I recently decided to record an audiobook version of my book Intuitive Editing.
I know zero things about the recording industry, sound engineering, or even audiobooks in general. My initial search for “audio engineer” brought up a dizzying number of results. What services did I need? Who was qualified to offer them? What should it cost?
I didn’t even know what I didn’t know to ask the questions I should be asking: What’s the difference between editing, mixing, and mastering? What experience was relevant for audiobooks? What software should an audio engineer be using? What did I need to know to create the raw audio files the engineer needed to turn them into a high-quality audiobook?
If you’ve tried to hire a pro for your writing–an editor, designer, publicist, etc.–you may relate to my feelings of being overwhelmed and way out of my depth. The explosion of small-press and indie pub has resulted in a similar explosion of people offering services to authors—and the level of experience, qualification, and cost varies a lot.
I’d thought hiring someone would make the process easier and let an expert create the results I wanted, but I didn’t realize I needed to take more ownership of my goals and what went into achieving them so I knew how to ensure I got it.
So I started to learn.
I don’t mean I spent months learning audio recording, a field I’m never going to practice. But with something as important as your creative career, it’s worth taking time to dig deeper to make sure you fully understand exactly what you want—and what you need in order to achieve it.
That means educating yourself—and this is a business with lots of wonderful educational resources.
Start with searching articles by experienced industry folks like Joanna Penn or Jane Friedman in the specific area where you’re looking to hire a pro. Dig into the archives of excellent sites like Writer Unboxed or Writers in the Storm.
Check the resources of writers’ organizations you’re a member of, ask fellow authors, contact related industry pros you may already have worked with (I reached out to the narrator of my last two books, the marvelous Dorothy Dillingham Blue; and the audiobook producer at PRH for my most recent novel).
No matter what service you’re planning to hire, using all the tools at your disposal to consider three specific areas helps you avoid wasting money, and nail down what you need to know to make sure you hire the right professional for your needs.
Know What You Need to Know
- Know your goal and what it entails
Be specific: I wanted a professional-caliber audiobook that would conform to all industry requirements and standards, narrated by me, possibly edited by me, and mastered by a pro.
- Maybe you want a dev editor who will help you develop or elevate your manuscript to help you get an agent or pub contract.
- Maybe you’re looking for a formatter or cover designer for your self-pubbed book who will get you a finished product compatible with all market platforms and look as professional and polished as anything published by a traditional house.
- Maybe you need a top-notch query letter and synopsis that will snag you agent/editor requests.
Whatever you’re working on, clarify your specific end goal: exactly what you want to achieve, what product or deliverables you want to wind up with, to what standards.
Then find out precisely what’s involved in the process. For me to know what I needed in the way of a pro, I had to first:
- learn how to self-publish an audiobook and what the avenues for doing so were, considering I wanted to narrate it myself
- investigate the platform options for selling it (e.g., ACX/Audible, Findaway) and what their specs were
- research the standards, norms, and customer expectations for audiobooks in my field
2. Know what specific services you need to achieve the result you want
I quickly discovered that editing my own audiobook to the standards I wanted would take far too much of my time to learn and master the skill and actually do it. That decision and my additional research revealed that I needed an engineer who could edit, master, and proof the raw files for me, to ACX/Findaway standards.
But there was still so much confusing info I had to learn to navigate: What hardware/software should my engineer use for what I needed? Did I need noise reduction? Breath removal? If so, were those encompassed in the engineer’s services? What the hell was Whispersync, and how (and why!) did I need to make sure my book qualified for it? And prices were all over the map—what was a good, experienced, reputable engineer supposed to cost?
If you’re looking to hire an editor for your manuscript, for instance, this might mean figuring out what type of edit you need, what platform an editor works in (i.e., do they use Word with Track Changes), what their edit specifically entails (for example with copyediting do they offer not just grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but fact checking, trademark verification, etc.? Do they provide a style sheet for the manuscript?), and the general rate range for those services.
Or if you’re researching cover designers or formatters, do their services include files for print as well as ebook? An audio cover if you need it? Will it meet the standards for markets like KDP or Ingram? Have you researched what size book will you want? What size font?
Learn the details and the lingo of your area of interest so you know what questions to ask a pro to choose the person who can best help you reach your goals.
3. Know how to hire the right person for the right price
Having learned the process and standards of audiobook recording, I knew I needed an audio engineer with a verifiable track record of audiobook experience (as opposed to music recording or podcast production or even commercial voiceover work), which was to the standards I wanted for my own work—criteria that included a list of other very specific requirements I’d culled together from all my research.
This is when all your research really pays off—when you know what you need to know to sift through the tsunami of professionals offering their services.
It doesn’t take that much time. All my research into my audiobook probably added a week or two to my schedule—but it’s already been so worthwhile. I hired a fantastic audio engineer (Tony Dipiazza) whose expertise and guidance are making every step of the process easier and more understandable, teaching me even more about what I need to know and do to get the top-quality audiobook I want.
I suspect, like me, your creative work matters enormously to you. It’s worth putting in a little more effort to make sure you hire someone qualified, experienced, and reputable so you get exactly what you hoped for.
If you’re looking to hire an editor and want to make sure you know what to look for, I wrote specifically about that in this post. I also just launched a brand-new in-depth course on the subject: Get It Edited. It’s filled with info and supplemental materials to help you know where to find good, reputable editors, what questions to ask, what it should look like, what it should cost, red flags to watch out for, and actual examples of sample edits and contracts. The course is $29, but like all my courses right now it’s on sale for one week (through 1/20/22) for 40 percent off with the code 40OFF.