Welcome 2018! Time to open a new chapter on books

(This post is echoed from my Boy From Under blog. If you want to see what my version of a Direct-to-web book looks like visit BoyFromUnder.ca)

Back in November, when I relaunched this web-book, I posted a blog explaining why I believe ‘books’ as we know them have to morph into new forms. expanding the boundaries of what we consider to be literature. Two months isn’t a lot of time to forge ahead with an experiment to that end, certainly not enough to prove so ambitious – perhaps audacious – a point. And if the financial fortunes of writers were the only, or even the most important measure of success, I would certainly not be posting about my progress so far!

But I can say without hesitation, I am excited at the prospect of continuing the project into 2018.

Continue reading “Welcome 2018! Time to open a new chapter on books”

Literary fiction: are all the canaries dead?

Literary Fiction: Post 1 of 3

Two recent reports, one in Canada and the other England, have brought to the fore how writers, particularly of literary fiction, are struggling.

The Writers’ Union of Canada released Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativety (See full report) in 2015. One of its key findings was that writers incomes in this country have declined 27 per cent since 1998, and that incomes from writing for 80 per cent of writers are below the poverty line. Says the report:

These results represent a cultural emergency for Canadians. If we want a strong and diverse publishing and cultural industry, it is essential that creators are reasonably and fairly compensated… Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity, The Writers Union of Canada, 2015

Similarly, Literature in the 21st Century: Understanding Models of Support for Literary Fiction, (See full reportpublished by the Arts Council England, found that sales of literary fiction in England are below what they were in the 1990s, and fewer than 1,000 writers sell enough books to make a career of writing.

Continue reading “Literary fiction: are all the canaries dead?”

Talking on air – Online readings

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The world where our stories live is increasingly made up of streaming bits, bytes and pixels; this writer feels he has to get a handle on digital ‘dissemination’ if he wants his stories to reach an audience (the notion of ‘readers’ is no longer a broad enough). Podcast readings will be an essential part of future authors’ storytelling mix, I believe.

Even if you find the prospect of taking to the digital airwaves daunting, take a deep breath, and read on. Most won’t have the equipment or skill-set to launch into it right away, but for any of you who want to, or have a moderately tech savvy partner to help, the technology is inexpensive and the techniques easily learned.

There are four things you need to consider if you’re thinking of getting into digital readings:

A good digital recorder – On the recommendation of a film-maker friend I ordered a Zoom H1 ‘Handy Recorder’ online. It cost less then $200, including some accessories. Bundled with mine was a program for editing and adjusting audio files. The Zoom H1 records in stereo and produces crisp, rich-sounding audio files. It’s absolutely essential to get a good digital recording device and mic. Your mobile’s or camera’s built in unit won’t be good enough.

An audio editing program – I use Adobe Soundbooth, but there are other programs out there. You need a program that will allow you to see the wave forms so you can: zoom-in to eliminate extraneous sounds; cut flubbed takes and paste together the rest of the narrative; make audio adjustments. I’m a newbie when it comes to editing audio, and don’t know what half the buttons and dials in Soundbooth are meant to do, but after less than an hour’s fiddling, I was able to learn the functions I need to produce reasonably good audio… as for the of the whistles and bells, I’ll learn as I go.

A place to post and link audio files – I have discovered WordPress has a very well designed module that allows you to upload audio files and display them for visitors to your site. The main features of this user-friendly platform are: it allows you to display the audio files on your page like you would indexed chapters and episodes in a book; and the files in each chapter will auto link and open to the next episode, without the listener having to do anything. Go to the audio edition of my online novel The Boy From Under to see what I mean.

A dramatic voice – Everything hinges on your having a good story and being able to deliver it in an engaging voice. Again, many of us have to stretch and learn here. What I’m learning is that dramatic delivery not only increases your hold on the listener, it also gives you as author new insights into the characters that people your stories. I’m finding myself editing as I read, and getting into the story in a new dimension. It’s a great new take on my work.

That, in brief, is all there is to online readings of your work. For anyone interested in learning more, or participating in an online reading workshop, contact me. I’d be happy to set something up, and am sure it would be a fun learning experience.

CSW

Testing, testing, online sound check

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There’s lots of good reasons for posting readings online; no reasons I can think of for not testing, testing, testing the digital audio waters.

I have recently taken the plunge into Direct-to-Web publishing. By that I mean editions of my books that are available in the form of dedicated web sites. By dedicated, I mean the web site is a book, every page and post focused on delivering the titled story. Rather than describe all the features, here’s a link so you can crack open the virtual cover to The Boy From Under and have a look at what I’m talking about.

First thing you might have noticed on the cover page is the options of going to the ‘Text’ or ‘Audio’ versions of the book. In case you didn’t click the audio link, have a look at the Boy From Under readings posted so far. What you will find there is a numbered listing of episodes, all linked to audio files that are, essentially, podcast readings from the book.

Pretty straight forward benefit to audiences that might want to listen hands-free on their mobile devices while they’re doing the dishes for instance, or commuting in a crowd to and from work, or if they just don’t feel like reading and want somebody to read to them.

For authors there are other digital reading benefits to consider. The Boy From Under is being delivered in audio format over a four month period, with roughly one episode of 122 posted daily. By the end of the project, the whole novel will be available for audiences that want to listen online – the text version is already posted and indexed in its entirety.

Every posting of a new audio episode provides me as author a legitimate opportunity to promote something new about my book to my potential audience. And since the book is online, I can disseminate to the whole world, if I choose, using social media strategies to get the message out. I can Facebook and Twitter my announcements, with a direct link to the latest update for them to click, along with an invitation for them to ‘Get into the story…’

Those who haven’t caught the 14 episodes posted so far can catch up by reading the text OL edition, or by cuing previous readings, which are posted online, too. WordPress includes an easy-to-use method for organizing and delivering audio files in a podcast format on web sites. It’s an ideal platform for authors who want to reach audiences with voiced as well as written words.

Next week I’ll go over the equipment and steps that go into posting a novel in audio format. It’s affordable, doable and worth the investment, I think.

Curling up with my mobile phone

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I am one of the canaries in the mine shaft, twittering about the end of the ePub era!

Not, I hasten to add, as a literary Luddite, intent of on smashing the servers that fire digital data off into the stratosphere in bewildering, exponentially accelerating torrents, but as a writer who has moved on from Kindles, Nooks and their multitude of ePub equivalents into the era of direct-to-web publishing.

My first experiment with this publishing and distribution mode, The Boy From Under, has taught me two resounding lessons, it is:

  1. doable for any author with a modest kit of web and social media skills to build on (or friends, or providers, who have those skills);
  2. offers a range of opportunities for engaging, distributing and selling that can’t be touched by any other mode of publication.

And, since works can be self-published and self-promoted in this mode, there’s always the possibility of ‘going conventional,’ should a publisher come along who really wants to acquire rights to your trending, online novel.

Why go direct-to-web?

How can writers, and readers, benefit by direct to web? Let me count the ways:

  1. You can distribute your book just about anywhere on the planet at virtually no cost;
  2. That means you can sell your books for a fraction of the cost faced by conventional publishers;
  3. Virtually all the money you generate for sales will go directly into your bank account (for any of you who have ground your teeth to powder, watching potential earnings dwindle to net zero as book sellers, distributors, printers and publishers take their cuts, this is truly a potential golden goose that won’t be killed);
  4. You can format your book in text and audio easily, and post it in an indexed format that allows readers to get right back to their cued paragraph in an instant;
  5. Readers can tuck into your book anywhere, any time. They can read it or listen to it on their mobile phones, standing on the subway; sneak in a chapter at their desk, when the boss isn’t looking; even retreat to the sanctum-sanctorum of the loo when mayhem rules elsewhere in their world… there’s nowhere your book won’t be available;
  6. You can tie directly into all sorts of social media promotional and engagement opportunities, even allowing readers to suggest changes or revisions to your online ‘work-in-progress.’
  7. Environmentally, there is no more efficient, less destructive means of distributing literature. Think about it: no paper that requires pulped trees; no transportation from press to markets; for that matter, no press either.

Is the time right for direct-to-web?

There’s never a ‘right time’ for change; but the time does come when not changing means being left behind. People looking for the kind of experience literature offers are gravitating more and more to the Internet. If writers and publishers do not fill the void that presently exists online for first rate literary content, that void will be filled by others. I, for one, do not believe people in the near-future will see ‘curling up with a good book’ as anything other than reading or listening to it on the next-gen equivalent of a mobile phone, tablet or laptop.