Monday, September 25, 2017

How to Record an Audio Book – Narrator James Newcomb Speaks Out

This past spring, I was given the opportunity to record Matowak: Woman Who Cries by Joylene Nowell Butler.

My primary gig as it pertains to using my voice professionally is as a podcaster. I'm the host of a weekly podcast called MusicPreneur: Making Money Making Music as well as a daily podcast called Preneur Problems.

However, I decided to throw my name in the Audible ring and the publishers of Ms. Butler's book saw it fit to hire me to record it.

Recording an audiobook is very different from recording a podcast.

Recording a book requires a fairly strict observance of diction and pronunciation, not to mention understanding the nuances between the various characters - if it's a fictional book.

Being overly concerned with those things can be detractors from a podcast as audiences tend to prefer a more conversational, "warts and all" type of dialogue between the host and the guest.

My Process

Because I have a number of projects on my plate at any given moment, I chose to record Matowak in small portions.

Basically, I did one chapter per day. This includes recording the text, editing out my errors, mastering and uploading it into the Audible platform.

Over time, I developed a little system to expedite the editing process.

Anytime I made a mistake, I would make a "click" sound in my mouth. Since these sounds are distinct from my speaking voice, I'm able to see where these occur on my software. Rather than listening to the entire chapter, I'm able go directly to those spots and delete my mistakes.

Most recording software programs have features that allow you to mark where you'd like to edit. I prefer to simply make a noise with my mouth so as to not interrupt my flow while recording.

In retrospect, I believe I would have been better off recording the book in larger segments.

Recording only a chapter per day, I had to "get in the zone" every day for 30+ days. Had I arranged my schedule to allow 3-4 hour blocks of recording/editing/mastering/uploading, it could have been easier to stay in the proper frame of mind.

I also found it necessary to take breaks from recording. Focusing on correct pronunciation, diction, etc. is mentally tiresome. This is why I chose to edit/master/upload after each chapter, rather than try to record multiple chapters at once.

My equipment

It may surprise you to hear that my equipment is very minimal and inexpensive.

I recorded Matowak using my trusty ATR-2100, which you can find on Amazon for around $70. I've used the ATR-2100 in over 300 podcast episodes and consistently receive praise on the audio quality it produces.

I use Audacity recording software. It's a free download (google it) and is surprisingly user friendly. You may need a few tutorials (which I'm happy to provide if you're interested) but it is quite easy to use.

My "studio" is my master bedroom. Of course, it is carpeted and has some sound absorbing panels on the walls, but it is very minimalistic and effective.

I know of some podcasters and voice actors who record in their closets because the clothes absorb all the sound. Plus they're able to hide from their children!

What you can do to assist your voice actor

Perhaps you embrace modern technology and want to make your work available in as many mediums as possible.

Or you may believe that an audio version detracts from the intent of your book; you begrudgingly accept the need to produce an audio version because your publisher says you need to in order to keep up with the times.

Hey, I'm a musician and I work with musicians. I understand the need to preserve artistic purity and balance technology accordingly.

However, once you make the decision to make an audio version of your book, here are a few things you can do to produce a recording that honestly reflects - and even improves - your original intent with your work.

  1. Have a conversation with them. Set up a phone or Skype call. Explain the "if you didn't get all that, get this" core message you desire your readers to take away. Take the time to explain the personalities and nuances of your characters. A good voice actor wants to "get it right," and channel your intentions into the recording. Investing time upfront to explain these things will reap their rewards when the final product is finished. If you don't do this, they'll have no frame of reference and will inevitably interpret your work based on their own personal paradigm.
  2. Cultivate a relationship with them. This person is taking a considerable amount of time from their life and work to record your book. For example, a 12 hour audio book typically takes around 100 hours of labor to complete. If it's on a royalty share arrangement, they're doing so without a solid idea of how much they'll be compensated financially. Get to know them personally; allow them to get to know you. Open up a line of communication so that they'll feel comfortable approaching you when questions about how to interpret the book come up.
  3. Regard them as a collaborator, not as an employee. This person is putting a human voice to your words. The best way to get an authentic telling of your story is for your voice actor to feel as though they are personally invested in your work. Because, guess what? They are. When you erect that barrier of "I'm the author, you're the actor;" when you communicate only via a third party such as a publisher, the actor is going to feel like it's just another gig. They're going to quickly turn their impassioned attention to something else. Should you choose this approach, don't be surprised when they fail to meet your expectations.

Obviously, the best way to channel your intent as a writer in an audiobook is for you to do it yourself. ACX has many tutorials on how to DIY on a bootstrapped budget.

Should you decide you prefer a voice actor to record your book, perhaps these suggestions will help you in your endeavors!

James Newcomb 

Find James at MusicPreneur: Making Money Making Music and on Twitter

Find M√Ętowak: Woman Who Cries at iTunes, Audible, and Amazon

Monday, September 18, 2017

Rewriting - How Do You Know When It's Right?

We hear a lot about the importance of rewriting in our authorial journeys. But what form exactly should this take? How much rewriting is too much and how much is too little?

The answer - like with so many questions like this - depends on your book.

It's very unlikely - if not impossible - that you'll produce the perfect manuscript the first go round. If you do, then the gods have decided to smile upon you. The world's greatest classics no doubt underwent multiple rewrites to get to the condition we know them in.

Here are some tips to bear in mind when embarking on a rewrite.

  • Before going in and doing anything to your actual draft (or a copy of it - you want to keep copies of all your drafts in case you end up deciding the early version of a particular section was best), go through and write down a dramatic narrative of everything that happens in your book - every chapter and scene. (Some of you, like me, might not have chapters at this point.) You can create a story board on several sheets of paper, maybe including sketches of the action if you're the artistic type. If you're a plotter, you can compare this against any outline you might have already prepared, which might help you see where you need to insert or change things. Plotter or not, you're looking to see what each part does to drive the story forward, increase the tension, or develop the characters. If anything's not doing that, you should focus your attention there first, either looking to see how it can be changed to better serve the story or ultimately deciding to drop it.
  • Make lists of action points as you go through this process; this way, you'll always know what you'll want to achieve when you start your rewriting journey. It will also help if you want to add elements such as foreshadowing, and generally making sure everything's on track in terms of consistency - so your MC doesn't mysteriously change hair or eye colour with no explanation.
  • Don't get overwhelmed. Redrafting should always be broken down into manageable chunks. You could choose to focus on one scene at a time, or one character, going through and seeing how their actions impact on the rest of the story. That will have a knock-on effect on several other things, which you could concentrate on on your next pass, and so on.
  • Rewriting takes many forms. Some decide to start completely from scratch and a blank page. Others will consider individual sentences and how they can be refined and perfected. Although, bear in mind that there is no such thing as "perfect"; remember that often our instinct is our best friend. That resolution that came to you in a flash of inspiration might have been just what the doctor ordered, and trying to second guess it might have the opposite effect to what you intended, cooling the tension rather than upping it. It's important to recognise when your rewriting is going too far and taking the oomph out of your writing, defusing that feeling of adrenaline that powered you through the original draft.
  • When you feel you can't do any more, that's when it's time to give it a rest or - ideally - send it to some trusted critique partners for their opinion. The time it takes to get back to you will also allow the story to percolate in your mind, and combined with the fresh input of their ideas, this will help you tackle your opus afresh when they've finished their reading.
Do you have anything to add to this? How do you go about redrafting and rewriting?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Straight Talk From Janet Reid, Literary Agent

The Insecure Writers Support Group is excited to host Janet Reid from New Leaf Literary today. We asked her some questions that we felt other writers would like answers to. I think we were right. Take a look at what she has to say.

Hi, Janet
So great to have you here today. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. 

  • How many query letters do you read in a day, and how many, on average, lead to an offer of representation?

I get about 100 queries a week. I read them in spurts, often when I need to feel like I've gotten at least one thing done in the last hour. I try not to read queries when I'm tired, hungry, or in a general snarl.  I'm actively looking for good projects so I want to read with a positive attitude.

I looked at my stats for query to rep, and frankly they're daunting. In 2016 I requested about 50 fulls. I offered rep on two. This year, since I'm expanding the categories I'm working in, those numbers will be higher but not by a lot. For example, I've requested 53 projects so far this year. I've offered rep on one, and two more in the pipeline.

But, and this is a big ol but, you can't let those numbers discourage you. They're raw stats. They don't account for people querying on things I would not take on if you paid me upfront and promised no one would ever know it was mine; for categories I don't work in at all; queries for novels that were simply unpublishable.

Every single agent I know is looking for good material. There's a lot of dreck to wade through to find it but your job is not to worry about the dreck, it's to not BE the dreck.

  • What’s the biggest mistake an author can make in a query letter they submit to you?

Failing to tell me what the book is about. It sounds very simple. It's not. In fact, I practice pitching my books before I got out with them, just to get input from smart, successful people on what works and what doesn't. (One of the many benefits of working at New Leaf.)

What the book is about is generally the plot. It's what your main character wants and what's keeping her from getting it.

A good way to think of this is how you'd tell a friend to read a book. You'd tell them what it's about, not about the theme, or why the author wrote it, or why the agent is the best choice for the query.

  • Do you have any favorite query hooks that you can share? Ones that sold you on that book and that writer?

I looked through my client emails and most of my guyz (not a typo--it's the gender neutral version) have been with me so long, their queries were lost in the great computer crash of  09. Or the other one in '11. (It still gives me the shivers!)

But, for a terrific query, one that breaks all the rules take a look at Josin McQuein's query for PREMEDITATED (Harper)--still one of the most highly recognized entries at QueryShark (#192)


Dan Krokos, FALSE MEMORY (Hyperion)-winner of the inaugural International Thriller Writers Best YA (Query Shark #124) had a memorable query.

as did 

Curtis Chen, WAYPOINT KANGARO (Macmillan) (Query Shark #242)

  • What misconceptions or wrong expectations do writers have when signing with an agent?

That the hard part is over.

It hasn't even started.

But let's not dwell on that or we'll get too depressed to write.  Solve today's problems. Hit your word count. Read good books. Let tomorrow take care of itself.

  • Are there some key questions an author should ask when they’re looking for the right fit in an agent?

Communication style! Does the agent reply quickly or should the author know to expect lag time.

Does the agent expect to do some editorial work on the ms before it goes on submission.

Most important: what happens if the ms doesn't sell.

These were great answers and I hope they helped our readers today. Did you look at those queries Janet touted? How about subbing a query for shark inspection; are you going to do that? 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Insecure Writer's Support Group and Anthology Contest!

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts today are Tyrean Martinson, Tara Tyler, Raimey Gallant, and Beverly Stowe McClure!

September’s optional question - Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn't think you'd be comfortable in?

September marks six years for the IWSG group and four years for the website. You know what that means…

The annual IWSG Anthology Contest!

Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member. The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free.

Word count: 3500-6000

Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller

Theme: Tick Tock. The story revolves around a clock, is time sensitive, or has something about a specific time. This theme has plenty of scope and we’re open to pretty much anything along these lines. No erotica, R-rated language, or graphic violence.

Story deadline: November 1st 2017

How to enter: Send your polished, previously unpublished story to admin @ before the deadline passes. Please format double-spaced, size 12 font, and no headers or footers. Include your contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging or Facebook IWSG group.

Judging: The IWSG admins will create a shortlist of the best stories. The shortlist will then be sent to our official judges:

Elizabeth S. Craig writes cozy mystery series for Penguin Random House, Midnight Ink, and independently. She curates links on Twitter as @elizabethscraig that are later shared in the free search engine Writers Knowledge Base.

Anne Hawkins is a partner in John Hawkins & Associates, Inc., New York. Founded in 1893 by Paul R. Reynolds, it is the oldest literary agency in the country. She works with mainstream literary and commercial fiction, including mystery, suspense, and thrillers and a wide variety of serious non-fiction, particularly history, politics, biography, science, and natural history. A number of her books have gained distinction through award nominations, book-to-film contracts, significant foreign rights sales, major book club selections, or placement on the New York Times bestseller list. Anne Hawkins is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives.

Candace Havens is the Editorial Director of Covet has written multiple novels for Berkley, Entangled and Harlequin. Her books have received nominations for the RITA’s, Holt Medallion and Write Touch Reader Awards. She is one of the nation’s leading entertainment journalists, runs a free online writing workshop, and teaches comprehensive writing class.

Author, Public Speaker, and Executive Producer, Lynn Tincher was born just outside of Louisville, Kentucky in the beautiful city of La Grange. She has written four books, with the fifth one currently in the making. Her first book, Afterthoughts was optioned for movie production by Kilted Pictures and Dancing Forward Productions in Los Angeles. It is currently in pre-production with plans to shoot in Louisville, Kentucky very soon.

Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia's longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998. His qualifications and employment range from horticulture through electronics into literature and communications.

Patricia (Pat) Stoltey is the author of four crime fiction novels published by Five Star/Cengage including a historical mystery called Wishing Caswell Dead ( (December 2017). She lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Sassy Dog, and Katie Cat. To learn more about Patricia and her books, visit her website/blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Mason Canyon had a love of books since childhood encouraged by a mother who loved to read. A 30+year career in journalism fueled her desire to know what a story is all about. Blogging at Thoughts in Progress since 2009 and operating MC Book Tours for over a year. Loves to read and share great stories with others. MC Book Tours

Prizes: The winning stories will be edited and published by Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title.

We’re excited to see the creativity and enthusiasm that’s such a part of this group put into action. So don your creative caps and start writing. And spread the word!

Don’t forget that October 4 is the Show Us Your Writer Insecurity Contest! On Wednesday, October 4 (IWSG Day), post a photo of yourself (or your alter ego) with any of the IWSG swag or with the IWSG logo. Then leave a comment that day at either the IWSG website’s post or the IWSG Facebook post directing us to your photo. (All blog, Facebook, Goodreads, and newsletter members welcome, but photo must be posted on a blog or Facebook to qualify.)
There are some cool prizes to be had!

Plus the IWSG Writing For Profit will be available by that time.

And finally, don’t forget to submit your news to the IWSG Newsletter – free advertising for your new releases, sales, and more. Contact Christine Rains or send directly to the IWSG email address.

Ready to create something for the anthology contest? See your story in an anthology such as the IWSG’s Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life or Parallels: Felix Was Here? And are you ready to show off your writer insecurity next month?