Creating Audio Books

Audio books are still a bit of a novelty, but the people who buy them tend to be fanatic about it. It’s a growing market, though. I’ve intended to record my novels as audio books but never got around to it. Since my non-fiction book has been published, though, I’ve gotten more than a dozen requests for an audio version.

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Waveforms are pleasing to the eye… and hopefully ear.

Who am I to say no to money?

Some caveats:

  • I’m too cheap to hire someone to do it (it can get expensive, either up front or as 50% of royalties).
  • I don’t really need to. I’ve got a decent voice and an audio set-up, plus a lot of experience in voice-over recording for short instructional videos.
  • It’s time consuming, especially for me since my voice is only good for this type of work in the morning (I get horse mid-afternoon; not so much that its bad for talking, just for recording).

I’m going to share with you my set-up, my experience, and my discoveries.

Set-Up

The old USB condenser microphone I had used to be good but got steadily worse. Sound damping tiles and backdrops didn’t do anything about the echo, so I bit the bullet and bought a Blu Snowball. When I took down the old microphone, it was sticky, so I assume some melting was going on. With the Snowball, no sound tiles, no backdrops, and the slight echo drops out with a simple noise-reduction pass.

The Snowball hangs from a suspended arm, no shock cradle (none needed). The Snowball has a USB plug and two settings: single-user and multiple-user. The Snowball Ice is cheaper and only has the single user option, which is enough for a narrator. I got the Snowball because I got a better deal than the Ice (I ordered the chrome finish but got the black finish. No biggie, no complaint), and I may do some multi-voice recordings eventually.

It’s plugged into a desktop computer with a USB connection. I can’t speak to laptops, which I’ve had poor results with in the past.

I have Adobe Audition but use Audacity as the recording software because it’s a) free and b) very easy to use.

Rather than read from a screen or e-reader, I read the hardcopy book. That means I have to cut out page turn noise, but that’s easy.

Recording a single chapter at a time, I then run noise reduction and edit the mis-reads, breaths, and page turns.

Note: An audio book is submitted in multiple files, front matter and individual chapter files separately. I nonetheless record in one big master file (and click Save a lot!).  The reason is because beyond sound reduction, I’m going to process for equalization, a hint of reverb, and normalization for all files at once. If I do so individually, it will probably be fine, but why risk it?  By keeping each on it’s one timeline, when rendering it, Audacity has a setting to render as individual files.

My Experience

It’s fun a chapter at a time. I make a number of mistakes, but I know if I’m talking too fast or slow and can do a retake easily.

You’ll never be more aware of your spit than when recording long passages. Not a problem in my shorter work, but man, managing swallows and swishing is annoying.

It’s not difficult. Just imagine reading it to a loved one (not a child IF you naturally talk down to a kid). Editing is easy, and since I edit a chapter right after recording it, I remember where the problems are.

Oddly, the hardest part is remembering to leave several seconds of silence before and after the beginning and end of the chapter.

Though recording in stereo, I have to output in mono. Just something to keep in mind.

Discoveries

  • From now on, I’m going to record the audio before publishing the print version. Sentence that are difficult to say out load can be fixed, and typos found.
  • Your audio has to perfectly match the print version to take advantage of Whispersync (this Amazon Kindle feature was very helpful to my dyslexic daughter who could listen and read at the same time to help improve reading). That makes things like footnotes difficult (you read them as endnotes instead), and visual elements such as designs, graphs, and charts are a pain.
  • The Snowball is so good that even though I stopped and waited when jets flew over the house, I found while editing that the Snowball didn’t pick up any jet noise. It only grabs what’s right in front of it.
  • I’ve gained a new understanding of learning styles. I am as non-audio as you can get. Give me visual/read/hands-on and I’m good. Tell me what to do and I’m lost. I have to keep fighting the idea that so much is being missed through audio that the printed word carries; audio learners WILL love it. Trust in that.
  • I will do my first novel as an audio book, but probably not my second novel (it’s very long).

As a writer, what do you think of audio books?

As a reader/listener, what do you think of audio books?

Editing Questions

You’ve hit the rewrite stage of your story; the first draft is done and now you must assess what you’ve got and figure out how to make it stronger.

Ask yourself these questions to prompt your rewrite.

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Red pens are for monsters…

Is it compelling?

 Evaluate your concept. Does it inspire the reader to not just wonder what happens, but does it compel the reader so they MUST FIND OUT what happens? Does your first act sing? Does the intersection of character, happenstance, and conflict force me to turn the page?

Is your entry point and POV spot on?

Who tells the story? Is it 1st person? Why? Is it 3rd person? Why? 

Have you begun the story early enough, so the reader has just enough information, and late enough that it doesn’t bog down? Why did you choose this spot to begin? Is detail parsed out as the reader needs it or is it in a big clump?

Have you crippled your characters? In storytelling, you should!

Everyone has weaknesses; everyone needs to grow and change. Have you chosen your weaknesses to compliment with other characters or conflict with them? Both are necessary; some characters will have strengths to compensate other’s weaknesses. Others should clash. Examine your main characters for compatibility and conflict.

Everyone should grow, decline or e change from beginning to end (everyone should have their own arc, some large, some small depending on the size of the role).

Is it inevitable and unavoidable?

Does the main character have to do what he/she does? If not, why doesn’t he/she quit? If characters aren’t compelled, they would quit when the going gets tough. The only reason they won’t quit is because they can’t. Are your characters isolated in some manner so they can’t ask for help? If not, why don’t they? Boundaries can be physical, mental, emotional, or relational.

Is your antagonist strong enough?

Antagonists push the protagonist to action. They up the stakes, adding suspense and tension. A weak antagonist can’t make the protagonist active.

Do your villains have a reason?

While villains don’t have to be evil, they do have to be motivated or we won’t believe them. Make it something the reader can understand so complexity increases (in Black Panther, the villain wasn’t wrong; his motives were good; his tactics were wrong).

Have you burned the Status Quo?

People must change; roles must change; THINGS must change or what’s the point of the story?

Is everyone wearing boxing gloves?

Conflict is essential to story; every scene comes alive when there is conflict. Make your people clash! We are also worlds within ourselves, so internal conflict can be compelling.

Is your prose crunchy?

Avoid vanilla language. Without overwriting, make your voice and word choices unique. It shouldn’t pull your reader out of the story, but it shouldn’t lull them to sleep, either.

Does the ending make sense?

While your ending should be inevitable and logical, it should also be surprising or satisfying. Does the ending fulfill the “question” at the beginning?

These are important rewrite questions. Use them to guide your review. You might even go so far as to use symbols, highlights, or font color to identify the heavy hitters of conflict, change, and language use. We should see those in every scene at some layer or another. If there is no conflict or change, what is the scene doing there?

2020!

Can you believe it? 2020!

Happy New Decade!

When I was kid, way back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, just the year 2000 seemed impossibly far off, and here we are in the Roaring 20s! Be on the lookout for Flappers!

The beginning of a new year is a time for goal setting. Imagine the kinds of goals you can make at the beginning of a decade?

I have a few humble suggestions for writers:

Begin and/or finish your book! (That’s a no brainer.)

Focus on building your platform!

  • Consider the subject of your book, or in fiction, your theme. Can you pitch a radio program your subject/theme as a segment or interview? If your book is about romance, you can use current events to pitch a producer around Valentine’s Day, for example, or when a celebrity is getting married. Maybe it’s about politics, so election time is your time!
  • Write articles or letters to the editor to get your name out there.
  • Be active in social media (take care to post well, never in anger, never in judgment).
  • Start a blog.
  • Follow blogs of interest and comment regularly. Eventually offer to do a guest post (bloggers always want content. I accept guest posts here.)
  • Seek low-impact speaking engagements. Schools, for example, may welcome writers for class lectures. Eventually, seek higher-impact.

Cultivate your expert relationships. If you write thrillers, you should have some police officers in your contact list who can check your facts. History writers need to know some old people! Sci-Fi writers would do well to know some scientists.

Learn about Graphic Design. Even if you don’t create your own book covers, you should be able to identify what makes a cover good and speak the basic language of the designer.

Learn Scrivener (no I don’t get paid for new buyers 😊). Low-cost writing software that facilitates most writing processes can spur you to new heights IF you know the program and don’t have to struggle with it.

Stock the pond! Get out there and live so you have something to write about with confidence and accuracy!

My goals include finishing a novella and making major progress on a non-fiction book. I hope (not a goal, an aspiration) to publish 4 new books this year (of other people).

So, what are your goals?

What’s Your Process?

As a ghostwriter and on my own projects, I’ve written 19 books. As a result, I know my process, and knowing it keeps the guilt demons at bay.

Once I finish a book, I start considering what’s next. I dither through partially written pieces and further them a bit, consider a few new things, and don’t really write all that much. Instead, I read.

And read. And read some more. I read until one of my projects demand attention. I will plink away at a few things, but until that project gets vocal, I’ll take in good reading.

Typically that means hard-copy books instead of Kindle books.

As a member of BookBub, I get free Kindle books, more than I can ever actually read but I like to have a selection so I can jump into something I’m in the mood for. But those books are hit or miss. Some are poorly written, some are great.

My in-between-project books, however, are normally best-sellers by writers I trust (which is difficult because my favorite writers are dead with new authors taking over their characters, so they get thrown into the Kindle pile due to hit-or-miss quality).

This isn’t to garner ideas, mind you, it’s a way of cleansing my mental pallet. I suspect it is a way to escape my own voice.

So right now, I’m plinking on a new non-fiction book, pushing some fiction stories forward, and awaiting the signature call to start churning again.

My plinking often consists of jotting notes in Scrivener or Scapple, another Literature and Latte program for jotting ideas freeform, then linking them. See http://www.literatureandlatte.com for an $18 app (a great after-minute gift on this day beyond Christmas).

A shot of how my mind thinks.

For me , the in-between time normally takes a couple months. Best guess is I have one more novel to read and then I’ll dive in.

I say this because that’s an intricate part of my process. I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not banging away on a new book, nor do I have to feel like “I’m not really a writer!”

What’s your process?

The Importance of Writing it Down! And DOUG!

There I was, in the midst of writer’s group, when Doug makes a comment that reminded me of a blog post I wanted to write. I thought to myself, “Make a note of it. You have a pen in your hand and pad in your lap, write it down…. Naw, I’ll remember…”

And of course, I don’t. And still don’t. Which leads to this double-pronged blog post.

First, if you get an idea, write it down. No paper or pen? Use your phone’s memo app or audio recording app.

I admit I’m not a big believer in the notepad by the bed for jotting notes about dreams. There is a pad by my bed, but the one time I tried to write a note before drifting back to sleep, it didn’t make any sense. My longhand is really bad (book signings are embarrassing), but even the words didn’t make sense. For me, bed is for sleeping. Once I nod off, I’m gone except for half-awake trips to the bathroom, playing bumper cars with the dressers and trying to figure out a pocket door. It isn’t pretty, is often noisy, and also often forgotten until my wife asks if I bruised myself slamming around last night.

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There’s an idea! A notepad with suction cups so you can take notes in the shower… wait….

Just take the cue from the thought, “No, I’ll remember” as a prompt to actually write it down.

The second prong of this post is about joining a writer’s group. A critique group is also a good idea, but our writer’s group, the Writer’s Block (because we all used to live on the same block until SOMEBODY moved away…) is an encouragement group. No judgments, no guilt-tripping unless Darin is present, just a time to discuss an aspect of writing and our own progress toward our goals.

SHOUTOUT!:  Bonnie Anderson is a winner of the NOMORIMO – National Novel Writing Month – by completing 50,000 words in November! Despite Thanksgiving (why do they do it in November???). We’re very proud of her and hope to read her work soon.

Writing can be a lonely profession, and a like on Facebook is nowhere near as good as real applause from real people. You need a group where you can share your triumphs and pitfalls. It is just too easy to listen to that crabby voice in your head; listen to encourager’s voices!

Join a group. If there aren’t any, start a group. Pick a spiffy name, create a closed Facebook group, and make a difference in an artist’s life. And when a guy named Doug spurs a thought, write it down!

Plotters and (I Hate that Word)

There are many ways to approach writing a book and they all fall into one of two buckets. The folks who outline the whole book – Plotters – and those who fly by the seat of their pants – Pantsers – and that’s the last time I’ll use that word. It’s a cruel attempt at alliteration that, IMO, doesn’t flatter either group.

First, Outliners are doing a lot more than plot, ideally they are charting character arcs and locations, selecting frames for their story. Plus “Plotter” sounds too much like “Plodder” which may be accurate and may not be.

To go along with the alliteration theme, I propose Framers and Flyers.

Both begin with an idea. The Framer considers it, develops it, and before writing begins, they outline the key points, character arcs, theme, setting, or just the high points. Everyone is a bit different.

It would be a mistake to think Flyers don’t have a framework; they do. They have a general sense of where things are going, but allow room for the characters to discover their path on their own. Flyers are more open to tangents and complete deviations.

Framers would suggest they have less rewriting time. If only it were true. Flyers believe they have a more organic approach to characterization. That isn’t true, either.

Flyers will still make notes, keep their outline in their head, and dive in.

Framers hold back, figuring out timelines and turns, and don’t dip their toes until they’re set.

Scrivener 3 for macOS Released
So many good things start with S.

Either way is good. I’m more of a flyer in fiction, discovering the story and theme as I go. In non-fiction, I’ll generally figure out the chapter names before writing, some key points, which edges me over to Framer.

Don’t get hung up on being one or the other. If you have to Frame, frame with joy! If you prefer to Fly, fly free!

If you’re half Framer and half Flyer, that’s OK too. I’ve found Scrivener to be a happy place for all of us. (I’m following their continuing saga of getting Scrivener 3 for Windows out. They’ve been promising all year and now it’s some time early in 2020. I’ll download the Beta soon, just to have a look).

What I love about Scrivener is the corkboard view where notecards for each scene/chapter/whatever are found. Each notecard consists of a name, description, and as a springboard to the content. You can create notecards as you go, create a bunch in no particular order, or give them an order and rearrange when the time is right.

I think in notecards, but that wouldn’t be enough to move me from Word. What does jump me to Scrivener is the ability to keep things in one place. I develop characters as I go, and Scrivener helps me keep track of them. I’ve got a lousy memory, so having name and character description handy is important to me.

The rich ecosystem of Scrivener can free the Framer and stick the Flyer in an organic fashion the Flyer so loves.

The trick is learning Scrivener. They have tutorials. You can use it at a surface level or dig deep into the features. The best thing is that it’s cheap. Other programs run hundreds of dollars. Scrivener is around $45 and worth every penny. Check it out at www.literatureandlatte.com and feed the Framer or Flyer in you. It’s a great Christmas present!

Give the Gift of Adventure!

There were two times a year that I looked forward to as a kid when it came to reading. The beginning of the school year when we got the Scholastic order form was the first. My parents were the most generous people on the planet because I’d come home with almost every book checked. They always got them for me. They’d come in a tall stack (20 to 30 books), and for the next couple weeks I was consumed. Books are always an adventure (mine can’t help but reflect that).

The second was Christmas. When my parents realized that I was ready for adult-level books by sixth-grade, they began to give me their favorite books, some from the 40’s, some contemporary, many before I’d read them :).

They also joined book clubs left and right (so did I back when money was available). Today, my sisters have boxes of books they ship from house to house (the worst thing about living 3000 miles away).

Here we are a Christmas and I’d be remiss not to remind you of the amazing possibilities that Prevail Press offers.

Books that are a True Gift!

Got kids?  For the grade schoolers, may I suggest Always Look for the Magic by Bonnie Manning Anderson, and Do Angels Still Fall? by Robert Alexander Swanson (me; and parents, read with your kids!).

Teenagers? How about Me and the Maniac in Outer Space also by me.

Married, young or… not so young? To encourage romance, Cherishing Us! by Tom and Debi Walter, and to encourage longevity, 7 Essentials to Grow Your Marriage by Steve and Cindy Wright.

Ladies who love historical fiction? We have Through the Eyes of Grace by Debi Walter.

Artists? Creativity Wears Boots by me again. Or Faces and Fantasy, a coloring book by Dawn Davidson.

Christians wanting to grow? Against the Current – Biblical Worldview, a Guide to Culture Change our newest book by Bill Hufford, and So Many Mountains, Which Ones to Climb? What Really Matters in Church Life by Aron Osborne.

Get the whole stack! They look great on a book shelf (you should see mine!)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Decade!

A unique publisher who is Author-Centric and Reader-Sensitive