How I learnt to love audiobooks

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I always thought audiobooks weren’t for me. Recently though, I have struggled to read as much as I used to, especially during the week. I am not sure whether it’s my eyes or my brain that are refusing to cooperate, but it’s definitely something to do with spending all day in front of a computer screen.

I still want the immersive experience of reading a book – and not having it feels like a terrible loss –  but I feel a visceral dread of chewing through the paragraphs on a page. So I decided to look again at audiobooks and now have a book-a-week habit!

These were the qualms I had and how I (mostly) overcame them.

Cost

I used to look at the prices on Amazon and get palpitations.

However, I eventually realised that Amazon price single audiobooks so high because they don’t want you to buy them. They want to tie you into a subscription with Amazon-owned Audible. They start at £7.99 for one credit per month (which you can spend on any book). Once I got the bug, I decided to go for an annual package (24 credits for £109.99). This works out at £4.58 per book. (Other retailers are available, I’m going to write about that in another post.)

I also get free audiobooks from my local library via Overdrive and public domain audiobooks through Librivox, as well as the occasional free or discounted book from Audible.

Choice and availability

Only a few years ago, the range of audiobooks was pretty limited. Even if the book I wanted was available, it was often abridged, expensive and came on CD (or even cassette!).

However, changes in technology mean that books are cheaper to produce and can be sold at lower prices. Even indie authors on a limited budget are able to produce good quality audiobooks.

There is much more choice and my Audible subscription allows me to return any book for any reason at any time. This has made me more inclined to take a chance on new authors and titles.

Three’s a crowd

Reading is a very intimate experience. It’s just you and the book’s inimitable whisper. A narrator can feel like an intruder, breaking the spell if their interpretation is different from yours.

Sometimes I still feel that a narrator doesn’t sound right for a particular book, in which case I return it. But what has surprised me is that I’ve actually fallen in love with certain narrators. (Audible are clearly aware of this phenomenon as they run promotions based on popular narrators.) All I wanted from a narrator was for them not to get in the way, but the best ones actually enhance your enjoyment of the book, bringing out the rhythm of the prose, the tempo of the story, the voice of the characters.

Speed and sleep

I’m a fast reader and one of the things that used to frustrate me about listening to live readings is that they’re so slow. I also find that attentive listening is surprisingly tiring and can make me nod off.

Fortunately most audiobook apps address these two key features. I don’t suppose you can ever listen as fast as you can read, but you can adjust the narrator’s speed – I usually go to 1.25, if they’re very slow I go to 1.5. The sleep function is brilliant – Audible and Librivox have an ‘end of chapter’ option, though Overdrive doesn’t, or you can set the playback to stop after a specific amount of time. Most also have a short rewind function (between 15 and 30 seconds) if you’ve misheard or been momentarily distracted.

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Seeing the words on the page

There’s something about how prose looks that matters. I like the shape, the patterns on the page and the way it imprints on your brain. My French teacher at school used to teach us words without letting us see them. His intentions were good – he didn’t want people to Anglicise the pronunciation – but for me the word wouldn’t stay in my head until I had seen it.

Obviously you don’t get that with audio. And you can’t skim-read and it’s not searchable like a Kindle book (and with a physical book you can at least flick through the pages, which is quicker than the audio equivalent).

I’ve found that for reading for pleasure, and for reviewing, audio is fine. However, if I were doing serious study of a book, or it was a book of poetry where layout was integral to the enjoyment of it, I think I would buy the book as well.

Cheating?

Listening to a book feels luxurious, like somebody is pouring a novel straight into my brain with no effort required by me. Perhaps I feel a little guilty! But it’s such a relief to me to have got my reading level up again and the respite means I feel willing and able to read a book with my eyes most weekends.

KATE VANE – HOW I FOUND MY VOICE AS AN AUTHOR — Leslie Tate

 

I was pleased but also a bit daunted when author and blogger Leslie Tate asked me to write about how I found my voice as an author.  I had to think quite hard about what voice is, where it comes from and how it changes, and I’m grateful to Leslie for setting me the challenge!

Here is my guest post on Leslie’s blog:

I asked novelist Kate Vane about how she discovered her voice as an author. Kate’s latest novel is The Former Chief Executive. She has written for the BBC drama Doctors and has had short stories and articles in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday. You can read her blog here. Kate writes: ‘My first novel was a crime novel.…

via KATE VANE – HOW I FOUND MY VOICE AS AN AUTHOR — Leslie Tate

Thank you!

The launch for The Former Chief Executive is finished. It’s been a hectic time but it couldn’t have gone any better!

I’m really grateful to the bloggers and reviewers who reviewed The Former Chief Executive or hosted a guest post (and everyone who shared or commented). Here’s a list in date order:

The Former Chief Executive by Kate Vane wordpressEP Clark

Ashrae

Hair Past a Freckle

Pace, amore, libri

Rather Too Fond of Books (guest post)

What Cathy Read Next

Literary Flits

Swirl and Thread (guest post)

Alison Williams Writing

Women Writers (guest post)

I also want to say thanks again to Ilaria Rosselli del Turco who allowed me to use her lovely painting ‘Head of Woman in Green Kimono’ for the cover.

Now I just need to write the next book!

The Former Chief Executive is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle

 

Launching!

The Former Chief Executive is published tomorrow.

This is the first time I’ve had a formal launch plan for a novel. In the past I’ve published first and then run around trying to promote later but I’ve learnt that’s not the best way to do things!

It hasn’t all gone to plan. As I excitedly posted my cover reveal, Twitter went crazy. Not for me though, for Prime Minister Theresa May. She was announcing a General Election to be held on 8 June, the date I had set for publication. So, it’s been an odd time, the personal and political, hopes and fears, running side by side.

I’m really grateful to the bloggers and reviewers who’ve agreed to review The Former Chief Executive or to host a guest post. I will post links here as they come in.

The Former Chief Executive by Kate Vane wordpressEP Clark

Ashrae

Hair Past a Freckle

Pace, amore, libri

Rather Too Fond of Books

What Cathy Read Next

Literary Flits

Swirl and Thread

Alison Williams Writing

Women Writers

I’m incredibly lucky that Ilaria Rosselli del Turco allowed me to use her painting ‘Head of Woman in Green Kimono’ for the cover.

I’ve had to cultivate patience over the last few weeks when part of me wanted to just get on with it, but the wait is finally over. So now it is for the people to decide…

The Former Chief Executive is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle

 

Who cares for the widows and orphans? and other thoughts on self-publishing a paperback

Dan_Leno_Dressed_for_the_ParkI have a confession to make. I don’t much care about physical books (cue mass unfollowing). I don’t love the smell of new paper or the cracking of the spine. I like ebooks because they’re instantly available and portable and because I’ve reached the age where I look at a book’s font size before I read the blurb. I have one bookcase and when it’s full I scoop up a handful of the dust-gatherers and take them to the charity shop.

However, I have realised that, as in most areas of life, I am out of step with public opinion. People still love the book as artefact. Readers of literary fiction, in particular, like them to have and to hold, to cherish and even to read. For many, the sensation of holding the book, the cover image, the way you can see it in your mind’s eye and link it to the context in which you read it, all form part of the reading experience.

So, I accepted the inevitable and decided to publish my new novel, The Former Chief Executive, in paperback. And because my life is not stressful enough already, I decided to do a paperback of my last novel, Not the End, at the same time.

Of course I dramatically underestimated the work involved. I’ve formatted my own ebooks, so how complicated could it be to do a paperback? This brings us onto the vexed question of widows and orphans. I’d vaguely heard the term but hadn’t thought too much about what it meant till now. For those who are still in that blissful state of ignorance, briefly orphans are first lines of a paragraph at the end of a page, and widows the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page. (In all the years I’ve been reading books I’ve never stopped to notice these, although I was dimly aware that you don’t see hyphens splitting words over two lines like you used to.)

There is much debate about whether you should even bother to address widows and orphans. Some argue that the remedial steps taken (minutely condensing or expanding the text of the offending paragraph until you can force it into shape) could be just as unsightly. Others say that familiarity with ebooks means that people are used to a more fluid attitude to page layout.

Others argue that the effort of making these changes is unnecessary, because most readers won’t notice. However there will always be one person who will write a scathing review if you get it wrong (this is how I learnt that back matter should start on a right-hand page, thankfully before I committed mine to the left).

Once you decide to take action, you then find there are different standards about what must be changed (even the revered Chicago Manual of Style now says that orphans are acceptable, though widows are not). In the end I followed the advice of this excellent article by Christine Michaels. Widows were dispatched without mercy, while orphans were allowed to plead their case.

tfce and nte covers reducedIt made me wonder how many other traditions are being eroded by changing technology. Many ebook authors (myself included) don’t bother with an ISBN, although the official advice of the Alliance of Independent Authors is that you should have one for each format of your book. And the distinctions between editions and reprints and revised editions are breaking down. With an ebook, or even a print-on-demand paperback, you can easily pop in and change the cover or make a few amendments to the text whereas with a traditionally published book you’re stuck with it till the next print run.

One thing I love about being an independent author is that I’m always learning something new. Even if you don’t do the work yourself (I’ve finally seen the wisdom of getting professionally designed covers) you still need to know enough to ask the right questions (I can now throw around terms like ‘spine width’ and ‘bleed’ and ‘gutter’ with at least a semblance of knowing what I’m talking about).

Now I have my books. I must admit that there is something nice about holding them in your hands. And if I’m ever on TV, I will be able to stand in front of my bookcase looking earnest, with my novels strategically arranged to be in full view. And that is surely the best use for a physical book (just kidding).

The Former Chief Executive and Not the End are available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.

*** After I’d finished my books (of course), I learnt that Reedsy has a free formatting tool. I haven’t used it, so can’t vouch for it, but will certainly be taking a look before I publish my next book.***

You or your characters – who’s in charge?

Someone recently asked me why I had made Jim, one of the protagonists in my novel Not the End, a twin. I couldn’t really answer that. I didn’t feel I’d made him anything, he just came to me that way.

It would be nice to think I could produce characters to order, be at the head of an army of compliant puppets. That’s now how it works for me. Characters turn up when they feel like it, often at night, whispering in the dark or shouting outside the window. They trample over my carefully tended plots. They ignore the path I have laid out and forge their own. I run round clearing up after them, changing my story to make sense of their apparently implausible or irrational behaviour, adapting my structure, shifting the narrative arc.

In fact – they’re just like real people. They aren’t predictable and they resist coercion. Doesn’t that make for a better book? If there are to be twists and surprises and thought-provoking developments maybe they need to surprise the writer as much as the reader. Perhaps in their contrariness my characters are saying that what appears reasonable is not actually true.

The downside of character-driven writing is that everything takes so long. They always make me wait. I’m so envious of writers who can write a great plot-driven outline, plug in characters with the correct dimensions and set them marching to their drum. Am I just weak? Should I exercise more authority?

For my next-but-one novel I’ve been experimenting. I’m trying a plot-driven approach, writing a crime novel working from one of those template plots. Rather than waiting for my characters to decide how they want to respond, I’m going to prune them into shape. (Spoiler alert: it’s not working out so far.)

Why shouldn’t it though? If drama is about conflict, about putting your characters in a position where they really don’t want to be and seeing how they react, then why would you ask them nicely first? And I’m not a snob. There are some plot-driven writers who produce complex and interesting characters (and plenty of literary authors who can’t plot to save their lives).

For me the difficulty is that, like real people, characters grow and change. I’ve been writing my main work-in-progress for a couple of years, and had it in the back of my mind for longer than that, but the other day I had a moment of realisation, that a character’s feelings about a key event in his life are quite different from what I thought. And that there’s still much more about him that is enigmatic to me.

Writing a novel isn’t just about narrating a series of events in a particular order, it’s about answering a question that I’ve asked of my characters and myself. That’s why I never get bored with writing. Exhausted and exasperated, yes, but not bored. I’m always learning. And it’s the characters who are telling me something I don’t yet know.

Adverbially Challenged Volume 2 is launched

Adverbially Challenged 2I am very pleased to be included in the latest Adverbially Challenged anthology, which is published on Thursday 30 March.

I don’t normally write flash fiction, although I enjoy reading it, but I couldn’t resist this challenge – to write a story of 100 words containing as many adverbs as possible.

Every writing workshop or ‘how to write’ manual or blog will tell you not to use adverbs, for good reason. Beginner authors invariably (see what I did there?) overuse them. I blame primary school teachers (sorry, Mrs Fry). We are encouraged to use adverbs in sentences as children to develop our language skills and our understanding. For many of us, the habit sticks.

I’m a big fan of breaking the rules as a writing exercise. (One idea I have had in the back of my mind for years is to try and write a story that subverts all of Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing.) Breaking the rules forces you to think creatively. In this case – when are adverbs effective in fiction?

I tried to use them to counter expectations. No one needs to know that someone is smiling ‘happily’, but what if they’re smiling ‘icily’? I haven’t seen an advance copy of the book, so I’m looking forward to seeing how other writers interpreted the challenge and will write about it in a later post.

Profits from sales of the anthology will be donated to First Story. The charity brings talented professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities. They work with teachers and students to develop their creativity and communication skills.

It’s great to think that this anthology will help another generation of children learn how (not) to use adverbs!

Adverbially Challenged Volume 2 is edited by Christopher Fielden and was the idea of Mike Scott Thomson, who wrote the introduction to the book. Chris features many more writing challenges on his website, all for charity. I enjoyed writing mine, so why not have a go?

You can buy Adverbially Challenged Volume 2 in Kindle or paperback from Amazon.