#MondayBlogs: the job of being an author. Not all that glamorous #amwriting #amreading #asmsg

#MondayBlogs: the job of being an author. Not all that glamorous #amwriting #amreading #asmsg

The job of writing books: from piracy to socializing with readers. Not all aspects are equally enjoyable

There is nothing to calm the writing industry these days. Last week we were reached by the news that another publisher in the LGBT industry, Wilde City Press, is closing shop. Just days after the disastrous closure of All Romance Ebooks, this was painful news. I’ve reviewed more than one book from Wilde and I know one of the owners personally. I don’t know what is behind their decision, and I understand they plan to close their publishing house in an orderly fashion. Still, for all their authors, to find new homes for books, either self-publishing or with another publisher will take time and effort.

The night after I learned about Wilde City I slept badly. My thoughts traveled to my own publisher. Not that I’ve received any indications that they’re going to close shop, but there are no guarantees. For anything. Before I joined Beaten Track, I had my own small imprint, Yaree. I could, theoretically, re-publish all my books under my own label. However, I really don’t want to. I find the publishing aspect of writing boring. On the other hand, finding another publisher and jumping through all the hoops necessary to get a book published (again) is a nightmare and I don’t envy my friends and colleagues who have to go through that with all their books…

The vast majority of the books published in the industry are romance novels, and while most of my books include aspects of romance (or relationships as I prefer to call it), they’re not your typical romance books. No sex (unless needed to drive the plot), and topics not usually associated with the genre. Finding a publisher who’s willing to publish the books as they are would be a challenge, and I wouldn’t add sex just  to please reader demands. Not really my artistic vision (exceptions apply).

Almost 1,500 sites blocked since I joined Blasty. Scary!

We also spend far too much time making sure our books aren’t stolen. Yes, piracy is a growing industry, and it’s virtually impossible for authors to fight piracy. It’s so easy for our ebooks to be spread and end up in the wrong hands. A pirate could even buy my books and make them available to make money either selling them at a discount again or even for free (making money with ads & clicks). I’ve recently tested a tool called Blasty, a site that works with Google, the biggest search engine (but far from the only one), and I’ve been shocked to see just how far spread piracy is, even for a small author such as myself. ALL my books are available on piracy sites. What Blasty does isn’t remove the books from the pirates, doesn’t stop the pirates, but it removes them from search results. If a reader already has the URL, they’ll still be able to read and download. So if you truly care for your authors, please refrain from piracy… (If you want to try Blasty yourself, here’s an invite)

I won’t say more about the economy of being an author. I write because I want to, and if I find something else to do, I may just do that. I’m too much of a Gemini to commit to a life as author.

Oh, look, shiny object. Let’s have a look!

It’s who I am… As an author, I would really like to focus on writing. Instead, I spend 80% of my time on other aspects of the job. Because let’s face it. Writing isn’t as glamorous as many readers seem to think. Getting into the zone is hard enough (see all my posts on the topic from last fall), writing itself can be excruciating emotionally and even physically. And rewarding, immensely rewarding. But there comes the time when we’re done, when we put down the pen and send our manuscripts to our publishers.

Once a book is out, that’s when the 80% start, with marketing, PR, selling and what not. My blogging is part of my marketing. I have so much work left on my current work in progress, yet here I am, writing a blog post. I spend way too much time on Facebook and on other social media sites, and every time I go on Instagram and realize that I haven’t taken this totally awesome picture to publish, I get a lump in my stomach. The same applies for witty Facebook posts or amazing blog topics. And I spend hours every days talking to fans, readers etc. I pay money to attend conventions to spend even more time with readers, to feel ashamed when they fangirl over you. It’s really embarrassing to have people idolize you. Don’t get me wrong. It’s flattering, too, but mostly I look at myself and wonder “why?” What’s so special about me for people to react this way? Don’t they realize what a bad person I am? Deep down?

There are aspects of being an author which are totally awesome, and there are aspects that are painful and uncomfortable. Being an author isn’t that big of a difference than being in any other job… There are things you like and things you do out of a sense of duty. This wasn’t supposed to be a whiny post. As much work as it is to be an author, it’s also one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I enjoy the interactions with people, to be social, do small talk and have fun with others. Given how lonely it is to sit in your house all day, social media are often my only window into the world. Don’t believe me? Ask my husband…

Have a good week in this crazy world and this week where the saying that “orange is the new black” becomes the harsh reality in the White House.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Book research: the day the earth spoke to me and I listened #amwriting #asmsg #sapmi #LGBT

Book research: the day the earth spoke to me and I listened #amwriting #asmsg #sapmi #LGBT

I am grateful beyond measure for the trip I took this week

Sometimes you do things just for fun. You know to visit a place you’ve dreamt for seeing. And sometimes that place leaves a mark on you. I recall the Taj Mahal in Agra or Uluru being two such places which have left deep marks in my soul. Those places, albeit visited just for pleasure, as a tourist, are very powerful. They taught me things I never thought possible, never thought I needed to know. They’ve changed who I am as a human being. As an author, I am lucky to have been able to use those lessons and the imagery etched onto my retinas in more than one of my books, but mainly The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. This week, I did something I had not done before. I left my house to travel to a place I have already written about, in my current work in progress (WIP), tentatively still called “The Pillow“, although that, too, may change.

This is Sápmi, the land of the Sami people. Source: samer.se

This trip was different. I had planned it to learn. I did not go there to have fun. I went alone, without my family, at a time where there are no tourists (I was the only guest in town) to understand the soul of the Sami people, to learn what it means to be Sami. Not having been brought up in the Swedish school system, I knew nothing about that people, yet somehow, in my semi-conscious efforts to highlight diversity in my work, my main character decided to appear as a Sami. To do him justice, I had to learn. When I write about a specific place, particularly if I haven’t been there, is to go online, look at pictures, maps, and web sites to get the information I need. I tend to keep it generic and I rarely go into great detail. When I’ve been to the place, it’s obviously much easier to be specific. Although, my storytelling focuses more on the emotional impact of a place than lengthy descriptions of wall papers or architectural details. A choice.

The mountains are impressive. Different than the Alps, the Andes or the Himalayas, but massive nonetheless. The cultural landscapes of Sápmi.

For some reason, and the faithful among you are free to claim divine intervention, the land of the Sami, Sápmi, called to me. The mountains around Ammarnäs called to me, and I had an almost physical urge to visit. Yes, to learn about the Sami, but I was sure it was primarily to ‘see’ what Nilas would see, to get a feeling for the land.

Now I understand it was more than that. The Sami ARE the land. There was a point in my conversations with my guide Mikael where he told us how deeply wounded his people feel every time the colonists (aka the Swedish) talk about the “wilderness” of the mountain landscapes of northern Scandinavia, where in fact, they would never apply that term to their own back yard.

There are traces of Sami cultures everywhere, but they’re invisible to most of us. This for instance is a trail marker.

To the Sami, who have lived around these mountains for thousands of years, this is not wilderness, it is their home, a cultural landscape. And while we as visitors or colonizers may be unable to see it, there are countless signs of culture: trails, places of worship and sacrifice to the gods, homesteads, milking stations, etc.

The Sami live in harmony with nature, and unlike the Abrahamic Peoples who believe that the earth is ‘theirs to subdue’ (Genesis 1:28-29), this indigenous people understands to take only what they need to live. Not more. And their needs are simple. Their joy is to watch a reindeer calve, to see an arctic fox hunt lemming, an eagle soar, or commune with a bear, the carrier of messages to and from the afterlife.

After my first day on the mountain I was exhausted. More so from the stories I was told, the lessons I had learned, than from the physical fatigue of riding a snowmobile all day. And it wasn’t until the end of the second day when I realized the power of this land, how it beckons and calls. I’ve learned to see it differently, and I now understand that it called upon me because Nilas is the mountains and the land is Nilas.

Back in Gothenburg, in my own four walls, I wonder how the first draft will be affected. How much of the Sami story will find its way into the pages of it? Nilas has morphed before my eyes. I see him much clearer now, his life, his soul. I also understand why the books ends the way it does, and it is the perfect ending (if I may say so). I have a lot of work to do in the coming two weeks before the manuscript is due to reach my publisher.

The Sami are the land and the land is the Sami. In the total absence of sound you finally hear earth talk to you, if you’re ready to listen.

I’m glad for this enlightening journey, this pilgrimage of sorts, because it has once again instilled in me a sense of purpose, and maybe, just maybe this is what we need from time to time: to shut up and listen. Not just to each other, as important as that is, but to listen to the earth talk to us. I know this sounds very new age and strange, particularly coming from someone who does not believe in deities. However, I do believe that we and all living things are connected somehow and that we simply don’t fully understand how the neutrons, protons and electrons that make up everything, how the basic strings resonate. Maybe when we’re totally still, in a place where silence reigns, maybe, just maybe, we can here those strings swing, resonate and talk to us…

Have a wonderful weekend!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

Author by choice, design or fate? Why we’re writing. #amwriting #asmsg #MondayBlogs #author #books

Author by choice, design or fate? Why we’re writing. #amwriting #asmsg #MondayBlogs #author #books

Why are you writing books, author?

This is not the first time that I’m grappling the topic of why authors write, I know. But it’s been a while, and with different times come different words, and who knows, my reasoning may have changed, mellowed, or hardened. You be the judge of that. The main reason why I’m revisiting this topic is my post from last Friday, about author economy, it, too, not the first time I was dabbing my feet into that particular topic.

During my years as author and blogger, I’ve spoken to hundreds of colleagues and friends in the industry about “why” they have become authors. Some of those I even interviewed here on my blog. Simply search author interview and you’ll find them. I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time soul-searching myself about my own plans, and why I am pursuing this particular “career”. Just last night, I applied for a day job, and that step once again propelled the question front stage and centered. What will I respond a potential interviewer if they ask me why I write books? And why I consider working full-time again? And what about my writing? Will it interfere with my day job?

All valid questions. I would look at the whole question of “why are authors writing” from two perspectives: a) those who do so full-time and b) those who do not:

  1. Full-time writers
    1. Make a living off of their writing
      1. Journalists / celebrities
      2. “commercially successful” authors
    2. Supported by a patron, e.g. a spouse.
  2. Part-time writers

Ever since 1/1/2013 I’ve been falling under category 1.2, at the beginning being paid by the Swedish government as I was under parental leave and thus paid for that, and after that living off of money from my father and my husband (thanks again guys!) I would say that the absolute and vast majority of authors today belong to category 2, but as I said Friday, almost everybody dreams of 1.1.2, where maybe, maybe 1,000 people on the planet belong to. Because even writing a bestseller doesn’t necessarily guarantee you riches. Most authors “living” off of their work barely get by, which makes you think about their driving forces. WHY would anyone live off a salary of maybe 20-30K USD, if they could make a lot more in a corporate career?

Needless to say that the table above is simplified. There are of course variations to the theme, but for the purpose of this post, it’s complex enough. So what is driving us to write? I totally understand that dream many readers (I don’t necessarily see non-readers dreaming of one day writing that novel, I might be wrong) dream of writing. I don’t think I’ve been to many author-reader conferences where not most of the readers also held author dreams or were already working on a book. Maybe there is an analogy to musicians writing music?

From my perspective, I’ve always been writing. Nothing ever came of it, not until I was an adult. But writing a book was something I aspired to. It was something that made you “immortal”. Sure, I could’ve also written music, but since I have no voice to write home about and since my piano playing days ended in me being sexually assaulted by my piano teacher, that part of my life ended before it even had a chance to begin. And I guess, being a geek, an outsider, bullied and usually lonely in my room after school, writing diaries and little stories from early on, provided me with an outlet, a “friend” who would always listen, never argue, never talk back: paper.

My first book, ever. Self-published in 1991. I still have a box in my basement with a few left-over copies. I learned a lot about publishing since…

When I finally did write a book, it was angsty poetry and a short story, self-published back in 1991 and I made all the horrible mistakes only a self-publisher makes: no editor, and a proof reader who had no idea what she was doing, apart from doing me a favor. I cringe when I open the pages of that little booklet today and see all the typos and errors EVERYWHERE. At least the photographs, the typesetting and printing were done professionally, by a friend who was in that particular industry.

Writing had always been my dream. Today, nine novels later (the tenth to be finished this month), two non-fiction titles (both in two editions), and three other books, the aforementioned poetry book, a short story collection and a book about how we became parents, I have more than lived and fulfilled that dream. What is left is the next big question for me.

Many of my author friends talk about this “need” to write, they speak of “plot bunnies” and everything and anything sets off ideas in their heads, ideas for stories. My ideas have become a lot more scarce recently, and as a writer of existential fiction (for lack of a better term) in a sea of sexy and romantic novels, I sometimes feel like something the cat’s dragged in, and I don’t necessarily feel inspired to write. Please don’t get me wrong, I love the LGBT writing community dearly, and my M/M friends are an important part of my life, but in terms of my work, my craft, my art, I get very little inspiration.

Some of the authors I’ve met through the years write to make money. Most of them are Americans, dreaming about the promise of the “American Dream”, and the riches and success it beckons with. Yet as alluring as it may be, it often reminds me more of the rat catcher of Hameln than something actually seriously worth pursuing. Because again, given today’s market, you have to sell a boat load of books to make a million. Consider this simple example:

Book sold at $3.99, a fairly common price for an e-book. If on Kindle Unlimited and KDP exclusive, the author makes 70% (if self-published), otherwise it’s more like 15%, but alas, let’s consider them self-published. They make $2.79 a book. To make a million USD, they’d have to sell  358,423 copies of said book. That’s a lot of books! Now, if you’re with a publisher, do the math yourself, based on your terms.

Yet when we read how Mr. Yiannopoulos announces a book deal for a whooping $250,000 with a respectable publisher, thousands and thousands of “hobby” authors begin to dream anew. However, and this isn’t about Mr. Yiannopoulos political views (which I personally despise), he is already a bit of a household name. At least within his realm of right-wingers. He’s a celebrity, and a journalist, not an unusual combination, and thus a relatively safe bet for a publisher, a fun queer, delivering his bile sugar-coated with jokes and campy antics, unlike his mentor Steve Bannon. As cynical as it may seem, publishers today care little about the “good of the world” and only about shareholder value and next quarter profits. To Simon & Schuster it seems to make sense to cash in on the current political heat wave in American politics and the upswing of fascism (or as some call ‘alt-right’). We’ll see how successful that books turns out to be for them once it’s out…

In today’s economy, to sell a run of 100,000 copies of a book, you better have a strong selling point. And a household name would be just that. It’s no surprise that many sports personalities and former politicians end up (ghost-)writing books. Often enough, they’re already successful (financially as well as publicity-wise) and therefore safe bets for the big publishers of the world, which often sell language rights to each other across country borders. Swedish soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovich isn’t just a star in Sweden. I’m sure his book sells equally well in Italy, France and now the U.K. where he’s currently playing. And I’m sure that George W. Bush’s biography “Simple Minds” is laughed at in Moscow as well as Beijing… kidding You get my point.

Those books, whether they’re from journalists, politicians, celebrities or sports personalities are rarely novels. They’re biographies or non-fiction, although you never really know the difference between fact and fiction. When it comes to the great bestsellers in the fictional arena, you’ll see two big trends: big names or big topics. Not often do you get to know a new name or a new topic. So why do people still pursue the dream of writing? In all my talks, the only common denominator to this question is “I have no choice”. Be it plot-bunnies replicating faster than the Hobbs in Bunnyborough or the urge to get that ONE story out of their heads.

My first book was one that “had” to be written. I had to get my own story out of the way before other stories got to see the light of day… It will also be my first audio book.

I don’t mind which drives you my friend. However, I have one request: make sure you don’t just fall for Amazon’s sweet talk about how easy it is to self-publish and how many millions of dollars their Unlimited-fund is filled with quarter after quarter. Those aren’t your millions: think pennies instead, be realistic. And get an editor, a good one. Pay them! Get proof readers. Get a good cover artist. Pay them! And even if you decide to create your own PDF to upload to Amazon et al., read up on typesetting. Because the craft of a book is as important as the art of it. The delivery of a story as important as the story itself. While I would never dispute your right to publish anything just because you can’t afford to pay for quality help, I question the wisdom. Do you really think people are going to enjoy plot holes, typos and other issues? And what a start to your author career if your reviews reflect those shortcomings? Grant you, not even a publisher is always going to do their job, I once fell into that pit with my first English non-fiction title, but it’s rare. I was a rookie and naïve. If you’re me, get help, ask for advice. Be patient.

Why? I know how badly bad reviews hurt! And nothing is worse than a bad review that you know is the truth, mercilessly delivered not just to you personally, by an editor who wants your best, but to a global audience who’ll shun your work… Think about that.

We live in a day and age where it’s easier than ever to publish a book. We also live in a day and age where our enjoyment of literature is increasingly governed by the shorter attention spans we grant our entertainment. Books become shorter, novels turn into novellas who turn into short stories. And the somewhat finite pool of money spent on books (shrinking in 2016) is spent on more and more authors, and more and more titles. In the end, fewer people will be able to financially support themselves as writers. If that is why you want to get into writing, you may try the lottery instead, and invest the time saved into a DIY project or your family. However, if your heart is bursting and your mind is spinning with a story that just must be told, by all means, do give it to the world. Just make sure you do it justice! Everything else would be a shame, don’t you think?

Have a wonderful week. As you read this, I’m traveling north to the village of Ammarnäs in Swedish Lapland to do my tenth novel justice, doing research into my main character’s place of birth and his cultural heritage. I’ll tell you more on Friday when I’m back…

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

It’s the economy stupid! #Authors and selling #books #amwriting #amreading #asmsg

It’s the economy stupid! #Authors and selling #books #amwriting #amreading #asmsg

Yeah, who would’ve guessed that the first post of the year would be about author economy?

Welcome to 2017. Did y’all make it over? I hear Betty White did… ARe didn’t, and given what I heard, it’s probably a blessing to be rid of them… However, for affected authors and publishers, the loss of an entire quarter of revenue (I wonder how many of them fessed up to the ridiculous 10% offer) is painful. The author economy has been challenging in recent quarters. While some authors do well (some always will), for the vast majority, things have become even tighter than before. In their despair, some authors have given up, some turn to sites like Patreon or GoFundMe to get additional money, and some continue on as if nothing happened. So what works?

Every now and then, even I do get to sit on a beach, although at my own expense. This beach in Cartagena, Colombia, is significant, if you’ve read Jonathan’s Promise

Let me cut straight to the answer: I don’t know! If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this post. A minion would. I’d be sipping martinis on a beach, compliments of my publisher, discussing my next book project with my literary agent. Alas, I have no minions and no agents, and my publisher is a socialist, and before they pay me to sip martinis on a beach, we’d see Jeremy Corbin kneel before the queen accepting the premiership. So…

I think that we need to go back to our roots. I’ve written about the author economy before, and I understand that people tend to get creative in order to make money (some even criminally creative, as is suggested by some in the ARe case, although they must be assumed innocent until proven guilty). I have a patron in the form of my father, and I’m eternally grateful for that. However, there are always two sides to every coin. With that patronage come obligations (and if you open an account with e.g. Patreon, you’ll find the same to be true), and obligations, as much as we may love to fulfill them, take time.

Last year, going into 2016, I reduced the number of days I blogged, from five to two. On the other hand, I took up Vlogging every Wednesday which sort of overcompensated the time saved from writing. Video editing is very time consuming, not to mention how much time it takes to upload things to YouTube… With only 24 hours at hand every day, we have to be savvy in terms of where we invest every hour. Where do we see the biggest return? What makes sense? What does not? Why do we blog or vlog or use social media?

The other important question we need to ask ourselves is “why”. Why do we write? Is it out of a necessity to get stories out of our head? Is it because we don’t have a choice? Or is it because we want to make money? Because we dream of being the next J.K. Rowling or Jackie Collins or Stephen King?

Things are connected, and the author economy flows through everything, from our writing to our marketing. If writing is purely a hobby, something you enjoy doing, because you have all those ideas running through your head, then the economy will play a secondary role in your life. You’ll most likely have a day job or e.g. a partner supporting you while you thank them by looking after the house, as I do. Marketing becomes secondary, because it doesn’t really matter how many books you sell, ten or fifteen a month, it doesn’t make much of a difference to your economy. With the year’s royalties, you splurge on a bottle of wine, after paying the government their rightful dues. Losing five or ten bucks to ARe won’t even have you bat your eyelashes, and whether your books sell at ¢99 or $4.99 makes no difference to you. You are having the time of your life and you’re enjoying every minute of it, appreciating the amazing reviews you garner from your readers.

If however, you see writing as a major (sole?) source of income, you will see things like ARe or slumping e-book sales in a different light. I get that, too. And no matter from what perspective you look at the writing industry, you need to ask yourself some hard questions going into 2017:

  • Writing: hobby or money maker? If the latter is the case, I would say you have to make sure you can write as much as possible, which means invest as many of your 24 hours as you can in producing literature. Not as many words as possible, but the optimal amount of high quality words. And you need to work with your publisher(s), your editor(s), agent etc. While writing advice may change in terms of “marketing”, this is one thing I found to be a lasting truth:

    Your next book is your best marketing for your latest release.

    Having a back list is always valuable. If a reader discovers you after book five, chances are, they’ll also read your first four. S’all. No magic. But you need that back list for that sale to happen and suddenly, you’ve made five times more money out of one book than you could’ve ever imagined.

  • Marketing: This is where I can’t give you much advice, as things are always fluctuating and changing, but I’d say this: if you aren’t seen, you don’t exist. And I’m not talking about TV shows or being on the front page of a tabloid. That’s for the A list only, and it serves the same purpose: being seen. It doesn’t automatically translate into sales. But without being seen, people won’t know you exist, and they won’t check out your work. That again means, no sales. While there is a correlation of course, it’s not a direct one. Time is a factor. So make sure you’re seen, regularly, in the circles of your genre. Ideally, in a positive light. Yes, every genre has their bad boy/girl/person, but that’s not necessarily you… Marketing is difficult, and as with all things economy, time is a bigger issue than money. If you have a day job, your ability to be on Facebook, Instagram etc will be limited. So will your time to produce a good blog post, or a video on YouTube. But whatever you do, make sure you’re seen. Out of sight, out of mind!

At the end of the day, there’s more to life than money. I also invest a significant amount of my 24 hours in my family, my son. Seeing him smile is priceless!

I know that some authors are really angry at all the giving away of books for nothing or ¢99. At times, I’m frustrated, too. Because writing a book, even if it’s only 8K words, takes time. Time is money. The edits will cost (if done professionally), and the cover has the same cost whether it’s for a short story or a novel. Now, if you put out a short story for free as part of your marketing, then at least you will know that the cost incurred is an investment. But be smart about how and where you give it away. And whatever you choose, stand by your choice. Don’t give in to peer pressure or perceived reader pressure. Because, and I mean no offense, readers/consumers are like needy children. Give me more, give me free. Duh! Of course they do. WE DO, TOO. Can we authors/writers really say we’re different? Don’t we also (often) expect people to work for free for us? Free cover artists, free editors, free beta readers, free listings on Amazon? This is part of human nature and we can’t change that.

I’ve heard tales about authors taking short cuts to save money, you wouldn’t believe it. “No, I don’t need an editor. I’ve studied English…”, “My beta readers edit my books” etc. Btw, I have seen a select few authors create amazing art work, most do not. And while I’ve heard one or two authors with amazing voices record their own audio books, most should not. And even a professor in English literature needs an editor. But that’s a different post.

So what’s the bottom line here? The author economy is constantly changing. And whether you write for money or write for fun, be sure you know why you’re doing it. Because in the end, the really hurtful thing for a reader or fan to see on Facebook are post like this: “I’ve wasted a year I could’ve done this instead…” leaving them to feel like they’ve prolonged your suffering, added to your pain or worst, feeling duped for believing in you, buying your work. I sometimes think about leaving writing, going back to a job that pays all the perks, including pension savings (I’m not getting younger), without having the obligations of being supported. This is a constantly ongoing process and sometimes I work more, and sometimes I work less (for money i.e.), but the one thing I never want to feel is regret. Regret over my writing. I once dreamed of becoming rich and famous as a writer. And maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, that dream lives on. But I don’t allow it to guide my decisions, and my real compensation isn’t the pending royalty check for 2016 from my amazing publisher. No, it’s the feedback from my readers, my fans. To have a reader tell me a story has touched them, changed their life even, is worth more to me.

With that, I wish you the very best for the new year. May 2017 prove to be a year of change for the better for our planet, and humanity. I know the signs spell trouble, but here’s to hope.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

#MondayBlogs: my first venture into audio books, finding my voice #asmsg #LGBT #audiobooks

#MondayBlogs: my first venture into audio books, finding my voice #asmsg #LGBT #audiobooks

Embarking on creating audio books: here’s what I learned and here’s my voice!

An admission up front: I have never listened to an audio book. Not that I’m old-fashioned per se, but it just hasn’t occurred to me to try it. Why? Well, I read a lot, and I listen to music while I do. However, there are situations where audio books might be a great way to “read”, e.g. when I iron or fold clothes, since I couldn’t hold my device and read, or when driving. But I think it’s my love for music that’s stopped me from testing an audio book until now, and the fact that most books still aren’t available as audio books.

That is changing, though. Fast! This article I read shows just how fast audio book sales are growing, adn almost every day I read about new books being published around me, by authors I know. I’ve also received more than one question (a lot more) about my own plans for audio books. And at GRL this year, I got to listen to yet another narrator of audio books, reading from a book. And I have to say, while I personally ALWAYS love to do readings myself, to hear an actor reading from a book ads a special quality to it, they are pros, after all. I also got to know and talk to three of the dominant names in LGBT book narrating, and I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind, cogs began to turn, pieces falling into place.

Last week, I opened my account on Audible, the Amazon company creating e-books. My agreement with my publisher allows me to do this. However, I work closely with them, because I feel that it will be more successful if I do, plus they have expertise in e.g. sound engineering and marketing that I do not have. I also think that a successful physical or e-book book release will push for the audio book sales and vice versa. I hope it’ll be a win-win. The process on Audible is really easy and straight forward.

Now before you jump right on in, you should probably think about your approach. I see TWO main ways to tackle audio books, which is obviously going to differ from genre to genre. My comments are limited to “my” genre, the LGBT one. In it, M/M romance is the dominant, the Goliath. Those of us who write gay fiction, lesbian or trans books are in a tiny minority. And the M/M genre itself has a lot of audio books already. And we have a few shining stars in terms of narrators: there’s Emmy Award winning Jason Frazier, Joel Leslie Froomkin and Greg Tremblay. They are the three narrators I personally know and have heard. All three amazing people, and all three great talents. To choose one of them to work with would’ve been an easy route. There is trust established and I know they deliver great quality. And, given their established success in the industry, I’m sure they would’ve helped me sell audio books.

Family Ties, my first book, my autobiographical one, and the first one to be released as audio book in March 2017!

I’m sure you sense the “but” coming. I won’t use it. I did choose a different approach though. I feel that I want my books to be narrated by a distinctive voice, someone who represents me, the author. Allow me to exemplify with something from the movie industry. In Hollywood, where most commercially successful films are made, there are a great many actors to choose from. If you come to a small country like Sweden, and where they dub movies for e.g. children, you don’t have quite as many actors to choose from to do voice overs, and all of a sudden, you have the same actor dubbing five or ten different American originals. And the original actor’s voice, whatever they brought to the story, the acting, is lost, and the character changes.

A side tour, for sure, but I remember when I first heard Joan Collins own voice in Dynasty. It blew me away. I had grown so used to her completely different, alto voice in German, as all those shows were dubbed for us back then and still are. All of a sudden I “understood” who the character was… It does make a difference.

In books, we often talk about author voice. We have our own way of saying things, looking at things, and I wonder, I don’t claim to know, if the author voice is drowned out by the “fame” of a voice actor? I really don’t know. I decided not to take that chance and to take a different approach to creating the audiobook versions of my books: finding my voice. Yes, if your incredibly talented, like my good friend Rick Clemons, have that hunky voice we all love to drown in, then you simply narrate your own book. I have worked in radio broadcasting for far too long, and I still remember the very first time in my life I heard the sound of my own voice, and the shock and the revelation of how  differently my voice sounds from the “outside”, compared to what I’d been used to from the “inside”. I HATE my own voice in recorded form, always have, always will. I never listened to my own shows, even though I did regular broadcasts for well over a decade.

So my voice had to be someone who not only has a pleasant voice, but someone who also lacks my accent(s), and who speaks a form of English that is generally acceptable for most people, i.e. is commercially viable. As my books are written in American English, the voice would have to be American. My decision, my choice. And I decided to opt for a more “western” or “generic American” accent, rather than say a mid-western or East Coast accent. Why? Easy, I graduated from high school in Arizona, I have a personal affinity for the western U.S. Those are my personal roots. A strong accent would make it difficult for people to focus on the context of the story and might even be difficult to understand for someone non-native.

Once I had published my project on Audible, auditions began to trickle in within an hour, and I was surprised by the high quality of most of them. After sixteen of them, I began to panic! How am I going to choose the right voice? Already the first one had me captured. The voice was so pleasant, and to hear someone professional read my book! Even though it was only a couple of pages? My knees buckled. This was going to be difficult. Trying to think on my feet I decided to reach out to my publisher and some of my fans to get feedback on my favorite voices. I chose four voices and gathered feedback; and feedback I received. Interestingly, my own impressions and my gut feeling if you will was very closely aligned with my publishers’ views, who also weighed in on technical aspects of the recording (which is crucial for a successful project). My fans? Their response was all over the place. Some liked the John Wayne / James Earl Jones dark voice, while others went for the two different, more tenor-like voices, while some chose the baritone in the middle. Not much help there.

I’m no expert on Audible, and I wasn’t able to find a “button” to turn off receiving audition tapes without turning the entire project off, so even after I had sent out the four finalists, more auditions came in. I’ll be honest with you, I was afraid to listen to them, but I did. Tape seventeen was not at all what I was looking for, phew! Audible allows you to “like” or “dislike” auditions, and I think it automatically sends the actor a message about that. Tape eighteen blew me away, and I literally screamed “THAT’S ME, THAT’S MY VOICE!!!” Unfortunately, I had already sent the other four tapes out… I sent that eighteenth tape to my publisher under the heading of “I just got another one, and he just became my instant favorite…” and they returned this short message:

“We agree!”

That sort of settled it. I contacted the actor in question, and we began to talk about terms and conditions. As part of my audio book strategy, I want his voice to be mine, exclusively, until all my books are published, at least within the small realm of gay fiction. I also wanted an option to use him for all my projects, all my books. We agreed on terms and the offer was officially sent to him, and we’ve since finalized our deal. We will commence recording in January and I hope to have it done by mid-March. I’ve also contacted my friend Natasha Snow to create a cover for the audio book, based on the original cover of Family Ties. Yes, I’ll publish my audio books in pretty much the same sequence as my books came out. I might make an exception for the Jonathan Trilogy, I’m not sure yet. There is a certain ‘allure’ in anticipation of a release, we certainly saw that with Jonathan’s Legacy, which people had to wait six months for, before it was published, almost a year after I’d written it.

Today, I sent four very difficult messages to the other four finalists. This isn’t an easy task, and let me just say that I have sent a letter to EACH and EVERY one who auditioned. I think that is common courtesy. And I particularly asked the runner-up for permission to reach out to him, if anything should happen to my chosen voice. Life, you never know. He sent me this note, which is really rather sad, and indicative of the state of the industry:

“Hello Hans,

*sigh*
i do appreciate the feedback and, well, yes of course it would have been nice to have landed your title – i do like your writing and the story promised to be pithy and an interesting read.

It’s a funny game from this end, out of hundreds of auditions (that take – if done conscientiously – quite some time each), you end up with feedback on maybe 1 in 30 or less, so please know that it is nice to hear that my presentation was in the running and the effort was considered.”

Michael Bakkensen, the voice of author Hans M Hirschi

I can only imagine how tough it is, given the many tapes I received…

I guess you’re all wondering now who that stellar voice of mine is?

Without further a due, allow me to introduce you to Michael Bakkensen, actor, singer/songwriter and voice narrator extraordinaire (he is, after all, my voice now… LOL) and here is his audition tape, a small morsel of what awaits you in 2017. I’m really looking forward to my co-operation with Michael.

He seems to be such a nice and humble person, and he just recently had a guest role in the third season on Madam Secretary, the show hubby and I are watching on Netflix right now. Can’t wait to see him in it. I’m sure he has a very bright future, and that we can help each other to build our respective careers, even in the smallest way.

This has been an adventurous ten days, but the process leading up to it was even longer. While Michael records the book, and Natasha finishes the cover, Beaten Track Publishing and I work on a marketing plan for my first audio book, as well as a plan on how to proceed. The creation of audio books isn’t cheap, and it’ll take quite a few sales to just get to a break-even. But as I said initially, the audio book market is growing rapidly, and for once I think I may have jumped on the train in time, i.e. before “everyone” does it. We’ll see. But I’m convinced that I have found a great voice and someone who will deliver a high quality product, an enjoyable experience to those of you who love to listen to a great story.

Have you created audio books? What are our experiences? Pitfalls? Lessons?
Do you listen to audio books? What irks you? What do you love?

This is my final post for 2016. As this is published, I’m already in Florida, getting ready to board our cruise. I wish you all the Happiest of Holidays and a healthy, prosperous and successful 2017. Lots of challenges ahead, but I have faith in humanity!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Hans

#Review: Yuri on Ice, my life’s first anime, and why I fell so hard for it… #YuriOnIce #LGBT #anime

#Review: Yuri on Ice, my life’s first anime, and why I fell so hard for it… #YuriOnIce #LGBT #anime

Yuri on Ice is a show about dreams, failure, love, humanity and figure skating

The poster for Yuri on Ice with all the main characters.

A week or so ago, I first came across an odd hashtag, #YuriOnIce on Facebook. Some of my friends had been following something and they were really excited. I ignored it for a week, seeing all these strange updates about how amazing it was, until my curiosity finally got the better of me yesterday, and I dove right in. Having binge watched all available ten episodes on Crunchyroll in one afternoon, I found myself unable to put words on what I had just experienced. It was almost incredible. 24 hours later, I was anxiously awaiting the next episode, showcasing the first half of the finals.

I think the only way for me to make sense of Yuri on Ice and put words on my feelings, is to methodologically go through what you can expect of this show. Please be aware that there are some spoilers in this review, so be aware of that. On the surface, Yuri on Ice is about a young man, Katsuki Yuri, a 23 year old Japanese figure skater. He’s good, but not exceptionally so. The series follows him as he goes from competition to competition, redeeming himself after a major defeat the year before. He is being coached by the world’s best – former – figure skater, Victor Nikiforov. I’ve watched the show in original Japanese with English subtitles, which adds another dimension, given the voice acting, but since my Japanese is really dismal, I probably lost more context than the subtitles (not always up to par: Sara becomes “Sala” and Pyongyang is apparently the capital of South Korea, but alas…)

The first episode sets the stage, although it doesn’t explain fully why Victor leaves the ice skating circus, as undefeated world and olympic champion to fly to Japan to coach Yuri. At least not on the surface. However, there are enough “hints” (some more subtle than others) to make you understand that Victor has fallen in love with Yuri.

Yeah, plenty of hints throughout the show of their true relationship. This shot also quite remarkably shows that Victor is the dominant and driving force in the relationship, though never in a negative or abusive way.

Now Japan isn’t Western Europe or the U.S. where two men falling in love, in figure skating no less, wouldn’t cause anyone to raise an eye brow. This is Japan, a country where porn is shot and distributed, but any body part is pixellated so much you really wonder why you’re watching it in the first place. Japan, the only place in the world where I ever felt like an alien from a different planet. It is a society very different than anything else I’ve ever encountered on earth. Naturally, their storytelling differs, too. And anime is an art form which combines cartoons and Japanese storytelling in ways we are not accustomed to.

Fangirling, embarrassment? Only anime can depict emotions so accurately from the character’s point of view.

It’s loud, it’s in your face, at times absurd, but if you stick with it, you’ll eventually understand the subtexts and the depth of emotion at play here. Victor and Yuri are both drawn beautifully, and one of the scenes from the first episode that had me cry (oh yes, I cried at least once in every episode) was when Yuri comes back home, after five years, to visit his family and hide from his ice rink debacle. He meets his old friend at the ice rink and shows her something he’s been working on. He copied Victor’s latest performance, move by move, and we all know that copying is the highest form of flattery. Two things: she records it on her phone, it goes viral within the skating community and Victor sees it and heads out to Japan. The way that scene is drawn, with us seeing Victor one second and Yuri the next really gets under your skin. It is so powerful, and the way the figure skating is drawn is so spectacularly well done, it really is impossible to describe with words. Just watch it!

Gay? Oh yes… There are plenty of scenes like this where Victor’s siren call rings out to Yuri, usually to the latter’s embarrassment. And don’t we all know the boy who thinks he’s the ugly duckling and just cannot fathom that someone loves him (needless to say that Yuri is quite handsome himself, but yeah, if you don’t see it yourself, you’ll never truly be it, right?)

Then there are scenes where strong emotions are handled, e.g. embarrassment, and the bodies of the protagonists become “cartoons within cartoons”. At first I didn’t understand why that was done, but eventually I understood, that we are seeing the distorted image from the character’s point of view. A very strong storytelling technique, and as absurd and weird as it may look, it actually makes you ‘feel’ the emotion all the better. It’s funny, because both Victor and Yuri are really beautiful people, as are most of the characters. I was stunned to see just how well the animators capture certain cultural characteristics, pre-conceptions, we have of people: JJ really does look Canadian, although I can’t point to what that is (square jaw maybe? But that’s hardly enough), Christophe and his coach look sooooo Swiss it’s painful, and naturally, the Russians look very Russian, etc. It’s uncanny, really. I don’t know how they do it, but we are talking about master drawing and artists with eyes for even the finest details. Not that the drawings or the anime as such is very detailed. No, but all the essentials aspects are included, and therefore, non-essentials are left aside.

Victor, a character study, including his embarrassed face (top right), which is so very different from his normal, beautiful (if I may say so), features. I’ll be honest and admit that I have a bit of a crush on him. Yeah, okay, not just a little… *blush* (picture me with his face, crimson red!)

So what about the love story. Well, Victor and Yuri do take their time, and I think it’s only in episode four that Victor asks Yuri if he’d like him to be his boyfriend for the first time. He’s strutting around naked in all his amazing glory in episode one already, totally safe for work btw, thanks to Japanese censorship laws (see above). One episode features their first kiss and in episode ten, Yuri buys them a set of rings which lead to the climax of the show so far, a sort of “engagement” announcement. Needless to say gays cannot get married, neither in Russia nor in Japan, and neither country recognizes marriages from elsewhere. My brother, who got married almost six years ago, was unable to obtain a visa for his husband when he began to work in Tokyo. Instead, Osvaldo had to get a “language” visa to move to Tokyo to be with his husband. Ridiculous in 2015, but that is Japan still. Very conservative.

Which brings me to another point of Yuri on Ice. The subtlety in which this love story is told. Yes, you could say it is a story about personal growth, or a story about figure skating, a story about redemption, and you’d be right. But more than anything else, Yuri on Ice is a love story, and that love is expressed through figure skating. When Victor choreographs two short programs, one for Yuri Plisetsky from Russia, a 15 year old genius ice skater, and one for “his” Yuri, the contrast between the two boys/men is described in a combination of music and moves that will leave you in tears. I promise. It takes a while, for both characters to find their message, and that is drawn and expressed so stunningly.

Yuri on Ice is a great love story, and a story of personal growth, second chances and one of my favorite sports, figure skating. The elegance of the sport, the combination of physical exertion and emotional expression combined into graceful movements has had me in its grip ever since I watched the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, and the Gold performance of the British team Torvill & Dean in Ice Dance to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, to this day one of the most magnificent performances ever, and the only one to EVER get a 6.0 from all judges. Have you seen that? If not, here’s your chance:

Now mind you, back then, a lot of things were very different, this is, after almost 33 years ago. Rules have changed and Ice Dance is very different from figure skating. But they certainly changed ice skating forever. I’d hope for the better.

Now I’m no expert on figure skating, and I can’t see the difference between the various jumps. But from what I can gather from comments from those who know the difference, the drawings in Yuri on Ice are technically accurate and the general rules are also explained in the show, for the novices like myself, and how the competitions work etc.

I don’t know if I will continue to watch anime, but I have been able to lay yet another preconception to rest (never too old to learn), that cartoons are only for kids, and that anime is childish. Because Yuri on Ice proved me wrong, on all counts, and even at the most awkward moments, when girls fangirl over a skater or a skater is furious (particularly “Yurio”, the Russian kid), or even when Yuri’s weight issues are portrayed with his ass cheeks hanging out of his pants, literally, are drawn as caricatures, those are also the moments that capture the emotions felt by the character the best. Because isn’t that how we feel about our extra pounds, as if everybody else sees us as some big fat blob? And don’t we see our own faces completely distorted when we are embarrassed or angry? I know I do, and anime captures that in a way no other form of cartoon does, and in a way certainly no film could ever capture.

I can’t wait to see the next episode of Yuri on Ice, and if you haven’t seen it yet, head on out there, follow the hashtag #YuriOnIce and check it out. This is a cultural phenomenon of sorts, a positive one, and one I for one, won’t miss.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with others. I love to connect with my readers, I really do, so feel free to interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram.

Have a great fourth Advent weekend! See you on Monday…

Hans

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