Audiobook Etiquette: How Not To Piss Off Your Narrator

In case it wasn’t clear long before now, when it comes to anything other than actually writing the book, I’m a planner, not a pantser. I like to know things ahead of time and be prepared going into something. While I did as much research as I could going into audiobook production, the information available from my platform barely scratched the surface of what I really needed to know. As a result, I might have made some people very upset with me, solely because I did something I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do. And I couldn’t even apologize because, well, you’ll see why in a bit.

So I did the Me-thing. I asked around. I made an anonymous survey (which, admittedly, didn’t get a statistically significant number of responses) and I pieced things together into a larger picture that made me cringe remembering the things I did during my first couple of audiobook productions.

In the interest of hopefully preventing  such awkwardness and frustration happening in your current or future projects, I now share my screw-ups and some other important information you’ll want to know about proper etiquette during audiobook production.

PRODUCER VS. NARRATOR

One of the questions I asked on my survey was, “Do you prefer the title producer or narrator?” and I discovered there actually is a difference. A narrator narrates the content, then sends it off to someone else to process the tracks and complete the production. A producer does all or most of that on their own. Kind of like self-published authors do most of the work themselves. If you contract for your audiobook production through a service like Amazon’s ACX or Findaway Voices (the one I use), odds are the person you choose will be a producer, and they may be referred to as such in your communications. It may be a small difference to us authors, but a point of important distinction to the person creating your audiobook. Just sayin’, be respectful of that.

KNOW THE PRODUCTION PROCESS

Here is how Findaway Voices works:

  1. Author submits notes
  2. Producer records an extended sample
  3. Author approves and production begins
  4. Once the producer uploads completed tracks, the author is notified
  5. Author provides correction notes where needed
  6. Producer makes corrections
  7. Author approves when finalized, pays for services, and moves to distribution.

This is where I screwed up (a lot) with mine. I freaked out because I knew that, once the audiobook came to me for proofing, I would only have a week to get it done. It was a long audiobook, and I didn’t want to fall behind, so I was checking the site daily. It just so happens that my producer uploaded tracks as she finished with them, not all at once, which made me think they were ready for feedback, so I gave feedback right away. This likely drove my producer crazy, because she hadn’t even finished recording the rest of the book and I kept telling her to go back and fix stuff. I had no idea at the time how bad this actually was. You’re supposed to wait until they notify you that your book is ready for proofing, and then go in and comment.

I think that was a vicious cycle of miscommunication. I also wasn’t fully clear on what I could ask to have corrected. Mostly the issues were pronunciation or technical errors, which can and should be corrected. But there was a time or two I may have asked for a redo on a character’s voice, which you’re not supposed to do. *cringe* I know better now, but it’s too late to make a difference to that first audiobook project.

HOW TO COMMUNICATE

This is one of the most important points that some platforms make unnecessarily complicated. Findaway Voices won’t put you directly in touch with your producer/narrator except to provide notes on submitted audio tracks. From my survey, I discovered that authors rarely if ever have any contact at all with their producers/narrators. They might not even know who it is, and might not have a chance to offer notes or feedback. This is especially true for authors whose publishers contract for the audiobook on their behalf. There’s a long game of telephone going on behind the scenes, which I find ridiculous, to be honest. We’re talking about projects with price tags in the thousands of dollars. At the very least you should be able to talk to the person on the other end to get aligned on the vision for the project.

So… if/when you do get to communicate with your producer/narrator, take advantage and communicate everything clearly. If I had been able to reach out to mine, I would have asked them exactly what they needed. I would have been able to communicate my vision for the project and we could have collaborated much easier. I’m not an unreasonable person. I usually work well with people–when I can work with them. But Findaway Voices insists on all communication going through them, which means a lot gets missed, and a lot might get lost in the translation. This, in my opinion, is not a good way to do business. On the other hand, though, I understand that they’re trying to protect the artist creating the audiobook. It can’t be comfortable trying to flex your skills when you have a possessive author tugging on a leash around your neck all the time.

WHAT MATERIALS TO PROVIDE

Things your producer/narrator will want to know:

  • Is this a series? And if so, are there previous audiobooks for reference?
  • Are there specific accents you will need?
  • Are there recordings of proper pronunciation you can provide?
  • Are there recordings of characters from previous books you can provide?

Something that wasn’t clear to me was what I could/should provide. I received a document to give things like pronunciation and character notes. So, of course, I gave character personalities, because I’m a writer. Three books in, I now realize they meant notes on how the character is supposed to sound. Yes, I am that oblivious at times.

Another issue was that my book had a lot of characters that needed notes. That can get really hairy and, naturally,  things got overlooked. Producers are human, after all. This was a sore point for me, though, because one of the things I asked to have redone was something I’d clearly stated in the notes and the producer had overlooked it. I wouldn’t have bothered, except it was a character integral to the series so their voice was important to me. Note for future projects: Keep it short, and focus on the main characters in order of importance.

I also didn’t know I could/should provide recordings until another producer on another project told me I should have provided them beforehand. I’d had no clue, and probably upset her a lot when I asked her to redo something to be more consistent with a previous book. Huge no-no. But, again. I’m new at this, and no one told me. If I knew this was an option, of course I would have sent her everything beforehand. Just as I like to be prepared, I like to make sure I give people everything I can to prepare them for whatever they’re doing for me. 

BE SPECIFIC BUT NOT UNREASONABLE

When you’re providing directions for your audiobook, you want to be as specific as possible. By all means, provide audio files where you can, because they’re easier to process than pages of notes. Things get missed in notes. Audio files can be referenced quicker.

With that said, keep in mind that your producer/narrator is also an artist in their own right. At some point, you need to let go of your book and allow your producer/narrator to utilize their own creativity with it. It’s as much their project as it is yours, and they, too, want to be proud of their accomplishment at the end.

UNDERSTAND THE TIMELINE

Your producer may have projects lined up before yours. You’ll need to know not only when they can deliver your finished audiobook, but also how long it will take for your platform to make it available for sale. You’ll need to know which retailers allow pre-orders, which don’t, and how those pre-orders will be reflected in your sales report. You should not set a release date before you know you can honor it. I like to wait until all the chapters are ready for me to proof, because I know that I will only have a week to go over them, and the corrections will likely take another week, so I can estimate how far in the future I need to set the date.

A special note on Findaway Voices and Amazon: If you want to distribute your audiobook to Amazon from Findaway Voices, they require that there is another format of the book (print or digital) currently available on Amazon so they can link the audiobook to it. If you don’t have this, you won’t be able to distribute the audiobook to Amazon. I don’t really  understand why, but there you go.

SOME SHAMELESS PROMOTION

I say that, but really, it’s for the producers as much as for me. I wanted to include a sampling of audiobooks I’ve commissioned, because each one was done by a different producer. I was very particular about how I wanted my books to be voiced, so each producer was a researched and considered choice on my part. Audiobook production is a pricey proposition. It’s not something you should jump into without planning or forethought. A good narrator can turn your book into magic. An unsuitable one can make the process sheer hell (I’ve heard horror stories). I can personally vouch for every single one of these narrators so, if you’re looking for a talented voice for one of your books, don’t hesitate to look for them and request them.

Also, if after you have heard the samples below you want to check out the full audiobooks, or even read the eBooks, click on the book title to see the full detail book page with links to major online stores. I humbly thank you in advance for your support.

The Royal Wizard (Dawn of Ragnarok, book 1)

Narrated by Rachel Hine, who was a true wizard in the making of this audiobook. Her voice is fresh and bright, but with a warm quality, and her British accent gives the story the feel of an ageless classic. That’s exactly what I wanted for this fantasy novel.

Dragonblood (Dawn of Ragnarok, book 2)

Narrated by Charlotte Sanderson, who was incredibly patient with all the foreign accents and made up language in this book. Her voice is a little higher and younger, more spirited, which fits the heroine of this story so well.

Function:L1VE (Stand-alone)

Narrated by Kristin James. This was the third audiobook I commissioned, and I got hooked on female voices, but science fiction is a different animal than fantasy and, in my mind, sounds American, rather than British. Kristin did a fantastic job on this novella. I couldn’t have asked for better.

Virtual (Stand-alone)

Narrated by Steve Campbell. This is my most recent audiobook, scheduled to release on November 23, 2020. It’s another science fiction, which means American accent, but this time I wanted to hear a male voice. Steve did so well, listening to the audiobook in proofs made me giddy excited to share it with the world.

Continue Reading Audiobook Etiquette: How Not To Piss Off Your Narrator

A Tale of Four Apps

Hi there! It’s been a while. COVID has done a number on the world and on my plans for this year. My apologies for having neglected this blog. I am trying to keep it going but, as you can imagine, other priorities often take precedence. But, since I’m currently chin-deep in getting a book ready for publication in multiple formats, I thought it might be a good time to go over some of the tools I use and how they compare to each other in terms of what they can do and how easy they are to use. If you’re a DIY fanatic like me, you’re always on the look-out for ways to do things better. It’s with this mindset that I share my thoughts and experiences about these apps.

CANVA

COST: Free or $9.95/month (Pro)
TYPE: Online App
LINK: https://www.canva.com

I’ll be honest, I only recently started using this app, mostly for work. I was highly skeptical at first, but it’s kind of growing on me. However, it does have some limitations…

PROS
Canva is an excellent tool for quick one-offs. They have pre-made templates for anything you can think of, print or digital. Social media posts are sized to the exact specifications of each platform. Flyers and posters have an option for full bleed. You can share your designs directly to your accounts, or export and save them for other uses. An extensive library of free or paid stock images, videos, and music is already built in, and you have an option to upload your own. Multiple options for export file formats. Animated elements, and videos available, so you could potentially create a simple book trailer video right in Canva. AND they have a built-in custom print service for certain things, which is a very nice feature.

All of your designs are automatically saved in your account so you can go back and make changes, or copy a design and update elements to have a full stack of brand-consistent designs. It’s very user friendly and intuitive, which means literally anyone with internet access can use Canva, and learn it quickly. A truly handy tool for your every day promo needs.

CONS
While it has some excellent features, Canva was not built for more complex design work. It’s limited to stacking elements one on top of the other, but much of the nuance gets lost. For example, if you have a text box, you can only apply one font style per paragraph. If you want to mix and match fonts and sizes in one line, you need to create a separate text box for each new style. The snap to alignment feature isn’t as nuanced as I’d like it to be, especially if you have too many elements on one page. Every so often, things shift, too. Despite elements being grouped in a specific arrangement, I’ve had templates look out of alignment when shared with others (Pro account feature) and in an exported PDF, which means I don’t trust it.

You’re limited in what you can do to an image. There are some pre-built filters and color adjustments, but you can only crop to pre-defined shapes. There is no masking option so blending is essentially nonexistent.

While Canva has some great chart/graph features, the color schemes are limited to what Canva provides, which isn’t always ideal. And there is no table option (which I found out the hard way). Text layout is good for small things like social media posts. But when you get into multi-page territory of flowing content, it starts to become more work than I’d like, and nowhere near enough control.

FINAL VERDICT
Canva is great for creating quick little designs, but it wasn’t meant for bigger, more nuanced projects. Use it for your promotional graphics, but if you’re trying to create a book cover, or format any kind of publication (especially for fiction or anything that has a specific look and feel), look elsewhere.

GIMP

COST: Free
TYPE: Desktop App
LINK: https://www.gimp.org

GIMP has been my go-to art/graphic manipulation app for a decade now. It’s an excellent tool for learning and exploring digital art and graphic design because it won’t cost you anything and it’s really fun.

PROS
Have I mentioned it’s free? GIMP is an open source competitor to Photoshop. It has a lot of the same functions, and there are thousands of free brushes and scripts/plugins you can download to make it more robust. In terms of complexity, it has a lot in the toolbox, so it can be a little overwhelming when you first start using it. With that said, I still prefer GIMP to Photoshop. I’m pretty tech-savvy, but after 3 years of having Photoshop, I have barely figured out its most basic functions. GIMP is much more user friendly and intuitive, so the learning curve is smaller. It’s extremely powerful when it comes to creating digital art and manipulating photos, which means it’s excellent for creating your book cover art. It can also create animated GIFs, which is a nice little bonus.

CONS
GIMP is fairly RAM-heavy, so if your computer doesn’t have enough memory, it may run slow, freeze, or crash with complicated projects (think big file with many layers). Also, while it’s comparable to Photoshop, the two are not the same. If GIMP has a “smart object” feature, I haven’t seen it yet. It also doesn’t have editable filters. What I mean by that is, when you apply a filter to a layer, you can no longer change the filter settings. You have to undo it, and reapply with the new settings. This can get frustrating and tedious if you’re used to Photoshop. And, while there are many plugins/scripts available for GIMP, they likely won’t rival the actions and templates available for Photoshop.

FINAL VERDICT
GIMP is a fantastic tool for beginning graphic artists, or those who can’t afford Adobe’s products. If you have never used Photoshop, you won’t miss it. Learning GIMP is, in my opinion, much easier, and you’ll be creating beautiful works of art in no time. If you’re a long time Photoshop user, I wouldn’t recommend GIMP. You’ll hate the limitations and the foreign UI layout. I’d call this an intermediate tool between Canva and Photoshop. Like any tool, it’s only as good as your use of it, though. I firmly believe it can create graphics to Photoshop’s quality level. It’s just not always a straight/easy process.

PHOTOSHOP

COST: $20.99/month (standard license)
TYPE: Desktop App
LINK: https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html

And that brings us to the graphic design standard-setter, Photoshop. I’ll be honest, I still get lost/confused using this app. I’m more comfortable with GIMP so I  only use Photoshop for things I can’t do in GIMP. But I will admit, it has some really nifty features…

PROS
This is as robust a tool as you can get. If you can think it, Photoshop can probably do it. And if it doesn’t have a ready-made action pre-installed, you can probably find one online. It’s honestly overwhelming in everything it can do. Smart objects are my favorite, and I use them a lot. If you have a template of a 3D rendering of a book, for example, the cover will be a smart object. You paste your cover art into it, and Photoshop will apply it to the 3D model and make it look seamless. Layer effects can be applied to text without losing editability of the text (something GIMP can’t do). Not to mention tons of online resources, guides, tutorials, etc. It’s the work of millions of professionals over decades, and it shows.

CONS
Massive learning curve with this one. The simplest of tasks can seem impossible at first because just looking at the UI is overwhelming. There are so many menus, settings, options, and tools, it really does take an intensive course to learn it all, and even then it’ll probably be just the most common functions. It’s also very pricey. Adobe switched their platform to a subscription model some time back, so you have to pay a monthly fee just to have access to the app. Gone are the days of one-time license costs that could last you a decade if you were cheap. If you want to use Adobe products now, ya gotta pay through the nose for the privilege.

FINAL VERDICT
Photoshop may be the golden standard, but not every project needs that. If you do graphic art and design on a daily basis, then you absolutely need this tool. It helps you create magic, pure and simple. But if you just want to do some quick things here and there, it’s not worth the time or money. You’re better off trying your hand at Canva or GIMP, or paying a professional to create it for you. It’ll be cheaper and less painful in the long run.

INDESIGN

COST: $20.99/month (standard license)
TYPE: Desktop App
LINK: https://www.adobe.com/products/indesign.html

GIMP and Photoshop are purely graphic design tools that don’t deal with print layout. Canva straddles both areas relatively okay. InDesign was built for publication formatting. It’s in a league of its own, but kind of dips its toes here and there, too.

PROS
There is no better tool for creating professional publications. Lots of different options for specific things here and there, but nothing that is as all-encompassing as InDesign. It gives you complete control over every single element in your document, down to the pixel. Text controls, fonts, alignment, all of it is leagues above and beyond what MS Word or Publisher can do. If you’re formatting the interior of your book or magazine, you will want InDesign to do it. Things like paragraph styles, standardized headers and footers, page numbering, bleed, and gutters are a breeze. I was iffy about diving in, thinking I could do what I needed with MS Word. Now it’s all I use, and I’d never go back. It’s just too good at what it does. And it’s not just limited to print publications. It has an EPUB export function. You can create social media graphics, flyers, posters, banners, business cards, brochures, booklets… the list goes on and on.

CONS
Back to the cost and learning curve again. I think in this instance, the cost is a bigger con than the learning curve, because InDesign lets you create templates. So, while it might take you a week to create a template for a paperback book, for example, once you have it, creating another book from it is the work of 2-3 hours. I say this from personal experience. But, as with Photoshop, it may not be worth the cost for one or two projects.

FINAL VERDICT
InDesign is an absolute MUST if you’re going to be formatting your own print publications. Its versatility also makes it useful for various digital projects, too. But, again, if you’re only going to be using it once a month, it’s not worth the cost. This is one tool for which I don’t have a suitable, cheaper alternative, and that is because there is so much precision work that goes into formatting for print that the alternatives I have come across either fall way short, or they’re Apple-only products that don’t have a PC alternative. Therefore, if you want it done right, and can’t afford InDesign, I recommend hiring a pro.

ADOBE FINE PRINT

I want to add a few words about Adobe, because they have so much going on that, if you need multiple tools, it can actually be worth while. I personally have found reasons to use at least three: InDesign (most often), Photoshop (sometimes), Illustrator (rare instances, but very helpful). And if my computer wasn’t 4 years old and lacking a proper graphics card, I’d be using Premier Pro, too. Things I use these tools for:

  • Print layout for novels
  • Graphic work for promotional  media
  • Logos/scalable elements
  • (potentially) Book trailers

I say it’s potentially worth it because, while one app will cost you $20.99/month, if you want/need access to their entire suite of 24 apps, it will only cost $52.99/month. And whichever plan you choose, you will also gain access to Adobe Fonts, which is just awesome. I think this is why so many creative professionals swear by these apps. But there’s probably also an element of commitment cost involved. If you have put in so much time and money to master these tools, you’ll be less inclined to stray.

I hope you found this post helpful. Is there another tool you use for your projects? Share in the comments below! I’m always looking for fresh ideas. 🙂

Until next time!

Continue Reading A Tale of Four Apps

Opinion: Revisiting the Concept of FREE

Boy, 2020 is turning out to be some kind of year, huh? Not surprisingly, everything going on with the world at large has had a massive impact on every part of my life, from my day job, to my home life, to my writing. As you have noticed, it’s basically put my blogging on hold. To be honest, I debated for days about whether to even write this one, given the circumstances. I decided to go ahead, because it might be even more relevant now.

I want to be sensitive to what’s happening, and what everyone is going through (some way more than others), so right off the bat I want to acknowledge two important truths:

  1. People all around the world are struggling right now.
  2. Authors are people.

I also want to acknowledge that what I have to share comes from my personal experience and may not be the case for others. Therefore, I present it all as an opinion piece, and not gospel truth. Use what I have observed as a factor in your decisions, but try it out yourself and make up your own mind.

Part 1 – How I got suckered into a tired old chorus of FREE (again)

When the pandemic first hit, everyone got on the PR bandwagon and started their CRM engines full blast. You may have received dozens of emails from “concerned” businesses assuring you they were there for you, working together to stay safe and healthy in these uncertain times. Seriously, it was so bad someone wrote a poem of the most overused phrases in those emails. It got tired very fast.

But one email caught my attention. Smashwords sent out a notice that, in an effort to help everyone struggling financially because of COVID-19, they would be doing a special sale and authors were invited to participate by discounting their eBooks as much or as little as they wanted. The email advised to be sensitive when marketing this sale, to come from a place of caring.

So there I went, discounting my 3-book erotic romance series all the way to free for the duration of the sale. Because yeah, the situation sucks big time, and if I can help brighten someone’s day with a steamy read, why wouldn’t I? My more mercenary hope was that if it didn’t get me more royalties from sales of non-free books, at least it would get me some readers, and maybe a few reviews.

I didn’t push the sale very much. I posted once or twice on Facebook, and then let it run.

The result, shockingly (but not surprisingly) was 217 freebie downloads in 20 days. Not one single sale, or review.

Part 2 – Okay, I messed up. Let’s fix it.

You know how they say free books supposedly lead to sales for related books in the series? Yeah, I set the entire series as free. Didn’t quite work as advertised. So when Smashwords sent another email saying they had such an amazing response to the sale they decided to extend it for another month, I decided to do things right. I kept the first book of the series as free, and discounted the other two by 50%.

I figured, hey, the response was pretty good for the first freebie run. Clearly people out there are liking what they see. I was watching those downloads. Some people got the whole series in one go, but far more of them got one, then came back for the others. That tells me the books were judged to be worth checking out. And if they’re worth reading, they should be worth paying for, right?

Remember, authors are people, too, and royalty income is money that puts food on the table. As much as we want to be supportive and helpful in a time of crisis, we need some support and help ourselves, too. The news all over the web was that eBook sales have spiked with people stuck at home with nothing to do. I have not observed that to be the case. And, before someone feels it necessary to set me straight, I am fully aware that there are a lot of other factors affecting this trend, including (but not limited to) the fact that I haven’t had a book release in a couple of years, I don’t promote my books as much as I should, I am Indie published and therefore pre-judged to be trash, etc, etc…

But anyway, if the “rock solid” advice “proven time and again by bestsellers all over the world” was really true, then my freebie book 1 should definitely have led to sales of books 2 and 3, especially if they, too, were discounted. Stands to reason…

The actual result after a month of this madness was 6 freebie downloads. Not one single sale, or review.

Part 3 – What the f*&%, yo?

So here’s what no one tells you: Freebies do actually work to gain more sales. Not as much for the author who discounts to free, though. Mostly for the platform doing the sales. Because they can offset those freebies against sales of their bestsellers, who sell even more as a result of the platform shoving them into reader’s faces with increased intensity to cash in on the sure thing. And you sell what you promote. So the more they promote bestsellers, the more those bestseller sell, and the more invisible every other book becomes. It’s a full circle that way. A closed one.

Freebies don’t work on their own (in my experience) because of one reason: People who download freebies generally do it out of an impulse to possess, not to read. That freebie will sit on someone’s device for years before it’s opened, if it ever is. Readers prioritize books they want to read more than anything in the world. So they will read their favorites first. Most likely those they went to the trouble of paying for.

Adding to the frustration is how invisible books can be on the device itself. It’s not like looking at a bookshelf of spines where you see 50 of them at the same time and your eye picks out the most interesting one. You see titles. Maybe 6-9 front covers in thumbnail. Scroll through a hundred titles and try to remember what they were about… not likely to happen. That’s why covers are so important to make a good, lasting impression.

But I digress. Basically, the whole thing is a two-fold effect. First, if readers want to read a book, they’ll be willing to pay for it. Second, if they paid for it, they’ll feel obligated to read it to get their money’s worth. It’s a full circle that way. A closed one that tends to exclude freebies.

Part 4 – So what now?

Since “common wisdom” failed me, I decided to fall back on what I knew worked. Word of mouth. In social media form. What I did was open every book-related Facebook group I am a member of (about 50 of them) and started posting promos. Images and videos with links to the book’s page on my website.

With FB’s new restrictions, you can’t post the same thing into different groups too many times or they block you for 24 hours. Luckily, I have folders full of promo graphics that I’m able to cycle so I can post in all groups and promote all my books in a relatively short amount of time. Took me about an hour to hit all 50 groups.

I did that twice in about 3 weeks. It really should be done more often to have a proper effect. I used to do this on a regular basis a few years ago and it got me steady sales. Now, it’s too much time I don’t have, and there’s no way to automate it so it’s gone neglected for years. Another factor of low sales recently.

I also shared choice reviews on my own page. That seems to have stronger impact than any promo graphic I could make, because it’s one reader speaking to another. Word of mouth is what gets readers interested. Personal recommendations, or at least ones that feel personal.

The result was about 5 sales (that I was able to track) over the next two weeks or so. I admit, it’s not much, but it’s more than the freebie sale got me. And the sales (again, those I could track) weren’t from just one retailer. I got sales from Amazon, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble. Audiobook sales reports lag a month or two, so hard to tell yet what impact it had there. Same with print titles through IngramSpark.

Part 5 – The bottom line is this:

You sell what you promote. If I learned anything over the last decade of being published (holy crap, time flies!), it’s this. If all you promote are your Amazon links and then you get upset that all the other outlets aren’t selling, you only have yourself to blame. If you go too long without promoting and you get upset because your sales have dropped, you only have yourself to blame.

If you keep pushing freebies in hopes that people will notice your other, full-priced or discounted books next to them, I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Another piece of ancient wisdom used to be that when you promote your book on social media, you should share a direct link to a storefront where people can buy it when they click. For better or worse, I have bucked that trend from the start. Why? Because I can’t control or monitor what people do in someone else’s kingdom. I could share a link to Amazon, but if the person who clicks it is a Nook reader, it won’t do me or them much good. And even if they do shop where I send them, that store will bombard them with paid ads and suggestions for a whole lot of other books to distract them from mine.

When I share, I share a link to the book on my website. This accomplishes a few things.

  1. I control how the page looks
  2. I can provide direct buy links to as many stores as I want on that page
  3. I can display related books and content that will keep readers in my universe, exploring my books, not someone else’s
  4. I can look at the stats and see how long people stayed, what they clicked on, and can extrapolate what’s popular, what works, and what needs to change or update

But I think I’ve rambled on long enough now, so I’ll stop there. You get the idea. 🙂

I sincerely hope everyone reading this blog is healthy, safe, and doing well (or as well as can be expected). Here’s hoping there’s a light at the end of this long, crazy, dark tunnel, and that it isn’t another train.

Much love to you all, my friends. <3 Until next time!

Continue Reading Opinion: Revisiting the Concept of FREE

For The DIY Author: Where to score freebies and deals

It’s been a while since I’ve done an author tip of any kind, so I figured it was time. This is for all my die hard DIYers who love to explore and who know well enough to know that making things costs money, but it doesn’t always have to cost a fortune. 

If you’ve spent any time at all on my website, you’re already familiar with all the tools and resources on my Resources page. These will be in addition to that. I’m not including them on the page because they work a little differently than the others. There are freebies, yes, but not always the ones you’re looking for, necessarily. There are deals, true, but you have to be vigilant to snag them before they are sold out or the time to claim runs out.

The list below is for resources you get by signing up for their newsletters. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, there are times when giving someone your email address is a really, really good thing. If you’re paranoid about getting hacked, I suggest creating a separate email account just for these subscriptions. Just don’t forget to check it on a regular basis so you don’t miss out. 😉 

There are two components to this website: FontBundles and DesignBundles. As their names suggest, FontBundles offers fonts. DesignBundles offers design elements that can be used with PhotoShop and other image manipulation programs. Sometimes, the deals include things like backgrounds or images that don’t need special software at all. 

Both of these parts work on the same concept. You sign up for the newsletter (you only need to sign up for one) and they send you weekly emails with freebies that you can download at no cost then and there. On top of that, they have periodic deals on bundles, which pack a number of fonts or elements together at a much lower cost than you’d get if you bought them individually. And every once in a while, they have $1 events, where a selection of fonts/designs only cost $1 each. All of these deals have an expiration date. If you miss it, they’re gone and you have to pay full price again. 

But the best part is, everything on these two websites comes with a commercial license, so you’re free to use it on anything you want without worrying about licensing. If you’ve ever looked for any kind of stock online, you know full well how important that is. 🙂 You’re welcome.

Think of Envato Market as a catch-all for anything and everything you could possibly need. Fonts, icons, logos, graphics, videos, audio, even website templates and elements. It is huge. Every time you think you’ve explored it all, you find something new. 

Much like FontBundles, when you sign up for the EnvatoMarket newsletter, you get monthly freebies in your inbox. It’s usually one thing from each category: A font, an audio track, a graphic, a website template, etc. They last a month, during which time you can download these things at no cost, with the proper licensing included. Once the month is up, the deals are replaced by something else. 

If you want to explore the website beyond what’s free, please do. Their price range from very affordable to somewhat pricey. You’ll see an immense variety of products available. Some may not be of the same high quality as you would find on specialty websites like iStockPhoto, or DepositPhotos, but you might get lucky and find exactly what you’re looking for. I did, more than a few times.  

Creative Market is similar to Envato Market. Same concept, too. You sign up for their newsletter and they send you periodic emails with freebies. The website is well worth exploring, especially for fonts. I consider fonts the trickiest of all graphic elements to get right. By now, everyone knows (or should know) that you can’t just take an image from Google results and plop it onto your website or cover design. That’s how you get sued for copyright infringement. But fonts are gray area. Too many websites out there list hundreds of thousands of fonts “for free,” and I love those websites. But when it comes to my own designs, I’ve learned it’s safer to go the paid route. 

The great thing about this resource, which isn’t necessarily true for FontBundles, for example, is that when you download a freebie from them, it’s saved in your account and you can re-download at a future date. So, if you’re like me and download things on impulse on your way to work and then forget about it, you can go back into your account and it’ll tell you exactly what you downloaded when.

Bonus: This site includes things that can be used by the average Joe who’s never heard of the Adobe Suite. Like PowerPoint presentation templates. 🙂  

I’ve talked about AppSumo before, but it’s worth mentioning again. This resource stands in a league of its own. What they offer is subscription discounts. And I mean deep discounts that come with some awesome perks. For example, a basic level subscription to the social media management tool eClincher will cost you $59/month. I managed to snag a deal from AppSumo that cost me a one-time payment of $49 for lifetime membership. 

My favorite of their deals is for DepositPhotos, 100 photos for $49, which comes out to $0.49 per image at the highest possible resolution (which is like 4k now). And unlike the subscription deals you get on the DepositPhoto website, these credits never expire. If you do any graphics work at all, if you need images for your website, or your book covers, or any promotional graphics, this deal is worth your weight in gold. It comes around maybe once or twice a year, and sells out fast, so if you see it in your inbox, grab it. 

A word of caution on this resource: It is very tempting to buy amazing-looking deals you might not necessarily need. Always do your homework and consider your own workflow to see if you can actually utilize that thing you’re tempted to buy. When it comes to stock resources, all deals are not made equal. I can vouch for DepositPhotos because it’s my go-to site and I know they have stuff I can use. Something else might not be as helpful. Always check out the site first, search the things you usually use. if you find good stuff, go forth. If you don’t see enough things you’d want to download, save your money and wait for something else. 

I’ve been making my own graphics, covers, websites, and promotional things for long enough to appreciate a good deal when I see it. I’ve spent money I didn’t need to, missed out on deals by a matter of minutes, tried and tested different ways of doing things, and I’m still learning. What worked for me years ago doesn’t cut it anymore. I’ve evolved. I’ve outgrown the old and moved on to the new.

You may be just starting out, or you may have been at this for years and already know some or all of these tools. Wherever you happen to be on your writing/designing journey, I hope these resources make your job at least a little easier.

If you found this post helpful and want to show your appreciation, you can buy one or two of my books for yourself, or as a gift for someone else. 🙂 Check them out here. Thanks in advance for your support!

Continue Reading For The DIY Author: Where to score freebies and deals

How to Self-Publish and Not Go Broke

One of the core principles of communication they taught in my college business classes was: If you present a problem without offering a solution, you’re just whining. I started this blog with the intention of helping new and aspiring writers navigate the world of (self-)publishing, and that is still its primary focus, despite the occasional rant and whine.

With my last post, I presented a problem: Self-publishing costs time and money.

With this one, I would like to present a few workarounds and practical solutions that basically boil down to: It doesn’t mean you have to go broke to do it.

Be forewarned, this will be a very long post that essentially summarizes a large portion of this entire website, but I wouldn’t post it if I didn’t think it was important.

So let’s take it from the top.


The Process of Self-Publishing in 12 (Not So) Easy Steps


  1. Write a book
  2. Get it edited
  3. Copyright it
  4. Write your blurb and tag line
  5. Choose your distribution strategy and timeline
  6. Create your distribution accounts
  7. Format your book
  8. Cover your book
  9. Set your price
  10. Upload the files
  11. Click Publish
  12. Promote like the entire future of your writing career depends on it.

This list will be the basis for what’s about to follow. You’ll notice not all of the items on that list have a monetary cost attached to them. But I did say “time and money,” didn’t I? 🙂 That’s because your time is money. Free time isn’t really free. It’s time you could spend with your loved ones, or chilling out by yourself. Every hour you put into being a writer is work. Even if you don’t want to call it that. It’s work you expect to get paid for in the future through royalties, so it’s a cost that is meant to be recouped.

Continue Reading How to Self-Publish and Not Go Broke

Read More, Read BETTER

This is going to be part author tip, part lecture (not the boring, preachy kind, I hope) and part recommendation list. It will likely be on the long side, but bear with me, there is a point to it, I promise.

THE LECTURE

We’ve all heard the saying that in order to be a great writer, you have to be an avid reader. Want to improve your writing? Read more.

That saying in and of itself is an example of the problem with the saying. Yes, if you want to be a great writer, you definitely need to read a lot. But there is nuance to that, which you kind of have to intuit. The act of reading in and of itself isn’t enough. The trick is in how you read.

You’ve heard about active listening, right? It’s the concept of listening to understand, not to form a response. See, when you listen with the intent of forming a response, you’re not really listening to what someone is telling you. You have an agenda and you automatically fit what is being said into what you want to hear so you can respond. By doing that, you miss the message. Active listening means paying attention to what is being said and how it’s being said. You then repeat it back to the speaker to confirm that you understood what they’re trying to say, and only then do you respond.

The same applies to reading. In order to hone your own writing style, you need to practice active reading (and I totally made that term up, but it’s the most fitting term for what I mean). You need to not just read the book, but also absorb the technical details about it. Analyze the voice, appreciate the diction, trace the story arc, dig deep into the characters’ psyche. Think about why the author wrote what they did, how it fits into the overall whole of the book.

It’s a lot less fun than reading for pleasure, I’ll tell you that. And it will absolutely ruin you as a reader because, once you see behind the curtain, you won’t be able to close it back again. You will start to critique every new book you read, even the ones you absolutely love. That’s the sacrifice you make to become a good writer. Because you need to be able to identify things you like and dislike in the books you read in order to be able to identify them in the books you write.

THE AUTHOR TIP

That concludes the lecture part of this post. Now on to the tip and reading list.

I propose that every author brings something unique to their books. Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on it, but when you see it, you recognize that, “Yep, that’s definitely a John Smith book.” That’s what you want to find–in other people’s books, as well as in yourself as an author. What makes them special? What is your own something special?

A while back, I put together a list of books I thought every writer should read, for various reasons. I want to share that here with you now. If you’ve already read these books, try reading them again, while keeping these notes in mind. You might notice some things you missed before.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VOICE AND STYLE

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Ms. Austen had an earworm of a writing style. I’m not even kidding. Why do you think it’s been emulated so much? Read one of her books and then try to write one chapter in that same style. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to do, and how hard it is to stop.

When I got this assignment in high school, I ended up writing a 40-page novella, rather than just a chapter, and it’s influenced my writing ever since. Austen’s writing style is so sophisticated and lyrical, but not pretentious at all. It flows through your mind and makes you feel like you’re wearing a period costume and reclining on a drawing room settee. It’s beautiful. Plain and simple.

The Dust Lands Series by Moira Young

In contrast to that, I present to you the Dust Lands series by Moira Young. Compared to Austen, the voice of this series feels like a train wreck in the beginning but, like Austen, it gets under your skin. The style of this series is very deliberate. It speaks to the theme of the books, and is basically written as if someone from that book was telling you the story. It shoves you face first into this dystopian world and at first you hate it, then you want more, then you can’t get back out.


The voice and style of your book is extremely important–it sets the stage and paints the world you’re describing. But it doesn’t have to be grammatically flawless and poetic to make an impact. Sometimes, going against the grain is the best thing you can do.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ATMOSPHERICS

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

This book changed the way I thought about books, and it required a brilliant English teacher to point it out to me, because I would have missed it otherwise. That’s how brilliant this actually is–you don’t realize the brilliance of it because you’re so engrossed in the scene you’re not thinking about the writing anymore.

Conrad is very good at telling the story from a specific character’s perspective. You see, hear, and feel what the character feels. That means, when he’s eavesdropping on someone’s conversation and those people move away, their dialogue fades out and you strain to try to hear more. You catch pieces here and there, holding your breath so you don’t get noticed. You’re no longer reading the book, you’re inside the story.

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

I’m including this book because it’s one of my all time favorites. There are plenty of things I love about it, but one of them is the way Ms. Kleypas describes her settings. Like Conrad, she puts you into the scene. When Sara is chasing off Derek’s attackers, you can feel the cold damp of the London night. When she’s hiding with Derek behind the curtain of the music room, you feel the heady heat of the scene, and your heart beats faster hoping no one pulls that curtain back.

When it comes to historical settings, authors sometimes have the tendency to go overboard with description in the interest of historical accuracy. Not so with Kleypas. She focuses on the story itself and the setting, while accurate (as far as I know), is only a part of it.


The beauty of descriptives is that they don’t have to drone on. In fact, their impact is far greater when they’re succinct and to the point. Both of these books are an excellent example of this.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Dickens needs no introduction. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, I highly recommend that you do. This was the first book I’ve read by him, and I loved it from the very beginning. The story follows a young boy called Pip as his life takes several unexpected twists and turns and what I loved about it is the unvarnished way in which it is related.

Pip isn’t perfect. He is a young child when all this begins and, as such, you get to see him grow up, make mistakes, form attachments and prejudices, etc. At times, I wanted to slap him. At others, I felt horrible for what he was being put through. By the end, though he was still a very young man, he’s already lived a life fuller than most people will ever have. His flaws are what make Pip such an amazing character. Because perfection is boring. As readers, what we relate to are a character’s flaws and shortcomings. What we want is to see them triumph despite them.

By the way, Pip isn’t the only character in this story written in such a brilliant fashion. The entire cast of characters is presented in a way that will leave a lasting impression on the reader, which is a rare thing in literature.

The Rule of Four by Dustin Thomason and Ian Caldwell 

These two gentlemen wrote a book that became wholly and unfairly overshadowed by the phenomenon of The DaVinci Code. It’s called The Rule of Four and I recommend it here for one reason: the main character. Not the narrator, mind you, but the main character driving the plot. Similar to The Heart of Darkness, this story is told by an outside observer (and, really, it overlaps my recommendation category to Atmospherics as well because of it). You follow along from an intellectual distance, so you never get the full feel of the tension, frustration, and passion of this quest, you just get to bear witness to it. It’s that distance which makes this book so brilliant. Because you feel the narrator’s dismissal and simultaneous intrigue. You want to know more but are denied almost to the very end.

This book is not an action-packed adventure, but when the action does happen, it grips you unexpectedly hard because of it and you realize how attached you’ve grown to this one character. And therein lies its brilliance: You care almost despite yourself, and for reasons that seem so flimsy on the surface, but run as deep as if it was your actual best friend in that scene.


In any given book, it’s either the characters who drive the plot, or the plot that changes the characters. You can choose one, or the other, or sometimes both, but whichever it is, it’s not the action that makes readers connect with and relate to the characters, it’s the emotional context. Subtlety is the name of the game. At least it is in my own writing.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PLOT AND DIALOGUE

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Have you read this one? Whether you say yes or no, you probably already know the story from somewhere. That’s how amazing it is. This book is not only well-written, it tells a story that sticks with you forever. It’s just so… big. It takes you to lots of different places, introduces lots of different characters, all of whom are in some way connected, but at the same time, it all centers around one man and his life. Edmond Dantes becomes the fulcrum on which all those lives turn. And they don’t even know it…

Seriously, if you haven’t read it yet, do. Take notes on how to tell a brilliant tale of love, pain, anguish, and revenge. Admire the genius of what Edmond has achieved and how. The behind-the-scenes machinations, the benevolence of his favor and the malice of his wrath. Absolutely nothing this man does is ever without an underlying reason. Whether it’s taking out a loan, or casually mentioning a medicinal tonic that can just as easily become a deadly poison.

This is a really long book, but it reads so quickly you don’t notice the page count. That’s brilliant story telling right there.

Dark Desires After Dusk by Kresley Cole

If you ask me who my favorite author is, right now, and for the last few years, it’s been Kresley Cole. She is a paranormal romance author and her books have never ever disappointed me. She has a singular gift for sarcasm and wit, and she brings that into her dialogue. A lot of times, writers adopt a very formal style with their dialogue which can come across stiff and unnatural. Ms. Cole writes the way people actually talk. And that can be a huge deal for a story, especially one set in present day(ish). You can see their conversations happening in real life, which makes the characters extremely relatable. Not only that, they’re also hilarious.

Dark Desires After Dusk might be my favorite of this entire series and it’s because of the hero, Cadeon Woede and his shameless sense of humor. This book is definitely worth reading, even if maybe you’re not really into paranormal romance. Just pay attention to the dialogue. I promise, you’ll appreciate the hell out of it. 😉 [just a bit of demon humor there]


I lumped the plot and dialogue in the same category because a great first chapter will hook a reader, but these two are what will keep them reading. If you don’t have your story plotted out properly, you will lose your readers in a heartbeat. They will spot plot holes from a mile away, and they may not be very forgiving. And dialogue is often times the hardest thing to get right. It requires a keen ear and a gift for listening. You need to be able to emulate natural speech from all walks of life in your chosen time period, but still make it relatable for readers in the here and now. But if you can do that, you’re halfway there. 


NOTICE ANYTHING WEIRD?

So now you’ve read the whole list. Notice anything special about it? Every single category has one classic and one contemporary title. There is a reason for that. The classics are, of course, classic for a reason, but if you’ve ever actually read them, you’ll know that not all of them are all that well-written or enjoyable (coughFrankensteincough). I think it’s because the stories and the message they convey transcend time, but the books themselves do not. Not everything written 100+ years ago will appeal to modern audiences. We can appreciate them in the context of their own time period, but sometimes they become more of an intellectual exercise, rather than something to savor for its own sake.

There are scores of modern books that are well worth reading and learning from, both for their ability to connect with their own audience, and for their unique, timeless qualities. Will these modern books be taught in schools a hundred years from now? I have no idea. But, as a writer, I can say I’ve developed a deep appreciation for them and what they’ve done for my own writing.

That’s all I have for you today. 🙂 Until next time!

GOT A LIST OF YOUR OWN? SHARE IN THE COMMENTS!

Continue Reading Read More, Read BETTER

August #AuthorTip: Define Your Own Success

Last but not least, a tip for preserving your inner happy:


The secret to being successful and happy is to define what “success” and “happiness” mean to you and not let anyone tell you otherwise.

True, most authors have big dreams of becoming a #1 NYT Bestseller and everything that comes with it: fame, interviews, movie deals, merchandise lines… but there are a few whose aims are somewhat humbler. For some, getting that publishing deal at all is the ultimate achievement. For others, just finishing that darn book they’ve been working on for the last 30 years would be the biggest success. Some authors are writing family histories just for their relatives, to share stories of generations past. Others might just be looking to keep all the bedtime stories they tell their kids in one volume, illustrated by their children. And then there are authors who just want to know that someone out there is reading their work and storing it carefully on a shelf with their most beloved volumes.

Maybe the best way to measure success is in steps. Set achievable goals, and when you reach them, set your aim on the next step up. But realize that none of those achievements will mean a thing in the long run if you sacrifice too much to achieve them. Always keep sight of what’s truly important in life, because chances are it’s not going to be that “New York Times Bestselling Author” tagline on the cover of your book.


This concludes my #AuthorTip series (for now). I sincerely hope you enjoyed these posts and found them helpful.

I have been asked why I don’t have a Donate button on this blog. The reasons are both logistical and personal. But if you still want to show your appreciation, the most welcome way would be with a purchase of one or more of my books. I have quite a few of them to choose from, in several genres. You can read more about them on my author website: AlianneDonnelly.com.

Thanks for your support! <3

Continue Reading August #AuthorTip: Define Your Own Success

August #AuthorTip: Treat Yourself

Continuing this post series with a tip for celebrating your achievements:


The best thing ever for a writer is to see their book on a bookshelf–whether it’s their own at home or in a bookstore. But a lot of witers don’t publish their books in print. It can be expensive and/or time-consuming to set up a print book and they’re likely not going to sell very well because eBooks are more affordable for readers.

So how do you mark the glorious occasion of a release day if you don’t have a “trophy” to hold up?

Some people get their book covers blown up to poster size and framed. Other people do magnets, or scrapbooks. Some shrink the covers down into charms for a bracelet. Sensing a theme here? The idea is have something specific to the book and personal to you to commemorate its birth, and the best way to do that is by utilizing the most easily identifiable part of it: the cover.

My trick was to print cover flats. I would create a faux back cover with the blurb, my website URL, and maybe thumbnails of the other books in the series (if applicable). I would order 4×6″ color postcards from GotPrint with the cover on one side and the faux back cover on the other. This served two purposes:

  1. I now had something to add to my collection, which I could keep neatly contained in a simple photo album
  2. I now had something to give out when people asked about my latest release

Of course, I eventually had to go one step farther and make a custom album:

Since most of my books are now out in print and neatly filling my bookshelves, you’d think the album had become redundant. But actually, it’s become a neat trip down memory lane. It has preserved all the old covers my books used to have before I updated them. Good times…

Continue Reading August #AuthorTip: Treat Yourself

August #AuthorTip: Practice Balance

Continuing this post series with a tip for not going broke–financially, emotionally, and socially:


Practice balance–in your finances and in your life.

The first rule of business is that you need to spend money to make money. Well, that may be true, but you can still be smart about where you invest it. Budget yourself and don’t spend more than you can afford. Set aside some portion of your royalties for marketing expenses, and some for necessary ones like editing and cover design. You don’t have to spend a lot to put out a beautiful book, and you don’t have to spend a lot to promote it. Look for free or low cost options online, and skip the print media (those are usually much more expensive and don’t give you nearly as much reach as the Internet).

Likewise, balance your time between your writing job and life in general. Spend time with your family, go out with your friends, take a day or two just for yourself. Get plenty of sleep, and don’t skip meals. Don’t let your passion become your jailer. It’s too easy to get swept up in all the things that you need to or want to do around your books (and believe me, the list is never ending…) and if you let it, it’ll consume your mind, body, and soul. Yes, we all “write” all the time, even if it’s just thinking about that new story we’re working on, or a new marketing technique we want to try out, but you need to be able to switch off every once in a while. Writing is a wonderful thing to do, but it’s not worth your health, your family, or your relationships.

Continue Reading August #AuthorTip: Practice Balance

August #AuthorTip: Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Continuing this post series with a versatile tip:


Don’t quit your day job–

–unless you have the funds or passive income to keep you in the lifestyle you’re used to while you write full time.

The hard truth is that writing/publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. In fact, there is no guarantee that your books will make any money at all, let alone enough to live on. If you don’t have enough savings to carry you through the dry spells or another source of income to pay the bills, don’t risk everything you have on a full-time writing career. You can still write while you hold down a job–most authors do. It’s harder, but it’s doable.

But aside from financial considerations, having a full- or part time job has other advantages, too. It gets you out of the house so you see sunshine, get out of your head, rewire your brain to something else for a little while. You meet people (a hard thing to do if you write from home full time) and have a unique opportunity to introduce them to your books. Will all of them be supportive or even interested? No. But if there is even one or two who decide to check out your books, it’s one or two more readers than you would have had otherwise. And if they like what they read, they are more likely to help spread the word because they work with a published author!

The people with whom you spend the most time are your most likely promoters. That means family, friends, and coworkers. Don’t underestimate the power of a captive 9-5 audience. 😉

Continue Reading August #AuthorTip: Don’t Quit Your Day Job