A Beginner’s Guide to Audiobooks

Listen up, readers: We know the world of audiobooks can be intimidating. You may not know where to find them, what to look for in a narrator, or if they’ll fit into your daily life. That’s why we’re here with an easy guide to getting started. Here, we break down why we love audiobooks, how to start listening, and a few of our tips and tricks for picking the right audiobook for you.


Why audiobooks

If you’ve spent years reading physical and ebooks, you may wonder what the fuss is about audiobooks. You may even be reluctant to part from the sensation of holding a book in your hands as you lose yourself in the story. But don’t let your habits stop you from testing the waters of a new way to enjoy your favorite activities. Here are just a few of the reasons why audiobooks are great.

Multitask like a pro
Torn between reading and doing the dishes? Not with audiobooks. Everything from chores to running errands to hitting the gym becomes more exciting once you press play on an audiobook. The format allows you to be productive in more ways than one!

Time flies
Whether you’re listening as you commute to and from the office each day or on an international flight, audiobooks have the power to keep you entertained.

Achieve your reading goals
Many readers find that their reading speed increases once they start listening to audiobooks. Part of this is because they can multitask and read, but it’s also because readers can adjust the narration speed to go faster than reading with their eyes alone.

Exclusive content
Audiobook narrators can take your reading experience to the next level. By giving voice to the characters and the prose, a great narrator can transport you into a story and make you feel as though you truly know the characters. Plus with full cast recording, music, and sound effects, audiobooks make the listening experience as immersive as possible.

Get star struck
Do you want more Lin-Manuel Miranda in your life? What about Meryl Streep? With audiobooks, you can listen to your favorite actors anytime you want to.

Bonus goodies
Some audiobooks come packed with extras like author interviews, podcasts, behind-the-scenes insight, and more to round out your reading experience.


Ways to listen

When it comes to audiobooks, there are both paid and free subscription services. We’ll outline some of the most popular below, but we recommend taking a close look at each platform yourself to find the best fit. Try searching for books or authors you know you’re interested in reading to make sure that the platform you join has them available. Also, your local library may use a free app not listed below. Ask your friendly librarian to point you in the right direction if Libby and Hoopla aren’t available at your location!

Review copies
The free NetGalley Shelf app is the exclusive way to listen to audiobooks made available on NetGalley. You can stream your audiobooks immediately within the app (no need to wait for files to download before playback begins), or you can download for easy listening on the go.

Your early feedback about new books (whether in digital or audio format) is good for
all books. Make sure your NetGalley reviews are as well-rounded as possible by following our tips for writing about the specific elements that only audiobooks have.

Paid subscriptions

Libro.fm allows members the option of buying audiobooks through their local bookstore! For $14.99 a month, Libro.fm members receive one credit that can be redeemed for any audiobook on their site. Not ready to commit to a monthly membership? This platform allows members to choose an À La Carte option where they can pay as they listen. All books that you purchase are yours forever, even if you end your membership. With an easy-to-use app and a dedication to indie bookstores, Libro.fm is a favorite among many readers.

Audible members pay $14.95 a month for an audiobook credit and access to a selection of Audible Originals (plays, novels, and more) at no extra cost. The free 30-day trial can help give you a sense if this platform is right for you.

If you’re looking for a subscription package that includes more than audiobooks, consider Scribd. For $8.99 a month, members can read ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines. Like a library, you may sometimes have to wait for certain content to be available, but Scribd otherwise allows unlimited reading and listening all month long for members.

Free options
A library card is all you need to start listening with Libby. This app connects you with your local library and allows you to check out ebooks and audiobooks and download them for offline reading. It can even send them to your Kindle, if you prefer to do your reading there. It’s a great way to support both your local library and your favorite hobby without breaking the bank.

Hate waiting? Hoopla offers readers access to ebooks, audiobooks, music, and movies from their local library and there are no holds. Bookworms who love reading a book and then immediately watching the film adaptation will find Hoopla to be a great one-stop shop.

If you’re a fan of the classics, this app is for you. LibriVox is a database of free public domain audiobooks, with most of the texts coming from Project Gutenberg. The cool thing about this app is that all of the audiobooks are read by volunteers from around the globe. In fact, you can even volunteer to be their next narrator!


Tips and tricks

Sample first
A great narrator can take you into the world of a book with the power of their voice. We recommend listening to a sample of any audiobook you’re considering (offered for free on audiobook sites and on NetGalley!) to get a taste of the narrator’s voice and style to see if it works for you.

Speed up, slow down
If you’re using an app for audiobooks, you’ll have the option to speed up or slow down the narration. Some readers may prefer to listen at a faster pace, and you should experiment with different speeds to see which sounds best to your ears.

Listen together
Audiobooks turn reading into a shared experience. Enjoy audiobooks with your family or friends during a long car ride, or introduce a regular listening night for your household! Let your family vote on which book you’ll listen to next, and leave time to discuss what’s happening after each chapter. This is a wonderful way to encourage a love of reading in kids! 

Read along
Pairing your reading and listening can help to give you a more complete experience. Try following along with a physical book or ebook as you listen to your audiobook. You can also encourage your kids to read along as you listen together!


Choosing an audiobook

Now that you know more about some of the available services, it’s time to start listening. Here’s some advice for getting started.

Play favorites
Audiobook newbies often select an old favorite as their first listen. Revisiting a book you love in a new format can offer you a new understanding of the story, characters, setting, and more! Plus, you already know you’ll enjoy it!

Test the waters
Not ready to fully commit to 10+ hours of an audiobook? Give yourself an audio trial run by listening to poetry or short stories first!

Ask for recommendations
Chances are you’re friends with a bookworm who loves audiobooks. Tell them that you’re getting ready for your first listen and don’t know where to start. We guarantee they’ll have some ideas.

Sample a variety
Audiobook sites and NetGalley offer short samples of each book so that you can get a feel for the narrator. Listen in and make choices based on whose voice you’re excited to hear more of. Be sure to keep track of your favorite audio narrators so you can listen to more of their work in the future.

All Audio, All the Time

Kelly Gallucci

Kelly Gallucci is the Executive Editor of We Are Bookish, where she oversees the editorial content, offers book recommendations, and interviews authors and NetGalley members. When she's not working, Kelly can be found color coordinating her bookshelves, eating Chipotle, and watching way too many baking shows.

  1. Do I need headphones to listen to an audio book on my Amazon Alexa Kindle. No, am I correct? When is the date NetGalley is starting audiobooks?

    1. We’ll be sharing more details in the coming days, so stay tuned! Make sure you’re opted into getting our emails in your NetGalley Profile.

  2. Exciting!
    Audiobooks are a big part of my daily life … while hiking the trails, cooking, cleaning, gardening, soaking in our pool, or taking a sauna…… even resting on the couch to relax my eyes and LISTEN!

    Thank you for all the work you’ve done to make this a part of Netgalley

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed Good Morning Holy Spirit.
    Thank you!
    Is there a limit to times I listen.
    Not absolutely sure regarding “credits” or free listening….

  4. Your article has confirmed my decision whether or not to try audiobooks. I use Natural Reader or the Kindle text to speech but they’re not like the audio books you mention. Now, I can’t wait to finish my current ebook so I can start my first NetGalley audio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

twelve + twelve =

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for book recs, interviews, and favorites from our editor.