Audiobooks

2020 Goals: Branch into audio including podcasts and audio books

Time to talk about my first big goal for 2020! I’m getting into audio.

This is a big one that I’ve been working towards since 2017 when I started building an audio studio to do podcasting and audiobooks. I hit a bit of a snag when my daughter was born and I focused on being with her for her first year instead of doing audio, but now that things have settled down a bit at home I’m ready to do this.

My strategy for hitting audio is also part of my strategy for going wide. Audio is the fastest growing corner of the publishing market right now, and there are a lot of people listening to books and podcasts. These are my people. I’ve been an audiobook listener since the mid ’90s when the only way you could get audio was on tape. I haven’t listened to radio or music all that much since I got an iPod in the mid ’00s and discovered podcasts.

In addition there’s still a high barrier to entry for creating audiobooks, which means that there’s less competition in the market from indie authors. It can cost thousands of dollars to produce an audiobook, but if I’m able to do the recording and editing myself in my home studio then the only investment I have to make is time. It took hours spent learning Adobe Audition and audio engineering and the investment in creating the studio, but I’m hoping it’ll pay off dividends.

I’ve also wanted to start a podcast for years but never felt like I had anything to podcast about. That’s changed, though. I have ideas, and this is the plan:

Podcasting

Nonfiction Podcasting:

Motivrite: A podcast about what goes into being an indie author. I’ve learned a lot about the market over the years and would like to give back to the community by releasing a podcast with advice for authors. There are a lot of podcasts out there that focus on marketing a book and getting it to an audience, so I’m going to hit a different niche at first and talk about tips and tricks for getting the words down, and how to navigate life as a part time or full time indie.

Stretch goal – Indie Day Job: If I manage to complete all my other goals and I still have time then I’d also like to start a podcast where I talk to other indie creators about their day to day. I’m not sure if this will be happening because I already have a lot on my plate, but we’ll see. As the year goes on and some things succeed and others don’t I might have more time to launch this project.

Fiction Podcasting:

Avallanath: This is a story that’s been rattling around my head for the past decade about an author of very fat books, the fans who love to hate him, and what happens when his creations take matters into their own hands.

I started writing it while I was in grad school a decade back, and I released it as a webcomic at one point that got to be sort of popular with a few hundred people a day hitting the site daily. The problem is I’ve never been that good at drawing and I don’t feel like webcomics are a real growth area. So I plan on releasing it as an audio fiction podcast with a chapter or two a week.

Blake Byron: Paranormal Investigator: This is another story that’s been rattling around in my head for more than a decade, but I only sat down and actually wrote it in 2017. It’s the story of a former special forces soldier turned campus cop who wanted a nice quiet life. Then he came across the victim of a vampire attack, killed the vampire that killed her, and found himself in the crosshairs of the local vampires. I tried releasing this in 2017 and it didn’t meet with much success, but it’s a fun story that I enjoy and I feel like it could do well with a bit of a marketing push so I’m going to try it out in audio and see what happens.

GameLit: I have a couple of GameLit stories I’ve been working on since 2016ish when LitRPG first started taking off. The first one I plan on releasing in audio and as a wide book release is Dice Mage, which is going to be a complete rewrite of a book I released near the end of 2018 that had some moderate success, but I think it would do better being rereleased with the new longer outline I’ve worked out that tells more of a story.

Audiobooks

The plan is to release these novels wide on all ebook platforms once they’ve been finished, and then start releasing the audiobook episodes with one or two chapters being released per week to drum up interest. I’ll push people towards the finished ebooks at the end of every episode if they want to hear the whole story at once.

I also plan on releasing episodes early to backers on my Patreon which I plan on really hitting hard in 2019-2020. With a little luck I’ll be able to build an audience of readers and audiophiles who contribute for a chance to get episodes early while also adding another leg to my income table that isn’t Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

When the books are finished in podcast form I’ll eventually release them wide as paid audiobooks as well. I won’t be going exclusive with Audible, but instead going wide with services like Findaway to diversify my income base.

Daily steps to achieve this goal

Having a lofty annual goal is all well and good, but it’s also important to think about the daily steps that’ll be necessary to make it happen. There are only so many hours in a day, and if I’m going to do everything I want to do in the 2019-2020 year then I’m going to have to focus and do it one day at a time.

The daily goal for this one is easy enough though. I’ll disappear into my home studio for a couple of hours every night after the kids are in bed and work on recording stuff. I’ll probably only do this Monday through Friday, taking weekends off to relax and have a little bit of fun.

Wrapping up

And that’s the audio plan for 2019-2020! I’m in the middle of production of episodes of Blake Byron and hope to start releasing that podcast in October to tie in with the horror vibe the book gives off. I’ve worked out outlines for nine episodes of Motivrite so far as well. I have about ten episodes of Avallanath written and will start recording that soon, and I’m currently working on finishing the updated version of Dice Mage and probably won’t begin recording that until November or December.

It’s a lot on my plate, but I really enjoy sitting in the booth and doing some recording. It gives me an opportunity to explore a new market, give another polish run on the manuscript, and flex my acting muscles which I haven’t had a chance to do in years. I’m looking forward to seeing where I’ll be in audio by next year!

2020 goals

So I’m going to be doing something a little different. I know a lot of people set their goals at the new year, but as a parent with a kid in elementary school who works from home I’ve discovered that my work year now revolves around my kid’s schedule.

My new work year is from August to May. Because one summer with the kiddo at home has taught me that there just isn’t much of anything work related that’s happening in the months of June and July. Anything I want to put out in those months has to be done well ahead of time!

So here are my goals for August 2020. I’m writing them out here in the hopes that doing it publicly will give me some accountability and keep me on track.

Big picture goals:

  1. Branch into audio including podcasts and audiobooks
  2. Release 36 books across my various pen names
  3. Diversify my income so I’m not solely reliant on Amazon for a paycheck
  4. Build and maintain this site and blog as brand building and as a central hub for all my creative projects
  5. Start hitting five figure months regularly

Five goals, and if I do the first four right then number five will come naturally. Seems easy enough, right? Only as I’m sitting here reading those goals there’s an awful lot that’s going to go into making those goals happen. Which means that there’s some detail work that needs to be done to figure out how I’m going to hit those goals!

With that in mind I’m going to be doing a series of posts over the next few days highlighting each one of my five goals for the next year, going over what needs to be done to hit those goals, and talking about what I need to do to make sure I get that done.

I believe it’s important to plan. If you have a plan then you have something to work towards. If you have something to work towards then it’s a matter of checking the boxes. I also hope that seeing a little bit of my planning process might inspire you to make a plan of your own that clearly states your goals, how you can reach them, and what you need to do to make that happen!

Progress update: 11/1/2018

November! The start of NaNo, which I won’t be participating in, but that’ll be in its own post. This is my daily progress update to keep me honest!

I didn’t get anything done yesterday. I went on a field trip with my kid which ate up most of the day, and when I got home I was so exhausted that I took a nap that lasted just long enough for me to feed the kids and go out for trick or treating.

Today was more productive from a writing standpoint! I wrote 13,223 words and revised 9,951.

On the podcast front it was also a productive day. I finished chapter 8 of Dice Mage and will be launching that in the next couple of days. I also changed the intro and outtro to a couple of episodes of a podcast about writing that I’ve been working on. I’d originally conceived of the podcast as daily, but if I’m also doing fiction podcasts that’s not possible so I’m changing the bumpers to reflect the new weekly schedule.

That should launch here pretty soon as well considering I have quite a few episodes in the bank.

All in all it was a productive day. Here’s hoping I continue the streak tomorrow!

Progress update: 10/30/2018

A bit of a slower day today. Didn’t get much sleep the night before because of a sick kiddo, and as such I ended up sleeping a good chunk of the morning away which hit me right in the productivity.

I wrote 8336 words today and revised 4,129. Not a bad day, but I didn’t get much other work done aside from writing because the morning was shot.

On the podcast/audiobook front I recorded and finished chapter 7 of Dice Mage. I also submitted a support ticket to the good people at Libsyn to get the slug for the hosting I’m paying for there switched to reflect Dice Mage rather than Blake Byron, which I’ve abandoned for the moment. Once that’s sorted I’ll upload the first seven chapters and start my great experiment seeing if podcasting is a decent way to build an audience!

That’s it for today. It was an abbreviated day so it’ll be an abbreviated day.

Progress update: 10/29/2018

I’m going to start a new thing where I do a quick update at the end of a work day talking about everything I accomplished that day. I figure it’s a way to keep myself accountable while also providing some encouragement to get my butt in gear and get stuff done.

Today I wrote 11,941 words across seven projects I’m currently working on. I had a bunch of outlining in there as I’m currently outlining one book for my pen name, and another that I plan on releasing under my name.

I also revised 9,086 words on a project for my main pen name that I’m putting the finishing touches on. I’m a little behind on that one, but what can you do?

I’m getting closer and closer to finishing the sprawling 200,000 word doorstopper GameLit novel I’ve been working on for almost a year now. Even when I finish that there are going to be heavy edits to be done, but simply being close to the end on a project that’s the longest book I’ve ever written feels pretty good. I’m going to have to bust my butt on revisions to get it out by the holiday season though.

I also made progress on the Dice Mage podcast audiobook experiment I’m going to try with that book. Everyone keeps talking about how audio is the new hotness, and I figure I’ll give it a try and see if it’s any good for audience building. I finished editing chapter 5, and recorded, edited, and finished chapter 6 as well. I plan on releasing that to the world now that I have six episodes banked to get those download numbers up when it goes live on various podcasting services.

I also started, but didn’t finish, a couple of blog posts. One about making dining reservations at Disney World, based on a recent experience I had dealing with that frustration, and another about my experiences with the Sega Genesis on the occasion of that system’s 30th birthday.

That’s it for today! Time to hit the sack and prepare for another full day tomorrow.

Blake Byron: Paranormal Investigator

I’m trying a bit of experimenting with a novel I’ve been working on off and on for years now. Blake Byron: Paranormal Investigator is the story of a former special forces soldier who was looking for a nice quiet life as a campus cop raising his family away from the nastiness that was life in the military.

Until one night he kills a vampire on a call. The vampires in his quiet town don’t take too kindly to this, and it sets in motion a chain of events that leads to a man-on-vampire rampage with doses of humor thrown in for good measure.

I put this book up on Amazon a few months back and relied on my strategy of writing fast with an interesting cover, good blurb, and no advertising. And it flopped. Hard.

Why did it flop? I think there are a few reasons.

  1. The story is sort of in an in-between place which isn’t great if you’re looking to write to market. It’s a Paranormal/Horror/Thriller/Comedy. There is a Horror Comedy category on Amazon. There are paranormal thrillers on Amazon. I think something that falls in between all of those is a little more difficult to pigeonhole though.
  2. The cover doesn’t exactly fit with the big selling genres in paranormal. If you look at those it’s a lot of wizards and witches who are impossibly sexy wielding magic, but that didn’t really fit with what the book was so I went with something different, which is not a good idea if you’re looking to write to market.
  3. The protagonist is a badass, but again he doesn’t really fit in with the witch and wizard protagonists that are the bread and butter of paranormal categories. As such it’s going to be a more difficult sell.
  4. I didn’t put any money into traditional advertising channels. I’m typically not a huge fan of pay to play when it comes to book launches. Most of my successes have been books that were quirky with interesting covers that took off, but clearly that didn’t work here.
  5. The paranormal and urban fiction categories on Amazon are filled to the brim. it’s difficult for someone to be noticed in those categories because everyone and their mother is writing in those categories. I think the book falls more under Horror Comedy, with some overlap with Urban Fantasy, but the glut of titles makes it a more difficult sell than it would be otherwise.

Add all that stuff up and you have a book launched on hard mode. I did that intentionally though. Sure it would’ve been nice if it took off, but at the same time I knew that it was a bit of a long shot.

The thing is I already have established pen names that are making me a living, so I’m a little more comfortable with being unorthodox and experimental with some of the stuff I’m writing to release under my own name. I feel like Blake Byron is a good novel with a fun story, and so I’m going to try some unorthodox marketing strategies and see how they play out.

Right now those strategies include:

  1. Releasing chapters twice weekly in a podcasted audiobook. This lets me use some of the podcasting equipment I’ve put together in the past year with the intent of recording a podcast/audiobooks when I started releasing stuff under my name.
  2. Releasing chapters twice weekly on Royal Road Legends and Wattpad. I don’t think it will do that well at Wattpad since right now the top categories seem to be sexy vampires who fall in love with teenage girls and semi-sexy YouTubers who fall in love with teenage girls, but you never know.
  3. Launch a writing podcast that I’ve been thinking about doing since I went full time at this back in 2015. This doesn’t directly relate to publicizing fiction I’ve written, but I’m hoping that some of the traffic generated to my site might translate into people checking out my writing.

I’m going to see how much traction those options pick up. I’m also considering doing a wide release and making it a freebie to see if that gains any traction as I already have a couple of other books in the series written. I stupidly did so because I was having so much fun with it and didn’t expect it to flop as hard as it did.

You live and you learn. I’ll be sure to write updates on how it’s going. Basically I want to take a book and start from nothing. No mailing list because I don’t want my real name associated with my erotica and romance pen names that are paying the bills. No advertising because people who are starting out don’t have money to throw at advertising and I’m not a fan of the whole pay to play ecosystem that’s slowly been building up over the past few years. No Kindle Unlimited because I want to try a wide strategy that doesn’t involve Amazon pumping money into their bid for author exclusivity.

Maybe it will succeed. Maybe it’ll crash and burn. At the end of the day at least I tried something, and that’s what this business is all about!

Check it out at Royal Road!

Check it out at WattPad!

Dynamic vs. Condenser microphones for home studio voice over

I’ve been spending a lot of time getting acquainted with microphones over the past couple of years. I’ve gone through several different microphones while attempting to launch a writing podcast and each time life got in the way and I ended up not launching.

I got really serious about it back in April of this year though. Starting a podcast is something I’ve always wanted to do and there are two that I’m working on launching. I’ve been waiting, though, because I tend to be a perfectionist when I’m launching a new project and I’ve been trying to find the perfect microphone for a home studio setup.

Which brings me to today’s post and a lesson that I learned the hard way. Which is better for a home studio? Dynamic or condenser?

The short answer is a dynamic microphone all the way, but there’s a longer version of this that takes in some nuance you’ll need to consider if you’re putting together a home studio of your own for podcasting or audiobook narration.

Dynamic Microphone Pros

  • Not as sensitive so they will have a much lower noise floor
  • Because of that lack of sensitivity they work well in home studios that aren’t perfectly noise proof
  • Tend to be a lot cheaper than condenser microphones

Dynamic Microphone Cons

  • The lack of sensitivity means that there is some vocal nuance they won’t pick up which can be a problem for audiobook narration where that nuance can be important
  • A lot of the more popular dynamic microphones are quiet which means you’ll have to have a good audio interface that can provide a lot of clean gain. Alternatively you can get a gadget like the Cloudlifter that adds clean gain to your signal, but it’s another cost on top of already laying out some decent money for a good dynamic mic.
  • A lot of dynamic microphones are designed more for radio work than for audiobook narration. The practical upshot is that they tend to be very “boomy” with emphasis on the low end, think that big radio voice on the local Top 40 station. This can be taken care of with a high pass filter, but it’s still a consideration.

Condenser Microphone Pros

  • They have all that vocal nuance mentioned above. There’s a reason why a lot of voice actors and audiobook narrators prefer condenser mics

Condenser Microphone Cons

  • Condenser mics are sensitive. Ridiculously sensitive. I have a neighbor with a muscle car a few houses down and every time they started it up the Rode NTK I was working with would pick it up. It would also pick up mouth noise that drove me to distraction and was ultimately the reason I abandoned my condenser. That sensitivity might be great in a professional studio, but it’s not going to work as well in most home studios which aren’t acoustically clean.
  • Condenser mics are expensive. The Rode NT1A, the microphone recommended by ACX for getting started in audiobook narration, is reasonable at a couple hundred bucks, but they only go up from there. Condenser mics can cost as much as a cheap new car unlike their dynamic brethren which tend to cost maybe five hundred bucks at the most.

I absolutely loved the way the Rode NTK sounded. It had that crisp condenser sound to it and it picked up nuances in my performance, but ultimately the sensitivity was the deal breaker for me. No matter what I tried it picked up too much background noise and too many mouth noises. I realize the mouth noises are more of a performance problem than an equipment problem, but I eventually settled on a nice dynamic that didn’t pick up any of that and saved me a ridiculous amount of editing time.

In the end I went with an Audio Technica BP40 dynamic microphone after trying out several mics. Including some industry standard mics that underwhelmed me, but that’s a subject for another post. The BP40 had the best sound with my voice, and best of all it shows a lot of that condenser nuance but in a dynamic mic that doesn’t pick up room noise or mouth noise or a house fly farting on the wall of a house on the other side of the street.

If you’re thinking of setting up a home studio for podcasting or audiobook narration and you have an environment that’s less than acoustically ideal then a dynamic microphone is definitely the way to go. Condensers might look all shiny, but ultimately you need to go with the tool that works and not the tool that looks the nicest.

 

Daily update: 8/21/2017

I should really start doing these daily writing updates again. I’ve had to start really regimenting my time because I’m taking care of my daughter during the day. It’s one of the perks of working for myself, but it also means I have to be a lot more careful about how I spend my time.

And I need to spend some of my time building this blog. Both because it’s fun and because it’s part of the whole long term strategy I’m working on to publish stuff under my own name.

So with that in mind, here is what I accomplished yesterday to advance my long term business goals:

Writing

Romance: 2044 words

SciFi Romance: 2039 words

Erotica: 1007 words

Paranormal Thriller/Comedy: 2041 words written, 2400 words revised

Fantasy Audio Drama: 1049 words

Total daily word count: 8180

Podcasting

I really ran into some frustration with this yesterday. I’ve been trying to get my recordings to work with a Rode NTK Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone. For those unfamiliar with audio there are two kinds of microphones that are used for audiobook and podcast narration.

Dynamic microphones are less sensitive and have a little less vocal range and nuance. They’re the kind of microphone preferred by podcasters, livestreamers, etc. because they provide that big boomy “radio” voice.

Condenser microphones are way more sensitive but they pick up a lot more nuance in your voice. So they’re popular with audiobook narraters and voiceover artists because it catches more of the performance.

The problem with condenser mics is that super sensitivity also means they can pick up everything which isn’t necessarily a good thing if you’re in a home studio where the kids are playing down the hall and the neighbors are out chatting and your wife is watching CSI: Miami in the bedroom on the other side of the house. You inevitably pick up the sound of play, the neighbors, and Roger Daltrey screaming to punctuate David Caruso making a clever murder related quip.

I’ve been trying to make the Rode NTK, a wonderful microphone with a great sound, work, but I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s just not right for my setup right now. A small walk-in closet in an out of the way part of the house that ain’t a studio no matter how much I gussy it up.

Basically I’m spending so much time “fixing” things that sneak into the recording in post-production that it’s causing major delays and making it so I couldn’t release my big audio drama I’m planning on a reliable schedule, so I think it’s time to move back to dynamic mics for now and see if the results are any better.

Because right now I’m way behind the schedule I want to stick to, which is frustrating.

That’s the thing about being an indie though. You’re going to run into problems like this, and part of the fun and the frustration is figuring out solutions to these problems. Sometimes you get it right and it’s amazing, and sometimes it’s days of frustration. Yesterday was one of the frustrating days on the podcast front, but here’s hoping that won’t last much longer!

Conquering audio

State of the art closet home studio!

So I have one hell of a huge sense of accomplishment. After months of effort I’ve finally got the first episode of an audio drama podcast I’ve been working on in the bag and it’s something I’m happy with.

It’s been quite the journey to get to this point. So far I’ve had to:

Get audio equipment I was actually happy with.

This might not seem like much, but it ended up taking a good chunk of time. I started out with an Audio Technica 2100 back when I was just thinking of doing a podcast about writing. I then upgraded to a Shure SM7B but for a variety of reasons I could never get that mic to work the way I wanted it to in a home studio setting.

I finally did a microphone shootout of my own and tried a bunch out to see which one worked. There are a lot of mic recommendations out there, but I found that ultimately it takes trying a microphone out in your setup to see how it’s going to work for you. Not all microphones are created equal and suited to the wildly differing environments in a home studio.

I ended up settling on the Rode NTK which I loved, and I’ll probably end up doing a post about my microphone shootout for anyone else out there who’s interested in that sort of thing.

Setting up my home studio

This also took some time. I initially set up my studio in my basement where I keep my office. The problem with that is my fish tank is in the basement along with our furnace which creates a lot of noise. I tried a couple of band-aids to try and get the microphone to work in my home environment, but ultimately I had to change where I worked to suit the recording setup rather than trying to get the recording setup to work in a suboptimal location.

So I moved all my stuff up to a walk-in closet attached to a guest bedroom that hardly ever gets used. The clothes in the walk-in closet were perfect for dampening sound, and it’s on the other side of the house from where most people are living so I can close the door to the closet and the room and have a pretty quiet environment without any sound treatment which is great. Recording in the closet studio has seriously improved the quality immensely.

Of course moving to that location wasn’t without issues. I had to install a monitor in there because the fan from my laptop was making too much noise. So now I have my laptop sitting outside the closet on the other side of the door where it can make all the noise it wants and it doesn’t get picked up by the mic. Meanwhile I have a bluetooth keyboard, magic trackpad, audio interface, microphone on a boom arm, and my iPad set up on a little laptop desk that faces a monitor bolted to the wall.

It works surprisingly well aside from an uncomfortable folding chair, but what can you do?

Learning Adobe Audition

I started out with Audacity and I really wanted to like it, but there were just too many things about it that annoyed me. I’ll probably do an entire post of its own comparing the two, but suffice it to say the difference between Audacity and Adobe Audition is like night and day and well worth the $20 a month Adobe charges. Plus I’m already familiar with Adobe and how their software works so it wasn’t much of a learning curve there.

It was a learning curve getting used to working with audio though. I worked through the entirety of Adobe Audition Classroom in a Book because I wanted to do this right and make sure I knew the software I was using inside and out. I was working through that around the time my daughter was born so it took a month or two to get through the whole thing, but that book is indispensable for anyone considering getting into audio.

Another book I picked up more recently is Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks by J. Daniel Sawyer. He goes into just about everything you’ll want to know if you’re interested in doing audiobooks, and all his lessons work just as well for podcasts. Which is great for me since I’m going to be trying out a podiobook model to start and see where things go.

Get used to the idea that yes, that’s what my voice sounds like

This was probably the biggest hurdle of the whole experience. I hear these narrators with these clear voices that don’t have much in the bass range, and with my voice I just didn’t like how it sounded. I tried a couple of different microphones and messing around with settings in Audition and eventually…

I came to have peace with the way I sounded. My wife told me it just sounded like me, and she eventually got annoyed when I would play two different files from two different microphones or processed two different ways. She claimed they mostly sounded the same, and I realized that I was overthinking things and I needed to get down to recording and working rather than spending time obsessing over making everything absolutely perfect.

Totally worth it

I’d say all that effort was worth it. I finally have an audio product that I can be proud of and that doesn’t have any lingering audio issues I encountered when I was working with Audacity. Sure I had to learn a whole heck of a lot to get to this point, but if you’re in the independent creator business you have to have a lifelong love of learning or you’re not going to make it very far in the business.

And I’ve discovered that I love working with audio. I enjoy getting into Audition and editing things, and I’m stoked about future projects and hope that all this investment will be worth it as I try to break into audio. Today wasn’t the first step in that process, but it was a big step!