56. How Audible brought my characters to life

 

ANYONE who has read Crossing The Whitewash will probably agree that Arnold Dolan is a pretty terrifying character. At least, that’s how he was described by judges in the Writers’ Digest eBook awards.

This week, though, Arnie even SOUNDS terrifying. I know, because I have heard him speak.

Today I am wallowing in the satisfaction of releasing an Audio version of my UK gangland thriller, having spent four months helping to edit and perfect what I believe is a pretty impressive product.

In collaboration with a very talented young producer/narrator, Samuel J Haskell, I think we have come up with something with which we both can be pretty proud.

Don’t take my word for it, though. The book is on sale on Audible and if you take up their offer of a month’s trial you can download it for FREE and put it on your MP3 player, phone or other listening device. Better still, why not listen to the sample which is provided on the page first to see if it whets your appetite.

I am a convert to Audio books. I find they take the pain out of the mundane commute to work, though I’m not sure if I would like Arnie Dolan sitting next to me on the District Line journey from Mile End to Monument!

The book has to be pretty exciting, though, to maintain the interest, because it is easy to doze off as the tube train clickety clacks through Whitechapel and Tower Hill.

I think Samuel manages to do that, and he has also added some pretty impressive sound effects for things like loud speakers and phone conversations.

So how easy is it to produce your own audio book? Amazon’s ACX division have made it a pretty straightforward process.

All you have to do is put a sample of your book on their website and then invite people to audition for the role of narrator/producer.

Then it is a question of setting a deadline for the first 15-minute sample, followed by a deadline for completion. You have to agree a fee – which can be done either as a flat rate of a certain amount per hour, or as a share of the profits.

With Samuel I agreed BOTH but unfortunately ACX don’t have a provision for that so he will just have to hope I am honest about how much money we rake in.

I paid Sam £750, which may seem a lot, but over that period of four months he certainly earned his corn. He was able to put up chapters a few at a time for me to listen to, and I then sent him corrections or comments if I didn’t think things sounded quite right. There was a lot of back and forth before we got it exactly how we wanted it, and Sam – a trained film producer – also threw in the promotional video that you can see here.

I think I got a bargain but, as it was his first experience of ACX too, I believe the experience for both of us has been invaluable.

At the end of it all, one simple click on the writer’s part and the audio book goes to the ACX techies for final approval, which they carry out as soon as the producer confirms he has been paid.

It’s interesting to know, too, that every time someone signs up for the one-month free trial with Audible and makes your book their first order, you earn $50. Whether I will get my money back I don’t know… but, to be perfectly honest, hearing characters I have created like Arnie, Gary and The Legend talk has been priceless.

 

51. To join KDP select or not join KDP select… that’s the big question

 

INDIE AUTHORS have a great deal to thank Amazon for – in many ways the revolution in writing has been led by them.

Createspace, Kindle and ACX are all valuable weapons in a writer’s armoury once they decide to self-publish.

Through Createspace you have the ability to produce a physical book, with a professional cover and quality printing, which can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything turned out by the traditional publishing giants.

Meanwhile, Kindle has led the way in the astonishing rise in digital books over the last few years while ACX is now allowing Indie Authors to bring their stories to life in the form of Audio Books. Once put together and produced with a narrator, they can then be distributed and sold through Amazon’s Audible branch.

In the past, sick of rejection slips or ignorant firms who refused to even answer our emails, potential authors no doubt put their hard work on the fire, admonished themselves for being such terrible writers and gone back to the day job.

Now there is an alternative – and it is something which is growing in popularity so much that even traditionally published authors are considering the alternatives: whether that means going the whole hog and doing everything off your own bat, or enlisting help through the “hybrid” companies. More of those in a future blog entry, though.

I spent a day at the London Book Fair a couple of weeks ago and found the Author Central section crammed with writers eager to learn more about this brave new world in which they have the power to publish in their own hands.

Perhaps their biggest problem now is getting their work “seen” – without the aid of the vast marketing machines the trad-pub companies can call upon.

It takes a lot of hard work and tinkering – trying to use Amazon’s algorithms to your best advantage – not to mention paying for advertising through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

And it is tempting at this early stage to find a method of giving away your book free so that you can get it into the hands of more people and rise up the book “charts”.

This is something that Amazon encourages, too. They invite authors producing eBooks to enlist in KDP select, which means you give them exclusive rights to sell your novel any way they want.

Join Kindle Unlimited, for instance, and the reader gets a whole library full of self-published books to delve into, picking and choosing, their subscription money going into a central pool, rather than payment for books going to individual authors.

The big advantage of KDP Select is that Amazon positively discriminate in favour of those that sign up, giving their books better visibility and special promotion. But at what price to Indie Authors in the long term?

To join Select or not join Select is now the big question, to misquote Shakespeare in the week of his 400th birthday.

It seems to me the more cards KDP Select holds, the more the writer’s work is being devalued.

cokerMark Coker, co-founder of Smashwords, gave his own thoughts on the matter in a video talk entitled 10 trends driving the future of publishing. It’s worth watching.

 

21. Point of View and Dialogue

CALL ME OLD FASHIONED (Yes, I know, “you’re old fashioned”), but when I hear the phrase Point of View I always think of the cosy voice of the BBC’s Robert Robinson reading out viewers letters.

Only recently, though, did I start to understand the concept as it applied to novel-writing.

To be honest, I thought there were only two points of view: Writing in the first person or writing in the third person. The truth didn’t come as some great epiphany, a bolt out of the blue while I slept, but rather from the expert advice from a prolific best-selling novelist who I have been lucky enough to recruit to the cause.

Well, I say recruit, but I think Kerry Wilkinson – writer of the immensely popular PC Jessica Daniel series – probably felt sorry for me. We have a mutual cross to bear having both worked for the tyrannical Mr Desmond on the Daily Star Sunday.

Kerry, a fellow west country-ite originally from Frome in Somerset, was a sports sub-editor who had just turned 30 when he decided: “I think I’ll write a novel.” He felt he had all the equipment: A good grasp of English and the ability to work quickly and under pressure to a variety of deadlines.

Ditto.

There, though, the similarities end. Not only did Kerry self-publish his first book, Locked In, in 2011 but by the end of that year he had added two more to the series. Four years later and he is so prolific it gets to the stage where you need an abacus to calculate how many books he has brought out: If my O level maths is standing me in good stead it is 14 including a standalone ebook and his latest effort Renegade, released last month, which is part of the Silver Blackthorn Series, a trilogy for young adults.

When I contacted Kerry he seemed immensely laid back. I couldn’t quite equate his attitude with the authors I meet in general who spend years tearing their hair out as they try to get to grips with one particular project (there’s one right here, in fact – notice I’ve lost the middle parting).

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Me and, below, Kerry

kerry

You would think someone who must spend 24/7 at the computer coming up with the next bestseller would have little time to disperse advice, so I was extremely fortunate that he agreed to read my opening chapters.

Of course, I wanted him to say it was brilliant and all I needed to do was press the button to publish. In fact, I was hoping he would add a few words to my cover: a personal stamp of approval from an established chart-topper now signed up to Pan Macmillan.

Not a bit of it. Truth is his words stung, but pretty soon I knew I needed to rewrite again…  over the last few weeks I haven’t had time to, well, blog.

One of the most salient points Kerry made involved points of view. My first chapter was almost schizophrenic. “Who’s telling the story?” he asked. “It starts with The Kid – but then there are lines like “the bigger man had seldom encountered such animal savagery”. That’s a second person. Then there’s: “some might have pondered their next move” – which reads like a narrator telling the story.

He added: “It’s fine to have chapters from different characters’ POVs, perhaps even scenes split up by a paragraph break, but it doesn’t read well when it’s all part of the same scene.”

The other really sound advice involved dialogue. “There’s a lot of ‘author speak’,” said Kerry. “Look for where your quote marks are – and there are nowhere near enough. That’s how the characters tell their own stories to the reader – they talk to each other. You’re telling the story instead of your character(s).”

I couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth so I took another look… I’ll show you the contrasting starts to my original attempt and what I’ve come up with now in my latest re-draft.

Update on the Book: Crossing the Whitewash is now available for pre-order on Kindle. The physical version will be available as soon as myself and wife Liz have managed to read the proofs in between organising our five-year-olds birthday and real life commitments like work.

15. Group hugs

CREATIVE writing can be a pretty solitary business. When you’ve embarked on crafting a novel you can spend hours on end with only yourself as company, agonising over every word.

At times I’ve been unfairly labelled with the reputation as a pretty “social” animal; mischief-makers have even recounted tales of me dancing on tables wearing a tie around my head but I refute these charges on the basis I have no recollection of any such incidents.

When it comes to writing though I would rather hide myself away from the world and disappear into my own protective shell.

Since moving to London, though, it has been useful to make contact with a number of groups quite happy to lend morale support and advice to those ploughing this lonely furrow.

Recently I came across ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors and, though I have yet to actually go into print or at the very least publish something digitally, they have been happy to accept me as one of the gang (for a small fee, of course).

Back in January I attended one of their London group meetings where I met a very helpful bunch and convivial bunch, willing to swap experiences and hand out priceless advice.

The meeting took place in a pub called the Star of Kings a short walk from King Cross station and just up the road from the Guardian offices. We had to battle to hear ourselves above the Heavy Metal jukebox and a rather enthusiastic quiz night host, but I found myself highly motivated as I touched base with those who had been there and done that.

One such writer, Ian Sutherland, whose novel Invasion of Privacy is about a computer hacker who helps police track down a serial killer, was able to recommend the 99design group for book covers. You put the crux of your novel to them and various professionals come back with ideas for cover designs. Then you choose the one you consider the best and pay them accordingly. A great idea.

Others talked about the best way to publish and all the different options – a minefield as far as I’m concerned. Handy stuff.

As well as ALLi, I recently joined a group called The London Writers’ Cafe. A self-help writers group, they quite often invite guests along to give talks.

It was at one such meeting in the Shooting Star pub near Liverpool Street that I met Ben Seales. Ben is a professional editor who has worked for some big publishing houses and edited a number of best-sellers, including the popular Terry Deary Horrible Histories series. For a modest fee Ben agreed to look at a synopsis and sample chapters of Crossing The Whitewash and give me his professional opinion.

I’ve reached such a stage in the process that I am wary now of inviting too much feedback. There is a deadline I’ve set myself for publishing this summer and the last thing I need is someone to pour cold water over the whole project. I’ve gone too far to give up now.

This seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, however.

Ben provided me with a warts and all report which made for interesting reading. I agreed with some of it, disagreed with other parts but at the end of it all realised the one thing I wasn’t particularly good at doing was writing a synopsis for the work.

When we spoke on the phone he admitted that in some instances he had perhaps misconstrued the way the story was going, and that was down to my failure to write an accurate synopsis.

It’s an interesting point because I tried to explain my novel to my brother-in-law at Christmas and got into such a muddle I eventually gave up. The story doesn’t seem at all complicated to me until I try to tell someone else what it’s about.

This is why those in the trade place so much store by the elevator pitch. If  you got into a lift with a literary agent and had just a short journey in which to “sell” your idea could you do it? And how would you go about it?

It’s got me thinking about that and the book blurb to go on the back and on the sites where the book might be sold.

With just a few months to go before I push the button on the book I am now considering investing in a full “line edit” and final proofread from Ben. It will probably cost in the vicinity of £1,000 but the alternative is a book that might not be as good as it can be.

Hopefully shelling out the cash in the short term will result in more sales further down the line.