Up to this point, I’ve made my way by writing fiction. Now I have another project brewing and it’s much different than what I am accustomed to.
And that’s okay.
Why Try True Crime?
I’ll be honest: this isn’t something that I planned out. I’ve always enjoyed true crime content, yet I’ve never really considered dipping my toes into the genre as a writer.
What changed? Quite simply, I found a cold case that caught my attention.
I’m not going to give much away here but I found a story that I was wholly unaware of. It’s a cold case that happened almost 3 decades ago in a small town not far from my hometown. The story of how the events unfolded chilled me to the bone.
Granted, that could be said about countless crimes throughout human history. It’s made worse when there are no answers, no known reason for why something horrible occurred.
That is my true impetus for wanting to do this.
True crime is a delicate genre. In fiction, we’re able to create lives and mold them to our whims. That is far from the case when it comes to actual crimes.
I’m researching what happened to real people, people with lives that were cut short, people who left behind family and friends. In this particular case, those loved ones don’t have answers. I can’t begin to imagine how they feel, how one event changed their lives.
What I can do is strive to tell people about the victims, who they were, what they meant to those they left behind. The event in question may have ended their lives but it doesn’t define their lives. I think that is a very important distinction.
I have no interest in sensationalizing a macabre crime and I wouldn’t be able to sleep very well if I thought I had. That said, there are two main goals that I have:
Tell the victims’s stories. I realize that since this crime is decades old, there may be much information that I can’t get but I intend to tell as much as I can verify. There was more to these people’s lives than being victims.
Raise awareness about the crime. Again, this is not to sensationalize. Instead, I would like to bring this case to more people’s attention. Like I said, I had no knowledge of this crime and it occurred relatively close to where I grew up, as well as the city I now live in.
Where Things Stand
Everything is in the very early stages. I have been gathering information and making notes. I have reached out to a few people, including law enforcement, and am waiting to hear back (if I do).
I did have a good conversation this morning with a journalist who covered the event when it happened. Not only did he provide me with some solid insight but also gave me some avenues to explore.
Still, things are just starting to come together. I am continuing work on my other projects while researching this one. If I am unable to find enough information to share, then I’ll either shelve the project or scale it back.
I don’t want to do either of those things. I want to tell the story the the victims deserve but I won’t compromise for the sake of putting a book out. I wouldn’t do that with my own fiction, let alone something that left lasting impacts on countless lives.
I’ll keep you all updated as things progress. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
I would just like to take a moment to reflect on the fact that it’s nearly November.
Where did the time go?
Then again, I think most of us are ready for 2020 to fade away, so maybe it’s not all bad.
What’s New? (ebook or otherwise)
As you may have heard, I had a bit of a snafu with the pre-order for The Devil’s Backyard. It was 100% my doing and let’s say I’ve learned my lesson. That said, it’s not all bad:
The work, after all, was already done; why not just go ahead and put it out? The audiobook is also in the works, once again featuring the talents of Donald Davenport. Donald handled the production on The Hangman’s Soliloquy audiobook as well. I’ll keep you all posted as that project progresses.
That is the $64,000 question.
I had initially started work on a fourth entry in the Herman Ingram series. For now, that title has been placed on the back burner. I love the characters in this series but I feel like a small break is in order.
In the meantime, I have two projects underway. The first is a modification of an idea that’s been bouncing around my head for years. It’s a middle-grade book that features a protagonist who—after a series of children go missing—learns about a mystical kingdom whose ruler obtains power from nightmares.
Having a 9-year-old, I love the idea of writing something that he can enjoy. I remember how books inspired me when I was a child and the possibility of doing that for others is awe-inspiring. There’s no set release and it’s still relatively early on, though this title will likely be shorter than any of the Herman Ingram books.
The second project also stems from an idea that’s been bouncing around for some time. Set in the southern California town of Salton City, it focuses on Sheriff’s Deputy Ernie Reyes. Ernie is called to the scene of a slaughtered family, the patriarch of which was a childhood friend. One of the children survived and tells Ernie of a masked killer.
Another murder takes place a few nights later. Ernie engages in a foot pursuit and—when the murderer runs at him with a knife—Ernie shoots him. While the coroner works to identify the killer, another murder takes place.
Witnesses give a description of the assailant and, to Ernie’s dismay and confusion, their accounts fit the dead killer to a tee.
That’s All for Now
I’m trying to stay busy but wanted to let everyone know exactly what’s up. Neither of the current projects have a release date set but I will keep you all updated as things progress.
Just a reminder: if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my mailing list. It’s the best way to keep updated on the goings-on and it will net you a free, exclusive ebook!
As writers, we are—among other things—always looking to reach new readers. Well, perhaps markets would be a better word because today I am going to talk about a medium that doesn’t actually involve reading.
Make sense? I thought not.
In previous blogs, we went over KDP Select and Draft2Digital, two ways to distribute ebook and paperback versions of your work. Today, we’re going to take a look at ACX, which gives authors the ability to publish audiobook versions of their books.
What Is ACX?
In the simplest terms, ACX is a marketplace that connects authors to audiobook producers. Once the audiobook is completed, ACX also makes it available for sale through three major platforms: Audible, Amazon, and Apple.
That’s the absolute basic outline.
How Does ACX Work?
Like most legitimate creation and distribution channels, it’s pretty straightforward. You create a free account and add your book in much the same way you would through KDP, Draft2Digital, or any other sales platform.
There is one additional item that you’ll need, namely an audition script. Ideally, you just need 1-2 pages from your manuscript, preferably a collection of scenes featuring different characters and moods. Using this approach will give potential narrators a better feel for your work while giving you a better idea of their range.
Once you find a narrator that you want to work with, you make them an offer (we’ll look deeper into that shortly) and let them do their thing. Once they submit a first 15-minute check-in, you can review it and submit any feedback that you have. If you give your blessing, they will continue until the entire audiobook is created.
Pretty straightforward, right?
Let’s take a deeper look at a few things, shall we?
Finding the Right ACX Narrator
There’s no way around it: the right narrator can make or break your audiobook. Talent and production quality are huge factors, however, they aren’t necessarily the final word in selecting the voice of your book.
You need to find a narrator who fits your book.
I don’t think I need to elaborate on that, but I will. Briefly. Your book has a tone, a mood. Maybe it’s light and carefree. Maybe it’s dark and brooding. Whichever category it fits, you want to ensure that the voice carrying your words to the listeners’ ears matches your creation.
Enter the audition process.
ACX gives you two primary options for selecting a narrator. You can browse existing samples and find one that fits the bill. Taking this approach opens you up to a wide variety of voices but is no guarantee that you’ll be able to land the one that you want.
Narrators in high demand may present a backlog of existing projects, pushing your anticipated release back further than you would like. Of course, this may not be a deal breaker for you if you really love the narrator’s work, but it is something to consider.
The second option involves uploading your audition script and opening it up for auditions. This route involves narrators looking for projects, so it’s critically important that you categorize your project accurately. Once a narrator submits an audition, you’ll be able to review it and contact them.
Whichever route you chose, be sure to pay close attention to the type of offers that the narrator(s) you like accept.
Types of Offers
Before we delve into making an offer to a narrator, it’s important that we take a look at the types of offers available via ACX:
Pay For Production
This method involves you paying the narrator directly. When browsing narrators, you’ll see the type of offers that they accept and you may notice something like $30 PFH. What does this mean?
PFH means Per Finished Hour, meaning that the narrator will get paid their base rate for every hour of your audiobook. As an example, my first novel is 94,354 words, which equates to 10.1 hours. Had I hired a narrator at $30 PFH, I would have paid them $303 upon my approval of the finished project.
Don’t fret if you’re unsure about the total hours of your project. Once you complete the information, ACX will estimate the total time, so you can estimate what hiring a particular narrator will cost.
Pros: greater flexibility in choosing a narrator; ability to choose to distribute via ACX’s sales channels as well as additional channels you choose, all royalties belong to you (40% if distributed exclusively by ACX; 25% if you choose to go non-exclusive)
Cons: you foot the up-front cost of paying the narrator
Many narrators also accept Royalty Share offers. Under this type of agreement, all royalties are split 50-50 between you and the narrator, meaning you each receive 20% of sales. ACX also has a Royalty Share Plus program which is sort of a hybrid of the two plans. You can read more about that here.
Pros: no up-front cost in hiring a producer
Cons: only available with an exclusive agreement (your audiobook can only be distributed via ACX); reduced royalties (20% vs 40%)
What Comes Next?
Once you’ve selected your ideal narrator and they accept your offer, they’ll set to work on production. As stated earlier, they’ll submit the first 15 minutes to you to review. If everything is kosher, they’ll continue working.
It’s important to maintain communication through this process. Be open and clear with your narrator: if there’s something you want to be done differently, let them know! Likewise, you should expect feedback from them, usually in terms of seeking clarity on something. Remember, they’re not mind readers. This is a professional relationship and should be treated as such.
When they’ve completed the audiobook, you’ll be notified that the project is ready for review. Personally, this is my favorite part because I get to hear my book brought to life in its entirety. I recommend keeping a notepad handy (or using a notation app on your phone or computer) in case you find anything that you would like to be changed.
Once you’re happy with the finished product you submit it to ACX for the final step: Audio Review. They will check for consistency in sound levels, distortion, clipping—basically anything that can impair the listeners’ experience.
After the Audio Review is complete (and keep in mind this can take some time), your audiobook will be available for sale! That’s one more avenue set for distribution of your book and a new audience within your reach.
Things to Keep in Mind
This is just a quick overview designed to do two things:
Make authors aware of an easy way to turn their books into audiobooks
Give a basic rundown of what to expect
I’ve had pretty good luck with ACX so far and I absolutely believe that it is worthwhile for other writers to look into. It’s a very good tool that can expose you to a new audience, and that’s never a bad thing.
A few other items to bear in mind:
Pricing: ACX determines pricing based on length; the longer the audiobook, the higher the price
Cover: your audiobook cover MUST be at least 2400×2400 pixels and MUST be a perfect square; for a full rundown, you can view the cover image requirements here
Freebies: each title gets 25 promo codes per market (US and UK); these codes are good for a free download of your audiobook; they can be great promotions for loyal readers and nice incentives for new readers; find out more here
Preview: part of the production entails the narrator creating a sample; this can be used in a trailer (or other promotional use) to create excitement for your audiobook release
Bounty: if your audiobook is the first purchase of a new Audible member, you’ll get a nice bonus ($75 if you utilized Pay For Production; $50 if you used Royalty Share); you can find more info here
Have you tried ACX? If so, what are your thoughts? If you hadn’t heard of ACX before now, how likely are you to try them out? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
In my last entry, we talked about the pros and cons of going exclusive with Amazon’s KDP Select program. Today, we’ll take a quick look at Draft2Digital, a company that makes it easy to publish your book(s) to several marketplaces.
So, You Want to Go Wide
You’ve decided that you want to make your work available on several platforms. Maybe you feel that it’s the best route for more exposure. Maybe an exclusive distribution isn’t an idea that appeals to you. Whatever the reason, you should know your options before you jump in.
You may be wondering what the benefits of a wide release are, and you should. This is, after all, your business and you want to make the best decisions for that business. That said, there are a couple of obvious reasons to consider this approach:
Go To the Readers: yes, Amazon is a massive marketplace and gets a ton of traffic each day. There are, however, people whose preferences lie elsewhere. Maybe they like Barnes and Noble or perhaps they’re die-hard Apple supporters. Remember, going wide doesn’t prevent you from listing your book on Amazon, it just prevents you from enrolling it in KDP Select.
Hidden Benefits: a little extra food for thought
Barnes and Noble is a well-established bookseller and one with a large base of loyal customers. They also have their own line of e-readers, the Nook.
Applehas some of the most ravenous fans on the planet. Millions of readers have either an iPhone or iPad, if not both, and they all come with Apple Books, the company’s e-reader/ebook service.
Kobo currently has a partnership deal with Walmart, meaning your ebooks show up in searches for people looking for content like yours. Walmart, like Amazon, is a hugely popular (for better or worse) retailer, meaning more eyes can find your work.
Okay, So Why Draft2Digital?
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the distribution partners that Draft2Digital works with:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon (yes, you can also publish to Amazon via Draft2Digital if you don’t already have a KDP account)
Yes, you can publish to those platforms yourself. As a matter of fact, I used to that myself. What swayed me? It’s simple: having to log in to multiple sites to check sales and royalties was a pain in the butt. Now, I just log into my Draft2Digital account and access everything from there.
They also create Universal Book Links (UBLs) that you can use for marketing. A reader clicks on the link and is then given the option to choose their retailer:
I like that you can edit each book’s UBL to include additional sites (I added Amazon since I publish there directly) and that you can add links to any audiobook versions. You can also label books as First in Series, Series Finale, and Latest Release.
On top of that, you can choose to make any books that you publish through Draft2Digital available to a quarter of library services (OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Baker & Taylor, and Hoopla).
Another cool feature is that once your book is uploaded and prepared, you’re given the option of downloading the formatted ebook in a trio of formats:
Mobi (full book or sample)
ePub (full book or sample)
PDF (4.5×6 or 5×8)
I’m a fan of the sample downloads since they make for excellent promotional material.
How Does It Work?
Another great question!
Once you set up an account, you upload your work in a similar manner to KDP or any other service. Draft2Digital currently allows you to upload manuscripts in the following formats:
Word (.doc or .docx)
Rich Text Format (RTF)
It’s important to note that, while you can upload an ePub, using this file type will not allow you to utilize their formatting tools. This isn’t a make-or-break rule, for me at least, but it’s worth noting.
Once everything is up to snuff (you’re given ample opportunity to preview your progress) you can publish your book to whichever outlets you choose or all available.
My only real gripe is that publishing to some outlets can take a few days, though that can’t be pinned on Draft2Digital. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor pain. That is, of course, assuming you plan ahead for releases that you have scheduled (you can also edit your UBL to show a book as Available For Pre-Order).
Note: Draft2Digital has a new feature called D2D Print to give you another option for creating physical copies. It’s currently in its Beta phase and, while I’ve registered for it, I have yet to use it, so I can’t offer any insight there.
What’s This Going to Cost Me?
There’s no upfront cost when using Draft2Digital, so no need to stress there. Like most ebook retail outlets, they do keep a percentage of each sale (roughly 10% of the retail price).
When you consider everything that they offer, it’s a pretty good deal, at least in my estimation.
Draft2Digital: Should I Try It?
The only reason I would say not to try them out is if you’re having a ton of success running exclusively through a lone retailer (likely Amazon). After all, there’s no reason to mess with a good thing.
That said, if you are interested in having your book(s) available from many top ebook retailers, give Draft2Digital a look. I’m a fan of having a single dashboard that gives me a full sales breakdown and I absolutely love the UBLs.
Check out their website and give them a follow on Twitter.
Self-publishing can be a daunting endeavor, regardless of your level of experience. Amazon is a huge, trusted marketplace—and a powerful search engine—with global reach and a large footprint in publishing. Seems like a match made in heaven, right?
If you’re an author, chances are you are familiar with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon’s publishing platform. If not, swing by there and take a look around. Considering Amazon’s reach, it makes perfect sense for any author to want their content available to such an enormous market.
Let’s take a quick look at what KDP offers.
The Benefits of KDP
We’ve already touched on the biggest benefit of utilizing KDP: access to Amazon’s worldwide customer base. Of course this doesn’t guarantee that your book will sell but, if you present a quality product with a solid description and hook, your chances go up exponentially.
Amazon also offers a free program called Kindle Create, designed to allow authors to format and preview their work in ebook form. This includes basic design tools as well as the ability to easily export your work into KDP. This can be a timesaver as well as an additional layer of quality control.
KDP also gives you the ability to create paperback versions of your works. Believe it or not (and, if you’re an author, I have no doubt you believe it) there are tons of readers out there who prefer physical copies of books. Yes, e-readers are a fantastic bit of technology, but nothing matches the feeling of opening up a new—or used—book.
The good news? Your ebook file from Kindle Create can also be uploaded to create a paperback. No separate editing, just upload the same file, create a cover, set your pricing, and you’re good to go. Your work is now available to millions of readers!
What About KDP Select?
First, let’s go over what, exactly, KDP Select is.
The standard KDP program is non-exclusive, meaning your can sell your ebook through Amazon and any other platform(s) you like (Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo).
KDP Select, however, is an exclusive agreement between you and Amazon that states your book(s) can only be sold through Amazon for as long as your book is in the program.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
The enrollment period is 90 days; you can select to auto-enroll your work at the end of each enrollment period if you like.
During this time, your ebook can ONLYbe available for sale via Amazon; this not only includes other major retailers but your personal website as well; Amazon doesn’t play around and can remove your books from their site for non-compliance.
This only applies to ebooks; any paperback, hardcover, or audiobook versions can still be sold through other retailers.
The Benefits of KDP Select
So, given the restrictive nature of this agreement, is it worth it?
That, unfortunately, is a tricky question. As I said earlier, there’s no guarantee of success. However, if you spend time putting out the best book possible and spend some time (and money) on marketing, KDP Select does have its benefits:
Access For Kindle Unlimited Readers: Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service that gives members access to millions of books, including any of yours that are enrolled in KDP Select. No, you don’t get the direct royalty of a sale, but you can reach a wide audience which opens you up to more readers and more reviews. Plus…
Earning Money From Page Reads: Amazon tracks the number of pages read across all of your books. Page reads from your KDP Select books generate revenue each month, though to see noticeable gains you’ll need many readers to finish your works.
Access to Price Promotions: All books enrolled in KDP Select are also eligible for two distinct price promotions:
Kindle Countdown Deal: these promotions allow you to run discounts for a limited time. Potential readers will see the regular price as well as a countdown clock showing the time remaining for the discounted price. Currently available for US and UK markets only.
Free Book Promotion: just as the name implies, these promos allow you to offer a book for free for a limited time (up to 5 days per 90-day enrollment period). These can be invaluable for gaining new readers (don’t forget your back matter!) and getting reviews.
So, Should I Do It?
Honestly, the best advice I can give is to try it, just make sure that any books you want to enroll aren’t available anywhere else first. There are many authors who make good money via Amazon and Amazon alone. Conversely, there are those who do well selling their books through many different channels. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, so give it a shot and see how you feel about it.
Another idea is to enroll one of your books and keep the others wide, though having a series available in KDP Select can prove to be lucrative. Like many things with self-publishing, it comes down to experimenting, trial and error, and tracking results.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Are you considering KDP Select? Do you already use it? How is it working for you?
Also, consider giving me a follow on the following platforms:
I felt compelled to do something a bit different today. Namely, I’m going to provide you with a glimpse inside my writing process and—by extension—my mind.
Plotting Vs. Pantsing
When it comes to writing, there are two primary camps: plotter or pantser.
Let’s address the first issue: pantser is a funny word.
Plotter is pretty self-explanatory. A plotter will come up with an idea and create an outline, laying out story beats and ideas to ensure that they include everything they have in mind for their story. Maybe they use a slideshow program; maybe they have a Pepe Silvia-level mass of photos and post-it notes.
That’s not judgment. Whatever works, works.
A pantser, well, that one is pretty clear, too. A pantser writes, perhaps starting with a concrete idea or maybe only a vague one. Things can change on the fly as new ideas pop up and old ones get either discarded or elaborated on.
Now, time for an admission: I am a pantser.
Phew, I feel so much better now.
I’ve found that hammering away at the keyboard gets me rolling more than creating an outline. Part of it comes from me wanting to let things develop in a natural way; part of it comes from the thrill of chaos. It’s a rush.
What’s Your Major Malfunction?
The true test with this manner of writing is discipline. It can be easy for an idea to get away from you, often once you’ve committed hundreds (if not thousands) of words expounding on it. Deciding to excise a passage that you’ve spent hours fleshing out is never easy and it can be incredibly deflating.
The flip side of that is the amount of work that’s already been put in can sway you to leave in material that may not serve the story. It’s akin to balancing on a knife’s edge and deciding which limb you’re willing to sacrifice.
When it came to Bermuda—my first full-length novel—I was inspired by a dream. There were key points in the dream that I could remember and I filled in the story around it. It flowed. It was (relatively) easy.
Then came the follow-up, The Hangman’s Soliloquy. Once again, I had the story in mind. The characters were there, the main beats were there, so it should have been easy, right?
Spoiler alert: it was not.
During the writing of that book, a very bad habit of mine took hold: over-thinking. No, I didn’t endlessly analyze every page or chapter; I did it to every sentence, sometimes getting hung up over single words. It was exhausting; it was frustrating. I had written a book where everything flowed and was now knee-deep into one where every thought required pushing a mental boulder aside.
It was such a draining experience that I’ve hardly re-visited the material since the final edits were completed. The exception is the upcoming audiobook, which sounds amazing!
So, Did You Change Your Approach?
Fast forward to now: I am working on wrapping up my third novel and still battling the urge to overthink. It’s not as bad as it was but it’s still there, still a hurdle. Just like the last time, it’s not due to any shortage of ideas. Instead, it’s small details.
What I try to boil everything down to is two questions:
Is this a big deal?
Does it have a negative impact on the story?
If the answer is no—which it usually is—then I push it aside and press on. It can be difficult, but I know the story I want to tell and I believe in it so I have to trust myself. Yes, sometimes it takes a bribe (no further comment), but if I don’t believe in what I’m writing, why would I expect anyone else to?
Maybe for the fourth book I’ll try an outline.
I probably won’t, but I might.
Regardless of that, I’d love to hear your thoughts. While you’re at it, be sure to connect with me on social media for more inane ramblings, like this:
Not only is that a killer (if overused) Super Troopers reference, it’s an incredibly succinct way of summing up the past week or so. You see, the fun started when I realized that my domain and web hosting plan were both up for renewal.
I’m sure you can imagine the untethered jubilation that I felt.
If you can’t, think back to the last time you smashed your thumb with a hammer, it’s a close approximation.
I’m not the kind of person that handles change particularly well; it’s a flaw and I own it, but it’s who I am.
So, why change?
I was familiar with my existing host and their system, so that didn’t spur my move. Likewise, I never had any complaints with speed, support, or anything else.
For God’s sake, why?
Okay, Jeb, then why in the hell did you do it?
Like so many things, it came down to money. To be more specific, any plan would have been much more expensive this time around, and, unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of being able to throw fistfuls of cash at anyone.
With that in mind, I set off to find a host that was both reliable and reasonably priced. Thankfully, I found one quickly. The initial setup was smooth up until the time to transfer my domain.
Okay, I’ll be honest with you: disliking change isn’t my only flaw. Shocking, I know. Truth is, I have a tendency to be a wee bit impatient and the transfer—all things told—took seven days.
An entire week. The horror.
The impatient writer
I know, nothing out of the ordinary, but I’m amped up and ready to get started on my new site. Now I’m told I have to wait seven days before starting. Yes, writing kept me occupied, as did everything else in life, but I was itching to re-established my online presence.
Finally, the domain transfer was complete and I was able to get started.
Time for champagne?
See, I had used my original host for years and I knew all of the ins and outs. If I wanted something done, I could execute it in a matter of minutes. Now, I had to learn a new system, a new way of getting things done.
More change; so much happiness. Then again, the website is live and—while I’m still adding to it—I’m pleased with everything so far (speaking of which, be sure to check out the updated Novels and Novellas pages).
I know this is a minor complaint, but that’s not really the point here. Instead, it’s to get back in touch with everyone and let you all know what’s been going on with me, other than writing.
I hope that you are all doing well, maintaining your sanity, and enjoying life as best you can during this strange time.
And, if you’re setting up a new website, godspeed.