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Darkroom finds a new voice—the audio book edition

Ever since I discovered the pleasure of listening to audio books, I’ve thought about making audio versions of my novels. But the high cost of production and my unfamiliarity with the process kept me from moving ahead.

Then, in mid-May of 2017, my thriller Darkroom won First Prize for Fiction in the IndieReader Discovery Awards. This honor may seem unrelated to producing an audio book. It’s not. The award renewed my faith in Darkroom. Like most writers I believe in my work. Otherwise I would not be writing. But the validation boosted my confidence enough to justify the substantial investment in an audio book production.

IndieReader invited to me attend a BookCon event in New York City to receive the award in person. Unfortunately, medical problems kept me from making the trip. Of course, I was disappointed. It occurred to me that I could use the unspent travel money to produce an audio book of Darkroom.

Choosing a production method

I could have read Darkroom and managed the studio production work myself—the least expensive option—and probably ended up with a substandard audio book. I haven’t worked in theater since college and I know almost nothing about sound editing. Sure, I could have learned, but experience has shown me that it takes practice to become competent at new skills. I chafed at the idea of delay. Even more, I refused to make the Darkroom audio book a learning project.

Another avenue of audio book production is through exchanges like ACX and Findaway, which allow you to bid for readers and hold auditions. I felt too inexperienced to sort through a slew of auditions—some by readers who might or might not have access to adequate sound equipment—so I searched instead for an independent studio.

After casting about for a few weeks, I settled on Spoke Media, a production company with a good reputation and a contact person who returned my messages within a day or two (as opposed to a couple of weeks). After listening reader auditions, I chose Alison Pistorius, a theatrical actor whose voice evokes my main character, Kelly.

A new cover for the audio book

I needed an audio version of my cover. Unfortunately, I’d engaged the cover artist through an intermediary, and this company no longer worked with him. I asked the company for help anyway, but received no response. So, I dug up contact information for the cover artist and wrote to him directly. Again, no response. I won’t name the cover artist or the company. I will only say that my estimation of them has taken a nosedive.

Damonza designed a compelling new cover for both the ebook and the audio book of Darkroom. Some readers say they prefer it to the earlier cover.

A few problems

Spoke Media worked fast. Maybe too fast. In three weeks, the audio files were ready for review. By and large the audio book sounded terrific. But I’m glad I listened to every file. Sentences were repeated in a few places, and worse, an entire page of Chapter 28 had not been recorded at all. Maybe you’ve encountered audio books with annoying and confusing mistakes—repetitions, obviously missing words, inconsistent chapter titles—mistakes the producer failed to catch. (And it’s the job of the producer—in this case, me—to catch them.) I’m glad Darkroom didn’t end up being that kind of audio book.

After Spoke Media completed the revisions, I set about uploading the files to my distributors, ACX and Author’s Republic. The ACX reviewer informed me that the files needed a couple of minor edits. The opening credits must be in a separate file rather than part of the Prologue file. Same thing for the closing credits, which were part of  the final chapter file. Making the changes was no big deal, but I could have avoided the brief delay if I’d known the formatting rules.

Success!

The audio edition of Darkroom finally became available in September of 2017. The sound quality is superb and Allison Pistorius does a terrific job of reading the story. I’m pleased with the final product and hope that you will be, too. You can order the Darkroom audio book from Audible, iTunes, and several other outlets.

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Join the Dangerous Darkroom Blog Tour

The moment finally comes. The first copy of Darkroom arrives from the printer. Excited and anxious, I tear away the cardboard shell and behold the cover. It’s even more striking and sinister on the paperback than on the computer screen.The colors are deeper . The man lurking at the cover’s edge looks more compelling and mysterious. The designer has done a terrific job. I run my fingers over the glossy surface. Oh, it feels good.

Darkroom

I feel a bit shaky as I open the book. The interior is entirely my work, and although the PDF has been proofed by a professional and I’ve been over it  a dozen times, I fret that I’ve overlooked something so blatant and stupid that I’ll want to crawl into bed and hide beneath the covers. I thumb through the pages. The margins are right. The chapter headings look exactly as I’d envisioned, and none of them is out of place. The headings haven’t mysteriously vanished from any of the spreads.

Finally, my anxiety dies down. There’s probably an error lurking in there somewhere, but not a major error. I can relax and celebrate the launch of my newest novel.

Be sure to join me for the Dangerous Darkroom Blog Tour May 2-6, organized by the lovely people at Novel Publicity. You’ll get sneak peaks of the novel, interviews with me, and exclusive insights to the story and characters that make Darkroom a novel you won’t soon forget.

Enter the blog tour drawing for a shot at winning these special prizes:

  • A paperback of Larry Clark’s famous photo essay Tulsa. Darkroom features a talented photographer whose photos, like Clark’s,”uncover the secret of a face, its elusive life, so it becomes the portrait of an intimate you have yet to meet.”
  • A set of 10 custom note cards with envelopes, featuring a photograph of Boulder’s iconic Flatirons by moonlight. Photograph by Charles Pfiel.
  • Autographed copies of my dark fantasy horror novels Talion and Daemon Seer.
  • A $25 Amazon gift card.

Darkroom is a suspense thriller with a noirish atmosphere and unexpected twists. Art curator Kelly Durrell goes looking for her missing roommate, talented photographer Day Randall, and becomes entangled in a demimonde of powerful people who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets. Here’s what advance readers and reviewers have to say about Darkroom:

“. . . tight, compelling, and convincing writing.”  — Jon A. Jackson, author of Hit on the House and No Man’s Dog

“A thriller with unexpected plot twists and suspenseful action.”  — RT Source

“Kelly Durrell is a deftly-drawn, intelligent, and likable heroine.”  — Daiva Markelis, author of White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life

“A solid mystery that involves a satisfyingly diverse range of characters.”  — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“[Maddox’s] prose flows with beauty and clarity.”  — Tahlia Newland, author of The Locksmith’s Secret

The paperback is now available through Amazon and will soon become available through other online sellers. The Kindle edition is coming May 3, and you can preorder a copy right now at the special launch price of just $0.99. The price is going up at the beginning of next week, so don’t wait too long!

A taxing week

There are kids who dream of growing up to be entrepreneurs. They set up lemonade stands at the end of 10K races. They seek out jobs stocking supermarket shelves or hawking mall fashions as soon as they’re old enough to work.

I wasn’t one of those kids. I put off getting my first job as long as possible, preferring to spend my summers reading books.

So it’s ironic that I find myself the president of a corporation.

Okay, it’s not much of a corporation. Its assets might keep a dog in kittles for a lifetime as long as the dog isn’t too large and price of kittles doesn’t skyrocket.

How did this happen?

A few years ago I decided to quit looking for another agent and publish my novel Talion on my own. A newbie to the world of publishing, I learned that a book must have something called an ISBN, a number that identifies it for cataloguing and marketing. There are several ways to obtain an ISBN free of charge, but whoever gives it to you is the publisher of record for your book.

If I was going to invest time and money to publish my novel, I wanted to be the publisher of record.

That meant becoming an official publisher. It’s easy to do. Just go to myidentifiers.com and buy a batch of ten ISBNs for a little less than $300. You’re now a publisher.

Logo Attempt 7-aI called my publishing company Cantraip Press. Cantraip is an archaic Scottish word meaning “magic spell.” I hired a graphic artist to design a logo with a Celtic flavor and I was ready to go. (Since then I’ve redesigned the logo.)

A year later, I agreed to publish Occasional Writers, an anthology by the Past~Forward Memoir Group, a group of local writers who meet twice a month to discuss each other’s work and hone their skill. Since the group is funded by our local arts council, I had to enter into a contract with a corporate entity as well as with each of the nineteen writers whose work would appear in the anthology. With advice from an attorney, I drafted the contracts myself.

Cover correct with type WebIt was time to separate my business obligations from my personal obligations and those of my husband. The press became an S-Corp, Cantraip Press, Ltd., which looks kind of cool on letterheads.

The process of incorporating isn’t difficult—fill out a form, pay some money to the State of Illinois, acquire a credit card for business expenses.

When the fiscal year ended, I thought vaguely about corporate taxes. Given that Cantraip Press, Ltd. had made only a few hundred dollars in profits, I doubted it would owe the government any tax. But I figured the government would expect me to submit a return, which I would prepare along our personal income tax returns.

Then at the beginning of April I got a letter from the IRS. Cantraip Press, Ltd. owed them $200, the penalty for failing to file a return by the deadline.

But, but . . . April 15 was two weeks away.

Was this some kind of sick April fool’s day joke perpetrated by the IRS?

The letter gave a phone number to call if I had questions. So I called. The lady who answered explained that corporate taxes are due on March 15. I apologized, telling her it was my first corporate tax return and I was clueless. She was kind enough not to laugh. Instead she put me on hold. A few minutes later she was back. Since I didn’t know about the March 15 deadline, she said, the IRS would waive payment of the penalty—this one time only.

Whoever said the IRS is heartless?

Every year since then, I’ve prepared my corporate tax returns, federal and state, and mailed them well before March 15. In May I mail off another form and a $100 check to renew the status of Cantraip Press, Ltd. as an official S-Corp in the State of Illinois.

But here’s the thing. I hate—just hate—keeping books and doing taxes. I have the requisite software programs, QuickBooks and TurboTax. They make the work easier, but they cannot make it interesting. For me it’s a slog. I can concentrate for hours on writing or editing or playing Scrabble, but ten minutes of bookkeeping spaces me out.

Between bringing QuickBooks up to date and doing the taxes, the last week of February was no fun. It would make sense to hire an accountant if my tiny corporation made any money. But it doesn’t.

Trace - Ebook SmallThe press has grown, though. It has published six books altogether, two by me and the rest by other authors. This spring Cantraip will release two more books, my novel Darkroom and a two-novella volume, Vibe/Sync, the second in Letitia Moffitt’s TraceWorld series.

I’ve had to buy more ISBNs. The truth is I like publishing books, I just hate balancing them.

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Sneak peek: final cover for Darkroom

Last month I received several intriguing cover ideas from graphic designer Pete Garceau. Any of them would have made a great cover for Darkroom, so to help me choose, I polled readers to discover which one they liked most. Two clear favorites emerged.

Darkroom_1

This cover captures the sinister mystery of a forest in the mountains, a setting central to the story. It received 42% of the votes. I love the subtle colors in the image and way the trees form a tunnel at their center. I’ve seen similar covers on suspense novels, which isn’t altogether a bad thing. Readers generally want a cover to signal the genre of the story. Since Darkroom is psychological suspense, the cover with the mysterious forest does tell readers what they’ll get.

But ideally I want a cover that does more than its basic job.

The other finalist won the poll with slightly more than half the votes, not a huge enough margin to make it an overwhelming favorite. The white frame suggests an old-fashioned darkroom negative. (The photographer in the novel still works in a darkroom even though most others have moved to the digital format.) I like the way the man in the image is only half visible and part of him is outside the frame, eluding the camera. Because he’s partially hidden (or hiding) he becomes sinister. The purplish darkness adds to the effect.

Darkroom_9a

This cover evokes the mood of Darkroom perfectly, and it’s more distinctive than the other finalist. Perfect except for one thing—the man. His appearance is wrong for the story. None of the characters looks anything like this guy. so I went back and forth between these two very good but not ideal alternatives.

Then Pete Garceau went to the extra trouble of finding just the right model for the cover. Unlike the other one he faces the viewer with an ambiguous gaze that suggests menace or defiance. He looks like a bad guy with dark motives.

And that’s just what I want.

 

 

Darkroom Cover

 

Thank you to everyone who helped me choose!

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Help me choose a cover for my new novel

My new novel Darkroom is coming out next year. It’s a noirish suspense tale about a woman who searches for her missing friend, an old school photographer who has taken photographs that threaten some dangerous people. Here’s the description that will go on the back cover:

There’s plenty of room for another grave in the mountains . . .

Talented but unstable photographer Day Randall has been living rent-free in Kelly Durrell’s Colorado condo for eight months. Day needs someone to keep an eye on her. Kelly needs someone to draw her out of her stable but not spectacular life . The arrangement works for both of them.

Then Kelly comes home one day to find Day gone. There’s no note, no phone call. Day’s car is still parked out front, but her room is starkly, suspiciously spotless.

No one seems to care. The police certainly aren’t interested in a missing bipolar artist, but Kelly knows something is wrong. Day wouldn’t just leave.

Alone, Kelly traces Day’s last steps through shadowy back rooms of Boulder nightclubs and to a remote mountain estate, where the wealthy protect themselves behind electric fences and armed guards. Along the way, she uncovers a sinister underworld lying just below the mountain snow, and a group of powerful people who will do anything to protect the secrets hidden in Day’s enigmatic photographs.

If she trusts the wrong person, Kelly herself will be the next to disappear.

Graphic designer Pete Garceau has created some terrific images for the cover of Darkroom. Please take a moment and let me know which one you find most eye-catching and intriguing.

Include your email address if you wish to receive  announcements of exciting special offers and contests and be entered in the drawing for a $20 Amazon gift card. This part is optional. I’d love to have your feedback either way.

Click HERE to help me choose the cover for Darkroom.

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How Much Is a Book Worth?

The Amazon KindleIf you hang around Amazon’s Kindle store, you probably know that many customers are pissed about the higher prices of Kindle books. They grouse endlessly in various community forums and spit invective at Amazon, at publishers, even at writers. Now their protests have found another outlet. Furious that the Kindle edition of Michael Connelly’s latest thriller cost more than the discounted hardcover on Amazon’s Web site, readers began posting one-star reviews of the Kindle edition. They made no pretense of having read The Fifth Witness. Most conceded they love Connelly’s novels. But they felt something must be done to make Amazon and Connelly’s publisher, Little, Brown and Company, take heed.

A couple of years ago, the price of a new release on Kindle was $9.99, far less than half the cost of the hardcover. This price was set not by publishers but by Amazon. The online retailer took a smaller profit (or perhaps even a loss) in order to sell more Kindles. “Look!” Amazon told customers. “Buy a Kindle and never pay more than $9.99 for a book!” Then publishers rebelled. When Apple launched iBooks, they had another venue for their ebooks and threatened to withhold their lists from Amazon unless they determined the price. Amazon capitulated but accompanied the higher prices with the message “This price was set by the publisher.” In other words, don’t blame them for breaking the promise they made when they sold you a Kindle.

By the way, The Fifth Witness now costs $12.99 as a KIndle book, still less than half the full retail price of the hardcover and less than Amazon’s discounted price.

As a writer I have some sympathy for Connelly and other bestselling authors targeted by the protest. Not that they need my sympathy, they’re doing just fine, thank you. Still, the unfairness of those reviews must sting a little. Today I posted a brief review of The Fifth Witness on Amazon, giving it one more star than it deserved to compensate for the many undeserved low ratings.

I have less sympathy for Little, Brown and Company. Commercial publishers style themselves as “gatekeepers” who make sure only quality books are offered to readers; in fact they publish whatever they judge will sell. I once had lunch with an editor at a large publishing house who told me so, bluntly. For a long time traditional publishers have had a monopoly on book publishing, but new technologies are changing things. My dark side is gratified at seeing the arrogant, inbred, weaselly bastards scramble.

Nor do I have much sympathy for Amazon, though the company has always been courteous and fair in its dealings with me. Amazon plays hardball with publishers. They can hardly be surprised when publishers do the same.

In the end, two things determine the price of ebooks: what its costs to produce them and what readers are willing to pay.

Many people argue that ebook prices should be low because unlike hardcovers and paperbacks they cost next to nothing to produce and distribute; only a royalty to the author must be paid. This might be true if you ignore the many expenses of running a business – maintaining office space, paying editors, etc. It seems reasonable to include these expenses when determining what it costs to publish an ebook.

Blow aside their smoke about championing literary quality and nurturing writers and it’s clear publishers are in business to make a profit. Of course they charge what the market will bear. Of course they resist when retailers lower prices to undercut competition and promote sales of other merchandise. And there’s this: the longer readers expect ebooks to cost $9.99, the more difficult it becomes to raise the price. Seeing the long-term stakes, publishers fought hard to wrest control of the pricing from Amazon.

The market for ebooks has created a new economic model, and readers are a major force in shaping what it becomes. When enough readers buy ebooks instead of going to the bookstore, bookstore chains like Borders file for bankruptcy. As bookstores close, Internet retailers acquire a larger share of the market, allowing them to raise prices – up to the point where readers refuse to pay. Those customers protesting the price of The Fifth Witness on Kindle claim that bogus one-star reviews are the only way to voice their outrage. But there’s another way that’s fairer (though less emotionally satisfying). Just don’t buy the book until the price goes down.

By the way, my novel Talion can be downloaded from the Kindle store for only $2.99. (See the link below.)