Hi all! Today I want to celebrate a milestone – my first audiobook, “A Little Too Broken,” self-narrated, is finally on the digital shelves! And I want to share the journey with you.
It all started in May 2015, when I was a guest on the WROTE Podcast. Not only was I not horrified by the sound of my own voice when I heard the finished product, but SA Collins, Vance Bastian and Jayne Lockwood told me how great it was. So I thought, hmm, I should do an audiobook. And they said yes, yes you should!
So I set up a little recording studio in the basement – and I mean little. We’re talking about a TV tray, with a box on it, a $50 Blue Snowball microphone, and a sound baffling curvy thing in another cardboard box with a cat blanket over it (it’s not much different now). And I recorded a short story, Kyle’s New Stepbrother, and put it up on SoundCloud. The feedback was tremendously ego-boosting – yes, I was told by multiple sources, I did indeed have the acting chops for the job.
In July, I invested another $350 in an audio-only computer, after the old laptop crashed from the burden of big ass sound files (also, it had a crappy sound card and by then also had some kind of malware thing, because I hadn’t discovered Malwarebytes yet).
Then, with Sam #1 added to the catalog, I got one of the biggest boosts of all. Professional narrator and now Disney voice guy Jason Frazier complimented me on Facebook: “I like the quality, tone and texture of your voice. Great timbre. It’s also recorded well from a technical standpoint. Great job!”
So yeah. I now had Official Recognition. It’s great to hear from fans that you’re good at something, but to hear it from a pro? It was ON.
Now, we’re in July. By this time, of course, Kindlefuckery was in full swing with the abrupt “two weeks notice” overhaul of KU, and I was realizing like most writers that being “all in” with Amazon was like Lando Calrissian going “all in” with Darth Vader. You could only pray that Lord Bezos didn’t alter the deal again (which of course he did, every month, the division of spoils getting smaller and smaller as, little did we know, more and more scammers gleefully robbed the bank, while all of Amazon’s security guards were detailed to making sure not one pixel of dick or titty showed up on an ebook cover).
I started toying with direct sales, the “cassette out of the back of the van” DIY model. I was selling zipped files of Sam at $5. I got a few sales from some hardcore fans who were also tech-savvy enough to unpack and load the files, but not enough to sustain the model.
Then I went with Shopify, opening an online store for my “Bradiobooks,” and added Sam and Kyle to the store. Which, TBH was not the ideal platform for audiobooks anyway. I needed to upload one file, which of course had to be a ZIP file, which meant again that shoppers would have to download, unzip, and listen one by one to the MP3s on their phone (since nobody has a PC anymore it seems). It was a nice platform, but…it didn’t work out. The fact is, people are addicted to ease now – the one-click experience is too ingrained, especially when most people are on phones now and not PCs.
By November, the store was closed. It was costing me money every month to keep it open, and I hadn’t sold anything. And worse, I had developed such a block on audio editing that I couldn’t proceed. It felt too much like, well, every boring job I used to do that will soon be automated and handed to a computer. Later I learned better on this, but…more on that later.
However, at that time, I then felt free to start narrating again, with the goal of having “someone else do it” re the editing/production. It was really the only way I could start up again, by refusing to think about what I’d have to do “later.”
By January, I had 2/3 of ALTB recorded, and by then I was realizing what a shitty deal Audible was for authors (Amazon’s a goatfucker, surprise!). When you look at the discounts Amazon passes on to the customers, always privileging them over content providers, and the horrible Whispersync program that lets people pick up a $20 audiobook for $2 on a $4 or $5 ebook… The profit margins looked shittier and shittier. Amazon “exclusivity” seems great at 40% royalty vs. 25% for non-exclusive, if you don’t read the fine print. Like, the seven years’ bondage to Amazon that you surrender at 40%, never mind the discounts that subscribers get (which Amazon elides over by telling you how great your $50 bonus will be when people’s first download is yours), or the royalty goatfucking you get on Whispersync…
Also in January, I realized with ¾ of ALTB recorded that…it sounded like shit. Not my voice, but the production quality. I needed more foamy foam in my little sound box. I needed to kill the refrigerator during recording sessions. I needed to move the PC as far from the mike as I could get it. It just killed me to throw away all that work, but… What was the point of going out there with a half ass product as my field test? Of course I’d fail at audiobooks if the first one I released sounded like shit.
But I knew I was a better narrator than…well, shit, some of the most successful narrators out there. I mean, to be a total bitch, do this man and this lady not sound like Watson and Siri to you? And these are best selling audiobooks. Who wants to listen to the GPS lady reading you a book? (Lots of people, obviously.)
And, I have to say, throwing it away and starting over was the best thing I could have done. V.1 was like a dress rehearsal, that let me move through the characters, finding their voices, becoming a better voice actor.
At first, I didn’t know WTF I was going to do with the characters. How would I differentiate them, how would I keep their voices the same throughout? Then I stumbled on a simple fix. I wouldn’t act the parts. Famous people would act the parts. The people who would play the characters in the movie version in my head. Jon Hamm became Tom. Dianne Wiest became his mom. George Herbert Walker Bush became his dad. A very high strung version of me (not far from the regular version) became Jamie. Struggling with Ed, I just said fuck it and went Full Redneck. So I didn’t have to “act” as much as I…impersonated. It was quite the burden lifted to just delegate those roles to voices I knew so well and could imitate easily.
And the other great thing about chucking it all was that I’d become painfully aware as I edited V.1 of what I did wrong in my technical narration style – which, yeah, okay, I admit, I never ever ever (to quote George HW) would have seen if I hadn’t been editing my own shit. The breaths, the huffs, the spittle, the slurs, all the little micro errors. And the pacing – the faster I narrated, talkINHALEtalk, the harder it was to edit out the “bad parts.” The more I practiced my breathing, the more sentences in a row I could get out with a single breath, the less I had to edit. And so the easier it was to edit, the less it felt like the most dreary burden.
So I started over. And being me, I learned at an exponential rate. Things were going great.
Then, in March, I went to the dentist.
I got fitted with this bar thingie behind my loose front teeth to help keep them, well, in my mouth. And then I discovered to my horror that I suddenly had these tiny gaps between several of them that, when my mouth was fresh and clean and wet, produced the most horrible sounds, Sylvester the Cat saying “sufferin’ succotash” over and over.
And that was it. My narrating career was over before it began.
But I didn’t give up, couldn’t give up. My book sales were nothing. Audiobooks were up 38% last year while ebooks were down 11%. I had a golden voice, as long as, you know, I could speak normally. And so, because like Richard Gere in Officer, “I got nowhere else to go!” I looked for options.
The dentist’s recommendation was “don’t brush,” that is, leave some food clogged in there when you record. Well, that wasn’t the best idea, since of course after 20 minutes or so you’ve pretty much blasted out the crud with nonstop talking.
At CVS, I looked at white strips that would block the gaps – but only for 10 minutes while they dissolved. I looked at denture cream (eww!) but wondered if it would even stick between teeth. Then I saw this $2 thing that said “Orthodontic Wax.” It’s basically meant to be stuck on your braces so they don’t cut you up, but I thought, what the fuck. I went home, wiped my teeth dry with my t-shirt, and started impressing the wax over my teeth and into the gaps.
And it stuck. And it stayed stuck. And suddenly I had my voice back again. Maybe better than before.
By the time I’d finished recording and editing all ten chapters, I went back to the first one and saw how different it was from the tenth – how many breaths and pauses I’d missed the first time around, how much I needed to clip and mute. The first version of Chapter 1 that went up on SoundCloud a few days ago was 16:55, and had a blip in it where Audacity lost half a sentence. The second version, up there now, is 16:20, most of those 25 seconds being excess pauses clipped out for pacing.
And I gotta say, just as the wax saved me from creative despair, there’s one thing that totally saved me from technical despair. The Greatest Thing in the History of Everything Ever was an Audacity plugin that I discovered called “ACX-check.” And it does just that. Checks your noise floor, your decibel levels, and your peak value for ACX compliance, all at once. Then you can fiddle, recheck, fiddle, recheck, until that beautiful box comes up and says “Meets ACX compliance standards.”
Because that was my White Whale, the daunting technical obstacle of doing um something to the files that I had no idea what it meant. OK I knew a noise floor was all the background hiss etc. And that decibel levels = how loud. But when I went on the Internet to look up peak values, all I got was mathemengineering gobbledygook from professional soundiophiles that someone dysnumeric who failed algebra in high school and never took another math class again could not even start to parse. Without that plugin, I despaired. I was sure I’d have to submit files and see them rejected and resubmit and so on, world without end. With it…I was golden.
And the more I edited, the better I got at it. The more I edited, the better I got at narration, until by the end, time was dilating, the process was less exhausting as I “gave better word” while narrating, which made my job as editor easier every time. I even did some stats, and discovered that by the end, I was producing 15 minutes of finished content for every 60 minutes of editing, and that I was always retaining 60-65% of the recorded content. Fuck all if I know if that’s a good statistic or not, but I can live with it.
Also funny? After three years in print, and multiple reissues, I kept finding typos in the book. That I could only find by actually reading every word out loud. Go figure.
And Then We Came to the End. The last word, the last chapter, recorded, and edited, and “proofed” for compliance.
I went with Author’s Republic as a distributor, because they have a wide (and getting wider) list of outlets. And it turned out that all my hard work on the production values paid off…the files were approved (naturally they use the same ACX audio file parameters for approval) and six days later, “A Little Too Broken: The Audiobook” was on sale!
And now that it’s on sale, I’d be a fool not to flog it right here, right?
And what next? Well, I’m already a quarter of the way through narrating Given the Circumstances! I won’t really have any idea how well I’m doing financially until the end of June, when I get my first royalty statement from Author’s Republic, but… I’m content. I made it through all the obstacles and got this done. Only time will tell now if it was all worth it, at least financially!
QUESTION: do you prefer audiobooks or ebooks?
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