Okay, to be honest, I never considered myself to be an audio person, although I know a lot of people who use audiobooks for traveling to and from work or on vacation. I had my reservations about doing that (more on that later) but as with many authors I love my readers, so, as with print and e-books, I wanted to give those who liked audio the chance to hear my books.
So, a few years back I took the leap into audiobooks. I was excited, but I had trepidations. ACX/Audible was available through Amazon, so I set it up through them.
The process isn’t difficult, you choose the book you want to be narrated, give the blurb and basic information about the characters (what type of people were they), choose the type of narrator you want (male/female or both) and what kind of voice you wanted for it. (My advice to writers: think about that carefully.) Then put it up for audition.
I was really curious about the process – but remember those trepidations? Like all writers, I was protective of my work. Was the narrator going to do justice to it? Since this was the first book I was doing in audio, I wanted to dip my toes in, rather than go all out, so I put one of my novellas up. In the end, I was glad I limited that narrator to one story. (I like the new one much better, more on that later.)
Not surprisingly, since it wasn’t a full novel, I didn’t get a lot of requests for auditions, but I picked the one who seemed to fit the best and sent him a section of the book which contained all the main character but was focused mainly on one.
The audition didn’t set me on fire, but I wasn’t certain what to expect, the narration seemed good, so we set up the contract.
All readers bring their own stuff to books – that’s a truism all writer/authors need to learn. I had one reader complain that all the characters in one of my books were beautiful when only one – as I’d written him – qualified. (And the character hated it.) She clearly brought her own expectations to my book. It was also true of that first narrator, and I wasn’t experienced enough with audio production to know what I should and shouldn’t object to. It hadn’t been an issue in the audition since it was only a short reading. Now it became one. For some reason – too much of the Lord of the Rings movies, perhaps – he felt all the elves in the books had to have ‘British’ accents. All in all, though, it was about what I expected from audio. He was so satisfied that he asked to read some of my other books. The novella I’d sent him was a prep to the epic fantasy. It was a character-driven story about the genesis of a friendship between three men – a wizard and two elves. The epic fantasy, though, wasn’t the one he wanted to read, surprisingly – and now I’m glad. He requested to audition for another book but didn’t feel comfortable with some of the content, so he requested another. Nope. And another. None of them suited him. In the end, we parted ways.
All those failed auditions, though, seemed to discourage others from trying, and so for a time, I gave up. I hadn’t been enthralled with the first rendition, and it had been more than a little discouraging to me, too.
Recently, though, one of my books was nominated for an Indie book award. I was floored. I hadn’t done anything; someone had recommended it to the magazine.
Excited, I wanted to capitalize on the nomination, and so I decided to try audio again.
It was scary. Once more I was going to put one of my books into someone else’s hands. They say you should what scares you, especially in writing. Challenge yourself. So I did it.
This time I received more auditions. One was close, but another…
Wow. Just wow.
It was brilliant. His voice was exactly what I wanted and conveyed what I hoped.
So, we set up the process, and he began the narration. When the first chapter came back for me to listen to, I was enthralled – at my own writing! He brought the characters to life for me in a whole new way. And we worked well together.
Bless him, I’d hoped to have the complete first version by my birthday, but I’m not a complete newbie and know there is a process, so I accepted that might not be possible. But he did it, bless him, pushing himself to get it done. When I got the complete version for correction and approval I downloaded the lot and found I couldn’t stop listening.
I was stunned and flattered to learn I was one of his first narrations. And, given the quality of his work, I want to have his marvelous voice out there more.
I know that some authors have narrators they love to work and who love to work with them. Part of me wants that (actually part of me wants to keep his talent all to myself for a little while to do my other fantasy series *grins*) but he also deserves to have the opportunity to narrate for others. So, I hope this book and any others he chooses to narrate for me give him that springboard. He’s thoroughly converted me to the world of audiobooks.
So, for Indie/self-published and other writers, should you do audiobooks?
My obvious answer would be yes, but for reasons other than just this. Today print, despite what some traditional publishers believe, is not the be all and end all – it’s just another arrow in your quiver. Readers come in all kinds; e-book or print readers, or audio listeners. Some will read the book on an e-reader and then purchase the physical book. Some will only listen to audiobooks. You should serve all your readers. With the option to share the profit, it couldn’t be easier on all levels, and unlike print which pays pennies, with audio, you can split it fifty-fifty. So there’s every reason to do it and few reasons not to.
There are a few sites for audiobooks that are usually available through your publishing site of choice. Most will help you get started.
Here are a few suggestions –
- Be patient. Don’t settle. Listen to a lot of auditions and hopefully, you’ll find a voice that will make your story shine.
- Understand your narrator/producer’s process, recording, editing and re-editing, and that they have the same demands on their time that you do – home, family, day jobs. Things happen.
- When you get your book back, listen to it carefully. Make sure it conveys what you want. If there’s something you want to be changed, don’t be afraid to tell the narrator so they know. That’s what the process is for. As with editors, a good narrator will read the book, a great one will make it shine.
(Thank you, Zac, for making mine shine.) Read More »
Once before I dallied with the idea of doing audiobooks, starting with one of the novellas in The Coming Storm series – Setting Boundaries – a prequel to the series.
At best the result was ‘meh’.
The narrator was okay, but he was convinced fantasy had to be read with a ‘British accent’ – I’m not sure why. And his accent wasn’t really British. It wasn’t horrible, but there was just something… that wasn’t quite there.
I had wanted to have the whole series on audio with the same narrator but he wanted to try some of my other books. One after another, though, didn’t work out for him – he had problems with some scenes. Unfortunately, he bid on them, then turned them down, and then I couldn’t go on to other narrators.
So, I admit that I was a little leery about trying again.
This time I decided to try with my standalone fantasy, Song of the Fairy Queen. And, to be honest, I was scared whether anyone would be able to do the story justice.
I’m soooo glad I did. The narrator – Zak – is brilliant, he brings depth to the characters, energy to the story, and his voice is perfect. Listening is weirdly wonderful, I’m constantly caught off guard by the idea that I wrote those words that he is bringing to life. I can’t wait until it’s finished.
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When did manners become a bad word? When did behaving well turn into a bad thing? When did political correctness become a pejorative? Has the general negative attitude of this country permeated to all levels? When did it become more right to be cruel than to be kind?
There has been a ‘debate’, and I use that word very loosely, about a certain situation on Facebook that degenerated into name calling, unkindness, and worse. Bullying. The person involved was ganged up on by a large number of people. Even worse, since it was semi-public, a comment indicated it confirmed for some that Indies are the undisciplined writers so many assume us to be.
Now, you have to understand that I was in a similar situation. I paid a great deal for work to be done from a good, reputable site, and was shocked when it was brought to my attention that someone else had the exact same cover, created after mine was. Did I bad mouth them on Facebook, send nasty messages, etc.? No. I’m a professional. I contacted them in private, and they offered me a new cover at a discounted price. (And it’s an even better cover!)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I know most artists work from stock art, but I also know a number of those artists have a competition to use a single image to show off their skill at making their covers look different. It’s amazing how different they are. So, it can be done.
I’m a moderator of a 14,000 member informational writer’s group. We have two rules that result in instant banning – no promotion and absolutely no bullying, bad-mouthing, rude or unkind behavior. You’re professionals. Act like it.
What the person did was wrong – no question – so how do you behave?
Don’t recommend them.
Warn others – in private – about them.
If you see a duplicate, warn the author, and they can deal with it.
But for heaven’s sake, it’s cover art, it’s not life and death. This is not an episode of Mean Girls, it’s real. Anyone who advocates that another do themselves harm is not a nice person. Call them on it. Tell the moderators of the site, have them delete the comment. It’s not worth someone’s life. Covers can be replaced, sometimes with something better. People can’t. Let them, and you, live and learn.
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“Publishers are just middlemen. That’s all. If artists could remember that more often, they’d save themselves a lot of aggravation. ” – Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative
Ah, the lure of the publisher, the allure of the printed book sitting there in your hands, beckoning to you. Isn’t that the stuff of every author’s dreams? An e-book is great but don’t we all long to hold a book in our hands with our name below the title? I know I did. There’s also the sense of security and the idea that maybe we won’t have to work quite as hard, that they’ll pick up some of the load of marketing.
It also seems as if there are so many new choices these days – not just the Big Six, independent, e-presses and small presses, but all kinds of hybrids, include publishing groups and co-ops (where the responsibility for creating a book is shared). And not all of them are truly looking out for your best interests. A number of writers have found themselves contracted to a publisher with no easy way out. I did.
So how do you avoid the pitfalls?
(For our purposes, we’ll leave out the Big Six, the pros and cons there are known – advances (now much smaller), a huge pool of talent in which your book can get lost, gatekeepers with a narrow eye, six months to respond, a year to two years to reach print.)
First, do your homework. Google the company name. If you find that they’re listed on Preditors and Editors or Writers Write, run away. Are there complaints against/about them? Do they sound valid, consistent? Go to their website, find a book that looks and sounds interesting to you. Does the cover look professional? Are there spelling and grammar errors in the blurb (the back cover information)? Where can you buy it? Only from their website? Those are huge red flags. You want your book to look as good as possible and to be available to a wide audience through established booksellers like Amazon.com, B&N and iTunes. If there’s a feature like Amazon’s “Look Inside the Book”, use it. Are there a bunch of basic grammar errors? Is that the kind of book with which you want to be associated?
So, it all sounds good and looks good. Too good to be true? Then it probably is. How’s your gut? Getting some trippy vibes? It’s time to start asking questions…
1. There’s a standard rule in publishing that money flows from the publisher to the writer, NOT the other way around. Anyone who tells you different is blowing smoke. I don’t care what name they call it. If you’re paying them a percentage of your book that percentage is supposed to cover what they’re supposed to do for you – editing, cover art and marketing at the very least. By its very definition in a co-operative environment each writer donates their time and skills to the group as a whole, each contributing to the success of all. But the first rule still applies. If you’re paying any percentage to the publisher, those ‘fees’ should come out of their pocket, not yours. Otherwise, what are you paying them for? Their name? Make up your own.
2. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay for your galley or proof copies. No reputable publisher will ask you to do this. That’s the cost of doing business. You’re providing them with their commodity, books. Without you, they wouldn’t exist. To ask you to pay for your own proof copies, even at a discount, is wrong. If they don’t believe enough in your book to invest in it, they shouldn’t have bought it. No reputable publisher will insist that you buy your books in bulk, either, even for a book signing. On those occasions they should provide them – unsold books should then be returned to the publisher or used for subsequent book signings.
3. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pay for services you can do yourself. See below.
4. Editing. Read the excerpts. Is that your style? Is it overly simplistic, too Dick and Jane? Or too dark? (I submitted one book to a publisher like that but I had a pretty good idea it would be rejected. And it was.) Are the stories remarkably similar, too generic? Is the quality good? Are you seeing those grammar errors? In a recent post I commented on a reader who was surprised to find an erotica book so literate. (I don’t just write erotica, I’m actually more of a fantasy writer, but that is where I’m published traditionally.) Is most of their work adult, but you write YA? Make sure that publisher is a good fit for you.
5. Are they making a huge fuss about numbers, rankings and so on? Is the fuss legitimate? If you’re #4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Kitchen Appliances, is that a valid ranking for your contemporary romance, Cooking Class? Not really. Outside of the kitchen appliances listing, notice that it says Nonfiction. Yes, you want to market where people share the same interests as your book but if your book is the only fiction book in ten listings… being #4 isn’t all that great.
6. If they’re offering to put your book in print, who is doing the printing? I honestly never considered asking that question. I didn’t think I had to, after all, they were a publisher, right? So therefore they had a printer. To my surprise, one company was using CreateSpace to do their printing. (See Rule 3) I already had two books in print through CreateSpace on my own but that publisher made it sound as if he had a local printing company. Never assume. You know what happens when you do.
7. Ask what their pay schedule is and what your percentage is for e-books or print. Is it different if you do book signings? WHEN do you get paid? Smashwords pays quarterly, most regular publishers pay monthly, but both will provide you with a regular accounting of how much money you can expect to receive. The same should be true of any publisher. You have a right to know when your first paycheck will arrive. After all, you have bills just like they do. If they can’t give you that information, if they waffle about how they can’t give you accurate figures, that they have to account for returns, etc., RUN. At absolute worse they could simply deduct a return from your next check but a reputable publisher wouldn’t – returns should be few and they accept that as a loss, as the cost of doing business. (If returns are excessive, someone needs to look at the book.)
8. What is their marketing plan? How do they market their authors? (Again, see Rule 3) Is it largely through Facebook, Twitter and blogs? What else do they do? You want a concrete marketing plan that will take you beyond what you can do yourself. Does it mainly consist of book signings which you have to arrange, not them? Then you’re in the wrong place.
And if you hear pie in the sky promises – I can get you on Leno, for example – ask yourself how many authors Jay Leno has on his program? None. It’s all smoke. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.
9. Check out their Facebook pages. Is there chaos and drama around them? Do you want chaos and drama in your life? If not, then walk away.
Indie publishing is hard enough without people making it more difficult, or outright ripping you off. I have yet to see the money from my book and I have a pretty good guess I never will. Despite it being a legitimate Amazon best seller. It regularly floats in the Amazon Top 100. I haven’t given up entirely but that’s the price you pay for not doing your ‘due diligence’ – your research.
There are people out there more than willing to prey on our hopes and dreams and many authors will pay almost anything to realize those dreams. I know one writer who put thousands of dollars of his own money into a print version of his books. I don’t know how many are still in boxes. Print books are much more difficult to sell. Getting bookstores to take a chance on giving precious shelf space to an unknown, independent writer is difficult. So many authors do that and their garages are filled with broken dreams. Many walk away, their hopes dashed.
For a while I struggled, trying to fit myself into a round hole when I was a square peg. I put my hopes of seeing my books in print under a publisher’s name…until I learned all the lessons above. Now I’m experiencing the delicious freedom of being able to write my books the way I want to write them. If I’m going to do print, I’ll do them myself. And I won’t have to share a penny. No one will make money from them besides me…in tandem with Amazon and CreateSpace, or B&N, Smashwords, etc., of course.
That’s not to say that the traditional way is wrong, but unless what a publisher offers you makes your life easier, what do you need a middleman for?
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This blog was originally posted at http://www.indiesunlimited.com on February 1st, 2012. Read More »
Why a rewrite, you might ask? Many would argue that a professional writer – and I consider myself a professional – would never do such a thing, that you should never release a book that isn’t finished. Read More »
Well, I didn’t – insofar as the perfectionist in me would allow. I was happy with A Convocation of Kings, it was a good book . It accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish, said the things I wanted to say – that love can conquer all and the hatreds war engenders are never over when the fighting is over, among others.
I remember reading a quote from a famous artist that said that even when the painting is on the wall of a museum he could spot little things he might have done differently.
Another quote says that a work of art is never truly finished, it’s just abandoned – a quote possibly attributed to DaVinci.
I understand both quotations. (and yes, writing is an art.)
But a point has to be reached where you simply have to say – It’s done.
Go to any one of thousands of writer’s groups and you’ll find dozens of people who have been working on the same manuscript for years, endlessly polishing, questioning each word or phrase, critiquing each other’s work, but never submitting a single manuscript. And they probably never will.
I understand that, too, but there is a point where you can actually tweak a story to death, render every sentence sterile and remove any semblance of soul.
You want it to be the best it can be, but sooner or later, you have to let it go.
So I made A Convocation of Kings as good as I could make it, and then let it go.
So again, why the rewrite?
Because, as any artist or writer can tell you, sometimes your mind is wandering and then suddenly this idea pops up out of nowhere. I was working on this completely different project when I had this brainstorm about A Convocation of Kings. Was it anything specific? I don’t really remember. I was just driven to take another look at it. (Ask my husband, I disappeared into my writing room for the better part of three weeks.) I just knew it could be better and how to get it there. So I sat down, started on page one and did an extensive edit, tightening some scenes, making others clearer, expanding on others, deleting one or two that didn’t move the story forward while adding others. New characters popped up and a small character got bigger, to reflect the part of the story that revolved around the main characters.
I’m hardly the first one to have done it. Stephen King released a Complete and Uncut version of The Stand because he wanted to put back in some scenes that had been edited out.
In the past, that wasn’t possible. That may be one of the blessings of being an indie writer, especially of e-books. It’s a new world, a new way of doing things, and we may now have the freedom to make changes on the fly – whether just minor grammar changes or something as extensive as with A Convocation of Kings.
All I know for certain is that when I finished, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. A Convocation of Kings was a good book. I really believe that now it’s a better book.
One of the things I find amusing is to listen to people talk about ancient cultures and describe the lives of those who lived then as ‘hard’. In comparison to ours, they definitely were. After all, most people barely lived past the age of forty and cause of death would be as likely from tooth decay. That was for men. We act shocked by the idea that young women of that time were married by twelve and old maids at fourteen, without considering that by the time their children were adults they’d already lived over half their lives. That’s if they survived childbirth, one of the leading causes of death for women. Many children died young, either in childbirth, or from disease or accident.
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Yet if you asked those people if their lives were hard, they’d be surprised at the very notion. After all, it was all they knew. It was life, they lived and loved, worked and fought, had children they nurtured. Just like us.
Many archaeologists and historians, though, operating under modern prejudices of society and faith, made similar assumptions and judgments – those ancient cultures were barbarian, filthy and pagan, they must have led a miserable existence. This despite all evidence to the contrary. Don’t believe me? See how many movies portray the people of eras as unwashed, as if they didn’t know simple hygiene. Yet ancient Egyptians used makeup, balms and ointments – many scented – and were nearly obsessed with cleanliness. It would take Christianity to make bathing a sin. In truth most ancient cultures were far more advanced, happy and egalitarian than assumed.
For the ancient Egyptians, its clear from their writings and their statuary that marriage was a sacred institution for them, and husband and wife were considered equal. As were women in general, many of whom ran their own businesses.
In most ancient societies the relationships between people, whether as couples or friends, were important and valued. If you read their writings, without the cynicism imposed by our own society, you can see it. In ancient Egypt husbands wrote to wives and wives to their husbands, of their devotion to each other without shame or embarrassment. Something that in our society until the last half century. Imagine something like that now.
There are tales throughout history of friends who sacrificed their lives for each other – now we refer to such friendships in derogatory terms like bromances, or BFFs.
People also had rights many today would envy. In early Rome women could get divorced and own their own property, something that didn’t exist in some parts of the US until this last century.
Yes, there was slavery, but slavery still exists in this world, and many slaves had better rights than many of those who work on production lines or in cubicles, since their owners were at least required to feed and clothe them.
Cultural assumptions were also much different, or non-existent. Homosexuality wasn’t an issue. In many cultures no one cared.
Sexual roles were also less defined. Without the societal assumption that women were the ‘weaker’ sex, women in those ancient cultures were able to do any job or hold any career they wished. Even serve in the army.
For example, in some pre-puebloan societies it was men who did the weaving – a task considered women’s work for many these days – and a boy who wished to court a girl took a particularly fine blanket, woven by his own hands, to his prospective mother-in-law for judgment.
Yet in much of our writings we tend to condemn those societies based on our own cultural assumptions. It’s easy to do so, after all, through the lens of our own judgments.
For instance, we condemn Cleopatra and portray her as being a harlot for marrying her brother but by the terms of Egyptian culture, what she did wasn’t sacrilege or incest, it was their culture. After all, the Gods Isis and Osiris were also brother and sister (a neat way to explain how the first gods managed the whole procreation thing, unlike in the Bible, where a whole different tribe just appears).
What we do tend to forget is that some of these cultures existed, relatively peacefully and successfully for centuries longer than ours has.
We are fond of the image of Rome as that of the Coliseum and the ‘poor Christians’ being thrown to the lions. It was a fairly common, if brutal, punishment for criminals in those days. Yet from the point of view of the Romans, many of those early Christians were
criminals, condemning the religion of others, fomenting rebellions, stirring up slave riots and fighting among one another. And much of that image isn’t historically accurate either.
We condemn ancient Rome for its excesses and yet some in the US Congress or on Wall Street could certainly give them a run for their money. As we also tend to look down on the pharaohs and early Caesars but most of them understood they held their place at the will of their people. More than one ruler found himself overthrown when they forgot that. Some folks in power now might do well to remember it.
Given the importance of interpersonal relationships among those early societies, an argument could be made that the first sign of their failure was when those relationships were devalued, when the excesses of those in power diminished the value of those relationships and began to take away their rights. Not that they were all perfect, but in many cases they were far better than we’ve assumed.
Some of what we know now appears relatively new, but isn’t, but the assumption that there’s nothing new to learn is equally untrue.
The burial place of a female gladiator was only recently – relatively – accepted as such, in spite of the fact that all evidence pointed to her sex as being female. The evidence for it long existed, it just couldn’t be seen past the lens of our own assumptions.
We’re still uncovering new information. They just recently discovered previously untouched (except by thieves) ancient Egyptian tombs.
We now know that we understand much less about the ancient Incan culture than we once did, based on new discoveries.
So, are you or will you write your novel from the point of view of your cultural upbringing, to espouse a certain concept, or will you try to write it without preconceptions? And how will you market it? As ‘factual’ or as a ‘re-imagining’?
There is a group of reviewers that say they’ll review your novel, not just the quality of the writing, but for historical accuracy. My only question is, whose history? From which point of view?
For example, if you’re writing a western, and you want your female character to do certain things, would her actions have been acceptable or even possible for the period? I had started one, but was caught short by questions about that era. A little research reassured me that not only was my concept possible, it was even more likely to be right than the images we have of western women now. I’ll definitely be citing my research on that one.
In a few days I’ll be releasing a new book, a thriller/horror/romance based in time of the early dynasties of ancient Egypt. I’ll make no claims that it will be 100% historically accurate – it is fiction after all – but I did try to stay as true to that era as possible. For example – I had my heroine riding a horse, possible given where she’d come from but unlikely even then, and certainly in ancient Egypt. The horses of that time hadn’t advanced so much, they were much smaller. Breeding and time would change that.
The problem is that many people assume the author made the effort to do the research and so believe a lot of what they read. However I know a lot of books that were/are wildly inaccurate historically, others just mildly. Bodice-ripping is much harder to do than most assume. And let’s not talk about the movie Pocahontas. I also had someone chide me about the danger of using the word Nike in the title of my book Nike’s Wings – it was clear the individual had no clue that Nike was the Greek goddess of victory and not just a shoe manufacturer. Most of us know of a few novels written about ancient cultures from a specific point of view and some of those authors have quite a devoted following. If the native cultures they described could read those books, I wonder if they would recognize themselves? Especially given that some historians and archaeologists now question some of those assumptions?
So, what does this mean to us as fiction writers? (Non fiction writers have different issues) What are our responsibilities when it comes to referring to or describing these incredibly complex ancient cultures? First, before we put pen to paper, we must decide how true to that culture we want to be, how fictional is fictional? What do we owe those ancient societies? What do we owe our readers?
Honesty, that’s all.