Saturday, December 17, 2011

AUDIO BOOKS: HOW IT’S DONE THROUGH ACX.COM Part I

http://www.audible.com/pd/Mysteries-Thrillers/Double-Forte-Audiobook/B008XO7GLG/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srTtl?qid=1390132438&sr=1-1

copyright 2011, Aaron Paul Lazar

Have you ever wondered how writers get their books made into audio books?

It's a lot of fun, as well as being another opportunity to share your work with the world and add some money to that monthly subsidy.

I currently have five books in production with ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange. ACX is a wonderful site where authors, producers, and actors can network and pair up. It's owned by Audible, which in turn belongs to Amazon. It's been growing in leaps and bounds over the past few years, and many authors and listeners swear by it as a reliable resource for affordable audiobooks. (2014 update: Audiobook count is now 15.)

Want to give it a go?

Read on! I’m going to document the process for you in a few articles so you can give it a try yourself. You’ll need to know how to get started, how to get through the editing process, and what to do once your book is available for sale.

A little bit of history:

I’ve tried to record my own books. Lord knows, I’ve tried. I spent a week downloading various (free) audio programs, playing with the settings, recording just a few chapters over and over again every time I messed up a word, or a loud truck went by, or the dogs barked.

I drove myself nuts. Finally, after hours of labor, I created some audio files of me reading the first few chapters in Tremolo: cry of the loon, and posted them on my website.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed it. I really did. But while I was doing this, I wasn’t writing. And if I had ever hoped to get my complete set of sixteen books recorded as audio books, it would have taken months for each project. I’d never get my current book finished at that rate.

I sent off a few of the mp3 samples to my publisher. She had her “audio guy” listen to them, and he said they had too much “hiss,” that I’d need a different mike. Of course, I had used the simple microphone that comes with my MacBook Pro, and that naturally isn’t geared for serious recording.

For the time being, I let it go at that. After all, I had seven books to edit that were scheduled for 2012 release, and was working on the third book in my Tall Pines mystery series. With the full time day job, there wasn’t must time left for anything extra.

The tip:

The dream of getting my books into audio books didn’t die, it just simmered under the surface for a little while, until a good friend gave me a tip. Her Simon & Schuster book was going to audio book format through a company called ACX.

Excited, I started to investigate. The nicest part of the whole deal is one available option called “Royalty Share” where the narrators/actors/producers and authors to do the recording work up front, put no money down, and then share the royalties when the sales start coming in. Of course you can also simply hire a narrator and his studio to do the recordings, and keep your share of the royalties for yourself, if you want.

Alternatively, you can record your own books, but you’d probably have to invest in a good mike, become well-versed in manipulating audio files, or have a an audio-techie colleague to help you.

Important stuff to know:

Now this part is really important. Please read this carefully:

You need to find out who owns the audio rights for your book(s).

Check your book contracts, and if you’re not sure, call your publisher.

I hadn’t really paid attention to that part of the contract(s) with my publisher, Twilight Times Books, but soon discovered that she hadn’t included audio rights in our contract, so the rights were mine.

For those whose publishers’ have retained the rights, don’t panic. Your publisher or agent can submit your books to ACX if he or she is so inclined, you’ll just have to share the royalties with her and your actor/narrator/producer.

If you establish that you own the audio rights, the next step is to register. Please note you must already have books in the Amazon bookstore to be able to register.

I was surprised that Twilight Times Books wasn’t on the ACX publishers list (lots of companies weren’t, since this is a new program and they are still growing their lists), but didn’t let that stop me. I knew my publisher was highly-regarded in the industry, that she’d been interviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, and that our company was a member in good standing of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and International Thriller Writers. These credentials were legit and impressive.

I was able to chat with Nicole O., one of the ACX customer support folks, who was extremely helpful. We talked on the phone several times about my publisher and my books, and I provided all the information needed. After a while, the books were listed on the site for actors to listen to and (hopefully) submit auditions. Of course, I had to upload all the details about the work – number of pages, genre, synopsis, and a short excerpt for the actors to use in their auditions.

http://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/For-the-Birds-A-Tall-Pines-Mystery-Audiobook/B00DQ9WCYO/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srTtl?qid=1390133926&sr=1-1
The first audition:

I was thrilled to receive an audition almost immediately for TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON.
The voice actor/narrator, Erik S, did a great job, creating a very young-sounding voice for my eleven-year-old Gus LeGarde. I was pleased with his accents for Gus’s grandparents who live in Maine, Oscar and Millie Stone (British transplants), Elsbeth and Siegfried (German twins, Gus’s friends,) etc. Each voice was consistent and unique, and wonderful rendered. (2014 update: Erik just finished recording the sequel to Tremolo - Don't Let the Wind Catch You.)

The First Fifteen Minute Sample:

After we started work on TREMOLO, Erik prepared the first fifteen-minute sample. I listened, made a few minor suggestions, and then approved the posted files. This is important for many reasons. For one thing, you need to confirm that the voices for each character are suitable and hopefully match the “voices in your head.”

Well, that sounded a little weird, but if you’re like me and consider your stories like parallel universes, then you know exactly how your characters sound, and you often picture them in movies with actors you’ve already chosen for them.

Am I right?

Okay, so the whole idea of checking out the first fifteen minutes is so your British character doesn’t sound like he’s from the Bronx, or your plucky heroine doesn’t sound too frail. Also, it gives you a good chance to check the quality level of the recording facilities that your producer is using.

We didn’t have to do much adjusting, frankly, because Erik really nailed the accents without any coaching. He recorded the entire book over a period of a month, sending me batches of audio files to listen to, and when we were done catching any errors that might have crept into the files, he worked on the technical items that needed fixing.

I panicked!

Erik went back to working on the files, and it was at that point that I panicked. I was trying to upload my book cover art into the required field on my TREMOLO ACX page, when I discovered that the cover art needed to be a square image.

Square? All of my covers were rectangular, in roughly 5x8 inch format.

I tried to cut the book cover down by cropping it, but there was no way it was going to work and look proper in a square format.

Finally, like most guys, I used my last resort, and read the directions. I studied the examples on the webpage of what was “acceptable” and what wasn’t. Right there in front of me was the botched up cover just like the one I’d attempted, with top and bottom cropped. Next to it was another stuck in a square with white borders.

Nope. The cropping or squeezing-it-all-into-a-little-box approach was not going to cut it!

The “acceptable” cover was designed from the beginning to fit in a square template.

It was at this point that I started to worry about my rights again. I would need the layered version of my covers so I could play with the original art and design it to fit in a square box using Photoshop.

http://www.audible.com/pd/Romance/The-Seacrest-Audiobook/B00H9S0AQU/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srImg?qid=1390133974&sr=1-1

Who owns your cover art?

Did I own the rights to my cover art? Would my publisher object to me using them, since she wasn’t involved in this venture? I helped with the designs, and yes, many of my own photos and concepts were used, but I soon discovered I didn’t own the artwork. My publisher was very sweet about it, but she pointed out that she’d paid an artist to do the designs, and that they were legally hers. I love my publisher and would never try to cross the line. So, off I went to create new, square audio book covers.

Fortunately I have used Photoshop for years and knew how to go about it. I’ve been designing “place holder” covers for years, even before I submitted my manuscripts to my publisher, so I had lots of images to play with. I like having a colorful image in my head (and on my websites) that gives a feeling for what’s coming in the books. 

I set about creating new, square covers using my Photoshop Elements application.

There are specs you need to follow. For example, the cover must be over 2400 by 2400 pixels, etc.

Here is the original cover for Tremolo and my new audio book cover:


Erik uploaded the final files to ACX, and I automatically approved them, since I’d already listened to each one so many times and felt comfortable that they’d be fine.

My first mistake:

I always say, “Double check! Triple check!” and am usually quite obsessed with being absolutely sure all is good.

Just recently, I received notification from ACX that some of the chapters were missing or repeated. Both Erik and I had missed the uploading errors. But thankfully, the Quality group at ACX does a screening up front, and the errors were quickly corrected.

We’re waiting now to see Tremolo pop up on the Audible website. It’s supposed to take a few weeks after we approve the final version. (2014 update - the book was successfully published, the first of 15, with more to come!)

More auditions came in!

Meanwhile, in the midst of the TREMOLO efforts, I received and enthusiastically accepted an audition from a Canadian Recording Studio,  for HEALEY’S CAVE, book 1 in Moore Mysteries, otherwise known as “the green marble series.”

If you’ve ever wanted to have your books recorded and available for folks to listen to, give it a try! 

www.ACX.com

You can listen to some samples of all my audio-books here.

NOTE: Part II discusses many more tips and lessons learned along the way.

Aaron Paul Lazar
www.lazarbooks.com

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Twilight Times Books by multi-award winning author, Aaron Lazar:

DOUBLE FORTÉ (print, eBook, audio book)     http://www.legardemysteries.com/doubleforte.htm
UPSTAGED (print, eBook, audio book)  
MAZURKA (print, eBook, audio book)
FIRESONG (print, eBook, audio book)
DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (print, eBook, audio book)
VIRTUOSO (~2014)

HEALEY'S CAVE (print, eBook, audio book)
FOR KEEPS (print, eBook, audio book)

FOR THE BIRDS (print, eBook, audio book)
ESSENTIALLY YOURS (print, eBook, audio book)
MURDER ON THE SACANDAGA (~2014)

STANDALONES
THE SEACREST (2013)
BITTERSWEET HOLLOW (2014)

WRITING ADVICE: 

WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volumes 1, 2, 3 (ebooks and audio books)

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, writing books, and a new love story, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at http://www.lazarbooks.com and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, SANCTUARY (2014), and VIRTUOSO (2014).


AWARDS:

Double Forté 
  • 2012 ForeWord BOTYA, Mystery, FINALIST

Tremolo: cry of the loon
  • 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards: Grand Prize Short List
  • 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards: Honorable Mention, Eric Hoffer Legacy Fiction
  • 2011 Global eBook Award Finalist in Historical Fiction Contemporary
  • 2011 Preditors & Editors Readers Choice Award – 2nd place Mystery
  • 2008 Yolanda Renée's Top Ten Books
  • 2008 MYSHELF Top Ten Reads

For the Birds
  • 2011 ForeWord Book Awards, FINALIST in Mystery
  • 2012 Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Top 10 Reads

Essentially Yours
  • 2013 EPIC Book Awards, FINALIST in Suspense
  • 2013 Eric Hoffer Da Vinci Eye Award Finalist

Healey’s Cave
  • 2012 EPIC Book Awards WINNER Best Paranormal
  • 2011 Eric Hoffer Book Award, WINNER Best Book in Commercial Fiction
  • 2011 Finalist for Allbooks Review Editor's Choice
  • 2011 Winner of Carolyn Howard Johnson's 9th Annual Noble (not Noble!) Prize for Literature
  • 2011 Finalists for Global EBook Awards

 Terror Comes Knocking
  • 2013 Global Ebook Awards, Paranormal – Bronze

For Keeps
  • 2013 Semi Finalist in Kindle Book Review Book Awards, Mystery Category

***

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10 comments:

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Great news, Paul! Thanks for sharing. My publisher (Gryphonwood Press) works through ACX and my first novel, Flank Hawk has already found a reader, the audition has been approved, and is being recorded.

Fun and exciting stuff.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hey, Terry! How wonderful that Flank Hawk is coming out on audio book! Isn't it exciting? You'll have to post a link to your book when it's done, okay? Or, better yet, write us an article about your experience with ACX, and then give us buy links and samples. ;o)

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Paul, will let you know how it goes and will work to get a strong article together.

Anthony said...
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Horror with Heart said...

Thanks for sharing this information and your experiences, Aaron. I hardly think of audio because my personal preference is to read. Will be interested to see how sales go.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Keith! Thanks for stopping by. I know so many folks who say they don't "have time" to read, but would listen during exercising or commuting, etc. plus lots of folks who have eye problems seem to enjoy the audio books . Hope it is a good partner to eBooks & print books!

m11.in said...
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Wow! you did yourself proud on this article,Aaron! It is complete and an inspirations. There is still stuff that scares me, but you give me hope.

Best,
Carolyn

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, Carolyn! You know I'd be glad to help if you needed anything in the process. I hope you decide to check it out!

Olamide Badoo said...
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