Audiobooks

After reading that sales of audiobooks had risen by 34% during lockdown, I spent ten grueling months in 2020 narrating and recording and editing and mastering my five Cornish Detective stories.

Uploading them to Audible.com, I was surprised at how well they sold without any promotion from me. To make them more discoverable, I used a British site called Free Audio Books (FAB) to hand out the so-called Promo Codes for me. Fifty codes are given to an author for each published audiobook, the idea being that you give them to critics, reviewers, friends and family – in the hope that they’ll leave a review and a star rating. Reviews drive sales!

https://freeaudiobooks.co.uk/

One of the people who runs FAB is Sally Roughton, who works as a narrator too and she also makes promotional video trailers for audiobooks.

https://sallysspeaking.co.uk/

Feeling flush with my first audiobook royalty of £378, I commissioned Sally to make what she calls a Deep Dive Trailer (see her site), which is just less than the two minutes twenty seconds Twitter permits.

I was very pleased with the result. I’m going to monitor what effect it has on sales, but I’ll likely get her to make more trailers for the other four titles.

You’ve got to speculate to accumulate!

Disaster & Resurgence

In the autumn of 2019, I began writing the sixth Cornish Detective story, called Kissing & Killing. Neil Kettle’s life had changed in Book 5, The Dead Need Nobody—for the better, as he has a love life—for the worst, as he was almost killed (no spoilers!) arresting a murder suspect.

The new story begins with him on medical leave, recovering from his injuries, and enjoying having a lover, someone to help him relish life. Evil men are still around, a gang of mercenaries hired by African politicians seeking independence from their mother nation, who are targetting big game trophy hunters. Their crimes are gory.

As usual, I was aiming for a length of 80,000 words, with a completion date of July 2020. After years of frustration using Microsoft Windows, I went over to using Linux Mint in 2016, which I am delighted with as an operating system. What happened when I went to update Mint wasn’t the fault of Linux, as I’d forgotten I was updating other software. Previous Linux updates happened easily, but this time, the screen gradually went black as every icon disappeared!

To cut a long and sad story short, I spent two months attempting to recover my writing files. I’m careful about backing up work by using memory sticks and two Cloud accounts, so most of my eBooks were available. To my horror, I hadn’t saved my WIP Kissing & Killing. Five months of work, 50,000 words had disappeared. I tried using a dozen different data recovery apps to no avail.

Then, the coronavirus crisis began. I slowly realised that Kissing & Killing could not have occurred as I’d written it set in 2020. The prowling mercenary killers would have been in lockdown! Rewriting it wouldn’t work, until the crisis passed. To safeguard what might be salvageable, I removed the SSD containing the manuscript from my laptop, so prevent overwriting anything. I’d still like to recover the work, which may reappear set in 2022 or whenever things return to normal.

What to do next?

Cut-off mid-flow, I felt frustrated. There’s always something to do as a self-employed Indie author: self-promotion being the main thing. Look at me, look at me, look at me!

Reading publishing industry newsletters about how the coronavirus quarantine was affecting the book trade, I noticed that audiobook sales had increased by 31%! Talking Books, as they used to be called, have been growing in sales by 30% for the last few years, the biggest increase of any type of book. It made sense to get involved, but I had no recording equipment.

I invested about £400 in buying what was needed short-term and for future use. This included a good quality microphone, a microphone boom, material needed to construct a portable recording booth, and a tablet computer—the latter to read the book from, as turning paper pages is noisy and my laptop’s cooling fan would be picked up on by the microphone.

I also acquired a digital audio-recorder and a digital single-lens reflex camera, though these will be used for location work visiting Cornish locations where my stories take place; the recorder attaches to the camera, which is handy.

To record the book, I used free software from Audacity:

At first sight, it looks horrendously complicated, but don’t panic, as you’ll only be using one-tenth of its controls.

My experience of doing sound recording was limited to mucking around in a small recording studio at college in the 1980s, so I was a novice when it came to narrating, recording and mastering an audiobook. It was a steep learning curve.

I began on April 23rd and didn’t finish until I uploaded my first audiobook to ACX on the 4th of August. During that time, I did no creative writing, leaving two novellas in a state of limbo. Working eight to twelve hour days was exhausting, exasperating and, while doing it, unrewarding! The work is exacting and it’s impossible not to become geeky while obsessed with adjusting settings and eliminating extraneous noises, such as car exhausts and aeroplanes. That’s not always possible, meaning that section needs to be re-recorded and remastered.

How I felt while mastering my audiobook.

If you think that narrating and recording a book is easy, download Audacity and use your computer’s microphone to narrate a short story. See how many mistakes you make. Feel what it does to your throat…and patience!

I found that I got better at narrating my novel, but editing and mastering what I recorded is astonishingly time-consuming. Audio experts suggest that it will take eight to ten times the narration time to perfect your sound file. They’re right, and it’s often longer. It sounds unlikely, but a paragraph that lasts two minutes can easily consume half an hour of your life.

I’ve written much more about narrating and mastering an audiobook in posts on my writing blog, Paul Pens, under the thread title Narration Blues.

This is how I felt when I’d uploaded my audiobook:

#Me too reaches Crime Fiction

A new literary prize was launched in 2018 to honour crime writing where ‘no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.’ Called the Staunch Prize, its been founded by author and screenwriter Bridget Lawless, who is providing the £2,000 award herself.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/26/staunch-prize-launched-for-thrillers-that-avoid-sexual-violence-against-women

The Prize website: http://staunchbookprize.com/about-2/

Overall, I’m glad that someone has stepped forward to highlight the way that violence against women is used as a form of entertainment. How long before similar attention is paid towards films, television dramas and music? However, there are a few contradictions raised by this prize, that no one is addressing, though Val McDermid makes some valid points in the article.

Before I write anything else, let me state that I’m against violence towards women. I’ve worked as a marriage guidance counsellor and rape crisis switchboard adviser, and at least half of my girlfriends suffered abuse that had long-term effects on them, so I know the consequences of violence better than most men.

There’s a problem in criticising anything that’s riding the bow wave of political correctness, in that if you say anything remotely disapproving of the flood of accusations, then its turned back on you as if you’re one of the abusers. Bizarrely, this happened recently to Margaret Atwood, who quite mildly (and correctly) pointed out that legal due process was being ignored, in how men were being accused and condemned.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/15/margaret-atwood-feminist-backlash-metoo

Curious about my own crime writing, in four novels and several short stories and novellas, I totted up how many victims of each gender were ‘beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered’, I found that 14 women were victims, while 15 men suffered. Two women were perpetrators of violence, including the murder of female victims. My WIP, The Dead Need Nobody, starts with a cold-hearted murder of a female painter, by defenestration

The killing is casually done and wasn’t really necessary, but my fictional male murderer has also disposed of two other victims in an equally uncaring way, as he simply throws away what he doesn’t need any more. The murders have no more meaning to him than switching off a light. My story’s theme is not really the murders, but more about how society values possessions, in this case, expensive paintings, more than it does the artists that created them, who often died as paupers.

One of the problems with the Staunch Prize is that while it’s taking the moral high ground in condemning crime stories that trade on women being victims, it ignores who the consumers of such lurid tales are—which is mainly women! I’ve seen various statistics bandied about, from 57%-70% female readership of all the different sub-genres of crime writing.

https://www.ranker.com/list/why-women-love-true-crime/katia-kleyman

Thus, we have the peculiar situation, where a female screenwriter of crime stories founds and funds* a writing prize for a crime story without violence against women, yet the biggest fans of violent stories are women themselves—who are, presumably, being given a smack on the wrist for liking what they do! I’m guessing, that under the rules of the contest, as many men can be slaughtered as possible.

*Except, that Bridget Lawless isn’t really funding it with her own money, for there’s a £20 entry fee. With £2000 going to the winner, I wonder how the rest of the entry money will be dispersed…I’d be more impressed if there was a statement on the Staunch Prize website, that surplus funds would be donated to a charity fighting violence against women.

It strikes me that Bridget Lawless is capitalising on the current debate, helping to raise her profile as a writer, while making some welcome money.

What’s your reaction to this new writing prize?

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ADDENDUM

I came across this interview with Bridget Lawless, founder of the Staunch Prize.

http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk/2018/02/violence-against-women-in-thrillers-in.html

It’s one of the most sycophantic interviews I’ve read—with an added pong of hypocrisy, for interviewer J.J. Marsh writes crime stories that feature sexual violence and the murder of female victims!

Again, there’s no mention of who actually reads gruesome thrillers and murder mysteries the most—women. Nor is anything said about who gets all of the loot generated by jumping on this bandwagon. If 1,000 writers enter at £20 a manuscript, with £2,000 paid to the winner, that leaves £18,000 minus whatever Bridget Lawless pays to the three judges (including herself).

I’d be more impressed if she announced that the remaining funds were to be donated to the End Violence Against Women Coalition or Refuge, but something tells me that won’t be happening.

There’s money in misery….

Crime Writing Competitions

The Crime Writers’ Association currently has two competitions running.

One is the Margery Allingham Short Mystery Competition, which ends on 29th February:

The other is the Debut Dagger Competition, which also ends on 29th February:

Winning or being shortlisted is said to be a good way to attract the interest of literary agents and publishers.

https://thecwa.co.uk/the-debuts

Book 4: Sin Killers

As Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle hones in on his suspects, he becomes a target for their retribution. Hunter becomes hunted.

Who is acting as judge, jury and executioner? Someone is running a campaign of retribution against people with lax morals. Kidnapping, arson and blackmail are bad enough, but then the head of a convicted paedophile is found wedged onto a road signpost at a location where ancient public executions took place.

File:Thomas Rowlandson - A Gibbet - Google Art Project.jpg
19th-century gibbet

Various local businessmen and politicians have been blackmailed with incriminating evidence, fined £20,000 to encourage them to improve their behaviour. Sophisticated techniques have been used to surveil the victims and to attack them, including poisons, guns and explosives, implying that the perpetrators have military or secret service training.

The suspect in a series of violent raids on small businesses also appears to be ex-army. The efficient attacks speak of reconnaissance beforehand, and the lone raider strikes swiftly, incapacitating their target, before fleeing on a motorcycle with the loot. Where is the raider living?

Image result for  ktm rider rear view

The death of the child abuser escalates the investigation. Neil has mixed feelings about the death of a paedophile, but murderers need to be caught. What is motivating the Sin Killers—financial gain or retribution?

Image result for  massage parlour table

One of their victims owns a chain of massage parlours. Seemingly unfazed by the pressure, his young son was kidnapped then abandoned, and he vows revenge. His henchman, Cleaver, is a veteran of London gang wars in the 1960s, his heavily scarred face proof of his own capacity for violence with blades.

Image result for spetsnaz spring loaded knife

Interference from a controversial government minister appears to confirm who the suspects are while muddying the waters. Devon & Cornwall Police are being used to clean up mistakes made by the secret service. Noah and Nina Shrike are ex-MI5 agents gone rogue and likely to turn terrorist, as they punish the sins of their former masters.

Image result for poison dart frog
Poison Dart Frog

As Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle hones in on his suspects, he becomes a target for their retribution overpowered by an exotic poison. Cleaver is on the prowl, his knives ready to slice and dice.

Hunter becomes hunted.