Preparing Your Novel for the Audiobook Revolution, Part 1.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to talk about audiobooks.

In 2015, audiobook downloads increased by 38.1% (source). The global audiobook industry is currently valued at $3.5 billion (source). Publishers Weekly has started listing audiobook bestsellers, and the Wall Street Journal called audio “the fastest growing format in publishing.” 

If you're an author looking to capitalize on this trend, this blog post offers you three takeaways to improve your reader's audiobook experience. The observations are culled from an informal survey on what readers expect and enjoy as they read audiobooks [1, 2].

After reading this, you should be able to see which of your existing works are primed for success, and what elements to include in works in progress that are destined for audiobook release.

To present the best audiobook you can, consider why readers enjoy audiobooks and play to those strengths. 

1. Go where the readers are.

These days, there are many platforms for audiobook dissemination: Audible, OverDrive, DownPour, Scribd, and so on.

According to Erik Deckers, author of No Bullshit Social Media, you could even publish your book in a serial podcast format, in order to promote print sales.

With all of this in mind, many of the readers I polled emphasized a strong preference for Audible, the Amazon-owned subscription service that enjoys a large share of the audio market. “They’ve really streamlined their format,” one reader said.

The Takeaway:
Find a distribution plan that works for you, but if you’re self-publishing and want to find a foothold in the audiobook market, consider finding a publisher that distributes through Audible. (This article from PW may help.)

2. Hire a narrator with a smooth set of pipes.

If anything became clear as a result of my poll, it was that high-quality narration is key.

Many readers emphasized this. If your narrator isn’t a great speaker, it may distract your reader. Some participants even said they will stop listening to an audiobook if they find the narration too cloying or distracting.

That said, if a narrator shines, it can really bolster your reader's audio experience.

The Takeaway:
If you have to pay more for a good narrator, do so. Calm, smooth voices that speak evenly and clearly in a middle to low register are preferred. (British and Australian dialects help… though this may be a result of the heavy Outlander fan base that contributed to my poll.)

3. Audiobook readers multitask, so present information clearly.

Whether enjoyed on the subway or in a car, audiobooks are closely tied to American commuter culture. They are also a go-to for readers who want chores, exercise, or even the workday to go by faster.

The fact that people love to multitask while reading audiobooks tells this editor that it is more imperative than ever to present information clearly to your reader.

When editing with a focus on print, I commonly identify editorial concerns regarding suspension of disbelief. For example, I may tell a writer that I have trouble understanding why a character chose to act in a certain way or how a plot arc in their manuscript progresses.

If this is a problem for print readers, it’s likely to be dialed up to eleven for multitasking audiobook readers.

Moreover, some readers have neurodiverse conditions that make print reading difficult. As a result, they gravitate towards audiobooks to take away the frustration and make reading enjoyable.

If you don’t want to think of a snippy editor like me hovering over your manuscript with a red marking pen, then think of these readers. Present your information clearly, so that your audiobook can be a rock 'n' roll experience for them.

The Takeaway:
Outline the progression of your manuscript with an eagle eye. Look for any holes, and examine the way major turning points are presented. If your gut tells you that, in retrospect, a point is made too subtly, then it likely needs to be revised for emphasis.

Alternatively, ask a volunteer to listen to you read each chapter, and then repeat back what they think happened. If there's any resulting confusion, ask what you could do differently to clear things up.

Are you a writer who’s enjoyed success with the audiobook format? I’d love to hear from you! Share this post with your friends, and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

[1] Yes, audiobook listeners are readers. If you’ve been looking down on them, calling them “cheats,” consider not only the visually impaired who may appreciate having an accessible option that doesn’t require buying a heavier, more expensive large print format, but the fact that adult readers of print books don't "decode" letters, words, and sentences in such a way that makes their processing of information any more or less critical than audiobooks.

[2] These findings were gathered from an informal poll on Facebook and Twitter. I asked, "What is your single favorite thing about the audiobook medium? Why do you keep coming back to it?” Nineteen readers responded.