The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Month: April 2015

Fighting through the Indie Author Piano Bend

It’s been five years, but just thinking about it twists my stomach into knots and makes my heart pound.

I’m down on one knee, trying to stop my brain from thinking while I fidget into my stance. The spring sun is beating down and the smell of hot rubber, dirt and skin is overwhelming. Adrenaline courses through me.

The murmurs and incoherent hubbub of the crowd fades. My mouth is dry. This must have been how the gladiators of old felt when they stepped onto the Coliseum sand. In my pulsating mind, it seems just as barbaric.

“Runners, take your marks.”

A quiver runs through me. My stomach coils and my throat tightens. I stop breathing.

“Get set.”

I rise up into my stance.  Too late now.

Capow. For such a tortuous thing, the crack of the blank round in the gun is minute, anticlimactic in comparison. I leap from the blocks, driving my arms and legs.

I blast around the first bend, leaning into the curve. Cheers from teammates and parents spur me on like a riding crop to a racehorse.

When 150 meters rolls in, the world changes. It goes quiet. The cheers thin out. My vision wobbles and bounces with each stride. My universe narrows to the next step in front of me.

200 meters. By now, I’ve hit my stride. I tell myself I’m halfway done — the easy half. My coach likes to camp out here and scream. I’m starting to hurt, but whatever he says makes me dig for another gear.

250 meters. They call it the piano bend. If you don’t know what to expect, the staggered lanes can throw you off — someone you thought was ahead of you has more ground to cover on the curve and a guy you thought you were beating can pull ahead.

From here on out, what’s going on in my head matters just as much as whatever my flagging body is doing. My legs and arms are numb. I focus on the fundamentals. Long strides, hands go from cheek to cheek. Everything hurts. Everything burns. I don’t feel like an Arabian anymore, I feel like a Clydesdale. Giddyup.

300 meters. The roar of the crowd rises again as I hit the home stretch. At this point, I’m not getting enough oxygen to my brain. My salvation lies ahead. Don’t die now. Don’t die now. Swing those arms.

390 meters. Sweet mercy. I’m in pain. I’m gritting my teeth and moving for all my dead legs are worth. My pumping arms are moving this train, my legs are just trying to keep up.

400 meters. Fin. I stumble across the line, eyes squeezed shut, gasping for air. I’ve got my hands on my knees. Hopefully I placed well. Either way, it’s over.

The 400 meter is one of the most grueling races in Track and an event I competed in all four years of high school. At the height of the insanity (Region meets my junior and senior year), I ran four of those cursed things within the space of a couple of hours. (That’s a mile of sprinting, friends.) By the last one, you’re pretty much dead to the world before the race even starts.

The 400 meter dash is a mad man’s race. It’s an entire lap around the track. One hellish quarter of a mile. You can’t pace yourself but you can’t floor it either. You just gotta go. It’s a sprint, of course, so speed matters. But guts are just as important. It helps if you’re a glutton for punishment.

Fortunately, I’ve moved on to other hobbies, but sometimes I wonder if they’re any less tortuous. Being an indie author is one I’m not so sure about.

We write and write, then revise, redraft, edit and publish. If we’re equal parts smart and stupid, we do it again, because one book won’t cut it, bub.

Sometimes it sucks. At the very least, it’s not pleasant. It’s an emotional 400 meter sprint. But the bad part is, that last 100 meters, the “piano bend” as it’s called, hits you all the time as an indie author. It’s not like a race, when you know where and when it’s coming and oftentimes, it comes more than once. There is no definitive finish line. For indie authors, for all creatives, that cursed piano bend can hit you without mercy or reprieve, day after day.

The thing is, just like good 400 meter sprinters, indie authors have to be a little but stupid to attempt this endeavor. We’ve got to be gluttons for punishment. We’ve got to keep swinging our arms and run our guts out when things get hard. When the piano bend strikes is when we’ve got to work the hardest.

Unfortunately, unlike a 400 meter sprint, it’s not quick and you don’t get results (good or bad) right away. It’s a long old haul.

When you do cross that finish line (your first published book, your 100th review, your 1,000th sale) you might feel like you’re going to die, but you’ll also feel invincible. If you survive once, you’ll survive again. It will never hurt less, will never get easier, but you’ll get faster, you’ll get better.

Keep on publishing, friends.

How have you overcome piano bends in your author career? Share in the comments below!

wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

Author Origins: Jen Williams

Jen Williams author profileJennifer Williams is a fantasy writer and Lego obsessive who spends much of her time frowning at notebooks in cafes and fiddling with maps of imaginary places. She is represented by Juliet Mushens of the Agency group, and is partial to mead, if you’re buying. Her debut Fantasy novel, The Copper Promise, and the sequel, The Iron Ghost, are published by Headline. More nonsense available at sennydreadful.com, and you can marvel at the amount of time wasted on twitter by following @sennydreadful.

Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

Like most writers I suppose, I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember — the first Christmas presents I remember asking for were a desk and a typewriter — but I only really started thinking about writing books about ten years ago. I had been told as a young person that writing was a foolish career to pursue because it was too competitive and hardly anyone made any money from it. Being so young, I was still under the impression that adults knew what they were talking about, so took this advice to heart and attempted a career in illustration instead (which is, if anything, even more competitive and difficult to make money from than writing). What I eventually realised — and it’s a very important lesson — is that writing is its own reward, and if you are a writer, you can never really walk away from it. Writing made me happy, and without it I didn’t quite make sense. So around ten years ago I started writing a book for fun, written in bits and pieces after work, and when I finished that I jumped straight into the next one, and then the next one… A decade later I’m writing my ninth novel, with the follow up to my debut due out in February. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened.

What was/is the hardest thing about balancing writing with everyday life and/or a day job?

The most difficult aspect of managing a writing career with a day job is simply time management, and in a related sense, energy management. When I come home from work, all I really want to do is sit in front of Tumblr for four hours eating chips, and if I’ve been up since some godawful hour of the morning — not helped by long commutes on buses — my brain is usually fuzzy and less than inspired. There’s also the fact that any social commitments that have to be arranged around your day job automatically eat into writing time, so you have to be very careful about what you agree to and when.

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

I am still writing alongside my day job, so my schedule is still in full swing. When I come home from work, I go straight to my writing space, which is a little desk in the corner of our bedroom, open the laptop and get working straight away (or any time Windows feels like opening Word, which can be any old random time at all, really). I don’t let myself sit down for a rest first or have a browse on the internet, because immediately my brain slips into RELAXATION MODE and my time is very limited. I normally write for between an hour and a half to two hours, which isn’t a huge amount, but it adds up over the course of a week. At the weekend, I will work for around six hours, usually with multiple breaks in between.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

My self-publishing experience is quite an odd one. I published the first section of The Copper Promise as a novella called Ghosts of the Citadel, which would eventually go on to make up around 10% of the final novel. My plan was to publish each part, of which there were four, as a sort of side project to go alongside the other books I was writing; basically I was curious about the self-publishing experience and wanted to dip my toe in the water. The sales of it weren’t stellar but they were steady, and most importantly I got a number of very positive reviews on Amazon. A few people were recommending it to each other, and I suppose that created a little positive buzz. I had some queries regarding the complete manuscript, so rather than publishing each part as I wrote it I went ahead and wrote the entire thing. From there I queried my dream agent, and to my enormous and unending surprise she was keen, and from there I was fortunate enough to sell my trilogy to Headline. So in summary, my self-publishing experience was short but lucky.

At one point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

Well in truth I haven’t. I still have a day job that is vital for things like regularly paying the rent and eating those meal things you’re supposed to have three of a day, and I don’t expect to be able to give that up any time soon. Like everyone, I hope one day to be able to say that writing is my only job — this is the end game dream for me — but for now the reality is that I live in London and it sucks cash out of you like some sort of soot-covered cosmic hoover.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?

My love of high fantasy (and low fantasy, or sword and sorcery, which I prefer) was actually rekindled by a video game, the wonderful Dragon Age: Origins, and if I have a big obsessive love outside of books then it is probably this game and its sequels, along with Bioware’s amazing space opera trilogy, Mass Effect. I’ve always been a gamer to some extent – my first Gameboy is still in my top five best Christmas presents of all time, just under the SNES — but Dragon Age was the first game to give me something I’d only previously experienced in novels; a deep sense of immersion in a fantasy world, and strong emotional attachment to characters (I love films too, of course, but books and games last much longer, and therefore have more time to worm into your heart). Dragon Age gave us a traditional fantasy world with women, gay and bisexual relationships, and a sharp sense of humour — it made me want to write fantasy again.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

I think regardless of whether you are writing full time or not, the thing to be focussed on is writing better books. Outside of everything else you can do to push your career forward to the fabled “I can stay at home and write all day stage”, you won’t get anywhere near it without having written a decent book. So to that end, finish the books that you start and look at them with a critical eye; I wrote a number of “practise” books before I felt my work was remotely ready to be seen by the outside world.

Simon Whistler on audiobooks

Intro:
Hey there Everyday Authors! I’ve been looking forward to bringing this interview with Simon Whistler to you for a couple of weeks. With many people pointing to audibooks as the next big thing in the publishing world, I thought it was high time we discussed them and I found just the man for the job.

Simon Whistler is the host of the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, author of Audiobooks for Indies and also an experienced voice talent who’s narrated numerous books, including Write Publish Repeat. If you’re looking at getting into audio, you need to read his book. If you’re still just investigating, then read on!

Interview

How did you get into narration?

It was years ago when I was still a student, it was summer break and I was like working in the shops or in the bar or whatever is pretty boring and it doesn’t pay that great. I Googled “how can I make money with my voice” and that led me to recording some audition tapes with a $15 microphone and my old Dell desktop PC and sending that off to a few people and the feedback was generally pretty good. I ended up with one guy who was basically an agent for audio books on small presses, so I ended up doing a bunch of those.

Why is audio something that all indies need to be looking at?

I’d say there are a couple of reasons. When you sign a contract with a publisher if you were going that route, you consider all of the different rights and all of the different rights that can be exploited, whether that’s digital, print or whether it’s audio. The second reason, which really ties into that is just the growth of it. It’s not the 1990s anymore where an audio book is a 30 CD beast that you pick up at a gas station and it costs you like $60. It’s relatively cheap — although they are still more expensive than eBooks — but something that you download instantly to your smart phone. The technology is really there now and I think that’s led to such growth in the markets and also not to mention Amazon getting involved. When Amazon gets involved, things tend to grow. The general consensus is that now is a good time to get involved.

I think if you’ve got a successful book going on or a series of books, then it should be a top ten thing because you could be leaving money on the table. It should be 20% of what you do because there are authors who pull in a chunk of their income from audio books. Even if it’s ten hours (of narration) and you’re paying $2.5 grand, you’ve got that (audibook) for life. Investing in yourself is smart. The amount of money you’re putting out up front is fairly low for the potential return if your book is doing well.

Is there any way to tell is a particular book will do well on audio?

The general rule is if the books are doing really well on Kindle, often that will translate [unclear] and sometimes the book that doesn’t do well on Kindle might work marvelously on audio, but the general rule is the trends will follow. If your book is doing well on Kindle, regardless of genre, you’re probably looking at a winner of audio. There are certain ones that you don’t want to do, like fitness or ones with diagrams. It’s kind of obvious stuff. Would you listen to it? Probably not so don’t do it.

Give us the basic steps for creating an audiobook.

Before you do (anything), you need to decide on what sort of distribution you want. There are two types. You can go exclusive, which is basically where you produce the book with ACX and then they will distribute it through Audible and iTunes only and you cannot go over to your website and say “here’s my audio book for $10.” You’re exclusively locked in with ACX for I think it’s seven years. Definitely worth having a look at the contracts.

Non-exclusive is basically the same process except at the end of it ACX will put it on Audible and iTunes for you, but you can go and put it out wherever you want, but you lose a chunk of revenue. When it’s exclusive, you’re getting 40%. If you’re non-exclusive, you get 25%.

Then you’ve got your book, it’s up on Amazon, eBook format. You basically head over to ACX and use your Amazon account to log in and then you claim your rights. You say “this book is mine. I want to create an audio book version of it”. Then the kind of short story is you open up audition. It’s show business. They audition for the project. It’s exciting you know! Then you get all these auditions and you’re like “I like this guy. I want him to do the book or her to do the book” and then they will come on and basically they record 15 minutes. You can offer feedback on that and say “you’re not doing this guys voice right. I’d like this bit like this” and then they go away and they produce the whole book.Generally it’s a very flexible working arrangement. The process goes back and forth and basically the book is completed, then the author will give it a final listen through and be like “this bit needs fixing. That bit needs fixing. How about you do this bit like that?” At this point you can’t go through and say “I prefer the main character have a southern accent”. You need to stipulate that up front otherwise it’s going to be pretty rough on the narrator to go through and swap all that out.

Then the book is finished. ACX will go through you and proof listen it themselves. They sometimes miss things so don’t think that’s an excuse that you don’t have to. The author should definitely listen to that and maybe even pass it off to a couple of friends to have a quick listen. Once you’ve closed that project, you can do fixes I believe, but it’s not easy. The book will take a couple of weeks and then it’s up for sale on Audible and iTunes.

Can you go into detail about picking a narrator and the different ways to pay them?

If you go exclusive, you can choose to either pay your narrator up front so you say “I’m going to pay you $200 per finished hour” and a finished hour is the completed product. If the book is for sale on Audible for $10 and it’s ten hours long, that’s 10 finished hours so it’s mastered, processed, edited and ready to go. It’s not time that the narrator spent in the studio. That would be $2,000 for the ten hour book. However you can also opt to royalty share, which is basically you don’t pay anything up front, but you say “I want to split the revenues with my narrator.” You share the royalties with the narrator for seven years and then it reverts to the author. ACX takes their 60% and you’re left with 40% then it’s split equally between you and the narrator.

What is the general price range for narrators?

It can vary hugely. ACX have the prices from like $50 to I think $400 plus. I don’t know anyone who has done $50, but I mean if you found a new narrator who is starting out charging $50 per finished hour. I would guess (average is) kind of between $200-$250. Maybe on the low end, $150. On the higher end $300-$350. By the time you get to $350, you’re talking a pro who has probably done some books by some pretty well-known authors. When you get the auditions coming in for your book, they’ll tell you the rate. You’ll be able to hear how they are and you’ll get, you’re not committed to anyone at that point so you can really just shop.

How do you determine how many hours a books will take?

Basically it works out so if you’ve got 1,000 words, that would be about, sorry. Ten thousand words would be about 1.1 hours so if you’ve got an eight hour book, it’s going to be about nine hours or ten hours. Sorry, if you’ve got an 80,000 word book, it’s going to be eight or nine hours long. It’s also worth listening to other books in your genre to get an idea of kind of the speed of narration compared to your auditions. The speed of the narration can make a difference to the success of the audio work. Make sure that your narrator is reading at the speed that’s expected in your genre. Have a listen to those books. If you’re doing a thriller, go have a listen to the big thriller audio books and find a narrator who sounds like the person who is reading the good books, the best selling books that are already in the thriller audio books.

Do you have any other tips for picking a narrator?

Detach yourself from the decision process. Don’t fall in love with one person. Keep a few people on a short list. Make sure your narrator matches the expectations for the genre. Super important. Don’t go and think “I’m going to go and do something unique and special,” especially if you’ve never done it before. Stick with convention because it’s boring and safe — especially starting out.

What about tips for after you’ve picked an editor?

If you want a guy sounding a different way or a passage read differently, you can ask. Feedback to your narrator. Talk to them. It’s a partnership.

Do you see anybody else challenging ACX?

I’ll flip it around and ask you. Would you want to compete with Amazon? Seriously though, I think when Amazon moves into something they’re pretty full forced and they don’t really look at short term profits and that’s not something most companies do. Amazon owns ACX and Audible and iTunes is in a contract with them until next year. Really when the producer and the retailer are so closely tied, especially when Amazon is involved, it would have to be a pretty big disruption to take that away.

Have you seen any changes since ACX changed their royalty structure?

I think the biggest thing I’ve seen is perhaps new narrators are less willing to do a royalty share deal because that’s taking a chunk of money off the table, especially if the book does well. I think people kicked up a lot of fuss about it, but for the vast majority of people, it’s never going to be an issue or if it is, it’s a tiny issue. For each percentage point, you have to sell 500 audio books, which is a good couple thousand dollars in revenue. By the time you get to 5% points, you’re talking $10,000-$15,000 of revenue. For most people probably not something you need to worry about, but obviously the big players, that’s going to upset them, but that’s not the every day people.

Give us your thoughts on the future of audio books (5-10 years).

It will reach a saturation point because everything does. Five or ten years is a really long time down the line. I think they will become much more, they will become a much bigger deal. They will become, this witness thing where you’ve got a book on Amazon and click this button and go over to Audible and you can pick up the audible version, the audio version for $2. I think that will start to become pretty common place. There’s a lot of talk about robots and Microsoft sound being like reading the book and I’m not super convinced by this. Even for non-fiction, I think non-fiction it often does require more of a straight read, than fiction. In fiction it’s like you’re acting. In non-fiction you’re delivering. I don’t think that will really become a thing in the next ten years, but down the line computers will do everything I suppose. They’ll write our books and then they’ll narrate our books.

Conclusion

If this sounds interesting to you, if you want more information about it, Audiobooks for Indies is an inexpensive guide. It comes with everything you need to know. It’s not massively long, but everything is in there. All the way from DIY to hiring a studio, it covers your bases.

On the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, I interview self published authors about how they made it so you can do the same. Each week I talk to someone on who has done something cool within indie publishing or hybrid publishing and we talk about it for an hour and it’s kind of long form, old school radio style every Thursday.

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