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

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

IngramSpark Authors Take Note

This morning, I received an email notification from IngramSpark on their new policies going into effect in April. 

THIS IS IMPORTANT for anyone who is currently published or is planning to publish through IngramSpark. See the full text of the notice below:

INGRAM SPARK SERVICE ALERT

IngramSpark is taking a necessary stand to uphold the integrity of and reduce bias against independently published works. To align with our industry’s needs for content integrity, we will actively remove print content from our catalog that does harm to buyers and affects the reputations of our publishers and retail and library partners.
As of April 27, 2020, the below criteria describes the types of content that may not be accepted going forward:

  1. Summaries, workbooks, abbreviations, insights, or similar type content without permission from the original author.
  2. Books containing blank pages exceeding ten percent, notepads, scratchpads, journals, or similar type content.
  3. Books or content that mirror/mimic popular titles, including without limiting, similar covers, cover design, title, author names, or similar type content.
  4. Books that are misleading or likely to cause confusion by the buyer, including without limiting, inaccurate descriptions and cover art.
  5. Books listed at prices not reflective of the book’s market value.
  6. Books scanned from original versions where all or parts contain illegible content to the detriment of the buyer.
  7. Books created using artificial intelligence or automated processes.

We reserve the right to remove content that fits the above criteria without prior notice to the publisher. Any fees paid on behalf of publishers for titles removed due to the above criteria will not be refunded. This change of service is effective April 27, 2020 and is reflected in our IngramSpark User Guide V4.

You can find more information about what kinds of titles will be under review here.

We are committed to supporting authors and publishers for the quality content they’ve produced and continuing to provide our retail and library partners with high quality, trusted catalog feeds.

The bolded, highlighted item #3 is of potential concern here. I understand the spirit of what IngramSpark is intending, and I applaud their efforts to curb intellectual property theft in a proactive way. I know there is a lot of copycatting going on in the world of fiction, especially in certain genres, so this measure is very much a good thing. 

The problem I see is that we have no way of knowing how far these measures will be taken. Many books out there have the same or similar title but are completely different books on the inside, sometimes in completely different genres. Will they be affected? Genre categories have unspoken rules for cover design. Fonts tend to “trend”, as do certain elements, styles, and designs. How close is too close for comfort? And you know how they say there’s no such thing as an original story, only original retellings? How will that affect books with similar themes and plots? 

Also, the affected books will be removed without prior notice to the author/publisher. Again, a good measure in terms of efficiency, but sucks for authors whose books just disappear from circulation one day when they didn’t do anything wrong. 

The bottom line is, when April 27th rolls around, keep an eye on your books and if you can’t find one where it should be, reach out to IngramSpark immediately for a resolution. 

Continue Reading IngramSpark Authors Take Note

Amazon’s New Rating System and What it Means for You

This is something I’ve only recently become aware of and, naturally, I noticed the problems first. Here’s my breakdown on what’s going on:

Amazon, apparently activated a new feature where users can leave a rating without a review. Meaning, you can have a book with 37 ratings but only 33 reviews, like my Wolfen:


On the surface of it, it seems like a good thing. A lot of people are shy about leaving a review, but don’t mind leaving a star rating. Plus, Barnes & Noble has been doing it for years and years so it seems like this is just Amazon catching up their review game.

But, of course, this being Amazon, it’s not quite that simple.

Amazon doesn’t show you the extra ratings like Barnes & Noble does. There is no way to see who left them (even if they were anonymous) or what they were, so the only way you have of knowing you got an extra rating is by looking at the percentage breakdown and, as I have recently discovered, those ain’t exactly what you’d call “good math”…

Here’s what happened…

While scrolling through my books on Amazon, I noticed my novella duo, The Beast Series only had a 2.7 star rating. :O Now, vanity aside, I knew for a fact that wasn’t the case because my reviews there hadn’t changed in months, and the last time I’d checked, I only had one 1-star review. The math didn’t add up so I clicked it to see what was going on, and I saw this:

5 ratings, 52% of which were 1 star, according to the breakdown. To say this was upsetting is an understatement, so I scrolled down to check on the reviews and saw this:

I know that’s a lot of tiny text to read, so let me break it down for you, with actual math. The book had 5 ratings and 5 corresponding reviews, so right off the bat I knew there weren’t any “extra” ratings screwing with the stats. What I saw was what I was supposed to get:.

  • Three (3) 5-star ratings, which accounted for 60% (not the 24% shown in the breakdown)
  • One (1) 4-star review, accounting for 20% (again, not the 24% shown)
  • And one (1) 1-star review, accounting for another 20% (definitely not the 52% shown in the breakdown)

The average rating, therefore, should have been 4.0 / 5, which is quite different from the 2.7 rating Amazon was showing on their storefront.

Now, math may not be my strong suit but I can still count to 5, and there is no way that a company as huge as Amazon could have goofed on the math, so the only other explanation is that this was done on purpose.

But why?

As someone commented on that Facebook post of mine, apparently, this is Amazon’s way of combating the growing problem of authors buying floods of 5-star reviews to game Amazon’s algorithms and improve their visibility/sales. Amazon decided to face this issue head on by devaluing 5-star ratings and increasing the value placed on low star ratings in some twisted attempt to level the playing field, I guess… (insert a cartoon WTAF?! face here)

And you might say to yourself, “Oh, okay, well we know the star ratings have been getting abused by unscrupulous authors. At least Amazon is doing something about it.”

Nope. Nope. Hell to the no.

What Amazon actually did was render their own rating/review system obsolete and turned it into false advertising (if not outright fraud) with two easy steps.

  • You can’t trust the reviews because you can no longer tell whether they’re genuine and organic, or just something the author paid for
  • You can’t trust the average star rating, because it’s not what it actually says
  • You can’t trust the number of ratings/reviews because there may or may not be hidden ones that Amazon won’t show you–and that means you can’t even verify what they are.

In short, YOU CAN’T TRUST AMAZON.

But it gets worse…

For one thing, the ratings and reviews don’t show in your Author Central account, either, to verify from that end. You have to go by what’s displayed on the main storefront. So many ways to rig the game when no one can see you doing it…

For another, Amazon shoppers don’t know this. No one looking for a good book to read is going to whip out a calculator and double check the math on the star ratings. They’ll take what’s there at face value. How many people do you think will click on a book with a 2.7 star rating when there are literally millions of books with 4-5 star ratings? Do you think that might hurt an author’s sales?

But still…

You might say to yourself this is a necessary move. You have to fight fire with fire.

No. It’s one thing for a player within the system to game the system to their advantage. It’s another for the entire system to be changed to everyone’s disadvantage. This punishes authors who never had anything to do with fake reviews. Authors who worked hard to get a handful of ratings and reviews, who can’t afford to advertise on the platform and rely on those reviews and star ratings as a promotional tool.

I sincerely hope that this is still in beta testing and Amazon will eventually fine tune the rating-only system so they are seen and verifiable. At the same time, I don’t really think they will. And I have little faith they have any interest whatsoever to maintain a fair rating/review system.

Update on The Beast Series

As of my typing this paragraph, I received a new 5-star review and my average star rating for this title has, indeed changed. But the math is still wrong (should be 4.167, or 4.2, properly rounded up):

Just something to keep in mind going forward. I will be keeping an eye on this, and you should, too, whether you already have books published on Amazon or you’re still in the planning/prep stage.

One way to combat this:

If you use your ratings/reviews to promote your book, use individual reviews rather than the average rating. Keep choice reviews on your blog/website. Have a page dedicated to each book and show off your best reviews, and don’t forget to include links to all stores where readers can buy them, not just Amazon. Remember, your website is the only place where you control the content and how it’s presented.

If you have a note in your books asking readers to leave a review, or if you regularly ask your readers to review, give them multiple options (i.e., Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.) because those places count, too. You can also ask for testimonials on your website and use those to promote your book (this is something I just thought of now and will look into implementing on my own website).

Good luck, and…

May the odds be ever in your favor…

Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)

Continue Reading Amazon’s New Rating System and What it Means for You

Smashwords Industry Predictions for 2020

Mark Coker has published his annual report of predictions for the book industry in his blog post: 2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire. This is one of the articles I go out of my way to look up every single year so I’ll know what I’m getting into.

This year, I won’t lie, the outlook appears pretty bleak. It’s no secret that Mr. Coker isn’t a fan of Amazon’s business practices, so you’ll see a lot of that in the post, but he makes good, solid points on everything he shares. Maybe with a bit too much drama, but still…

Here are the facts:

When you entrust the bulk of your publication to a single entity, that entity owns you.

When you allow another entity to set the price for your product, that entity owns your income.

When you have to pay an entity that offers free distribution to make your product visible, it’s no longer free distribution.

But here is another fact:

None of this was forced on Indies. Indies chose it on their own, over and over again. It was a choice that might have provided a slight edge early on, but has now become a shackle. And, for many, the cost of removing it is too great.

My thoughts on the whole thing:

You can’t control the breadth and depth of a global, digital industry that’s open to everyone and has very few rules of proper conduct. You might as well try to drain the ocean with a tea cup.

What you can control is yourself. Your actions. Your books. Your publishing strategy. What you can do is fight like hell to keep that control from being taken away from you. Because isn’t that control the reason you chose to self-publish in the first place?

I became an Indie author because I wanted to present my books to the world my way. That hasn’t, and will never change. So my personal focus for 2020 will be on what I do and how I do it. Because, at the end of the day, I’m an author, and my books are all that matter.

Sometimes you just have to get back to the basics, ya know? 🙂

Continue Reading Smashwords Industry Predictions for 2020

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

Hybrid Royalty Share with Findaway Voices

An unplanned BREAKING NEWS type post for anyone looking at audiobook production.

Two days ago, I got a notification from Findaway Voices that they have started a new program for hybrid royalty sharing.

For those who don’t know, Findaway Voices is an audiobook production and distribution platform. Prior to this announcement, their program was strictly pay-in-full. Meaning, once your audiobook was completed, part of the author’s approval process was paying the full amount of production costs before the audiobook could be distributed. It was (and still is) a pricey proposition which not many authors can afford.

But it’s important to look at what you actually get for that price: Full and unlimited ownership of all rights.

That means, once you pay for your audiobook, you can do whatever you want with it. You can use Findaway Voices to distribute your audiobook to their partner stores and libraries, or to do it yourself. You can also do both: distribute through Findaway Voices and sell it yourself on the side. No restrictions. You set the price. You call the shots. You get what you pay for.

Now, they have a program they call Voice Share and you can click the link to read the announcement. The basic gist of it is this:

You get the option of paying in full at the conclusion of your production, or using Voice Share. If you use Voice Share, you pay only 50% of the full production cost and agree to have a share of your royalties go to your narrator. Narrators have to sign up for this program, and authors have to prove some past sales trends to qualify.

Once the agreement is made, the book is distributed to all the same Findaway Voices partners with the only restriction being that the author cannot publish it on his/her own elsewhere. If, somewhere down the line, the author decides they want to stop sharing royalties, there is a buy out option to pay 2 times the original payment (for a total of 1.5 times the full production cost) and they can reclaim their full rights. Narrators get to keep any royalties earned up to that date.

It’s still a pricey proposition, I will say that right off the bat. But it’s an option, and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about it.  Now, let’s compare with a direct competitor, shall we?

 

Findaway Voices Amazon ACX
Distribution Channels iTunes, Audible, Amazon,
Google Play, Scribd, Bibliotheca,
Audiobooks, Chirp, Walmart,
Hibooks, Hoopla, Storytel,
Rakuten (Kobo), Overdrive, Playster,
Nook Audio, Audiobooks NZ, Baker & Taylor,
Beek, Downpour, EBSCO, eStories,
Follett, Hummingbird, InstaRead,
Libro.fm, MLOL, Nextory,
3 Leaf Group, 24 Symbols,
Odilo, PermaBound, Wheelers
Amazon, Audible, iTunes
Author/Publisher Sets Retail Price* YES NO
Standard Royalty Rate 80% 40% (Exclusive)
25% (Non-Exclusive)
Royalty Share Options Voice Share Royalty Share
Royalty Share Plus
Royalty Share Upfront Cost 50% total production cost 0 (Royalty Share)
Negotiable PFH rate (Royalty Share Plus)
Royalty Share Rate to Author 60% 20%
Royalty Share Restrictions Distribution exclusive through FW to all partners Distribution exclusive through ACX to all partners
Contract term Indefinite 7 years, automatically renewed in 1 year increments
Cancellation option Any time At end of contract term
Cancellation fee 2 x original payment (100% production cost) N/A

*Findaway Voices allows authors/publishers to set the retail price for their audiobook and it can be changed at any time. This pricing does not carry over to retail partners who set prices automatically based on audiobook length, such as Audible, and those who pay out of a royalty pool, such as Scribd. When publishing through ACX, authors/publishers have no control over the retail price at any of its retail partners.

Certainly puts things into perspective, no?

With this move, Findaway Voices will appeal to authors/publishers who like a little flexibility in payment options. The terms of their hybrid royalty share program are a great deal friendlier to authors than those of ACX, and with a worldwide distribution network and their partnership with Smashwords, they are in an excellent position to level the playing field a little bit and loosen Amazon’s monopolistic hold on the book industry. Little by little, in 7-year increments. (ACX launched in 2011, some of those early projects have their contracts fulfilled, and Findaway Voices does give you the option of uploading a completed audiobook *hint hint*)

And now I return to my August #AuthorTips.

Continue Reading Hybrid Royalty Share with Findaway Voices

On eBooks and DRM

The buzz stories from the last month are all about the state of the publishing world. Kristen Lamb did a series of really well-researched and written articles:

If you’re serious about becoming or continuing to be a published writer, do yourself a favor and read both of them. Trust me.

But for today, I want to focus on another article:

Ebooks Purchased From Microsoft Will Be Deleted This Month Because You Don’t Really Own Anything Anymore

First of all (and shame on me), I had no idea Microsoft started dipping its toes into the eBook business. But from the looks of it, that’s all they ever did, and they quickly regretted the choice. My guess is, they had no idea what they were getting into and weren’t in the least prepared for it. And now a lot of their customers are going to be very, very upset.

So here is where I put in my two cents’ worth.

Something many people don’t know about eBooks is that when you buy one from a Big Name store (Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble), you don’t actually purchase the book, you purchase the license to read the book. That has always been the case, and it means the article is very much correct: You do not actually own the content you purchased. You basically just own the right to access and read it whenever you want for as long as the store that sold it to you is in business. You are placing your faith and buying power behind the idea that your chosen store will remain in business indefinitely (or at least as long as you live).

These days, with the publishing landscape constantly shifting the way it is, there is a certain level of risk involved in doing that. But it’s the price we pay for convenience. You want your content delivered instantly to your device? That means giving the store access to your device and all its content. You want your content accessible anywhere from the Cloud? That means entrusting your content to someone else’s servers.

This is very much a faith-based business and sometimes, as in the case of Microsoft, that faith ends up being misplaced.

I know, it seems really unfair, but there is actually a good reason for things being set up the way they are.

Digital files work differently than physical copies. It’s time-consuming and expensive to make even ten copies of a printed book. Not really worth the effort when it comes to redistribution. But with an eBook, you can redistribute the file to an infinite number of people with just one click. That’s an infinite number of pirate copies of someone’s hard work just floating around the Internet for anyone to download without paying for it. It’s potentially several fortunes’ worth of royalties the author has just lost with the simple click of a button. Years and decades of hard work flushed right down the toilet, and back to square one.

This is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) comes in. It’s a piece of code that effectively locks your eBook so you can’t share it illegally. It’s there to protect authors as well as bookstores against illegal file sharing (piracy). It’s restrictive, but well-intentioned, and well within the store’s rights to protect its bottom line. After all, they’re not in the business of giving stuff out for free.

But with every lock, there will come a day when someone makes a counterfeit key. So it is with DRM. People everywhere are now sharing tips and tools for removing this piece of code, as if it’s a matter of course. They usually have valid reasons, like protecting their content from being taken away, or converting it to a different format so they can read it on a third party device. Mostly it’s due to a lack of understanding (you didn’t buy the book, but a license to it) or misguided entitlement (“I bought the book, so I should be able to do whatever I want with it!”)

But regardless of their reasons, removing DRM from an eBook is still against the eBook store’s TOS and (I believe) illegal, to boot.

Side Note: This is why I am staunchly against proprietary software, file formats, and monopolies in general. Big Name stores forcefully create loyal customers by making it convenient for readers to buy their content and highly inconvenient to “cheat” on them with other platforms and content. Think how impossible it is to transfer the songs you bought on iTunes to a different brand MP3 player. Same concept. Once you start using one proprietary platform, you sort of lock yourself into it. They don’t play well with others.

So what can you do to make sure your investment is protected?

As an author:

#1 Publish as wide as possible to give your readers options for buying your books. This not only makes the buying experience more pleasant for your readers, it protects your book from being uploaded to a store by someone else.

FYI: This happens a lot, especially to authors exclusive to Amazon. Someone will take a book, strip the DRM and upload to another store under their own account to illegally rack up sales for themselves. If/when Amazon find out, they can flag your account for having published elsewhere against their TOS. So not only do you get robbed of sales by a pirate, you also lose your legitimate royalties.

#2 Direct readers to all the places where they can buy your books, not just the ones you prefer. You never know where your readers like to shop. Giving them a link directly to a variety of stores makes it easier for readers to find and buy your book.

#3 If at all financially feasible, set up your book in print as well. If you can’t afford IngramSpark, go for LuLu. If you are a die hard Amazon fan, you can also use their KDP platform to create your paperback but I hear it’s gone down hill quite a bit since the days of CreateSpace.

As a reader:

#1 Take the time to understand what you’re paying for when you shop at a particular store. Microsoft is not the only store using DRM. They are not the only ones that can go under at a moment’s notice. Having a Big Name does not guarantee a store’s future success.

#2 Shop at stores that give you several options for file formats and don’t use DRM (Smashwords.com is an excellent example). Any time a store doesn’t have a dedicated reader device or app, they are more likely to give you options so you can use whatever reader or app you prefer.

#3 Purchase hard copies instead of eBooks. Yes, they are more costly but, if you’re like me and re-read your favorite books every year, it’s more than worth it. Plus, a bookshelf full of books is a beautiful addition to any home. 😉

Practicing what I preach: 

If you’re still with me, know that this is not one of those, “Do as I say, not as I do” things. I make my own books available worldwide, as eBooks and paperbacks (with only a couple exceptions), and I am slowly putting them into audiobook production, too.

You can purchase them at the Big Name stores (Amazon, B&N, Apple Books, Kobo) but if you want to have the freedom of eBook format choice, I recommend buying them from Smashwords.

For paperbacks, it’s always appreciated when you support your local independent bookstore and request a copy through them. It helps create some healthy competition in the marketplace and supports your neighborhood small business owners. 🙂 But if that’s not your thing, there’s always Books-A-Million as an online alternative.

If cost is an issue, I recommend checking with your local library. They may already have the eBook or even paperback version available and, if not, you can always request them. It saves you money, helps support the library system, and still gets authors paid. Win-win-win.

For those unfamiliar with my work, I write cross-genre, mostly science fiction or fantasy with varying degrees of romance. Each series is very different from the others, so buyer beware–you may love one and end up hating another. Here is a chart to help you navigate the different series:

You can always find more information and additional buying options on my author website: aliannedonnelly.com

Thanks for reading!

Continue Reading On eBooks and DRM

A Rant and a History Lesson in Publishing

Being in the publishing industry, you come across a lot of stigma and negativity about self-publishing. Right off the bat, I have to be 100% honest here and agree that not everyone who self-publishes should do so. But, I also have to point out the snobbery that usually underlies the argument that “self-published authors are just people who weren’t good enough to get a publishing deal.” Yeah, I’ve heard that song and dance before. Lots of times. It’s practically a chorus on constant loop in the background. You don’t always hear it said to your face, but you can tell by what the person is saying and not saying that they’re definitely thinking it.

Earlier this week, I came across something that got my hackles up:

Witers

Can you feel the condescension? I spent an hour mopping up that dripping sarcasm and my floors will never be the same, I tell you. Obviously, whoever wrote this doesn’t know anything about the history of publishing, nor do they care to. Therefore, this post is not for them.

This post is for every self-published and aspiring author out there who might come across bullshit like this and get discouraged before they’d even had a chance to excel. So let’s break this cesspool of a superiority complex down to its elements and translate.

WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, WE RELIED ON EXPERTS AND EDUCATORS…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Safe to assume, I think, that this is referring to an age before the Internet. Because these days, we still rely on experts and educators. We just don’t have to drive out of state to find them and talk to them. You can literally Google anything and get a flood of results. If you’re any good at distinguishing pop culture crap from academic works supported by a bibliography of legitimate sources, you can learn anything about anything.

WE ALSO NEEDED CONTACTS TO OPEN DOORS WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Yes, this one is sadly true, networking back in the day was difficult and a lot of talented authors never managed to get their foot in the right door. But you actually still need agents, industry contacts, and networking to get published by one of the Big 5 today. The difference is there are now smaller publishing houses, too and most of them accept direct submissions by authors. The difficulty now is not “how to get a publisher” but “how do I make sure my publisher is legit?” Also, “what happens if/when my publisher goes under?” Because that happens. Which is why you should always read your contract very carefully before you sign.

AND THE NOTION OF SELF-PUBLISHING…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Welcome to the modern age, where every tool you need in order to put out a quality product is actually accessible to anyone. There are freelance professionals with those same decades of experience who can format and cover your book without the need for a publisher. There are print-on-demand companies that can produce your book to market standards and ship them to stores, or directly to your readers. And get this, these same companies… also work for publishing houses. :O What is the world coming to?!

BUT TODAY’S WRITERS ARE APPARENTLY EXPERTS IN ALL THESE FIELDS.

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the fact that I didn’t have the tools to do what you do, and that had to struggle to get someone else to do for me what has now become so easy for you to do for yourself, so I will belittle everything you do so you never forget your place: beneath me. Because I had people to do it for me, and you have to do it all yourself.

Yes. Some self-published authors actually are experts. Because they spent the money on the right tools, took the time to learn, and went through years of trial and error to get their books on par with traditionally published books. These unicorns who are not only gifted enough to have written a book, but multi-talented enough to master the business aspects of publishing exist–and they’re not as rare as you might think. The fact that these options were not accessible to older writers, or that those older writers didn’t want to take advantage of the options they did have does not in any way diminish the accomplishments of today’s self-published writers. In fact, their accomplishments are bigger and go much deeper precisely because they did it all (or mostly) on their own. An added benefit or two: We now get to control how our books look and feel, and we can do it in our own time. No more deadlines or delays while we wait for our turn on the waiting list.

HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED…

Translation: I am resentful of the fact that I can no longer use my publishing deal as a status symbol and jealous of your many skills, which I never had to learn.

Yes, things have changed. Quite a bit, actually. And believe it or not, it’s only a bad thing if it threatens your own delusion of superiority. Do bad books and badly put-together books get published? Absolutely. But that goes for self-published and traditionally published titles. The backing of a publisher’s reputation might help ease the marketing burden of selling books, but it is no longer a mark of higher quality books. The playing field is more level now, and that’s what this ugly, sarcastic rant was about all along: fear of competition. It’s easy to become a best selling household name when there are 1,000 books published every year. But when it’s 1,000 every day, the equation changes. Today’s  new authors have a good sense of what they’re getting into and they’re prepared to fight the battle to the top. It’s the older ones, who started out when times were cushier, who struggle to come to terms with the here and now. And it’s usually the ones who cannot or will not change with the times who lash out the hardest at those of us who do.

THERE, NOW THAT’S FIXED. MOVING ON!

Speaking of experts and years of study, I don’t think whoever originally posted that rant actually consulted either. Because, you see, a simple Goolge search showed me there is a very thorough breakdown on The Legacy of the Vanity Press and Digital Transitions in the Journal of Electronic Publishing. It’s long, so give yourself time, but you should definitely read it. Because you know what? It turns out author-subsidized publishing goes back to the 1800s. Back then, as today,  there were legitimate reasons and honest business models for author-subsidized publishing (what became referred to as vanity publishing). The stigma around it emerged early on, but grew over time and became exponentially worse with the advent of eBook publishing and self-publishing.

We (the self-published author population) have transformed the entire industry so quickly even some of us still have whiplash. The gates have been opened to all and, at the moment, it really is a bit chaotic. Fortunes have been won on the backs of Indies (*cough*Amazon*cough*) and we continue to adapt, improve, and in general move forward toward a new future. Traditional publishing hasn’t been the only game in town for a long time. My prediction is, now that the floodgates have opened, there will be no closing them. No one has any intention of going back to how things used to be, so you might as well get used to how things are.

AND NOW SOME TIPS

  1. If you are passionate about writing, write.
  2. If you are passionate about getting your work out there, find a way to do it.
  3. Put in the effort to learn and do it the right way. Make your book as professional as possible to meet market standards.
  4. Whenever possible, go one step beyond and do just a little bit better than you did last time.
  5. Save your pennies and keep that day job, because this path ain’t easy, or cheap.
  6. Support your fellow writers instead of tearing them down.
  7. Never give up on doing what you love.

And now I think I’ll get off my soap box and go do some writing.

Continue Reading A Rant and a History Lesson in Publishing

Opinion: Drink Less Water

So there I was, chatting with a friend of mine, and telling her my publishing woes, and she asked me what I thought the issue was behind them. So I started telling her about all the factors affecting authors and publishers today, that the book market is oversaturated, that more books than ever are being sold, but per-author earnings keep going down, and that the industry “advice” was to publish more books faster.

And it literally just hit me how stupid that advice was, and how stupid I was for not having realized this sooner. Literally, all this advice does is make a bad problem worse. It’s telling a drowning man to drink more water.

Too many books on the market? Sell more books!

Books not valued for the work that goes into them? Do more, faster so it looks even more effortless!

Books can’t find a spotlight among so many options? Create more options!

How in the world does that make any sense? 

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t—for authors, anyway. It sure makes a great deal of sense for stores and distributors, though. More product means more sales. They get to replenish their inventory faster with fresh content and turn easy profits off the authors’ labor. They can drive down prices to attract more customers, because they’re not undercutting their own profits but the authors’. And that, ladies and gents, is how we all got into this mess. Some of us more willingly than others.

But let’s get real…

Ok, the conspiracy theory portion of this post is now safely over. Let’s talk options. As an author myself, I can’t help being dismayed and worried about what the future might bring to this industry. Some people have warned that we might be heading down the path of the music industry, where online content is free, and artists/authors only make money off live events. But I can’t imagine how that would work with books… Signings, conventions, and readings, I suppose. Open mic nights to gain some attention, then paid events where authors talk about their books and do live readings. Book club appearances?  For me, reading itself is such a solitary activity, it’s difficult for me to imagine such an arrangement. But then, I’ve always been a bit of a loner.

There are some other options I see as a little more feasible. One of them is Publica, which I’ve introduced here before. I like their secondary market system, which allows readers to resell eBooks and authors to earn royalties off those resales. It makes sense, from an author’s standpoint. If it was adopted industry-wide, I think we would all be better off. But that might not happen for a long, long time—if ever.

Another option is something I hadn’t considered before (but then, I can be a bit slow on the uptake sometimes). Patreon. You may have heard of it, or seen it in action with other artists, etc. Basically, it’s a sort of personalized VIP membership service. An author makes an account and opens it up to patrons for monthly contributions. Patrons choose from among different levels of membership, each of which offers different perks like exclusive content, sneak peeks, etc. on a regular basis. The reader gets closer access to the author and their work, the author gets a steady stream of income while they work.

It hearkens back to the old days when artists would have wealthy patrons supporting their creative endeavors so artists could focus on their art and not, ya know, worrying where their next meal will come from. I haven’t given the system much consideration before, but I think maybe I should. It would definitely go against my hardcore belief that authors get paid after they publish. Call me radical, but it appears that system may be changing and, if we want to survive on our terms (or as close as we can get to them), we must learn to change with the times.

What I like about this is that it takes out the middlemen. It brings artists and authors directly to their readers, and breaks the stranglehold of royalties, publishing costs, etc.

An elegant, old solution to a new problem. There’s poetry in that, I think. In terms of our original metaphor…

Don’t drink more water. Inflate your flotation device.

I’d now like to open this up to comments and questions:

  1. What do you think about authors utilizing Patreon?
  2. Would you be willing to support your favorite authors with a small monthly contribution?
  3. What kind of content and perks would you like to see in return?

Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

Continue Reading Opinion: Drink Less Water