How we Write; a series of guest posts about the art, craft, and business of writing
Today my guest is Seymour Hamilton, author of the Astreya Trilogy, an historical fantasy adventure in a maritime setting.
Seymour and I have been discussing the pros and cons of audio formats. My novel, Looking for Redfeather, read by Aaron Landon,is for sale as an audio download from Audible. Seymour has taken a different approach with his audio format — he is giving away downloads through Podiobooks. Read more about his process:
Should I make an audio version of my book?
Short answer: Yes.
Here are some reasons to record, then some of the decisions you need to make before you start.
Reading (and recording) your novel is the best investment you can make in editing
your work. As you read — and as you listen to the playback — you will notice infelicities
in phrasing, awkwardnesses in order, accidental repetitions, purple flourishes,
unconscious mimicking of other writers, and occasions when you are beating the
dead horse of too much detail. You will be doing what good and great authors alike
have done for centuries, and as a special benefit, you will understand what is meant
by ‘finding your voice.’
Some people like hearing books as opposed to reading them. Some want to listen as
they drive long, boring distances. Some are visually impaired. Some just like hearing
someone read them a story. They constitute an audience that isn’t served by print or e-
Reason # 3
People who listen to books sometimes buy them. The jury is out on how much this
is true, but my preliminary analysis is optimistic: in the two months after Astreya:
The Voyage South was available in podcast audio, sales of the physical and ebook
improved significantly, some of the bump being sales of volume two of the trilogy,
presumably purchased by people who wanted to know what happens next. Moreover,
I received fan mail asking me when they would be able to listen to the next book in the
Audiobooks offer instant download, just like e-books, but with audiobooks, you can track
where you’re selling as well as how much. Podiobooks.com and its technical provider
LibSyn provide detailed analysis of when and where your podcast version is being
downloaded and read. I discovered that (as I expected) my major market was the US,
then Canada, then the UK, New Zealand and Australia. However, I was surprised and
delighted to find that I also had listeners in Norway, Germany, and a long list of other
places including (!) Thailand. Why? — My guess is the ex-pat community of people who
speak English in countries that don’t.
OK, you’ve decided. What’s next?
Before you start, you should know that you are about to invest time (for sure), money
(a little to a lot) and effort (above and beyond what you have already put into your
Sell or Give?
Decide whether you want to sell your audiobook version, or give it away. I give mine
away, free. Podiobooks encourages listeners to “tip” the author. So far I’ve received
nothing, but I’m encouraged by Reason # 3, above, to believe that far from hurting
sales, my audio version is encouraging them.
You can make your audiobook available through your website, but you need a server
“behind” your site. At SeymourHamilton.com you can click on podcasts of my books,
chapter by chapter and either listen, or download to listen later. The recordings
themselves are not on my site because that would cost far too much beyond the cost
of standard site, because there is no “room” on most sites to store, provide access and
manage the recordings and the accessing needs of people all over the world. You need
a specialized sound service such as SoundCloud or Podiobooks. Podiobooks.com
specializes on books. Its servers contain and manage, my books and many, many
more by authors old and new. Podiobooks offers people in search of free audiobooks a
“bookstore” where they can browse, knowing that they will find an acceptable technical
quality of recordings and the electronic delivery thereof. Behind Podiobooks is LibSyn,
the server/technical service, which is system of servers “where the recordings are” and
where I go to find constantly updated statistics on how my books are doing.
Free is fine, but on the other hand, who can argue with a royalty check? However,
before you go to an on-line company that will pay you per download, consider both your
percentage of the take, and your up-front costs. There’s a saw-off between a turnkey
approach wherein you send someone your manuscript and wait for the money to roll in
(don’t hold your breath); and taking control of the process in one of more of the roles of
producer, reader and technician.
Cost/Quality decisions: Hire a reader or read it yourself?
There are lots of out-of-work actors out there who would love to read for you — at a
price. Don’t decide only on the basis of how the actor sounds to you — still less on
how he or she looks. Work “blind” by email, listen to recording samples. Have the
actor audition by reading a page or so of your book. Insist on credentials, preferably
in podcasting, radio or voicing animated cartoons. Find out if he or she is sufficiently
qualified and experienced to do the electronic technical work. If not, either get yourself
a producer or do the sound-editing and processing yourself.
On the other hand, do it ALL yourself. The cost of recording at home is low. You need
a quiet room and a good microphone — not just the one that comes in your computer. I
use a Blue Snowball for around $200. A friend loaned me a more expensive mic, but
it was so sensitive that in the context of my reading, it was like putting a gold link in a
copper bracelet. Software to record and process is free-to-inexpensive. I use Audacity
to record and Levelator to process, both of which are free.
Recording your book takes time. A lot of time. I’m on my third book and getting better,
that is, more efficient, but I find that every hour of completed, published podcast of 45
minutes to an hour requires at least five hours of recording, editing and processing at
my desk with a microphone and my trusty MacBook Pro.
Caveat: this isn’t my first rodeo. I acted in plays at school, was subjected to singing
lessons, did free-lance work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the 70s, and
lectured at universities about Dead English Poets for more than 20 years during which I
always read the poems out loud.
Now go back to Reason #1. Whether or not you go audio, decide to read your book out
loud into your computer, and then listen to what you have recorded. Once you get over
the fact that your voice sounds completely different from what you’ve been listening to
for years while you were talking, you’ll find that you have a secret weapon for improving
what you write. So, read what you write BEFORE you send it away to be published! If
nothing else, your descendants will be able to hear you reading your stuff, long after you
are no longer punching away at your keyboard.
Seymour Hamilton was born in 1941 during an air raid on London, England. After the war, his family moved to Mauritius for three years, where he was home schooled, and read books by Ransome, Kipling, Henty, Marryatt and Slocum. In 1949, his family moved to Canada, where he remained, apart from trips and holidays and one horrible year at school in England. He studied English, because he liked reading, which led to a BA, an MA and Canada’s first PhD on Science Fiction. He spent half his working life as an English teacher at Canadian universities from east to west coast, and the other half as a writer/editor for government and industry. He retired in 2005, and by 2011 completed The Astreya Trilogy, which features a mysterious inheritance, sailing ships, treacherous relatives, night escapes, knife fights, secret passages and a long voyage to a lasting love. The Laughing Princess, twelve stories involving dragons, was published in 2012 and a translation by Jessica Knauss, La Princesa Valiente a year later. A new edition of The Laughing Princess, illustrated by Shirley MacKenzie, appears in time for Christmas, 2014.