The Making of an Audio Book

March 25, 2010

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This is the story of the little audio book that could – struggling through adversity to final lay down 4 tracks for consumption by the public.  Not just any audio book, but the audio book of The Cell Window.


Let’s start at the beginning.  This audio book, like all audio books, began its life as a written story.  When I released The Fiction of Kosmo, Volume 1, I included the 10,000 word story Key RelationshipsKey Relationships basically poured out of my brain and onto the keyboard thousands of words at a time.  Even with many competing priorities, I was able to finish the story in ten days.

The Cell Window was a completely different beast.  I struggled to gain traction with story.  Despite the fact that it is nearly identical in length to Key Relationships, it took six weeks to complete!  In the process, it delayed the release of The Fiction of Kosmo, Volume 2.

That’s not to say that the process of writing the story was entirely negative.  When I was finished, I was very pleased with the story.  The mature tone of the story caused me to lose one loyal readers, but it got very positive reviews from many others.

The store

At some point along the way, I decided that I wanted to sell some of my content online in an effort to break even on my blogging.  I wanted to avoid sites that would charge me fees, in order to keep costs low, allowing me to keep prices low.  I ended up going with Zen Cart (see review here), a product that installed on my web server.

While Zen Cart has the benefit of being free, it has the drawback of having a much steeper learning curve than a site where you simply drop your files, set a price, and wait for the cash to roll in.  I’ve tinkered quite a bit with it, taking time away from my writing.  At this point, the Hyrax Publications store is probably in a fairly stable form.  Other than adding new content, I don’t foresee any major changes.

Headset woes

What would an audio book be without the audio?

When it came time to record, I went in search of the headset microphone I had used with my old copy of Via Voice speech recognition software.  It wasn’t in my drawer of computer stuff.  I pulled out the large tote from the closet – it wasn’t in there, either.

Oops.  It seems that I had bundled Via Voice – and the accompanying headset microphone – with an old computer when I sold it.  I’m guessing that this is because Via Voice was for OS9 and I had replaced that computer with an OS X machine.  In any case, no headset microphone.

OK, so I went out and bought a headset microphone.  No problem.

Well, actually, problem.  When I went to use Audacity to record the audio, it didn’t pick up any sound at all.  What was going on?  I’m not an expert on recording audio, so I searched Google in hopes of finding out what was at the heart of the problem.

It seems that Macs require actually “line level” audio input, whereas PCs do not, because of some additional component on the motherboard of PCs.  Thus, the headset intended for a PC was not going to work.  Curses.  I abandoned the headset microphone.  As a last ditch effort, I recorded audio to my microcassette recorder and tried to feed that in.  The computer DID recognize the input – but the sound quality was pretty crappy.

I went back to eBay and ordered a USB headset that should work with my Mac.  A few days later, the headset arrived in the mail.  I was ready to roll – I wanted to start recording immediately.

There was only one problem – there was no USB adapter.  I took a careful look inside the case and couldn’t find anything.  I carefully re-read the eBay description.  Yep, it was supposed to have a USB adapter.  I looked at the image in the auction – it clearly showed the USB adapter.  It was quite obvious that the adapter had been left out of my package.

I communicated the problem to the company, and they quickly shipped out the adapter.  I made a few quick test recordings, and I was ready to roll.


The first thing I recorded was The Tale of the Wolf.  Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by the audio version.  In particular, I notice some idiosyncrasies that I didn’t like.  (No, I’m not going to point them out.  If I did, they would jump front and center for you. )

Tale of the Wolf was a mere 2 minutes in length.  The Cell Window was clearly going to be much longer.  Since the story contains about 20 times as many words as Tale of the Wolf, I estimated that it would be 40+ minutes long.

Clearly, a 40 minute audio book should be broken into some tracks.  I had a few things to consider.  I could choose to zip up all the MP3s into a compressed file and have the customer download just one file.  Alternately, I could have the customers download each file separately, as MPs.  I decided to go the route of the multiple downloads because I didn’t like the extra step of extracting the MP3s from the compressed file after download.  This seems like a minor issue to a lot of people – but one of my computers does not have any native tool to expand a ZIP file, and it took some time to find the proper tool.  It wasn’t a big deal for me, but I felt it might be problematic for some customers.  Better to leave the files as MP3.

How many tracks?  I founded that breaking the story into chunks of about 2500 words would allow me to end each track at the end of a story section.  The audio book would have 4 tracks (for a total length of about 48 minutes).

I was very self-conscious during the recording.  I’m not a professional reader, and knew that the audio book was not going to have the slickness of something by an audio master such as Scott Brick.  The goal was for the audio performance to be neutral – not adding significantly to the value of the original story, but also not detracting from the value.

When I was finished, I popped the files into iTunes and gave them a listen.  Surprisingly, I thought the MP3s came out sounding OK – better than they had sounded to me when I was recording.  Certainly, there are a few awkward spots where I momentarily lose my place when reading.  Overall, though, my biased opinion was that I had done a somewhat competent job, considering my amateur status.

I burned the files to CD and listened one more time the next morning.  After listening a second time, I was still happy with the performance, and deemed it ready for the store.

You can download the audio version of The Cell Window at the Hyrax Publications store.  You can purchase it separately for $3.99.  It is also included in the Annual Kosmo Pass (regular price $18, currently on sale for $9), along with all of Kosmo’s eBooks and audio book, including those scheduled for release in the future.  We expect to add a few eBooks each year, and plan to record nearly all of the 50 existing fiction stories to audio in the next few months.  The annual pass is currently good for 14 months, rather than 12.

As a special bonus, the first person to buy a copy of the audio version of The Cell Window today, will get it for FREE – and I’ll upgrade you to the Annual Kosmo Pass!  What’s the catch?  Well, you won’t know if you’re the first person until later (the charge will be processed, then I will refund the money later in the day).

What’s Going On?

February 21, 2010

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OK, I swear, this is the last article in a long time that will relate to the finances of the site (although I may announce new store offerings occasionally).

I’ve been chasing the dime a bit lately.  After nearly 450 articles, the site really hasn’t produced much revenue.  Part of the reason for this has been due to the conscious decision to avoid showing ads to regular visitors.  This will change slightly in the future.  We will still block the large Adsense ads from being displayed to regular visitors.  However, we will have some smaller ads in the sidebars.  We already have two sponsors – Irrational Family and Lazy Man and Money.  I encourage you to visit these blogs to see what they have to offer.  More information on advertising can be found here.

We also launched a store, with the help of the free Zen Cart software (reviewed yesterday, right here!).  This was my first experience dealing with shopping cart software.  Even with my background in IT, it wasn’t completely intuitive, but I was able to get answer from other folks on the internet, and the store is basically configured the way I like it now.  My fiction eBooks (PDF format) are available for purchase ($3.65 for volumes 1 or 2, $1.95 for volume 3).

There is also a tip jar for the staff writers.  I stress that there is absolutely no obligation to donate.  If you don’t donate, you will continue to get all of the features of The Soap Boxers.  If you do choose to donate, simply place the writer in your cart and change the quantity to reflect the amount of your tip, in full dollars.  If the writer doesn’t fit in your cart, I’d suggest a fireman’s carry.

We will also be adding audio versions of the stories!  I haven’t finalized details, but my thought is that audio versions of the smaller stories will be 50 cents and that the 10,000 word stories will be $4.  In between stories (such as 2-3 part stories) will be somewhere in the middle (probably $1).

We will be modifying the current loyalty discount program on April 1.  Regular visitors  should click the tab just to the right of “Home” in the blue bar for details.  RSS readers should click the eBook link in the RSS feed signature for details.

We will also have an unlimited annual pass.    This will allow downloading of any the PDF eBooks as well as audio books.  Currrently, we have about 45 written stories in our collection.  Over the course of the next 2-3 months, these will be converted to audio.  For a limited time, the price of the annual pass will be set at $9Additionally, these passes will be good for 15 months, rather than 12! This is less than the combined cost of the three eBooks – and will also allow you access to unlimited audio stories as they become available.  Essentially, you’re buying the PDFs and getting the MP3s (as well as future PDFs) for free.  Once we have twenty audio stories online, this offer will disappear – so take advantage now.

We also expect to have combo packs for sports and crime – allowing you to download several audio stories for one low price.

I’m also looking for readers for the audio versions.  I’m not able to offer any cash up front, but will pay 30% of gross sales.  This means that it’s unlikely that you’ll get rich from this work, but if a story is reasonably popular, you might make a few bucks and gain some exposure.  If you’re a longtime reader of The Soap Boxers, perhaps you’d be interested in donating a bit of your time to read a few stories, rather than leaving a cash tip.  (Note: if you choose to donate your time, the 30% share will be split amongst the other writers of The Soap Boxers).  I’m guessing that you can knock out a story in fifteen minutes.

I have a degree in accounting, so rest assured that annual passes will be properly allocated (based on a weighted average of the cost of the items downloaded by annual pass purchasers) and that everyone will receive their fair share of the annual pass fee.

I’m looking for an assortment of voices and would like to match voices to stories.  If you have a bubbly voice, you’ll get an upbeat story.  If you have a gruff voice, someone will probably die in your story.  You do need to have the ability to create a good quality audio recording.  MP3 is best, but I can work with some other formats, if necessary.  unfortunately, I don’t have the free time necessary to provide tech support.  I provide everything else – the original story, storefront, payment processing, etc.

If you’re interested in lending your voice, contact me at


We have dispatched a reporter to Vancouver to cover some of the happenings to the Olympics.  OK, maybe we found out about Joe Neuman’s trip and asked him to provide some coverage for The Soap Boxers while he is there.  You can also follow Joe on twitter.  We may try to do more of this sort of thing in the future – piggybacking on the exciting lives of others.

Random thoughts

I’ve been running low on sleep lately 🙁

Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training

I was really bummed by Erin Hamlin’s poor performance at the Olympics.

This looks nifty diamond when I’m composing in WordPress, but is a bunch of jumbled paragraphs to you

Don’t buy gold coins, silver coins, or “state dollar bills” from magazine or TV ads.  The have negligible value to collectors.

Sarah Palin and The Family Guy are having a spat.  Interestingly, both part of the Fox family.

There may be an upcoming recall of Toyota Corollas.  Not a good year for Toyota so far.

I’m glad that Tiger Woods is sorry.  It would be disturbing if he wasn’t sorry.

Dude, that was quite the crash in the Super G.

Librivox (free audio books)

January 9, 2009

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Last update June 9, 2009

Editor’s note:  This was originally just a review of Librivox.  However, I noticed that people seem to be stumbling aross this article in an effort to answer two questions

  • Who are the best readers on Librivox?
  • What are the best books on Librivox?

I’m going to a make an effort to answer those question in the first part of this article.  If you simply want to read the original review of librivox, please scroll down!

Question 1:  Who are the best readers on Librivox?

This is really subjective, but I’ll make an effort to answer the question in the coming weeks.  This will be a substantial undertaking, as it will be necessary to sample the readings of the more prolific readers on Librivox.

For starters, I’ll recommend the readers from “Journey to the Interior of the Earth”

  • Vinny Bove
  • Mark Bradford
  • Hugh McGuire
  • Kristin Luoma
  • Mur Lafferty
  • Paul S. Jenkins
  • Alex Foster
  • Kristen McQuillen
  • Michael Crowl
  • Brad Bush
  • Lana Taylor
  • Kara Shallenberg

Certainly some of those readers are better than others, this this is a good starting point.  I will attempt to work my way through all of the more prolific readers at Librivox and select the best of the best.  I will update this article as I move forward on this task – I will update the date at the top and make a note as to my progress.

Note – you can used the advanced search to search by reader.

Question 2: What are the best books on Librivox?

Librivox contains a great selection of books in the public domain.  At one point, I had a list of books I intended to listen to, but it seems that I have misplaced this list.  I’ll compile a more complete list, but here are a couple to get you started:

  • Journey to the Interior of the Earth (Verne)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas)
  • A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)

I will update both of these sections regularly over the next few weeks.

Original review of Librivox

This is supposed to be a book review post, but I’m going off on a slight tangent. I would like to point out a wonderful site –

If the name looks a bit strange, dust off your Latin.

Librivox has organized volunteers to record their readings of classic literature. Since these works are in the public domain, there are no copyright issues. Librivox contains a library of 2000 books, and this is growing daily. There is absolutely, positively, NO CHARGE to download the audio books! In fact, there isn’t even a place to down, nor are there the invasive ads you see on many free sites. Compare this to the price you pay for audio books of popular contemporary books. I’m in my car for 90-120 minutes every day, so I have become a frequent audio book listener.

The books can be downloaded in MP3 or ogg vorbis format and you can get them via podcast. Personally, I download the MP3s and have iTunes burn them to CD.

When I first became aware of Librivox, my first concern was the quality of the reading. Would the readers have a horrible, monotone reading style? I have listened to one complete book (Journey to the Center of the Earth, one of my all time favorites) and sampled a few others. Really, considering that these are unpaid volunteers, the quality of the reading is quite good. Librivox does have a decent amount of structure in how they organize their projects, utilizing “book coordinators” to make sure things flow smoothly.

Overall, I really had to nitpick to find anything I didn’t like. At the start of every MP3 file (which could be a single chapter or several chapters) there is a notice telling the reader that the file is from librivox, identifying the reader, and releasing copyright (Librivox does not acquire a copyright to the actual recording). At first, this was a minor distraction the continuity, but it quickly became a non-issue.

The other minor issue was the fact that a book often has several different readers. Once again, these folks are volunteers, so it’s not surprising that a single person can’t undertake the recording of a 500 page book. You might actually like the variety of having the different voices.

If you want to catch up on the classics, this is a great way to do it. Not only do these folks have a great idea, but they have also done a good job of executing it. Kudos to Librivox.