Category Archives: ACX

Narrating Blues: Part 5

I’m a big fan of the punch and roll method of correcting mistakes, which saves hours when re-recording. I’m delighted when I find that I had the common sense to immediately narrate a section again if I mucked it up, as I sound exactly the same.

Using Punch and Record for audiobooks

Narrating my first audiobook has been a steep learning curve. One is forced to become a geek playing around with effects and spacing of words, sentences and paragraphs. I know my story by heart after twelve weeks of listening to it!

If you decide to narrate your own book and are worried about the ACX quality control check, there’s useful advice on Reddit and Quora:


Audiobook Creation Exchange: – Quora

I offer a few thoughts and tips in this post about narrating, mastering and the process of uploading sound files to ACX.

Recording a story is an informative way of learning a lot of things about your writing. When reading to yourself or out loud, your brain plays tricks by adding missing words and ignoring repetition. Audacity is free to use and you could use your computer’s microphone to record. Listening to your work reveals errors and problems in pacing.

I was mortified to discover two major mistakes that I hadn’t noticed in 100 editing trawls, where I’d misnamed the murder victim and then sent a detective to two different locations at the same time in one chapter.

I’m pleased to have completed my first audiobook. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders once I’d uploaded the final sound file to ACX, and they sent me a confirmation email. I adore writing new stories, but while creating an audiobook, I didn’t feel like a writer. Learning how to narrate a book develops an awareness of how you breathe and lots of voice acting techniques, but after you’ve recorded and mastered the same passage nine times you’ll feel trapped.

It’s certainly masochistic.

ACX is the place where your audiobook is assessed to decide if it’s of good enough quality to be admitted to Audible—KDP’s talking book operation.


Your recorded story sound files could pass ACX plugins, but still be rejected after a living person listens to it. You might have to wait a month for that decision, as they have a backlog of work because during lockdown many frustrated writers decided to complete that book they’d abandoned, then recording and uploading it to generate income.

The ACX website looks clear and helpful, but it’s poor at giving information about the audiobook cover. This has to be of a square format, at least 2,400 x 2,400 pixels. I use IrfanView image viewing and manipulating converter, which is basic enough for me to understand without confusion. It’s good at altering the size of an image unless it’s to a square! :mad: After much teeth-gnashing, I found a superb app to resize an image to whatever dimensions you need:

Online Image Resizer – Crop, Resize & Compress Images, Photos and Pictures for FREE

How to upload to ACX feels like a secret if you look for information on their site. This video helped allay my confusion:

As George Smolinski explains, to upload your sound files, you have to attach your audiobook to the KDP eBook by claiming the rights to it. Doing this usefully downloads the chapter headings you used in the eBook (NB some may be repeated…don’t know why, but it made me panic, thinking I’d done this in the eBook—I hadn’t!:rolleyes:) so you can place your sound file in the right place.

You can’t upload an audiobook without already having the eBook version on KDP.

Remember: each chapter is a separate sound file, and the opening credits (title, place in a series, name of author and name of narrator) and the closing credits (usually just The End) are each in a sound file, as is the Retail Audio Sampler…an up to five-minute snippet used to promote the book. The order I uploaded was as presented to me: Opening Credits, the 50 chapters, Closing Credits, then the Retail Audio Sampler.

It took me about 90 minutes, but that might be affected by how busy the site is. My book was eight hours, thirty-eight minutes duration.

Before doing all of this, you need to provide your financial information, which will likely be the same as you gave when joining KDP. I did everything myself, so it was relatively easy to complete, but if you employed a narrator and a sound engineer, you’ll need their details.

I guess that creating my first audiobook is an achievement, but, as with anything in writing, if no one knows it exists as a product no one is going to buy it.

Thus, I’m returning to self-promotion.

Onwards and…where the hell am I going next?!


Narrating Blues: Part 4

One thing this lark has shown me is why the voice of a narrator varies ever so slightly between sections of a chapter. It’s because of re-recording. I’ve found that it’s more likely I’ll get away with it if there’s dialogue in between my narration.

I’m in the final stages of fettling my recordings. For reasons that I don’t understand some sound files (each chapter is a sound file) that previously passed the ACX plugin test were now failing it. All the effects I’d used before to make things right now didn’t work. After taking a break to prevent myself putting a fist through the laptop screen, :mad: I chanced upon the solution!

This worked for me:

These instructions are in short-form: Location > Tool: Options > OK

Select the whole reading or chapter by clicking just right of the up arrow button (on the left).

Effect > Filter Curve > Manage > Factory Presets > Low roll-off for speech > OK.
Effect > RMS Normalize: Target RMS Level -20dB > OK.
Effect > Limiter: Soft Limit, 0, 0, -3.5dB, 10, No > OK.

Analyze > ACX-Check.

Once the Audacity aup files have satisfied the ACX check, they can be converted to MP3 format. Create a folder on your desktop labelled MP3. The conversion is easily done in the latest version of Audacity by clicking:

File > Export > Export as MP3. Send the files to your MP3 folder. Remember, opening credits and closing credits (The End) need to be in separate files. The opening credits need to be the same as those on your eBook.

While doing this, a newsletter came in from ACX. It told of one new and one recent quality control tests. The latest is called Audio Lab, whilst Audio Analysis has been around for a few months. So far as I can see, Audio Lab is simply an expansion of the ACX plugin to be used when you’re finished, whilst Audio Analysis is aimed at those unsure of settings and their microphone for them to check what they’re recorded so far.

* Audio Lab – Sound Check: Audio Lab Launches on ACX

* Audio Analysis – ACX Audio Analysis Tool FAQ’s

As you can tell from my recent posts, narrating, editing and mastering an audiobook takes a long time and is exasperating.

My recorded chapters have passed the ACX check, the Audio Lab and Audio Analysis without any problems, but they could still fail at the Human Quality Control. There are hundreds of ways of mastering what you’ve recorded and yet, there’s this dire warning on the ACX website:

Human Quality Control at ACX (the theatrical test after you pass ACX-Check technical test) does not like heavy processing. You should be as gentle as you can with as few corrections as possible. Don’t even think of submitting readings that sound like a bad cellphone, speaking into a wineglass or reading in a bathroom.
The AudioBook metaphor is listening to someone telling
 you a story over cups of tea. Anything that distracts from that ideal should be avoided.

They don’t define what “few corrections” means! How few? :rolleyes: 🙄


Narrating Blues: Part 3

I’m in the final stages of getting my first audiobook ready to upload to ACX, the vetting arm of Audible.

The pervading sensation of narrating, mastering and preparing the project to fit ACX’s requirements is of seemingly endless repetition. I haven’t felt like a writer for the last four months, more a slave to the process. Fine-tuning a short paragraph that can be read in 90 seconds might take ten minutes initially, then another ten minutes weeks later when I realised that, for some reason, I’d speeded up my narration and it sounds wrong.

Yesterday, I finally completed re-recording ten sections where my voice altered. These were all parts in which I’d re-recorded a sentence and spliced it into a paragraph. This doesn’t work! Re-recording the whole paragraph and maybe those before and after it is the way to go if you want to maintain continuity as a narrator. It takes more time, but it works.

Last night, I spent a dispiriting couple of hours converting the sound files for 50 chapters from Audacity’s aup format to MP3. Fortunately, it’s easy to do, as the latest version of Audacity includes a converter that exports the files in MP3. But, it’s repetitive and time-consuming. Those words again!

ACX only accepts audiobooks in separate sound files for each chapter, with separate files for the opening credits—title, place in a series and author and narrator (these should be the same as the eBook)—and end credits, which are simply The End. I’ll be uploading them today. Although my sound files passed an Audacity ACX plugin check, this is no guarantee they’ll be acceptable after being listened to by their robot or even a living and breathing human being. It might take them a month to get back to me.

To add to the fun, ACX requires an audiobook cover in a square size of no less than 2,400 x 2,400 pixels….similar to how a CD cover looks. The cover that I designed for the eBook is paperback-shaped, so unacceptable. For continuity, I wanted to use the same seagull I’d used for the eBook and POD paperback. I found those designs straight away, but it took me an hour to track down the original photograph, which I had the presence of mind (thanks, brain!) to save on Google’s Drive.

Faffing about with IrfanView, I made a couple of versions for the audiobook.

Since returning to creative writing in 2013, I’ve done every aspect of the work involved to produce and publish a book myself. This was partly down to my cantankerous nature and poverty.

It costs a small fortune to hire experts to create an audiobook. Unless you’re wealthy, forget hiring famous actors or voice actors (who might do voice-overs for commercials as well) or experienced narrators with a good track record of sales.

It’s advised that debut narrators charge a minimum of $80/£61 an hour, meaning my eight and a half hour novel would have cost me $680/£518 to be told by someone as unknown as me! Once more experienced at narrating, audio experts suggest a rate of $225/£174 per 10,000 words, meaning my 80,000-word book would cost $1,800/1,392.

Well-known narrators charge much more.

But, what would you do if you hated the end result?

There are ways of saving money, by sharing the profits with the narrator:


Then, you’ve got the expense of mastering your recorded sound files by an experienced audio engineer. That would be a minimum of $1,000/£772…likely two or three times more for 80,000 words.

As you can see, the expenses mount up, but paying experts will save you a lot of heartache and time. I’m proud of my first audiobook, but it’s taken me four months to reach a point where I think it’s ready to publish. I’ve done no creative writing since April.

If you’re interested in creating an audiobook, take a look at this:

How long does it take to produce an audiobook? – Quora

Should you venture down this rocky trail remember to back up your work! You will devote hundreds of hours to narrating and mastering the recordings. Do you really want to do it all again?


Narrating Blues: Part 2

Narrating a book is a peculiar activity as it requires you to balance tension and relaxation. You need to pay attention to detail while being calm enough to sound natural in the delivery of what’s going on and what your characters are saying.

It made me think of sports psychology books written by master archer Jackson Morisawa. In The Secret of the Target and One Arrow, One Life, Archery, Enlightenment he discusses how to take a relaxed Zen approach to focusing on the target. There’s a phenomenon called the ‘yips’ in sport which makes accomplished athletes tense up and miss a shot.

Yips – Wikipedia

Something similar happens with narrating, where you know there’s a difficult word or hard to say phrase coming up—yet you pronounce it perfectly—only to stumble over easy words at the end of the sentence.

TOP TIP: When you make a mistake and curse out loud, bemoaning your idiocy, leave the rude words in for when you re-record it. Laughing at yourself is restorative!

Ssssssss….got a problem with sibilance? :snake:There’s an app to calm the hissing caused by an excess of the letter S. It’s called a ‘de-esser’ and has been around since 2014. The inventor Paul L also made a ‘de-clicker’ to remove the many irritating clicks that appear on a recording from movement and lip smacking by the narrator.

I downloaded both apps, storing them in the Effect Menu for easy access. I’ve been listening to my audiobook again, applying the de-esser to good effect. I wish that I’d found the de-clicker weeks ago, as I removed all my clicks by hand! :rolleyes:

Updated De-Clicker and new De-esser for speech – Audacity Forum



Narrating Blues: Part 1

Maya Angelou said:

Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning.”

She’s right, but I’m damned sure that she never mastered her recordings of her books.

I’ve previously mentioned what sound equipment I bought. After several weeks of narrating, I purchased what’s called a pop screen.

My Røde microphone has a built-in pop screen, but I found that I have massive plosives (makes for a lousy pick-up line!) which intruded on the recording when I said words such as “Tart”. The accessory pop screen mutes these peaks.

Narrating and mastering the recordings of 50 chapters of an 80,000-word novel was massively time-consuming. It makes editing the manuscript feel like a picnic in the park. It took me five months to write Who Kills A Nudist? Another month to edit the story. Turning it into an audiobook has taken 14 weeks, so far, as I’m sure that I’ll hear things that still need correcting when I listen to it.

I estimate that I’ve devoted 900 hours to narrating and mastering since April as I’ve put in eight to sixteen-hour days. I haven’t done any creative writing in that time.

If you’re thinking of doing an audiobook set aside several months. It would be possible to rush the job, but it’s likely that Audible’s ACX check would reject your submission. Reading aloud is something many of us do if we have children or a loving partner, but narrating is different, requiring voice acting and pauses for emphasis and varying the pace depending on what’s happening in a scene. This is a job that takes the time it takes.

I’m glad to have turned my first crime novel into an audiobook, but, believe me, my happiness is more a sense of relief from having completed the task, rather than pride at what I’ve done. Returning to mastering each day felt like cleaning the grouting of an Olympics-sized swimming pool armed with a toothbrush. :( Trapped in an endless task, the only way out was through.

How I did it

* I set my portable recording booth atop a box on a bedside table to bring it to a level with my mouth. The microphone is connected to my laptop by the USB port. The lead is 78”/198 cm long, so it would be possible to position it away from the mic (to avoid fan noise) though that would be a stretch to operate the Audacity controls.

* Each chapter is treated as a separate sound file by ACX. I used this stipulation as a way of noting recording errors on each chapter text with a different colour. If I repeatedly stumbled over a particular word or phrase, I increased the font size.

* To minimise the chance of extraneous noises, I read from a tablet. Reading from rustling paper would be impossible, I’d imagine, as the microphone picks up on everything.

How I did it

* I set my portable recording booth atop a box on a bedside table to bring it to a level with my mouth. The microphone is connected to my laptop by the USB port. The lead is 78”/198 cm long, so it would be possible to position it away from the mic (to avoid fan noise) though that would be a stretch to operate the Audacity controls.

* Each chapter is treated as a separate sound file by ACX. I used this stipulation as a way of noting recording errors on each chapter text with a different colour. If I repeatedly stumbled over a particular word or phrase, I increased the font size.

* To minimise the chance of extraneous noises, I read from a tablet. Reading from rustling paper would be impossible, I’d imagine, as the microphone picks up on everything.


Clear your tubes out! I used Olbas Oil, Fisherman’s Friends lozenges and some Jakemans’ menthol sweets. I bought a box of the much-praised Vocalzone pastilles, but they weren’t superior and were three-times the price.

* Have water to drink nearby. Sometimes you’ll struggle with an excess of saliva, but mostly your voice will start to sound like a lizard crossing the Gobi Desert! You can pause the recording while taking on lubrication.

* Wear clothing that doesn’t rustle. This doesn’t affect me in my sweltering rooftop flat, as I become the Nude Novelist in summer, now the Nude Narrator! :rolleyes:

* Limit what you do…tackle the work in manageable stages or you’ll quickly hate what you’re doing. This will happen anyway. :mad: but, especially when starting out take it easy on your voice. My throat felt like I’d shoved a red-hot poker down it after early recording sessions.

Odd things

* The sound of your voice will bewilder you. You’ll hate it at times, though sometimes you’ll forget it’s you talking and think that your narration works very well indeed. Remember, narrating your book is part of the process of selling yourself. Some audiobook fans are drawn towards novels told by their creators.

* Narrating your book is the best way of noticing mistakes that you’ve previously missed in editing. It makes you feel like a fool. I’d edited Who Kills A Nudist? One hundred times (I kept count) and it has been enjoyed by three beta readers. Despite this, while listening to it, I found I’d misnamed the dead nudist at one point, and in another chapter, I’d sent a detective to two different places eighty miles apart!

* No one much will care that you’ve created an audiobook, although it will haunt your waking and sleeping thoughts.

* Many times, I cursed myself for writing such long sentences, as I ran out of breath yet again.

* Writing 500-word children’s books suddenly looks attractive to me.

Noises Off

Narrating and recording a book soon makes you obsessed with noise. I live in a noisy location, at a petrol station on a main road, next to the flight path to Newquay Airport and with a car repair workshop nearby. The lockdown was a blessing for me when I started recording. Since restrictions have eased, I’ve been reminded of how intrusive slamming car doors, exhaust notes and aeroplanes are. I love motorcycles, but waiting for wailing two-stroke exhaust noise to cease, as it passes through three sentences, tried my patience.

They are the noisy noises, but my sensitive mic hears things I’m unaware of while narrating, as I have earbuds in to hear my voice. Thus, when listening back, I hear:

* Knees knocking on the bedside table supporting the recording booth.

* Strange booming from brushing the mic lead with my arm.

* Breathing! Most sounds that need removing are your breathing. On the Audacity soundwave they appear as tiny vertical ‘bristles’ or little squiggles or mini sausages on the horizontal baseline. It takes many hours to delete them. Some barely make a noise, but others sound like the gasp of a drowning man!

* Rather than reach a point where I’m running out of breath and my voice is croaking, I pause and take a lungful of air, pausing before narrating again. The deep breath can be edited out.

* You’ll find that some of the tiny marks on the soundwave aren’t breaths, but the very end of words. Audacity has a scroll back feature which replaces them.

I was puzzled by a charming tinkling sound as if a silver carriage full of fairies was passing by. It occurred a few times, increasing in intensity. It wasn’t until I stopped recording, that I heard the sparrow fledglings cheeping in the wall space, as they begged for food.

With soundproofing, I think my portable recording booth is the way to go. It was affordable and does most of what a full-sized cubicle would do. That would be pricey to construct and take up a lot of space. It wouldn’t be any more protection from exhaust notes.


* If a scene has several characters use different coloured colours to delineate who’s speaking.

* I’ve seen it recommended that breathing points are marked on the manuscript, but I don’t know how that would work, as you’d have to be robotic to achieve it. NB unwanted breathing noises can be removed from the recording…you don’t have to go back to the beginning and do it all again!

* The best way of correcting mistakes is to re-record them. You might think, that as you’re still you and that your recording equipment is identical and in the same room, that you’ll sound exactly the same. It’s probable that you won’t be a precise match. Instead, you’ll sound like your younger brother or someone who could be your cousin.

* The worst thing to do is what I wasted several weeks doing: that is, to re-record snippets, a sentence or phrase. It makes the recording sound uneven. One paragraph I corrected sounded like four people were narrating it! Far better a technique, in the long run, is to re-record the entire paragraph. This cushions your slightly different-sounding voice.

*Sounds obvious, but you’re going to be dealing with lots and lots of manuscript files and sound files, so label them in the same layout, so they stay in order.


* There are thousands of helpful and dreadful advice videos on YouTube. Whatever you watch to do with Audacity and Audible make sure it’s relatively new and applicable to your version. The same goes for articles and forums

Here are some of the better ones that helped me:

Standard chain settings for ACX production – Audacity Forum

AudioBook Mastering version 4 – Audacity Forum

Booth Junkie videos

I’ve yet to listen to the ultimate version of my first audiobook. I did five editing sweeps through the whole thing, improving it each time. Sound interference I’d previously left in as barely noticeable, I removed as I became more critical. This task would be ideal for someone with OCD!

One thing that surprised me, was how long my audiobook is. Reading it silently to myself takes five and a half hours. Totalling the fifty chapter sound files makes for eight hours and twenty minutes.

The next task is to scrutinise the ACX requirements and upload my talking book to Audible. I’m not expecting a leap in sales, but it may help to spread my name as an author. Writing is a terrible way of making money. If I’ve devoted 900 hours to the audiobook and I charge £20 or £15 for it…my hourly income is laughable.
I am dreading turning Book 2 The Perfect Murderer into an audiobook, as it’s 139,000 words long! I may join the French Foreign Legion instead. :camel:

If anyone needs any advice, give me a shout and I’ll see if I can remember what I did.




I entered the throes of narrating and recording and mastering my first Cornish Detective novel on April 23rd. Who Kills A Nudist is 79,000 words long with 50 chapters, meaning they average 1,580 words. It takes me about twenty minutes to narrate each chapter, but editing/mastering the recording consumes 60 – 70 minutes. The work involved is repetitive and nit-picking, as I remove a sliver of one-tenth of a second between words, then play it back to hear if it sounds more listenable. My wrist soon started to ache from concentrated activity. I use Audacity, which looks complicated, but is easy once a few commands are mastered. It took me a couple of weeks to work out how to do that. :rolleyes:

It would be possible to do a rush job, but it wouldn’t meet ACX criteria and would be riddled with mistakes. I reckon that it’s completely impossible to narrate a chapter without stumbling over pronunciation, mucking up an emphasis on a word or using the wrong voice for a character. That’s without taking into account noises that intrude – brushing the microphone lead with a knee or knocking the table with your knee, and then there are motorcycle exhausts whining away.

Most of the work I do is to remove the sound of me taking a breath. It’s OK to leave breaths in if a character is talking passionately, but the narrator needs to be talking from a quiet place.

The portable recording booth I made cost me about £20 to construct, but I already had a black plastic recycling bin of the right size. A good quality microphone is essential. The Røde microphone cost me £105 and plugs into a USB port. The other essential piece of equipment, to my mind, is a tablet to read the manuscript from; my Android model cost less than £60. It would be possible to use your desk computer or laptop to read from, but there’s a high chance that the cooling fan will come on…you won’t hear it, but the microphone will! Forget reading from paper, as all the rustles will be recorded.

Thus, for about £200, I set myself up as a narrator. An expense that I hope will pay off, as audiobook sales have grown 31% this year.

I long ago decided that everything in life takes longer to do than you think it will—except for spending money and making love! :rolleyes: It’s particularly true of anything to do with writing and publishing. Learning how to narrate and record and edit looks overwhelming when you first think about doing so. Even once you’ve got an idea of what to do, it’s still very time-consuming.

There are scores of helpful and confusing guidance videos on YouTube giving basic and advanced tips. It won’t take you long watching these videos for you to realise that audio experts are total geeks!

NB When watching videos, check the date that they were made. Audacity is regularly updated, meaning advice for one version may not apply to more recent versions. I’m using the latest version 2.4.1

The thing is, you really don’t have to comprehend what terms like compression, normalisation and noise reduction mean. All you have to do is apply these effects in the correct order to make your recording sound as it should—it won’t sound any different to you—but, it will conform to the technical requirements of ACX, which is the vetting procedure that an audiobook has to pass to be allowed onto Audible, the audiobook division of KDP.

There are several plugins that need to be added to Audacity to make things easier, including one called ACX Check which analyses your manuscript.
I’ll write a post about what I’ve done and how to apply the effects.

NB Even if your story passes the ACX Check, it still might be rejected by the Audible team for other transgressions, apparently, one can wait several weeks for a response.