Writing Your Book Is Just The Beginning.

This post started as just a placeholder for some of my marketing bits and pieces, but then the urge to write something about it struck again.

When you set out on your journey to write the book you’ve always had in you – it all seems so simple – just pick up a pen and tell your story. What you don’t realise at this stage is all the other stuff you are going to have to learn if you want it to look reasonably professional – and heaven preserve us – all the marketing work to put it – out there.

You find yourself scrabbling around the internet to learn about structural editing, copy editing, formatting – all the while wondering where this or that is on the Word document menus – and then you realise that all the answers are different for the various versions of the program.

Eventually, you complete something which looks like a finished manuscript, but there is still much to do. If you haven’t got money to burn, you’ve already got this far on a DIY approach, and this has now become a personal challenge not to let anything else stand in your way to publication.

Now it’s cover design, and that means photoshop. If you thought some aspects of Word are obscure, then try just having a go at photoshop. You either give up inside the first hour or spend days trawling through YouTube videos before you get remotely near a cover that you like.

By now, you’ve watched all the experts on YouTube informing you that you should give up now, as nobody will ever buy a self-published novel unless you pay hundreds of pounds on editors, proofreaders, beta readers and anything else you can think of. All these self-help gurus are doing to you at this point is stating that either you’ll speculate to accumulate – leaving you a mountain of debt on the project to recoup first – or, publish your novel, without using their help but don’t expect to sell any. I made the decision that if I didn’t invest much then, I wouldn’t have to recoup much, thereby the chances of making a profit would be much higher. The self-help experts who want your money, work on turning your own dreams against you, by inferring that you are doomed to fail without investment. Having said all that, there is plenty of help and advice out there from fellow authors and self-publishers.

What happens when you give up the part of your inner writer that wants to make millions is that you become free. The pressure is off, and you become absorbed in the act of creating – and finishing – something. To somebody who becomes over-enthusiastic, about anything – this makes me very happy, and endows me with a can-do attitude. Just as well, seeing as I started writing the New Reform Quartet in 2014, finished the last book in 2018 and now it’s halfway through 2020, and I’ve only just released the third book in the series, With Two Eyes. It’s all of the above that has added all that extra time to the project.

I wrote an earlier blog on producing my own audiobooks previously, called ‘Why Audiobooks?’ What I didn’t mention, was the cost to me if I had handed my books over to a narrator/producer to do it for me.

To choose a narrator via Audible, it would cost £100 per hour for a novice narrator, £200+ for an experienced one. Maybe, that doesn’t sound a lot, but all four of my novels, would end up being around 45 hours in length – I’m sorry, but I haven’t got a spare £4500 – £9000 to spend.

So, I did it myself. It was a business decision, to a certain extent, like those management tasks they would play on the Apprentice show. Do you gamble to make sales higher than your costs – or do you keep your costs minimal, thereby almost guaranteeing a profit? As it happens, my most profitable areas have been my audiobooks – not enough to give up the day job – so – I didn’t give up the day job!

Here are my audiobook samples that I have promoted on Facebook audiobook pages and on my Amazon author pages. Fortunately, I already knew how to put YouTube videos together!

There are several themes and threads through the four books, one of them is the use of all the song titles which were performed by some of our very fine local musicians from the Hereford & Worcester areas, as chapter headings.

This idea came from my love of Frank Zappa’s music. He had his Conceptual Continuity Clues through all of his 70+ LPs, where each would have a lyric or musical motif from a previous album. Therefore, I wanted all the works from the video project from the 142 Sessions to be included in these books.

On a previous blog, ‘Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas From?’ I went into exhaustive detail on the birth of the 142 obsession.

A 142 Sessions promotional video.

The other route left to me was to try and get an agent, to save me from all this work. I did try it. I wrote to eight agents, I didn’t receive a reply from three of them, but the other five all sent me encouraging responses, but ultimately, they were rejections, nonetheless.

Andrew Marston interviewed me about On The Record and the 142 Sessions.

There are lots of excellent reasons to write a book. When you’re creating something, it keeps your mind firing with positivity. When you complete a book, it gives a fabulous feeling of job satisfaction, because it’s hard writing all of those words and completing the editing, cover design and marketing your work. There is a sense of legacy as well, in this day and age, your words and your voice – in the case of audiobooks – are something that your grandchildren (as long as they are over eighteen) can access, long after you’ve started your story in the next world.

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.