Saturday, June 5, 2021

Listen Here


 

I can hardly believe that FLASH IN THE DARK is my 25th book produced on Audible. My very first Audible book, Smoky Mountain Tracks was produced and narrated in 2014 by Donna Postel, who has since gone on to narrate eighteen more books for me, including Flash in the Dark. That first audiobook not only changed my life by making my Raine Stockton Dog Mysteries available to a much wider audience than I ever imagined, it changed the way I write.

Before I heard Donna reading my words I was frankly a little baffled as to why people even liked Raine Stockton.  But when I heard Donna’s dry, sometimes self-deprecating and often humorous take on Raine’s character, I suddenly got it.  By George, I actually liked Raine a little better myself.  Since then, whenever I write a Raine Stockton mystery, it’s Donna’s voice I hear in my head.  She has become, in my mind and in the minds of thousands of readers, the voice of Raine Stockton. The same became true when she took over the Dogleg Island/Flash series.  Ryan Grady, Aggie Malone and Flash are entirely different characters and the tone of these books is not at all the same as that of the previous mystery series, but she has managed to put her unique stamp on the voices of Dogleg Island as well.  And I’m not ashamed to say she made me cry with Flash in the Dark.  

These days when I write a book I am acutely aware, not only of how my words read on paper, but how they will sound.  I use more dialogue tags to identify the speaker, because its often difficult for a listener to determine who is talking without them.  I am trying very hard to eliminate my bad habit of writing sentences with long pathetical asides.  After all, there are no parentheses on audio.  I try, although I’m not always successful, not to give characters names that sound alike, because they’re difficult to distinguish on audio.  Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned to keep the movie that’s generated in my listeners’ heads going without interruption by emphasizing the drama and minimizing long narrative sections. I think all of this has made me a better writer.

Personally, I love audiobooks.  They are all I listen to when I’m on a long drive, and I always have one going when I start a big project around the house, like painting a room or finishing floors.  I actually started my local library’s first collection of audiobooks back in the nineties by donating my books-on-tape after I’d listened to them.  They proved to be so popular with library patrons that audiobooks became a regular budget item for the library within a couple of years.   The most common question I get from readers when I release a new print book is, “When will it be out on Audible?”   The second most common question is, “Why does it take so long for the audio version?”  If you really want to know the answer to that question, read on (it’s a lot!).  Here’s how it works:

Audible has set up a website for authors, publishers, narrators and producers called ACX.  If your book is available on Amazon, all you have to do is type in the title and the search engine will find it for you. Obviously, you have to own the rights to the book you’re seeking to produce.   You will then be asked whether you already have a recording of your book, or if you’re looking for someone to record it for you. Most people who come to ACX are looking for someone to produce and narrate their book for them (in the lexicon of ACX, “producer” and “narrator” are the same thing).  Once you click “looking for a narrator” you will fill out a brief questionnaire about your book and about what you’re looking for in a narrator—male or female, young or old, what kind of accent, what kind of storytelling style.  They make it really easy for you!  You will then set your budget.  This is where it gets interesting.

Back in the old days, taking a book from print to voice was a major undertaking that cost publishers tens of thousands of dollars, which is why only very successful books by bestselling authors were regularly distributed on audio. This is still the case with some traditional publishers.  But ACX gives publishers a choice of what they want to spend—which is, in return, tied to how much royalty they’ll be paid. You basically have two options: Pay the producer/narrator either by sharing your royalties when they start to come in or with a one-time payment of her fee.  Most producers charge $200-$400 per finished hour, so if your book is 10 hours long you will owe $2000--$4000.  Or, if that’s beyond your budget, ACX offers the option of allowing you to contract with one of their producers who is willing to take a smaller amount up front to cover production costs, and share the royalties with you 50/50.  If even that is beyond your means, there is always the option of doing a strict royalty share and offering nothing up front.  Be warned, producers who are willing to accept that offer are few and far between, but it’s entirely possible that, if your book is already selling well in print, someone will be willing to take a chance on you.  Audible pays 40% royalty to the author for exclusive distribution rights, and 25% if you want to retain the right to sell your audiobook to other venues.  Your audiobook will be sold on Amazon, Audible and I-Tunes websites.

Once you’ve decided how you want to pay for the production (and get paid),  ACX will calculate approximately how many hours long your book will be and you’ll decide how much you’re willing to pay the producer per hour.  ACX  helps with this, too.  You then submit 1-2 pages from your book for the audition, and the information about your book and your payment offer goes out to all the narrators who have signed up with ACX. There are over half a million of them.  Those who are interested will send you an audition, and that’s where the fun begins!

Once you’ve listened to all the auditions and chosen the narrator who best suits your vision for the book, you will offer a formal contract (prepared by ACX) specifying how much you’ll pay, and when you need your project completed.  Assuming your offer is accepted, you will send the final, as-published version of your manuscript and the audiobook is officially “in production”. Keep in mind that your producer may not be able to get to your book right away, so it’s important that you negotiate a deadline that suits you both.   The best producers can be booked six months to a year in advance (yes, that’s why it takes so long to get an audiobook out!) so if you don’t want to wait, you may not get your first choice.

The narrator/producer will submit the first fifteen minutes of your book for your approval so that you can spot any potential problems with accents,  pronunciations, etc. that might slow down the process.   Once this is approved, the next you hear from your producer will be when the manuscript is completed. For a 10 hour audiobook, 100 hours or more of actual work can go into it.  The producer not only records and formats the book, she also hires a proofreader who actually reads the manuscript as he is listening to it to make sure every word and sentence sounds on audio exactly as it was written. Despite the enormous amount of time and effort that goes into production,  I have never had the process of recording the book take longer than 45 days once work is begun.  The audiobook will then be submitted to the author for approval, and you will have one of the most amazing experiences your life—hearing your own words read out loud.

ACX allows two re-records in case you spot mistakes in your audiobook, but I never ask a producer to re-record something unless the mistake materially effects the story—i.e., a wrong character name is used or an essential word is left out  (if “She was not guilty” is read “She was guilty” I’d ask for a re-do).  I like to take a whole weekend to listen to my book, so it sometimes takes me a week to approve it.  When you’re satisfied with your audiobook, you check “approved” on the web page, upload your cover art if you have not done so already, and pay your producer (assuming you’ve chosen to pay a flat fee instead of a royalty share).  Most producers accept PayPal, but some are members of the Screen Actors Guild or other organizations that have different payment protocols.  ACX will not  release your book until the producer acknowledges payment, so any delay here will keep your book out of listeners’ hands.

But wait!  The process is still not finished.  The good people at ACX will now check your audiobook for technical errors and production quality, and—as I understand it—have an actual human listen to the book all the way through to make sure it meets their standards.  This can take from 10 to 30 days.  This is another reason it takes so long to get an audiobook out, but it is an essential part of the process.    

All told, from the time you list your book on ACX to the time it appears on Amazon as an Audible edition—and assuming everything moves along without a glitch—you’re looking at six weeks (rare!)  to six months.  Having worked for seven years now with the same producer, I can usually count on getting Audible editions into the hands of listeners in 2-3 months after I contact her.   And when you consider all that goes in to producing an audiobook, this is lightning speed.

It is also, in my opinion, worth every minute of the wait.

Now on Audible


Monday, February 8, 2021

Essentially...

Back at the beginning of the 2020 lockdowns, a reader wrote to thank me for the few hours of distraction my latest book had provided (love to get those kinds of e-mails!).  She concluded by saying “You are an essential worker, too.”  I was deeply touched and flattered, then somewhat astonished as more letters echoing that sentiment began to come in.    We all know what an important part of our lives books are, but essential on the same level as groceries and UPS deliveries?  I’d never really thought about it before.

As the global crisis wore on…and on…and on, I came to understand for myself just how essential books, and the people who write them, are.  They provide more than an escape when life spins out of control.  They provide engagement in times of isolation, friends in times of loneliness, hope in the face of despair.  They give us something to look forward to when it sometimes feels as though there is literally nothing else.

I recall a conversation many years ago with the librarian of our small town.  She agonized over having to go to the county commissioners in an effort to persuade them to give her money for the library that might otherwise go to essential services like the fire department or EMTs.  “I know they’re saving lives,” she said, “but I’m trying to save the things that make life worth living.”

I’d like to take this opportunity to salute all the books (and the writers who created them!) that made life worth living this past year. Like most of you, I read many more than can be listed here, but here are a few of the ones that really took me away from it all, the ones that were hard to put down and that I couldn’t wait to get back to—in other words, the perfect pandemic reading.  Maybe you’d like to check some of them out!

Devoted by Dean Koontz

No Exit by Taylor Adams

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

 Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Rumor by Leslie Kara

One by One by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Camino Winds by John Grisham

  Which essential books saved your sanity this past year?

 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Finally!




Looking back on previous launch-day posts, I realize that they almost always begin with “Finally!” or “At Last!” I always feel as though I’m making my readers wait too long for the next book, and, according to the e-mails I get, they feel that way too.   This book is no different.  It seems as though I’ve been working on Flash in the Dark forever, but it’s actually only been a year.  The fact that the year was 2020 may have colored my perception, but I can honestly say it was the longest year of my life.

One of the basic tenets of mystery writing is to maintain suspense.  Always keep the reader anxious to find out what happens next, whether it’s in the next paragraph, the next chapter, or, sometimes, the next book.  The downside of this is that when you leave readers wondering what happens next, you eventually have to tell them.

In Flash of Brilliance an evil character is introduced and the suggestion is made that he may be related to our protagonist.  In Pieces of Eight, we come closer to finding out the true identity of this character, and what his motivations might be. Given that there has been an average of 18 months between each book, readers have been incredibly patient waiting to have their questions answered.    In Flash in the Dark,    it all comes together—all the tiny puzzle pieces find their places, all the questions find their answers, nothing is left unfinished.  It took a while to figure out.  It wasn’t easy.  But it’s finished.  Finally.

A lot happens in Flash in the Dark, and in fact, this is the longest of all the Dogleg Island mysteries.  Pete and Lorraine welcome a new family member.  Aggie finally gets the answers about her father she has sought.  Grady unearths a dangerous plot orchestrated by a secret organization with sinister connections to the past. Angelo’s true identity is revealed.  The citizens of Dogleg Island rise up to meet a crisis that will leave each one of them forever changed. And Flash, whose only goal has always been to protect and serve the people he loves, learns new lessons about the state of humanity and its ever-evolving complexity.  It took a lot of words to bring all of this together.  But here it is at last: Flash in the Dark, the book you’ve been waiting so long for.

Gosh, I hope you like it.