Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Forgettable Mysteries

On January 11, my essay "Forgettable Mysteries: An Exploratory Inquiry" was published as a guest blog at Murder by 4
< >. The essay discusses why some mysteries and their titles are so forgettable and others so hauntingly memorable--even after only one reading.

Robert D. Sutherland (aka Vergil)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Audio Books: How Its Done Through ACX.COM, Part 1

by Aaron Paul Lazar

Have you ever wondered how to get your published book produced as an audio book?

If so, read on. I currently have five books in production with ACX, an Audible (Amazon) company. I’m going to document the process for you in a few articles so you can give it a try yourself. You’ll need to know how to get started, how to get through the editing process, and what to do once your book is available for sale.

A little bit of history:

I’ve tried to record my own books. Lord knows, I’ve tried. I spent a week downloading various (free) audio programs, playing with the settings, recording just a few chapters over and over again every time I messed up a word, or a loud truck went by, or the dogs barked. I drove myself nuts. Finally, after hours of labor, I created some audio files of me reading the first few chapters in TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON, and posted them up on my website.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed it. I really did. But while I was doing this, I wasn’t writing. And if I had ever hoped to get my complete set of sixteen books recorded as audio books, it would have taken months for each project. I’d never get my current book finished at that rate.

I sent off a few of the mp3 samples to my publisher. She had her “audio guy” listen to them, and he said they had too much “hiss,” that I’d need a different mike. Of course, I had used the simple microphone that comes with my MacBook Pro, and that naturally isn’t geared for serious recording.

For the time being, I let it go at that. After all, I had seven books to edit that were scheduled for 2012 release, and was working on the third book in my Tall Pines mystery series. With the full time day job, there wasn’t must time left for anything extra.

The tip:

The dream of getting my books into audio books didn’t die, it just simmered under the surface for a little while, until a good friend gave me a tip. Her Simon & Schuster book was going to audio book format through a company called ACX, part of Audible, which is owned by Amazon.

Excited, I started to investigate. ACX is a wonderful site where authors, producers, and actors can network and pair up. The nicest part of this is one available option called “Royalty Share” where the narrators/actors/producers and authors to do the recording work up front, put no money down, and then share the royalties when the sales start coming in. Of course you can also simply hire a narrator and his studio to do the recordings, and keep your share of the royalties for yourself, if you want.

Alternatively, you can record your own books, but you’d probably have to invest in a good mike, become well-versed in manipulating audio files, or have a an audio-techie colleague to help you.

Important stuff to know:

Now this part is really important. Please read this carefully:

You need to find out who owns the audio rights for your book(s).

Check your book contracts, and if you’re not sure, call your publisher.

I hadn’t really paid attention to that part of the contract(s) with my publisher, Twilight Times Books, but soon discovered that she hadn’t included audio rights in our contract, so the rights were mine.

For those whose publishers’ have retained the rights, don’t panic. Your publisher or agent can submit your books to ACX if he or she is so inclined, you’ll just have to share the royalties with her and your actor/narrator/producer.

If you establish that you own the audio rights, the next step is to register. Please note that I’m pretty sure you must already have books in the Amazon bookstore for all this to work.

I was surprised that Twilight Times Books wasn’t on the list (lots of companies weren’t, since this is a new program and they are still growing their lists), but didn’t let that stop me. I knew my publisher was highly-regarded in the industry, that she’d been interviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, and that our company was a member in good standing of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and International Thriller Writers. These credentials were legit and impressive.

I was able to chat with Nicole O., one of the ACX customer support folks, who was extremely helpful. We talked on the phone several times about my publisher and my books, and I provided all the information needed. After a while, the books were listed on the site for actors to listen to and (hopefully) submit auditions. Of course, I had to upload all the details about the work – number of pages, genre, synopsis, and a short excerpt for the actors to use in their audition.

The first audition:

I was thrilled to receive an audition almost immediately for TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON.

The voice actor/narrator, Erik S, did a great job, creating a very young-sounding voice for my eleven-year-old Gus LeGarde. I was pleased with his accents for Gus’s grandparents who live in Maine, Oscar and Millie Stone (British transplants), Elsbeth and Siegfried (German twins, Gus’s friends,) etc. Each voice was consistent and unique, and wonderfully rendered.

You can hear a sample chapter HERE.

The First Fifteen Minute Sample:

After we started work on TREMOLO, Erik prepared the first fifteen-minute sample. I listened, made a few minor suggestions, and then approved the posted files. This is important for many reasons. For one thing, you need to confirm that the voices for each character are suitable and hopefully match the “voices in your head”.

Well, that sounded a little weird, but if you’re like me and consider your stories like parallel universes, then you know exactly how your characters sound, and you often picture them in movies with actors you’ve already chosen for them.

Am I right?

Okay, so the whole idea of checking out the first fifteen minutes is so your British character doesn’t sound like he’s from the Bronx, or your plucky heroine doesn’t sound too frail. Also, it gives you a good chance to check the quality level of the recording facilities that your producer is using.

We didn’t have to do much adjusting, frankly, because Erik really nailed the accents without any coaching. He recorded the entire book over a period of a month, sending me batches of audio files to listen to, and when we were done catching any errors that might have crept into the files, he worked on the technical items that needed fixing.

I panicked!

Erik went back to working on the files, and it was at that point that I panicked. I was trying to upload my book cover art into the required field on my TREMOLO ACX page, when I discovered that the cover art needed to be a square image.

Square? All of my covers were rectangular, in roughly 5x8 inch format.

I tried to cut the book cover down by cropping it, but there was no way it was going to work and look proper in a square format.

Finally, like most guys, I finally looked at the directions. I studied the examples on the webpage of what was “acceptable” and what wasn’t. Right there in front of me was the botched up cover just like the one I’d attempted, with top and bottom cropped. Next to it was another stuck in a square with white borders.

Nope. The cropping or squeezing-it-all-into-a-little-box approach was not going to achieve it!

The “acceptable” cover was designed from the beginning to fit in a square template.

It was at this point that I started to worry about my rights again. I would need the layered version of my covers so I could play with the original art and design it to fit in a square box.

Who owns your cover art?

Did I own the rights to my cover art? Would my publisher object to me using them, since she wasn’t involved in this venture? I had helped with the designs, and yes, many of my own photos and concepts were used, but I soon discovered I didn’t own the designs. My publisher was very sweet about it, but she pointed out that she’d paid an artist to do the designs, and that they were legally hers. I love my publisher and would never try to cross the line. So, off I went to create new, square audio book covers.

Fortunately I have used Photoshop for years and knew how to go about it. I’ve been designing “place holder” covers for years, even before I submitted my manuscripts to my publisher, so I had lots of images to play with. I like having a colorful image in my head (and on my websites) that gives a feeling for what’s coming in the books.

I set about creating new, square covers using my Photoshop Elements application.

There are specs you need to follow. For example, the cover must be over 1200 by 1200 pixels, etc.

Here is the original cover for Tremolo and my new audio book cover:

Erik uploaded the final files to ACX, and I automatically approved them, since I’d already listened to each one so many times and felt comfortable that they’d be fine.

My first mistake:

I always say, “Double check! Triple check!” and am usually quite obsessed with being absolutely sure all is good.

Just recently, I received notification from ACX that some of the chapters were missing or repeated. Both Erik and I had missed the uploading errors. But thankfully, the Quality group at ACX does a screening up front, and the errors were quickly corrected.

We’re waiting now to see TREMOLO pop up on the Audible website. It’s supposed to take a few weeks after we approve the final version.

More auditions came in!

Meanwhile, in the midst of the TREMOLO efforts, I received and enthusiastically accepted an audition from a Canadian Recording Studio (Agile Sound) for HEALEY’S CAVE, book 1 in Moore Mysteries, otherwise known as “the green marble series.” The actor’s name is Dr. Tom Fraser, and he’s a genius. Really.

A true kindred spirit, I met Tom just in time to bring all of my characters and books to life. I was floored by the recordings, and even after I’d heard just a few chapters, I knew I wanted this actor to record as many of my books as possible. His mature, warm, earthy voice was perfect for my Sam Moore character (HEALEY’S CAVE), but he also would be a wonderful Gus LeGarde, hero of my first mystery series with six books in production and four more written and waiting to be submitted to my publisher.

Since I accepted his audition for HEALEY’S CAVE, he’s also auditioned for and been accepted to record MAZURKA and FIRESONG. We are working on them all, and HEALEY’S CAVE is now available on, and iTunes. What a whirlwind!

Tom was born to be Sam Moore, and also fits perfectly for Gus LeGarde. He seemed to agree, and we decided that from now on, he would record all except the YA books.

If you’ve ever wanted to have your books recorded and available for folks to listen to, give it a try!

You can listen to some samples of my upcoming audio books here:

You can buy the TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON book here:

And HEALEY’S CAVE audio book here:

Additional notes:

The audio books do take a lot of listening time by you to be sure your producer/narrator/actor hasn't made errors. I try to listen to the complete books at least three times all the way through, during various stages, and once at the end to insure no errors crept through when correcting the errors like throat clears, cut off sentences, mispronunciations, etc. etc. I've completed 3 books now (Tremolo, Mazurka, and Healey's Cave) and am just about to listen to the final production version of FireSong. Most books are about 7-10 hours of listening time, depending on the book length, of course.

The good part is it doesn't cost up front (or at all, except in time spent) if you do the royalty share option with your producer. If you were a big name author, it would be smarter to just pay them a straight up fee, and you reap the royalties of your millions of fans!

Part II will discuss what to do if you don’t get an audition right away, and will explain how to find the perfect narrator.

Copyright © Aaron Paul Lazar, 2011


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The award-winning and bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, ESSENTIALLY YOURS (MAR 2012), TERROR COMES KNOCKING (FEB 2011), FOR KEEPS (MAY 2012), DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (APRIL 2012), and the author’s preferred editions of DOUBLE FORTÉ (FEB 2012) and UPSTAGED (JUNE 2012).