Audiobook #2

Never_See_the_Night_Cover_for_KindleMy short story Never See the Night is now available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. It’s science fiction with a double-shot of action and horror, and the grisly scenes with the telepathic space octopus are not for the faint-hearted.

I’ve had positive response to my article Ten Things I Learned from Making My First Audiobook, and my workshop group made good suggestions that have now been incorporated into it. If you’re wondering if you can produce your own audiobook, I encourage you to read the article, then give it a shot!

My biggest lesson from Never See the Night came not from producing the audiobook but from writing the original story. It taught me that having a cool idea is easy, but plotting is hard. Maybe that’s not news to you, but I only started writing fiction three years ago. So, when I first had the idea for this story and drafted the opening scenes, I got stalled immediately. Several things about the original draft made my desired plot points completely unworkable.

The draft ended up on the shelf for an entire year. Now and then I would come back to it, try something different, and realize that didn’t work either. It was so frustrating!

Oddly, that frustration helped me identify with the characters. They struggle to solve problems, and their efforts are repeatedly thwarted. My feeling of being “locked out” of this story put me in the same position as the characters who are locked out of the lab. Their struggle became mine.

In the end, I think it’s a better story for it, with deeper characterization than I had in the early drafts. Despite the challenging hours that went into plotting, the story became less about the plot and more about the people.

The people and, of course, the octopus.

Workshops: Making It All Worthwhile

The authors’ workshop I began in February remains a highlight of a challenging year, yet I have often questioned how much it benefits people. Though we have a solid core of about twenty authors who show up regularly in groups of five to fifteen, we also get folks who come to one or two sessions then vanish. Or, we get members who are gung-ho for a few months then fall off the radar. I tend to assume the worst and feel I personally failed those people somehow.

That’s why what happened last week meant so much to me. A talented young woman who had not attended much in the last couple months showed up to share some news with us. She is moving out of state, and she wanted to say thank you to us for the support we gave her.

After calling the meeting to order, I yielded the floor so she could say a few words, and those words moved me. She told us we were the first workshop she ever attended, and the first people she ever shared her writing with. She thanked us for our diverse perspectives and constructive feedback, and how they helped her grow as a new writer. She spoke of how much it meant to her when we asked about how her works-in-progress were coming along, and our genuine interest in her writing journey encouraged her to keep at it. She hopes to find another group like ours when she gets settled in her new home.

This was music to my ears. Her expression of gratitude was truly a gift. It reminded me how much our group has grown, not just in numbers but as writers helping each other hone our craft. It validated the work I’ve put into nurturing the group, and I was thrilled to hear we make a difference.

We’ve had other positive feedback from people who visited from out of town to join a friend at our gathering. More than once, we’ve been told we were the best critique group a visitor ever attended. We’ve been praised for our constructive feedback, and how our group never devolves into ego battles which apparently plague other groups around the country.

I’ve seen our regulars go out of their way to help each other learn, not just about writing but creating an author blog, using social media more effectively, and setting up ebooks and paperbacks. Few things make me happier than discovering our more experienced members have connected with those who need help, and generously given their time to each other.

When I started the group, I had no idea what to expect. I thought maybe I would find two or three like-minded people to help me with feedback, or maybe I would just sit alone for two hours staring at my own pages. Was it unrealistic to hope I could host a weekly workshop in my neighborhood?

Eight months later, the group has exceeded expectations. It isn’t just surviving; it’s thriving. We have three assistant organizers who lead sessions on a rotating schedule. Member contributions have covered our Meetup fees. Some of our members have seen their work published traditionally, and others have self-published, and all have made significant progress on projects ranging from novels and short stories to poems, plays, blogs, and memoirs.

A few members told me our success has to do with my leadership, but leadership has always been a major challenge for me. I’ve been fortunate to work with leaders and coaches in the past ten years and learn from them. If I do anything right as an organizer, I owe it to the leadership materials I’ve worked on as editor and designer. Given my administrative background and highly organized approach to work, I see myself more as an “organizer” than a “leader”. But I have tried to apply leadership principles.

First, a leader communicates a group’s vision. I make a point of regularly communicating my fundamental goal: to have a thriving group of supportive authors who help each other take their writing to the next level through constructive feedback. Our group succeeds because members share that vision and act accordingly. A shared vision makes us stronger than any rules I could impose.

Second, leaders encourage others to develop as leaders and aren’t afraid to delegate responsibility. Appointing assistant organizers was scary for me, but I am glad I did. It’s taken much weight off my shoulders, and made the group less about me and more about us. With more leadership from within, our group remains sustainable regardless of what’s happening in my life in any given week.

Third, leaders nip poor performance in the bud. This has nothing to do with how “good” any writer is. It means not tolerating people who only attend to be disruptive, rude, or negative, or otherwise make an emotionally unhealthy environment. Some groups have suffered because leaders allowed troublemakers to continue attending, perhaps out of a desire to avoid conflict or being perceived as not nice. I rarely need to confront a negative situation, but it has happened, and I do it to preserve the group’s integrity and positivity.

Even so, our success is less the result of anything I’ve done and more the result of the thoughtful, generous, and supportive people who discovered it and made it a regular part of their lives. I have learned from them that despite my tendency to view critiquing as an editorial task, our success depends on seeing what we do as an interpersonal experience. I focus primarily on words and structure and technical aspects of prose, but our members have taught me the real focus is on people.

When we hear from new writers how we’ve helped them grow, it makes our time and effort worthwhile. We’re not just critiquing manuscripts. We’re changing lives and working together to realize our creative goals.

 

Ten Things I Learned from Making My First Audiobook

the_baby_and_the_cry_cover_for_kindleMy short story The Baby and the Crystal Cube is now available as an audiobook on Audible and Amazon and iTunes. I published it in ebook and paperback formats earlier this year, but other authors keep asking me about audiobooks. So, I made one and got hands-on experience working with the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) platform that distributes to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

What did I learn?

First, you don’t need a million bucks to do this, or even a thousand. I do know some professional audiobook talents who built soundproof studios in their homes, stocked with expensive microphones and Pro Tools audio software. If you’re making a career of being voice talent, that’s the right thing to do. But if you are an author with a DIY philosophy and a limited budget, you can get a decent headset mic for $30, download Audacity software for free, and get started.

Second, Audacity has a noise-reduction tool I never used before. With a little trial and error, it helped me eliminate background hum. ACX has strict limits on the decibel level of background noise (“room tone”). I learned I live in a sea of electrical hum! Plus, my first recording efforts took place during rush hour—a terrible time to do this on a busy street like mine. I had much better results recording super late at night when all is quiet.

Third, keep a pen and paper handy while recording. Jot down all the times when you mess up or clear your throat, or when a noise interrupts you. When you edit the recording, start at the last time you marked, and work backwards. If you start at the beginning and snip out mistakes, then the subsequent times are no longer at the place you marked them, but earlier, because you’ve shortened the recording.

Fourth, listen to the whole thing after editing. I was over-confident in my editing the first time I submitted files. I sent one where I missed a major mistake involving cursing loudly and re-reading a botched paragraph. Don’t count on ACX’s quality review team to catch mistakes. They do not listen to every second of your recording. Fortunately, you can upload corrected files, but it’s slightly inconvenient. Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing before you submit files!

Fifth, if you have multiple email addresses, set up your ACX account with the same one you will use to email the ACX support team. They absolutely will not lift a finger to help you if you contact them from a different email address. I learned this the hard way. ACX is linked to my Amazon shopping login, which is also my Kindle Direct login, so I needed to change my email address at Amazon. Not a huge deal, but a little inconvenient.

Sixth, the ACX platform and ACX staff really are friendly and easy to work with. I don’t blame them for my failure to use the right email or upload the right files. Once I got my act together, everything with ACX went smooth as silk.

Seventh, the ACX book cover requirements are unique to them. If you already have a Kindle cover, or Smashwords cover, or paperback cover—guess what? You need to make yet another cover! I admit I was a little annoyed by this. As a result, I probably didn’t put enough effort into modifying my existing book cover to fit the ACX size requirement of 2400 pixels by 2400 pixels. Now that I know, I can plan ahead when I design my print and ebook covers.

Eighth, for as much effort and brain surgery as it takes to produce a decent hour of voice recording that meets quality standards, the process is fun and exciting. I may not have the perfect voice, but I do know how I want my own work to sound: the emotional tone, the inflection, and the pacing. Besides the total creative control, reading your own work aloud gives you a more intimate connection with it and understanding of it. You also gain the satisfaction of having your work in a format with even more of your personality in it than the printed page.

Ninth, what works on the printed page doesn’t always work in a reading. I discovered that although my written dialogue makes it absolutely clear who is speaking without excessive speech tags, I needed to throw in a few extra “he said” and “she said” tags in the audio version. Maybe if I had tried to work out different voices for characters, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But I haven’t got that far yet. And how silly would I sound if I did a fake female voice for female characters?

Tenth, I had no say in the audiobook’s price. This isn’t a deal breaker, but with Kindle, Smashwords, and Createspace, I control the price and can even change it after publishing, so long as it meets minimum pricing requirements. With my first audiobook, I wondered, “Where do I set the price?” Answer: I don’t! See the ACX pricing page about how your book’s length determines its price. The ACX royalties page explains how giving them exclusive audio distribution rights earns you 40%, and a non-exclusive deal earns you 25%. “Non-exclusive” means you could sell the audiobook through other channels of your choosing.

To sum it up, you can make your own audiobooks at a low production cost if you learn the ACX requirements, and if you know or can learn basic audio recording and editing. It’s a bit of work, but creatively satisfying.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! In fact, my second audiobook is now available, and I am editing sound files for my third.

 

now in print: The Baby and the Crystal Cube

The_Baby_and_the_Cry_Cover_for_Kindle

Two lucid dreamers meet in recurring dreams, fall in love, and conceive a dream baby; but the unreality of the dream world leads them to distrust each other—with nightmarish results.

A paranoid exploration of two minds dreaming the same dream, and fighting to control it.

On Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

On Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook Book.

On Apple iBooks.

now in print: Never See the Night

Never_See_the_Night_Cover_for_KindleAn interplanetary biologist locks himself in a fortified research lab with an alien octopus, stranding his teammates outside in the path of a ferocious hurricane on a water-covered world. The animal already killed one of them, and the scientist-commandos must get inside to confront it, or die in the storm.

But the octopus has plans of its own, because it just discovered a new species, too: humans.

This short story is accompanied by five recent poems from the Poetry of the Planets project.

Now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. On Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook Book. On Apple iBooks.

Use Markup Tags to Format Your Amazon Book Descriptions

Why do some book descriptions on Amazon look pretty, while others are featureless walls of text? The answer is markup tags, and you can learn to master them in minutes even without any experience in coding. Give your masterpiece the care and attention it deserves by creating a visually appealing book description.

Click here for a two-page PDF that shows you how it works!

More Awards for Nancy Addison’s Books

diabetes-and-your-diet-small-for-webI worked as a developmental editor and layout designer on Nancy Addison’s Diabetes and Your Diet, and I was thrilled to hear it  won the General Health category in the 2017 International Book Awards. The first book Nancy and I worked on together, Raising Healthy Children, was a winner in the Parenting & Family category in the 2017 International Book Awards. It also won the Mom’s Choice Award for Excellence.

 
Healthy-Veg-Cover-Best-Seller-R-FINAL-BSS for KindleNancy worked with me to edit, revise, and expand How To Be A Healthy Vegetarian, and the second edition we created was a finalist in the International Book Awards in 2016. It was also a winner in the North Texas Book Awards and a finalist in the Indie Book Awards. Plus, Nancy’s small weight-loss book I edited and laid out for print, Lose Weight, Get Healthy, and Never Have to Be on a Diet Again, was a finalist in the International Book Awards, Diet and Exercise category.

 
raising healthy children bestseller front cover for webThe biggest challenge in helping Nancy create these award-winning books is how hungry I get when I work on them! I learn a lot from her manuscripts and recipes, and she would be happy to know I’ve made many dietary changes as a result. I tell people my passion is helping authors make books that make a positive difference in people’s lives and in our world, and the first example I give them is the best-selling body of work Nancy has created during our four years together.

We’re working on the next book right now!