Atlas, Submitted.

The past few weeks have been cold. Bloody cold. OK, not Canada cold, so I can’t complain so much, but there’s something to be said about doing voice work when you’re chilly.

I have to rug up in layers, of course, because the garage isn’t heated and, though the sound booth has a good bit of insulation, it, too, is not heated. In summer it’s a hot-house and in winter it’s a refrigerator. The problem with layers, though, is that the warmer stuff tends to be noisy.

Noisy clothes? Yep, totally. You probably don’t pay much attention to it, but when you move your arm or twist your torso, or lean forward or back, or even roll you neck, there’s an associated noise. If you’re naked, it’s not so evident. If you’ve got on cotton, it’s hushed. If you’re wearing a polyester puffer-jacket, it’s the equivalent of unwrapping a Mars bar in the middle of a quiet cinema.

Not good. The slightest shuffle or motion (let alone wild gesticulations) are captured on the mike and each scene needs to be done again. And again. It’s a waste of time, but at least I’m warm.

Cotton hoodies are pretty good, so long as I suppress the zipper on the front. It makes little ‘tink, tink’ noises that are pretty darn obvious. I’ve taken to putting a blob of blu-tack underneath to stop it chattering while I’m vocalising. The chair is solid, steel chair, very cold on the tuchus, so I’ve put a small cushion on and covered it with a terry towel.

I can’t put a heater in there because the space is too confined for anything that isn’t electric, and electric heaters are notorious for making a hum. I’m thinking seriously about pre-heating the space before I start, to take the edge off. Makes sense, I guess, only we’re on the other side of winter and that means the days are getting warmer and all of this effort will be for nothing until the next year.

So that was me these past few weeks: Squatting in a rickety sound booth, freezing my proverbials off, rugging up in a woolen beanie, gloves and scarf with a wodge of blu-tack stuck to my zipper. And that’s if the weather was favourable. It was a slog, but I got through it and I’m happy.

I had to do the supermarket scene again because there was a lot of choppiness and I flubbed the voices. Everyone got a bit too bogan and by the end of it, I couldn’t even understand what I was saying.

After all of that, Atlas, Broken has been turned into an audiobook and submitted through Findaway for processing. It will be a few weeks before we see it come out the other side. Fingers crossed I’ve dotted all my i’s.

Beaumaris Road Ghost – AudioBook

Doing audiobook work takes it out of you. It’s not enough to just quack the words as they appear. You need to stay engaged and use intonation and adjust the tempo and pitch. You need to constantly monitor your words, avoid repetition, keep the tone of the language. And then there are the ‘accents’.

Beaumaris presented a new set of challenges. It was no longer a two-character affair (ignoring the cab driver) like in Grosvenor. I now had to come up with voices for Professor Felix, Mister Brown and Professor Pinkerton, along with members of the academic Board of the University.

It is at this point that I need to apologise to those native speakers whose accents I have mangled. It’s the price one pays, I suppose, doing voices for an audiobook – if the characters all sound the same, there are no cues for the listener to know who is saying what.

To make matters worse, in many parts there is dialogue between the players, so it is necessary to jump between the voices in order to keep things flowing. As you can imagine, sometimes the voices get muddled together. I take a drink of water, mark the error with a beep and carry on.

That doesn’t always work, though. In some instances, I completely lose what a character sounded like and have to go back – physically exit the booth, pause the recording and rewind to a spot – to hear myself. I’ve found a trick to help with this, though.

For each character, I have a phrase that encapsulates their general speech. For Felix, it’s, “That sounds about right, then.” For Pinkerton, it is, “Be that as it maaaaay…” For the Professor it is, “Laddie, what are you getting at?”

By saying those phrases in my mind, and visualising their face, I can jog my vocals back into character. The faces? Ah, yes. When writing the book, I had the characters in my mind’s eye – it’s just a still, like a photograph of what they would look like, nothing in particular. Felix is a portly, fluffy, rose-cheeked kind of guy who prolly gets into the whisky a wee bit:

Significant Scots - Professor Alexander Melville Bell
Actually one Professor Alexander Melville Bell, but he’s a decent Felix.

Whereas Pinkerton is a dark-haired, straight-laced gent who looks at his peers over his nose.

Related image

The Professor, weirdly enough, pops in my mind as something like a wild-haired Bernie Sanders slapping on a white Abraham Lincoln beard. Something like this:

And he’s got that grumpy look about him too.

Go figure, that’s just what my mind conjures up. I guess what I’m saying is that, when it comes to dropping and picking up character voices, it’s a lot harder than you might think, and you should consider all avenues to jog your vocals back into line.

Anyhow, as for the book, the audio went well enough. I learnt a lot from The Bullet and Grosvenor Lane Ghost. Still, it was rejected on the first round because I hadn’t uploaded one of the tracks properly. Not a big issue, just one of those things.

You can find Beaumaris Road Ghost at:

Publishing That Audio Book

And so the time came to click that little button: Publish.

Whether it’s on Smashwords or Amazon’s KDP or Findaway Voices, it’s a bloody hard button to click. The cursor dances around it. The mouse button doesn’t seem to click properly. Joey comes asking for something or other. Either way, the gremlins and gods conspire to prevent that button from being clicked.

Who am I kidding? Me, obviously. Just press the damn button already. It’s only a mouse click, after all. Two glasses of whisky later and a stiff self-reprimand, I get to the point where I’m about to do it. No, wait, I’d better check over it all. I’ve already checked it twice, but hey, let’s go for a third time. There comes a wave of angst, followed by paranoia, followed by the chill of ‘what if…’

What if I make a complete fool of myself? What if my voice is too nasal, too dry, too Aussie, not Aussie enough? What if I’ve mispronounced a word or skipped a sentence or edited out a crucial piece of prose? What if I should have used the Grosvenor Lane music for the intro? What if, what if, what if?

One more shot of whisky, one more attempt to blind my conscience and fool my censure and just go for broke. One more shot to hit the damn button that will release me from my anguish. After all, if I don’t publish, what was all the work for? If I do publish, and fail, so what? So what? So. What.

So… I take a breath and steel my nerves with whatever alcohol-free neurons I can muster, slap my already-red cheek for the last time and straighten my back. It has a curious effect, sitting up straight does. The spine clicks into place, the muscles stretch, rejoice. I feel empowered.

My glass is empty. Joey is in bed. The cat is asleep on the couch with Wifey. The computer fan hums. There are no more distractions. No more dancing cats on YouTube. No more, no more. Nothing left between me and the button.

It’s just a collection of pixels, anyway. About a hundred or so wide, forty or fifty deep. Push the button.

I’ve come this far. I can stall another week, yes, spend another week going over what I’ve already gone over. Yes, or I could push the button!

I’ve nothing to lose, except my credibility, but do I even have that any more? Is that measurable? Is that quantifiable? Who cares, just push the button.

I push the button. It’s a bothersome, annoying anticlimax. No fanfare. No sounds or rewarding animations or trumpets. Just a confirmation. A bloody confirmation. Well, that’s all I was after, anyway.

And so the button was clicked, Grosvenor Lane Ghost was published and the waiting game begins.

Findaway Voices Audiobooks

The time came to just get the rotten thing up, up onto the grand international platform of electrons called the ‘internet’. I had tried ACX, but that was ruled out by geography. I mean, in this age of inter-everything, I didn’t think it would be an issue. Go figure.

So I turn to Smashwords again for help. They are teamed up with Findaway. I had just finished Tedrick Gritswell Makes Waves and, at the end of the publishing cycle, the Smashwords website suggested using Findaway to get vocals for my book.

Well, that certainly sounds like a nice idea, but I wanted to try it myself, first, before going the whole hog. The good news is that they carry many of the same requirements as ACX, but no restrictions to geographical boundaries. What’s more, like Smashwords, they do this aggregation thing called ‘Voices Plus’ where you publish through them to lots of other channels, not just Audible. This I can get onboard with.

I’ve never liked the whole ‘exclusivity’ thing. You know, “Only deal with us or else!” I think if something is available here, it should be available there, and there and there, otherwise you’ve got bullying and monopolies and all of that.

So the uploading process is alright. You need a cover, square, 3000 x 3000 pixels. Big. As you can imagine, the dimensions don’t quite work with the standard rectangular book shape. No worries, though, you can always insert the book into a square and add some text to the left or right of it:

So with the Bullet, I used the original cover and ‘squarified’ it. With the Paranormology series, starting with Grosvenor Lane, I’ve pushed the book to the right and put the necessary meta on the left. Too easy. Thankfully I already had my books in a large-enough format, so that meant getting it to 3,000 squared was less of a challenge than it might have been.

Opting into Voices Plus is optional, which is cool (I like that you aren’t forced to use their tools). By doing so, you are enrolled to all of the channels you can think of, and then some, and then some more. Pretty neat:

And while writing this, I think some more were added. Audiobooks, man, it’s like the next thing or something.

Uploading your audio is pretty good, too:


You fill in the bits: Title, subtitile, author(s), narrator(s), dates, etc. Then you upload each chapter, plus title, front matter, afterwords, etc. You can review them as you go, rearrange them, download them to check, etc.

My only problem was that my internet connection was crappy. Uploads of only a few kBs sometimes, and then it would cut out half way through. I would literally start an upload, go have a shower or mow the lawn or read Joey a story, come back and see if it passed or failed. On many occasions, it failed. Boo.

With better internet, I’m sure you’d have a better time. I can’t fault their servers for my lazy electrons. After this comes the grand part – publishing!

ACX?

If you have a search on the web for ‘create a damn audiobook’, you will inevitably stumble across ACX, Amazon’s Audiobook Creation eXchange. You read up on how it all works.

Looks like it functions as a collective of authors, narrators and producers, ready to put together a bunch of audiobooks. More than this, there are options, man, options! I’m a fan of options. Not too many, because then you get overwhelmed, but I like to be able to choose what suits me.

As a narrator, for example, you can sign yourself up and get a gig doing the reading side of things. As an author, you can put your book up to be read. Sounds pretty good so far. But what if, as an author, I want to narrate it myself? Sure thing, that’s fine, too.

Great. Let’s go with this. How does the royalty side of things work? Well, there are three options – either pay outright for a narrator to read my book, share the royalties of the book with the narrator, or do it myself. Easy.

I like the idea that I can collaborate with someone to do the narrating. Some of my larger books, see, would be a struggle for me, so I wouldn’t mind sharing the royalties at all. It’s one of those win-win situations.

So I go through the motions, sign up, look at the different options, figure out how I’m going to do it, and there’s a decent page on how to encode the sound files. There’s also the necessary part of reading out the title and author and narrator (they’re very particular about this) and the closing statement (must contain ‘The End’) and things like that. All good, I can handle this just fine.

I’ve gone over my files, encoded them properly, made them mono rather than stereo, checked the size, formats, added the top and tail, checked the amplification… all the chapters there? Yup. All sound right? Yup. What about the credits? Yup. It’s all looking good. Then… disaster.

In one of the little forms I need to fill in, I select from a drop-down that I’m from Australia. Uh, why is there a red box showing? What does that say? Oh, wow, really? ‘Unfortunately, at this time, ACX is only servicing citizens of the UK and the USA.’

I live in neither.

There I was, dangling high and dry like an octopus on a clothesline, wondering if I’d just blown all that work for nothing. All the building of the booth and the microphone and the mistakes and blunders, was it all for nought?

“No,” I think, “That’s ridiculous. There has to be another way.” Another way… Can I find another way?

Funnily enough, I did. And it’s called ‘Findaway‘.