Tag Archives: Publishing

Rolling Your Own Audio Books

Photo of Michael Faris sitting in chair

Why not do it yourself?

I started checking out audio books to listen to on my mp3 player. I downloaded some free classics that I found on Librivox. These are mostly public domain books read and recorded by volunteers. Having read some of these books in the past, I had an idea of what to expect… but I was mostly disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully support their noble cause and salute their efforts to preserve literary heritage.  But there has to be better quality material available in the way of audio books.

For me, lengthy novels like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea quickly became boring and difficult to follow. The same of shorter ones like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Why was I dissatisfied? Aside from sound quality, which was rather poor to good in my opinion, there was something about the intonation or pace that I didn’t like. But hey! What can you expect for free. ..and what can a really good audio book sound like?

So I went to audible.com. Here I found much newer, popular books read by professional people. Yet I chose to purchase another classic: Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, narrated by Frank Muller. The book was over nine hours long. Sound quality was way better, and the narration was excellent.  After that I purchased Henre Charriere’s Papillon, narrated by Michael Prichard. I had seen the movie starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, and loved the story, but the eleven-hour audio book was even better!

So what made those books better? OK, the sound was produced by professionals, people who specialize in recording quality… and it’s what you would expect. The track was all normalized, optimized, tweaked filtered and whatnot to create the best possible results using current mainstream technology. But more than that it was the narrator’s tone, inflections and perhaps the soul that he put into the reading.

True, a great storyteller needs a good story to do his thing, but the life he breathes into characters becomes the spice to the essence of the tale. His voice paints a vivid picture made more complete by his intonation. He adds character to characters. They take on more meaning just from the way he expresses the words used in dialogue and descriptive writing.

Of course, the professional audio books cost money to produce and to own. They are often subject to digital rights restrictions, which severely limits the ability to transfer them from one device to another. This is intended to prevent unauthorized downloads and free use of the material. But is it really necessary for the newbie author?

So the big guys have produced professional quality audio books by famous and popular authors selling anywhere upwards from ten to thirty dollars or more that are difficult to give away or share due to DRM. (Personally I would love for someone to steal my material and pass it all around… Heck,  make it go viral! It’s free promotion for me. I can see nothing but benefit by not using DRM. But that’s a whole different subject).

This model works for an established author with a track record. He gets great reviews and wide distribution as well as premium space in the brick and mortar bookstores. The business plan is structured so that everyone along the path of production, sales and distribution gets their cut of the proceeds from the project. Nothing really wrong with that model, except that it requires prior establishment of and considerable investment by the author.

But what about the fledgling author just starting to flex his wings? The one without the budget. And what does it mean to the writer with several published books under his belt that wants to expand into audio versions of their work? Does it really take big bucks to produce and market your own audio books? Can a person produce a good audio recording on their own?

I’m thinking that along with the flood of new technology comes a vast opportunity for creative writers. Obtaining the software and learning to record your own narrations is simple. All you need is a modest investment in a good microphone, and a computer with a sound card plus speakers. The rest depends on your ability to tell a good story.

Notice I said tell. You might believe you can write a good story, but can you tell one? Have you listened to your recorded voice? What do others say? How well does your work come across when it is narrated, rather than absorbed by looking at the printed page?

Words can only half describe the author’s real meaning. The other half comes from the subtle inflections and emphasis of the voice. An author may even feel that no one can read it like they wrote it, except maybe themselves. Punctuation and  diacritics can only go so far in describing speech. The very same printed words when spoken by different people can sound so different.

So if you can write a good story, and you can tell a good story, what’s to prevent you from making your own audio book?

In an effort to find out, I obtained a dynamic microphone and downloaded Audacity, a free program for recording and editing sound tracks. I made some tests in my relatively quiet office, laying down tracks of my voice while reading some of my material. After comparing samples made with and without the pop-filter, and testing different mike positions and volumes, I attempted to do an entire short story.

Right off the bat, I stumbled and stuttered, causing me to pause and reread portions many times. But I would stop and patiently repeat the words until they came out the way I intended for them to sound. The whole process took about an hour to lay down the raw track. However, the editing process takes a lot longer, especially if you factor in the learning curve. For me, it took approximately six hours of recording and editing to produce what I felt was an acceptable file.

Audacity is a cool program that anyone can use. It records in .wav format, which is an uncompressed file that will play on any Windows Media Player. When you open the file it is graphically represented on a timeline from left to right. Sounds are represented as groups of squiggles that form definite shapes.

Audacity Screenshot

Besides the ability to cut and paste, there are dozens of effects that can be applied to any selection. You can amplify or soften the volume, fade sections in or out, change pitch, eliminate pops and unwanted sounds, adjust the high, mid-range and low tones and take advantage of many other professional features to edit the sound.

I archived my edited track as a wav. file and saved often as I progressed. When finished, I was able to import the file to mp3 and transfer it to my portable player.

Now I was excited. I invited my wife to go for a ride with me in my pickup truck. (She had no idea!)

I casually plugged the player into the deck and turned the unit on. I kept glancing over at her as the piece began, watching her reaction.

She sat there looking out the window, not really paying attention at first, but as it soaked in, she cocked her head and stared at me in amazement. “Hey! That’s you!”

We both burst out laughing. It sounded pretty good. Not bad for a novice.

So my next questions are: Why do you need to hire out this service? What is it about the process that you cannot do yourself? It would seem that pushing your art to the next level would be an inviting challenge, worthy of your creative abilities as a spinner of great yarns.

So for an online test, I have recorded one of my poems – Completely Stumped by Michael A. Faris. How does it sound to you?

I’d like to hear from some other folks that have tried this. Let me know your experiences and conclusions. I especially want to know how indie authors view DRM.

Until next week,

Michael Faris

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Book Authors Drop Old Paradigms and Pick Up New Tools

No question about it, computer technology has radically changed the way authors develop their books.Photo of Michael Faris

The old publishing paradigm presented some formidable hurdles for an author. Aside from writing the book, the remaining task of formatting and otherwise readying a manuscript for printing and subsequent publishing used to be a daunting and expensive process..

In the past authors inspected galley proofs from the typesetter for errors and typos. Once they were satisfied their copy was correct, they waited (sometimes for weeks) for the book printer to generate proofs in the form of a blueline. Photographs and pictures needed to be rendered by a completely different process that involved color separations and halftoning. Proofs were made from the same films intended for platemaking.

All in all, the process was painstakingly slow and unforgiving. Visualizing the final outcome took some experience and imagination. All the parts had to be wrestled into place with careful considerations about the way everything fit. Resizing or reworking any of the elements involved more time and expense, making the process tedious and pushing actual publication dates out further.

Authors had to rely on the services of graphic arts specialists in order to get professional results. Typesetters, color separators, strippers and proofers all contributed to the process. All these methods and procedures jacked up the cost of production, not to mention the cost of additional materials consumed in the prep stages.

Not only was the author forced to pay for these services (in advance), but to make matters worse he usually had to compromise design considerations in order to conform to the process. As if that wasn’t enough, the actual production was slow. By the time he held an actual printed book, there were months of time and thousands of dollars already invested. The icing on the cake was when additional errors were discovered on the five thousand (or more) copies, all printed and bound.

Today most of the middle operations associated with publishing have been eliminated and replaced with a new workflow designed for digital production of printed books. Now the creative and motivated author is able to visualize the final product on his desktop computer. Most WYSIWYG programs are fairly accurate in their page renditions, within the limits of what can be seen on a monitor as compared to printed page.

Now you have ultimate control over content and design. Electronic tools are available that allow you to work with pictures and graphics to format your work any way you want. Changes can be accommodated with the click of a mouse. Different versions can be set up using modifiable styles that change the appearance of the document instantly. Image quality is better than it has ever been, owing to the recent advancements in color control and imaging technology.

Perhaps best of all is that with today’s tools an author can produce a finished document, one that he has generated completely on his own, all formatted and press ready without any outside assistance whatsoever. In some instances, he can submit a file for printing and get it back in his hands —the same day! Not only that, but this first proof is exactly what the finished product will look like —the paper, the image quality, the page order and positioning —in short it is just like the finished product will be in production, because the proofing process is the same as the production process.

This opens up vast opportunities for authors. Now there is an economical way to produce material that can be marketed in small quantities and then revised and re-issued. These test cycles make it easy to improve the effectiveness of a document and help to tailor it for a specific purpose. Without this ability, many good ideas are abandoned because of the expense of adequate testing.

The new tools are rapidly evolving, offering better ways to communicate. Small quantities of quality printed books can now be created on demand by just about anyone.

So what’s next? The writing’s on the wall… er monitor. The industry has taken great steps to streamline, economize and otherwise develop systems to produce books with less impact on the environment. All of this research and investment in machines and technology to print on paper will continue to evolve as the old school dies out. In its place will be the children of the future. These people will not remember paper-based books because all of their interests and needs will be delivered electronically. The information is too timely, too fleeting to be recorded in print media. Storing printed books will not be practical. Traditional books will become dinosaurs of the past.

But complete control over content and appearance will likely remain in the hands of the creator. Imaginative authors will be able to add additional media (videos and sound clips) to the electronic versions of their work. They will be able to deliver content targeted at specific profile characteristics in small focused quantities. Building, modifying and enhancing archived data will continue to get easier as more software tools become available.

On-demand printing on paper is clearly a temporary niche in publishing. Its features pale compared to those offered by completely electronic media. It will certainly fade into the background as people gradually change the way they acquire and absorb information. It is only a short run to the next level. The real challenge, more than ever will be to be heard in this growing mass of confusion. Where will you fit in?

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Self Publishing’s Biggest Hurdle

Photo of Michael Faris - About Time Publishing

Michael Faris

So you hear about this great book that you simply gotta have. What do you do?

Most folks go online to Amazon and do a quick search. Payment is by credit card and the item is either shipped or made available for download. Simple and effective. Customer gets product and seller gets paid.

This seems like a very efficient system on the surface. But is it really?

Why did the consumer even want to buy this book? Was it something that Amazon did? Is the fact that they were able to find the book listed at Amazon have anything to do with promoting the merchandise?

I have an idea that building a demand for your work is the biggest chunk of a successful author’s marketing plan. It is far more important than developing distribution systems, because if there is no demand for the product, then there will be no sales. In fact, it could become a drag because of associated costs, such as inventory or membership or listing fees. Distribution arrangements must be managed, which takes valuable time. Further, you could be subject to restrictions that could compromise your flexibility when it comes to setting prices and selling in other venues.

I’m not saying that that you don’t need a way to distribute your products. But I am raising a few questions:

  • Is a big worldwide distribution channel really necessary for your work?
  • Does an author need to share revenue by way of sales commissions to a distributor?
  • Are there other potentially more profitable ways to set up a supply chain?

True, dyed-in-the-wool DIYers thrill at the chance to produce something through their own ingenuity. To create a work of art is a beautiful thing. To be able to sell it is even better than beautiful! But sometimes production costs for small quantities of quality goods leaves no margin for profit when you go to sell it. That’s why it is important to examine every aspect of your plan to market your work.

Since profit equals the selling price minus the costs ( production + distribution), it would stand to reason that anything that can be done to reduce the cost will increase the profit. This goes for anything that influences these costs.

I will be covering some ideas about shaving the cost of producing and marketing books for writers and self-publishers in later posts. I invite feedback and suggestions. What are some of the best ways a fledgling author can promote and distribute their work.

I would like to leave you with some food for thought:

Search engines can find just about anything, including the distributor of your books… even if the only distributor is You!

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

POD Books on a Digital Press

Freedom of the press has taken on a whole new perspective. Control is finally in the hands of the author. Gone are the expensive and time-consuming middle steps that used to limit the production of printed material. In its place are user-friendly tools to communicate with state-of-the-art technology designed to print on demand.

Digital presses evolved from electrostatic copiers. The technology does not require plates in the traditional sense. Instead, the image is transmitted to the imaging cylinder electronically. Each revolution builds a new image. This makes it possible to print consecutive pages in order as they come off the press. Not only do they print consecutively, but the run can also be configured to print both sides of the sheet. This is how digital books are printed.

Electronic printing is not in its infancy. It has evolved from the smeared and often dirty-looking black and white copies to the sophisticated full color quality printing we see today. Mainstream software to communicate with these new printing machines is available universally. The interface is intuitive, making the preparation of materials easy and quite flexible.

In most cases, an author can submit a complete book, consisting of consecutive pages formatted to the desired page size. The digital press operator can drop the file into standard templates that will arrange the pages on the press sheet according to the chosen binding method. Documents can be created in most word-processing programs such as MS Word, or any program that will yield a PDF, a standard of the industry. After uploading your file, many online facilities provide simple tools to help you finalize the look of your project. You can even request a single proof copy before committing to any quantity.

Many printers who use Print-on-Demand technology have finishing services, such as binding, laminating and stamping. Printers who specialize in books have auto-binders that run inline with the press. The cost of digital printing is very competitive, so it is wise to shop around and compare services. Don’t forget to figure in the cost of shipping.

I purchase the printed sheets off the digital press and bind my own books. Over the years I have written and produced several books made in this way and have found the process to be efficient and economical. I can make as few or as many as I need at a time, even produce different versions in the same press run. I can add color pages at any position, photos, charts, diagrams and anything that I can get to work in my page layouts.

I will post some information about binding your own work in the near future. It is fun and very rewarding.

Soon,

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

About Time Publishing – a fresh perspective

What does it mean to publish your work?

Wikipedia defines publishing as the process of production and dissemination of literature or information— the activity of making information available to the general public.

Making your work available is one thing, making people want to buy it is a completely different prospect altogether.

Marketing can be defined as the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

Still just a lot of words. I think I can sum it up in fewer: For authors, making their work available is secondary to the main objective of building a demand for it.

This blog will explore some of the methods and tools available to writers who want to market their work. the main focus is on DIY methods that will speed and economize the publishing process to make it possible for content creators to be able to profit from their efforts.

I hope to build a network of resources that will appeal to authors at all levels. I believe that thorough understanding of the dynamics of the publishing process is paramount to success. I also believe that the more involved you become in promoting your own work, the more comfortable you become with the marketing aspect.

Authors who just want to write will do just that. Write and no more. Authors who want to make a success of their work will need to treat it like a business. They will have to nurture and analyze every aspect of each literary project in order to make it a viable income stream.

Look for more tips and tools to be mentioned here about P.O.D. Books, ebooks, audio books and more. Also take the time to visit my website: http://www.aboutimepublishing.com

Michael Faris