Book marketing tip – Audiobooks: next big phenomenon after e-books?

My last car had a CD player which would hold and revolve up to six different CDs. But newer cars don’t even have a CD player. It’s all about using your phone or iPod. What’s coming next though is audio-streaming into cars direct from the internet. This has big implications for authors. Think of all those long car journeys. The traffic jams. The need to keep the driver and any passengers from getting stressed. There’s a captive market there for your book. Audiobooks are set to become a big phenomenon, as e-books have.

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Picture source: wikipedia: virtual cockpit, Date 18 March 2014, Source Audi TT 2014, Author Robert Basic (image was originally posted to Flickr by RobGreen)

So I decided to give Audio a go. My non-fiction’s not very suitable for audio but I’m the editor/curator for my (late) Dad’s book Night Mission: Seven Short Stories from the World War 2 era. It’s not too long and I have published it as a paperback (through Amazon’s Createspace) and as an eBook (through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing). How easy or how difficult would it be, I wondered, to turn it into an AudioBook as well? What I have found is that it’s perfectly possible to do this yourself – and for for little or no cost.

I did it through Audible. Audible is an Amazon company so its audiobooks are marketed through Audible.com and Amazon.com – but also through ITunes. That adds up to a big marketplace.

To start the process, Audible sends you to its Amazon platform ACX.com. You’ll find the process of turning your book into an Audiobook explained there – though there are one or two things that I found needed a little more explanation.

If you’re in a hurry, my tip is simply this: if you have written a novel (or a suitable non-fiction one), have a think about turning it into an Audiobook – and Audible offers a do-able way for the non-expert to do this.  

If however you’re interested in the detail of how it’s done, read on.

First I had to decide on a narrator. (NB Audible’s narrators are referred to as “producers” – don’t let that confuse you). The first decision then, is who is going to read your book out loud. You can, if you choose, read it yourself. Not a good choice for me because (a) some of the short stories are in the first person (male) and I’m female and (b) I’m not a particularly confident out-loud reader.

I considered friends and relatives (I thought I could probably bribe them with a bottle or two). But ACX predicted – from my word count – that the full recording would take 1.6 hours. That’s a lot to ask of a friend – and doesn’t count any time for corrections etc. Also I wasn’t too confident about the mechanics of actually recording the stories.

So I opted for one of ACX’s narrators. You can get a narrator for no initial outlay if you offer them a share of the royalties. Night Mission the eBook has not (yet?) exactly earned huge royalties so I thought the option to pay a flat fee would be more tempting to would-be narrators. You can, if you prefer, offer a combination of royalties and fee. The next step is to create a book title profile, describing the book. Then either search for would-be narrators on ACX or simply state that you invite any interested narrators to “audition”.

For me, the auditioning process was the part with the steepest learning curve. Tip: I discovered the hard way that you do need to specify carefully what you want.  Night Mission has some RAF stories so I’d requested a male narrator with an “English” English accent, aiming for the old-fashioned way of speaking in the 1950s. Five would-be narrators submitted their reading of a short extract from my book. It was enormous fun listening to them, with an added poignancy (since I was hoping for something close to my father’s voice). The extract has some some effects (plane engines) and all five narrators voiced these well.

I was very lucky with my final choice of narrator. He quickly and efficiently recorded all seven stories, plus the foreword, the para about the author and the short free sample that Audible makes available to potential buyers.

Finally, you need a cover – and it has to be square. Tip: there are some other specs too for the cover – you need to follow these to the letter or ACX won’t accept it. I got an expert to adapt my eBook cover.

nightmission audio cover

Once it was finished and approved, ACX’s process took a few days and now it is on sale.

Oh yes, and remember, on average, Audiobooks tend to sell for significantly higher prices than eBooks. Why not give it a try?

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The Home Guard: beginnings, film and TV versions – and the real thing

In 1940 as the German army swept rapidly through Holland, Belgium and France an invasion of Great Britain was a very real threat. Yes, Britain was protected to a degree by the sea. But turning that on its head, there were some 5000 miles of coastline to defend. But how?

Seventy five years ago, on 14 May 1940, British Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden,  announced over the radio the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers – later named the Home Guard. He called for volunteers – any men aged between 17 – to join this new force.

The Home Guard wasn’t expected to stop a German invasion but it was certainly the hope that they might go some way to slowing it down. Amateurs many of them genuinely were, with a mish mash of weapons – it wasn’t until 1943 that they could be properly equipped – but they were in fact much more of a force to be reckoned with than the TV show Dad’s Army suggests. The response to the call for volunteers was fantastic. By the end of July 1940, over a million men had volunteered. The eventual total was some 1.5 million.

The Home Guard was much more active and effective than many people nowadays think. They captured German airmen who had been shot down. They provided invaluable help to civilians after bombing raids. They guarded strategic factories and aerodromes and checked ID cards. Above all – like a good police force – they provided an immeasurable but real deterrent to would-be domestic saboteurs and the German forces alike. Records show that Hitler himself was well aware of their numbers and determination. The Home Guard lost a total of 1206 members who were either killed on duty or died of wounds received on duty, mostly through air and rocket attacks.

The idea that Britain should have such a force was suggested early on by a Tim Wintringham who had fought in the Spanish Civil War – and during that vicious war had eventually commanded the British Battalion of the International Brigades. According to Wikipedia, on returning from Spain, Wintringham had begun to call for an armed civilian guard to repel any fascist invasion. As early as 1938 he was campaigning for what would become the Home Guard. He taught the troops some of the tactics of Guerrilla Warfare, including a movement known as the ‘Monkey Crawl’.

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There are some great films that feature the Home Guard. Went the Day Well (1942) is a fictional account of the resistance in an English village of an advance invasion by German paratroopers. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a fairly romantic 1943 movie, has a gradual reveal of the importance of the Home Guard. Get Cracking is an upbeat 1943 comedy starring George Formby.

Since 1968 the Home Guard has been widely evoked by the TV comedy series Dad’s Army which ran for nine years and has enjoyed many, many repeats. I think it’s fair to say that for the most part the series does capture the sheer determination and inventive wit of those times – but the reality was deadly serious and few who didn’t live through those times can begin to imagine just how close Britain came to a German invasion.

Clive Lodge (my Dad) was a member of the Home Guard in Kent, prior to joining the RAF. One of his Night Mission short stories – There’s No Scar Now with its dramatic opening “I killed John James Beresford” – is a Home Guard story. Night Mission is available on Amazon as a paperback (£4.96) or kindle eBook (only £1.90) – click below to buy.

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home guard manual

Manual cover page from Staffordshire Home Guard website: staffshomeguard.co.uk

Three self-publishing tips: things to avoid when choosing your title

As many “how to” bloggers and writers have stressed, choosing your book’s cover and its title can seriously help or hinder your sales when you come to the marketing and publicity for your book. But even when you have the perfect cover and you think you have found a pithy, attention-grabbing title that promises a really good read in your chosen genre and style, it pays to do a bit of thinking and research before making your final decision. There are some pitfalls to avoid.

Here are three things you can learn from problems I’ve had:

  1. Try to include your key word(s) in the title rather than only in the sub-title. My first book is a non-fiction one about horses in film and on TV. My title: “Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film.” Yes, search engines will pick up “horse” and “film” even though they are in the sub-title. But the mighty Amazon machine which sends those helpful alerts along the lines of “you might also like” picks sometimes picks a whole set of lighting products….
  2.  Avoid any word that is spelled differently in American English from how it is in UK English. [I was going to write “spelt differently” – but apparently that’s a UK English option – it must be “spelled” in American English. See what I mean?] My third book is called “Horse and Pony Colours: which would you choose?” You notice I’d learnt from mistake number 1 above: my keywords are in the title not the sub-title. And I’d followed a suggestion I’d read that non-fiction titles should show the reader what it is that your book offers them. But “colour” is of course spelled “color” in American English. The search engines still find the book from either side of the Atlantic – but they flag up “Did you mean Horse and Pony Colors?” So now there could be a tiny suggestion at the back of the reader’s mind: can’t this author even spell?
  3. Do your research first – how many already published books have the same or a similar title? You don’t have to avoid duplicating an existing title if there’s only one other book with the same title or a very similar one. I edited some stories recently: “Night Mission: 7 WWII era stories” by Clive Lodge. The “Night Mission” bit came from one of the strongest stories. I nearly called it “The Tunnel” after one of the other stories and I’d chosen some great cover pictures of mysterious tunnels. But the cover then seemed to hint at science fiction rather than second world war adventures. “Night Mission” – with a Spitfire in the evening cloud on the cover – fitted much better. A quick search only threw up one other “Night Mission” – and since that one was about one night stands and sported an obviously sexy cover I doubted there would be too much confusion. But with “Lights! Camera! Gallop!” I discovered after I published that there are very many books beginning “Lights! Camera!” and at the moment they mostly seem to come up before mine on search pages.

So, take choosing your title seriously – avoid my mistakes – and good luck!

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