Friday, April 26, 2013

Kevin R. Free on SOMEBODY KILLED HIS EDITOR


Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in narrating/producing audio books? How many audio books have you narrated?

 

I had an audition in 1999, shortly after I signed with my manager, for my first audiobook.  I didn't get it, but I had another audition for the same company about 6 months later, and I didn't get my first book after another 4 months or so. I think I've narrated about 80 or so books. I never dreamed I'd be an audiobook narrator, but I am so excited to have them as part of my career - especially since I'm starting to record my gay fiction these days.

 

How much acting is involved in narrating a story?


 

I guess there's both more and less than one would expect in the narration of a story. There's less, in that I can't really approach performing a book like performing onstage. I want to make the voices evocative, but I also want the folks reading the book to be able to round out each character with their imaginations.  There's more preparation involved, because before I record a book, I have to make choices about the character of the book itself. If it's in first-person, like SOMEBODY KILLED HIS EDITOR and ALL SHE WROTE, it's a little easier to figure out than if it's written in third person. But in both instances, I want to be as clear as possible about the point of view of the narrator, by making choices about the character of the narrator. Is he sarcastic? Is the trying to scare us? Does he have a low voice? A high voice? Is he personable? Charming? Do I want to have a drink with him?

 

What was the most difficult or challenging aspect of narrating SOMEBODY KILLED HIS EDITOR?


 

SKHE was the first time that I knew for sure that I had been chosen by an author. So the pressure to deliver made it a little more difficult than most. Also, I really connect to the material, so I really wanted to do it justice.

 

What character was the most fun to narrate? Why?


 

KIT HOLMES! He is EVERYTHING. So much fun; so funny! I love the way he discovers things about himself in as he navigates the way his life changes. In ALL SHE WROTE, I wanted to try making Anna like Bette Davis, but decided against it...one day, I'll get more crazy in a Josh Lanyon book... Maybe?

 

What character was the most difficult to narrate? Why?


 

I think I'm still trying to get a handle on the high/raspy/sexy JX Moriarity. I just really want to do him justice.  He's an Adonis, so of course I want people to be able to picture him when they hear my interpretation of him.

 

Was there a particular scene you think you read especially well? Or that you particularly enjoyed reading?


 

Gosh, I don't know. But I did listen to this book when I was preparing to record ALL SHE WROTE. It was the first time I was able to stand listening to one of my books. I think, because I like the book and its characters, I sound like I'm having a good time. But if I have to choose a scene, I choose the scene when JX and Edgar make Kit take them to where he discovered Peaches's body.

 

How awkward is it to read erotic scenes aloud?


 

Awkward, but I can't tell you how happy I was to finally be recording gay erotic scenes, after 12 years of recording audio books!

 

Whats the most satisfying or rewarding part of narrating/producing an audio book?


When people recognize my voice, or when they find me on Facebook. My father was once stopped by a high school classmate who asked him if he had a son who was an audiobook narrator. That was really cool.

 

Do you ever find yourself wishing the author (naturally not me!!!) hadnt taken the story in a particular direction? Or is narrating a much more detached process?


 

The process is pretty detached, in general, but if I'm offended by a book, I refuse to narrate it (it's only happened once). I'm an artist, and I definitely have ideas about what's "good" and what's "bad," but I recognize that that's subjective, so while narrating a book I don't like is difficult, I don't question that it should be narrated and narrated well. My biggest frustration when I'm recording is having to correct spelling and grammar.  But it's still a great gig, so I try not complain.

 

Where can readers/listeners find out more about you and your work?


My website is often outdated, but I think there are fun videos of me on it. www.kevinrfree.com. Also, I'm a tweetaholic, so your readers can follow me on twitter at @kevinrfree to read the crazy thoughts in my head and at my fingertips.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Snippet from WIP - Ill Met By Moonlight (UN-edited)


(1935 Saturday December 28th)

 

Oscar Wilde had it right. No man was rich enough to buy back his past.

            That didn’t stop people from trying. Or hiring Rafferty to try. He looked at it more like buying time. Sooner or later the truth always came out. But there was a hell of a lot difference between the truth coming out three days before your wedding or three years after you were dead.

            Anyway, he preferred dealing with blackmailers to trailing cheating husbands. This was the first time he’d been asked to rendezvous with a blackmailer in a museum. A museum holding a major exhibition for a cursed Egyptian mummy. An exhibition where everyone except the mummy was in costume.

            Rafferty moved to the side as two scantily clad temple priestesses squeezed past on the marble staircase. The nearest Lily of the Nile was giggling and clutching the arm of her companion. The other doll was saying, “I told Gene, it was never like this in Babylon.”

            They went on their unsteady way to the mezzanine with its planetarium. Rafferty gazed down at the crowded main hall. According to Scheiner, his client, the blackmailer had instructed the payoff be left in a closed exhibition room, a plain envelope of unmarked cash stashed behind the mummy case of an obscure Ptolemy pharaoh no longer of interest now that Princess Nebetah had been brought to San Francisco to wow the customers. At the end of the party Rafferty was to return to the exhibition room and pick up the parcel that would be left in exchange. If any attempt was made to apprehend the blackmailer’s confederate, the deal was off and the blackmailer would go straight to the papers with whatever damaging information he had.

            Whatever that information was it had to be pretty hot because Scheiner had never struck Rafferty as a pushover but he’d been adamant that Rafferty follow the plan to the letter.

            And that was what Rafferty was doing.

            Mostly.

            It went against the grain to give into extortion. There wasn’t any creature on God’s green earth Rafferty hated more than a blackmailer. So he’d left the fat envelope of cash as directed and then slipped into the gents and changed into an idiotic costume so he could blend in with everyone else at this wingding. He didn’t plan on interfering with the pickup, but he did plan on tailing the bagman.

            Though he’d provided the duds, Brett had advised against pursuit. Brett Sheridan was Rafferty’s…well, never having had a friendship quite like this one, Rafferty wasn’t sure what you’d call it. Whatever you called it was one reason Brett was identifying too closely with the victim. Brett had guts, but the idea of blackmail shook him. Scheiner, naturally, knew nothing about Rafferty’s plan. He’d be happy in the end though, because the blackmail wouldn’t stop with this payment. Scheiner was just kidding himself believing the promises of a guy who called himself Mr. X.

            From his vantage point on the staircase, Rafferty watched the waiters, brawny lads in slave costumes, circulate with drink trays and canap├ęs amongst the hoi polloi of San Francisco. A ten piece orchestra sawed away at a version of “Night and Day,” though the music could hardly be heard over the babble of voices. The place was packed. But then the museum was not especially large.

            Originally built in 1920, the Morshead had previously housed a small collection of antiquities and a large collection of oddities. It was designed in a pseudo Egyptian-revival style. From the pair of giant sphinx sculptures guarding the museum entrance to the painted and carved Egyptian friezes and lotus style columns, the building was supposed to evoke the mystery and magic of the newsreels they all watched with such fascination at the picture show. Newsreels that showed the excavations at Tell el-Amarna and the Valley of the Kings -- which was where Emmett Parker had made his now famous discovery of the burial chamber of Princess Nebetah.

            Emmett Parker. Rafferty’s lip curled. Pompous ass. There he stood now, posing before a group of admirers, like the grinning, bare-chested palooka on a cover of a Jungle Comics. 

            Parker spoke and his audience, mostly female, tee-hee-hee-ed obligingly. Among the smitten was Justine Sheridan, looking especially striking in a white gown with leopard skin girdle. She had the dark, dramatic looks to carry off the costume. Not everyone was so fortune. Lenora Sheridan, for example, looked like she’d fallen into a portmanteau of purple draperies and only managed to climb out. Her gray hair was coming undone, as were the draperies. She kept clutching at the fabric slipping from her plump shoulders.

            A lot of people to keep track of, and most of them unknown to Rafferty. Even the familiar ones were hard to pick out in costume. He absently hummed a few bars of “Night and Day,” turning to watch the hallway to the closed exhibition room over his cupped hands as he lit a cigarette.

            No movement. No one was showing any interest in adventuring down the empty hall to the darkened room.

            The fact that the blackmailer had chosen the museum might mean something. Might even mean the blackmailer was someone who worked for the museum. Rafferty’s gaze returned automatically to Emmett Parker, who once again had the ladies gasping and giggling as he recounted his exploits in the Valley of the Kings.

           
Honesty forced Rafferty to concede that he probably wasn’t giving Parker a fair shake. Once upon a time, a long time ago, Parker had hurt Brett pretty badly, and anyone who hurt Brett Sheridan was no pal of Rafferty’s. Even so, it was unlikely Parker, newly returned from Egypt, was spending his much-in-demand time blackmailing a small time San Francisco actuary.

            No, more likely, the blackmailer had realized, correctly, that pretty much everybody who was anybody was going to be packed into this museum tonight -- in disguise no less -- and his movements would be hard to track.

            Hard. Not impossible.

            Rafferty looked for Brett in the crowd below. He spotted him dancing, Brett’s sleek dark head bent to hear what his companion, a slim dame in a sparkly white gown, was saying. He was smiling, but Rafferty recognized that expression as the face Brett wore when he was a million miles away.
           

Friday, April 19, 2013

Talking to Myself -- More Thoughts on ACX

I appreciate all the terrific insight and feedback got on my earlier ACX post. I got some good
suggestions and workarounds -- and some useful perspective. As I said in that initial post, there's no question of not continuing with audio books, merely figuring out the best way to commission them.

Since that post I've sold 397 audio books on ACX. I won't know until I see the royalty statement for April how many of those sold at the super-duper $1.99 price, how many sold through Audible subscriptions, and how many sold at regular prices through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. I don't know if those are respectable numbers or not, but they seem pretty average for my particular sales. The highest selling book was A Dangerous Thing (94), which does not have a pricing incentive attached, followed by Fatal Shadows (92) which does. The worst selling title was A Darkling Thrush (5). If I was going to attach a pricing incentive to any book, it would be that one. Audible doesn't see it that way, though, and no pricing incentive is attached. This is why I would like a say in pricing my own product.

In that time my titles have continued to dominate the Gay and Lesbian bestseller list on Audible (last time I checked, I had three of the top four titles) and A Dangerous Thing popped up on Audible's Mystery and Thriller Superstar list.

My post was picked up by a couple of other publishing blogs and it was interesting to read some of the comments. A number of people missed the point and thought I was complaining about the incentive pricing itself. The complaint was -- and continues to be -- not having any input or control over incentive pricing.

I certainly don't object to giving books away (regular readers will recall that I gave away over 50 trade paperbacks during December's Big Ass Book Giveaway, that I give audio books away regularly on Jessewave's Review site, that I made In Sunshine or In Shadow a freebie on St. Paddy's, etc.). I understand perfectly well how effective freebies and reducing pricing can be. But strategic pricing is just that. A strategy. It only makes sense to include the author in on the strategy.

Comment threads on other blogs diverged into the topic of self-publishing in general (I do self-publish, but I am also traditionally published -- and that of course is yet another issue. If the bundling is for a publisher-owned title, then I'm making considerably less on the ebook than I am when the bundling is for my own reissued titles) and -- I loved this one! -- whether it was even possible to commission a quality audio production for two thousand dollars. Short answer: go sample some of my titles at ACX and decide for yourself.


One thing I found interesting was the almost resentful attitude in some quarters that an author would "complain" about earnings -- or maybe even simply discuss money in public. But yes, shockingly, I am a professional writer and I do think about things like how much I earn. Especially around tax time. I think writing is the best job in the world, and I am grateful every day that I get to do this for a living. The catch is, I do have to earn a living at it.

I think it's useful when authors share facts and figures about their publishing experiences. Especially because, in our particular little genre, there isn't a lot of accurate, specific information. We know a lot about the romance genre in general, but I haven't seen a lot of breaking out m/m numbers from the bulk of romance. Plus, we see a lot of manipulating numbers and reviews on sites like Amazon, which contributes to the general confusion.  It would be great to have solid, specific information on our genre.

Anyway, I digress. I appreciate the advice and support I got -- I especially appreciate that you're continuing to the buy these audio books -- and never you fear, I will continue to make more!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Can't Miss TV

In fact, I don't watch a lot of TV, but I do stream a lot of documentaries. Some of the documentaries are for research on a particular project, but sometimes I watch just to spark creativity, get those juices flowing (not THOSE juices, idea juices).

 Every so often I'll come across a documentary that really stay with me. That stays in my mind, keeps me thinking, wondering. Even...haunts me.

Here's a couple of them.

If a Tree Falls - I was considering subplots for Winter Kill and I got the idea of eco-terrorists. By the time I finished watching the documentary I was on the side of the eco-terrorists, but maybe that will make for a more interesting and nuanced book.

The Imposter - This was absolutely riveting -- and rather chilling. Stranger on the Shore revolves around a missing child, and I thought this might be useful. And it was very much so -- especially in helping to understand how grieving loved ones can convince themselves of anything. Even when all the evidence points in another direction.




Dreams of a Life - This doesn't tie into anything I'm writing, but wow. Fascinating character study. Depressing too, to be honest. But more fascinating than depressing.

The Weather Underground - This one was for background on Fair Play, the sequel to Fair Game. I'm trying to put the proposal together for Carina Press this month, and it turns out that watching documentaries is easier than writing a synopsis.

You can actually watch The Weather Underground documentary for free right here.

What about you? Watch any good documentaries lately?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Say it ain't so, ACX!


I have a dilemma, and maybe readers and other authors can help me resolve it. Maybe I'm just not looking at the situation from the broader perspective.

As you know, if you follow this blog or some of the other social media venues where I hang out, I spend a lot of time and energy -- and money -- on adding audio books to my considerable backlist. By the end of this year, I’ll have spent something over $20,000 commissioning audio books through ACX and Audible.com. I'll have a total of 15 audio books, 12 of which I've personally commissioned. I  think it’s obvious I believe in audio books and that I think they’re a worthwhile investment for an author or a publishing house. The response from readers has been everything I could have hoped for.

 
I'm not sure I would have ventured into commissioning audio books had I not discovered ACX. Which is to say, I always planned to have the Adrien English books made into audio, but that's as far as my thinking went. Anyway, ACX is a division of Audible.com (which is owned by – surprise! – Amazon.com). ACX is something new and innovative in audio book production. It's a creation exchange, a sort of go between for rights holders (that would be authors) and audio book producers (narrators/production companies). The finished books are either sold exclusively through Audible, Amazon and iTunes for a 50% royalty rate OR the rights holder declines the exclusive deal and gets a significantly lower royalty rate and has to go through the hassle of listing their work on Amazon and iTunes and other vendors all by their lonesome. You can pay for production outright – which is what I’ve done in all but one case – or you can try to find a producer/narrator to take a royalty share with you (in which case you have no choice but to make your audio book exclusive to ACX/Audible for seven years).
 

Now for the good news. Despite some growing pains, ACX does exactly what it promises – exactly what you would hope! It’s simple to use and a great way to find and contract quality narrators and producers – especially if you’re paying for production and not asking someone to gamble their time and talent. The books get listed within a few weeks of completing production and royalties are paid monthly. Plus there are “bonuses” for authors who lure new customers to Audible (based on someone signing up for Audible’s subscription service and buying your book as one of their first three purchases). You can also earn a dollar an audio book if you sign up to be an Audible Author -- and now I understand why Audible pays that dollar incentive a book - because the way things are going, most authors won't be earning much beyond that dollar.
 

Now lest it sound like my problem is audio book sales, no. Not at all. I saw my first two titles earn out within a couple of months of going live, and that was what decided me that ACX and Audible looked like a pretty solid investment. I have every faith that the audio book market is just going to get bigger and better. Accordingly, I committed another ten projects exclusively to ACX and Audible. Like I said, by the end of this year, I’ll have a total of 12 audio books available to readers.
 

But, alas, I forgot to include Amazon’s quest for world domination into my calculations, and this is where everything gets complicated. Or at least it feels complicated to me, but maybe I'm just not looking at the big picture. 
 

Amazon devised this little thing called “whispersync.” It’s sorta cool, actually.
 

According to Audible’s website: 

Whispersync for Voice is a breakthrough technology that allows you to switch back and forth between reading a Kindle book and listening to the companion Audible audiobook without losing your place.
 
That means you can keep the story going on the books you love, and enjoy more of them. In addition to remembering position, Whispersync for Voice keeps your notes and bookmarks across devices as well. 

With Whispersync for Voice you can read on any Kindle or Kindle app and then switch to listening on the Audible app for iPhone or Android and any Kindle Tablet (Kindle Fire HD 8.9", Kindle Fire HD 7", Kindle Fire 2nd Generation, and Kindle Fire 1st Generation) or Kindle E-reader (Kindle Touch and Kindle Keyboard).

 

So…yeah. Cool. Not essential, but a fun little gimmick. I really never gave it a thought because whispersync is not something I particularly need or want or care about.
 

I should have given it a thought, though, because it creates a problem for ACX customers, and by ACX's customers, I mean authors and narrators. I mean me. Amazon, in its perennial quest to crush all competition through loss leading, came up with the idea of encouraging readers to try out these whispersynced audio books by knocking the price of audio books down to $1.99 if the (current version) kindle ebook is also purchased.

Now that’s a terrific incentive, no question. Here’s the catch. The author has zero control over the pricing. Although it's communicated as though Audible is doing us a huge favor with this bedrock pricing, they don't  allow us to opt in or out. That pricing isn’t isolated to first books in a series or a certain percentage of an author’s backlist. As far as I could ascertain speaking to ACX, it isn’t time limited. It isn’t optional.

And the plan is to make the entire Audible catalog (those books linked to kindle editions, anyway) available through whispersync.
 

Now, it’s obviously not whispersync, I have an issue with. I’m all for technological advancement – I’m even for pricing incentives. And I guess if my publishers were footing the bill for my audio book production, I wouldn’t mind only making…say, thirty to fifty cents an audio book. I wouldn’t be thrilled, but it wouldn’t be a bad investment. It wouldn’t be costing me money that could have – apparently should have -- been invested elsewhere.
 

Yes. Costing me money. Let’s say I’m paying $2000. to produce an audio book, and the first month I sell maybe 100 copies netting around $10.00 each – of which I receive my 50%…so $500. I don’t earn back my production costs. And within the following month or so, the book is whispersynced and now kindle readers can buy the audio book for $1.99. My cut would be half of that.

Oh! And if I'm doing a royalty share with a production company, we're each splitting that .99 cents. It's hard to imagine many production companies opting for royalty shares under those terms. And, given those terms, it's hard to see many authors continuing to pay for productions up front when the chances are so slim for the productions earning out in the near future.
 
This is one of the really disappointing bits from my standpoint. If the audio books don’t earn out, I can’t commission more productions.


(Actually, that should probably be the least of my concerns, right?)
 

Now there are workarounds. An obvious one is don’t commission audio productions through ACX, or if you do commission them through ACX, don’t hand over exclusive marketing rights. That whole 50% royalties thing becomes moot if you can’t control the pricing of the audio books you “own.”
 

Audible is a little vague about whether they will change pricing on books they don’t control exclusive rights to: At all times we reserve the right to change the price of content as we see fit whether the work is exclusive or nonexclusive to Audible.


Hmm.
 

I’m guessing they’re still trying to figure that one out.
 

Another workaround is to add music or additional materials to the audio production. ACX discourages this, but maybe one reason they discourage it is because it makes whispersync harder.
 

I could hold back the kindle release until the audio book has earned out. Which is to say, I would still release in kindle format, only I would sell kindle format strictly through Smashwords and other vendors until the audio books had earned out.
 

I could try a kickstarter campaign for particular audio books – Boy With the Painful Tattoo, for example.  That way at least I wouldn’t lose money on the deal. But what would I be offering kickstarter contributors? It's not like I can supply them copies of the audio book they've just paid for.
 

The most obvious workaround is the one I like least, but it's the immediate default position. No more single title works. I’ll only do print collections where there is no corresponding kindle book – as with Armed and Dangerous or In From the Cold. If ACX allowed me the choice of opting into whispersync – or only offered the dirt-cheap pricing for a limited time -- that would be different. I’m not so penny-foolish that I can’t see there aren’t benefits to bundling ebook and audio together, especially on slower selling titles. It’s not having any choice that makes me hostile.
 


I don't like paying for the privilege of building Audible and Amazon's growing catalog. Is it unreasonable of me to want to earn my investment back?

Personally, I think Amazon's math should give all authors considering producing audio titles through ACX serious pause -- as it should give all narrators serious pause about accepting a royalty share deal (even assuming a  stipend is offered, it's unlikely to cover a narrator's production costs). But am I missing something here? Is it worth it to lose money on the front end if I help to build a huge market for audio books and my own significant audio backlist?
 

I’m not forgetting that I still earn the regular (net) fifty percent on sales at Audible and iTunes (yeah, but let’s not even get into how Audible calculates royalties earned on membership credits). The majority of my audio sales come through Amazon, just like the majority of my ebook sales come through Amazon.
 

I should also point out that I have nothing against incentive pricing. I read Joe Konrath's blog! But for me, incentive pricing is marking some of my titles down so that more people will try them and then buy the rest of my backlist at its regular price. That way I could, you know, make money. For Amazon, incentive pricing is making audio books so cheap that no other company can compete. Audible and Amazon are not concerned with the financial success of individual authors, and the fact that I’m slamming on the brakes on future audio projects with them is not going to be a concern for them. ACX had a record year last year, and this year looks to surpass those numbers.

Granted, many if not most of the authors flooding in through ACX's gates are unaware of the whispersync pricing. I certainly had no clue, and it took me a couple of months to work out why, though I was adding titles to my audio catalog, my monthly royalties weren't going up. That's right. I've got SEVEN titles live right now, and this month's royalty check was about what I earned the first month I began this venture.

Would Joe Konrath keep publishing through Amazon if Amazon marked all his titles down to .99 cents without his consent?
 

In fairness, if I was a mega-selling author, this would not be an issue. For one thing, my whispersynced audio books would be priced at $3.95 not $1.99, and I’d be selling thousands of copies the first month, so the audio books would earn out and everything else would be gravy. Tiny spoonfuls of gravy, but gravy nonetheless.
 

Instead -- like the vast majority of ACX clients -- I’m just your average midlist author working in a niche genre, and I don’t sell thousands of copies in the first month. It’s doubtful I’ll sell more than a thousand copies of any audio book title in the first year.
 

That said, I’m still a big fan of audio books, and I know that you, my readers, are loving these audio books and asking for more. I will certainly be commissioning more of them in the future -- but right now whether I commission them from ACX (once the current contracts are filled) is in doubt.

But should it be? Am I missing something here?  If you were me, would you keep making audio books through ACX? And if so, why?