All posts by trekelny

About trekelny

It's really Will Hahn, the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales. www.williamlhahn.com

Audio from the Authors: Lessons Learned

I’ve had the privilege of working with some fabulous authors in my new vocation of audiobook narration. In my recent series I interviewed some of them to give encouragement to colleagues and interest to listeners. Here they are:

Just Then and Right Now
Coming this Summer
Share and Share Unalike

I Was In on It Too

Of course I was my own first customer, and thought I would conclude this start-of-summer series with some of my own reflections. Working as a narrator is so fulfilling and interesting, I can only compare it to teaching as a source of joy. Right now, those two things are just about all I’m doing for work so you can imagine how happy I am.

Lesson One: Audition Yourself

I found the entire experience to be a dramatic endorsement for the value of reading your own work out loud. I’ve posted on this several times in the past– even if you never publish a single audiobook you need to hear your own writing. There is no better way to pick up on a host of errors invisible to the spell-checker, and the rehearsal is great preparation for DIY if you choose to go on that path. Some colleagues have told me they can’t pick out mistakes when they are reading, so they let Dragon do it for them. I suppose that could work too.

But I suspect they also just don’t like their own voice– and that was a key revelation for me, to realize this about other people. I’m such a ham, I heard myself much earlier than most folks–I got over the shock of how different my voice sounded to my own ears with a tape recorder when I was six. It’s a habit you have to form: now I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to myself as I edit the books and I don’t notice any difference anymore.

Lesson Two: That FX Thing Seems to Have Worked Out

I still see reader reviews who mention that the sounds I put in are “distracting” etc. I’m honing my craft and certainly opinions will differ. But no question, the AUTHORS I’ve auditioned for loved them and reacted the way I was hoping. They have kindly let me know that the sounds (and voicing) add atmosphere and deepen the experience for them. I keep the FX on separate tracks for easy removal, replacement, or emendations.

Model Behavior

Let’s admit it frankly– the more I try to rely on the Per Finished Hour model (getting paid up front) it’s increasingly the author I need to please. Another aspect of moving into the PFH crowd is that I’m meeting authors with their own plans and resources for marketing. I trust they know what they’re doing.

But I bet there were times in my work, where the sounds became too much (loud, sudden, frequent). I’ve always held to the mantra that this is about the author’s words first and foremost. Now I try to open with a gentle environmental effect, like breeze or rain, as the very first chapter begins. It can’t be an unpleasant surprise if it’s not a surprise.

Lesson Three: Series Work is Like Bread

My first two forays into narration, beyond my own series Shards of Light, were with authors who either had or were just starting series of their own. I wrote out a notation sheet to double-check pronunciation of place names and jargon with them, and also jotted down my impressions of what type of voice to attempt for the major characters. Big-time payoff there! I revisited those sheets like old friends as I bounced back and forth between tales. Series work allows me to exploit my labor over several projects. So far, it’s mainly been in the Royalty Share model and those returns have been significant. The more series installments, the merrier.

Bundles are Like Sliced Bread

Most authors are aware that bundling a series of maybe three or four titles can be a great marketing tool over on the ‘Zon. But with Audible it’s even better since:

a) the main business model works with credits, so listeners get a terrific value plonking down their monthly chip on a title that has multiple tales in it, and

b) authors and narrators get better compensation than for a single title.

The exact amount is still a mystery to me, so I grumble even as I celebrate. But both for my own series and that of others, the bundle is attractive and leads to new sales. Excelsior!

Lesson Four: Always Doing, Never Done

May the Good Lord protect me from thinking that I’ve arrived as a narrator. Just in the past week I was able to make a small observation about my chief bugaboo, background noise. That amended my editing and production steps to make the final file just a bit better. I keep picking up tips on blending in effects. (God forgive me, I edited the first chapter of my own book yesterday and I have FOUR FX tracks supporting the narration!) Not a sound engineer, but I am learning how my voice works (and doesn’t). The environment I created in my basement is utterly consistent and I even get RMS and Noise Floor readings that are close to each other across the entire project. I just love what I’m doing.

And now I get to do it to myself again.

Coming This Fall, Harbingers of Hope

I’ll be spending the next 10-15 weeks heads-down and recording my titanic opus, 400k words of epic fantasy going into a single title and audio for the first time. Since I have a summer schedule with no teaching, it will only be me and the usual interruptions to my day. I hope to get a reliable impression of just how much material I can knock out in a week. Then I will be better able to return to auditioning, and put out offers with promises I can keep. I’ve been extra-conservative to date because I never want to fail of a deadline. And that’s largely been because I never knew how well I could do over a long haul. Well 400k is a pretty long haul. I hope to come out of the summer of ’21 as a truly professional audiobook narrator.

And the rest of you, don’t let the season slip by with only the grim aftertaste of hot dog and a little sand in your shoe to show for it. Get your books into audio! Don’t make me come over there.

 

 

Audio from the Authors: Share and Share Unalike

I’ve asked some of my audiobook clients to relate their experiences in producing their tales. The first installment, if you missed it, is here, and the second is here. I hope this small series will encourage fellow authors to engage with a crucial market niche and win new customers. Listeners too may enjoy hearing about how the tale-tellers made their way to and through audio. As I bring one of their stories to your ears, here perhaps are more for your eyes.

Part the Third: Royalty Share

This post features three authors from all different points of the writing compass whose experiences have one common element: we have worked together on the Royalty Share model to create an audiobook. In Royalty Share for eBooks and paperbacks, the author pays the platform (like Amazon) a fee, and then takes home the rest of the book’s price with each individual sale as it happens. Royalty Share with an audiobook means that remaining share is split between author and narrator- still no money paid up front (beyond cover, editing, all that as with the e-book), and the tale gets out there now.

I’ve been privileged to work with a dozen authors this way (including myself- I know I’m worth it, but I would never dream of charging myself for narration. I don’t know, it just seems so tawdry). Here are a trio of perspectives on the idea.

Chris L. Adams, The Hunter and the Sorcerer

I met Chris several years ago through a mutual author friend. He is a jack of all trades (which I’ve always envied) and lives in West Virginia (not so much envy there- seriously, it’s beautiful but if I wanted remote, why leave Vermont?). His writing really captures the feel of the pulp authors he knows so well, and it reaches into larger worlds that I’m sure with time will astound us all. As you can see from his photo he has the same respect for his sanity that I do.

Is the current title your first book? No.
How many titles have you published to date?

My most current Audio Book title isn’t my first book, but rather one of my later writings. I’m relatively new to publishing, only having released my first novel in Feb 2016, titled, The Valley of Despair, a sort-of Lost Race style yarn set during the First World War. In total, I have published nine titles with varying themes, from dystopian science fiction to sword and sorcery to a new, prehistoric-based series where each novel will be set in a prehistoric setting but involve some element that is either otherworldly, supernatural, scyfy, or based in some popular myth. In the first novel of the series a man from another planet that possesses FTL (faster than light travel) becomes stranded on Earth during the Pleistocene era where he encounters a stone-age hunter. In the next volume, I plan to detail the adventures of a young hunter/gatherer girl whose entire village is wiped out by a band of invaders, and the girl is then rescued by a patrol from Atlantis that happens upon her.

 Do you have a “Home” genre, or have you “played the field” in your writing?

I definitely play the field when it comes to genres. The stories that developed an interest in reading for me were the writings of pulp authors, and the genres of those stories that spoke to me are all over the place.

Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote fantastic lost race-style yarns à la H. Rider Haggard (Tarzan and the Lost Empire, Tarzan Lord of the Jungle), but he also wrote futuristic science fiction (Beyond the Farthest Star) and dystopian tales (Moon Maid, Moon Men, Red Hawk).

Clark Ashton Smith wrote dark fantasy — dystopian futures where civilization leans more toward sorcery than technology (The Black Abbot of Puthuum), or dismal science fiction where humanity has branched into the stars and other planets where they encounter alien species detrimental to mankind (the Cap. Volmar stories of Red World of Polaris come to mind, and his Mars stories, like The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis).

Howard Phillips Lovecraft wrote dark, dreamy fantasy (The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Celaphais, Silver Key) and dark horror (his entire pantheon of gods of which Cthulhu is but one).

Another writer that stands out as highly influential in my reading was Robert E. Howard who wrote yarns based around Solomon Kane, Conan the Cimmerian, and El Borak, et al. Much of ERB’s and REH’s writings that I really enjoyed were western-based adventures (Burroughs’ The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County, The Bandit of Hell’s Bend, Apache Devil), or veined in supernatural horror (Howard’s The Man on the Ground, The Horror from the Mound, Pigeons from Hell).

I’m drawn, like many, to various genres and so my own writings tend to cover lots of territories — from lost race to horror, to sword and sorcery. Currently, I’m working on a sword-and-planet story involving a planet’s indigenous, medieval-like society and two races of aliens who possess substantially greater technology than do the simple people they have invaded. If I had to narrow down my writings to a single genre I suppose it would be the Epic Pulp tag — a tag, I might mention, that was invented by the indefatigable Will Hahn.

How many audiobooks have you issued before this collaboration?

I’ve only experienced a single audiobook collaboration. It was an extremely gratifying sensation to go from having only eBooks, to finally converting those to paperbacks and then seeing one carried forward to become an audiobook — which really gives one the sense that one ‘has arrived’. The next best thing would be to see a novel become a movie or a televised series.

Did you listen to audiobooks before you started writing? 

No, I didn’t really listen to audiobooks that I recall until after I began writing and self-publishing. I read, voraciously, since I was a kid, and then at some point, I felt that I wished to try my hand at writing something myself. I wrote poems, song lyrics, a couple of minor short stories, but the 3 or 4 times in my youth that I set out to write a novel they were always set aside.

I finally completed a couple of those unfinished efforts when I decided to become more serious about writing (The Valley of Despair was one of these unfinished manuscripts, and On a Winter’s Eve–a short, horror tale involving supernatural beings from another plane of existence who attack a family in a remote wilderness during a blizzard–is another).

I have a fairly long commute to work and have used it over the years for various efforts. In my younger days, when I used to play in bands, I’d listen to music, self-recordings, etc. At some point, I decided I wished to learn a foreign language and for years I studied German as I drove to and fro.

Eventually, I became hooked on audiobooks as a way to keep two books going at once–the one I listened to on my commute, and the one that lay on my headboard, that I read at night. Since I started doing this I’ve found I can no longer live without audiobooks, finding it the best use of my time for that hour each day where I can’t do much else besides listen to the radio, watch for deer and bear, and dodge semis. 

I actually pitched you about doing The Hunter and the Sorcerer, because I thought I could tackle the unusual cross-genre challenge of “Spears in Space”. What was your impression of audiobooks before we collaborated?

Before we collaborated I was already experiencing a growing infatuation with audiobooks because you had done me the great service of sending me a code for your boxed set — Shards of Light: The Complete Collection. Before that, I listened to The Ring and the Flag — twice (yes, I enjoyed it that much, and yes, I listened to it a third time when I listened to the Shards collection, which it is part of).

My impression of audiobooks just before our collaboration was one of growing respect and interest. I hadn’t had much exposure to audiobooks, but by the time we worked on The Hunter and the Sorcerer I was immensely glad that I had finally taken the plunge into what I had come to realize was an increasingly popular method to consume books — not by reading, but by listening. I was never against audiobooks, I just hadn’t yet pursued them although I knew many who did, and who were completely tickled with them (which encouraged me to find out what I was missing out on). Possibly, since I have a fairly large inventory of unread, physical books in the form of hardback and paperbacks, I didn’t see the need for quite some time; but, I mentioned that I drive about an hour a day, five hours a week if I work a full Mon-Fri work-week.

It finally matriculated that this was 5 hours that I couldn’t spend reading a physical book, but that I could still devour books if I made the leap to audio. I am so glad that I made that leap. Since I have unlimited data on my phone plan, and since I so immensely enjoyed the Shards series, I began listening to recordings on YouTube of various authors, mostly short stories at first. I listened to poems also, and classics such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Recently, I started on the Tarzan series by ERB which I haven’t read since I was a kid. There is just no way I could consume as much fiction as I do just by reading an hour a night before bed, although I still do that also.

A lot of authors are either just starting out or have a few titles and are looking to “widen the platform” any way they can. What do you think about the market opportunity with audiobooks now, how it fits and whether it can help break through?

Absolutely I think it is crucial to broaden one’s offerings in today’s market. Not everyone consumes fiction in the same way. Some will purchase only hardbacks. Many flat out don’t care for eBooks. I know some who will read paperbacks exclusively because they don’t like digital and they don’t care for the weight of hardbacks. You can see where I’m going with this.

I used to work with a lady that was so busy on her farm in the early mornings and evenings that she had no time to read. She literally was at it from dawn till dusk with farm chores, except for her commute and workday. So, what did she do on her daily, 40-minute-one-way commute? The same thing I now do–she listened to audiobooks. She was one of the early inspirations for me to begin thinking of converting my existing, self-written library to audio. She flat out told me if I converted my novels to audio that she’d give me a listen but that she didn’t have time otherwise. That’s a pretty convincing argument.

I wanted to make my stories available in as many formats as possible so that I had something to fit about everyone’s preference–I say “about everyone” because there’s no pleasing everyone. If I could convert my writings to graphic novels and movies, I’d do that also. I’ve been considering (since I mentioned that I don’t currently offer anything in hardback) offering my novels on Lulu, where they can be made available in hardback, an option which Amazon doesn’t make very easy, from what I’ve gleaned. Fellow author, ERB fan, and ERBAPA member Jim Goodwin (author of Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Descriptive Bibliography of the Ace and Ballantine / Del Rey Paperback Books) told me that Lulu did most of the work converting his research book to hardback, with him merely supplying the manuscript, imagery, etc. But, if I had my druthers, I’d prefer another audiobook, as I prefer to expand my offerings in that direction versus another print edition.

C. H. Duryea, The Heisenberg Corollary

I met Chris through the audition process, which is pretty much a grind, if you must know. I feel sure this sample would have stuck with me either way, but I was definitely excited to land this offbeat tale combining time-travel, hard-enough sci-fi, roar of the nerds, alien humor and even swordplay. When Chris and I started chatting to begin the project, I heard for the first time that authors sometimes get DOZENS of auditions to choose from.

Is the current title your first book? Yes.
How many titles have you published to date?

Depends on what you mean first. First published, yes. First written, no. But the first one written will probably never see the light of day. The Heisenberg Corollary is my only release so far, although I also have editorial credit on the anthology, The Final Summons.

 Do you have a “Home” genre, or have you “played the field” in your writing?

For as long as I’ve self-identified as a writer, I’ve always based myself in speculative fiction. I made a brief detour into contemporary a few decades ago, but it was just not who I am.

How many audiobooks have you issued before this collaboration?

The audiobook of The Heisenberg Corollary is my first and only–so far.

Did you listen to audiobooks before you started writing? 

When I started writing in general, audiobooks weren’t really a thing yet, unless you wanted to go to the library and take out one of those huge plastic containers full of cassettes of Moby Dick read by John Huston or whoever. By the time I started writing Heisenberg in 2017 I was a semi-regular consumer of audiobooks, especially for old favorites I wanted to revisit. 

We contracted to bring The Heisenberg Corollary to audio under the Royalty Share business model. Can you recall your thinking about this choice and how you compared it to Per Finished Hour? For example, do you think you might have had more auditions to choose from if you had gone with pay up front?

I didn’t really have much choice in the matter, as I hardly had two nickels to rub together to put towards a PFH project. It was Royalty Share or nothing.

I knew this would limit my options, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While I was browsing narrators, I did check out quite a few PFH-only performers, many of whom were extremely good, but none who made me think “Holy sheep dip, I need to take out a second mortgage to hire this guy!” At the time, having never done this before, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted in a narrator, but I was getting pretty fast at identifying what I didn’t want.

Ultimately, I was listening for a vibe, an attitude. And I knew I wasn’t getting it in the many, many samples and auditions I listened to. In the end, I don’t recall if I approached Will or he approached me. But from the moment I heard his audition file, there was very little question that this was the guy. Here was someone who not only went the extra mile to put the sound effects in (a bold move that paid off), but who actually got my book and brought that intuitive grasp of the tone to his performance. You can’t put a price on that.

This project is the first in a series. Do you think there’s been an impact on your writing from being able to hear the tales you’ve written as you think ahead to the rest of your hero’s adventure?

Most certainly. Listening to the audiobook has brought another dimension of life to ensemble of characters that I could not have achieved on my own. I get a kick now, as I write the next installment, imagining Will’s interpretation of the dialogue and action. Not that I’m writing it strictly with the audiobook in mind, but knowing the next book will get that additional layer of interpretation is terrifically exciting!

Gil Stack, The Legionnaire Series

Gil and I studied together for the Masters in Medieval History at Fordham: I went back into the classroom while he went on for his doctorate and a career in college administration. Our delight in fantasy and other genres of fiction was mutual and fiercely passionate. Nothing could be more natural than that we would work together as we each entered into writing our tales.

I had to crop his photo out of a family shot on Facebook because he doesn’t believe in being seen. Oy.

How many titles have you published to date?

I have a lot of books ranging across a lot of genres. The ones that have attracted the most attention are the 12 books in my Legionnaire series (plus the one volume in the prequel series, Green Vigil). This is a military fantasy series that follows the exploits of Lesser Tribune Marcus Venandus, citizen of Aquila (loosely based on the Late Roman Republic just as the first round of troubles begins). 
My second series that is drawing some attention is the Winterhaven canon. It focuses on a far-flung outpost of the Ardenesse peoples who twelve centuries earlier came to this world at the command of their god, Vapin, to aid him in the War of Night. That war largely seems to have moved on to other realms before the start of the first novel, but as the reader will instantly suspect, it is returning to the Winterhaven theater.
I also have a number of urban fantasy / paranormal books and stories of which the three Preternatural books are the most popular. And I have a couple of other books (mysteries, romantic adventures, etc.), plus I am bringing my western series of mysteries (Miss Pandora Parson) from the pages of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to self-publishing through Kindle.
Finally, I have a science fiction series I’m just about ready to release.

 Do you have a “Home” genre, or have you “played the field” in your writing?

As you can see from the above, I write in a lot of genres—mostly fantasy and urban fantasy / paranormal, but I go where the muse takes me.

How many audiobooks have you issued before this collaboration?

You were my first audiobook narrator. I think all authors dream of having their books brought to life in this way, but I really didn’t think seriously about it before you started recording your own books and thinking about starting a narrating business. I was happy to be your “test” series.

Did you listen to audiobooks before you started writing? 

I started listening to audiobooks back in 1997. I had a great boss who listened to them on his commute and started lending them to me. This was back in the days of cassette tapes and I lived alone, so I would pop them into the Walkman while I walked to and from work, and then put them into the boombox when I got home. They were much better than television and I tended to listen to each book twice (I didn’t have a large selection at first.)

Then I started to rent books from Blackstone Audio and that greatly expanded my selection. I listened to everything—fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, history, etc.—pretty much like I read now.

When I discovered Amazon, I started buying audiobooks and discovered I had a real love for full dramatization. I think Alien Voices dramatization of science fiction classics were hands down the best.

When I moved out to New Jersey with my fiancé, I started borrowing them from the library as well. That was especially good because now I was commuting into the city and that gave me a lot of listening time.

Audible was like injecting steroids into my listening habit. I quickly became enamored with 2x and 2.5x listening (WLH Note: The horror!). Most narrators can be easily understood at 2x speed so this more than doubled the number of books I could listen to. Digital borrows of audiobooks from the library is also very helpful. No more juggling cassette tapes and having them jam up in your machine. (My expert talent for fixing broken cassette tapes is now going unused.) I love having all of this stuff on my phone. And now that the pandemic appears to be easing and I will be commuting again, I expect my listening time to skyrocket. 

Your Legionnaire series was my first foray into narration outside of my own books. How did you see audiobooks before we collaborated, and has your view changed since we started on the series?

It’s an indescribable joy to hear your own work read by a capable narrator. Add into that all the sound effects and I am one short step away from the full dramatization I love to listen to so much. It’s amazing. It also changes the writing process slightly. I think about your voices for my characters and I wonder how you will bring scenes to life. I am also really looking forward to the day that you and my amazing wife can team up and bring books like Forever After (which alternates chapters from the male and female point of view) to life.

You have now written a dozen Legionnaire books plus a prequel in the Green Vigil line. Six are in audio at this time. Does having audiobooks, separately and in bundles, help you with marketing in any way?

Marketing is the bane of all authors. It takes time no one has and know-how that is not nearly as developed as we would wish. This is an area where we can all improve. That being said, people consume stories differently and it is foolish not to take advantage of the audio option and to push it together with e-books and print. If you think about it from the writer’s perspective, the book is written. Getting a narrator to work with you to bring it to life on a royalty share model costs nothing and reaches tremendous numbers of new readers. What a bonus! I think it is stupid not to take advantage of this medium and I only wish you had more time to finish Legionnaire. After all, Winterhaven is waiting and I have plenty more books for you after that.

Thank you gentlemen for sharing this aspect of your work.

Chris Adams can be found at his website (in a manner of speaking) and his books are available at Amazon. He’s a member of The Edgar Rice Burroughs Amateur Press Association and has several article credits there, such as this one.

C. H. Duryea has his own website, and The Heisenberg Corollary is available at both Amazon and on Audible.

Gil Stack‘s Imaginary Realms is a thing and now I have website envy. As mentioned, he reads an obscene number of books and even reviews them for your delectation (he is an Amazon top 10k reviewer).