Balticon Panel for Cowry Catchers Fans

I'm reading through the list of Balticon panels sent by Patrick Scaffido, and I came upon this one:

Cowry Catchers Support Group - Cowry Catchers has completed its years-long podcast run. Let's remember the wonderful things it brought us and say farewell (but not goodbye) to this wonderful podcast series. Panelists: Abigail Hilton, Nathan Lowell, Norm Sherman

LOL. I did not know this was a thing. Guess I better have the podcast done by then...

So, hey, if you're coming to Balticon, you should come this panel! And if you have ever made dolls of my characters or considered dressing as one, this would be the time and place to bring it/do it. You could get pictures of your creation with some of the voice actors. :) You could also get your books signed by the voice actors, which would be pretty cool.

Hey, Look, Numbers!

If you follow publishing at all, you probably know that Hugh Howey dropped a bomb on us yesterday. His friend made a web crawler that trawls through Amazon's rankings and aggregates data. We already knew that you could calculate how many books an author was selling from a ranking, and if the author is self-published, you can get a pretty good idea of what she's making. If she's traditionally published, you also have an idea, although it depends on what she was able to negotiate for her contract.

The data that Hugh's webcrawler is making available has never been available before, and it's fascinating. His initial post is long, but worth every minute if you're interested in the industry -

Or, if you want the whole thing with a dollop of Joe Konrath snark -

One thing I noticed - audio books, while only a tiny percentage of overall sales compared to ebooks, are still outselling paper 2 to 1. Huh.

Hello, 2014

Oh, look, it’s February!
I actually planned to write my New Year’s post in February this year, because January was so busy. January might end up being my busiest month of the whole year in 2014. But now things are settling down.
I had some goals last year. One of them was to release something new every month. I actually managed it (sort of) for about half the year. In May and June I didn’t get the pieces released for sale, just finished. The projects were:
January – “Sky Dance” (novelette)
February – Cowry Catchers Book 5 (illustrated ebook)
March – “Chemistry” (novelette)
April – “Hungry” (a Hunters short story)
May – Hunters Unlucky (finished the 210,000-word novel)
June – “The Secret” (novelette, finished, but not released until the next month)
Halfway through the year, I reassessed. I was feeling really stressed because I was trying to write new stuff while doing a tremendous amount of production. I was trying to finish the paper versions of everything, and I had started experimenting with ACX. My experiments were so encouraging that I decided I should have all my work available on Audible. So I needed sale-able audio of everything + paper of everything + ebooks of all the new stuff.  In addition, I needed to create the Cowry Catchers Book 5 fullcast audio for the podcast. So I was feeling kind of stressed.
I reassessed and decided that, although I am capable of writing something new every month, I am not capable of producing it in every format every month…unless I write nothing except 10,000 short stories. Also, going forward, I want to be writing one book/story and producing one book/story (producing = editing, ebook, paper, audio). At most, that’s all I should be trying to do at one time.
In order to make that happen, I had to stop and catch up. I had all this production work trailing behind me, and it was just growing bigger with every new thing I wrote. So I haven’t written much since June. :( I started The Scarlet Albatross in August, but I had to quickly back away from it when I realized I wasn’t working on the production stuff.
Seven months of no new books or stories have resulted in a predictable slump in my sales. When I was releasing something every month, I was selling about 300 books per month. Now that number has drifted down to less than 50. The process seems to work like this: 1. Existing fans buy my new book or story 2. Elevated sales rankings and buzz around the new story creates interest from new readers. 3. New readers may not buy the new story (not an appropriate entry point), but they start on one of my series. This is how steady new releases lift all of my existing work. At least, that’s my impression. I only have about 3 years of sales data, but this pattern seems reliable. I think seven months is the longest I’ve gone without releasing something new since I started selling ebooks, and it’s also the lowest my sales have ever been.
So what did I get in exchange for this writing-fast and sales die-off?
Well, I got paper versions of everything finally finished in Dec. I am very proud of them. They’re beautiful. I got audio versions of Sky Dance, Chemistry, The Secret, and the collection, Secret Things, into Audible via ACX. That's the only place I've seen encouraging sales lately. I wrote a bunch of emails and managed to extricate Prophet from the misbegotten deal that Podiobooks had with Audible before the existence of ACX. I am going to release the entire series as a single Audible download, the way I always wanted to. Their system is chewing on the final audio QC as I type this.
I also began the more complex process of doing the same thing for Cowry Catchers. I licensed all the music I used in the production, presented the voice actors with a payment plan, and got their permission to go forward with it. I began to the process of re-mastering the audio to make it sound a little more professional, especially at the beginning.
I also put a new podcast in place, so that I don’t lose all of the audience I built from Cowry Catchers when the series ends. (That’s The Worlds of Abigail Hilton Podcast. If you haven’t checked it out, you should!)
And, of course, I worked on the fullcast for Book 5. So far, I have put in 210 hours on that audio book. I write 1000-700 words per hour when I’m drafting, so if I’d spent that time writing, I would have another novel the size of Prophet or Hunters. I tell you this, not to cloud your enjoyment of the audio, but in order to explain why I don’t produce all my books this way. I am deliriously excited about the impending completion of the series!
I only wrote 114,000 words in 2013, my income has fallen off, and I need to pay voice actors for their work in order to sell it, so that it will probably be another year or more before I’ll be in the black financially. *sigh* I had such high hopes, but stopping to catch up on production was the right thing to do. I would have had to do it eventually, and the process became more difficult with every project that got shoved on that production stack.
How much will I write in 2014? What will I work on?
I’m hesitant to say. I won’t write anything until I am completely caught up on production. I’m getting closer. Before I’m allowed to write anything new, I need to finish the CC5 audio, release the entire series for sale on Audible, finish the edits for Hunters, and produce Hunters in all formats. For the Hunters audio, I will probably hire someone else to read it. This person has not been finalized yet, so don’t ask. Hunters will definitely be on Audible when I’m done with it. It may also be free for a limited time in my Worlds of Abigail Hilton feed, but only for a limited time. No more perma-free for giant, expensive audio projects.
In real life, this is the first year since I started doing travel work that I know where I’ll be for the year. I am covering a hospital in Oregon for 12 weeks of vacation (2 weeks at a time), and there are several local surgery centers in Orlando who have been using me regularly when I’m home. If that combination continues to cover my bills, I’ll have a more stable schedule this year and fewer distractions.
If you’re listening to Cowry Catchers Book 5, I hope you’re enjoying it. :)

Cowry Catchers Audio - 202 Hours

If you've been paying attention, you know that the 5th and final book in the Cowry Catchers series went live on the Cowry Catchers podcast on Jan 10th. :) Does this mean I'm done with the audio? Oh nooooo....

Today, I finished scoring the first half, though, and I crossed the 200 hour mark in time spent on this audio book. Yay!!!! The book is 13 episodes long. However, the first 6 eps are longer than the final 7, so the end of episode 6 is almost exactly halfway. Here's how the episodes stand right now -

Episodes 1-3 - finished and cued
Episodes 4-6 - scored, awaiting outros and cuing
Episodes 7-9 - rough cut of voice track finished. I just (as in today) got the last of the lines for these, so need finishing touches on voice track and then scored.
Episodes 10-13 - rough cut of voice track finished. Awaiting lines from a few voice actors and then scoring.

I actually have all the voice actor lines at this point except Nate's, Norm's, and one little bit part. However, I still need to put some of the others into the audio, so I don't know for sure whether I'll need retakes from a few more people. Additionally, I've finished the rough-cuts (before music) of all the outros, which speeds things up at the end.

I'm thinking there will be a hiatus mid-book after episode 6 to allow me (and Nate and Norm) to catch up. I think it will be 1-2 weeks long. No more than that, barring voice actor meltdown...or producer meltdown.

Here's how the time breaks down so far (hours:minutes). Once again, for reference, this is a 70K book -

21:32 - Recording
27:13 - Marking lines/Communicating with Voice Actors
112:55 - Voice Track
32:30 - Scoring
7:55 - Final Pass Edit/Outros/tags/Conversion/Show Notes/Art
202:05 - Total

I know that last category looks like a lot of stuff lumped together, but I often multi-task for those items. I do several of them at once, so I can't really tweeze it apart.

If you're listening to the podcast, I hope you're enjoying it. If you're considering fullcast audio production, I hope my little break-downs are instructive.

Cowry Catchers Audio - 156 Hours

I've logged 156 hours on the Cowry Catchers Book 5 audio, and I just finished the voice track for the first half + the rough cut of the entire book. Yay!!!!

What is the rough cut, you ask? To me, the rough cut is all of my narration, plus as many voice actors as I can induce to send me lines.

The voice track for the first half is completely finished (eee!!) and ready for scoring. (When I say "scoring," I mean adding music and sound effects. I know that's not quite correct usage, since I'm not writing original music, but I don't know of a better word for that task.)

The 2nd half lacks most of the lines from Gerard and Silveo + a handful of retakes and 2 important secondary characters near the end. But the bulk of it is done. Editing the voice track, and particularly my narration, is always the most tedious and time-consuming aspect of a fullcast production. Here is how the time breaks down so far:

 21 hours and 12 minutes: Recording
 26 hours and 13 minutes: Marking lines/ Communicating with VA
108 hours and 35 minutes: Voice Track


In case you missed it in my previous post - the release date for this book will be Jan 10. :)

Full Set of Paper Books (Signed, Perhaps?)


Hello, Readers and Listeners!

My cover designer and I have been working all year on paper books, and I am so excited to announce that they are finished!! There are now paper versions of the Prophet of Panamindorah Trilogy, both short story collections, and Feeding Malachi. The species flow chart above is from the Prophet books.

In addition, I've added a few more bells and whistles to the paper versions of Cowry Catchers (a species flow chart and a bigger map), although the covers are unchanged.

My friends and I have created a little video to talk about the paper books and show them to you.

 As mentioned in the video, I am reinstating the 25% discount for subscribers to my list when you purchase my books from Create Space. If you are a subscriber, you should have gotten an email about it. If not, check your spam, and if you still don't find it, let me know. If you subscribe later, the welcome email will have the discount code. 

All of the books are also
available on Amazon and you should be able to toggle between the ebooks and paper books.

Also, as mentioned in the video, I am taking orders for signed books for the next week (until midnight on Dec 11). I need your order by then so that I can be sure the books will reach you before Christmas. Details and buy buttons are
on my website under the "Order Signed Books" tab.

Finally, I have Panamindorah-related t-shirts, mugs, and a few other things at Printfection. They make lovely gifts. Stickers are also still available through Red Bubble.
They make excellent stocking stuffers.

I know that podcast listeners are eagerly awaiting Cowry Catchers Book 5. I have good news and bad news for you folks. The bad news is that I was hoping to have it ready in time for Christmas, but that's just not going to happen. The good news is that I am going to give you a release date: Jan 10, 2014. That will give you something to look forward to after the holidays are over and the long, gray days have set in.

Thanks so much for supporting my work! Have a very fluffy Christmas!


Cowry Catchers Audio - The First 100 Hours

I’ve now logged a hundred hours and twenty minutes on the audio work for Cowry Catchers 5. I’ve never tracked my time on one of these projects before, but I definitely have a sense of how the work flows, and this is the point where I finally begin to feel as though I’m making progress and things typically start to speed up.
Until this point, I work and work and it just feels like I’m spinning my wheels. Nothing is done. Nothing is even halfway. A hundred hours in, I begin to finish some things and other things hit the halfway point.
Right now, I’m done recording the narration, and I am a little over halfway finished with my first pass through the voice track. On the first pass, I edit all of my own narration, plus all the voice actors whom I can possibly induce to send in their lines. I make one more pass through the voice track to insert retakes and prodigal voice actors, but the first pass is the most labor intensive. It’s the most labor intensive portion of the entire production.
Here’s how the time breaks down. Again, this is for a 70,000-word novel, which will be approximately 7 hours in audio when it’s finished.
21:12:00 - Recording 
25:53:00 - Marking lines/ Corresponding with Voice Actors
53:15:00 - Voice Track
Those first two categories are mostly done, whereas the time spent on the voice track will probably double before it's finished. One might reasonably ask why a 7-hour book takes 21 hours to record. Answer: There was about an hour lost to faulty equipment (files scrambled), and I spent maybe twenty minutes on the intro + a few retakes. The rest was just business as usual. I record each sentence 2-3 times and use the best take. Occasionally, I record a sentence a lot more than 3 times when I'm trying to get it just right. So, the raw recording is about three times as long as the finished product.

In real life, I've been at a big anesthesia assignment in Oregon for the last four months. Now I'm done until next year, so I'm a mostly a fulltime author for the next two months. If my voice actors will send me the rest of their lines, I'll be able to really speed up production on this audio book. :)


Cowry Catchers Audio - The First 50 Hours

Hello, Listeners.

I started writing The Scarlet Albatross a few weeks ago and then quickly realized that I was either going to write it or produce the audio for Cowry Catchers 5. I don't know why I always think that I can write a book and produce one at the same time.

Writing goals for the year are going to have to go out the window if I want to finish this production by Christmas. On the plus side, I feel that I might actually be able to catch up for the first time since I started self-publishing. If, you know, I stop writing for the year.

I should be writing one book, and have one other book in production. Production means editing, ebook formatting, paper design, cover, audio version (not produced entirely by me). Right now, I should be writing Albatross and producing Hunters.

Instead, I’ve got this huge chunk of fullcast audio – Cowry Catchers 5 - hanging over my head. In addition, I need to finish paper versions of 6 other books. And in addition to all that, Hunters needs attention from every aspect of the production schedule. If I keep producing new stuff, the backlog of production will just get higher. Greater amounts of time will elapse between ebook vs paper vs audio book, and I would really like those formats to come out almost simultaneously in the future, so that people can get what they want and not just settle for what’s available.

I have been playing catch-up since I started self-publishing, but I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel now. If I focus on production for the rest of the year, and get my desk cleared, I can go forward with a reasonable publishing schedule.

I have, of course, been plugging away at CC5 for months, but it wasn't my main focus. This time around, I am keeping close records of how much time each part of the process is taking me. Part of this is just curiosity. Bryan and I always tell people on the Fullcast Podcast that it takes about one hour per finished minute to produce fullcast audio. But that's just an impression. I've never measured it. In addition, I'd like to know the numbers so that, if I ever run a kickstarter to fund a fullcast audio book, I'll have a realistic idea of the time required (and therefore the cost). I also intend to share my findings with the community, as the information may be useful to others.

If you are new to fullcast audio, take my numbers with a grain of salt. This is the 5th fullcast audio book of this size that I've produced. I have a system that I know works, and none of the major parts needs casting. All of the small parts were played by people whom I've worked with before or know from the community. They all said yes as soon as I asked, and I didn't have to vet their audio quality. Casting wasn't really an issue in this book. I also marked a bunch of medium and small parts back when I was doing Book 4 and collected those lines at that time. I estimate that this was 3 hours worth of work. That's a conservative estimate. It was probably more, but since I didn't have a stopwatch running, we'll say 3 hours. All the rest of the times are recorded with reference to an actual clock.

Cowry Catchers Book 5 (including the epilogue) is right at 70,000 words. I have found that 10,000 words equal about one hour of audio. So this book is about 7 hours long. 7 x 60 = 420 minutes. So, if Bryan and I are right, 420 hours is what this would take for a person relatively new to fullcast. I would think that it would take me a bit less...but, maybe not? We'll find out.

With that in mind, here are my first 50 hours and 52 minutes on this book. This is an Excel spreadsheet. Hopefully it will display correctly.


Date Min Description   Total   Estimated Total
2012 3:00:00 Mark/collect lines Basil, Lu, Dakar, Felbane, Mouse, Hoepali, Firebird, Merta   50:52:00   420:00:00
6/16/2013 1:05:00    Recording       70K words
6/17/2013 1:10:00    Recording       10,000 words/hr
6/18/2013 0:22:00    Recording        
6/20/2013 1:00:00    Recording        
6/21/2013 0:55:00    Recording        
6/22/2013 0:15:00    Recording        
6/23/2013 0:16:00    Recording        
6/23/2013 2:31:00    Marking Lines (Gerard)        
6/24/2013 2:35:00    Marking Lines (Gerard)        
6/27/2013 1:20:00    Marking Lines (Gerard, Silveo)        
7/5/2013 1:30:00    Marking Lines (Silveo)        
7/6/2013 2:30:00    Marking Lines (Silveo and Gwain)        
7/7/2013 1:05:00    Marking Lines (Sirwen & Marlo)        
7/8/2013 1:15:00    Marking Lines (Bit Parts)        
7/9/2013 0:40:00    Marking Lines (Bit Parts)        
7/10/2013 0:30:00    Marking Lines (Alsair)        
7/11/2013 0:35:00    Marking Lines (Arton)        
7/13/2013 2:00:00    Marking Lines (Mishael, Jaleel, Avenyar, Morchella)        
7/13/2013 0:40:00    Secretarial and email with voice actors        
7/14/2013 0:20:00    Voice actor casting and correspondance        
7/15/2013 3:45:00    Marking and assigning lines - bit parts        
7/17/2013 0:15:00    Cooresponding with voice actors        
7/18/2013 0:10:00    Cooresponding with voice actors        
8/4/2013 0:12:00    Evaluating lines        
8/16/2013 3:00:00    Voice Track Ep 1 + intro/initial organizing        
8/18/2013 3:15:00    Voice Track Ep 1        
8/22/2013 1:00:00    Voice Track Ep 1        
8/23/2013 0:30:00    Voice Track Ep 1        
8/24/2013 0:15:00    Voice Track Ep 1        
8/25/2013 1:30:00    Voice Track Ep 1 (30 min)        
8/27/2013 1:00:00    Recording        
8/29/2013 0:31:00    Recording        
9/6/2013 0:40:00    Voice Track Ep 1 - entering retakes        
9/6/2013 0:45:00    Voice Track Ep 2        
9/7/2013 2:30:00    Voice Track Ep 2        
9/8/2013 1:30:00    Voice Track Ep 2        
9/11/2013 3:00:00    Voice Track Ep 2        
9/12/2013 1:30:00    Voice Track Ep 2        


If you'd like that in simpler terms, here's a summary. Marking lines ~ 23 hours. Recording ~ 6.5 hours. Voice track ~ 19.5 hours. Other stuff ~ 2 hours.

I'm done marking lines, so that's the total time. Marking lines is really important. You don't want to miss anything (including noises - laughs, grunts, etc), because that will create delays later. You want to give adequate stage direction without being intrusive, and you want to give in-line pronunciations of anything the voice actor might not know or have forgotten.

Recording - I'm just getting started. I'm only through chapter 12 of a 38 chapter book.

Voice track - This is all the voices spliced together into a final voice track, but without music. This is, by far, the most tedious and labor-intensive portion of a fullcast production. It involves editing all the audio and selecting the best takes. Most of the pacing is done here, although I fine-tune pacing while adding music.

Only 370 hours to go! :-b

Panamindorah on Audible and iTunes

Hello, Readers and Listeners!

When I ask how you prefer to get audio, most of you answer "" or "iTunes." So, I have obliged. "Sky Dance" has been available in all these places for a while, but now "The Secret" and "Chemistry" are available there as well.

Secret Things - Short Stories from Panamindorah, Volume 2 is also available in audio and contains all the Cowry Catchers short stories to date - Sky Dance, Professionals (the fullcast version), Chemistry, and The Secret.

Here are links for the new formats:

Secret Things - Short Stories from Panamindorah Volume 2 - Amazon Text, Amazon Audio, Audible, iTunes


Chemistry - Amazon Audio, Audible, iTunes


The Secret - Amazon Audio, Audible, iTunes

Finally, all of my ebooks are now available in the iBookstore. If you have been waiting to purchase them there, wait no longer. Do a search for "Abigail Hilton," and they'll all come up.

I know that what many of you really want to know is: When will Cowry Catchers 5 be available in audio? The answer is: Before the end of the year...probably. I will give a specific release date when I'm close enough to estimate it with convidence. For now, I'm in the thick of audio editing.

Meanwhile, paper versions of the Prophet books are shaping up to be really pretty, both inside and outside. Those should be available well before the end of the year.

Thanks for supporting  my work!

Edit: If you're trying to figure out the cheapest way to get these, I'll give you the short cut. If you have an Audible membership, the individual stories are $4.86 (all except the fullcast of "Professionals," which is not available separately), and the collection is $10.46. If you buy them anywhere else, they're a couple of dollars more--not astronomically more, but a little bit. I have no control over these price points. However, they are not substantially different from the ones I chose selling the stories through dropbox, so that's a relief.

If you're wondering where the audio for Short Stories from Panamindorah Volume 1 is located, it's free from :) The solo-read of "Professionals" is in that collection.

New Formats

Hello, readers.


I have begun the process of moving the audio versions of "Chemistry" and "The Secret" to Audible via ACX. That means that they won't be available anywhere for a couple of weeks while ACX does quality control checks.
The rectangular editions that you see on Amazon are text-only. This is the first time "The Secret" has been available text-only, and it's now $2.99 instead of $4.99. It's also available on Kobo and BN for the first time, in addition to Amazon and Smashwords.
In addition, I've added an ebook called Secret Things: Short Stories from Panamindorah, Volume 2 (the cover you see above). This collection includes the text of all 4 of the Cowry Catchers stories (Sky Dance, Professionals, Chemistry, and The Secret). It's $4.99. It's available on Amazon and all the other places.
I have also uploaded an audio version of the collection to ACX. It includes the fullcast version of "Professionals," along with the audio for all three novellettes. I don't know yet where they'll price it. Like the 2 individual stories, the audio is still in QC and won't be available for a week or two.

Finally, I have been working hard all year to get my books directly into iBooks, and I'm almost done. All but four of my titles are now available there, and the books are coming directly from me, not through Smashwords. This gives me a lot more control and allows me to make changes more quickly. iBooks is not an easy interface, but I think it will be worth my trouble, as people have asked about iBooks on many occations in the past.

I was going to wait to make this announcement until the audio for the new Audible titles had been processed and the last of my books had passed QC on iBooks. However, a few people are getting confused, looking for the audio for "The Secret" and not finding it, or buying the text-only version thinking they're buying the audio. I figured I'd better say something. If you bought the text-only ebook thinking you were buying the audio, shoot me an email, and I'll get it straightened out. abigail dot hilton at gmail dot com

Cowry Catchers Complete Series - New Cover

This is the new cover art by Sarah Cloutier for the Cowry Catchers Complete series. This is what it looks like lettered:

It's replacing this cover, an illustration from Book 1, which is too light-hearted and kid-friendly-looking to characterize the series:

We did a lot of brain-storming to come up with this cover, and I polled a lot of people on what truly makes an adult fantasy cover. Responses to this question varied wildly. Many people also made the observation that my books are closer to mature YA or New Adult than to traditional adult fantasy. I'm OK with that. I just don't want them mistaken for children's books.

Hopefully the new cover has a darker, sexier, more violent feel. The stained glass is intended to invoke religious overtones. I hope that the large image is eye-catching, while the smaller images encourage people to click for a closer look. There's all kinds of stuff going on around that embossed edge. So go ahead. Clickie. :)

Note: The art is pretty much final at this point, but the lettering is nothing special and can be changed. Someone is already telling me that I shouldn't have matched the blood, because it's too much red in one place. However, gold is not high enough contrast. I actually considered leaving the lettering off of this one. I've seen authors doing that lately - just trusting to the title under the book and letting the artwork stand unlettered. What do you think? This book will never appear in paper, because it's too big, so this is an ebook-only question.

The Secret - a Story About Gwain


Gwain is an 18-year-old half-breed, recently returned to the island of his birth. Maijha Minor is a secretive place, home to the despised and hunted fauns of his maternal ancestry. Fauns are killed for sport, as well as for sacrifices to the wyvern gods. Gwain believes that the island holds the clues that will change the way fauns are treated. However, between hostile natives, traps, hunters, blood-drinking bats, and a host of poisonous creatures, the island may kill him before he learns the secret.

“The Secret” is a 10,000-word novelette from the world of Panamindorah, related to the Guild of the Cowry Catchers series. “The Secret” is a stand-alone story that can be enjoyed without reading Cowry Catchers, but the story will have more meaning for fans of the series.

This ebook includes the full text of the story, as well as access to the audio version. Instructions for easy audio download can be found at the end of the text. The MP3 is DRM-free and will play on any MP3 player. The story is over an hour long.

The text + audio bundle is available for $4.99 from Amazon and Smashwords.

This is the story that subscribers to my list voted on back in March. This story was more challenging for me than the previous novelettes. It is first person, epistolary - two forms that I've never written before. It took me longer to write it, but I think you will be pleased with the results. Chris Lester, who voices Gwain's character in the fullcast audio version of Cowry Catchers, performs the story.

After much debat, I have decided to make the text + audio bundle available on Amazon/Smashwords for 2-4 weeks. Then I will split the text and audio editions. I will put the audio up through ACX to Audible and iTunes, and I will make a text-only version of the story available on all ebook sites.

There are pluses and minuses to any method of getting the story. You know what you like. I'm giving you options.

I hope you enjoy "The Secret"!

Audio Versions - What do You Prefer?

Hi, guys!

I'm listening to the final audio for "The Secret," the short story about Gwain, which you voted for. I'm quite pleased with it. Now I just have to do the outro and assemble the myriad pieces to make it purchase-able.

While I'm doing that, I have an important question for you:

Putting "Sky Dance" up through ACX was so easy that I am now seriously debating whether I should just do that with all these stories. If you have a preference, dear listeners, I would really like to hear it. Link and password or Audible/Amazon/iTunes? As a listener, I can see how the latter might be preferable, because it lives in the cloud as is virtually impossible to lose. However, not everybody cares about losing the story after they listen to it, and it costs a little more if you don't have an Audible membership.

If you have an opinion, please do chime in. Even if my plan is to put the link/password up first and then transition to an Audible version after a few weeks, I need to know that right out of the gate in order to avoid deleting listings and losing reviews.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, read my previous post, particularly the part about "Sky Dance" and ACX. All things being equal, how would you prefer to get paid audio content?

More Size Charts! And News About Audio Editions

My buddy Jeff is still playing around with size charts. I thought this one was pretty awesome. :D Also, Rah (my illustrator for Cowry Catchers) has been visiting me and art has happened. If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you've probably seen me posting snap shots as they're finished. I'll put them all in a more organized place eventually.

In other news, I took the leap and uploaded "Sky Dance" to Audible via ACX. This is currently the only way for an indie author to get an audio book onto or onto iTunes in the Audio Book category. It's the only easy way to make an audio book show up on Amazon, although there are some tricks to get around that.

ACX comes with a fairly steep price tag -- a 7-year contract in exchange for 50% royalties, exclusivity, and no control over the price. By comparison, Amazon's ebook self-publishing platform requires no prolonged contract, pays 70% royalties, requires no exclusivity, and gives me complete price-control.

However, for an audio story, the visibility of and iTunes really can't be replicated any other way. I figured I'd try it with "Sky Dance" and see what I think. I took my time reading the contract and examining all the angles, and so far, there have been no surprises.

As of right now, "Sky Dance" is available in and it is listed as a regular audio story on Amazon. It's also in the Audio Book category in iTunes. Pretty cool!

An author must ask specifically for text and audio editions of books on Amazon to be combined so that people can toggle between them and the reviews are combined. When I went to ask about "Sky Dance," I got brave and asked about "Chemistry" as well. Chemistry's audio version is an ebook with a link and password to download the audio. I was a little afraid that, if I called attention to my method of selling audio via KDP, Amazon would make me take it down. However, the Amazon representative happily combined both the versions of Sky Dance and the versions of Chemistry.

Thank you, Amazon! I am pleased to know that this is an option. Now, all of the reviews for the two versions of Chemistry are combined, and you can toggle between them. It does say "Kindle Edition" on both the audio and text versions of Chemistry, but that's fair. They are Kindle Editions. My audio version is clearly labeled and explained, and it doesn't seem to confuse people. I'll take it.

"Sky Dance," on the other hand, got the full "Audio Edition" label because it's delivered via ACX. I was afraid that you (my readers/listeners) pay more, while I made less, and this is kind of true, though not as bad as I feared. If you're a member of Audible, the story costs $4.86 - a little less than the $4.99 that I was charging (and I make $2.43 instead of $3.49). If you are not a member of Audible, it costs $6.08 on Amazon and $6.95 on iTunes - so a little more than I was charging, but not grossly more, and it's actually a little less if you're a member of Audible.

"Chemstry," meanwhile, is still being delivered the way I was doing it before. I am going to play with these formats and keep evaluating. I suspsect I will decide to release some things on ACX and some things via my link and password method. Entry-level material is particularly attractive to put on ACX (where new listeners are more likely to see it), whereas material that's mostly for current fans seems better-suited to the link and password method (where you pay less and I make more). Longer material also seems better-suited to ACX, while shorter material seems better-suited to link/password method. It's a balance between visibility and price/income.

I know that there are people who do not use credit cards or bank accounts online, but who will shop in iTunes with those pre-paid cards you can purchase at the grocery store. It's one of the only ways to easily buy MP3 audio books with cash. Now those people will begin to get access to some of my paid stories.

If you've read this far, I assume you're a huge fan (because numbers are boring). Thank you! The Gwain novelette "The Secret" is in production, and I hope to have it available around the end of this month/beginning of next month. I am on track to finish my continuity edit of Hunters Unlucky at the end of this month and send it out for the first round of beta editing + cover art. I have marked all the lines for Cowry Catchers Book 5 Audio, and I have cast all the parts. I have received nearly all the audio for the first episode (of 14), so I will be starting the audio track soon. Exciting!

Halfway Through the Year


Hello, readers and listeners!

We’re halfway through the year, so I thought I’d do a status update. I had two main goals for 2013. One was to average 700 words per day (not particularly ambitious) and to release something new for sale every month. That last goal is extremely ambitious. I’ve never managed to release something new every quarter, let alone every month.

I kept up through April. My releases were:

January – “Sky Dance” (Cowry Catchers novelette)

February – Cowry Catchers Book 5 (novel - illustrated ebook)

March – “Chemistry” (Cowry Catchers novelette)

April – “Hungry” (a Hunters short story)

I fell off the wagon in May and June, although I did actually finish new projects in each of those months. I finished Hunters Unlucky in May – a huge 213,000-word epic. In June, I finished “The Secret,” the Gwain novelette. However, Hunters needs a polish edit, beta readers, and a typo edit to make it presentable. I can’t just push it out the door. With the Gwain story, I tried a style and format I’m unaccustomed to (first person epistolary). As a result, it needed more editing than the other novelettes I’ve written this year, and it can’t be released until July.

Other book-related projects I’ve been working on:

--The fullcast audio of CC5

--Howlaa lines for the Tim Pratt story “The Nex” (finished)

--the paper editions of Prophet (followed by paper editions of Crossroads and Feeding Malachi)

--a new cover for Cowry Catchers Complete series

--new interior graphics for all the Panamindorah books (see previous entry)

--new promotional strategies (KDP select = not worth it, BookBub = entirely worth it)

--I’ve spoken at 2 conventions

--experimenting with new ways to release paid audio

My current words/day average is right around 600, and it will get worse before it gets better, because I will spend July editing Hunters for publication, which doesn’t count as new words. Then, I will start writing The Scarlet Albatross, and I may be able to catch up.

I conclude that, while I am capable of completing something new every month, I’m not currently capable of having every project street-ready in that timeframe. I could probably do it if I stuck with 10K novelettes in styles that are familiar to me, but not if I stretch myself and not with longer work.

I’ve always been one of those people who aims for the sun, knowing I’ll probably just hit the moon. But, hey, the moon is pretty cool! This experiment taught me that I am capable of more than I thought. I may try it again in a year or two, but, for now, I need to retailor my goals to something that makes more sense.

I think I can catch up on my word-count, so I won’t change that one. I think it’s completely reasonable to expect to have the Gwain story, Hunters Unlucky, and CC5 audio finished and available this year, probably in that order. I should have paper versions of Prophet available by the end of the year. I think that I can get Scarlett Albatross written this year.

My stretch-goals are having Scarlet Albatross edited and available for sale, having Crossroads and Feeding Malachi in paper, and getting the Holovarus book written. All or part of that would be nice, but may not be possible. The thing that will make it impossible is CC5 audio. Every time I start into one of these huge, fullcast audio projects, I tell myself that it’s not going to stop me from working on other creative projects simultaneously. And, every time, it does. So we’ll see what happens.

Part of the reason that I feel like I’m running in place is that I’m still playing catch-up on the huge back-log of material I had when the self-publishing revolution started. I keep having to stop work on new projects in order to deal with old ones. Once I get those paper books off my plate, I will never again need to get so many books into paper at once. The CC5 audio is also something that I won’t have to do again. Interior artwork for the Panamindorah books and the CC complete series cover are one-off tasks that had been postponed in 2011 or 2012 because the books hadn’t made enough money. Once that stuff is done, it’s done. One of these days, I’ll be able to work on one or two projects at a time from start to finish, but that day is not yet.

In the meantime, here’s some more of the interior artwork for the paper version of Prophet – section-breaks, created by my map-maker and cover designer, Jeff McDowall. Pretty cool, huh?


Shelt Taxonomy! Now with Pictures!


People often take a while to acclimate to Panamindorah, and the biggest complaint is that they are confused by all the different species of shelts. Over the years, I have tried numerous ways of explaining the appearance and relationships of shelt species in my fiction, but some period of confusion seems unavoidable.

Most of my humanoid species are not "stock," meaning that they don't come off a shelf of pre-fab fantasy species. Elves, dwarves, vampires, and werewolves are examples of stock species that I don't use at all. Fauns, pegasus, centaurs, and griffins are stock species that I do use. Every author tweaks their stock species a little bit, but the moment you say the creature's name, the reader has a basic idea of what it looks like and how it functions.

Shelts are not stock species. Grishnards, shavier, leons, leopons, and ocelons are not stock species. The fact that they are all built on a similar platform and are taxonomically related to each other in logical ways isn't enough to stop some readers from feeling deeply baffled for the first half of the first Panamindorah book they encounter.

People who cannot tollerate that period of confusion leave my stories, and that's OK. My stories are not for everyone. However, I am always looking for ways to make this period of adjustment more tollerable for new readers. To that end, I recently had my lovely artist, Sarah Cloutier, make me a shelt taxonomy chart, showing how the fauns, nauns, and panauns break down - basically an evolutionary flow chart. I plan to put this in all the Cowry Catchers ebooks shortly and possibly in the next edition of the paper books.

What do you think? Does that help? Click to embiggen!


What Does it Really Cost to Create a Fullcast Audio Book?

As many of you know, I have produced my Guild of the Cowry Catchers series as fullcast audio books with voice actors, music, and sound effects, and I release them as free podcasts. As of this writing, I have released four of the books and I still have one book to go. I also co-host a podcast about this kind of production called Fullcast Podcast with Bryan Lincoln.

You may have also heard me say, both on the podcast and elsewhere, that I have no plans to produce future full length novels in fullcast (aside from the final Cowry Catchers book, which I will produce later this year). I always intend to have audio versions of my books available, but not in fullcast and not necessarily read or produced by me. I have enjoyed working with my voice actors immensely, all of whom are volunteers, and the podcast has brought me many fans and launched my career as an author. However, Cowry Catchers is a staggering amount of work, specifically because it is a fullcast production. I could have written many more novels in the time I have spent producing Cowry Catchers. If you are an author, you probably know that various companies and individuals online offer to produce your book for you as a solo read, either for an upfront fee or for a royalty on your sales. However, there aren’t a lot of companies offering to produce fullcast versions of novels at any price. Why?

I had a fan ask me recently what it would cost to have Hunters Unlucky produced in fullcast the way I do Cowry Catchers. What kind of Kickstarter campaign would be necessary to make a fullcast production worth doing for me?

Hunters will probably be around 210,000 words once it’s polished. As a comparison, The Prophet of Panamindorah series (which I produced as a solo read) is about 150,000 words, and the entire Cowry Catchers series is about 300,000. So Hunters is a little longer than Prophet and not quite as long as Cowry Catchers.

A minute of audio = about 200 words. 210,000/200 = 1050 minutes/60 = 17.5 hours of audio.

Professional voice work is paid at about $200 per finished hour (which is quite reasonable considering it takes a lot more than an hour to produce that “finished” hour). $200 x 17.5 = $3,500. Cheap, no? That includes paying everybody, including the narrator, who may be the author.

Ah, but now we come to production. When newbies ask me how much time they should expect to spend creating fullcast audio, I tell them an hour per minute (as opposed to 10 minutes per minute for a solo read). That is an infinitely reasonable time-budget for someone starting out. This is assuming that the narrator is also the author who is also the producer, so some of that time involves recording narration, but that’s not the lion’s share of the time. It’s about 10%.

A slick, efficient, experienced producer who is not also recording narration (or at least not counting it against production time) might be able to cut that time in half. Let’s say that your producer can crank out 1 finished minute per 30 minutes of real time.  1050 minutes x 30 = 31,500/60 = 525 hours of production labor.

At 40 hours per week, that’s 13.125 weeks or about 3 months. But let’s say that your producer is willing to work week-ends and burn the midnight oil. If you worked 8 hours per day every day including week-ends and threw in a few 10 hour days here and there, you could get in 525 hours in 2 months.

How much should that cost? Well, I say your producer should at least not be worried about starving or getting kicked out of her home or not paying her taxes or missing major bills. For me, my monthly budget is $6,000. That’s $2,000 for taxes, $2,000 for student loans, and $2,000 for everything else (rent, utilities, food). So, for me to work like this for 2 months, I would need at least $12,000.

$12,000 is not excessive for this amount of labor (which, realistically, will exceed 525 hours for sure). If I was able to keep the project within time-budget, that’s only $22.86 per hour. If memory serves, that’s comparable to what I made in my first nursing job right out of college. I think that any sane person would charge more if that’s all the money they’re going to see, particularly if they’re expected to work nights and week-ends. The only way this makes sense is if the producer is the author and she will see more income trickling in over the life of the book.

Finally, you need a little cash for file hosting, some cover art, a few judiciously chosen sound effects, and a little paid music. You can get away with using mostly royalty-free music and sound effects, but a sprinkling of higher quality makes a much better product. Say $500 for all that.

$3,500 + $12,000 + $500 = $16,000 minimum Kickstarter campaign for a project the size of Hunters. Add in enough money for prizes and a more realistic production budget by someone other than the author, and you could easily be looking at $20,000.

For a single Cowry Catchers book (~60,000 words), it would be around $10,000. If I were to pay my voice actors, pay for all music (most of which is only free if I’m not charging for my book), and get paid for my time, the Cowry Catchers series would cost in the neighborhood of $50,000 just to get them off the ground, and that does not include illustration.

These numbers are optimistic. In truth, no producer can work at maximum efficiency all the time. Some finished minutes take the full hour, and you hit snares, both human and technical, that cause delays and eat up time. For instance, this plan assumes that your voice actors get you their lines without delay during those two months. That would never happen. You’d have some lagging behind, slowing down the whole thing. When you involve a large number of people, that happens.

Returning to the larger question—is fullcast worth what it really costs?

Financially, no! I think that most authors and most readers would say that, as fun and entertaining as fullcast production is, it’s not worth the cost. I am certain that I would not succeed in a $16,000 Kickstarter campaign. I have lovely fans, but only a fraction of them would be interested, and it’s not enough to carry that kind of campaign. I am also certain that, if I shouldered the whole financial burden myself, I would not make back my investment for many years, perhaps a decade or more. I’m not sure that I would ever truly make it back, because most people who would have bought the fullcast production would also have bought a much less labor-intensive solo read. In that case, you’re looking at maybe $5,000 to do a pro job.

To put it another way: Fullcast costs 3-4x as much to produce as a solo read, but 3-4x as many people will not buy it. For the most part, exactly the same people will buy it either way, and they’ll expect fullcast to cost the same as any audio book. You cannot charge them 4x as much. If you do, you won’t sell many books.

All of us have had the experience of seeing some piece of art or furniture or clothing and *wanting* it sooo badly…and then getting a look at the price tag and realizing, regretfully, that we don’t want it to the tune of $X. That is how most listeners feel when you truly present them with the price of fullcast audio.

For me, it’s also relevant that I make $92-$100 per hour in the operating room. That’s my point of reference. I would never spend 525 hours in the operating room in a 2 month span. I would find that soul-destroying, and it would prevent me from writing novels. However, you can see how it makes more sense for me to work part time in the OR and spend the rest of my time writing, rather than setting aside giant chunks of time to produce audio that my fans don’t truly want to pay for.

I hesitated to write this post, because I’m afraid the people who enjoy my fullcast audio will think that I’m bitter or that I regret producing books that they have loved. Neither of these things are true! I could never put a price tag on the friends I’ve made while producing Cowry Catchers, and fullcast audio has helped me stand out because so few authors are willing to go that extra thousand miles. However, that doesn’t mean I should keep doing it for every book. That certainly would make me bitter, because I would end up writing far fewer books in my lifetime and possibly going broke.

There may come a point in my career when I have the size of audience that could pay for fullcast books (and wants to). It’s not impossible, but it’s not true right now. Authors reading this post may have audiences who could foot the bill for this kind of production. If that’s you, I hope this post gives you an idea of the budget you would need. Fullcast is a truly unique art form.

Edit 4/7/16: This post from 3 years ago gets a lot of hits, so I thought I'd give an update. First, if this was useful to you, you might appreciate the follow-post from a year later: How Long Does it Take to Create a Fullcast Audiobook?

Second, Cowry Catchers went on sale at via ACX on 6/23/14 as a single-shot 32 hour download. I paid all the voice actors and licensed all the music. I remastered the first three books, which sound much better in the paid version. At this point, two years later, the series has just about made back its costs of production (assuming you only count actual monetary investment and not my time). The audio book sells steadily and will make a profit for many years to come. However, I don't think most people buy it because it's fullcast. I think they buy it because it's a good story. That said, some people do tell me that they find the fullcast production more immersive. Other people arrive at the book because they are fans of one of the voice actors (generally Norm Sherman or Nathan Lowell). Whether this translates into better sales than a solo read is impossible to say. It's also impossible to say what sales would have been like if I had written 5 additional novels instead of producing Cowry Catchers in fullcast. I'm not sorry about this one, but I still have no plans to produce future novels in fullcast.

The big epic that I finished after Cowry Catchers, Hunters Unlike, was a solo read by Rish Outfield, and it gets excellent reviews on Audible. That book is 24 hours long. I paid Rish a pro rate. And it made back its costs of production within 8 months of release.

My upcoming novel, The Scarlet Albatross, is related to Cowry Catchers, and I chose to produce that with two voice actors - Lauren Harris for the female parts, and Rish Outfield for the male parts. I think this is a nice compromise between solo read and fullcast, and is only slightly more difficult to produce than solo read. That audio book should hit Audible within the month.

Edit 12/16 - The Scarlet Albatross is here on Audible.


Chemistry - a Story About Lu

Lu is an 18-year-old apothecary, trying to get along as an immigrant in the port city of Seashine. Her closest friend is a young assassin named Silveo. Lu doesn’t like to think about how Silveo makes his living, but she owes him her freedom, and she cares for him deeply. She also happens to be an excellent chemist with a knowledge of dangerous substances. When Silveo asks Lu to formulate a new poison, her involvement brings her into contact with a dangerously attractive pirate captain, as well as thugs and slavers in the belly of Seashine’s underground. As pressures build, Lu makes a mistake which may cost both she and Silveo their lives.

“Chemistry” is an 11,000-word novelette from the world of Panamindorah, related to the Guild of the Cowry Catchers series. The story has some mild sexual references and innuendo. It is not intended for children. “Chemistry” is a stand-alone story that can be enjoyed without reading Cowry Catchers, but the story will have more meaning for fans of the series.

The audio version has a square cover and is $4.99 on Amazon and Smashwords. (It also includes the text.) Look for the link and password at the end of the ebook. You can listen to the first half for free here.

The text-only version has a rectangular cover and is $2.99 on Amazon and Smashwords.

Vote on a Panamindorah Short Story for April!

Hello, Panamindorah fans!

As you may know, I'm trying to give you new content every month this year. "Chemistry," the short story about Lu should be finished in less than a week. It was actually finished a month ago, but I promised an audio version for this one, and audio takes a long time.

For my April offering, I'm going to let subscribers to my list vote on a character. The survey closes on April 1st at 1 AM. If you're signed up for my mailing list, and you didn't get an email from me, check your spam folder. If you sign up at any point between now and then, the welcome email will give you a link to the survey. Look to the right of this post, and you'll see the place to sign up. I only send you emails when I have new stories for you, or when I need your feedback about my work.

The characters I've given you to chose from are:

Leesha (from Prophet)
Tzu (Gwain's winged wolf)
Capricia (from Prophet)
Chance (from Prophet)


I'll be curious to see who you pick!


EDIT: Results are in, and it was *close!* Gwain won by a single vote. I think that means that there'll be a short story about Dakar in the future as well, but for April, I'm going to go with Gwain. Thanks to those who participated!

Leesha (from Prophet)
Tzu (Gwain's winged wolf)
Capricia (from Prophet)
Chance (from Prophet)
Total 87