Friday, September 27, 2013

Producing An Audio Book: Lessons Learned and Tips for Success (Updated)

Audio books area major investment for the companies that produce them. They have to pay the author for the rights to the book, which may be a one time payment or a share of the royalties.  Sometimes the book’s narrator is a well known actor, which can be expensive—worth the expense, of course.

Until fairly recently, audio books were produced on a cassette tape or compact disk.  I bought all of the Harry Potter books on tape, and they were bulky (and wonderful, of course). The seventh book has seventeen tapes. Imagine shipping those to stores or mailing them directly to buyers. CDs, with their greater storage capacity, reduced the size of a book’s packaging. Still there was a physical product.

Enter the world of digital music, MP3 players,itunes, Blue Tooth, and guess what?  You can load a digital book on the players or a home computer. You can also listen to them on e-readers, such as the Kindle or iPad. Suddenly, the packaging element was out of the equation.  A reader could simply download a book from the seller.

Audio book publishers still pay for the story and the actor who reads the book, but the per-unit costs do not include a physical product. Or, they do not have to.  CD audio books are still widely available.

With the potential for reduced costs and the relative ease of producing digital products (can you say U-tube?) digital audio books met self-published authors.  A good audio book is much more than the author reading their book on recording software on a laptop.  Self-published authors met professional narrators who owned high-quality recording equipment.

The way I and many other self-published authors have books made into what used to be called talking books is through Audio Creation Exchange (ACX).  Audible.com created ACX, and Audible is an Amazon subsidiary. (Check out www.acx.com/help/the-basics/200474410 for basic information.)

What is ACX?  Authors can post information on their books to see if a narrator will read (produce) them. Narrators (called producers) can post samples of themselves doing all kinds of work – straight narration, comedy, men’s voices, women’s voices, and more.  A narrator can find an author’s work and provide an audition, or an author can listen to a narrator’s samples and ask the narrator to audition. The author provides a sample of the book for the narrator to read.

There is no up-front cost for authors if they choose to split royalties with the narrator.  That option makes audio book production possible for any writer. On the other hand, if the author thinks a book will sell well, it may be worth paying the narrator up front and collecting all royalties.  Rates are set in terms of produced hour of reading, not how long it takes the narrator to do the work.

Considerations for Narrator Auditions
  • Recognize that writing and narrating are separate skills. The odds of an author having the skills and equipment to produce a good audio book are pretty slim.
  • Decide if the book should simply be read or if it should be acted, with the narrator making each voice distinct.
  • Provide guidance about individual characters (the hero has a deep voice) or accents (though the action takes place in the south, the author does/does not want the narrator to use southern accents). This helps the narrator know what the author wants and provides a better audition.
  • Create audition text with varied voices within the book. The audition sample can do this by providing sections from different parts of the book.  A lot of books open with narration; if the opening is all that is in the audition text, the audition won’t be very representative of the book.
  • Ask for a second or third audition if there is any doubt as to whether a narrator can do the work as the author believes it should be done. There is no obligation to pick a person who auditions, but a revised audition can be more of what the author wants, so why reject a narrator after just one sample of their work?
The Creation Process

Once selected, the narrator loads the first fifteen minutes of the book for the author’s review. It’s really important to listen carefully and suggest changes if something should be done differently.

After the author approves the first fifteen minutes, the narrator will load the book to the ACX web site in individual chapters. If they want to wait until the end, make sure to ask the narrator to load a few chapters at a time. Though the audition and first fifteen minutes are meant to be the chance to come to agreement on how a book will be done, hearing the chapters individually lets the author spot unanticipated issues. A narrator cannot be expected to redo hundreds of lines of text after they have completed a book.

Ask the narrator to record the book at a consistent volume. A listener does not want to have to turn the volume control up and down to accommodate changing narrator volume. It’s not live theater. If the narrator whispers and shouts, the reader will get very frustrated.

When the narrator has finished the ‘first draft,’ listen to every word of every chapter. Ask for important changes (especially if it is hard to hear something), but don’t be a nit-picker.

Try to pick an experienced narrator.  True, some book has to be the narrator’s first. However, if it’s their first and your first, it may not be a good combination. I did not grasp how hard it was to hear the male voices that my first narrator did, and we ended up redoing parts of the book after it was issued. (ACX allows this – once.)  Clearly the narrator was very professional; she wanted it right as much as I did. We’ve worked together again and will in the future, but we both wished we had been more experienced to start!

The book I have been happiest with was done by a male narrator. I had not initially considered this, since my protagonist is a woman. Finally, I listened to several males voices and asked Michael Spence to audition. When the book (When the Carny Camy to Town) was issued I described his voice to friends as being smooth as melted butter, but with inflections. It was also the first of the Jolie Gentil series to be read rather than acted, and I liked it this way. Michael did Behind the Walls (for which ACX paid a bonus).

With Ground to a Halt, eighth book in the series, I decided to pay the narrator up front rather than do a royalty split. This means I keep all royalties. Since the audio books are selling better all the time, this seemed like a smart investment.

I had more auditions and they came in faster. The idea of an upfront payment is popular among narrators. Dan Gallagher, the selected narrator, also did the work faster than any other narrator I've worked with.

Audio book production takes a lot of time for the author and narrator, and the author might be tempted to think that if they like the first few chapters that’s all they need to listen to.  Not!  The royalties per book are higher than with other formats, and the author and narrator’s work should be commensurate with the income. That is an incentive to not just do an audio book, but to do it right.

If your friends are not familiar with digital audiobooks, make sure to let them know they can join Audible for free, and get one free download. They can later quit, commit to a monthly purchase, or just keep a $10-per-year  membership so they can buy books at lower prices.

You will also get twenty-five free downloads of each book, to be used for publicity--or whatever you want them for. This can encourage a potential reviewer to listen on an ereader. The email giving you the free link comes a couple of weeks after the book is published.
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Check out Elaine Orr's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Finally, what kind of an author would I be if I didn't tell you about my audiobooks?

Appraisal for Murder, Read by Paula Faye Leinweber
Rekindling Motives, Read by Paula Faye Leinweber
When the Carny Comes to Town, Read by Michael Spence
Trouble on the Doorstep, Read by Christy Lynn
Behind the Walls, Read by Michael Spence
Ground to a Halt, Read by Dan Gallagher
Holidays in Ocean Alley, Read by Christopher Bateson
Biding Time (a coming-of-age novella), Read by James J. Fouhey, Jr.
All audios recorded by ACX narrators are on Audible, itunes, and Amazon. Mine are either listed as Elaine Orr or Elaine L. Orr.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Writers Need Their Friends

Writing is a lonely occupation. It would be nice if there were book signings on a regular basis, but that's not the real world for most of us. And those book signings will never happen unless we do spend those lonely hours writing.

Since moving to Illinois I've been struck by how much I miss my various Indiana networks -- whether it's the book clubs, Sisters in Crime meetings, events sponsored by Muncie's Midwest Writers Workshop or the Indianapolis Writers Center...and I could go on.

At the Not So Square Arts & Literary Festival in Mt Vernon, MO.
I've been preoccupied with trying to live in one place and sell a house in another. Add that to a fresh vertebra fracture and trying to finish two books, and I'm spending a lot of time alone. Salvation has been a nearby Starbucks. I can sit there and write for hours, paying no (or little) attention to others' conversations and ignoring the dirty dishes. I don't have to do them. Just enough people contact to keep me feeling part of the human race.

Still, no Sisters in Crime in Springfield, IL and I don't see me driving to Chicago. Imagine how thrilled I was to pull into a parking lot today and see a van advertising a writer who wanted to do cross promotion with others. We exchanged information and she seems to know good places for book sales and signings. I told her about a group I had just joined in Missouri.

I met Schyrlet Cameron and other members of Homegrown Books at the Not So Square Arts and Literary Festival on September 7th, in Mount Vernon. They had organized the authors who participated and gathered us together for an informal dinner afterwards. Homegrown Books finds coffee shops and other businesses that are willing to sell books in a rural area that has no commercial bookstore. They arrange author book signings and other activities.  I almost drooled.

So, I have a model for what a Springfield group might do, and maybe a partner in crime, so to speak. This local author (Aurora Lightbourne) writes sci-fi with a touch of romance. Wish us luck. 

And we have a date!  Join Springfield authors at the first Author Networking Meeting on Saturday, October 19, at 2 p.m. at Monacal's Pizza. Info and directions are at Goodreads.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Audio and Ebooks!

It's a big weekend for my books.  When the Carny Came to Town was just issued as an audio book. You have not listened to a super narrator until you have heard Michael Spence read When the Carny Came to Town. Michael has a great voice and he gets the book's humor. Don't miss it!

Jolie and Scoobie High School Misadventures is also live today. People kept saying they wanted "more Scoobie" or more about their high school years, so here it is!

When Jolie Gentil’s parents leave her with Aunt Madge for her junior year so they can “work things out” in their marriage, she’s angry. She knows no one at Ocean Alley High School. Some kids snub her, but she makes friends with the irreverent Scoobie. He’s quirky and fun, but he’s skipped school and smoked pot in the past, so people avoid him. Jolie learns how to shoot a squirt gun from under the boardwalk and tries not to flunk geometry. She also learns that the family she babysits for has a secret, one that puts Jolie in danger. You’ve met Jolie and Scoobie as crime-solving adults. Check out their high school friendship. Same humor, different challenges. Plus a couple of hints about why Jolie wants to get to the bottom of murders when she’s all grown up.

It was a bit of a challenge to write because I wanted it to be a good read for anyone from high school to adult ages. It's funny and poignant, with the chance to learn why Jolie and Scoobie grew into who they are today. You'll meet a couple of the characters who are in the later books, especially Aunt Madge. But the focus is on Scoobie and Jolie, and you'll get a chance to watch them grow.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Not So Square Arts Festival

I will be in Mount Vernon, Missouri Saturday (9/7/13) to participate in the Not So Square Arts Festival. There are many dozens of visual artists, writers, editor, and publishers who participate in this free festival. It is a testament to how a group of dedicated volunteers can create an event.

Mount Vernon is not a large town -- about 4,700 people, in Lawrence County in southwest Missouri. I have roots there and have published some local history materials about the area. Thus, my slogan for the event is "author of cozy mysteries and local histories." It should be fun.

Not So Square Arts and Literary Festival
Date: Saturday, September 7
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Place: Mt. Vernon Arts and Recreation Center (MARC)
Location: 822 W. Mt. Vernon Blvd, Mt. Vernon