Category Archives: audiobook adventure

Getting Work- and Other Forms of Happiness

I wanted to limit posting on this topic, partly because I’ve been so unsure, partly because I was always hoping, and partly because I kept expecting the news to be about something other than creating cool fantasy tales. You know, something with put-on-a-tie and make-a-plane-reservation in it, and maybe a lot to do with building a spreadsheet, and then later on getting paid. That kind of work, the kind I’d been doing since the twentieth century before this past February.

Long and short– I became “displaced” as they say, a person on the business-end of “right-sizing” a company. Twenty-two years and change is a good run in this day and age. But as they say sixty is the new forty, so I looked over at my lovely wife and miracle daughter, and just behind them the two mortgages, the broken heating system and all six of our cats, and I thought the same thing Donkey thought at the end of Shrek 2:

“I gotta’ get a job!”

Editing and Writing, Those are Jobs

I applied in areas where I thought I could make a contribution. And I found that lots of people need technical writers, but they need them to have remarkably specific experience that I did not have. And yes, consultancies and government agencies and staffing firms and publishing houses all need editors. But they have them, see, and it’s just a guess but I’m getting the impression that once someone gets a gig as an editor, they keep it until they die.

And they don’t die very often.

At First, Keeping Busy

Looking for work is all electronic these days. The recruiting boards have boatloads of jobs you can’t do waiting for you in the Inbox practically every day. Applications take a few minutes, and if they have an assessment test, maybe another half hour twice a month. I was in a severance period, a great blessing, and I wanted to use the extra time profitably, at least to stave off boredom and the sense that I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I wrote a novel this past spring, and kept on narrating audio-books for marvelous colleagues like Gilbert M. Stack and M.R. Mathias.

I never thought of it as a job. It was too much fun.

But the summer burned off and the number of books I had narrated piled up and slowly I began to unravel that little knot in my head– the one that keeps me stupid– by asking “do I have the right to be happy in my work?”

I honestly can only think of one job that I was aware of being unhappy doing, and that was working for my Dad. Long story but every other job I’ve ever done seemed just fine to me. I liked the people, I liked the challenge, and I certainly loved getting paid.

But Narrating Was REALLY Fun

And It Was Starting to Make Money

So I kept looking for “real” work and I set myself the goal of winning an “upfront” narrating gig.

Audio-books Get Made on One of Two Business Models

{Yes there are others these days, but don’t interrupt:}

Royalty Share- the author hires you and pays you nothing. You finish the work and he still pays you nothing. The A-book goes out and starts to sell and THEN a) the distributor takes a cut, and b) you and the author split the rest. (This is sometimes referred to as passive income.)

Per-Finished-Hour (PFH)- the author hires you and pays you nothing. You finish the work and THEN he pays you based on an hourly rate for the length of the finished product. The A-book goes out and starts to sell and THEN a) the distributor takes a cut, and b) the author gets the rest. (You’ve already been paid, calm down.)

(Or narrate yourself and get paid twice!)

Royalty share is great for independent authors and those who haven’t “made it” yet, especially those who don’t know how well the book will do. Established authors or those with a bit of money, who know their book should sell XXX or X,XXX copies should want to pay the narrator up front, just like the cover artist and the editor, because then they reap the reward after that. Danielle Steel would be a fool to pay royalty share on her next sure-to-be-blockbuster. But if she did, narrators like me would probably commit murder to win the audition.

Bills to Pay- Cats and Mortgages

For a narrator, royalty share is nice because you just go on with your life and the money shows up like a bonus. I’m getting what I’d call “cat food money” from the titles I’ve narrated now. And with a half-dozen indoor cats who love people and food, maybe in that order maybe not, the amount represented by “cat food money” is not insignificant.

But you can’t budget against major expenses that way. You don’t know what to expect.

Now to get PFH on a steady basis, if I could achieve such high demand from up-front-paying authors that I virtually had my calendar blocked out full-time… THAT could pay the mortgage. One of them, anyway. I’ve kicked back and done all the math.

Full-length fantasy novel ~15 hours of finished audio (let’s just say)

Narrator on PFH Model e.g. $200/hour

Record-Retain Rate ~90%– that’s my estimate of how much out of each hour of recording time survives into the final product. It’s a pretty good rate- I throw out a few bad takes in each chapter, couple stumbles with accompanying curse words, or I have to go back and punch in a paragraph because somebody flushed the toilet and that comes over PERFECTLY of course (epic fantasy books almost never describe the hero in a garderobe, unfortunately. I did once!).

Record-Production Ratio ~3:1– i.e. it takes me around 3 hours of cutting, trimming, noise reduction and locating/implementing sound effects to “finish” each hour of good recording.

Bottom line, I could probably produce about 15 hours of finished audio, maybe a full-length fantasy novel, each week if I did it full time (recording each day for 2 hours and editing for around 6 more).

I would be able to pay the mortgage. Probably both of them.

And I’d be IN HEAVEN. Are you kidding me, narrating A-books for a living?

But there’s no point hoping about it unless I at least get started.

Which brings me to my announcement.

I’m a Contracted A-Book Narrator

Around the end of November I was invited by Findaway Voices to participate in a competitive audition for an A-book; there were five of us altogether. I sent in my sample, five minutes of reading from a portion of the book. I’ve auditioned two or three dozen times for A-books over on Audible, without success so far.

This time, I got great news. I am preparing now to start narrating Team Newb by M. Helbig. It’s a marvelous tale in the LitRPG vein, that whole playing-a-cool-game-WHOOPS-now-I’m-IN-the-game thing. It’s got humor and obviously that game-feel, and terrific rankings. It’s an official contract, it’s PFH and it’s signed. The book should be done in late January and appearing at retailers shortly after that.

I’ll post more about the book itself later over on the Media of Mien, but for now I just wanted to reflect on a sign of hope, coming to me at this time of year and after such a long time of trying and searching. I am deeply grateful, and need I add STOKED.

I still don’t know if I can grow this into any part of a living. But I have the chance to prove myself now, to a new audience for an author who never heard of me before he heard my voice. And did I mention one of the best parts? The sub-title of the book contains the two magic words any narrator hungers to hear:

“Book One”

So if anyone needs me during the day I’ll be at my desk as usual, looking for a job and sometimes with the headphones on. But early mornings I’ll be in the studio, recording a Fantasy RPG epic and loving every minute of it.

The blessings of the season to all who read this. May your work bring you happiness, even as it quickly feeds the cats and slowly retires the mortgage.

 

Audiobook Adventures Ch 5: It Is Finished! Well, Sort of…

Thanks, before I finish up this series, for sticking with these posts. I sincerely hope they’ve been helpful to those considering going audiobook DIY, and perhaps amusing to those who aren’t. This is a brave new niche in publishing, not without its frustrations but certainly with potential to do all the things indie authors should want: widening the platform, making new connections, and above all just learning (sometimes in the school of hard knocks but learning all the same).

Here we go then. You’ve recorded every word of the tale entire, it’s been edited, produced and saved over to mp3 in separate chapters. Now you take the steps needed to post your book to Findaway Voices and start on the (long) (and winding) road to fame.

Why Findaway?

I decided to undertake this project because Findaway is acting as an aggregator and distributor for audiobooks in a similar fashion to the way Smashwords distributes your e-books. Submit once to them, pass their technical checks, and they will handle distribution to more than two dozen outlets for audiobooks. Different payment models, different places, technical requirements, all that they take off your plate and return the royalty to you after subtracting their fee. So it’s the classic choice- if you do the work of placing your audiobook yourself, you would make a higher cut of the total without this middleman. But that means you wrestle with their submission procedures, arrange payment from each seller, etc. on your own. THAT’s the real DIY I suppose. Findaway promises a simpler (though not entirely simple) path to widespread distribution.

And libraries. That’s the part you might overlook. If you aren’t already a mid-way famous author maybe with your own publishing house to back you, I don’t know of any way you could get into the major library catalogs.  When readers borrow your book, the library kicks back a kind of rental fee (for my first book, it’s around 35 cents US). That’s been the majority of my sales “hits” so far and I expect it to continue. So something to think about.

But you don’t have to!

So. Many. Files.

I kind of lied when I said you were done recording. As you post your project to Findaway you’re going to need some fairly short additional files. The minimum list is:

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Sample
  • Tag

I’ll spell out each one for you. I recorded or edited this set of files in about forty minutes all told, so it’s not a huge deal but it is mandatory.

Title-

Simply “This is NAME OF MY BOOK, written by MY NAME and narrated by ALSO MY NAME”. Boom, done. I said “Chronicled by Will Hahn and narrated by himself!” like it was a surprise. Honestly, it still is…

Introduction-

This need be nothing more than the blurb, the dust-cover description of What On Earth Is Happening In This Book. I read that material, and also the dedication if I have one. This is the longest file usually.

Don’t forget to produce these files (Normalize, Compress, etc.) just like the chapters!

 

 

Sample-

Select a brief passage from your chapters (cannot be less than one minute, and the upper limit is around four minutes) to illustrate just how cool a thing the listener is getting into. In three of the four books I simply chose the first 1-2 minutes of the book, but for the finale I went straight into the middle chapter, with what I thought was a good open:

“I stood in the alleyway over the unconscious body of the Devout Teretheny, and thought about the problems that come with leaving bad people alive…”

Not that anyone is likely to be making a purchase decision about BOOK FOUR! But it’s mandatory, so… do it. You can just Save As on the chapter you’ve chosen and cut out the parts you’re not using- but remember to leave some space before and after the section!

Tag-

This file is the one where I can offer the least structural advice. Findaway lists the kind of things you could put into such a file (Bibliography? Really?). I mention that the book fits into the legendarium of my world, point out where they can get other Tales of Hope, and give out the website info with a promo for my sign-up list, Compendium and so forth.

Record each of these files, produce them and get them ready to post. 

 

Now I’ll walk you through the posting process and I’ll try to keep it simple.

Setting Up a Project

If you had your e-book version on Smashwords, you can click a button over there to bring you directly to Findaway Voices and some of your meta-data will already be posted. Cute as a button, but I’m going to assume you come to this site for the first time. Use the home page to set up your account the usual way and then you’ll be brought to a page like this:

In the upper right click the Create New Audiobook button. The next few bits are pretty automatic:

  • Enter the title of your book and click on I Want to Narrate My Own Audiobook. Because you do! Then click Create Project

    See, kinda square
  • On the Projects Metadata page, I can’t tell you everything you need to do but your options are pretty straightforward. The Title Description is essentially the blurb. Upload the cover art (whoop! Remember that one? Your e-book thumbnail is not the right proportion and will be rejected). Pull the ISBNs you have from previous publications (you can leave the audiobook ISBNs empty and Findaway will provide one). Setting the price is a world in itself but they have a link with their advice. I’ve gone lowball deliberately to try and encourage sales. Hit Save!
  • The Distribution page is important but your choice can be simple. I picked everyone. Maybe someday if I see I’m getting ripped off or something I might pull back, but right now what’s the point? So many business models, but I’m going to see where Findaway Voices takes me and how that works out for a while before trying to nuance this. Bear in mind that the Bigs (Audible and Apple for sure) have more stringent technical requirements, so you could find your book gets into some retailers but not others. More on those particular joys below.
  • Now for the file uploads!

Getting the Files Up There- to Stay!

The next page in the Findaway project folio is where you Add Audio Files. The easiest way to do this, in my view, is to open a folder with the mp3 files you want to send, and then click-drag them to the proper boxes.

Opening Credits is what I called the Title file.

Front Matter is the Introduction.

Body Matter is the place to put the chapter files. I simply number them “Book Title Ch1” etc. You can highlight the whole batch and drop them in at once. Then wait.

Yeah, could be awhile…

But what do you care? The big thing, the CRUCIAL thing, is to CHECK THE ORDER when all the files are uploaded.  I have done this four times now, and each time the chapter files were not the way I wanted. Make absolutely sure the chapters appear top-to-bottom on this page in the order you have them in the tale! As the warning says, if you leave them out of order here, that is the way the reader will hear them. In a word, Ack. Click on Chapter 1 and drag it to the top of this section, and so forth until all is well.

Back Matter is an optional slot and I don’t use it.

Closing Credits is what I called the Tag. So, like, put the Tag file there…

Retail Sample is the final drag-and-drop you need. If you try to submit a sample less than one minute long- I mean, two seconds short of one minute- the system will reject it.

After that, you will have arrived. At…

That bright red button, just leering at you like the eye of a demon who knows the answer to the riddle of life. Daring you. Double-dog daring you, to click on it.

Click on it.

Next? Argh, Life Goes On

In a horrible anticlimax you are brought now to a final review page, where the system politely points out there are a couple things you forgot to fill in back on the meta-data page. You fill them in. THEN you are encouraged to “take one last look”, and you do. At the bottom of this page is the button entitled Submit for Publishing. You’re not going to be fooled again so you click this without hesitation. Or much.

Now you deal with Findaway Voices for real.

The Staff is Just Like You! (Competent, Friendly, Over-worked)

I only saw two people on that ship.

The page tells you it will be 7 days before they get back to you about whether your files passed the technical checks.

  • My first two books did not pass on the first try.
  • My third one has been there for more than a week. That has always happened.

You have to be patient. I have never had an unpleasant email from them but there might not be that many people staffing this place…

Rejection- Hey, You Wouldn’t Want to Change That!

It could be your initial efforts are rejected, or have a “technical problem” that will amount to much the same thing. Save your original work, of course.  Consult their technical guide, and I hope these blog posts have proven useful to you as well. I don’t want anyone else to go through needless delay in getting the next audio-masterpiece before the public. Including me. But audiobook publishing, one might say, is a kind of publishing.  Findaway never really says “no”- as a distributor they WANT your tale out there. So deep breath, read the issue again, and fix it.

Next year I intend to post at least one or two more times to report on post-publication matters, how to get reviews, experience with different platforms etc. Take a look in the catalogs for all the Shards of Light series and let me know if you make an odd sighting- like on a pirate site, for instance…

I would be very interested to hear of your experiences, either creating or listening to audiobooks. Especially at this time of year, I wish all the best to everyone within the sound of these words, which is especially strange when you consider what the subject of these posts has been. Together we move forward, and I hope it’s “laughing all the way”.