May 182011
 

I took the plunge.  I know it isn’t perfect, but I submitted Episode 1 of Half Past Midnight to Podiobooks.com for their review process.  Assuming it passes muster, then I know I have my formatting and production values at least good enough to meet their minimum standards, and can move forward with reading and producing the rest of the novel.

After I went through the various tasks involved in producing a “viable” podcast episode, and (hopefully) dealt with the formatting and naming conventions required by Podiobooks.com and iTunes, I then loaded the podcast onto my iPod & listened to it for mistakes.  That, in and of itself, was a mistake. :)

Like any conscientious person, I am often my own worst critic.  I found a few genuine mistakes, (mostly stumbling over my words, but in at least one instance, actually mispronouncing something).  But even more than that, the sound quality wasn’t as crisp as I wanted.  I have learned a couple of things in my recording and production techniques that will likely improve it, and I could go in and fix some of the other minor issues I have.  But really, in order to guarantee that the sound levels are consistent across the episode, I would probably have to start over.

So the question was, submit it as is, or start over?  After discussing it with my better half, she convinced me that it was better to submit it as is, treat it as a learning experience, and improve my quality as I produce more episodes.  That way, I can tell the listeners (both of them :)   ) that if they make it through that first episode, the production values only go up.

I just have to keep reminding myself that the podcast is not the only thing I”m doing here.  It’s part of a whole, and in part, it’s a means to an end.  Keeping my eye on the goal here, I have to view it as one more piece of my end product.  It’s the “free” version of the novel.  It’s the “pre-print” version.  And while I would like to say that every iteration of every story I tell will be perfect every time, whether in written or podcast form, I have to accept the reality of the situation.  Nothing is ever perfect.  I will put out the best product I can, whether it be written or podcast, within reason.  And I will use each product that I put out there as a learning experience to help make the next one just that much better.

In the meantime, I’ve received a reply from Podiobooks.com confirming that they received my submission, and that they begin their reviews on Sunday.  They didn’t mention how long the review process will take, but hinted that it would be pretty quick.  If I pass the spec review, then they’ll actually listen to it, spot checking for volume levels, intro & outtro blending, etc.  At that point, they’ll probably have some suggestions on what I can do to make the podcast a little better, based on their greater experience with this.

Then, assuming I’ve survived up to this point, the will send me “…a very long email detailing how to get us the rest of the episodes and the other information we need to get your book scheduled
for launch on our site.”

So here’s me, fingers crossed, waiting to see which way I need to jump next – victim of an ancient curse; living in interesting times.  :lol:

May 122011
 

As much as I hated to do it, I had to drop out of my martial arts class.  It’s unfortunate, but currently, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for my family, my work, my writing, my martial arts, my knife making, etc.  Something(s) had to give.  I mean, there’s only so long that a person can keep going on five hours of sleep each night.

So I’ve decided to take the three nights a week that I would normally be paying someone to kick my ass, and dedicating that time to my writing and podcasting.  I’ve decided to start treating the writing as my second job.  More accurately, I’m going to treat it like my own business, and there just isn’t enough time to play (which is how I see the three night a week pummeling sessions) when there is so much work that needs to be done on the new business.

On the up side, since my writing is now going to be a new business, there are going to be startup costs.  Yep, I get to invest money in my business.  (Yay!)  Better yet, I get to claim those startup costs on my tax returns next year.  So I’ve bought my own domain and invested in a hosting plan, which means  I’ll be working soon on converting my current blog into a more robust website.  I’ve hired a professional editor, bought the handy-dandy H2 microphone for my podcasting, bought some software…. before it’s all said and done, I figure I’ll probably spend between $2500 and $3000 on this project before my first book hits the electronic shelves.

Before that happens, there is a lot of prep work to do.  I’m busy recording, editing and producing my podcast version of the novel ( a fun, but extremely time-consuming undertaking).  I’m working with my daughter, trying to coax her into doing the cover art for me.  There’s that website I still need to either build or transfer.  I’m getting ready to work with my editor (that feels kinda cool to be able to say… “my editor”  :lol: ) when she starts getting back to me with changes to the novel.  These are all aspects of running the new business that is my writing-career-to-be.

So I have to keep nose firmly affixed to grindstone, which means no more fun time with the other kids, letting the young bucks pound on the old guy.  :???:   Maybe when the writing starts to pay for itself I can get back into it.  At that point, maybe I can write it off as a research “expense” for a novel.  :)   Hell, if I play my cards right, I could write an ongoing series that will require constant research for several years.  :)   But for  now, no more knife fighting, no more stick fighting, no more wrist locks and submissions, no more bruises all up and down my arms and torso, and no more sparring sessions that leave each and every joint and muscle screaming at me in protest.

Damn, I’m gonna miss that class!  :lol:

May 102011
 

-–  (Equipment)

What an undertaking!  I mean, I knew there was a lot of work involved inPodcasting for Dummies

podcasting, but until you really get into it, you don’t TRULY understand what all is involved.  For what it’s worth, what follows are my observations; sort of a journal of my journey into podcasting.  I initially posted here that there was no good, detailed, documentation of what the aspiring podcaster needs to know.  However, that is blatantly false.  Podcasting for Dummies is one of several resources available on Amazon.com and I must ashamedly admit that I have not yet read it.  I believe I’ll have to correct that oversight right now.  Pardon me while I click on the “1-click” button…

In the meantime however, I will continue to document my (mis?)adventures into the world of podcasting.

Step 1 – Acquire the proper hardware.  This basically boils down to at least three things: a computer, a microphone, and headphones.  If you’re planning for your podcast to go onto iTunes, I also recommend that you get an iPod (or other digital music player), so you can play your podcast in what will be its “native” environment.   Also, you may want to invest a little money in creating a simple recording environment.  There are other items that I’ve seen recommended, but this is what I have, and this post is about podcasting on a limited budget.

Computer – Now, you obviously already have access to a computer, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, so we’ll consider that item to have already been addressed.

Microphone –  So the next bit of equipment is going to be a microphone.  I’ve read and heard all kinds of recommendations, from $20 gaming mics to $1000 studio mics.  Most of the podcasters

I’ve listened to fall into the $100 to $300 range on what they use.  I’ve heard podcasters who use the cheap Gaming/Skype type mics, and you can hear how much the quality suffers.  I’ve heard others who go just a little more expensive, getting mics in the $50 to $100 range.  I considered some of these initially, looking seriously at the various products offered by Blue Microphones.  They have a range of decent products from  the $35 Snowflake, to the $150 Yeti.  The problem I had with these is that they all seemed to be USB mics, and I found early on that recording in the vicinity of my computer left considerable ambient noise from the computer hard drive and fan in my recording.  That meant I needed a stand-alone microphone that I could carry well away from the computer.

In reading the specs on various mics, I decided that the $150 Zoom H2 was the one for me.  It’s portable, digital, doesn’t have to be connected to the computer to work, and is sensitive enough to put up stomach noises if you’ve recently eaten.  I’d heard some podcasters that I like and respect mention that little tidbit, and after using the H2 for a while I can vouch for the veracity of the statements.  Besides, I found it on sale for $120.  :lol:

Headphones – Most podcasters recommend “can” style headphones.  Personally, I haven’t yet made that investment.  I use a cheap ($15) pair of Sony wraparound earbuds, or a “behind the neck” set of pressure headphones.  Either of these plug directly into the H2 so I can hear exactly what the mic is picking up as I’m recording.  I may change my mind in the future, but for now, I get along fine with the cheapies.

Recording “Studio” – This can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be.  I have listened to some podcasters who have gone all out, spending thousands of dollars on a true, sound-proofed, recording studio in their homes.  Others have done nothing more than create a “sound box” of cardboard and egg crating for their microphone.  I personally tried the latter and had very little luck.  I still got all sorts of echoes and external noise from throughout the household.

What I have settled on for now is something that I have heard many other podcasters recommend.  I record in the closet.  Many podcasters have noted that the hanging clothes in the closet act as sound dampeners, eliminating echoes from walls.  Also, if you find the right closet, in an interior area of the house, you can (hopefully) cut way down on ambient household noises.  I record in the closet of our guest room  upstairs.  I’ve hung a bunch of my old t-shirts, and stood an old twin mattress up on the back wall. It’s not perfect, but it does an adequate job for now.  I plan to purchase some curtain rods in the near future, along with some cheap but heavy curtains that I can hang from them along all four walls.  Perhaps even a bit of that same curtain to drape overhead.  That should eliminate all chance of echoes in my recordings, and hopefully also greatly reduce background noise.  As it is now, my best recording time is late at night, after the rest of the family is asleep, and when the air conditioning can be shut off for a while.  I mentioned before how sensitive the H2 is.  I often have to stop recording for airplanes passing overhead, dogs barking outside, or the air conditioning unit outside running.  Even from inside the confines of the closet, these things significantly interfere with the recording process.

If that is too much trouble, I’ve heard other podcasters recommend the simple method of setting up some simple portable clothes racks around themselves, and hanging heavy quilts or blankets on them, essentially creating a portable recording studio.  I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for it, but this is a technique I’ve heard people swear by.

— (Software)

I’ve found that if you’re ‘casting on a budget, there are several free or low-cost programs that you will need.  At a minimum, you will need Audacity and The Levelator.  The price is right for these two programs; they’re both absolutely free.  Even I can afford that.

Audacity is a basic sound editing program that allows you to take your source audio and edit out the stutters, stammers, stumbles and other extraneous noise.

The Levelator does one thing only, but that one thing is very important to a podcaster. It takes your audio source (in .wav or .aiff format only – that’s important, so remember it) and sets the audio to a uniform volume.  That means that if you accidentally step back from, or closer to the microphone and end up with an audio feed that suddenly gets louder or fainter as a result, The Levelator saves the day.

GoldWave Main ScreenI also currently use the very affordable sound editing program Goldwave, and I think I’m going to invest another $40 in Goldwave’s companion product, Multiquence.  Goldwave is another sound editing program that has considerably more to offer than the more basic Audacity.  With Goldwave, you can import, export and save audio files in a variety of formats (although NOT Audacity’s proprietary .auf format – but there is an easy way around that), and manipulate them using a variety ofMultiQuence Main Screen sound effects.  The one drawback I’ve found so far is that Goldwave only allows you to work with a single track at a time.  That means setting timing and using math to effectively mix music into your vocals (again, more on that later).  That’s the reason I think I’m going to invest in Multiquence.  It works well with Goldwave, and allows you to run multiple tracks together before mixing them.

And last, but far from least, I highly recommend that you download and install iTunes.  Now, I’m sure that 99% of you already know what iTunes is, but for those few that may not; iTunes is the free music player available from Apple that is used to organize and play sound files (mostly music).  What many of you may not know is that it can also be used to convert those sound files to specific file format standards, and to create and edits ID3 tags.  If you don’t know what any of that is, don’t worry.  I didn’t know what a lot of it really was at first.  If I can learn about it, you can too.   I’ll begin getting into the details of some of this in the next part of this blog series.

For now though, I think I’ve rambled on long enough.  :)

Apr 242011
 

There has been a lot of discussion lately, regarding the idea of publishing houses serving as gatekeepers, maintaining standards of quality and pricing for e-books.  As recently as February of 2010, the New York Times printed an article (E-Book Price Increase May Stir Readers’ Passions) that opened with the line, “In the battle over the pricing of electronic books, publishers appear to have won the first round”.  The article was definitely slanted in favor of publishing houses “controlling” the price of e-books in the same manner that they control the cost of dead tree books.  It viewed e-book buyers who complained about the high prices as an “insurgency”, and indirectly compared lower pricing of e-books to movie piracy, all the while carefully avoiding “officially” making a stand.

But anyone who has studied any level of journalism would immediately recognize some of the tricks of the trade in the article.  For that matter, any decent writer of any sort knows the power of choosing the right words to make known your point of view.  I once saw a comedian illustrate this with a joke wherein he observed that having an appointment with a woman is nothing at all like having a rendezvous with her.  They at once mean the same thing, and something completely different.

By describing the opponents to the publishing houses as “angry” consumers, and focusing on best-selling author Douglas Preston’s comments that the American consumer has a “sense of entitlement” that was “absolutely astonishing”, the NYT article managed to convey a sense that anyone who complained about the high price of e-books was being unreasonable.  They seemed to think that pricing new release e-books at $14.99 and then after a year of sales at that price, lowering it to $9.99, was a reasonable approach.

That was a year ago.

Now, a year later.

On April 21, 2011, an article in the Wall Street Journal (Cheapest E-Books Upend the Charts) seemed to acknowledge that times are changing (no pun intended).

Amazon says its studies have shown that digital titles sold by publishers using agency
pricing aren’t showing the same rate of unit growth as books that Amazon can
discount. “The publishers showing the fastest growth are the ones where we set
the prices,” says Russell Grandinetti,  Amazon’s vice president for Kindle
content.

The Wall Street Journal article focuses on the success of John Locke, who in March of this year, made $126,00.00 on his books, all of which are priced at $0.99.  That’s not $9.99, it is $0.99.  Ninety-nine cents per book.  He makes thirty-five cents on each book sold, and yet brought in $126,000.00 last month alone!  According to the Wall Street Journal, it is sales like his that are driving down the price of e-books.  When John Q. Public can buy a quality product for 99 cents, where is the incentive for them to pay ten times as much?  As Locke says in the article:

“When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I
thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I’m
as good as them,… Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me.”

John Locke, Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, and many others are embracing the new model.  Though in truth, the model isn’t really new.  It’s called supply and demand.  It’s those unreasonable consumers demanding a more affordable product, and entrapreneurial authors who are willing to supply it.  It is the free market at work.  Are there instances where the quality of product is sub-par?  Absolutely.  Are there authors out there who are less professional than they should be?  Of course there are.

As in any industry, there will always be some producers who are better than others.  Some will tell a better story, some will be more mechanically accurate.  Some will build name recognition as professionals worthy of spending your hard-earned dollars on, while others will drive buyers away with their unprofessional behavior.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are no guarantees.  You just have to decide whether or not you trust the free market model to balance itself.

Whether your answer is yes or no, though, we are passing the pivot point.  New technologies are upon us – technologies that make e-publishing and e-books affordable to both create and purchase.  If you are a writer, and you want to join the roller coaster that is the new publishing model, you need to climb aboard soon.  Otherwise, you may miss your spot.  There always seems to be a wave at the front of any new breakthrough.  Those who are brave enough, and have the wherewithal to do so will reap the benefits, while those who are unwilling to risk the time and/or personal resources will sit back and watch others.  I have missed out on opportunities in the past, and I don’t want to miss this one.

So I am busily recording my novel.  I am also getting ready to either publish it as an e-book, or send it to a professional editor (depending on whether or not my wife and I decide we can afford it).  Either way, I plan to have Half Past Midnight podcasting within the next two months, and available as an e-book within another month after that.

I plan to grab a seat on this roller coaster and ride it as long as I can.  Wish me luck.

Apr 202011
 

For those of you who don’t already know, I’ve been working on recording my novel (Half Past Midnight) for presentation as a podcast novel for Podiobooks.com.  I did a promo using my standard settings and procedure, and posted it on podiobooks.com for review.  Unfortunately, I only received two reviews, both of which indicated that there was a slight problem with the sound quality, but neither of which had any idea what the problem actually was.  With no other input available, I decided to continue work on recording the actual novel, with the idea that I would end up submitting the first episode to Podiobooks.com and get some good critiques via the submission process.

Unfortunately, I got carried away with the recording process and after the first episode, just kept going.  I had the vocals for four episodes ready to go through and lay down music and sound effects, when I figured out (I think) what my problem was.

Gigo!

I was taking the raw feed from my readings, editing out all the breathing and stammering to get a decent base track, then running it through GoldWave Editor Pro for noise reduction, then running the resulting wav file through Levelator to level the sound, then filling with music and sound effects.  I couldn’t find anything wrong with my process no matter how many times I looked it over.  Still, the sound quality just wasn’t good enough.

I finally noticed that the mic I’m using was set to record the source in a 16 bit mp3 format.  There was nothing wrong with my process.  I was suffering from a classic case of gigo (garbage in, garbage out).  My process was doing the best it could with the low quality source material I was feeding into it.

So today, while home sick, I took advantage of having an empty house, shut off the air conditioning, draped the blankets up in the closet, reset my mic to record in 32 bit wave format, and started over with the whole thing.  And let me tell you, recording in an upstairs closet, with no air conditioning, in Houston, Texas… I was VERY happy to get the a/c back on!   :)

I re-recorded the first two chapters, and will work later on running the new source files through the whole process again. I also plan to re-record the promo here shortly.  Hopefully that will be a faster way to test my theory.  If I can post the new promo on Podiobooks.com and get some more input (hopefully positive), then that should confirm whether or not I’m on the right track.