Lend us your friends’ ears

Audible has a new service called Clips. It works like bookmarks do in e-books and web browsers, with a feature for the sharing economy.

Here’s how.

Audible clipsFirst, you have to have the latest app for an iOS device. Then, when you hear a passage you’d like to share with others, tap the Clip icon, move the start and end points and save it the snippet, or share via email or social media.

Saving the clip allows you to return to that spot for a repeat performance. Benefit to you. Sharing the clip amplifies Audible’s marketing and might eventually put a few more pennies in the pockets of its authors and narrators. Game, set and match to Audible.

But before grow too critical, I’d like listeners to try the service on one of my audiobooks, Peak Season or Mr. Mayhem, depending on whether you like a strong female lead or a crazy disgraced journalist nattering in your ear for seven hours.

Speaking of nattering . . . let me know what you think.

Me and Harry P.

You don’t have to be a wizard to know that audiobooks are hot.

In 2014, sales topped $1.47 billion, up 13.5 percent from 2013, the latest figures from the Audiobook Publishers Association show. That number can only increase for 2016, considering that the world is still wild about Harry.

Harry Potter book 3The big news in audiobooks this past year was the addition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series at Audible. The slightly less earthshaking news was that I released my first novel, Peak Season, on audio about the same time.

Our sales numbers might vary. Same for distribution. So, for all the C.W. McCoy fans out there, I present Audible’s retail sample of said book.

Have fun, and don’t forget the wand.

Veteran actor brings ‘Mr. Mayhem’ to life

Alan Wade is a character. It’s a description he likes, one that has brought him work in theater (King Lear), movies (The Pelican Brief) and television (House of Cards Season 4). And one of the reasons he was drawn to the narration of Mr. Mayhem, the first in my series of crime novels starring a defrocked journalist turned PR whiz named Brinker.

Alan is a veteran of film, television and stage. Actor, writer and director, he has appeared in regional theater and off-Broadway, as well as television (Homicide) and film (The Pelican Brief, Major League II).

For almost four decades he has served as a professor of speech communications and theater at The George Washington University and directed 30 plays there. His professional work has won praise from After Dark magazine and The Washington Post.

For his latest project, Alan drew on his extensive stage experience to bring the dark story of Mr. Mayhem to life as an audiobook, as he explains in this two-part interview, conducted shortly after he finished the narration.

Alan Wade as Sgt. Rough in “Angel Street” for the Olney Theatre Center with Julie Ann Elliott (Stan Barough Photography)

Alan Wade as Sgt. Rough in “Angel Street” for the Olney Theatre Center with Julie Ann Elliott (Stan Barough Photography)

Tell us a bit about the path you took to a career in acting and narration.
I was a freshman in high school when the “bug bit.” I took some after-school courses, went on to Northwestern University’s theater program, to Catholic University’s drama program (M.A.), and back to Northwestern for a Ph.D. in what is now Performance Studies. Intertwined with this academic work was a stint as a resident actor at Center Stage in Baltimore.

You’ve appeared in everything from King Lear to The Pelican Brief. How has stage and television influenced your voice work?
Well, I’m what is thought of, certainly now, as a character actor, which can often involve roles differentiated in part by changes in vocal characterization: dialects, accents, vocal qualities, and other speech mannerisms. My first Equity role was as Billy Bibbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Center Stage. Billy suffers from a pronounced stammer.

How does audiobook narration differ from your other projects?
You’re by yourself and, for someone like me who enjoys the culture of theater and its sociability, this aloneness is a pronounced difference. I’ve done two one-person shows during my stage career, so I’ve had a performance experience that approximates being in a booth alone, but there was always the audience to provide companionship.

What do you like best about voice acting?
In the case of audiobooks, it’s somewhat self-directed (though you do interact with the author and sometimes a producer), so there is a larger creative component to voice acting of this kind.

Next: the challenge of multiple characters.

Listen to Alan Wade bring Brinker to life in the first chapter of Mr. Mayhem:

‘House of Cards’ actor narrates thriller ‘Mr. Mayhem’

Murder is murder, whether it’s in a play by Shakespeare or a popular television show. Which is one of the reasons House of Cards actor Alan Wade agreed to narrate Mr. Mayhem, the first in a series of crime novels I’ve written to feature the defrocked journalist turned PR whiz known as Brinker.

Alan Wade at mike“There were two traits that led me to his voice, which I will characterize as harsh or gravelly,” Wade said. “The first is his attitude: he’s a wise-ass. The second is his substance abuse, pretty much of all kinds.”

Mr. Mayhem has garnered widespread praise from the critics. Kirkus Reviews calls the work “eccentricity at its finest in a detective story, and proof that a flawed protagonist can still earn sympathy.” And My House Our House author Louise Machinist says the novel “socks you in the gut like a shot and a beer. The mayhem never stops in this plot-driven thriller in creepy small-town PA, where there’s not a hero to be found.”

Set in the snowy mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania where I was raised, Mr. Mayhem is published by Allusion Books and available through Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and my website.

Listen to the audio sample as Alan brings Brinker and his crew to life.

Why we write

The chief benefit of publishing an e-book through Smashwords is the distribution channel–Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBooks and indie e-book retailer Kobo. There’s one other feature writers might consider, an interview with the author. Here’s mine:

What motivated you to become an indie author?

After sending queries to 76 agents, I received a number of kind comments but no offers of representation. Then an indie author alerted me to Joanna Penn and The Creative Penn podcasts about the publishing industry. I found her rationale for going independent so compelling I decided to learn as much as I could. The materials on Smashwords were also a great help. In an increasingly DIY world, indie publishing makes a lot sense.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

The greatest joy of writing is the process, the act of writing. Something I think publishing is just an excuse to keep writing.

What do your fans mean to you?

Fans mean contact with people who share common interests and feelings. The feel of a book is so important, and so elusive, especially during the drafting phase, when the author is isolated from others. To hear that I’ve entertained or touched someone else . . . that’s the real joy of writing.

Peak Season 3D cover 375x548What are you working on now?

I’m writing the sequel to Peak Season, the second book in the CW McCoy series. It’s called Tourist in Paradise and starts with the premise that someone is trying to kill the tourism industry in Southwest Florida. I’m also working on the audiobook version of Mr. Mayhem, the first in the Brinker series of crime novels. It’s high-concept, the kind of treatment you’d expect to see on HBO or Amazon Prime.

Who are your favorite authors?

An eclectic group of crime novelists ranging from Raymond Chandler, Ken Bruen and Chelsea Cain (“One Kick) to Robert B. Parker, Sara Paretsky, Ruth Rendell and Tony Hillerman. I like the Anns–Anne Lamott, Annie Proulx, Anne Tyler and Anna Quindlen. I also like the romantics, Jennifer Crusie and Janet Evanovich, and British writers P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster) and John Mortimer (Rumpole of the Bailey).

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?

Another chance to create, to build new worlds and live inside them.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Hiking, taking photos, reading, listening to classical music and NPR.

How do you discover the e-books you read?

I follow recommendations from fellow members of my writers’ groups.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

No, but I remember a wonderful professor who rekindled my interest in fiction to such a degree that I wrote a book-length collection of short stories. Now that’s inspiration.

What is your writing process?

I try to write first thing in the morning and save marketing and social media for later in the day.

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?

I remember my parents reading to me, and since then, I’ve grown fond of spoken-word audio.

Riding 3D coversHow do you approach cover design?

After design the cover of my first nonfiction book, The Spirit of Swiftwater, I wisely took the advice of a seasoned indie author and hired a professional to design the covers of Peak Season, Mr. Mayhem and Riding with the Blues. The designers have captured the tone of the work better than I ever could.

What are your five favorite books, and why?

Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman, Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan and Road Rage by Ruth Rendell. Let’s add a sixth: California Fire and Life by Don Winslow. All offer sensitive characters thrust into compelling situations.

What do you read for pleasure?

Standalone books like The Girl on the Train and series novels by Parker, Hillerman, Rendell, Grimes and the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse. (Who can top Jeeves and Wooster?)

What is your e-reading device of choice?

I have an iPad mini and a Kindle and I’m looking forward to buying an Android tablet in the near future.

What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?

Social media and word of mouth, although I will send review copies to journalists and bloggers.

Describe your desk

My dining room table.

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?

I grew up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, a once-rural area that attracted tourists to the clean mountain air. Perched on the border with New Jersey, it is now a bedroom community for New York. The area inspired a love of nature and a desire to experience the art and culture found in the city.

Mr Mayhem 3d_coverWhat’s the story behind your latest book?

After moving to Florida, I decided to revisit a lifelong interest in fiction. During a writing class, the instructor suggested we turn a short story into a news report and a news story into a piece of short fiction. As a working journalist, the first part felt easy. (I chose one of my favorites, a John Updike short story.) For the second part, I found an article about a fugitive financier that fascinated me and turned it into a short story. I liked the product and the process so much, I worked the character into the novel Peak Season and created someone worthy of challenging him, CW McCoy, a woman who had renounced violence . . . under the fugitive kidnaps her family.

For the second novel, Mr. Mayhem, I channeled some of the anger at literary rejection and cynicism about public relations and marketing in general.

When did you first start writing?

In elementary school.

What’s next for you?

The debut of Mr. Mayhem and the character of Brinker, a disgraced journalist doing PR for a funeral home and its trolley tour of murder sites in rural Pennsylvania. He hates the job, the place and himself. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders to draw a crowd. An assassin would help. The audio version should be a killer.

Juggling the multiple voices in our heads

In Part 1 of our interview with  Peak Season narrator Pamela Almand, she talked about how a career in flying helped her second career as a narrator take off. In Part 2 she hones in on the joys and trials of audiobook narration. Pam and I talked about her career and her company, The Captain’s Voice, via email in late October.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

I’ve always loved suspense and thrillers. Dave Baldacci, Harlan Coben, Vince Flynn, Grisham, Brad Thor. . . . Unfortunately, male suspense authors don’t often use female narrators unless, like in Peak Season, their protagonist is a woman. I love the opportunity to narrate strong female protagonists like CW McCoy. That is where my strengths and deeper voice can really shine, and I love books where I get to add a touch of sarcasm or sassiness to the character.

I also really enjoy non-fiction from Thomas Sowell, Bill Bryson, Charles Krauthammer and others, but don’t have a lot of time to read them. I’d love to narrate any of their books, though, and that is where a lot of documentary and e-learning work helps me. The non-fiction author has a purpose and motive for writing and my job is to capture his or her passion and enthusiasm for their subject matter. And I’d love to narrate Ann Coulter. Although I don’t always agree with her, I love the combination of dry wit, snarkiness and intelligence with which she writes.

Pam Almand recordingDo you have a favorite book or project?

That’s the toughest question yet, Jeff. I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed just about all my projects as new and interesting learning opportunities, with the possible exception of a very dry, 10-hour narration on rules and regs on the handling of toxic chemicals (but it paid very, very well, so I’m not complaining.)

Which characters are your favorites to play?

Strong female protagonists with many facets to their emotions and personalities . . . and I always enjoy doing over-the-top characters where I can play with crazy accents and dialects.

How do you prepare to perform an audio piece?

Since I love to read, and read fairly fast, many times I’ll have read a book in its entirety before I decide whether to audition for it. If not, I’ll read the book and annotate it at the same time; each character has a distinctive voice, and many times you don’t find out details about it when the character’s first introduced. Halfway through the book, there might be a note that “the slight hint of her German background was obvious when she shouted at him” or “that morning his high whiny voice just drove her nuts.”

I’ll also practice a particular voice I want to use for a character and record a sentence or two for reference and make a separate audio file for each character who doesn’t appear regularly.

Then I jump into the studio and start telling the story, to myself more than the listener.

When you’re narrating a work with multiple characters, how do differentiate among them?

I mark them with individual highlight colors and notations on characteristics I need to know and I kinda try to feel out each major character in different emotions in the voice I’ve chosen for them, if that makes any sense.

And I don’t try to sound just like a man but only to suggest the difference through a bit of gravel perhaps, a flatter delivery, maybe a more resonant delivery. One of the best things I heard from Pat Fraley in a coaching session was that men don’t all have low voices, women don’t all have high voices. Duh. It seems obvious but it’s a common misinterpretation. Pat is a great coach for the sheer number of distinct sounds he can produce from that smiling mouth of his.

What new and exciting projects do you have coming up?

The release of Peak Season in audiobook is the most exciting right now. Lots of marketing and promo for that and a couple of other audiobooks. And I have a documentary piece coming up for a Christian non-profit on sex trafficking as well as a United Nations video directed by a wonderful client in Barcelona. And then the usual smattering of other work that comes up in a normal week.

And, of course, I’m eagerly awaiting CW McCoy’s newest adventures. I love this woman and love getting to live her life vicariously narrating your novels.

Flying high with the voice of CW McCoy

Pamela Almand used to pilot 747s for a living. Now she’s flying high with a second career as narrator and voiceover actor.

The voice of CW McCoy in Peak Season, Pam has a voice and delivery perfectly suited to strong female leads in the mystery/suspense genre. I’m impressed with how she captures the spirit of CW McCoy and imbues each character with a unique voice. We hear the anguish of Anita Church and the flippant Jersey girl in CW’s neighbor, Cheryl Finzi. As for the male voices, Pam renders them with suitable gravitas but avoids descending into caricature. Hers is an expressive reading that captures every nuance of the dialog.

I interviewed Pam about her career and her company, The Captain’s Voice, via email in late October. Here, in Part 1, she talks about how a career in flying has helped her second career as a narrator take off. In Part 2, which will post later, she hones in on the joys and trials of audiobook narration.

Tell us a bit about the path you took to a career in voice acting and audiobook narration.

My career path has really run the gamut. After a BFA degree in graphic design from Colorado State, I took a flying lesson and got completely hooked. Although at the time there were no female airline pilots, I abandoned the art degree and built my flight time quickly. I did everything from flying single-engine aircraft solo across the Atlantic to being a production test pilot for a business jet manufacturer and eventually became an airline pilot.

In 1995, I was asked to do a national Tylenol TV commercial—fun and very lucrative—and that cascaded to jobs here and there: spots for Northwest Airlines, narrating training videos, doing occasional narration for clients all over the world, all the while toying with the idea of a full-time voiceover career.

When I had to temporarily stop flying for medical reasons, I built a professional recording studio and built my occasional hobby into a full-time business. Although I wasn’t able to go back to flying and finally retired this year, I’ve been tremendously blessed to have had two careers that I passionately love.

Pam Almand in uniformYou piloted a commercial airliner. How has that influenced your audio work?

You know, the perseverance and drive and just plain hard work it took to get on with a major international airline as a woman has served me well in building this business. And as a 747 captain flying all over the world, I caught a lot of grief and teasing from my male colleagues, which helped me develop a thick skin and a sense of humor, traits I find useful in just about anything I’ve ever accomplished.

The most tangible carryover from flying to voiceover is the asset, for a female pilot, of having a low-pitched voice. I think after hearing a few high, squeaky female voices on the radio frequencies I unconsciously deepened my tone, not only for the added gravitas, but for that air of calm authority you expect from an airline captain. I never added the stereotyped Chuck Yeager drawl, though.

And although English is the required aviation language, excellent diction is as essential in international aviation communications as it is for professional voiceover and audiobooks. Think about trying to radio your situation to a Chinese or Russian air traffic controller.

How does audiobook narration differ from your other projects?

Audiobook narration is far more of a storytelling style than normal voiceover work. And in commercials, e-learning, video narration and other voiceover work, I’m rarely called upon to be a male character or to carry on a conversation with myself.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

I truly think, to me, fictional audiobooks are a great challenge. You have such an enormous wealth of characters, personalities and voices possible in a span of an 8-12 hour book, it’s a job to keep them straight, to jump from character to character, and simply to keep the stamina required to do hours of recording without the energy fading.

My other voiceover work is broken up into 30-second, 60-second TV or radio spots, shorter narrations, phone messaging systems, e-learning projects (which can sometimes get as long as an audiobook) or videogame voices and it breaks up the recording and editing sessions into much shorter blocks. And, of course, those usually only involve being me.

What do you like best about your job?

That’s a hard one. What I think I’m most passionate about, though, is the variety of subject matter I get to read and learn about.

As a case in point, I had a week where I voiced the phone messaging system for The Hotels and Casinos of Monte Carlo; signed a contract to record a contemporary Christian romance audiobook called Come To Me Alive; narrated a series on medicinal marijuana; recorded pickups for a national infomercial for CamiShaper by Genie; and was the voice of Abraham’s 95-year-old wife Sara for a Biblical video game called Stained Glass. (I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered when they loved my audition for that one.)

Do you have any disasters you’d care to share?

Oh, many, but my clients are loyal and the only harm has been to my pride. On one of my very first audiobooks, a reviewer on Amazon said she couldn’t stand my voice and couldn’t listen to the rest of the book. Ouch. I later found everybody gets these occasionally, so I just worked on that thick-skin-sense-of-humor trait…but also modified a couple of things based on her other comments. I can learn from the nastiest of reviewers as well as the positive ones.

And, of course, I look back on some of my earlier work and cringe at things sometimes, but I do try to never stop growing and learning and honing my voice and my craft. I always learn from coaching sessions with Pat Fraley, Johnny Heller, Carol Monda, Marc Cashman, Paul Ruben and other narrators I really admire.

Next: juggling multiple personalities without going crazy.

All the news that’s fit to break

Fans of “The Office” will enjoy the mockumentary format of the new book trailer for Peak Season, which came out in audio last week.

Breaking News 'Peak Season' trailer.jpgIn a tongue-in-cheek takeoff of shows like “Entertainment Tonight,” the broadcaster casts the debut of the CW McCoy crime series as breaking news, giving it the proper gravitas, with a bit of wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Here’s the video. (You can also watch it on YouTube.) Enjoy the show.

 

[iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/AKINV7q0NrA”%5D

Beach-town thriller ‘Peak Season’ debuts in audio

I heard CW McCoy before I saw her face.

The heroine of my first crime novel was listening to a fugitive con artist make the case for clearing his name. CW did what I bet most former police officers would do: she kicked the guy to the curb.

Feisty, I thought, from the low, smooth voice to the Spenser-like banter. Maybe I should take notes.

I did, and the result was Peak Season, a novel set in the tony Florida beach town of Spanish Point. The work came out this summer in ebook and paperback formats. And while that satisfied my itch for publication, I kept hearing the dialog and realized CW wanted her own voice.

She has finally gotten it. After months of preparation, Peak Season is now available as an audiobook through Amazon, Audible and iTunes. The recording sounds just as I envisioned it, thanks to the powerful narration by Pamela Almand, who captures CW’s grit as well as the nuanced voices of her mentor, friends and enemies.

At first I had some doubts. Everyone said that writing from a woman’s point of view would prove challenging. So it felt like a victory to hear Pam bring the fellow risk-taker to life. CW may surrender her gun and badge but she will never surrender her spirit, and Pam’s rich tone and nuanced reading make that spirit sound very real.

If you’re a fan of Lorelei King’s wonderful rendition of the Stephanie Plum books, you’ll enjoy Pam Almand. It’s a voice that will ring in your ears long after she turns the last page.

You can listen to a free excerpt of Peak Season at Audible or iTunes.

Peak Season Audible

Now hear this . . . tips on creating audiobooks

Kids aren’t the only people who like to hear a story.

According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of Americans listened to an audiobook in 2013. Adults with higher levels of education are more likely to have read audiobooks than those who did not attend college. And the vast majority of those who read e-books and audiobooks also read print books.

Good news for writers who like to listen to as well as tell stories.

Convinced audio could prove a way to boost my audience, I contracted with an Amazon service called ACX to produce an audio version of my first novel, Peak Season. ACX connects authors with producers and distributors of digital files, in this case, iTunes and Audible.com. It does not produce CDs.

ACX made it easy to import cover art and relevant details of the novel from Amazon. I completed a form with the specs I wanted–a female narrator with a voice in the lower range, speaking in American English with no regional accent. After uploading a short script that called for multiple voices, I listened to sample readings from producers, asked for auditions and even reached out to friends who have a flair for this kind of work.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]Choosing a narrator from the auditions proved difficult. All of them sounded professional. Most handled the multiple voices well, even the male characters. A few got creative and tossed in southern or Jersey accents. Two producers offered to include a short musical segment at the beginning and end of the narration, just as traditional publishers do.

The decision was entirely subjective. At the risk of sounding deranged, it came down to a choice of who sounded most like the voices in my head. I chose Pamela Almand, who does business as The Captain’s Voice. (She’s a former pilot. More on that in a later post.) The Audible.com cover appears at left. The audio version of the book should be listed on Amazon by the end of October.

For those of you who’d like to hear your work produced as an audiobook, a few suggestions:

Research the format before you head over to ACX. These projects take just as much work and time as independent print and e-book publishing. Fellow writer Erika Liodice (Empty Arms) has written a pair of insanely detailed posts on creating and marketing audiobooks, Navigating the Next Frontier in Digital Publishing: Audiobooks and 9 Easy & Inexpensive Ways to Promote Your Audiobook. The posts are encyclopedic.

Read the contracts. ACX says it delivers royalties of up to 40% but one example shows authors receiving a little more than $2 on a $30 audiobook. Audible gives free product to new customers and discounts to members, actions that will reduce the list price of your audiobook, and your royalty. Some producers will accept half of your royalty payments in exchange for their narration. Others want an additional stipend for narrating a book that may not sell enough to earn royalties. And unlike other Amazon services such as CreateSpace for print and Kindle Direct Publishing for e-books, ACX doesn’t allow authors to set the price of their audiobook, so you can’t control the profit margin.

Finally, learn from the experts. Indie author Joanna Penn offers several tips for creating and marketing your work as an audiobook. When it comes to running your writing career as a business, she’s one of the leading voices in the field . . . and well worth a listen.