All posts by Alex P. Berg

Alex P. Berg is a fantasy and mystery author, scientist, and heavy metal aficionado. He bends materials to his will by day and harnesses the power of words at night. He is an avid reader, tireless writer, and heavy sleeper. He is the sole owner and operator of http://www.alexpberg.com, and he feels odd writing about himself in the third person.

The One Year Published Author Introspective

If you’ll recall, when I was starting out I published my One Month and Three Month published author introspectives, to give other budding authors an idea of the highs and lows of being an author and perhaps what to expect. I thought about writing one at six months, but instead I waited and decided to do one on the eve (more or less) of my one year anniversary.

Things have changed a lot in a year. At the end of my first month, I was cautiously optimistic. At the end of my third month, I was ecstatic. At a year, I’m more grounded in reality, and while still optimistic, I’m better aware of the challenges of the industry.

With that said, here’s what I’ve learned:

1) eBooks are forever. Sales are not.

At the three month mark, sales were going great, and I was understandably going nuts. Why wouldn’t I? So I tried to project sales going forward. I made what I considered to be a reasonable projection, an optimistic one, and a conservative one. There was just one problem: I was working on three months of data, during a time period in which I released four novels (I’d had a backlog of stuff to publish when I got started). I was riding a massive growth swell. So my projections were understandably off.

Here’s what actually happens when you release a book, though. There’s an initial growth period, where people are hearing about your book through different channels and giving it a try. This growth can be linear or exponential, depending on how lucky you are. Eventually, however, growth turns negative as you reach a greater and greater portion of your target audience through your sales channels. Sales drop, and drop, and drop, unless you do something to change it.

Don’t believe me? Here is the unit sales chart for Red Hot Steele, the first in my Daggers & Steele series and my best-selling novel overall:RHS Year 1 Sales

What you see is that sales grew organically for three months, then started to taper off at a regular pace. The massive spike in sales in May is due to a Bookbub promo. I’ll get to that later. You should note, however, that the sales decline trend from January to the present was unaffected by the May promotion.

In indie publishing, there are some who espouse an idea that books are like cash steams. Individually, they don’t make you much money, but put together, a bunch of streams add up into a sizable river of cash.

I don’t think this is a very good metaphor—or at least, it’s not the whole metaphor. The fact of the matter is, when it rains, streams swell into huge torrents, and when it doesn’t, those streams dry up into nothing at all.

Book sales are the same way. Sales can swell quickly. They dry less quickly, but they do dry. And they can dry to almost nothing. If you have dozens of dry streams, they still won’t add up to a river.

With that said, my next bullet point will probably catch you off guard.

2) It’s to your benefit to publish as many books as possible.

Wait, you say. Didn’t you just mention that your book revenue will dry up over time? Why publish lots of books only to create lots of small streams that generate almost no cash flow?

Because you’re not after the tail. I mean, you’ll take it. Any cash from your backlist is nice. But you’re after the cash from the initial growth stage.

The growth period is where you’ll make most of your money from a novel, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Movies, video games, traditionally published books, and other media all make most of their money shortly after the initial release, and if they don’t recoup their initial investment quickly, they’re seen as a loss.

I’m not sure if you should be quite so harsh on your own projects (there are ways to revive dead novels and series), but you’ll probably only get a few solid months of earnings from any given release, unless you do something drastic. Speaking of which…

3) The right promotion can make all the difference.

Remember that huge surge in sales in May? That was from a Bookbub promo. If you’re an indie author and you don’t know what Bookbub is, I’ll pause while you go figure it out. Suffice it to say, they’re the most important company out there to help you sell books and make money.

Thanks to the Bookbub promo, I sold over 3500 copies of Red Hot Steele in May, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Red Hot Steele was priced at a paltry 99¢ for that promotion, but the sales of Cold Hard Steele and the recently released Time to Steele also shot up, and those were listed at full price. That helped me make a lot of money in May.

So while the Bookbub promo couldn’t stop Red Hot Steele’s sales slide, it did earn me a nice chunk of change and earn me a lot of new readers. And Bookbub isn’t the only way to promote your novels. There are many other ways. Bookbub is just one of the best

I don’t want this to turn into a huge ‘How to Promote your Novel’ post, but my point is simply that promoting your novel, if done effectively, will gain you more readers and earn you more money. If making money from your work is your goal (or at least, one of your goals), then you really do need to spend time thinking about promotion.

And last but not least…

4) You’d better be in it for the long haul.

This one doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my tale, but I think it needs to be mentioned. Being an author isn’t easy. It’s full of highs and lows, periods of bounty and periods of drought. You’re constantly learning and trying new things, and if you’re smart, adapting to the marketplace. If you do the same thing for too long, you’ll be left in the dust.

You have to be smart, hard-working, and lucky, and even if you’re all three that doesn’t guarantee success. But it gives you a better shot. So you’d better be committed, otherwise you’ll either never crest the peak in front of you, or you’ll go tumbling down the other side once you get there.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00033]As for me? I’ve got my crampons on, and I’m climbing this mountain like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not going to say it doesn’t get a little hairy every now than then.

***

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the newly available fourth Daggers & Steele installment: Fine Blue Steele. It’s only been out for one day (one day!) and already it’s reached the number one spot in Amazon’s psychic suspense category. So thank you, readers!

Buy it at: Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

The Complete Guide to Home Audiobook Narration and Production

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time. Like, a seriously long time. I think I first mentioned the idea to some friends on Facebook back in April. But I got sidetracked with a book release, and then I got sucked into the writing of a new novel, and so on and so forth. But today I finally submitted my self-produced Red Hot Steele audiobook to ACX for review, and so I figured it was a perfect time to finally write this.

And so, without further ado, I give you: The Complete Guide to Home Audiobook Narration and Production. I think it’ll be a good reference to those of you at home hoping to narrate and produce your own audiobooks (and I bet I’ll refer to it on more than one occasion myself).

One note before we get started: This guide should help you produce audiobooks for any vendor, but I’m specifically focused on producing audio for ACX (Amazon’s subsidiary that uploads to Amazon, Audible, and iTunes). ACX is really the only game in town for indie audio, so it makes sense to focus on them.

OK, first things first. ACX has a series of five videos in which they discuss many of the basic elements of home audiobook production. I HIGHLY encourage you to watch them before you begin here. Seriously. I’ll wait.

Ok. Are you done? Good. Now we can discuss some of the things they mentioned—specifically how to get audiobooks done cheaply and efficiently but professionally. And I’ll give you specific advice on mastering, which the folks at ACX don’t go into.

Space

Let me be blunt. If you don’t have a quiet room in your house that can act as a recording studio, you might as well not even try to record your own audio. This is the most important part of the entire process. If you record in a noisy room, your final product will sound terrible, no matter how hard you try to fix it.

Luckily, many of us have one (and only one) room in our homes that can work.

A walk-in closet.

You see, the key to good audio recording is to do it in a ‘dead room.’ This simply means a room in which sounds don’t bounce around off walls and furniture and play havoc with the audio recorded by your microphone. While professional recording studios will line walls with noise-cancelling foam, it turns out clothing (which is mostly fabric and air) does much the same thing.

Closet
My ‘recording studio.’ Note the copious piles of clothes. I have my wife to thank…

I’ve attached a photo of my own recording studio (ie. closet). As you can see, it’s filled with clothes—my wife’s, mostly, but this is how you want it. More clothes means more dampening material. And though you can’t see it, the door to the closet is to the right. When recording, make sure to close the door and drape a thick towel over it. Hard surfaces like doors reflect sound, and you want to avoid any echoes you might get from them.

To see if your closet can work as a studio, you’ll have to try, and we’ll get to that. But first, I want to point out a few things you may have gleaned from the ACX videos. First, be aware of your surroundings as you record. If you can hear dogs barking, birds chirping, children playing, or loud trucks driving by when in the confines of your studio, chances are your microphone will detect those sounds too. Most of the time, you can simply pause your recording if you hear these things and start up again once they’re done.

One thing you must check is to see if your closet has a vent for central heating/air. If it does, I highly recommend you turn it OFF (the entire system, not close the vent) for the length of your recording session. The sound of air forcing through a vent will show up on your recording, and it doesn’t sound good.

And one more point: check to see what kind of lighting you have in your closet. Chances are there’s a fluorescent bulb in there. Those are terrible and make tons on noise. So just bring a small lamp in with you, and make sure to put an LED bulb in it, as LEDs are whisper quiet.

Tools

The ACX guy lists a whole bunch of tools, computer equipment, and software that you should get to optimize your recordings, but quite honestly, the list is excessive, and you don’t need to spend a fraction of what he says you do to produce a quality finished product.

There are really only a few things you need, and I’ll list them here:

Pop Filter and Mic
My mic setup. I use the small (but excellent quality) Samson Go Mic.

1. A mic. I recommend a simple USB mic like the Blue Yeti, but even that might be more than is really needed. I use the compact but excellent Samson Go Mic, and it produces great quality sound.

2. A pop filter and a mic stand. Yes, you really do want a pop filter as it noticeably improves sound quality on certain consonant sounds, and a mic stand is critical for optimum positioning. I use this filter and this stand. They’re not expensive.

3. A computer to connect your mic to, preferably a laptop with a solid state hard drive. Why? Because solid state hard drives don’t make noise. Thankfully, I already had a Macbook Air, which is perfect for this sort of thing. (Note the ACX guy says you need a backup hard drive. You don’t. This is purely in case of computer crashes…but it is smart to back up your audio files after every recording session.)

Computer and Kindle
My computer, running Audacity, and my Kindle, which I use for my readings.

4. Headphones (in ear or over ear). You’ll need these connected to your computer to avoid having the computer use the standard speakers for output (which will mess up your recording).

5. Something to read your book from. The ACX guy recommends a script stand with a printed script, but you know what I found that I really like? I used my Kindle. It’s backlit, lightweight, and I can switch pages on it faster than I could on a mic stand anyway.

6. Audio recording software. Again, ACX guy says to use Pro Tools, and you could, but it’s expensive. Audacity, on the other hand, is free, it’s available on multiple operating systems, and it works like a charm. In the rest of this guide, I’ll assume you’re using Audacity.

Recording & Narration

You’re now ready to start narrating and recording. First things first, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with Audacity. It’s pretty simple. Just play around with it some. You’ll learn more later at the editing and mastering stages.

There are only a few things you really need to check at this stage, and I’ll refer you to the screenshot I’ve taken.

Audacity Screenshot
The Audacity interface. Note the red numbers 1, 2, and 3.

See that red number 1 in the lower left corner? Make sure it is set to 44100 Hz. This is the recording rate you’ll want.

See the number 2 at the top right? Make sure you’ve selected the mic you’ve attached via USB, and make sure you’re recording in MONO. Also make sure your headphones are selected.

See the 3 in the top middle? Click on that section to monitor the background noise in your studio. Ideally, you should be at -60dB, but if you’re close, don’t fret. I find that if you’re below -52dB or so, you’ll have no problem editing the background noise out in post processing.

That’s it. You’re ready to record. Just be sure to leave ~20 seconds of silence at the beginning of each chapter you record (you’ll need this for noise reduction purposes later).

Now, let’s talk narration. This is actually one of the hardest parts of the process, as you may not be experienced as a narrator. But you are familiar with your own work, which is a big plus.

Here’s my advice: Practice, practice, practice.

Speak to yourself in a quiet room, at least until you can recite multiple lines of your own work in a row without stutters, stammers, or ums. Don’t worry about flubs during the recording. Just start over at the beginning of a sentence, and keep going. And stay hydrated. A well-lubricated throat is key to precise pronunciation.

A note on character voices: They are essential components of audiobooks, as they give the listener cues as to who is speaking. I can’t give you any advice here other than practice them often, and listen to your own work to make sure they are consistent and unobtrusive (ie. not annoying).

Finally, one last piece of advice. READ SLOWLY. Way slower than you think you should be reading. It takes a lot longer to absorb auditory information than it does to absorb the written word. Go too fast, and your finished product will come across as a blur. Trust me. I had to re-narrate my entire first attempt at Red Hot Steele because I read too fast.

Editing & Mastering

We’ve made it to the last step, which is arguably the trickiest. Editing is simple, but extremely time-consuming and tedious (you’ve been warned!). Mastering is tricky because you probably don’t have any idea how to do it, and it’s easy to mess us the finished product if you’re not careful.

Now, I’m going to say something that will probably make audio engineers cringe, but I like to do the mastering before I do the editing. Why? Because if you edit first and master later, you’ll end up amplifying all sorts of weird, breathy mouth noises and have to go back and edit those out later. So save yourself time and do the mastering first.

Mastering for audiobooks is comprised of (at minimum) three basic steps: noise reduction, compression, and normalization.

Noise reduction removes the background noise from your audio recording (assuming the noise floor is already low). Compression reduces the dynamic range of the audio, so that the loud parts are quieter and the quiet parts are louder. This makes for a more uniform listening experience and makes it so the listener doesn’t have to play with the volume knob often. Normalization limits the maximum loudness or amplitude of a track.

Here are the mastering steps you should take to get a professional finished product that will satisfy ACX submission requirements:

  1. Noise Reduction
    1. Select ~10 seconds of silence at the beginning of the audio recording.
    2. Click on Effect > Noise Removal and click on Get Noise Profile. Hit Ok.
    3. Select the entire audio recording.
    4. Click on Effect > Noise Removal and click Ok.
  2. Compression
    1. Select the entire audio recording and click on Effect > Compressor.
    2. Set the following parameters:
      • Threshold: -25 dB
      • Noise Floor: -40 dB
      • Ratio: 7:1
      • Attack Time: 0.2 s
      • Release Time: 1.0 s
      • Make up gain for 0 dB after compressing checked, Compress based on Peaks unchecked
  1. Alternate Compression (I find that this compresses more and better than step 2 above. Use it instead of step 2 if you decide to go this route.)
    1. Select the entire audio recording and click on Effect > Compress Dynamics (must have optional plug-in, Chris’s Dynamic Compressor, installed. Download it here).
    2. Set the following parameters:
      • Compress Ratio: 1.0
      • Compression Hardness: 0.75
      • Floor: -40.0 dB
      • Noise Gate Falloff: 0
      • Maximum Amplitude: 1.0
  1. Normalization
    1. Select the entire audio recording and click on Effect > Normalize.
    2. Check remove DC offset.
    3. Check normalize maximum amplitude and input -3.0 dB.

Once done, you can check the RMS volume of your audio track. Select your entire recording, click on Analyze > Contrast, and then click Measure selection (foreground or background, won’t matter in this case). For ACX, your audiobook track should be between -23dB and -18 dB. If it isn’t, click on Effect > Amplify and play with the values until your track is in the right range.

If there are any wonky spots that are too loud (you’ll see them on the spectrum if they’re there), select them and decrease their volume using the Amplify tool. Then, select all and renormalize.

If you find any spots in your recording that are too quiet, just select them and amplify them individually.

If you’ve gotten this far, that means you’re ready for the editing. It’s simple, really. Just go through your entire recording, deleting bad takes and flubs, silencing any weird mouth sounds or background noise that made it through your noise reduction step, trimming or lengthening pauses between phrases (if necessary), and playing with volume (again, if necessary).

Final Notes

I congratulate you if you’ve made it this far, and hopefully everything I’ve collected here will be of use to you in creating your own audiobooks. But there’s a few final points I wanted to add that didn’t fit in anywhere else, most of them specific to ACX requirements.

  • Remember to record each track in MONO format at 44.1 kHz.
  • Record separate opening and closing credits (see this ACX page for more information).
  • At the beginning of each track, record a chapter header after your initial ~20 second pause, and be sure to leave some room tone (0.5-1.0s at start, 1.0-5.0s at end) in your final finished product.
  • Export to MP3 format at 192kps, Constant Bit Rate (CBR) in MONO (as long as you record in MONO, Audacity should export in MONO).
  • Be sure to give all your finished MP3 files a proof listen. Chances are, there will be a few mistakes you’ll have overlooked.

Alright, I think that’s it. Best of luck with your audiobook endeavors, and be sure to check out Red Hot Steele in audio at the following vendors:

Red Hot Steele Audiobook: Amazon | Audible | iTunes

Pirates, Kindle Unlimited, and more Amazon Thoughts

The Black Mast Murder
Buy it now on Amazon! Or read for free…

So first things first, let’s get the obvious part out of the way. I have a new novel available!

It’s called The Black Mast Murder, and as you might have guessed based on the cover, it’s a pirate novel. But what sort of pirate novel? Grim and dark? Whimsical? Historically accurate?

Well, imagine one of those Pirates of the Caribbean movies, complete with all their mystical, fantastical, grandiose elements. Now add in my own sense of snark and charm (which I’m sure you’re used to by now), mix it all up with a cracking good mystery, and you have yourself The Black Mast Murder.

In all honesty, I’m very proud of this novel. I think the setting will draw you in immediately, and the story has a nice balance of action, mystery, and even its fair share of romance. And you can BUY IT NOWexclusively on Amazon.

Which, as you may have guessed, means I’ve decided to put the novel into Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) program.

For those of you unfamiliar with KU, it’s a monthly subscription service that lets people read as many novels as they want, and we (the authors) get paid based on how much you read. To opt into the program, you have to make your ebook exclusive with Amazon, at least in increments of 90 days.

Now, let me be frank. I don’t like exclusivity—even timed exclusivity. I think it usually benefits the distributor, not the author. But the ebook market is changing. More and more readers (especially power readers, who read in large quantities) are shifting to subscription services, chief among them KU, and those authors who ignore them are leaving dollars on the table.

Of course, you can argue that going exclusive also forces you to leave dollars on the table—the dollars you would earn from other retailers. But those dollars are few and far between.

Over 91% of my lifetime ebook sales have been on Amazon. Barnes & Noble has about 4.5%, Kobo about 3%, and Apple/iTunes has brought me a meager 1%. AND those numbers are generous to those other retailers, as the majority of sales I’ve received everywhere other than Amazon came off the back of my successful Bookbub promo. If you exclude the month of May, my lifetime sales are about 96% from Amazon. (And considering that Barnes & Noble’s nook division seems to be going down the tubes, those numbers look likely to continue to worsen in the future.)

The Tau Ceti Transmutation
Now available on Kindle Unlimited. Read for FREE!

All of which is to say that I make the VAST amount of my revenue from Amazon, and if there’s a way to increase my Amazon revenue, even at the cost of revenue from other sources, it might make sense. Honestly, if I can earn even half of the amount from Amazon’s KU program as I do from sales, that would still be about five times as much as I make from all other retailers combined.

So what does this mean for you? Not much, probably. You can still buy my work (at a fantastic, low price, I might add!), but if you’re a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited monthly reading program, you can actually read The Black Mast Murder for FREE!

And at the risk of sounding like a used car salesman…wait, there’s more! Remember my science fiction P.I. novel, Rich Weed in The Tau Ceti Transmutation? Well, it’s also exclusive to Amazon now, and those of you in KU can read that for FREE too!

(Side note: My Daggers & Steele series continues to be available everywhere, for the time being anyway. Consider this a test. If my novels in KU do great, I might move everything there. If not, the exclusive titles will be made available everywhere. I’ll decide in about 90 days…)

One last note, before I go. You’ve probably noticed the link up at the top of my website encouraging you to join my new release mailing list. It’s the easiest way for me to tell you about my new novels. But, understandably, many people don’t like signing up for tons of lists. Our inboxes are cluttered enough as it is.

Well, Amazon has once again come to the rescue. Check out my Amazon author page. See that yellow button underneath my photo, the one that says “Follow”? If you click that, Amazon will let you know when I release new books. Why trust me with your email address when you can trust a massive, multinational corporation? (I kid, of course…) But nonetheless, it’s a neat feature, and if for some reason you’d rather not give me your email, why not give the Amazon Follow feature a try?

A World of Shadows Release

I’m a little late on this blog post, but I guess that’s what happens when you have a new release come out while you’re on vacation. How does that work, you ask? Well, normally I wouldn’t do such a thing—but this isn’t your average book release. This is my first multi-author book bundle.

It’s called A World of Shadows, and it features eleven (that’s right, eleven!) novels by established and up-and-coming urban fantasy authors. We’re calling it the Action-Packed Urban Fantasy Box Set because it’s, well, full of action-packed urban fantasy. But at the risk of sounding like a cheesy 80’s game show host—wait, there’s more! There’s humor and romance! Mystery and horror! In all honesty, it’s a great group of first in series novels by some amazing authors, and all of them are great people to boot. The following novels are included:

Justice Calling by Annie Bellet
Red Hot Steele by Alex P. Berg
The Seventh Sons by Domino Finn
Flashback: Siren Song by James A. Hunter
Till the Sun Breaks Down by Tom Leveen
The Fixer by Jon F. Merz
The Heretic by Joseph Nassise
London Macabre by Steven Savile
The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer
Elemental Arcane by Phaedra Weldon
Half-Made Girls by Sam Witt

Because of its size, it’s ebook only, but it’s priced at just $9.99, which is a ridiculous steal for the number of stories you’re getting. Check out the buy links at the bottom of the post if it sounds like your cup of tea.

A World of Shadows CoverEbook: Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble |  Kobo

Time to Steele is here!

Guys—I have to apologize. I’ve been remiss in my blogging. Majorly remiss. When I realized my last blog post was a release notification for my last novel (The Tau Ceti Transmutation), I cringed.

Of course, the reason I’ve been neglecting the blog is to focus my time on more valuable things. Things like writing novels, the latest of which, Time to Steele, is now available! If you’ve enjoyed my Daggers & Steele series so far, the latest entry won’t disappoint, I promise you!

I’ve also been hard at work on a new project over the last few weeks—an audiobook version of Red Hot Steele. I don’t have it finalized yet, but when I do, you’ll all know. In the meantime, I’m working on a semi-secret new project that I’ll be announcing within the next month or two.

In the meantime, check out Time to Steele. Read it, enjoy it, let me know what you think.

Time to Steele

 

Ebook: Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble |  Kobo

Print: Amazon | Createspace