My Foray Into Audiobooks – Pt. 3

First, I owe you all an apology and an explanation. I know I’ve been neglecting my blog and kept you waiting for months on this next segment of my audiobook experience. In short, life got a bit overwhelming what with producing and marketing four different audiobooks, trying to keep up with my WIP (a novel set partly in Puritan times), and dealing with the failing health and eventual passing of my mother.

Mom with lily

After dealing with a bit of depression over her loss, I came to acknowledge she’s in a much better place and much happier being reunited with my dad. And I felt ready to move on in this new venture that was inspired, in the first place, by my mother. She always read to me both as a child and as an adult (she’d read aloud to anyone who would listen…she loved an audience) and so it feels only natural and right to read books aloud to others.

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At the close of Part 2, I promised in this posting to focus on ACX and how it works with both authors and narrators. In fact, the first lesson I had as part of that Master Class dealt with how best to use ACX to produce audiobooks. Since I’m both an author and a narrator, let me approach this topic from each side successively.

 

AS AN AUTHOR

ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) was created to be a market maker between rights holders (authors, publishers, trusts administering the rights of deceased authors, and aggregators of products not in the public domain) and talent (narrators and producers). Owned by Audible, which is, in turn, owned by Amazon, ACX helps rights holders find the perfect voice(s) for their books.

Unlike other sites used to link rights holders and talent together, it’s free for you authors to use. Not only will you find the talent you need there, but ACX enables the project every step of the way from providing a contract and messaging system between you and your narrator…to uploading, approving, and preparing the finished project for Audible…to helping market the audiobook by providing free promo codes to both you and your narrator for free review copies. AND they take care of all money earned by depositing royalties, etc. directly into your bank account (or by check if you prefer).

You can either distribute through them exclusively (meaning your audiobook will be available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes) at a higher royalty rate (40% split equally between you and the talent), or go the non-exclusive route for a lower rate. (But I think you’d be nuts not to go exclusive since, after all, Audible controls 99% of the marketplace and it’s the exclusive provider to both Amazon and iTunes.)

ACX will even provide a “bounty” payment of $50.00 (split evenly between you and the talent) each time your audiobook is the first book bought by a brand new member of Audible. (I earned an extra $150 that way for my novel, THE RECKONING.) Why would they do this? Because they recognize that the average value of a new subscriber to Audible is $200 and your book has brought them a new subscriber.

It’s true that ACX determines the price of your audiobook (the longer the recording, the higher the price…a 5-10 hour book will cost around $10), but on Audible, where membership is around $15 per month, most books cost a credit and members automatically get a credit per month. So price is not usually an issue.

The only real decisions authors have to make are:

  • Whether to narrate and produce their audiobooks themselves
  • Which few pages of their manuscript to use for an audition
  • Which talent to choose if they’re not going to do it themselves
  • Whether to pay the narrator a fixed sum per finished hour ($0-1,000, depending on the talent), or pay nothing upfront and instead share royalties (50-50), or arrange a stipend deal with the narrator (if ACX itself doesn’t list your book as a stipend book…it sometimes will for books it thinks will do well; in that case, you split royalties, but ACX also pays your narrator a stipend of $150 per finished hour)

Once you’ve entered into a contract with your talent, all you will need to do is provide a copy of the manuscript (preferably in PDF format), listen to each uploaded chapter as it’s finished to catch mistakes or “pick-ups” so the narrator can re-do them, approve the final production, and upload a square cover image for the audiobook.

The Reckoning-2

So how do you get started?

  1. Go to www.ACX.com and click “SIGN UP NOW”
  2. Sign in with your Amazon account
  3. Enter your Personal Information (at bottom of page, select “I Am Author,” etc.)
  4. Enter your Payment Information
  5. Read The Fine Print
  6. Check “I have read and accept the terms set forth above.”
  7. Now when you log in you can click on a link that says “Assert more titles” in the “Open for Auditions” box and a list of your books will come up. You can choose which to make into an audiobook. Just follow the directions in the upper right hand corner

 

studio microphone isolated on a dark  background

studio microphone isolated on a dark background

AS A NARRATOR/PRODUCER

Again, ACX is completely free to use. There are no hidden fees for registration, premium placement, being listed as talent, or auditioning for a job. And you don’t have to pay a commission when you get a narrating job.

ACX is also “union friendly,” meaning any book listed on the site can be voiced by either union or non-union talent.

Unlike other voiceover job websites, ACX handles all the invoicing and payments, so you don’t have to stress out over getting rights holders to pay you.

You can choose to charge per finished hour (PFH) or share royalties…or do both by offering a hybrid stipend. (The author pays you a basic $150 PFH rate upfront and you share royalties.)

In addition, ACX helps promote you on their site by:

  • Displaying your customer profile(s)
  • Displaying your portfolio of demos
  • Highlighting if you’re an Audible Approved Producer

You narrators follow the same procedure as authors in getting started on the ACX site (except you select “I Am Narrator” and check “Narrate audiobooks” under “And I do the following”). In addition, before looking for projects for which to audition, you should:

  1. Create your ACX Profile (simple and to the point is best) using your Professional Name…if you do it well, authors may invite you to audition.
  2. Select your geographic location
  3. Indicate your gender
  4. Add your voiceover website (no personal website, LinkedIn profile, or FB page)
  5. Add Samples of your work
  6. Indicate how you want to be paid

One more thing…and this applies to both authors and narrators:

ACX is always very helpful if you’ve got a problem with the project or you’re confused in any way. Just email your question or concern to support@acx.com and they’ll get back to you within a few days. Believe me, they will!

Next week, in Part 4, I’ll share the good and bad of my experience producing my first four audiobooks, including my retail samples.

“Monday Mystery” – CROOKED HOUSE

Marlene Bateman has another brand new Erica Coleman Mystery out, entitled CROOKED HOUSE. And I am honored and pleased to kick off its blog tour.

ACrooked House Blog BANNER with dates

Synopsis

Someone is trying to kill Liz Johnson and it’s up to quirky private investigator, Erica Coleman, to find out who. Erica is no stranger to murder and mystery, which is why her best friend’s daughter, Megan, turns to her when unaccountable and potentially fatal “accidents” threaten her roommate’s life.

Once Erica arrives at the ramshackle old mansion known as Crooked House, matters go from disturbing to deadly as it becomes clear someone is trying to kill Liz. As Erica begins to unearth secrets, she discovers a twisted web of love, money, greed, and deception. Although the police and friends sometimes find Erica’s OCD annoying, its those very traits that help her sift through evidence and see clues that others miss. Erica must draw upon her all her investigative prowess to keep Liz safe and unmask the killer before he can accomplish his deadly objective.

With a dash of romance and surprising twists, this thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. As with all Erica Coleman mysteries, ten delicious recipes are included.

A Cover for A Crooked House

Excerpt

“I’m scared.”

Erica’s heart turned over when she heard the quaver in her young friend’s voice on the phone.

Then Megan asked, “Can you come?”

“Of course.” Erica’s reply was automatic. She would do anything she could to help. Although she often received emotionally-laden phone calls in her job as a private investigator, there was a difference when the call came from the teen-aged daughter of her best friend. The very fact that Megan—who was usually so calm and composed—sounded frightened out of her wits, put Erica on high alert.

“I think someone’s trying to kill my roommate, Liz,” Megan said.

“What makes you think that?” Erica asked. “Has someone threatened her?”

“No, but Liz has had a couple of serious accidents lately—at least she says they’re accidents, but either one of them could have killed her.”

Erica made an effort to reel in her skepticism. “Tell me about them.”

“First, someone tampered with her car. The brakes went out and Liz ended up driving across someone’s yard and hitting a tree. Fortunately, she was okay. The second one happened downtown. Liz was on the sidewalk waiting for the bus when someone shoved her. She fell into the road. A truck was coming and if a guy hadn’t pulled her back, Liz could have been killed.”

Still, they could have been accidents, Erica thought, at least until the third one occurred—this time at Crooked House.

A picture of Marlene Bateman

Bio

Marlene Bateman was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan. Her hobbies include gardening, camping, reading, and enjoying her four cats and three dogs.

A Cover for Motive for MurderMarlene’s first novel was the best-selling Light on Fire Island. Her next novel was Motive for Murder—the first in a mystery series that features Erica Coleman, a quirky private eye with OCD. The next book in that line, (they do not have to be read in order) is A Death in the Family.

A Cover for A Death in the FamilyMarlene has also written a number of LDS non-fiction books under the name Marlene Bateman Sullivan. Those books include: Gaze Into Heaven; Near-death Experiences in Early Church History, which is a fascinating collection of over 50 documented near-death experiences from the lives of early latter-day Saints, Heroes of Faith, and Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines. Marlene also wrote three books about documented accounts in early LDS church history when a person either saw or heard an angel; Visit’s From Beyond the Veil, And There Were Angels Among Them, and By the Ministering of Angels.

All three mysteries in the series are available in such physical bookstores as Deseret Book and Seagull Book, as well as online at Amazon, Deseret Book, and Seagull Book.

For more information about the author, check out her website as well as my previous  interview with her.

My Foray Into Audiobooks – Pt. 2

Well, as you can see by comparing the dates of my last post and this one, it took me much longer than a week to continue this story.

Why?

Because I took an in-depth ACX Master Class in audiobook narration during the whole month of February and then hit the ground running in terms of setting up my narrator profile on ACX, auditioning for narrating jobs (I have two more lined up besides my own two novels and my friend’s novel), and actually beginning the recording of THE RECKONING (more on all of those things later).

First, I want to share my mistakes. We learn by mistakes, but we often don’t have to make them ourselves if we can learn by someone else’s. So, hopefully, I’ll save some of you some added expense, time, and grief.

Unless you want to become a professional sound engineer, you don’t need all the equipment recommended by ACX in their how-to-do-it-yourself video. I believe that video is now a bit out of date and ought to be re-done in order to save people a lot of headaches. I’m not saying the principles demonstrated aren’t true. They are. But there are cheaper, less complicated alternatives to some of the recommended items. And some are freely available to the aspiring audiobook narrator/producer.

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The most important piece of equipment is a good microphone (along with adequate headphones), and I don’t regret getting the one I ended up with: the Røde NT1A. I got a good deal on it because it came in a package that included a shock mount and pop filter. It’s an excellent studio mic, not a USB mic, so it required a microphone stand (I got the boom kind for flexibility) and an audio interface.

Here’s where I made my first mistake. Since ACX recommended Pro Tools as their audio editing software of choice, and said I could get the software included free with an audio interface called the MBox Mini, I went ahead and ordered it off of Amazon. It can be expensive, so I ordered one of the used deals because the seller claimed the software was included. Well, it may have been included but by the time I got it, the owner of Pro Tools had switched its support website around and, try as I might, I could not get the program to upload on my new MacBook Pro.

Long story short…I gave up on the MBox Mini and Pro Tools because:

1. I couldn’t get my mic to work on the MBox Mini and I couldn’t access the software.

2. The more I read about Pro Tools (which I should have done in the first place, before buying it), the more apparent it became that it had a monster learning curve.

3. I discovered a much simpler, more intuitive audio editing program called TwistedWave that was designed for Macs and only cost $80.

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So I ended up ordering the Scarlett 2i2 audio interface, which works really well with my mic.

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By the time I was getting the hang of TwistedWave and feeling ready to start recording, I took the plunge and registered for the ACX Master Class (not sponsored by ACX, but conducted by two well known professionals in the voiceover and narration field, one of whom is an Audible Approved Narrator).

Through twice weekly conference calls and online support (training videos, templates, etc.), I soon learned there was an even cheaper and more efficient way to go than TwistedWave.

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You can download Audacity for free and that, plus a couple of other plugins (also free) should give you most of what you need to successfully produce audiobooks. I can’t give away all the secrets here (including the essential editing secret which put me firmly in the Audacity camp). After all, the class cost a hefty amount, is only offered once a year, and I don’t think sharing all I learned would be considered “fair use.”

But I highly recommend it if you’re serious about getting into the business.

One thing I will share: There’s an excellent USB mic alternative…the Audio-Technica AT2020USB PLUS Cardioid Condenser mic, which doesn’t necessitate an audio interface like the Scarlett 2i2, and is more portable in case you need to do auditions on the road, etc.

Come back next Monday (and, yes, this time I will have something new posted by then) for Part 3 when I talk about how ACX is set up for both authors and narrators.

My Foray Into Audiobooks – Part 1

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(A peek into my home recording studio)

A little over two years ago, I thought about venturing into a new market with my books–the world of audiobook listeners. I dove straight in on the Internet and soon discovered this site called ACX, which stands for Audiobook Creation Exchange. At the time, I didn’t fully understand the site but learned this much:

If I wanted to, I could narrate and produce an audiobook version of both of my books and make it available on Amazon and Audible. (I don’t recall if iTunes was part of the deal then, but I do know that this was before Amazon bought Audible.)

The idea REALLY appealed to me. Why? Because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading aloud to other people. I think I got it from my mom, who, at 89, still tries to read things aloud to us. And besides, the others in my writing groups were always telling me I should look into doing it professionally because I read so well and with such characterization, etc.

So, I got a few recording items that Christmas–a really nice microphone, boom stand, shock mount, pop filter, nice headphones, and an external hard drive. I got those particular items because they were on sale and they were all recommended by the video guy on ACX as being necessary to any home studio. And I never even took them out of their boxes. They stayed stowed away in my closet, along with my ambition, to hibernate for another year and a half.

Then on January 1, 2014, we moved to Southern Utah. The boxes came with us. And I still didn’t open them. This time I had a better excuse. The recording space I needed to set up in was currently being occupied by our daughter, who had moved with us. I bided my time, planning some day to pursue the audiobook thing.

One day in May, as I and a good friend and fellow writer were driving back home from the LDStorymakers Conference, we got to talking about goals. I mentioned my intention to eventually try recording my own audiobooks and, like she often does, she basically grabbed the ball and began to run with it.

MY FRIEND:  “What would you need to get going on it?”

ME:  “Well, I need the right recording space, but right now the room’s being occupied by my daughter.”

MY FRIEND:  “Do you have to be in a separate room? Can’t we make kind of a portable, soundproof recording booth?”

ME:  “Well, maybe…”

MY FRIEND:  “How big would it need to be? What should it be made out of?”

ME:  “I don’t know. I’m not an expert at this, but I do know that cloth or clothing muffles sound well. That’s why so many people set themselves up in their walk-in closets.”

MY FRIEND:  “Well, there you go. Use your walk-in closet.”

ME:  “Can’t. It’s got marble flooring, no carpeting like back in Washington.”

I thought that would do it, but my friend is as persistent as the mule that once took her down (and that’s a whole other story you ought to hear some time), and she was soon back on the idea of building me some kind of portable booth that I could set up in any quiet corner of our home.

She had a bunch of canvas material left over from another project she and her husband had taken on, and she knew where she could buy big styrofoam panels. So she proposed a deal:

She’d build me a portable sound booth in the next 3-4 months in exchange for my narrating her re-write of one of her novels for free (after I first recorded my own novel, THE RECKONING). The rest of the ride south was taken up with setting some very specific goals, almost none of which we really accomplished.

But she was true to her word and she built me that sound booth. Unfortunately, by the time she delivered it, I’d had my fall and broken my left foot and was laid up, unable to venture very far from the living room sofa, much less go downstairs and attempt any recording.

So the seven canvas covered styrofoam panels, ingeniously designed to fit together with velcro straps to form a 4 x 6 foot cubicle sat in a storage closet along with my recording equipment, waiting for me to heal.

Fortunately, in the meantime, my daughter got engaged to a wonderful young man and we began planning a December wedding. My foot was strong enough to dance at that wedding and a few days after they left on their honeymoon, my husband helped me set up that portable booth in her now-empty bedroom.

That Christmas I also got the rest of the equipment I thought I needed (more on that in Part 2) and I finally began to assemble my home studio a month ago. I was in a hurry now because my friend had talked me into doing a presentation on our little audiobook adventure at the next ANWA Conference February 20th and 21st in Mesa, AZ.

Stay tuned for a rundown of all my mistakes next Monday.

“Monday Mystery” – THE MYSTERIOUS DOLL (Amelia Moore Detective Series)

Here is the latest mystery in Linda Weaver Clarke’s series. Amelia Moore, the founder of the Moore Detective Agency, specializes in missing persons. Her cases have taken her to some very interesting places and put her in some dangerous situations, but she always solves the case. With the help of her partner, Rick Bonito, the business is flourishing and now she’s got another case:

Mysterious Doll web

Synopsis

Pauline Jones is confused why her boyfriend took off without telling a soul where he was going. But that isn’t all. Sam Whitaker is accused of stealing a valuable porcelain doll from the museum. His disappearance makes him look guilty, but Pauline is convinced he is innocent. When Amelia finds Sam, she realizes they need to prove his innocence. Where is the antique doll and who has taken it?

Excerpt

As she closed the drawer, a young woman walked through the door with red-rimmed eyes. It looked as if she had been crying, and Amelia could tell she was upset.

“You’ve just got to help me,” said Pauline as she pushed her thick dark hair out of her eyes. “Sam’s innocent. He didn’t do it.” With a look of despair, she softly said, “Sam didn’t steal that porcelain doll. He’s not a thief. He’s been framed.”

As Amelia sat down, she motioned to a chair in front of her desk. “Please have a seat, Miss Jones.”

Pauline walked to the chair and sat down. She then took a calming breath and said, “A porcelain doll was stolen from the museum.”

Amelia nodded. “I read about it in the paper.”

“Well, the very day it disappeared… so did Sam. The police think he took it.” She wrung her hands and said adamantly, “But it’s not true.”

“Tell me why you think he’s innocent,” said Amelia.

“Because I know him. He wouldn’t do such a thing. Not Sam. He’s too smart for that. Besides, why would he become a thief just before asking me to marry him?”

Amelia raised a curious brow. “How do you know he was going to propose?”

Pauline leaned forward and said, “It wasn’t hard to figure out. A woman can tell those kinds of things. Lately we’ve been talking about a more serious relationship. But that isn’t all. I accidentally found an engagement ring in his glove compartment. Of course, I didn’t tell him. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.’

When Amelia laughed, a slight smile tugged at Pauline’s lips.

After a moment, Pauline became sober as she asked, “Miss Moore, will you please find him for me?”

Lindaforweb

Bio

Linda Weaver Clarke travels throughout the United States, teaching people to write their family history and autobiography. She has traveled to seventeen states and given over 450 workshops. Clarke is the author of several historical sweet romances, a mystery/adventure series, a children’s book, and a cozy mystery series. All her books are family friendly.

(If you want to know more about Linda, check out my earlier interview with her here.)

THE MYSTERIOUS DOLL can be purchased online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. In fact, all her e-books are available at Smashwords.

“Monday Mystery” – 3 Romantic Suspense Novels, All for only $.99

TTT Too Deep 3-D cover

I try not to toot my own horn too much, but today my book, THE RECKONING, is available in ebook form in a box set, which also includes Christy Barritt’s HOME BEFORE DARK and Julie Coulter Bellon’s ALL FALL DOWN. Titled TOO DEEP, the set features suspense novels with a touch of romance. And the whole set is on sale beginning today for only 99 cents!

Here’s a peek at each story:

HOME BEFORE DARK by Christy Barritt

Home Before DarkSynopsis

Nothing good ever happens after dark. Those were the words country singer Daleigh McDermott’s father always repeated. Now her father is dead, and Daleigh fears she’s returned home too late to make things right. As she’s about to flee back to Nashville, she finds a hidden journal belonging to her father. His words hint that his death was no accident. Small town mechanic Ryan Shields is the only one who seems to believe that Daleigh may be on to something. Her father trusted the man, but Daleigh’s instant attraction to Ryan scares her. She knows her life and career, however dwindling it might be, are back in Nashville and that her time in the sleepy North Carolina town is only temporary. As Daleigh and Ryan work to unravel the mystery, it becomes obvious that someone wants them dead. They must rely on each other—and on God—if they hope to make it home before the darkness swallows them whole.

Christy Barritt

Bio

Christy Barritt is an author, freelance writer and speaker who lives in Virginia. She’s married to her Prince Charming, a man who thinks she’s hilarious–but only when she’s not trying to be. Christy’s a self-proclaimed klutz, an avid music lover who’s known for spontaneously bursting into song, and a road trip aficionado. She’s only won one contest in her life–and her prize was kissing a pig (okay, okay… actually she did win the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Suspense and Mystery for her book Suspicious Minds also). You can find out more about her work here.

ALL FALL DOWN by Julie Coulter Bellon

All Fall Down

Synopsis

Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down… That simple rhyme turns negotiator Claire Michaels’ current hostage situation into an international incident. As the crisis escalates, Claire realizes she’s dealing with an al-Qaeda operative with the potential to attack America. Can she overcome her scars of the past in order to get the hostage out alive and possibly stop an assault on U.S. national security? Navy SEAL Rafe Kelly is on leave to recover from a knee injury he suffered during his tour in Afghanistan and he doesn’t expect to be fighting terrorists on his home turf. But when he is taken hostage and his brother is kidnapped, Rafe teams up with a hostage negotiator in order to stay alive and get his brother back. The situation quickly turns from desperate to deadly. Will Rafe be able to save himself and his country without anyone he loves getting caught in the crossfire?

Julie Coulter Bellon

Bio

Julie is married with eight children and ten published books. She loves to travel and her favorite cities she’s visited so far are probably Athens, Paris, Ottawa, and London. She would love to visit Hawaii, Australia, Ireland, and Scotland someday. She loves to read, write, teach, watch Castle, Hawaii Five-O, and eat Canadian chocolate. Not necessarily in that order. Her website can be found here.

THE RECKONING by Tanya Parker Mills

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Synopsis

Journalist Theresa Fuller has epilepsy, but this hasn’t slowed her search for stories of injustice to broadcast to the world. When she and her cameraman, Peter Cranston, are captured inside Iraq, she is cut off from her medication. Seizures resume, and dreams and visions of her American childhood in Baghdad begin to trouble her. Tormented by the relentless Colonel Badr, she is forced to focus on her own father’s death years before in a Baghdad prison. The strain of her own captivity is relieved only by her growing attraction to Tariq al-Awali, the Iraqi captain who took charge of her capture. The more she learns of him and his family, the clearer her haunting dreams become, and the more puzzling her past. Before American bombs begin to fall, and all of Iraq is thrown into even darker chaos, Theresa must find a way to escape the cruelty of Colonel Badr, and save those she cares for most.

(I don’t think you need my author photo and bio here. It would be redundant. But do check out my book trailer in the side menu. :D)

If you can spare a dollar for three great, exciting reads, here’s the link to order the set on Kindle. It would also be a terrific Christmas gift for your friends who are into suspense. If you wait too long, the price will go up.

FISHING 101: Choosing the Right Bait to Hook Your Reader

I know, I know. I was going to write, publish, and record in October . . . and I haven’t. You see, I’ve been absent from my website for several weeks due to an injury that required surgery and recovery time, but hopefully I’m back now. During that period I had to cancel one appearance at the ANWA Northwest Writer’s Retreat, but I managed to hobble my way around in a boot (and on a knee scooter) for my presentation at the recent Kanab Writer’s Conference.

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It was titled “Fishing 101: Choosing the Right Bait to Hook Your Reader,” and, as promised to those in attendance, I’m posting the main points of my presentation here:

I’d heard a great presentation by Tess Hilmo at this year’s LDStorymakers Conference in April about what agents and editors are looking for in the beginnings of manuscripts. She based it on what she learned from two of her editors. According to them, within the first 50 pages of your fictional work, you should:

line

1. DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND

This means you make an assertion about your main character that the reader knows will be overturned in the end. In Tale of Desperaux, the mouse is told he is nothing, but the reader knows he will be a lot more. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Harry is nothing, an orphan . . . but the reader knows he’s special because of the scar. In other words, you’ve got to make the protagonist believe he/she is not special and then use the story to prove otherwise. It makes for a strong character arc.

 

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2. FOLD, DON’T DUMP IN CHARACTERS AND INFORMATION

All important characters should be introduced in a gradual, natural way by page 50, not page 5, with backstory being dribbled in, a bit at a time. This allows your readers to be both smart and patient. And your story doesn’t get bogged down in backstory.

 

ticking clock

3. INTRODUCE A TICKING CLOCK IN THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS

It can be either time-related or situational. If it’s time-related, this means your protagonist only has a set time to accomplish something. Think of The Hunger Games, for example. A ticking clock builds suspense and tension and drives the reader to keep turning the pages. If it’s situational, this means an approaching event, such as a flood, threatens to cut short the protagonist’s time as in Three Rivers Rising.

 

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4. PLAGUE YOUR PROTAGONIST WITH DISCOMFORTS AND OBSTACLES

These can be both outer and inner challenges. It’s very effective to make the menacing seem ordinary at first. Professor Quirrel was an apparently harmless teacher in the first Harry Potter book, while Snape was shaped to look like the real villain until things turned at the end of the book. You’ll want to insert compelling details that, upon hindsight at the end, take on a more menacing light.

 

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5. PULL YOUR STORY THREADS THROUGH THE ENTIRE BOOK

Every so often, something seeded early needs to be touched on again (whether it’s a character’s idiosyncrasies or habits or whatever) just enough to make it consistent without being annoying. No more than 4-5 times throughout the whole story, perhaps once every 30-50 pages or so. Pull them gently, thoroughly, and seamlessly so they don’t stand out but feel like a natural part of the story.

 

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6. RELY ON INTERNAL FOCUS, OR VOICE, RATHER THAN EXTERNAL EXPERIENCE

Bring the story to life with specific details and tap into your inner feelings to produce an authentic voice for your character. Remember that your voice is your soul and readers want to connect with that, so you have to be willing to be vulnerable.

 

pie in quarters

7. FOLLOW THE RULE OF QUARTERS

Use the first quarter of your novel to set up characters, implant the setting in the reader’s mind, draw your line in the sand, and add a ticking clock. You should have something exciting, compelling, or heart-wrenching in each of the second and third quarters to build or maintain momentum and engagement. Use the last quarter to wrap up details, pull final threads through, and end the story.

Every quarter needs something real, something remembered and something imagined. The “real” refers to what’s happening in your story. The “remembered” refers to backstory (which should be no more than 5% of the quarter) or characters remembering their inadequacies. The “imagined” refers to thinking ahead . . . the protagonist imagining a better future (and, again, this should comprise no more than 5% of the quarter).

 Hooked

I then shared some tips from Les Edgerton’s excellent book, HOOKED.

According to Edgerton, you should include most, if not all, of the following in your opening scene:

  • Inciting incident
  • Story-worthy problem
  • Initial surface problem
  • Necessary setup and backstory
  • Stellar opening sentence
  • Powerful language
  • Introduction on protagonist
  • Setting
  • Foreshadowing

Don’t start out with a dream, an alarm clock buzzing, unintentional humor, too little dialogue, or all dialogue. He also advises against prologues unless it’s a crucial brief scene setting up the story or it’s for a book in an already established series. Remember, short is best. As he put it, “First chapters should end powerfully, leaving the character worse off than when the chapter began.” The powerful ending is important because you don’t want to leave the reader wondering, like Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”

I also shared some terrific quotes from agents and editors as to what they look for in the first few pages of a manuscript, but you’re going to have to buy your own copy of HOOKED to get those, as well as further details about his “must haves” for an opening scene.

Anyway, I’ll be posting more about baiting your readers in the future. Hope this helps!

As for my writing, publishing, and recording . . . one out of three ain’t bad, eh? Beginning November 9th, my story THE RECKONING will be available in ebook form along with two other great novels by two other authors, all for only $.99! I’ll post more about it in a few days.

Once I finish mailing out all my daughter’s wedding announcements, I’ll get back on track with my writing too. I’m afraid the recording will have to wait until January once the wedding is past.

“Monday Mystery” – BLIND MAN’S BARGAIN

In the mood for a mystery with a great twist right at the end? You might want to check out Tracy Winegar’s latest, BLIND MAN’S BARGAIN.

Final BMB cover

Synopsis

When a blind old man hobbles into Nelson Rune’s private investigation office, the young PI doesn’t expect to be hired to solve a forty-five year old murder mystery.

Harry Fletcher claims he adored his wife, Caroline — so why did he go to prison for her murder?

With the help of Cleo, his pretty neighbor, young Nelson will sift through clues of Harry and Caroline’s marriage to clear Harry’s name and find the real killer.

Tracy Winegar seamlessly weaves a story of love and secrets, opportunities and regrets in a novel that surprises to the very last page.

Excerpt

Nelson reviewed everything he had pertaining to Harry Fletcher’s case and had come to the conclusion that there was nothing that he hadn’t overlooked in his own trove of records and evidence. He determined that he would have to figure out a way to actually look at the evidence from that night. He would have to try to talk his way into being allowed to see it; that’s what he would do. But how?

When he inquired into the matter, he was told that no one was allowed access to evidence, even to a case as old as the Fletcher case. It was an irritation, much worse than a burr under a saddle. To come so close to wrapping it up, to nearly having all of the loose ends neatly tied, and then be rebuffed was more than he could bear.

And then it dawned on him. As he struggled with sleep one night, the answer came to him in a soft sibilant murmur to his brain, as if someone else had given him the solution to his problem. If he wanted to see the evidence, he was going to have to steal it…

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Bio

Tracy Winegar enjoys cooking and gardening in her free time. She loves all things vintage and considers several family heirlooms to be her prized possessions. She’s also always on the lookout to score pieces to add to her growing Jadeite collection. Tracy lives with her husband and four beautiful children in Northern Utah. Although she doesn’t mind living in the desert, she still misses the green of the Midwest where she was born and raised. Her philosophies of life, love, and family are deeply anchored in those small town Indiana roots.

(If you want to know more about Tracy, check out my earlier interview with her here.)

BLIND MAN’S BARGAIN can be purchased online from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

October is for Publishing, Writing, and Recording!

It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have . . . in between house guests. But there have been so many that my writing time has shrunk. The wonderful thing about moving to St. George, Utah is this: Suddenly, we’re on the way to wherever so many of our acquaintances are going! And sometimes, we’re even the destination. We’re right off I-15 (not so close that we don’t have peace and quiet) and this time we have lots of extra sleeping space too. It’s been wonderful to have friends and family pass through, stay over, or even just meet for lunch. Indeed, those who stay over generally get treated to our New York (German-style) pancakes!

photo

But . . . Now that September has hit, it’s time to buckle down and firm up my routine again. Besides, I’m presenting at two different venues in October: ANWA’s Northwest Writer’s Retreat and the Kanab Writer’s Conference. So, along with my regular writing, I’ve got to prepare my presentation about hooking readers.

Northwest Writers Retreat(ANWA Northwest Writers Retreat)

2014 Kanab Writers Conference

(Kanab Writers Conference)

Also in October, my first novel, THE RECKONING, is being published as part of an e-book box set by Mirror Press. The Triple Treat Romance set is called “Too Deep” and features romantic suspense novels by best-selling authors Julie Coulter Bellon and Christy Barritt, as well as my own. So, if you liked THE RECKONING, this might make a terrific Christmas gift for friends and family.

TTT Too Deep 3-D cover

Not only that, but Liz Adair and I are teaming up to record audio books! She’s making me a portable sound booth and I’m going to handle the equipment and do the recording, beginning with my first novel. After all, I’ve been told I have a fairly good reading voice and style, and I trust myself to put an Arabic accent on the English (and the smattering of Arabic words) used by my Iraqi characters.

Admit it. When you read a book, wouldn’t you want to hear it read by the author, the person who knows the story and its characters best?

After that, I’ll tackle my second novel, A NIGHT ON MOON HILL, and Liz’s COUNTING THE COST. So stay tuned. I’ll be providing more details in the coming weeks.

“Wednesday Writer” – Tracy Winegar

As I wrote last week, Tracy Winegar and I share a couple of things in common: we both have sons with an autistic spectrum disorder, and we both wrote novels about it, though she set hers, KEEPING KELLER, in an earlier time period long before doctors really knew what to do about it.

Tracy WinegarME:  What was it like growing up in Indiana, and who were your earliest and/or strongest literary influences? Also, how would you compare the Western and Midwestern mindsets, and where do you come down between the two?

TRACY:  Growing up in Indiana was not a bad way to spend my youth. I had a fairly carefree childhood. I was the third of eight children. My mom was a stay at home mom. She was very fun and had a great sense of humor. My dad provided for our family. I had nothing but sisters until I was about five years old, when my brother was born and then two more sisters before my last sibling, another brother, was born. I grew up in cornfields and with a small town mindset. There were very few LDS people in our area, so I knew from an early age that I was very different, at times excluded because of it. Hard work was important and I began working part time when I was fourteen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Tracy as a teenager)

I spent summer vacations on my grandparents’ farm in Tennessee. When I think of my favorite places, that is one of them. It was quiet, and beautiful, and simple. Very few distractions gave me and my brothers and sisters the opportunity to use our imaginations and spend time in the great outdoors. My grandmother was a great storyteller and we loved to sit with her and hear her stories of when she was growing up and how she met Grandpa and fell in love.

I enjoyed a lot of different activities, but I loved drama and I loved writing. Each year they had a competition called the Young Authors Competition. I entered every year and always placed. (So, the talent showed itself early!) The prize for winning was that you were able to attend a lecture with a real life author. That was when I got to hear some of the great authors of my youth speak, one of which was Judy Blume.

Judy Blume(Judy Blume)

When I was young I loved to read Pippi Longstockings, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Little Women, Calico Captive, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

As I got a little older, one of my biggest influences was a teacher I had my sixth grade year. Mrs. Meier-Fisher. She had us read some really beautiful literature and she gave us some great writing assignments. I was on cloud nine when she read one of my pieces to the class as an example. (I’ll bet!) She had us read some of the great Hoosier writers and I fell in love with Gene Stratton Porter.

Gene Stratton Porter(Indiana poet and novelist Gene Stratton Porter)

One of my Grandma Beaty’s favorite books was her novel, A Girl of the Limberlost, and when I read it I was in love with it too. I also really loved James Whitcomb Riley, another Indiana author who had become a great poet. In seventh grade I read Gone With the Wind and loved it as well. I discovered that anything historical was right up my alley, fiction or non-fiction alike.

James Whitcomb Riley(James Whitcomb Riley)

I am still very much a Midwesterner, although I have lived in Utah for the past twelve years. I like things simple and uncomplicated. I love being home with my family as much as possible, and I miss the green landscape and beautiful stretches of empty land. I would love an acreage, but land here is very expensive and every space is taken up with houses. Gone are the cornfields and soy bean fields that stretched for miles.

ME:  When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and what brought about that realization?

TRACY:  When I was a kid, I loved paper. Before I could even write I spent a great deal of time “writing” cursive loops, although none of it was actually words. In third grade I wrote a tall tales story for a school wide competition and was hooked when I was one of the winners.

I did a lot of creative writing in high school, but then I got married and had children and didn’t have a lot of time for writing. When I turned thirty, I told my husband that it was a dream of mine to write a novel and so I began and I kept at it and somehow managed to finish the thing. That was my first novel KEEPING KELLER.

Keeping Keller 1

ME:  Why did you move to Utah at 19? And if it involved college, how did your college studies impact the kinds of things you write today?

TRACY:  I moved to Utah because I wanted an adventure. I moved to Utah because I wanted to see what it was like to be surrounded by people who were like me and not be the odd man out for once. (I know exactly what you mean. That’s why I went to Utah after high school in Beirut.) It was fun to be able to go to parties and to have social events where I knew I would be welcome. I enjoyed dating and being independent. I missed my family very much, but also was happy to be experiencing new experiences.

ME:  What type of writer do you aspire to be, and which writers have influenced you the most?

TRACY:  My goal is to try and make people feel something when they read my writing. To invoke a reaction, to get people to relate on some level to the story or the characters would make me a happy character.

I love classic literature and I enjoy historical fiction. It’s hard to say who has influenced me the most, because I have read so many quality books by so many awesome writers. My favorites are the books that leave me feeling haunted… I just can’t forget the characters or the storyline. As I stated before, I love A Girl of the Limberlost, but I also loved Gone With the Wind and A Tale of Two Cities. More recent books that I enjoyed were The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.

Kate Morton(Australian author Kate Morton)

While many great authors have inspired my work, I also attribute my writing style to the themes I know best. Motherhood, marriage, and my relationships with friends and my family (thanks Mom and Dad) are themes that are always reoccurring in my writing, because that is what I know best.

(And it shows.)

ME:  Strangely enough, I’d forgotten we were both Whitney Finalists in 2008 in the General Fiction category for our first novels, KEEPING KELLER (yours) and THE RECKONING (mine). (That’s why your title sounded so familiar to me.) As an awards program, what do the Whitneys mean to the LDS writing community in general and to you, personally?

Whitney Awards

TRACY:  I think it’s great that there is a forum for LDS writers. I thought it was a wonderful honor and was very excited to be involved when I was a finalist. It is difficult to be seen or stand out in a field where anyone can publish and the market is saturated with books, both good and bad. This gave me the opportunity to be seen, which is any author’s dream.

(Amen!)

ME:  We’ve both written novels based on our personal experiences with an autistic son. Please tell us a bit about KEEPING KELLER and how much of your son comes through in the book. Also, I’d love to hear the story of your son’s diagnosis and your reaction to it (and post a picture of you with him, if possible).

TRACY:  The character in KEEPING KELLER is nothing but my son. Many of the experiences I wrote about in the book were based upon things that had happened to me. It was very personal. I love the story, but do feel it could have been better with more editing. However, that was a very honest look into the life of a mother dealing with autism, as well as the difficulties she would have encountered during that time period (the 1950s).

I had it much easier than Beverly, because I was able to get help and learn how to work with my son. When he was young, our family life was very complicated and difficult. Thankfully he has gotten a little better and a little better, until we are now in our own comfortable normal. He throws us some curve balls every now and again, but I don’t feel as though I might have a nervous breakdown a majority of the time any more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Tracy with her son, Luke)

My son was my second child. I first had a girl who was very smart and very vocal. He began to develop normally until about eighteen months old. We noticed that the few words he had acquired seemed to be lost. He had odd behaviors that we couldn’t quite figure out. A lot of people told me that it was because he was a boy and that boys were very different than girls. I knew instinctively that something was not right. I persisted in trying to get him help until he was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old. At the time, I was a month away from having my third child, another son.

(I imagine that made you extra nervous.)

One of the reasons we moved back to Utah from Iowa was in order to get my son into the Northern Utah Autism Program. There were many difficult and sad years. It is hard to come to terms with the fact that your child will never be normal. We love him, but Autism is such a devastating thing to live with. We have had many bad experiences, we have been judged and treated badly, but we have also had a lot of compassion and some true friends to come of it.

(That’s a blessing, indeed. It sounds like your son’s on the more severe end of the spectrum. You and your husband must be twice as strong and even more patient.)

Sometimes I see boys his age and think “He would be doing this” or “He could have done that” and I feel sad. But then there are times when I see boys his age and things they are doing and I am very grateful that he is innocent. I will never have a missionary, a football star, see him graduate, or go to college, or get married. But I will always have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and that will always fill my life with the magic of childhood.

(How true!)

ME:  Your second novel, GOOD GROUND, came out last year. What led you to write this story and what are its main themes?

Good GroundTRACY:  I wrote GOOD GROUND based on my love of my grandparents’ farm. I loved the setting and the time period, which was when my grandparents courted and fell in love. I had a deep commitment to telling the story of a man who was what he was because of his rearing.

I like to think that we have the power and ability to change the destiny of children who seem to have no future. I work with children on a daily basis, mine and many others. I see such great potential, but I also, at times, have seen children whose potential has been robbed of them by the adults in their lives and the examples they have set. There are more than a few that I have daydreamed about rescuing, taking into my home and raising as my own.

I also liked the idea that nothing is coincidence, things happen for a reason. The whole analogy of farming tied in so perfectly with the themes of work, family, and investing in something that will produce results. I think the thing I am most proud of is the change that you see in the characters from the beginning to the end, especially Clairey. Interestingly enough, she is someone that many women have related to, which makes me very happy. I love the fact that the love story is very real, based on mutual respect, an established relationship, hard work, and sacrifice.

(Sounds good. I’m going to have to check it out!)

ME:  Are you an organic type of writer when it comes to the process, or do you prefer outlining, and why or why not?

TRACY:  Very, very organic! I always have an end in mind, but I rarely outline. I am far too unorganized and my life is way too unpredictable for me to keep up with planning it all out. I’m not sure if that is beneficial or harmful. I could probably get a lot more done if I were able to outline, but then too, I am open to different impressions and ideas as they come to me and have the ability to be somewhat creative because of my oddball style.

(Yet one more thing we have in common…)

ME:  When do you do your best writing and what are you working on now?

TRACY:  I am definitely best writing in the evening, but I try and write whenever I have a free moment.

Right now I am trying desperately to finish a trilogy set during the Civil War. I have successfully finished the first two novels and am about 2/3 the way through the last. But the last one is KILLING me! Hopefully I will be able to complete it this summer. (Fingers crossed.)

ME:  Finally, I’m of the belief that a writer’s space is crucial. When you consider the area that you use to write, what five things stand out about it that makes it uniquely yours. (And I must have a picture.)

TRACY:  I wish I could say I have a space of my own. I do not. I write where there is quiet. Sometimes that is my dining room table, sometimes my bedroom, sometimes outside on my porch, or sometimes my lunch break at work.

I dream of an office with large open windows in a restored older home. Someday I may actually have that space. Right now I make do with what is available to me.

(Everyone…order Tracy’s books and spread the word so she can afford her own writing space!)

WritingSpace(Her temporary space at the dining room table)

Tracy has a website and a blog, where you can learn much more about her and her writing (and she’s posted lots of pictures on her blog). Her books are available on Amazon.

I only have two more weeks to go in my Wednesday Writer series because after July 2nd I’m putting it on hiatus in order to complete some exciting projects during the rest of the year. So be sure and check back next week to read my interview with Theresa Sneed, who’s recently released Book 1 of a new YA fantasy series.

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