Thursday, June 16, 2011

From Ulcers to Audio

by Libby Hellmann

I was diagnosed with ulcers in February, and I know the exact day they started to form. It was the day I realized the entire way I’d been marketing my books over the past 10 years had, in the digital e-book age, become obsolete. I remember realizing that I’d have to learn a totally new way of promoting: all online, all “soft” marketing, all very time-consuming.

Not the thing a hard-charging, results-oriented former marketing person wants to hear.

Four months later, the ulcers are – thankfully -- gone, and I’m feeling better about marketing, too. I went back to school (metaphorically) to learn the ABCs of e-book promotion. I teamed up with a couple of writers’ groups to share the load; started keeping tabs and submitting my books to new websites and blogs like Cheap Daily Reads and Kindle Nation Daily, as well as other emerging gatekeeper sites; polished my Facebook fan page; started using Twitter more; joined a couple of blogs; plus a hundred other things that, by trial and error, I’m either doing or not.

And while surviving in the digital age requires a lot more effort and has significantly slashed my writing productivity (at least for now), there are other perks. There is no question that the Digital Age has presented authors with opportunities that used to be only a dream.

Like producing an audiobook.

I am in the midst of producing the audio of SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, my seventh novel, and I’m having more fun than I’ve had in years. Mostly because I used to be a video producer. I worked in both corporate and broadcasting jobs – in fact, my first “real” job was at KYW news radio in Philadelphia. For me audio is “theater of the mind.” You have the voices, the effects, and the words, but you get to visualize the characters – the way they look, their expressions, their body language. It’s the bridge between reading and film, and it’s a medium I’ve always cherished. There’s just nothing like closing your eyes (as long as you’re not driving) and letting your imagination wander.

So far two of my novels and four short stories have been produced on audio. However, in each case, I’ve had to wait years for them to become available.

No more.

Now, with everything digital and online, it’s possible to produce an audiobook quickly, at a reasonable cost, and still have a professional product. Which is what I’m doing. No, I’m not voicing it myself -- I’m not that crazy. But I have a friend – a published writer herself – who’s also an actress and whose voice is a dream. When she started reading a sample chapter, she read it exactly the way I wrote it, which is a testament to her talent. She changes her modulation, her volume, and her tone, depending on the character. And she does perfect accents.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I knew enough to realize that recording the book is in some ways the easiest part. The trick is to hook up with a distributor who can get it on the most popular audio download sites. While that market has coalesced -- Audible, iTunes, and Amazon are the major distributors today – there are smaller venues that I wouldn’t know. But a distributor does. So before we started recording I Googled audio distributors.
Imagine my surprise when a familiar name popped up: the wife of a friend who used to work at Mystery Bookstore of Los Angeles (RIP).

I immediately emailed my friend.

“Is this YOUR wife?” I asked.

“It is,” he said.

“How did I not know she was into audio books?” I said.

“You never asked,” he said. “She’s been doing this for years.”

We immediately connected and I emailed her a sample MP3. At the time I thought I’d be able to record on my Mac with a Snowball mic. Unfortunately, she emailed back that the quality wasn’t professional enough. Too much “noise.”

So I called an old friend who owns a video studio near my house, worked out a reasonable rate, and we started recording. We’re over half way through. The best part is that I can bring home the tape, import it into Audacity and edit each chapter. Did I ever tell you how much I love editing? Whether I’m editing words, audio, or video, I love the process of assembling raw footage, sound, or words, and creating a compelling story. What’s more, compared to film, audio is easy. Audacity makes it simple. Essentially, it’s a word processing program for sound. It even has the same commands as Word. (It’s also free, btw). I’m able to make cuts and splices, eliminate breaths and sibilants, extend pauses, and take out unexplained clicks and clacks. It’s a very satisfying process.

We have about three weeks left to go. Then we will do a final mix with a sound engineer who’s done audio books before. After that, I’ll email the final product to my distributor who will do her thing. With luck it will available by fall.

I waited two years for the audio to EASY INNOCENCE. It will be three years for A PICTURE OF GUILT. But SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE came out last winter. Barely eight months later, it will be available as an audio book.

There are times I love technology.

5 comments:

JJ said...

I agree, Libby. Editing, whether it be video, audio or hard copy is some of the most satisfying fun a techie can ever have. Am delighted to hear that your learning curve is leveling out. Those are, indeed, bumpy rides.

John said...

Very exciting news, Libby! Keep up the great work (i.e. don't stop writing!) :-) Glad to hear that the ulcers have healed up; stay healthy!

John.

Libby Hellmann said...

Thanks, guys. It is a brave new world we're trying to navigate.

Sara Paretsky said...

Libby, you are so inventive and energetic--bravissima

i birkin bags said...

Good sharing. thanks for your hard work.