Audio Book

One thing that I heard a lot after publishing On Swift Wings was… when will it be available as an Audio Book? My honest answer was that I hadn’t really thought about it. This entire journey has been an organic one. It started with me jotting down some thoughts in response to Gulliver’s Travels, evolved into me writing a bit of a mission statement which became the foreword, ultimately into completing a full-length (maybe more than normal length) action-adventure satirical fantasy novel with publishing, marketing, editing, cover design, and a million other lessons along the way.

Once the book was finished and published, it became clear that many people prefer to consume stories in media other than print. Reading a book requires singular attention and devotion. Many people feel pressure to do more than one thing at a time, and books are something they listen to on their commute, in the car, while exercising, or as a side-activity. It takes a kind of focus to sit down and read a long novel, so many of my friends said that they’d wait until the (unplanned) audio book. Maybe they were playing with me, but my goal is to have as many people read my book as possible, so I did a little exploration down this alley.

I barely knew where to start. Actually, this could be the title of my autobiography. I knew that Amazon had some Audio Book functions, and some of the writing groups that I follow talk about them a bit. I took to Google and found a ACX, Audible’s exchange program for audio books. Basically, you choose one of three options:

  1. You offer narrators a chance to try out for a fixed rate.
  2. You offer narrators a chance to try out for a portion of the royalties.
  3. A combination of 1 and 2.

I thought this sounded like a pretty good deal, but I did some more research and found that in general the experience on ACX wasn’t that good. Authors felt cheated, narrators felt cheated, no matter how well the book does, somebody feels they didn’t get what they deserve. I don’t like making people feel bad, so I shelved the idea for a while. The idea was still on my mind though, and it kept coming up. Early this year, as Covid forced people inside, I had two choices for what I could do with my writing. I could work on my second book, or I could go deeper into the Audio Book. I started writing the second book, but I haven’t found a voice that I like for it yet. Then I stumbled across a “how-to” series for creating audio books. They gave me a few really good tips, and I got interested in recording my own book.

The face I make when I hear my own voice - Kermit Driving | Meme Generator

Everybody hates their own voice, but this series said something that eased my fears a lot. They noted that the voice you hear recorded isn’t what other people hear, it is your brain’s reconstruction comparing your actual voice and the voice you hear ricocheting through your brain. You actually hear twice the difference in a recording because of this effect. Made sense to me, and with the support of a number of friends who assured me that I had a very good voice for narration, I decided to take up the challenge.

I also wanted to record my own voice reading my own book for my kids. My Grampa narrated Winnie the Pooh for us when we were young and it is a treasured possession to always be able to hear his voice when he was younger. I want my children, and hopefully their children to be able to hear my voice as it is now. This was the biggest driver for me to get this done. I hope that my kids are proud of the book that I’ve written, and no matter what happens in the future, they’ll always be able to hear their dad whenever they want.

XLR Condenser Microphone, TONOR Professional Cardioid Studio Mic Kit with T20 Boom Arm, Shock Mount, Pop Filter for Record...

So, I had decided that I wanted to do and narrate an audio book, but I didn’t know anything about narrating an audio book. I didn’t think my crummy headset would do a good job so I researched microphones and was directed towards a cardioid microphone. I bought everything I needed to make my office into a studio. I put up towels and sheets to reduce echo, attached screens to the phone, sealed the room to keep the noise floor down, used a tablet computer that is very quiet, and learned some tricks about narration.

One of the things I was worried about was, how was I going to read 120,000+ words without stumbling a few times. I read half-an-hour or more to my kids every day, children’s books, many that I’ve memorized now, and I still stumble occasionally. Obviously this is where editing comes in, but even then, I figured I had to at least be able to read a full page without faults. Again, a little education came in handy. First, everybody makes mistakes while reading, and it doesn’t have to be misreading a word. Mistakes include breathing errors (like running out of breath halfway through a sentence) or not maintaining a consistent cadence or energy level, tongue clicks or lip smacks, ambient noise like a cell-phone buzzing or the furnace turning on, and of course the obvious mispronunciation of a word, name, or sentence.

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If you’ve read my book, you’ll understand my trepidation. If not, know that I employ a varied and flowery vocabulary, and when narrating, I realized that I didn’t actually know how to pronounce some of the names properly. I also struggled with French words, not because I can’t pronounce them, but because I naturally pronounce them in French, which sounds a little funny in the middle of an English text.

One of the more interesting and useful tips that I learned about narrating: When (not if) you make mistakes, immediately follow them up with a loud “Beep” sound. (Not an expletive, just a loud “beep.”) This way, when you look at the wave-forms during editing, it will be very easy to identify a mistake and really quite easy to edit it out. Another trick that I employed, regarding breathing, was to take a long pause after every sentence to breathe. I would start each sentence with my lungs full of air and ready. It meant that I was full-chested and able to enunciate as well as possible, but I was certainly sore by the end of the narration.

Speaking of sore, reading 120k+ words took around 13 hours of reading at my natural cadence, after editing, this shortened to 10.5 hours. I knew to be aware of the editing process, but even with warning, I didn’t realize how long it would take to edit the work to my desired quality. I estimate that it took roughly 3 hours for each hour of recorded content, so a total of about 30 hours listening to my own voice.

Editing consisted of making pauses between sentences consistent, reducing and removing any background noises, breathing sounds, clicks and smacks, cleaning up subtle mispronunciations, and clipping out incorrect words. Once I was happy with a chapter, having gone through it thoroughly, I exported the file to a high quality MP3. The software I used was Audacity, which was quite powerful, intuitive, and free. There isn’t a single second of the book that I didn’t listen to, review, consider, and optimize. Every pause between sentences was measured and planned to match the tone of the story. When I wrote the story, I accentuated action and tension with shorter words and sentences, the Audio Book features the same attention to detail. When action is happening, pauses are shorter and the book moves more quickly, when in a descriptive period, it slows down with longer pauses and greater verbosity.

Finally, I had to decide how to publish. I had already encountered ACX, but as is typical of Amazon, they encourage exclusivity clauses and generally pay the lowest royalties available. Hearkening to my mission, I wanted the most people possible to read the book, so I wanted to “go wide” as I had with the book itself. After a bunch more researching, I found Findaway Voices. Findaway takes your book and pushes it out, on your behalf, to 43 different retailers including Amazon, Nook, Apple, Google, Chirp, Kobo, Scribd… They take a percentage of my royalties, but again, money isn’t the goal, I want people to read the book and be inspired or consider new ideas. I uploaded all the audio to Findaway, 10.5 hours worth of highly edited narration of On Swift Wings.

It takes time for the audio to be approved and made available on different platforms. The fastest is Author’s Direct, which is hardly surprising, as it is basically my own personal storefront on Findaway. The slowest (and still not available after three weeks) is Audible, though I’m confident that it will eventually be available there if that is your preferred platform.

Humor | Carrie D. Miller

The book is available. Early feedback has been the the quality is good and my voice is clear. I would love to hear more. I would really love to get more formal reviews, especially on Amazon or GoodReads. I don’t know if I can emphasize how important positive reviews are to an author like me. I know you get asked all the time to review products, and it is because it is really important. The only way that I can get word out about my book is if people see at a glance the formal social proof needed to ease their minds.

Please review my book! Please?

BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 7: Marketing

PART 7 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – MArketing

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Marketing. If you’re a reader, a supporter, or you’re thinking of publishing something yourself, read this one thoroughly. To anybody reading this, I would really love feedback. Marketing is an area where I started with no knowledge, like, basically zero, and now feel I know a solid 0.1%, and that might be wrong, so I’m a solid 0.1% plus or minus a full 1%. I’ve learned a lot, and it still isn’t working. I’d love to know if you know what I haven’t learned yet.

Launch

I’ve already spoken about my launch experience in my previous blog posts, so I’m not going to dwell on it here. Suffice to say, a good launch, with a launch team of friends to help spread the word is a great first step into book marketing.

“Good” Idea

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When I launched the book, I included one “good” idea. I put that in quotes because I don’t know that my good idea actually contributed to sales, but it makes me feel good nevertheless. I pledged 20% of all the revenue that I earn would be donated to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. I was inspired by the story of Peter Pan, the royalties from which are even today a major source of funding for the Greater Ormond Street Hospital. Whether a good marketing idea or not, I’m not sure, but it makes me feel better to give something back to the community and the ACH is a most worthy cause.

Facebook Page

Another smart idea was to set up and promote my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/BW.Literature/
This page helped me get the word out in a more formal way, and it is a landing page for posts like this one. I was able to get 100 likes on the page from my friends and family, which was certainly helpful, and set up the platform for my first paid advertisements.

Advertising

I did try to advertise pretty quickly on Facebook. Clever company suggested that many people would see my post about the donation if I paid a few bucks. They did, but I don’t think it amounted to any sales. It got a lot of likes and a few shares. Also, I donated a dollar for every share of that first post. I was braced for my maximum of $500. I figured, if all you had to do was share one post from a friend to donate a dollar to the Children’s Hospital, most of my 500+ Facebook friends, and however-many LinkedIn contacts, and twelve Twitter followers would easily push it past that mark, and as a result, spread the word.

What I discovered was that even with an incentive, I was unable to spur a significant social media churn. I only got 79 shares, even with a Facebook ad running and showing the post to 3600 people around the world interested in Gulliver’s Travels and Jonathan Swift. There was some good feedback on the post that with 407 likes. At the point, I didn’t have a good mechanism for tracking sales and success, but it didn’t likely generate many readers. I certainly didn’t have 400 sales during that period. I also got my first troll through that post, something I had braced for, and honestly didn’t bother me, but I certainly remember his posts. (Thanks to Mike Brown for knocking him down a peg with a Taylor Swift meme.)

Homepage

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As I mentioned above, I didn’t really have a way to track the success or failure of my advertising, and beyond Facebook who proactively sought me out, I didn’t know what other ways to advertise. I paid IngramSpark to include me in their flyer, but I can’t even say for sure that my ad was ever published, me not being a bookstore/library who receives that flyer. I decided to set up a webpage (which is where you’re most certainly reading this.) This lets me see how many people are coming to check it out and from where they are coming. My original ads had the goal of directing people to my Facebook page, and the only metric that they were engaged was if they liked or shared a post.

Facebook is also limiting in that I really can only reach my friends and family that like the page. It is not particularly searchable, and advertising it doesn’t do much beyond itself. Furthermore, you can’t track sales, you can’t see how many people are viewing things, and you have very limited control on layout. This led me to explore setting up my own page. It costs a bit for the webspace, but it is a far more flexible design platform (on WordPress.)

I try to post here when I have some time. Keep things active and provide some engagement.

The blog

Somebody once said that the more I promote the book, the more confident people are that it is good quality. The blog is a way that I can share my thoughts on things publicly in a way that hopefully shows my confidence in the book. I’m reading it to my son right now and each time I read it I find myself surprised at how good it is. (In the gaps between when I read it, I question whether I did too much of something, or too little of something else, but then I read it again and feel a good sense of accomplishment. Anyway, the blog is a way for me to share thoughts and ideas, and hopefully get some feedback.

Goodreads

This will reveal how little I knew going in, but I didn’t know anything about GoodReads when I got started. Another good way to reach a lot of people. I did a giveaway of 100 eBooks several months ago. Originally I was hoping that I’d get at least 100 people that wanted it, and by the end I got 369 requests, which was cool. The real aim here was to get a bunch of reviews, unfortunately I only got a few. It cost $119US to run the giveaway, and I was, perhaps naively, hoping to get a dozen or more quality reviews. I think that of the 100 people who received a free copy of the book, I got 1 five-star, 1 four-star, and 1 three-star (who was also the only one to write actual comments.)

Facebook Posts and social media

I continue to try to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to share the book, to post blog entries etc. If there is one thing I learned on here, it is how valuable it is to have a circle of friends and family who are active and who like, comment, and share regularly. You can be pretty sure that the people who are closest to you will see all of your posts and they will likely read some or most of them, but if they don’t like/comment/share, it ends with them.

I’ll go into this a little deeper, because it may help to understand how these things work. If I post a blog entry, photo, etc. then maybe a dozen people will see it in their feed. I can pretty much identify them based on how often we comment/like each other’s posts. I don’t know the relative values, but if they share the post, their top 12 will see it as well. If all 12 of them like it, it will probably get served out to a wider audience of my friends. If all 12 of them comment on it, it will certainly be served and prioritized to a larger proportion of my friends. If a large number of those people like/comment, and share, then it will be served out to ever-increasing circles of people (see viral.)

People who aren’t trying to market something like a book or song may not realize just how important their support really is. Likes and comments are more than just about ego, they are huge algorithmic supports. Whether you like/comment on my stuff, if you have other friends that are trying to promote their business, this is a key way to do it.

If you just want to support them, despite not really being interested in their products, like their posts. If you’re willing, even better to comment, because then some of your friends may see that you commented on something, but definitely friends-in-common will see it. For maximum support, share the post as well. Social media thrives when posts are seen and commented, so those that gain the most engagement get priority.

Amazon advertising

I fiddled with some Amazon ads early as well. I poked a few keywords (like 5) and did some automatic targeting but didn’t see any serious benefits. What changed on this front was when I stumbled across Bryan Cohen. Early this year (and again as I’m writing these) Bryan set up a course on Amazon Advertising. Honestly, I haven’t had enough time to watch even a fraction of the content, but what I learned has changed the way I approach Amazon ads. This year my ads have been served out to almost 750,000 people. I really ought to watch the entire series of his course, because I haven’t generated many sales yet, but I believe that had to do with a cover that wasn’t fit for purpose and fairly amateur salesmanship on my part.

I also stumbled into a good bit of feedback from my friend Lin He from a toastmasters event. She fed me an opportunity to speak about my book and I went into a spiel about Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift and then a little about my book. Her feedback was that I sold her on reading Gulliver’s Travels, but not necessarily On Swift Wings. When I reevaluated my advertising, I realized just how true that feedback really was. I started every sales pitch with a description of an entirely different book, and spent 80% of my time describing what I liked about it and why I wrote my re-imagination thereof. I should have been focusing on my book and its contents, and perhaps casually tossing out a reference to the original source material. Now I describe my book and ultimately reference Mr. Swift’s work in more of a passing style.

Google Advertising

I didn’t try google advertising for a long time. Dumb. When it finally dawned on me to give it a shot, I directed readers to my webpage who were interested in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, Online Books, Fantasy/Adventure, etc. I was able to drive a lot of traffic to my webpage and a few sales came out of that which was good. I didn’t yet have any decent metrics on my page, but I assumed that I was seeing positive response even if costs were outweighing sales for now.

Unfortunately, when I did get the metrics up several weeks later, it became apparent that a number of people (or bots) were clicking on the links, but they were generally spending less than two seconds on the webpage and almost never (0.05%) were clicking on any other links on the page.

I tried redesigning the page and focusing the ads, but nothing has worked well there so I’ve shut down my Google ads for now. I’d love some feedback from people who have tried to view my page, if somebody knows why people are bouncing so quick, I’d love to hear it.

Preview

Another idea I had was to make the preview of the book more widely available during the pandemic. Amazon allows readers to read a sample, I figured I could put a few chapters out there so that potential readers could see what they are in for if they buy the book. I haven’t had a lot of uptake on this. I can see who has read what chapter, and only in the past couple weeks have I seen anybody click past the first chapter, but I am seeing several, and a few sales from those people, which is great to see.

I have said before that the goal is to get as many people to read the book as possible. Making money would be a nice side benefit, but if a million people read the book and I earned a total of $10, that would be incredible. If you haven’t yet, read the preview and see what you think. Write some comments, start a conversation. Hopefully it gets you interested in the book. I know the style is a bit of an antique and the vocabulary is challenging, but if you can push through it, you’ll learn something, probably lots of things.

Another thing that one of my reader’s said was that they appreciated the dictionary feature on the kindle. Give it a try, I really think that a broad audience would enjoy the various parts of the book.

Unfortunately, I have to charge something for the book. If I make it free, there is no way for me to offset any advertising or marketing costs. Furthermore, if I chose to charge basically nothing, people would assume it was worth basically nothing, and they still wouldn’t read it. Please read it, please review it, please talk to me, please like/comment/share it!

Contests and reviews

One of the more successful avenues that I’ve taken is contests and reviews. I’ve submitted my book to several professional and paid review services as well as a few different contests. Many of these reviews are not able to post the review directly to Amazon, but I’m able to quote the reviews there. I’ve been quite pleased with the number of four and five star reviews. I have yet to have a professional reviewer deduct more than one star, and the reasons for that deduction have been remedied. Most reviewers have been very favourable towards the book. In addition to the ego stroke that positive reviews provide, it also grants some level of authority to the book, and connects with the reviewer’s readers. I’ve had reviews from Readers’ Favorite, Reader Views, OnlineBookClub, and a verdict from IndieReader.

I’ve also put the book into a few contests. I won the Reader Views Canada West region, placed second in the Reader Views “Humor/Satire” category, was a finalist in the IndieReader 2020 Discovery Awards, and I am waiting to see the results of the Readers’ Favorite on September 1. Similar to reviews, these lend a note of legitimacy and authority to the book, helping it to stand out from the literally hundreds of thousands of new books published each year independently.

For a while my book was leading on the OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year (popular vote), but a suspicious entry has blown past me (and everybody else) with 699 votes in the past two weeks (versus 280 for me in second place I’ve been amassing for six months. Last year’s winner had 325 votes, which was my target.) To be fair though, the book, “Wisdom” has the benefit of a 2/4 star official review driving it forward with a summary that reads: “boring, unoriginal, and unprofessionally edited.”

I’d love to get a few more votes on there, even if it seems first place is out of reach, I can still win the best Fiction. To vote, click here:

Vote for On Swift Wings – OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year

I really hope that this post was of value. I wonder how many of you will read right to the bottom of this long meandering post and like it, comment on it, and/or share it, having now a greater understanding of the relative importance. I would love it if you would read my book or even just give the preview a chance.

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Stay well and may your world always grow! (You know, once the end of the world is over.)

BW

Free Preview

While the world continues to be paralyzed by the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic, I thought I’d give people something entertaining to chew on for free.

I’ve released the first five chapters of On Swift Wings to the website. I hope that you’ll enjoy this sample of the book.

The first five chapters set the stage and introduce the reader to the first island in the novel.

Fans of Jonathan Swift’s classic, Gulliver’s travels ought to recognize some familiar elements, and hopefully feel that the style is reminiscent of the original work.

https://brettwiens.com/part-one-the-island-of-the-huhuneem-and-yahoo/

If you’re feeling it, you could just dive right in and get the whole book up front, I certainly wouldn’t complain!

More than anything, I hope that you are all safe and well during these challenging times. May your world always grow!

BW