Why Audiobooks?

There’s a boom in audiobooks going on at the moment. You may not have noticed that yet, because it started in the USA first, but it is now spreading to the UK. There are even adverts on mainstream TV for Audible.

The main reason for this is the development of new technology. The old cassette tapes are pretty much defunct. There is still a small market for CD audiobooks, but these are dying out as they are clunky to use, and you have to remember where you were up to, and as for portability, even the old CD Discmans are virtually obsolete – who would have believed that only a few years before when this was considered cutting edge technology.

Streaming has changed the TV market, and now it has had a dramatic effect on audiobooks.

If these developments have passed you by, then I’ll try and bring you up to speed – and maybe take a peek into the future – I’ll have a bit of fun with that at the end!

I’ll give you an example of what you can get and how you can use it – for one Audible credit (typically, you get one per month for £7.99, and on signing up they usually offer a free book for joining – not unlike the Book Clubs of old) I decided that I would like to listen to one of my all-time favourite books, The Stand, by Steven King. This audiobook is 45 hours long!

There are no physical storage space restrictions with streaming. In the past, audiobooks were abridged, but not anymore. How much would a 45 CD Box Set have cost? You don’t even need a special music player anymore – you can get them with an app on your phone.

As you listen, you can speed up and slow down the narration, you can skip back in chunks of thirty seconds at a time if you missed a bit, or want to play that vital clue back, but crucially, it will always remember the exact time you last switched it off.

So far, so obvious, but the technology is moving on all the time and merging with other platforms. Audible is part of the Amazon empire, which also owns the Kindle Ebooks platform. Together, they have developed something called Whispersync. This links the two technologies together.

Let’s say you are reading your book on your Kindle, or Kindle app on your device before going to sleep. The next morning as you are commuting to work, you put on your Audible – and the narration picks up from where you left off with your book the night before, and later that night, your Kindle picks up from when you switched off your Audible book.

As an author, this does lead to an extra level of detail in the editing process, as to enable Whispersync to work for my books, there had to be a high level of accuracy between the printed and spoken word.

Whispersynch also leads to other uses that may not be obvious at first. For instance, you can read on Kindle and have the Audible narration shadow the text at the same time. This has the effect of having the book read aloud for you. This can be useful if you have young children – it’s a bedtime story. Also, the book can be cast to a TV screen with big print (think karaoke machines) for you to listen, read and watch the text being read, maybe as a family.

I was surprised that I had sold some audiobooks in Germany, and I wondered whether this is a way for students learning English in a conversational tone – I did laugh to myself when I thought about how I was probably teaching them how to say English swear words correctly!

At this point, there is a debate about whether listening counts as reading a book. My personal view is that it does, the two together complement each other. I loved reading the Stand, and I enjoyed listening to it. The difference isn’t an intellectual one, it’s a personal one. When you read, it’s your voice in your head that reads it, whereas when you listen, it’s the narrator’s voice, and then it becomes a question of taste. I would argue that it is a different skill in listening than reading. I love books, but I’m a fanatic about music, and I feel that listening to books mirrors my detailed listening to music.

There were many reasons for narrating and producing my own audiobooks – cost being an important factor. I like big projects, writing a quartet of novels was great and kept me out of trouble for five years, but then what? Well, recording them would be a challenge and a half. I already had some limited experience with Garageband through my years of Youtubing, but that was filming and recording other people’s performances, this was exposing myself to the world.

Funnily, exposing my voice to the world wasn’t nearly as scary as it was to make my audio project subject to scrutiny from family, friends and colleagues. If I knew my next-door neighbour was writing about murder and violence, I’d probably think he/she was a bit weird, but if a complete stranger from the other side of the world wrote it – I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Therefore, I decided that my ideal reader/listener was going to be a complete stranger.

I did worry about my dialect, after all, if someone spoke pure Geordie into a tape machine and played it back, they would understand every word – but would someone in Kentucky? I had to be aware of my own accent and to try and ensure my diction would be as clear as I could get it – but still, there wasn’t any guarantee that my midlands accent would travel.

The final decision to record them all myself – was about the completion of the project, and a little more grandly – it had become my passion, my little labour of love.

And finally, future-forward or pure fantasy?

As I was recording these books, I wondered where audiobook technology and AI (Artificial Intelligence) might head next. I dream affordable dreams! One of them would be on the recording side. I thought wouldn’t it be marvellous if I could change the voices of my characters to those of world-renowned actors. Ooh, I could have Al Pacino for him, and Meryl Streep for her. Imagine I could licence their voice samples to replace the dialogue, or narration on my very own book. But what about listening? I could pick an audiobook, and maybe, there would be a character list that I could populate with the actors/narrators of my choice – Homer Simpson as Oliver Twist might be fun!

At first, AI would struggle with the cadence and emphasis of the author’s work, but if you could overlay the actor’s voice and keep the original narrator’s own emphasis and intentions? Now where’s my James Earl Jones plugin?

If you want to try Audible for yourself, then follow the links below. Happy listening!

Audible in the UK.      https://adbl.co/2ToFlrc

Audible in the USA.   https://adbl.co/2wfAMrn

Audible in France.     https://bit.ly/39bknmk

Audible in Germany. https://adbl.co/2IbZETj

Finishing Touches Prior to Book Launch

From 2014 to 2018 I wrote four books, for a series eventually called the New Reform Quartet.

I published the first in the series, New Reform, in August 2019 and I’m now gearing up for the launch of the second book called The ODC (The Online Death Cult) in February 2020.

There were a several reasons for the five-year delay, and I don’t regret the wait now that I’ve seen the distractions there would have been between books.

You have to learn Photoshop if you want to design your own cover!

Holding four books in your head is difficult enough without thinking about cover designs, blogs, marketing and audiobooks. If I had have done them as separate completed projects, there was a danger that I might have literally have lost the plot.

Pick up ideas from other books, like placing images from other books you have published. This cover is waiting for the barcode which I will obtain when I upload to Amazon.

The other useful outcome from waiting is that now I research an aspect of book publishing one at a time. This means that if I have got to grips with Photoshop or Adobe Spark (Facebook banners, etc.), then I can complete all of these in advance. I have all four covers pre-designed, which actually turns to eight if you add on the Audiobooks.

The Audiobook cover has to be designed differently.

One advantage of Self-Publishing (there’s not many) is that you can think on your feet and change things that aren’t working, or unexpected positive learnings. The first edition of New Reform deliberately had Nazi-themed colourings – red and black. This didn’t sell as quickly as I’d hoped as it narrowed the book’s appeal.

I work in a book shop, which is handy! I checked the fonts and colours of other thriller writers and gave it a teal and orange makeover, and I used more fonts. The other thing that had happened is that I had picked up some positive reviews, so I included these quotes and reworked the blurb.

After this, I picked up a number of female readers, to my surprise, as my initial readership I was aiming for was older males.

By the time you release book two, you are thinking about branding.
Book One needed a redesign to fit in with Book Two.

This meant I returned to my pre-designed covers for the forthcoming books and changed the fonts and colour schemes to match.

Audiobook requires a lot of learning of new and sometimes alien skills!

Changing covers is one thing, changing the text is another. Self-publishing is flexible, which means you can even alter the text in your book at any time, even after publication. However, making your own audiobook means the text has to become more or less fixed.

My audio recording set up.

Recording your own audiobook does make the editing much sharper, not just because you are looking to finalise the words, but also because if you are self-narrating, you spot the tongue-twisters and where the dialogue sounds unnatural when it leaves the page.

Narrating, editing and mastering – there’s a lot to learn.

Like the cover designs being easier to do four at a time (you’ve got to grips with Photoshop at this moment), so the recording of the audiobooks is the same. You have consistency with the equipment, your voice and the mastering process. However skilled or unskilled you believe you are, if you are lucky enough to get listeners, they will appreciate a whole series having the same overall feel.

Recording brings a new round of editing.

I didn’t plan it that way, but I’m glad I didn’t write and publish the first book immediately. Even as I was writing Book Four, there were still plot-lines I needed to amend through the previous books.

New Reform is out now on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. The ODC is released in February 2020. Books three and four will be released in August 2020 and February 2021 respectively.

Links will be available on jimlowewriting.com but also, search Amazon for the New Reform Quartet, and they should magically appear.