the operating systems below.

First, the tool that I use is a:

And the software that I use is all free:

  • Audacity – for recording audio and making simple edits. This program is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.
  • Mp3Tag – to apply your own meta data to your audio. Great for a professional polish! Sadly, with program is only available, currently, on Windows.
  • ShotCut – to make audio-video versions of your audio book for online posting. This program is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.
  • FormatFactory – for converting your audio book into different formats and compression quality. Sadly, with program is only available, currently, on Windows. **NOTE** It looks like FormatFactory may be discontinued. However, the principles from this program can be adapted to work with most other format-conversion software.

If you intend to design or work with your own custom book cover, I recommend GIMP. While I reference PSDs in this video, you can do everything you need with GIMP. However, I won’t be discussing how to work with GIMP in this video. GIMP is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Now I’ll briefly discuss each of the software tools in a little more detail:

Audacity

AUDACITY is an audio-editing tool that’s quite powerful. I use it for my raw recording, audio projects, and to perform simple edits on my audio like removing breaths, adding silence, normalizing, and layering audio. There’s a bunch of more complicated, advanced things you can learn to do with Audacity, but I’ll just be showing you introductory methods of editing your audio in a few minutes.

Mp3Tag

MP3TAG is a little jewel of a program that gives you masterful power to add your own meta data to your audio. Adding meta data really adds an extra sparkle of professionalism to your audio that will impress your listeners. Think of this: a person loading “Track 1 by Unknown” isn’t that cool. But adding “The White Musketeer Chapter 1 by Christina Roberts” is way cooler!

ShotCut

SHOTCUT is a wonderful free video-editing program. Now, it’s not nearly as powerful or robust as those expensive commercial programs you can buy, but it will do more than you need to make video to go along with your audio books. I use this to, essentially, add a visual component to my audio books so I can post them on YouTube.

FormatFactory

FORMATFACTORY converts audio and video between many other audio or video formats, or even to compress audio within the same format. This tool is indispensable, if you want to upload your audio online, sell it on your website, or even share it over Skype to your friends. You shouldn’t try to send anyone a 300MB WAV file! I use FormatFactory to convert my lossless WAVs to compressed 64KB MP3s. The MP3s retain decent clarity and the size is reasonable for personal sharing and online posting to my website and other digital spaces.

Okay, with that information out of the way, let’s get working on our actual audio file!

STEP 1: RECORD YOUR AUDIO

First, we must record our audio. Unless you truly don’t care about any form of audio quality for your audio book, and you aren’t intending to post or share the audio anywhere, don’t use any built-in microphone or cheap headset. I’d say a cheap headset or built-in microphone is fine for the sole purpose of you recording to catch minor edits you missed for your story. Doing that always helps me!

I’m going to assume you want to share your audio book online without feeling embarrassed about the quality. Therefore, set up your Snowball USB microphone to a USB port on your computer and test it. You should be able to use any decent microphone. I chose the Snowball as it’s super popular, relatively inexpensive, and super simple to use. So, for this example set the mic to the proper recording setting. It has 3 settings on the back. You want setting one for speech, vocals, and podcasting, so the mic will cancel out as much ambient background sound as possible.

Here’s a few tips to for clear recording:

  1. Sit close, but not too close. Though the mic has a built-in pop screen, if you have your lips inches from it, your P’s and S’s may be muddy.
  2. The mic is still sensitive to background sounds. Close your door, close all windows, turn appliances off – basically, make your space as quiet as possible. If people are nearby and talking, or outside your space watching videos, you may want to wait until a quieter time to record audio.
  3. When you first set the mic up, record just a few seconds of speech and listen back. Sometimes, the sound may not be as clear or clean as you like. Always test before spending minutes on your audio, then finding out there’s a problem!
  4. Back your face away slightly if you need to scream or raise your voice in some manner when recording. Otherwise, your audio at these areas may sound unclear and overly loud.

When you record your audio, and you know the quality is good, don’t stop to listen to it. Record the whole scene or chapter, if it’s not too long. Save it as a WAV. Continue on until you’re done.

STEP 2: EDITING YOUR AUDIO

When your audio is recorded, open the file to begin editing. Turn your speakers and volume up if you can’t hear your audio well. Your audio may be quieter than you want. Don’t mind this.

Here’s some super basic instructions on how to edit audio in Audacity:

  • Use the Selection tool to highlight unwanted audio and hit the X key to delete.
  • Generate Silence if you need more space between audio pieces.
  • If you so choose, cut out breaths. However, I don’t do this, as that would lengthen my editing time of my books from, say, a half hour for a chapter into hours for the same piece.
  • When all your editing is done, run the Normalize effect. This is Amplify. I use default settings.

HERE’S A TIP: If you have a few pieces of audio that are “louder”, for you raised your voice, you may want to select the audio before it, and not that actual piece. That way, Normalize will amplify your audio higher. Then select the rest of the audio around the yell or scream and do the same. Play back to make sure the audio Normalize is satisfactory and then save.

If you don’t do this, the resulting Normalize audio of the entire piece will be lower, for the place where you raised your voice cannot be amplified as much as the lower audio. And that will, in turn, case all the audio to Normalize at a lower level.

STEP 3: MAKE THE AUDIO PROJECT

To publish, you must combine your audio book into an Audiacity AUP file to prep for publishing.

If you’re like me, you have multiple pieces to your audio chapter. My chapters typically consist of the

  • Book title
  • Chapter title
  • Chapter scenes
  • Copyrights for the first chapter only
  • Where to learn more for last chapter only

Audacity can handle “layers” of audio. Here’s the super simple way to make an AUP audio project:

  1. Import your first piece of audio into Audacity
  2. Save the file as a Project. DO NOT move the Audacity project files after you save them. This will break their connections to the source audio and you won’t be able to edit the master file again. Instead, make sure to set up your own organization system for the audio and work with that. Since The White Musketeer has a paperback, ebook, and audio book, I simply made an Audio Book folder and that is where all the project files go.
  3. Drag to import other audio. Each imported file will create a new layer. Either keep the layers stacked, or move the layer up and after the other audio in the proper order.
  4. Put some space between the scenes, so your readers can tell it’s a scene change.
  5. Export as a WAV file when you’re done.

STEP 4: MAKE THE VIDEO FOR YOUR AUDIO BOOK

Now that your audio is done, it’s time to make your video – if you intend to do so. If not, you can just skip this entire section.

If you want to post your audio books on YT, you’ll need to make a video. It doesn’t have to be fancy or take a long time to make. In fact, mine are laughably simple: I literally just put a still image from my book cover as one track, and the audio as another.

If you have a book cover design, that design should be used for all formats and places where you publish your book for reading or listening. Therefore, go open your image editing program and resize and crop your book cover to the proper size for a widescreen, 1080p video. That means a 1920x1080px, or larger image, but using the same aspect ratio. Always export the image as a maximum-quality PNG or JPG. We’re aiming for quality, and compressed images lack that.

Since the video itself is also a form of marketing, you may find it useful to post the website address right on the cover. This is up to you.

If you have the layer files for your book cover and need to move some of the elements around to accommodate a landscape version, save it off as another PSD and do so, then export the image to use.

Now, here’s a super simple way to make your video file for you audio book:

  1. Open ShotCut
  2. Drag any and all images and your audio into the Playlist window
  3. Drag your image, or images, into the tracks list as you like
  4. Then make an Audio track and drag your audio file down into the audio track. I tend to start my audio just a few seconds after the visual loads. Otherwise, the video seems rather sudden and jarring.
  5. If you need to extend your image, click the edge of it and drag it a little pat your audio. This will ensure your listeners will always have the visual on screen. Otherwise, they’ll see an empty, black video, and how lame is that?
  6. Export as an MP4. You can keep the default settings for this in Shotcut. Just make sure Shotcut’s export settings list 1080p.

STEP 5: POST TO YOUTUBE

With your audio book video ready, and that you already checked to make sure it all plays back properly —

  1. Login to YT
  2. Upload your new audio chapter.
  3. Post it or schedule it. I schedule my chapters so they stagger weekly. I like this, as it seems like I’m posting weekly, but I don’t have to babysit the content.
  4. Fill in the title, desc, and keywords. This is crucially important, not only for searchability, but also for the professional image of your content. The title is the first thing a person sees and will use to judge your content by. The description ought to have links where they can learn more, read or listen more, buy the books, etc. ALWAYS include and repeat the summary of your story in EVERY CHAPTER YOU POST. You never know where a person is jumping in at. Let them know in the description where they can go to listen from the beginning. I commonly see people who act like they assume everyone’s already familiar with their stories: they don’t list summaries or other info, and so I’m often confused and just leave. How am I supposed to know if I want to continue listening without a summary to read, first? Think of it like picking up a book at a bookstore. What if there was no back cover or leaf summary for you to read? How would you feel? I know I’m stressing this, but it’s this important. People will always trust you more if you worked to provide a good description. And lastly, the keywords. While Google doesn’t use these anymore, YouTube still does. What I do is I make the whole list in Notepad, with commas, and save it off. This way, I can copy and paste them over and over on YT in a second. Having to type them out is so time-consuming! If I want custom, additional keywords, I’ll just add them at the end.
  5. Click publish or schedule and you’re done!

STEP 6: META DATA

Did you think we were done? Not just yet! Now, open Mp3Tag and fill in all the meta data. When I share my audio books with others, I want them to know just what it is and who it came from. This is also a form of marketing and it looks very polished and professional.

My books are in a series, so I fill the content in like so and then save.
You should always make and set a cover for the actual audio files, too. This needs to be a square. To ensure it’s going to be crisp on many devices, set the image to at least 200x200px in size, uncompressed, PNG or JPG. Again, you may need to move elements around on your book cover and possibly save this version off as the PSD Audio Cover.

Why do all this? Well, it’s like with the video: would you want your friends to load your audio into their phone and have trouble finding it? Do you want it listed as “Track 1 by Unknown” with no custom cover image? Nah. “The White Musketeer, Chapter 1, by Christina Roberts” with a custom audio book cover image is just way better!

STEP 7: FORMAT FACTORY

And lastly (aren’t you relieved?), drag the audio file into Format Factory, specify the file type and compression, and then export. The program will play a jingle at you when it’s done. I use 64kb compressed MP3s. At 64kb, the file may be much smaller, but is still a good quality to listen to without the audio sounding overly dirty. Use whatever compression size you prefer.

Most of your meta data will be preserved upon export, but for any bit that isn’t, just open Mp3Tag and fix that data, then save.

And finally, you’re done! Share and upload your conveniently-sized MP3 files to all your friends, family, and sell them online!

Was this video helpful? I hope so and hope you subscribe to my YouTube channel, then! Thanks for watching!