Tag Archives: audio narration

Careful with that ACX Eugene … #audiblegate

I was watching a programme about Pink Floyd last night and I’m afraid I couldn’t help myself.

Right. This week a suspension of the usual service to bring you a message about audiobooks.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that my books are out in audio. You will also know that in the pantheon of THINGS which MTM loves the audiobooks are very, very shiny. Because entirely serendipitously, I’ve ended up with an absolutely blinding product. A thing of mind-boggling quality. This is not how life tends to happen to me unless I put in a lot of work. The unicorn farted and I walked right into the purple sparkly gas on this one. Lucky me.

Like most folks, I’ve put the audiobooks on Audible. I didn’t go exclusive because I’m not very keen on that sort of thing so they are available everywhere. I use a company called Findaway Voices for most of it. I upload my books to them and they distribute them everywhere else so I don’t have to. Also, the books are on Kobo, where I upload them direct, and on ACX which is Audible’s sister company. I think ACX distributes to a couple of other places, including iBooks which Findaway will also send your books to. However, Findaway pay between 35 and 55% royalties (depending where the book is going) it’s 40% to apple, I think, and ACX pay me a flat rate of 25% to punish me for not going exclusively with Audible. This is called leveraging people’s desperation and greed to achieve a monopoly. It works very well, too. It’s a big part of the reason why Amazon is Amazon.

On my Audible/ACX dashboard there’s a little chart which shows sales. One day, I refreshed it to see how my sales were doing and noticed that the entry for total books had dropped from 58 to 57. Yet I’d sold some more books over night. Hang on, I thought. That can’t be right. Now as you lot know, I’m a bit challenged with numbers. We won’t go off at a tangent on the Baldrick ‘some beans/very small stew’ sketch but that’s about the level I’m at. It’s called discalculia and 99% of cases still go undiagnosed because it tends to pair with smartness in some other direction that leaves people simply assuming you are right-brained … or is it left-brained? Yeh, anyway, moving on.

The result is that, knowing my weakness, I look at the numbers on anything very carefully and slowly. It’s like I’m this weird dichotomy between the thickest fucker on earth and extremely switched on. I probably check the numbers far more closely than I would if I could actually … you know … add them up or understand them the way other humans can.

So I looked at my charts. Total books sold 57, and I thought, Hang on there were 58 yesterday and I’ve sold another one but ended up with a smaller number of all over sales. How the fuck did I manage that?

Naturally, being me, I started digging and this is what I discovered:

Right now, Audible is encouraging some customers to exchange books they’ve read and enjoyed and get a full refund or another credit. They can do that on any book for up to a year after they first downloaded and listened to it. Clearly that’s brilliant for customers.

However, what Audible omit to tell readers is that every time they exchange a book, Audible claws back any royalties they’ve paid from the people who produced it: the author and narrator. That’s right, the people carrying the cost of Audible’s largesse are, well … us actually.

Also it’s important to note that these are not large royalties. I explained about the exclusive versus non-exclusive tier. One my books is a 63 hour box set. Gareth and I earn about$3.00 to share between us each time someone reads it on a single credit, except we don’t because 60% of readers ‘exchange’ the book and we earn nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Thanks to author, Cory Doctorow for this graphic.

Audible argues that letting people return books they have listened to right through, for up to 365 days after purchase gives customers the freedom to try out books they might never normally have tried. Judging by the numbers of people listening to my box set, that may well be true. Audible also say there are stringent checks in place to ensure there is no abuse.

However, experiments carried out by authors signing up, listening to, and returning books would suggest that you can exchange at least six Audiobooks a month before they switch it so you have to phone them up or message them. And after that point you can continue to exchange more books, just not at the click of a button.

Is this system open to abuse? Yes. Hugely. There are posts all over the web explaining how to use a single credit to get free books from Audible by exchanging them, and having your credit returned, again and again. So far, one experiment has hit 28 books returned in less than a month. Maybe those checks aren’t quite so stringent, then.

As one of the people making the books, I have to confess it is a bit demoralising for authors like me to see something we’ve created selling really well, like hot cakes even, but be paid as if it isn’t.

How can I help people to understand?

Imagine you look at your bank statement and discover that you have only been paid half your wages for the month. What do you do? You go to the boss.

‘What’s going on, Boss?’ you ask.

‘Oh,’ says the Boss. ‘I’ve donated your work for those days. I want potential customers to be able to try out our company for free so from now on, for some days in each month you’ll be working for nothing. I won’t tell you how many days it will be; it could be half or more, or less. You’ll be able to get an idea from your timesheet and wages at the end of each month. That’s OK isn’t it?’

Clearly, if I have bills to pay and rent to meet it isn’t going to be OK. At all.

Audiobooks cost. Whether that payment is in cash, per book, or time: days spent in a hot attic sat at a computer wrangling words or acting your socks off into a microphone for a royalty split, whichever way it’s done, the cost is extensive. It’s especially demoralising when half those royalties never materialise. I have no idea, month on month whether I’ll be earning from Audible or actually have that many return royalties deducted that it will bring my payment down to zero. September’s report had minus numbers for two books but a third made up enough to cover it. Furthermore there is no breakdown of the numbers. They simply deduct returns from my sales total and give me a figure at the end of the month. There are ways to buck the system and find out how many books were returned but there’s nothing transparent; nothing obvious or sensible like a column for total gross sales, another for returns, and a third for net sales.

Hundreds of authors and narrators have been writing and asking for this information but we are stonewalled or fobbed off with nonsensical boilerplate responses or promises to escalate it to The Business Team, after which nothing ever materialises.

Despite being an off shoot of Amazon; a company which has one of the most sophisticated sales algorithms that has ever existed, Audible and their content supplying arm, ACX, are unable to supply us with basic information.

It doesn’t inspire confidence. Hopefully ACX and Audible will listen and we will be able to work something out with them. We know they tell listeners who ask them that we signed up for this because those listeners have told us. It’s entirely untrue. There is nothing in our contract about half our sales being returned for nothing, if there was our books would not be there because it’s not a viable business model for us. I’ve seen comments to the effect that there seems to be a drop in the number of new books to listen to on Audible this situation may explain why.

Certainly, until the situation improves I can’t put any more books on there.

Cory Doctorov picked up on this and posted on twitter about it. And now the Romance Writers of America, the Science Fiction Writers of America, the Author’s Guild, the Alliance of Independent Authors and many more have put their weight behind us. The Alliance has downgraded Audible’s working partner rating to ‘caution’. Meanwhile, many industry bodies have clubbed together and made a public announcement about Audible. Along with the announcement is a letter damning their actions and demanding change. Please feel free to sign it. You can find that here:

https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/sign-our-letter-and-tell-audible-to-stop-charging-authors-for-returns/

Make no mistake none of the authors involved in this are against returns. If someone has stumped up for a book and they think the writing is abysmal and the narrator sounds like a corn crake with a bad throat, they are perfectly within your rights to return it. Indeed, they should.

But if they’ve listened to an entire book right through, and returned it months afterwards, that isn’t a book they loathed. So, if anyone reading this does Audible, when all those pop ups appear urging you to exchange your credit for another book, please think before making an ‘exchange’ and denying us, the creators, our means to make a living. Furthermore, please also think about signing the letter from the Author’s Guild. Here’s the link. It’s pretty strong. I think we could say, the gloves are off.

Sign Our Letter and Tell Audible to Stop Charging Authors for Returns

Susan May, leader of the authors kicking back against this has also done an excellent blog post here:

https://www.susanmaywriter.net/single-post/audiblegate-the-incredible-story-of-missing-sales

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If you want to listen to audiobooks for free …

You can listen to a lot of audiobooks for nothing by borrowing them from your local Library. Just check the app or ask your librarian. Not only do you get to listen to the book for free, but the libraries pay authors for any books that are borrowed. Win-win. Audiobooks are also sold by Kobo, Google Play, iBooks, Chirp, Scribd and many, many more.

Alternatively, you can purchase my audiobooks from my online shop here:

K’Barthan Series:

https://payhip.com/HUP/collection/kbarthan-series-audio

K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit

https://payhip.com/HUP/collection/kbarthan-shorts-audio

More details about all my audiobooks can be found here:

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio.html

 

And there’s that link again: https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/sign-our-letter-and-tell-audible-to-stop-charging-authors-for-returns/

 

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Let’s talk about Things …

One of the things I tidied up was my room of shame … well … a bit.

Blimey, it’s already that time of the week again when I’m supposed to be writing a blog post. It’s been a bit of a clearing up week this week.  I’ve finally finished my story for Christmas Lites. It’s absolutely terrible but it’s done. I’m supposed to have sent it off today, but I need to put the last batch of edits in – and possibly write an additional scene. Which reminds me, I must email the organisers begging for clemency.

That said, although it’s terrible, it’s only the first part really. I could probably tidy it up a lot more if I had the actual event they’re trying to sabotage taking place at the end. Then our band of heroes and heroines could all stand about looking smug as their Grongle overlords commit what they think is an act of extreme sacrilege to upset the locals but … well … isn’t. I might miss the deadline if I do that though. I mean, really miss it. And also I doubt I could do it in under 4,000 words and I only have 3,000 to play with. And I have to prepare for my hospital trip.

I also tidied my desk … sort of.

First up I need to work out what I’m taking and I have a lot of paperwork to read about what I should bring, papers to sign about covid and other stuff to bring along. There’s also a lot of stuff I don’t know, which I do hope they are going to tell me. Soon. I’m guessing I’ll need to wear track suit bottoms. I have a mask with a filter in it that’s good for about 700 hours and I’ve bought one of those plastic face screens to wear as well. While I’m writing, I ought to give you the heads up that there may not be a blog post next week. It depends but I suspect I’ll be on the go driving down to the hospital to have my premed appointments. McOther and McMini may drive me but it depends because I don’t know how long these appointments will take.

The knee is really appalling now. I’m so glad I’m having it done, as I can only do tiny stints of walking before I have to go and have a sit down. I did manage to rake the leaves off the path today and clear away some of the dead and dying veg plants from the garden. I brought the things I’d like to try and keep alive over the winter indoors to the conservatory and I have also managed to make a few more inroads in my room of shame office. See photos.

Squee!

Meanwhile, Gareth is working on the next audiobook, Close Enough, at which point we will have my entire catalogue recorded. So in theory the next book, Too Good To Be True, should be released with an accompanying audiobook, and a lot fewer mistakes because Gareth is very good at spotting typos!

As usual, the chapters he’s sent so far are brilliant. Woot.

As always, he asked me, at the start, if I have any preferences for any of the new voices. On the one hand, it’s hard not to be like a kid in a sweetshop, on the other, I don’t like to be too overbearing. Even if I do stipulate something, I try, really hard, to keep it general and not be any more specific than, what about … accent a or b? But at the same time, Gareth can do pretty much anything I throw at him. I suspect he might surprise himself sometimes on that score. Also, he comes over as a man who enjoys an acting challenge, I sincerely hope so.

That said, I do try to stick to things he might not have thought about doing and stay within the parameters of what his particular voice can do rather than push him miles out of his comfort zone. The aim is for a positive reaction along the lines of, ‘oh yes, that’ll be fun.’  Part of the sheer joy of it all is feeding the ideas in and seeing what he does.

There’s a character in this one called Marcella the Pirate. I have slightly based her on Edward Teach – also known as Blackbeard. Originally she was a guy but then the idea of having her as a lady began to appeal because it made her seem even more of a scary psychopath. So I did that instead. I haven’t really a voice in my head for Marcella short of hard and nasty.  Gareth asked if I had any particular ideas on how she’d sound. When I came to actually think about it I wondered if Edward Teach was from the West country and thought maybe that would work. I checked with Google and sure enough, he was, so I suggested hard and nasty West Country and let him get on with it. Mwahahahrgh, he has not disappointed.

Just on a quick tangent here, Edward Teach was from Bristol. Could that be why pirates traditionally speak with a Bristolian accent? He used to plait his beard and hair and attach firecrackers to the ends of his plaits. I thought he got this a bit wrong at one point and blew himself up. Na-uh. He was actually ambushed. He was shot 20 times, stabbed five more times, then they cut his throat after which, just to make absolutely certain he was dead, someone chopped his head off. Well. There’s nothing like making sure of something I guess but that, right there, is fear of your enemy.

Also on the audiobooks front, Audible have finally released the box set of the K’Barthan Series. To my complete and utter amazement, it sold 33 copies in the first five days. So at least the royalty cheque I send Gareth in however many months it is won’t be quite as risibly small. At the moment I transfer them with ridiculous references on them like ‘HugeRoyalty’ ‘MassiveCash’ etc.

The conceived wisdom on all this is that big books go well on Audible and small books go well on Findaway – though library borrows mainly. I am discovering this to be true. Neither Audible nor Findaway reports completely in real time, Audible seems to update more or less once a day, give or take. Findaway is quite random. So far, the last month’s sales have all been for library borrows with only three or four of the full length books being sold and absolutely zero sales of the Box set.

Going forward, I suspect what I should have done is kept the box set to myself and sold it via my own site for a reduced amount. I will probably do that with the pending K’Barthan Shorts box set. I have to write seven now, as well, because One, Two and Three make a nice novel length book. Four is a novel and Five and Six … well … I suppose they might be longer but I doubt it so I may need a Seven. Although I think The Pan is going to be getting into more trouble with Marcella The Pirate so I doubt it’ll be too tricky. I will probably sell all the books for a bit less on my own site when I get it sorted. At the moment I’m doing that through Author’s Direct. Gareth and I share a 70% royalty on anything I shift there. However, books I published weeks ago still haven’t appeared on my Author’s Direct dashboard so I’m hoping that eventually, I’ll be using the alternative platform that I’m testing alongside (CF the free book last week).

I’m wondering if those 34 people who bought the box set on audible are people who listened to the free book from the link I provided here. It’s difficult to say. It’s stopping now, but it does appear to mean that 34 people were waiting to download it, which is nice. I wonder what sort of royalties we’ll get paid for an audible token purchase. Probably about £2.50.

Audible/ACX does worry me a bit though – ACX is the platform run by Audible to which you upload books. I’m not even sure if I can remove my books from sale once they are on there, which is the bit of a worry with the subscription model looming. You can’t choose where you distribute either, so you have to put up with two listings on Apple, one which pays 40% royalties and one which pays 25%. You can contact Apple and ask them to give the 40% version precedence though. If I go through an aggregator to Audible/ACX, I think can take my books off there more easily but Gareth and I would take a big hit – we would earn 40% of the 25%  royalty that Audible/ACX pay us to go direct.

Also, their exchange policy is concerning. It’s fine returning books you’re not enjoying. I have zero problem with someone downloading my book, loathing it and returning it. But audible encourages readers to ‘exchange’ a book and re-use the credit. They pitch this as one of the benefits of joining. That means an audible user who has enjoyed my book may well decide to ‘exchange’ it for a different one, Audible pitches this to customers as working like a library but as I understand it, they treat exchanges as a return. That means the author and narrator do not get paid and if they have already been paid Audible will claw back the money from future payments. Readers can ‘exchange’ books for up to ONE YEAR after purchase and yes, if it happens in that time, ACX/Audible will take back your money.

So if you’re an Audible user maybe avoid ‘exchanging’ books by authors and narrators that you like eh? Well … if you want them to continue putting books on Audible.

Authors and narrators are getting wise to this, though. Many are now distributing ‘wide’ beyond ACX/Audible while a growing minority are no longer uploading their books to Audible at all. Add to this that if you don’t go exclusive Audible slash your royalties from 40% to 25% – yeh, how dare anyone put their books in libraries – and although it’s supposed to take ’30 days’ for them to approve a book, in reality it takes three to six months to get a book approved and it’s a bit of a kerfuffle. Case in point, the K’Barthan Series Box Set was uploaded in July 19th and went live on 9th October. The glorious illogic of this was that, barring the five second beginning and ending credits, the entire thing comprised files that they had already approved and which were on sale as individual books. So that’s six months to check the beginning and end credits of the book – about 20 or 30 seconds of audio? Something like that.

In addition I encounter many tales of audible rejecting books after three months with a generic message such as – there is too much background noise. What they don’t tell you, of course, is where that piece of background noise is. Bear in mind this may be a 12 hour book with 70 chapters. At one point they changed the length of the silences they required between chapters, books where the silence had been within guidelines when they were up loaded were rejected because they now were not.

All the author or narrator can do is check their books and resubmit – there are actually pieces of proprietary software that enable you to do this. Not from Audible/ACX, obviously because that would be helpful. Another three to six months later it may well be rejected again. Some authors are resubmitting again and again because even going through their books with a fine tooth comb, they can’t find the place where the ‘mistake’ is and get this … Audible doesn’t tell them. Imagine if school was like audible.

‘Here’s your essay back, there’s a mistake in it.’

‘Oh, what did I get wrong.’

‘It’s not my job to tell you what you got wrong, you should know.’

Contributors check, and recheck, and scratch their heads. They resubmit what looks to be a perfect book, completely within all guidelines and it’s rejected again and again. There are stories of people discovering .5 of a second too long a silence at the end of one chapter in 60, resubmitting and it going through. Folks checking the chapters and over the book and then discovering an extra second on the silence after the opening credits. Seriously, how hard would it be to say, chapter 45 has .5 of a second of extra silence.

Audible/ACX is swamped with submissions but if they identified the mistakes how many hundreds books in the queue for checking would have passed by now. I know authors with books which have been going round and round since February. Would these books be clogging up the system had Audible/ACX taken the simple, blindingly obvious step of identifying where any errors actually are. Even ‘there’s an error in chapter six, you know the one, the forty minute one, it’s in there’ or maybe, ‘here are your first five errors, there were more,’ would be better than what they currently do which is: ‘here’s twelve hours of audio, somewhere in there, is a single, tiny background noise/a silence that is 4 seconds long instead of 3.5. It’s not our fucking job to tell you where it is because that might actually be of some practicable use to you. Now piss off and fix it.’ It’s extraordinary. And worse, people who’ve read too many Geoffrey Archer novels and seen too much shit on TV like Madmen are beginning to think this kind of shambolic, unprincipled, bollocks approach is how actual business works. I don’t think so.

It’s also the reason why, most of the time, any folks using Audible who want to get my books the same time as everyone else have to borrow them from the library. 🙂

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On a lighter note …

Do you remember in this post here, where I talked about doing a podcast interview? Well the interview is now live, so if you’d like to watch me shooting the breeze for half an hour on Bibliofiles, with Bonnie K.T. Dillabough you can. It was great fun, I really enjoyed it although I will have to try a different camera angle next time I do something like that! Double chins anyone? Anyway, if you’d like to give it watch, you can find it here:

 

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That’s … a bit of a thing.

These last fifteen days or so have been a bit of a roller coaster. You may, or may not, know – but I think you will know because I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it – that I have an arthritic knee. Now I am on McOther’s health care but I’ve never thought to investigate it particularly thoroughly because … well I suppose because I had private health with one of my jobs and any problems with my left knee were actually excluded from the policy.

Every few years it flares up and when it recovers, never quite returns to previous levels. Living in a different county, I had a transplant to move some cartilage from a part of the knee where it wasn’t used much to an area where it was. That lasted a year or two, but I don’t think getting pregnant three weeks after the op (by mistake) did it much good.

The NHS will only give you one knee and they seem to have this slight of obsession with not giving it to you until you hit sixty. I suspect it’s because if people have to wait another 20 years there’s a good chance some of them will have died off before the operation has to go ahead. The official argument is that you won’t want to be in a wheelchair as an old person. My counter argument would be that actually, when you are 40 and have just had a little boy, or when you’re fifty and looking down the barrel of another eight years of bone on bone, that’s the time you want to be fit and able and … you know … pain free. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die, and all that.

With lock down came a change in the way I exercised, more walking, less cycling, no gym and with that change came a truly evil flare up. So evil that I looked at our health insurance policy and realised that yes, I was insured for treatment for an acute flare up even if the underlying condition is chronic. So I asked.

I was given a call back from their triage team that same day. I then had a call booked a few days later to speake to a member of their physio teem who referred me straight through to a consultant. Within the week I was zoom calling a knee surgeon who fixed a friend’s knee. Wasn’t sure about using the local guys because I’m pretty sure one of them was the NHS guy who told me, aged 40, that I’d be fast tracked if I was 20 years older and that I should just go and lose two stones – I went to the gym where I lost two dress sizes and put on a stone so … a partial success there I suppose.

A quick chat by zoom and the following Monday I was making an appointment for photos/MRI etc. They offered me Wednesday but that’s my day to visit Mum so I chose the Monday after that. A week later I was heading down to London to be filmed and meet the surgeon in person. He’s very calm and measured and has a dry humour and subtlety to the way he delivers his verdict about things which reminded me strongly of McOther. He also has the same calm confidence about his expertise, which is always reassuring. He told me, ‘this is rather worse than I was expecting from your story. There’s not any cartilage that I can see.’ Then went on to explain that the knee was actually, ‘completely trashed’ and that a full replacement was the only real option. I may be fifty two, he said, but my knee is every bit of seventy years old. I’m not surprise. I suspect it’s been bone on bone for the last three years, at least.

While he was showing me the MRI it was intriguing to see it zoom through all the meat bit by bit. I looked at it and thought, Hmm, there’s some nice marbling there, if I was a steak, I’d taste nice. Which even I thought was a slightly strange thing to think.

I’ll be having surgery at London Bridge Hospital. The white and brown building second to the left of the Shard. HMS Belfast is near there, too. It’s on the left, just out of shot.

There we are then. As of two days’ time, I am about to plunge into two week’s isolation before having a knee op. When I come out the side I will have a replacement knee … I hope.

In so far as such a concept is possible, I am quite looking forward to having surgery. Counter intuitive as this may seem, if it works, I will be able to do a lot of things I couldn’t. Like … I dunno … walk. I suspect that once I get up and running after the op, I’ll do a fair bit of walking, just for the sheer joy of being able to. I may even be able to run for the first time in about 15 years.

Like any operation, there is a chance it will go horribly wrong. I might die on the table, have a blood clot or end up as a unidexter. But I like to think positive and believe that things will go well and that, by six pm, two weeks on Monday, I will contain some titanium and a lot of painkillers.

Let’s face it, they are sawing the ends off two bones, I’m guessing it’s going to feel a bit like having a broken leg at first. Or to put it another way, I think it might be going to smart a tad. On the other hand, since my knee is bone on bone, I’m probably looking at a reasonably substantial uplift, once I’ve finished the recuperation process, on the day-to-day pain levels I currently … ‘enjoy’ – if that’s the right word. Also, of course, once I’m out the other side I can go to follow up appointments on the train again and stuff. Which will be dandy.

Going to London on Monday used every last one of my reserves but it was fabulous. I left a wet, cold and windy Suffolk and walked off the platform at Liverpool Street into a warm, sunny autumn day. Bit of a bonus there. I do love the feeling of the sun on my skin and all that light on the backs of my eyes.

There was hardly anyone around and so I walked to my appointment and then walked back to Liverpool Street, via London Bridge, to see the hospital in which they will operate on me.

In order to preserve knee spoons I took it very slowly and happened upon Monument and Pudding Lane, which was rather lovely. I enjoyed the sunshine, not to mention the fact I could stand in the middle of Threadneedle Street to take a photo without being bothered by traffic. And I think I might have started a small love affair with the Walkie Talkie.

The Walkie Talkie is slightly nuts, which may be why I like it. Apparently it can focus the sun on a parking spot on the road below and, on the wrong kind of day, set parked cars on fire. I haven’t been able to substantiate if this is really true.

However, for all the rumours of murder rays, it looks a great deal more benign. Indeed, to me it looks like some well meaning creature bumbling through the streets. The others are really cool but they are buildings. The Walkie Talkie looks … a bit cuddlier than that.

When you catch a glimpse of it, over the roofs of other buildings, it looks as if it’s popped up to orientate itself.

If it spoke, I reckon it would make well-meaning noises; a mash up of Dara O’Brien doing impressions of whale song combined with his take on the flowerpot men; as seen on on Mock the Week.

See pictures below.

Boing. Woieoooooow. Blobalobolob.

Lobolobobloboblob!

Can you tell me the way to the river? I need to wash my feet.

Too weird? Yeh. OK.

I lived in London for a little while, and I love it. I left pre Canary Wharf – well I think the big square tower was there but that was it, it hadn’t even reached the point where it looked like a three pin plug. But I think for the most part, they’ve made a really good stab at the modern buildings thing.What seems to have worked well is the juxtaposition of the old and new; the way you have the Gherkin, the Lloyds Building and a bunch of other stuff all hugga mugga with some ancient church (that’s the little sandy coloured blob, right in the middle, with the Gherkin growing out of its head). I like that if something modern is good, it looks perfectly alright next to a twelth century church or the neo classical splendour of The Bank of England. I liked that there was no traffic too. I suppose even Covid has to have an upside.

This street is very K’Barthan. Quite similar to Fuller’s Row for anyone who has read Nothing to See Here. Except there aren’t the same railings.

Then suddenly, you get a whole Victorian row in the middle of it all, shown above. A small miracle, in itself, when most of this area was flattened by the Luftwaffe trying to bomb Liverpool Street in World War II. This is very K’Barthan, and looks more like Bayswater than the city. Looking at it, people might actually even live in these houses.

Looking down Threadneedle Street, with the Bank of England about 200 yards up behind me.

I also love that I managed a couple of shots which I could, plausibly, use for book covers. I have some shots taken from McOther’s London office of the shiny building in the previous shot being constructed. The brown building reflected in the shiny glass is the building in which his office is situated.

And finally, the cover of the ‘Christmas’ story I’m working on would probably be this one. As usual, I’ll do a short version for the Christmas Lights anthology this year and the longer expanded version will be released next year, the way Nothing To See Here would have been if I hadn’t run out of money and had to hold off releasing it until the following February! Oh and … er hem … sorry, we’re talking about Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday, clearly, rather than Christmas.

So yeh … that’s where I am this week. Slightly in shock and about to enter splendid isolation.

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Talking of isolation … if you’re bored and looking for something to keep you amused, I’m still giving away that 12 hour audiobook?

Yes, word up. Right now I am looking into ways I can deliver audiobooks direct to users: they buy from me and they can listen to the book in an app or on their computer. If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to download the bookfunnel app or join bookfunnel. If you’re happy doing that feel free to help yourself – the link is below.

It’s in beta, yes you are testing. That’s why you get a 13 hour audiobook for free read by one of the most distinguished actors you’ve never heard of: Gareth Davies. The man who made Roy Hudd laugh … and laugh enough to be asked back to do it again.

Once you click on the link, below, you’ll end up on a download page for the book. When you click listen/play it will ask you to download the bookfunnel app and enter this code, which it gives you right there so remember to write it down.

When you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play it’ll ask you for the code you jotted down. I don’t know if the code is case sensitive but I’d presume it is!

This is a brand new app and brand new audio player, and Bookfunnel appreciate any and all feedback. If you get into trouble, or can’t get anything to work, contact their help address – which is given on their site, help @ bookfunnel.com – with a header: ATTN: Julie.

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fxd6bnoy7k

If you decide to listen to the book. I hope you enjoy it. I leave you with this lovely picture of Marvin the paranoid android.

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How does it work? Audiobooks.

Today I thought it would be interesting to do a what-are-the-duck’s-legs-doing-underneath style post about audiobooks. Obviously, I know jiff all about audiobooks or producing them so the best place to start is with someone who does; Gareth, The Voice Of K’Barth Davies. This means I also get to post some of the extensive interview he did, which is going to be delivered in several parts to audiobook listeners on my mailing list. Also, because after pestering him with that many questions, frankly, I think the least I can do is share his answers with as many people as possible.

Boing …

Most of you know how it all started, I’m sure, but for those who don’t, I got an email, out of the blue, in July 2019 from Gareth, with a link to Unlucky Dip recorded on audio. Obviously the email was funny so he had me at ‘hello’ – although it was actually  ‘greetings and salutations’ if I remember correctly – but the recording was brilliant as well. Bonus! I had no clue who he was so I had a look at his website.

He was, indeed, an actor and acted for a living, without doing anything else. This, I suspected, made him impressively bloody minded and, if he could earn enough not to die of starvation, probably quite good at acting.

Gareth cooking audiobooks …

It looked like he had a sense of humour (always a bonus) a bit of a line in pantomime villains (well, he was going to be reading Lord Vernon, wasn’t he?) and it seems he can also jump very high in the air.

In subsequent conversations, I discovered that he is a even bigger sci-fi nerd than I am, which takes a bit of doing.

One of the jolly side effects of this project has been that meeting of the spuds aspect! Put it like this, he kept rabbits at one point and one of them was called Wicket – after the Ewok, naturally. He was a children’s entertainer for many years and you need something to pull out of the … well … I think it was a house rather than a hat but you get the picture.

He can do funny, which is fairly essential for reading my stuff and he is very modest about his achievements. I suspect he’s a lot more distinguished than he makes out.

Having decided the project was go, both of us were feeling our way a bit at the beginning. He hadn’t done a commissioned book before and I … well audio was definitely on my radar but I’d looked at the prices and chalked it up as something to do in my dreams for now. So I hadn’t read up on it or anything and consequently, I hadn’t a fucking clue what I was doing (now I have read up on it I still haven’t a fucking clue but that’s by-the-by). Gareth made relatively few actual mistakes, even on these first books most of the errors I picked up were my own typos. Sheesh.

We were both quite nervous, after recording the first novel, Gareth sent the link to me with the rider, ‘Basically, I’m just hoping for any reaction other than “what the hell have you done!?!”‘

There was also something that went slightly skew whiff with the set up on the third and fourth books because he was experimenting with the sound set up. He did explain it, I think it was called ‘sound gate’ if I recall. Then it was my turn to be nervous, principally, about the weird nature of the feedback I was giving him.

When he’s not illuminated in green or dressed up in costume Gareth looks like this.

Since my only experience of audiobooks was still restricted to Radio 4s A Book At Bedtime it did feel weird marking up a document going, ‘8 minutes 10 seconds you breathed in a weird way there and I heard it!’ I was a bit unsure as to whether I was helpfully pointing out things or being an anally retentive wanker. As someone who is not at all comfortable with the notion of overt wankerdom, I did keep asking, to check. It was probably quite annoying, but Gareth cheerfully continued to reassure me … quite a lot … that it was the former, not the latter!

He has now recorded a lot more audio, including seven of my books, I get the impression that he has definitely evolved a working process that suits him. Clearly, no two people are the same but I hope you will get a general feel for what the process involves and what a narrator does.

As I understand it, Gareth proofs all his own stuff. Some narrators don’t though, so they have to pay someone else to do that for them, usually at an hourly rate. That’s how the costs of audio end up sounding very high. The minute you start to unravel what goes into producing a book you (general ‘you’ here, clearly) start to change your view. Narrating an audio book is way, way more complicated than just sitting (or standing) in front of a microphone and reading stuff aloud as Gareth’s answers show.

Anyway, enough wittering on already. Here he is answering my questions about audio book production.

Gareth on producing audiobooks…

Right oh. First question. You warned me you’d take a while to produce the K’Barthan books but actually I thought you worked impressively fast. How long can you read at a stretch before you lose the will to live have to give your voice a rest?

I work a bit differently now than I did when reading the K’Barth series (I have learned!) For those, I read the whole book through, sent it to you for notes, then rerecorded, edited and mastered the finished piece. That meant that I would just be reading for as much of the day as I had quiet. Which meant, on days where the house was completely empty – if everyone was away for a few days – I could record for many hours. We were up against a very hard deadline to finish the initial reading of the last book because I was leaving the country on tour. I recorded maybe 12 hours each day over a long weekend and I finished reading that at around midnight on Sunday! That’s probably the closest I’ve come to losing the will to live …

Now, I record, edit and master a section each day – that gives the author more manageable chunks to listen to and, on the off-chance a chapter has no notes then it’s finished. Generally speaking, for each hour of finished material, it takes at least two hours to record it, slightly less to edit. So I currently aim to get around 1.5-2 hours done each day, which is roughly 3-4 hours recording and maybe 3 editing. When recording, I tend to work by chapter. So, unless it’s a very short chapter, I’ll take a break; walk around a bit, sit in my comfy chair and – always – go to the loo: you are constantly drinking water when recording.

There was a long stretch at the start of book three where the male MC has a sore throat and Gareth read that with a croaky voice, which was genius. One of the most fun parts of the process is that, if I leave him room to work, this is the kind of thing he does. He did confess to being very relieved when he got to the point where the sore throat is mentioned as having gone. Likewise, I do give some guidance on the voices I want, but mainly because he can do a lot more accents than he thinks he can – and with a gentle (I hope it’s gentle) prompt he can produce a very varied cast of characters, often with just the tiniest tweaks on the same basic set of vocal parameters.

On a side note, that’s also wise advice about the weeing, we know what Billy Connolly said about never passing up the opportunity to use the loo.

Next question …

Do you do voice training and if so, how much? Do you have to do the voice equivalent of warm up stretches before you start reading. Or any other special measures (!) like … I dunno … standing up to read? (that sounds weird but I do it all the time on the phone when I want to make a complaint, or a business call, or pretend I’m a grown up … and I can’t speak and think sitting down sorry. Tangent.). Are there some days where you know your voice is just not going to play ball? Says Mary attempting to break the record for the longest question ever asked.

Oh, there’s a lot there and I feel I might end up giving you an even longer answer than the last one! Yes, I definitely do some vocal warm ups. For starters, I always want to have at least two hours between getting up and starting to record (which isn’t hard cos I’m not a morning person and it takes me ages to get going, anyway). Then, when I’ve got the laptop and mic and everything set up I start warming the voice with some humming, then soft vowel sounds then moving on to phrases I learned 20 years ago at drama school! This isn’t a long process, we’re talking a few minutes rather than half an hour or something, but it’s just until I feel things are fairly loose and I’m not pushing or straining. Then I run through a series of tongue twisters – because tripping over consonants when you’re in mid-flow is deeply irritating and annoyingly frequent!

There are days when you realise your voice isn’t really with it, but you only really know for sure when you’ve started. I’ve had maybe two days where, maybe half an hour in to recording, I’ve stopped and packed it in for the day.

But it’s odd that you mention standing up. I have read everything so far sitting down, but in a session with my singing teacher recently (over zoom, naturally) we found that my system is actually more relaxed and my voice more open when I’m standing, so I’ll be trying that out next – though whether it’s something listeners would be able to pick up on or whether its just for my own benefit remains to be seen…

Gareth’s first standing up book – I think – is Nothing To See Here which we signed off yesterday, as I type this. 🙂

Does your voice change over the course of the day and how do you deal with that when you’re reading audio to a deadline?

Yes, it does change, but maybe not in the way you might expect. Rather than the sound of the voice changing it tends to be more the mental shifting that gets reflected in the way you read. The clearest example of what I mean is that I noticed (to my embarrassment) that chapters I’d recorded first in the day tended to be slightly slower paced than those recorded later – hopefully not in an obvious ‘that’s weird’ way but certainly enough that I started to hear when editing. When you become aware of something like that, you can try to counter it.

In general, I suppose one of the benefits of both voice training and the practical experience I’ve had over the years is that I have a kind of ‘work mode’ so that no matter where or when or what’s going on I do default to that which keeps the voice pretty consistent.

In the 70 or so hours of recorded material Gareth has produced about K’Barth there’s only been two occasions when his voice didn’t play ball, one time he was ill. He was busy being The Fat Controller at Thomas World – a job description that still causes me an unreasonable amount of mirth – sorry Gareth. He was working through the run up to Christmas 2019. The weather was vile; cold and rainy. I should imagine that working outdoors, in the freezing rain, in a soggy fat suit, is a fairly good way to catch pneumonia. I think he felt quite rough for a week. One other occasion, his voice was just tired and not playing ball the exact way he described in the previous answer, so he had to wait until the next day. All in all he’s very consistent, which is handy. Next question …

How do you keep track of what voice you are doing for whom, do they slide a bit from time to time … or do you have an ‘are you nervous son’* for everyone!

* – Gareth told me that to do the accent for Big Merv he would always do one particular line out of Unlucky Dip when BM slaps a giant hand on The Pan’s shoulder and goes, ‘Are you nervous son?’

When I started The Wrong Stuff (book 2) I set up a separate tab on my recording programme. I transferred clips from book one onto it and then added recordings of new characters as they came in. That way I had a quick reference point to go to if I got confused – this was a lifesaver when it came to books 3 and 4. There are several chapters there with eight or more characters in, including many new ones; so I’d think ‘Damn! Which resistance officer is which?’, go and have a listen and then carry on.

Sliding? Yes! Two pairing especially come to mind. The Pan and Ruth, as our central pair, are both more neutral voices so sometimes their dialogue could blend too closely. Also the first few chapters between Deirdre and Snoofle – I kept giving them each other’s accent! But some characters did develop their own reference to help out! Aside from Big Merv’s ‘You nervous son?’, the best is Gladys; whose voice is accompanied by a forward and back shaky right hand! Every single line!

So now I’m wondering whether the hand moves faster if Gladys is talking quickly! I should have asked him.

How do you make up for the lack of audience to keep the buzz and energy in your performance when you record?

That’s not really something I’ve particularly thought about. Obviously for live theatre or concerts or street shows, the audience is a major factor. But there’s also plenty of acting work that happens without one, even in my career which has been predominantly theatre. Even in rehearsals for live shows you’re working for performance level so working without an audience, or rather, working as if there’s an audience is fairly common. It’s mostly just about staying focused on what you’re doing, which is obviously tiring in itself and one reason for frequent breaks!

When I’m recording books, my focus tends to be on the microphone, and the audience I’m thinking about is myself (will I accept that when I’m editing? If not, let’s redo it now) and the author (am I delivering something close to what they had in mind?).

The audio thing … it looks like it takes a hell of a long time to learn; making the booth, learning the tech, choosing the mic, editing out the trains (Gareth lives near a railway line) and mastering the … well … mastering … How long did it take you to achieve book readiness, so to speak?

This is one of those things where, to get to an acceptable level is not too hard, but then you keep learning and making improvements. My booth is basically a corner of my room with a spare mattress behind me (with a very nice Star Wars Lego cover on (next to a Lego Han Solo it says ‘Han shot first), towels on the various surfaces around me and sheets draped in front. I’ve now upgraded so I can remove the sheets.

Gareth’s recording corner, note StarWars tat on top of the sheeted … cupboard? Shelves? That’s probably all the Warhammer figures under there.

I am not remotely tech savvy so that was definitely the thing that slowed me down at first. I followed a guide (specifically for audiobooks) in setting up and using the software I bought. Even now, I barely scratch the surface of all the things that program does and I’m probably ignorant about 95% of it – but I mostly know how to do the things I need it for.

It probably took me two or three months to get comfortable with it, and much of that time was spent playing around recording Unlucky Dip, the short story, and getting that right. Certainly by the time I’d finished the first full book in the K’Barthan Series I felt pretty confident – though I was still referring back to my notes for the mastering process.

Since then I’ve invested in a better microphone and some very clever editing software that makes that process much, much easier! But there are still things I want to learn more about so I can keep improving.

That bit about learning what you need to know to get started completely resonates with me. I’m like that with Facebook ads, I bought a brilliant course a few years ago, learned enough to get them to work and now that’s what I do. There is so much more I could do, and a lot more I want to do, but there’s only so much time and those things come under the other 95%. Mwahahahargh! Sorry, next question.

How many actual hours do you reckon you work for a finished hour of audio?

Oops, I should have read ahead! I half answered this question above. In actual practical terms, for recording and editing, I’d say I’m currently at around 3-4 hours per finished hour. The usual estimate for audiobooks is around 3 hours, so I still have some room for improvement.

That does not, however, include the preparation time. I like to read the book once through just to read it, get the overall story and tone. Then read it through a second time making notes. Technical notes like the start and end page numbers for each chapter and which new characters are introduced when. And performance notes about the characters and any particular points I might need to be aware of when reading. And any questions I have for the author; such as checking pronunciations (we learned that the hard way when I went back and rerecorded every instance of ‘Blurpon’ in Few are Chosen…) their thoughts on character voices and – knowing that typos tend to slip through the tightest knot – even questioning bits of text if I think there might be an error.

Then there’s figuring out the voices. For some books it can be a simple thing of pitch or intonation. Then, there are books like the K’Barthan Series ………..

(Obviously, I loved it. Even when I was desperately running out of ideas towards the end!)

OMG the Blurpon thing! We were both so green at the start. I still feel a bit kind of … wandering in the dark sometimes but Gareth definitely has a process now. Not that he was ever anything other than a consummate professional. He has always come over as efficient and unflappable – and if anything did go wrong, like the Fat Controller flu episode – he kept me updated on progress. But I digress, next question.

Is there anything we authors can do when speccing up the audio job, that would be helpful – apart from the really obvious things like, remembering to tell you how all the made up words are pronounced (doh! Although you got them all right bar one anyway).

There’s that Blurpon again! (I really should read ahead…)

Accents is one (though, having just read ahead (finally) I’ll save that for the last question). But overall, I suppose knowing how much of an input you want, and being aware that there’s a limit to how close to your perfect reading any reader can get.

Some authors (like yourself) have very clear ideas in their heads about how characters sound or how certain phrases should be said, so it’s good to know that going in. Other authors have a more, ‘I’ve written it but you’re reading it, so just let me hear it’ approach. And some are in the middle ground. None is right or wrong, none is better than another. As long as that awareness that its someone else reading it is there. A friend of mine read one audiobook, but the author was so on his case about getting sentences exactly the way she heard them in her head, that he hasn’t done any more!

That’s unbelievably sad about the narrator who was scared off by the micro managing author. I think that, as an author, some of us are micro managing, which is fine. But if an author wants their book exactly the way it is in their head, and will brook no movement from that, the only option is to read it themselves rather than hire someone else. I know a couple of authors who feel this, have accepted it and are, indeed planning to read their own. The rest of us … there needs to be some give. Right at the beginning, Gareth made a point of explaining that, while he would give anything a shot – except a Liverpudlian accent – I needed to understand that all the voicing is being done by one person’s voice and the limits are set by what, exactly, that voice can physically do.

For all the caveat, many characters in the K’Barthan Series sound exactly the way they do in my head; Ada, The Pan of Hamgee, Lord Vernon, Ruth (intonation, tone etc), Big Merv to name the main ones. He also got Sir Robin Get bang on but we used that for Professor N’Aversion because the voice he suggested for for Sir Robin was so much better than the one I specced. In the general narration, he also has exactly the kind of voice I would have looked for had he not approached me. I consider myself extremely lucky in that. I think if The Pan, Ruth, Big Merv and Lord Vernon had been too different, I might have struggled … possibly … I dunno. But there is so much more to this than how the characters sound in inner space.

One of the joys of books is that they are living things in a way no other art form is. Because every other art form is presented to you in its interpreted form by a conductor, producer, director or whatever, but a book is something each reader interprets for themselves. Every single person’s head cinema is different. That’s what makes reading so wonderful, you can imagine it from the author’s cues but that’s just the basic framework; a lot of the rest is up to you, the reader. The way Gareth reads some words is different to the way I do, the intonation on some bits isn’t the same. I love that. It’s like a window into someone else’s thinking; how he sees it and hears it. As a nosey author, that kind of thing intrigues me hugely.

Surely, the overall tone and feel the narrator creates for each book is way more important than the minutiae. Is the way the characters interact true to the original – do their relationships come over, their feelings, their dreams their desires (where applicable) the chemistry between them, or lack of it … For me, there is so much more to it than soundy-likey voices.

Er hem, sorry. Went off on one there. Where was I? Ah yes, last and final question.

Is there anything you would categorically refuse to do as part of an audiobook narration, if asked? Or is it just the Liverpudlian accent? Mwahahahargh!

I can’t think of anything. My standard answer of ‘I won’t do nudity’ isn’t really relevant here.

But accents are where it gets potentially tricky. I’m reasonably good with accents, but I’m not one of those phenomenal accent sponge people. (I made that up, but you know what I mean.) But if there’s an accent required, I’ll do my best. The book I’ve just read had a South African character for a few lines. I did my best as a kind of placeholder while I finished the rest of the book, then went and researched and practised and tried to improve and went back and rerecorded it. It was better but certainly not brilliant. Then I was told that a future book in the series was set in South Africa. So I’m putting in more practise now…

But saying no? While I’m prepared to have a go at most accents, I’m a white European, so if an author came to me with a book set in, say, Asia, with a cast principally made up of Asians, I would suggest they find someone more appropriate to the task!

So there you go … A massive thank you to Gareth for taking the time to answer all my inane questions. I hope his take on doing audio or at least his answers to my questions about it, helps to give you a feel for what’s involved. And if you want to find out more about Gareth, you can visit his website here.

Also, one of the best chapters he did was one in Few Are Chosen, you can listen to that on soundcloud here.

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Oh and if you’d like to listen to Gareth’s work, why not try one of my audiobooks? OK not this one because we only signed it off yesterday so it’ll be a month or so before it appears online … and it probably won’t appear on Audible until next year. But anyhoo if you want a listen there are two ways to do so for nothing:

Thing one: If your local library uses Hoopla, Overdrive and Odilo so you should be able to find them on many local library apps – just ask your librarian if they aren’t obvious as some libraries have to buy a copy and you have to borrow it one at a time, others do a thing where multiple people can listen at once and I get paid per check out. The point is, they pay me but you get to listen for free.

Thing two: if you just want to see what it’s like, you can listen to an entire 90 minute story for free if you decide to join my Readers’ Group. A story that isn’t available anywhere else. You also get to listen to Unlucky Dip, the 30 minute short, for free as well.

Alternatively, for a list of my audiobooks, and links to buy from me, direct, or from the main stores, go here.

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