If I had to come up with a specific trigger that decided me on writing a book, I guess I’d come up empty. Put an experience a year behind you and things start to go out of focus, I suppose. There had been plenty of false starts before I wrote Commune One, so I can’t really tell you why this one stuck and the others didn’t. Maybe I wasn’t the right kind of person to write a book back then, whereas now I’m the kind of person I need to be. Maybe it really was just all about learning discipline.
What I can say for sure is that, at some point, I sat down and started writing a story and, after hitting around the 90 or 100 page mark (I used to measure things in terms of pages at first), I realized that I was probably going to finish. Moreover, I realized the story I had was probably going to take a few books to complete, and that seemed okay to me. At no point did it occur to me that I might not get these done. So, I suppose you can legitimately call me a writer now. Or a hack. That works too.
As I put the finishing touches on that first book, it occurred to me that I’d have to start worrying about publishing the damned thing, so I dove into that process as well (and learned a whole bunch of new and important lessons through its execution). I learned how critical patience is, for example. You don’t want to rush this stuff, definitely.
As the first couple of sales started to trickle in, I started looking towards what would be next. For one thing, I knew I had two more books to write. For another, I got curious about audio books. If you’ve read some of my other stuff on here, you’ll know that I’m a passionate believer in audio books, given that they turn my daily commute into something I can look forward to rather than dread. And it just seemed to me that, in a market completely saturated with new entrants at various levels of quality (I’ve seen self published works of outstanding caliber right alongside those of stunning mediocrity), it behooved a fella to do something to stand out from the herd. This is just one of those important life lessons you pick up when you compete at anything for any given amount of time…and this market absolutely is a competition, make no mistake. Writers are competing for time and attention, so step one is not getting lost in the crowd.
An audio book with your name on it is just such a way to stand out from that herd. See, anyone can publish a book now; that’s not an amazing achievement anymore. Signing with a publisher: big deal. Putting your ebook up on the internet: not so much. But an audio book…well. That’s a thing that has to get produced. Someone (other than you, your friends, or your family) needs to believe enough in the story you’ve created that they’re willing to invest time and effort into it. In essence, you need other people to believe that your work is good enough that you can all make some money on it. Readers (and listeners) know this instinctively: if they see that your novel has been released as an audio book, they figure maybe there’s more to what you created than just some random person button-mashing away on a keyboard.
Coincidentally, at the same time I was pondering this industry, R. C. Bray (my hands-down favorite narrator in the audio book business) decided to host a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) in which his fans could, you guessed it, ask him whatever they wanted.
Before I continue with this, I need to confess that, as I spent my wee hours of the morning contemplating the process of getting an audio book produced, I fantasized about having Bray one day narrate one of my books. I vividly recall thinking that if such a thing ever happened, I’d consider myself a success as a writer. For me, it wasn’t down to book sales or some big, fat publishing deal. My meter stick was just being able to hear something I’d written alongside the likes of The Martian or The Mountain Man series or even the Arisen series. I thought about that, silently, unwilling to mention such a conceit even to my wife, and advised myself to dream on.
During the AMA, I asked what I thought was a simple question: “Given the cost to produce the average audio book (I had read it could run anywhere from $10K-$20K, depending), could he offer any advice on breaking into the market for a newbie?”
His response was kind but clear: That’s a pretty deep question, honestly, and there isn’t enough time to answer that here.
He didn’t blow me off, though. He sent me his e-mail address and said, “E-mail me this question so I know its you and, when I have the time tomorrow morning, I’ll give you the answer it deserves.”
So I did that and we got to talking offline.
There was a bit of back and forth and I explained what my situation was to him, insofar as stating that I was interested in getting my book produced in audio format but that I didn’t have $10K to put up to get that done. Turns out that there are a few different ways to get the job done, some of which include profit splitting…in which case I only had to find a narrator who believed that my book was good enough to bet his/her time and effort on.
Now, as this conversation was going on, it happened that Bray went over to Amazon and bought the ebook of my novel without telling me. You can imagine my surprise when, after getting a few chapters in, he told me he wanted to narrate the series. I won’t belabor the point but I will say that I immediately called my wife and lost my damned mind into the phone. I don’t recall exactly what was said anymore but she did have to remind me to breathe several times.
My second book is now finished and in the editing process, soon to be sent out to my narrator (mostly so I can get it into his queue; he’s ridiculously busy). I haven’t really gotten rich doing this and I honestly don’t care if I do or I don’t. I decided a while ago what success as a writer meant to me: write something that people would enjoy and maybe one day hear it performed by my favorite audio book narrator. Money is kind of besides the point.
I can’t really offer any advice to aspiring writers to replicate such a thing. I can’t write an article that tells you how to craft a good story (hell, I’m not even sure that I’m 100% on the process) or even how to write competently. A lot of what happened to me over the last year had more to do with luck and random timing than anything else. How do I advise someone to be in the right place at the right time?
The best I can really do for you is to say that if I hadn’t tried, it wouldn’t have happened. At no point during this entire process did I believe I was good enough for any of this to take place. Even so, I said “screw it” and put my chips forward.
And that’s what it takes. Have a little faith in yourself, despite any evidence to the contrary that you can dream up.