The Audiobook Process

11th October 2023
6 min read
23rd October 2023

Emma Stephenson, Audio Editorial Assistant at Bloomsbury Publishing, discusses the audiobook process.


Audiobooks are the fastest growing format in trade publishing. The Sunday Times predicted in January 2023 that the global audiobook market is set to reach £16 billion by 2028, growing at the rate of 26% each year. With so much growth and an ever-growing audience, audio is an exciting area of publishing to be in! We’ve put together this introductory guide to demystify the audio production process and share some insight into the wonderful world of audiobooks!  

Audio Publishing Timeline 

Audio editions are discussed at acquisition stage for all titles, usually 18-24 months pre-publication. Each editor factors audio into any advance and does a costing for each, which is then saved as a record in the Biblio, a common publishing content management system. This way it pulls through to the audio publishing schedule.  

Around 12-18 months pre-publication, book editors, marketing & publicity, sales and audio editors all discuss forthcoming books and campaigns. For the audio team specifically, it’s a great opportunity to learn from other departments and begin to gather ideas on who might be a great choice as a performer, or whether the audio would have added impact by being read by the authors themselves.  

Between 12-9 months pre-publication, each audio editor meets with the wider Editorial team to discuss titles in more depth, either individually or on an imprint basis. The audio editor will gather the relevant information to brief studios in prep for casting and audio production. This info includes decisions about an author or actor read, whether accents are required or if multiple voices are necessary. The book editor’s advice is crucial as they have in-depth knowledge of the story - the audio team don’t want to give the killer away in a crime novel if they use the wrong voice for the narrator! 

The editor can also alert the team to any sensitivity issues within the text, which need to be considered when casting and producing the audiobook. This can be anything from trigger warnings of potentially upsetting themes to language warnings. 

Anywhere between 9-3 months pre-publication, the audio editors will brief out the project to one of our studios depending on the following considerations: 

  • Does it require an author read? If so, where is that author located? 
  • Does the book require regional recording?  
  • Which studio would do the best job, both from an access to talent and a post-production perspective?

Different studios specialise in specific styles and genres. Certain studios are excellent at special effects and children’s titles while others are great at long fantasy series, keeping meticulous character notes from book to book. Audio editors take great care when placing an audio title at a studio which is going to suit their production needs. 

Often a lot of prep work is required in advance of the recording which can range from researching pronunciations of common words and phrases which may have multiple ways of saying them, to learning pronunciations for fictional fantasy lands and languages. It is important to liaise with the author on their preference as they may have a particular idea of how they want the world they’ve written to come to life when spoken aloud. We also have to consider the audiences for the audiobooks, if we’re producing a title for the US list, we should use standard US pronunciations as opposed to the British pronunciation. All this prep is done in the weeks running up to the recording.  

We also consult with the marketing and publicity teams to see if they’d like any audio related marketing content to help with their campaigns, whether that be a photo of the reader in the studio or recording a podcast advert. It’s amazing to find creative ways of including audio in social media posts, press releases and wider campaigns.  

After the recording is finished and the finished audio is delivered to our Operations team, we do a quality check on the files and sound quality, making sure there’s no glaring problems and the text has been followed accurately by the reader. Then the audiobook is delivered to our audio retailers around 1 month pre-publication.  

The final, but most crucial, step of the process is checking the audio product is live and available on the retailer sites on publication date!  

Focus on Casting 

Casting is an incredibly important part of the pre-production process. By reading through the text and working with the print editorial team, the audio team will pull together a shortlist of potential voices. They look at questions like:

  • Is this a first-person narrative?
  • What age is the voice?
  • Are there any plot twists that could be revealed by a certain choice of voice?
  • Does the actor need knowledge of a particular language or dialect?
  • Is this book likely to be a series and therefore will need an actor happy to commit to a longer-term project?  

A professional narrator is often the best choice when recording for several days back-to-back, but authors can be narrators for selected titles too, mainly memoir, autobiography and some non-fiction books. For author reads, the audio editor driving the title will liaise with the author and editor to arrange a time and studio for the recording. 

Audio must wait for the final print text to be available before recording the audiobooks. This is usually 7-week pre-publication, as this is usually when the guaranteed final text goes to print so no further changes will be made. This means we usually work much closer to publication date and have a fast-paced moving schedule in order to get things delivered quickly. 

An audio team will deliver hundreds of audiobooks each year, and we give equal attention to casting for all our titles. We’re passionate about diverse casting and giving opportunities to up-and-coming actors who may be new to voice over work. The reward of finding new talent with a natural gift for audiobook narration can be just as exciting as booking a big-name actor.  

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