My first audiobook is finally uploaded…I’ll have to wait a month for it to be checked to see if it’s OK, but for the moment, I feel like this:
My first audiobook is finally uploaded…I’ll have to wait a month for it to be checked to see if it’s OK, but for the moment, I feel like this:
I’m a big fan of the punch and roll method of correcting mistakes, which saves hours when re-recording. I’m delighted when I find that I had the common sense to immediately narrate a section again if I mucked it up, as I sound exactly the same.
Using Punch and Record for audiobooks
Narrating my first audiobook has been a steep learning curve. One is forced to become a geek playing around with effects and spacing of words, sentences and paragraphs. I know my story by heart after twelve weeks of listening to it!
If you decide to narrate your own book and are worried about the ACX quality control check, there’s useful advice on Reddit and Quora:
Audiobook Creation Exchange: ACX.com – Quora
I offer a few thoughts and tips in this post about narrating, mastering and the process of uploading sound files to ACX.
Recording a story is an informative way of learning a lot of things about your writing. When reading to yourself or out loud, your brain plays tricks by adding missing words and ignoring repetition. Audacity is free to use and you could use your computer’s microphone to record. Listening to your work reveals errors and problems in pacing.
I was mortified to discover two major mistakes that I hadn’t noticed in 100 editing trawls, where I’d misnamed the murder victim and then sent a detective to two different locations at the same time in one chapter.
I’m pleased to have completed my first audiobook. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders once I’d uploaded the final sound file to ACX, and they sent me a confirmation email. I adore writing new stories, but while creating an audiobook, I didn’t feel like a writer. Learning how to narrate a book develops an awareness of how you breathe and lots of voice acting techniques, but after you’ve recorded and mastered the same passage nine times you’ll feel trapped.
It’s certainly masochistic.
ACX is the place where your audiobook is assessed to decide if it’s of good enough quality to be admitted to Audible—KDP’s talking book operation.
Your recorded story sound files could pass ACX plugins, but still be rejected after a living person listens to it. You might have to wait a month for that decision, as they have a backlog of work because during lockdown many frustrated writers decided to complete that book they’d abandoned, then recording and uploading it to generate income.
The ACX website looks clear and helpful, but it’s poor at giving information about the audiobook cover. This has to be of a square format, at least 2,400 x 2,400 pixels. I use IrfanView image viewing and manipulating converter, which is basic enough for me to understand without confusion. It’s good at altering the size of an image unless it’s to a square! After much teeth-gnashing, I found a superb app to resize an image to whatever dimensions you need:
Online Image Resizer – Crop, Resize & Compress Images, Photos and Pictures for FREE
How to upload to ACX feels like a secret if you look for information on their site. This video helped allay my confusion:
As George Smolinski explains, to upload your sound files, you have to attach your audiobook to the KDP eBook by claiming the rights to it. Doing this usefully downloads the chapter headings you used in the eBook (NB some may be repeated…don’t know why, but it made me panic, thinking I’d done this in the eBook—I hadn’t!) so you can place your sound file in the right place.
You can’t upload an audiobook without already having the eBook version on KDP.
Remember: each chapter is a separate sound file, and the opening credits (title, place in a series, name of author and name of narrator) and the closing credits (usually just The End) are each in a sound file, as is the Retail Audio Sampler…an up to five-minute snippet used to promote the book. The order I uploaded was as presented to me: Opening Credits, the 50 chapters, Closing Credits, then the Retail Audio Sampler.
It took me about 90 minutes, but that might be affected by how busy the site is. My book was eight hours, thirty-eight minutes duration.
Before doing all of this, you need to provide your financial information, which will likely be the same as you gave when joining KDP. I did everything myself, so it was relatively easy to complete, but if you employed a narrator and a sound engineer, you’ll need their details.
I guess that creating my first audiobook is an achievement, but, as with anything in writing, if no one knows it exists as a product no one is going to buy it.
Thus, I’m returning to self-promotion.
Onwards and…where the hell am I going next?!
One thing this lark has shown me is why the voice of a narrator varies ever so slightly between sections of a chapter. It’s because of re-recording. I’ve found that it’s more likely I’ll get away with it if there’s dialogue in between my narration.
I’m in the final stages of fettling my recordings. For reasons that I don’t understand some sound files (each chapter is a sound file) that previously passed the ACX plugin test were now failing it. All the effects I’d used before to make things right now didn’t work. After taking a break to prevent myself putting a fist through the laptop screen, I chanced upon the solution!
This worked for me:
These instructions are in short-form: Location > Tool: Options > OK
Select the whole reading or chapter by clicking just right of the up arrow button (on the left).
Effect > Filter Curve > Manage > Factory Presets > Low roll-off for speech > OK.
Effect > RMS Normalize: Target RMS Level -20dB > OK.
Effect > Limiter: Soft Limit, 0, 0, -3.5dB, 10, No > OK.
Analyze > ACX-Check.
Once the Audacity aup files have satisfied the ACX check, they can be converted to MP3 format. Create a folder on your desktop labelled MP3. The conversion is easily done in the latest version of Audacity by clicking:
File > Export > Export as MP3. Send the files to your MP3 folder. Remember, opening credits and closing credits (The End) need to be in separate files. The opening credits need to be the same as those on your eBook.
While doing this, a newsletter came in from ACX. It told of one new and one recent quality control tests. The latest is called Audio Lab, whilst Audio Analysis has been around for a few months. So far as I can see, Audio Lab is simply an expansion of the ACX plugin to be used when you’re finished, whilst Audio Analysis is aimed at those unsure of settings and their microphone for them to check what they’re recorded so far.
* Audio Lab – Sound Check: Audio Lab Launches on ACX
* Audio Analysis – ACX Audio Analysis Tool FAQ’s
As you can tell from my recent posts, narrating, editing and mastering an audiobook takes a long time and is exasperating.
My recorded chapters have passed the ACX check, the Audio Lab and Audio Analysis without any problems, but they could still fail at the Human Quality Control. There are hundreds of ways of mastering what you’ve recorded and yet, there’s this dire warning on the ACX website:
Human Quality Control at ACX (the theatrical test after you pass ACX-Check technical test) does not like heavy processing. You should be as gentle as you can with as few corrections as possible. Don’t even think of submitting readings that sound like a bad cellphone, speaking into a wineglass or reading in a bathroom.
The AudioBook metaphor is listening to someone telling you a story over cups of tea. Anything that distracts from that ideal should be avoided.
They don’t define what “few corrections” means! How few? 🙄
I’m in the final stages of getting my first audiobook ready to upload to ACX, the vetting arm of Audible.
The pervading sensation of narrating, mastering and preparing the project to fit ACX’s requirements is of seemingly endless repetition. I haven’t felt like a writer for the last four months, more a slave to the process. Fine-tuning a short paragraph that can be read in 90 seconds might take ten minutes initially, then another ten minutes weeks later when I realised that, for some reason, I’d speeded up my narration and it sounds wrong.
Yesterday, I finally completed re-recording ten sections where my voice altered. These were all parts in which I’d re-recorded a sentence and spliced it into a paragraph. This doesn’t work! Re-recording the whole paragraph and maybe those before and after it is the way to go if you want to maintain continuity as a narrator. It takes more time, but it works.
Last night, I spent a dispiriting couple of hours converting the sound files for 50 chapters from Audacity’s aup format to MP3. Fortunately, it’s easy to do, as the latest version of Audacity includes a converter that exports the files in MP3. But, it’s repetitive and time-consuming. Those words again!
ACX only accepts audiobooks in separate sound files for each chapter, with separate files for the opening credits—title, place in a series and author and narrator (these should be the same as the eBook)—and end credits, which are simply The End. I’ll be uploading them today. Although my sound files passed an Audacity ACX plugin check, this is no guarantee they’ll be acceptable after being listened to by their robot or even a living and breathing human being. It might take them a month to get back to me.
To add to the fun, ACX requires an audiobook cover in a square size of no less than 2,400 x 2,400 pixels….similar to how a CD cover looks. The cover that I designed for the eBook is paperback-shaped, so unacceptable. For continuity, I wanted to use the same seagull I’d used for the eBook and POD paperback. I found those designs straight away, but it took me an hour to track down the original photograph, which I had the presence of mind (thanks, brain!) to save on Google’s Drive.
Faffing about with IrfanView, I made a couple of versions for the audiobook.
Since returning to creative writing in 2013, I’ve done every aspect of the work involved to produce and publish a book myself. This was partly down to my cantankerous nature and poverty.
It costs a small fortune to hire experts to create an audiobook. Unless you’re wealthy, forget hiring famous actors or voice actors (who might do voice-overs for commercials as well) or experienced narrators with a good track record of sales.
It’s advised that debut narrators charge a minimum of $80/£61 an hour, meaning my eight and a half hour novel would have cost me $680/£518 to be told by someone as unknown as me! Once more experienced at narrating, audio experts suggest a rate of $225/£174 per 10,000 words, meaning my 80,000-word book would cost $1,800/1,392.
Well-known narrators charge much more.
But, what would you do if you hated the end result?
There are ways of saving money, by sharing the profits with the narrator:
Then, you’ve got the expense of mastering your recorded sound files by an experienced audio engineer. That would be a minimum of $1,000/£772…likely two or three times more for 80,000 words.
As you can see, the expenses mount up, but paying experts will save you a lot of heartache and time. I’m proud of my first audiobook, but it’s taken me four months to reach a point where I think it’s ready to publish. I’ve done no creative writing since April.
If you’re interested in creating an audiobook, take a look at this:
How long does it take to produce an audiobook? – Quora
Should you venture down this rocky trail remember to back up your work! You will devote hundreds of hours to narrating and mastering the recordings. Do you really want to do it all again?
I’ve long stated that “I don’t know what I’m doing” when it comes to writing. I’ve said this, while still believing in my ability to pen stories that have the power to entertain and maybe make readers think differently about a situation.
The act of creating a story is joyful to me. Whatever its fate, that a new story exists is vastly better than having it rattling around inside my head! But, the joy is shrouded in doubt. It’s the nature of creation that I wonder how effective my hard work has been…and that requires the judgement of readers—who may never learn of my book unless I’m nifty at marketing and self-promotion.
Having just self-published the first four stories of my Cornish Detective series on Amazon KDP Select, I’m facing just that challenge.
I don’t know what I’m doing about how best to use social media and attract subscribers to my two blogs/websites Paul Pens and The Cornish Detective,
but I’m going to embrace that uncertainty. It feels like gathering fog into my arms.
I was pondering my confusion when a newsletter from Austin Kleon arrived.
Titled Teach your tongue to say I don’t know...Austin Kleon describes how doubt is crucial to make progress.
I like this advice from Mike Monteiro:
“The secret to being good at anything is to approach it like a curious idiot, rather than a know-it-all genius.”
As one year dribbles down Time’s plughole and a new year bubbles forth, I’m as confused as I’ve ever been about writing and the convoluted world of publishing.
But, what does it matter?
The work’s the thing!
Don’t you agree?
Brâncuşi is best known for his sculpture The Kiss:
Whatever you think of Amazon, as a customer or as a seller, there’s no denying their power and influence. Kindle Direct Publishing is a force that would be foolish to ignore, though I resisted fully committing to them by only using their basic KDP programme, rather than the exclusive Select operation—which pays double the royalties—but is more restrictive of the writer.
As I’ve described in other threads, I was preparing to sign with Select this summer, when a publisher I’d queried asked for a full manuscript. I’ve delayed my plans to self-publish The Cornish Detective series, but have still formatted the books for digital and POD paperback release. More of that later.
This article from The Atlantic is well-researched and worth a read, as it shows how irresistible KDP is as a publisher. It used to be, that one of the supposed stumbling blocks with KDP was that a writer’s books wouldn’t appear in bookshops, other than Amazon’s own, and supermarkets and libraries, but that’s slowly changing.
There are best-selling authors on Amazon, who you’ve likely never heard of, who outsell household names and have become millionaires from their books. But, one household name, crime writer Dean Koontz recently signed a five-book deal with Thomas & Mercer, the Crime division of Amazon Publishing. A sign of changing attitudes, surely? If a best-selling author has gone over to what was once seen as the enemy of traditional publishing, then how long before others join him?
I’ve decided to join Select with the 45 titles I’ve had on KDP and distributed to other vendors via Smashwords and Draft2Digital for the last six years. They are volumes of poetry and song lyrics, for adults and children, short stories and novellas. This will be as much an experiment to find how Select works, as it is a way of raising income from sales. KDP promote Select books, pretty much ignoring those on KDP.
All of my thinking since 2013 has been geared towards publishing eBooks. I wasn’t driven by seeing my book in printed physical form. But, if I’m going with Select, it makes sense to join their print-on-demand option. This used to be called CreateSpace, but now goes by KDP Print. The transition since 2018 has not been without its problems, as I found when attempting to format my Cornish Detective manuscripts.
I started doing this as an optimistic move, some light relief from attempting to recover access to my WordPress website, which was making me mad, so when I encountered resistance from KDP Print I swore a lot!
The pages describing how to edit your manuscript to conform with requirements about bleed, margins, headers, pagination, trim size, section breaks, front matter, end matter and lots of other things you hadn’t thought of, are helpful.
When I first looked at the templates they provide I was mightily impressed, for with a bit of tinkering, I could adjust blocks of text on the cover to suit and it’s easy to upload the image I designed for the eBook as a cover.
I was encouraged by several instruction videos on YouTube, including this one, which shows how your book could look:
Easy peasy, right? I followed the instructions, replacing the Latin placeholder text with my author bio and blurb, clicking on Save to move to the next step. Except, it didn’t save, it disappeared! I tried several more times, usually getting strange colourful horizontal lines instead of text, though sometimes nothing happened at all. Don’t you just love it, when sites ignore you?
Fed up with big companies that promise you the world but shove you in the ditch, I searched KDP help forums, finding that many others were also facing opposition from the templates. One user mentioned having success by switching from Chrome to another browser. I tried the template in Mozilla Firefox and it worked perfectly!
Despite this glitch, Amazon encourages a writer to produce the best-looking paperback possible, by an online preview service, and also, you can order proof copies.
Have any of you published your books on KDP, Select or POD?
How did you get on?
Writing guru Jane Friedman has made a useful chart describing the features of different ways to publication:
The PDF download is larger and easier to read with a magnifying glass feature.
One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in the last six years is the attitude of big publishers towards eBooks. In 2013, those companies that issued a digital version of a print book, priced it the same or even more expensive, even though it cost them virtually nothing to store and distribute—unlike hard copies, which need warehouses, lorries and staff to handle. It almost felt like the Big 5 still secretly harboured a hatred of eBooks and were trying to kill them off by making them unaffordable.
More recently, several long-established publishers have opened imprints to promote digital sales, staffed by experienced and enthusiastic marketers. They often publish genre fiction by debut authors, which looks commercial but is still too risky to send to the printers. I think they’re still charging too much, which is why staying Indie is attractive to me, as I can ask as little as £1.99 on KDP Select to lure readers. Changing the price is as easy as a few mouse clicks. I can give my eBooks away for free for five days of every 90-day contract, to help promote sales. I haven’t heard of any mainstream digital publishers who’ll allow this.
While preparing to self-publish on KDP Select, I came across several articles about Amazon UK’s Kindle Storyteller Award, which has been running since 2017.
The details are:
Closing date: 31st August 2019
Entry: Writers of 18 or over publishing in English in any genre, who publish their work through Kindle Direct Publishing between 1st May and 31 August 2019. No entry fee.
Prize: Grand Prize £20,000 cash, publishing agreement with Amazon Publishing and Amazon launch.
The Kindle Storyteller Award 2019 is a £20,000 literary prize recognising outstanding writing. It is open to writers publishing in English in any genre, who publish their work through Kindle Direct Publishing between 1st May and 31 August 2019. There are some specific exclusions in the Terms and Conditions, which need careful reading.
Readers play a significant role in selecting the winner, helped by a panel of judges including various book industry experts. One judge is Mariella Frostrup.
The Kindle Storyteller 2019 writing contest is open for entries between 1st May 2019 and 31st August 2019. Books must be written in English, previously unpublished and be available as an eBook and in print via Kindle Direct Publishing. The winning author will receive a £20,000 cash prize and be recognised at a central London award ceremony. Finalists will receive a Kindle Oasis Reader.
It’s an exciting opportunity, but one that will favour writers of commercial fiction, rather than literature. Potentially, Amazon could film your story, turning it into a movie or a series:
Still, with my nose to the grindstone, I should be ready to self-publish on KDP Select next week. I rather regret that I won’t be on Amazon in time for their Prime days tomorrow and Tuesday, but, as I feared, it’s taking a while to get my eBooks removed from sales vendors that D2D distributed them to…KDP Select demands exclusivity.
Although my manuscripts, cover designs, synopses and blurb are all ready, I’ve been bogged down in expanding my online author platform, something I wish I’d worked steadily on over the last few years, rather than being faced with a colossal amount of work now. For instance, I’ve spent the last week sharing posts from my writing blog Paul Pens and The Cornish Detective website to their equivalent Facebook pages. That’s 420 posts that needed to be mouse-clicked one by one, each transfer taking about 2-3 minutes. It’s as boring as it sounds, feeling like nothing to do with writing.
I’ve said it before on this blog, but most of what we do as authors is speculative. Nothing feels more based on conjecture and potentially a waste of time than designing a blog and website that no one may look at.
I’ve learned all sorts of things about SEO to make my posts appear in search results more often. I was happily ignorant of most of these techniques at the beginning of the year. While working on my sites, I put them in maintenance mode, so they weren’t showing as searchable. I finished Paul Pens first, making it live three weeks ago. Determined not to become neurotic about receiving likes and comments for my articles, I was still a little puzzled that no one appeared to be looking at my blog.
Randomly clicking on site icons one night—what’s that one do?—I finally rang the notifications bell I should have been dinging all along, to find that 100 people had left feedback. Proof that I miss the obvious.
Although bored witless recently, I remain optimistic about signing to KDP Select, which I’ve been wary of for the last six years. It could be that my lament about Where Is My Competition, Where Is My Prize? has finally been answered with Amazon UK’s Literary KDP Storyteller Award. I’m not so arrogant that I think I might win, but it’s a chance at fame and fortune that makes me feel upbeat.
It certainly beats querying literary agents!
“I enjoy self-publishing & sending publishers rejection letters. They’re like, ‘Who is this guy?’ And I’m like, ‘the end of your industry.'”
Ryan Lilly: Write Like No One Is Reading
Self-publishing is evergreen. Your book can always be in print via POD or available as an eBook. You can edit it, alter the cover or reissue it under a pen name.
The goal of many authors, to be accepted by a literary agent who touts your book around publishers has drawbacks you may not have thought of. A publisher can change your characters’ names, alter the plot and saddle it with a book cover design that’s ugly and irrelevant. Your newly published book has a shelf life of six weeks in a bookshop. If it doesn’t sell, it’s in the cut-price bin or remaindered, meaning it’s sent back to the publisher to be pulped.
If you self-publish, your earnings are higher than for comparable sales from a traditional publishing contract. I’m about to sign up to Amazon’s KDP Select programme, which offers 70% royalties + whatever I make from page reads as part of their Unlimited option. Even with their ordinary KDP authors are paid 35% of retail. Select means giving Amazon exclusivity for 90 days, meaning I can’t sell my books directly from my website, but I’m free to take a break from Select once the three-month period is over to go fully Indie—meaning I’d earn 100% of whatever sales I make.
Compare that to traditional publishing, which might pay an author $1-$2 for each book sold, those payments coming twice a year in arrears:
It’s odd how we admire musicians who release their records on their own labels, and we praise Indie filmmakers who get interesting projects financed and made, yet many people still look down their noses at writers who self-publish. It’s damned hard work to get everything together in a way that looks professional, as I can attest.
These days, it’s not the case that your publisher will do the bulk of the work in promoting their author clients—you’ll be expected to do all the things a self-publishing author does—establishing an online author platform, including blogging, running a website with a newsletter and posting on social media.
You don’t have a job for life with a book company. If your books don’t sell, you’ll be dropped. It’s better to be an unpublished writer, who might be the next big thing than to be shuffled aside as a failed author with a poor track record. Self-publishing is an attractive alternative. You can do so swiftly, not waiting up to two years before your book appears on a shelf. Most of the earnings are yours, not your publishers. If one book doesn’t sell well, there’s no stigma attached to you. Publish another one! You rule.
There have been some spectacular success stories for authors who started off self-publishing, such as Andy Weir, E.L. James, Adam Croft and James Oswald.
There are drawbacks. It’s difficult to get physical copies of your masterpiece into bookshops, though the way that independent stores are reinventing themselves, including focusing on local writers, that situation is changing. Bear in mind, though, that should you manage to distribute your titles, it will be on a sales or return basis, with you paying shipping expenses. Another potential expense is paying for your book to be displayed prominently with the store. Few readers realise that the reason James Patterson novels are all over the shop, including at the till, is that his publisher has bought those spaces.
Your local library system will stock digital and POD versions of your work—a great way of getting your name known.
I’m not expecting miracles from self-publishing my Cornish Detective series with Amazon. I have six years of experience publishing on Smashwords and Draft2Digital, so I know how many authors are doing the same thing as me. Amazon does more to promote sales, but it’s still a steep learning curve.
What do you think of self-publishing?
Do you buy eBooks to read?
With your own books, is it traditional publishing only or the bottom drawer forever?
I’m currently having my own crisis of conscience about doing business with an unscrupulous corporation, and this article on the Plagiarism Today website does little to reassure me:
In 2018, Jeff Bezos stated that his company would eventually fail:
His prediction struck me as wise in an Ozymandias way:
But, it neatly deflected attention from criticism that Amazon was expanding too fast and needed to be more tightly regulated owing to their absurd power over markets—it’s reckoned that 48% of all online sales in the USA in 2019 will be from Amazon.
If you’re crushing the opposition as a business, there may well be bargains for buyers, but there are detrimental knock-on effects. In Cornwall, where I live, I know of many high streets that are plagued with empty shop units, owing to a huge supermarket being built on the edge of town.
Amazon, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have been criticized for plagiarism and promoting extreme, offensive and illegal viewpoints. Attempting to police what’s uploaded to their sites is difficult. The Plagiarism Today article mentions a figure of 3,000 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every hour. Who’s going to watch such vast amounts of footage on social media sites to decide if it contravenes regulations?
The answer is low-paid workers who wind up with PTSD:
Such hideousness makes any concerns I have pale into insignificance, but as writers, we should still be watchful.
Really, there’s not a lot we can do to prevent someone ripping us off by plagiarising our books, certainly if it happens in a foreign language. I’ve previously mentioned how an author acquaintance was told by friends travelling in India and China that her MG stories had been counterfeited. One of her friends had designed the book covers, which she noticed on a market stall, the heads changed to have Asian features. They were also available on Amazon.
Although I’ve had profiles on most social media sites for a long time, I’m currently delving into the intricacies of how they work. Facebook bewilders me in many ways, for it operates in a slow and obstructive way, yet as a parasite trading on the insecurities of users who post content for free adding to Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth it’s a brilliant con trick—as well as being an intelligence agency that rivals the FBI, CIA and MI5.
I’m also in the process of building a business page on Facebook for my crime novels, which I’ve put in maintenance mode, so it’s not searchable. This state is agitating Facebook, who keep on reminding me to make it go live, as well as pushing me to buy ad space. It’s fun baiting them!
Whatever you do on social media, don’t overshare. A friend was burgled last year, after revealing she was going away for two weeks holiday. She’d previously posted many photos showing her house, its windows, its door locks, no nearby neighbours and no burglar alarm. She had contents insurance, but her insurers checked her Facebook presence and only offered a partial payout.
How much do you use YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon?
Has it been to your benefit as a person and as a writer?