Category Archives: technology

Where Did the Summer Go Part 2: Writers’ Police Academy

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, a day after we got back from Rainier, I flew to Appleton, Wisconsin to attend the fabulous Writers’ Police Academy.

The brainchild of former LEO Lee Lofland, the Writers’ Police Academy brings together crime writers and experts in the field of law enforcement, CSI, emergency services, etc., in order to help writers “write it right.” Now in its 7th year (and having outgrown its original home in North Carolina), the conference was held at the brand-new Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center.  It’s three jam-packed days of information sessions, hands-on experiences, and a whole lotta fun. (pictured below: Lee Lofland)

photo of Lee Lofland

The state-of-the-art facilities had an airliner on site, as well as a derailed tanker and a faux city with several buildings including a bank, a motel, and an apartment building. LEO training was ongoing at the time of the conference and attendees were welcome to watch traffic stops and various other law enforcement scenarios.

photo of airliner

One of the most informative classes I took had to do with blood spatter and DNA with Jeff Miller (pictured below). Talk about fascinating. Did you know that fingerprints can actually transfer through latex gloves? Not so with nitrile (the blue gloves). Or that the reason DNA results take so long (other than a backlog) is that they have to go through a quality assurance/peer review process that takes an average of 15 days before a report can be issued? (Although if you have a suspect, a match can be determined within a day.) I also learned that DNA can still be detected through seven layers of paint, and that 90 minute results will be available to law enforcement once the FDA approves a machine/process called RapidHit DNA.

photo of blood spatter class

More interesting factoids: a) hermaphrodites can have two different sets of DNA (think of the fictional possibilities!); b) even though identical twins have identical DNA, there is a copy number variant that can help determine which twin committed the crime; and, my personal favorite, c) if a person kisses a suspect for 30 seconds or more, the suspect’s DNA can transfer to the other person–your PI/sleuth character will need to get a swab from them quickly, though. Also, Luminol is on its way out as a blood visualizing agent, and is being replaced by a product called Blue Star. If a criminal tries to clean the crime scene, both Luminol and Blue Star sparkle in the dark when introduced to cleansers.

blood spatter class

There was a boatload of interesting lectures by world-class presenters (pictured below: Dr. Katherine Ramsland giving us an Overview of Forensic Psychology) Katherine has a way with words–especially when she’s describing– shall we say– unusual sexual proclivities in serial killers;

Dr. Katherine Ramsland

The CSI Effect: Real vs Reel (with Mike Black). A great class that blasted through several of the inaccuracies inherent in television programs regarding crime scene investigation. And no, CSI: Miami/New York/etc. should NOT be used for research purposes. But you already knew that, right?

evidence photo

slide of CSI myths

Not surprisingly, some of my favorite sessions were of the hands on variety, like MILO: Shoot/Don’t Shoot Interactive Training. In this class, you’re given a laser pistol similar to a 9mm and told to stand in front of a screen while they run video scenarios involving suspects behaving badly. It’s up to you to determine whether you should shoot or not. I have a new appreciation for how scary it must be for an officer to face down someone who has (or most likely has) a weapon  (sorry, no pics of this one–suffice it to say I didn’t have a problem shooting bad guys coming toward me on the screen…);

Then there was the shooting range (rifles with scopes! Need I say more?);

photo of DV shooting an M4

Bangs and Booms 101 (and all things incendiary with John Gilstrap — pictured below). You can certainly tell by the way he teaches that he LOVES his job 🙂 ) In this class we learned about shaped charges (e.g. RPGs), grenades, dynamite, and C4, and a host of other cool stuff;

John Gilstrap session

Fighting Words: Martial Arts for Writers (with Howard Lewis). The mindset of a person who practices martial arts is very different from one who does not. Howard is extremely entertaining–if you get the chance, go to anything he teaches. And don’t forget to ask him about Bruce Lee…

Martial Arts for Writers photo

Karin Slaughter was the Guest of Honor at the banquet (I forgot my camera that evening, so no pics), and she was hugely entertaining. If the whole crime novel writing gig doesn’t work out for her, she definitely has a shot at a career as a stand up comedian 🙂

In the end, I came away with a much better understanding of the challenges faced by law enforcement and emergency personnel, and gleaned all sorts of little details that I will certainly use in future books. If you write about crime or law enforcement, you’ll LOVE this conference. I wish I could have cloned myself so I could go to every one of the classes. Sigh.

I guess I’ll just have to go again next year.

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ACX, Audible, and Audiobooks–Oh, My!

ES-IN17These past few months, I’ve been having a blast producing audiobooks for my novels. I’d been thinking about doing it for a while and can’t remember exactly what the catalyst was now, but I currently have two books available with two more in production, and plans for at least two more by summer. Since I’ve been fielding questions from fellow writers on the process, I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve learned along the way. (At the end of this post I’m giving away 3 copies each of both audiobooks, so if you’re interested, make sure you stick around—you may just win 🙂 )

Question #1: Which company did you use to make the audiobook?

I used ACX.com, a subsidiary of Amazon and couldn’t be happier with the process. It’s free except for the time commitment and pretty darned easy. The hardest part for me was picking the narrators from all the auditions. My only caveat would be that if you’re looking for that radio mystery theater kind of recording with sound effects and different narrators acting out the voices, you’ll need to use another company. ACX is an exchange that works to bring together narrators and writers to produce straight audiobooks. Usually, this means one narrator per project. On occasion you’ll luck out and get a husband and wife team working together, but one narrator is the norm.

Question #2: How long does it take?

Depends on the narrator. Usually, it will be anywhere from 3-8 weeks. For Serial Date ACX attached a stipend of $100 per finished hour payable by ACX to the narrator, with the requirement that it be completed within 60 days. My narrator, Jim Kilavey, rock and rolled and had it done within 3 weeks. He’d produced several audiobooks previously, so knew the process. Once the book is completed and you approve the recording, ACX does their thing (engineering, quality control). It takes them about 3 weeks to approve the book. Once approved, the book will be available for sale on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes .

Question #3: How do you choose a narrator?
First, you need to provide an audition script, which means you upload an excerpt of your book for narrators to read. Try not to upload too long of an excerpt—five minutes worth is plenty. I made that mistake with Bad Traffick by uploading much too long of an excerpt (didn’t realize it at the time). Even a 5-minute audition requires a lot of work, so keep that in mind. It’s easy to re-upload an edited excerpt, though. And don’t just use the first couple of pages of the book. Find an excerpt that has dialogue between main characters. If you have a lot of action scenes like my books do, include something along those lines, so the producer/narrator can show you how they’ll handle it.

Once you’ve decided on an excerpt and made the book available on ACX, you can search producer (a.k.a. narrator) clips to find the perfect voice and send them a message asking them to audition, or a producer can upload an audition during the audition period if they’re interested in working on the book. If ACX attaches a stipend, you’ll probably receive several auditions. This makes it a bit harder to choose, since many of the producers on ACX are professional voice-over artists. Either way, it’s fun and kinda surreal to hear different interpretations of your work.

Question #4: What if you don’t like the producer’s work? Can you change narrators?

This is where you’ll need to be careful. The contract has a kill-fee stipulation once you’ve approved the first 15 minutes. If you’re doing a royalty-share (more on that later) the kill-fee is $500 plus any expenses incurred by the narrator up to that point. If you’re doing a one-time payment to the producer, then it’s something like 75% of the total the narrator/producer would have received for the completed work. Be sure to work with your producer and make sure you’re completely satisfied with their narration before you approve that first 15 minutes. The producers I’ve used have been easy to work with, so any glitches or mistakes were easily rectified. If either of you don’t like the way it’s playing out (before you approve the first 15), then you’re both free to stop production with no penalties. If that happens, you’ll need to open up production for auditions again.

Question #5: What does it cost? How do you get paid?

I decided to go with the escalating royalty-share (50% to ACX, 25% to me, 25% to the producer for the first 500 units sold. Royalties increase after that). That way, there were no upfront costs other than my time. You can also pay the producer an hourly rate which is typically between $100-200 per finished hour (pay-for-production) and allows you a 50% royalty. For example, if I’d chosen the hourly rate, The Kate Jones Thriller Series, Vol. 1 would have cost between $860-1720 (8.6 hours x $100 or $200). Another reason I did the royalty-share is so that the producer/narrator has an incentive to promote the audiobook.

As for payment, ACX pays monthly via either check or direct deposit (US banks). If you opt for direct deposit, the breakdown of titles sold shows up in the mail a couple of weeks later. And, you don’t have to wait 60 days for payments like you do with Amazon.

All in all, it’s been a lot of fun to hear my books read back to me by professionals.  I’ve gotten emails from readers who prefer audiobooks and are happy to be able to listen to Kate and Leine’s stories while commuting to work, which is the best, most satisfying reason to do this. Another obvious reason is that audiobooks are an added revenue stream in addition to print and e-Books. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do this when I first heard about ACX.

I’m happy to answer questions, so feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best. If I can’t answer it, then at least I can point you in the right direction.

Now, for anyone who would like a chance to win a free audiobook, there are two ways to win:

1.) sign up for my free newsletter (I send out maybe 3 newsletters a year, so no spam, I promise) to be automatically entered to win, or,

2.) leave a comment below with your email address and you’ll be entered that way. You can do both and get your name in the ‘hat’ twice, if you’d like 🙂

I’m giving away 3 copies each of Serial Date and The Kate Jones Thriller Series, Vol. 1 this Saturday (February 8) and will contact the lucky winners by email. Good luck!

***UPDATE: We have winners! I’ve emailed instructions for a free download to djsgcampbell, nadams1291, wegmglan, lizzy79, ransue92, and girltoyjaz! Thanks for playing, everybody 🙂

 


The Glocalization of e-Books

North America from low orbiting satellite Suomi NPPHere’s an eye-opening article from Ebook Bargains UK regarding how glocalization is fueling the e-book juggernaut. I agree with their main premise–don’t think the micro-sites aren’t worth getting your book into. The biz is shifting every day. The Zon may not always be the biggest market for your work. The world is a HUGE place and some of us tend to be a tad short-sighted here in the US by not paying a lot of attention to what’s happening around the planet.


Kobo Cull Self-Published Titles In Knee-jerk Response To Tabloid Clickbait

Whoa. A little over-reaction on the part of booksellers, me thinks. Interesting article on David Gaughran’s blog regarding the kerfuffle in the UK over erotic titles and children’s titles coming up in the same search. Sigh.

Kobo Cull Self-Published Titles In Knee-jerk Response To Tabloid Clickbait.


Fences, Schmences–Why Going Indie was Easy

I’m over at Indies Unlimited today, blogging about going indie vs. traditionally published. Come on over and join the conversation! http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2013/09/18/fences-schmences-why-going-indie-was-easy/


Improve your book’s discoverability

Reading glasses resting on an open bookhttp://selfpublishingadvice.org/blog/how-to-increase-the-discoverability-of-your-self-published-books-choose-the-right-kdp-categories/


Ode to a Library

I don’t know about you, but libraries will always have a special place in my heart. I remember my mother taking me to the town’s only library every week, and while she perused the art and mythology sections, I would ransack the children’s nook. If I didn’t find anything interesting there, I’d move on to more adult genres,books,boys,education,libraries,men,people,readings,research,shelves,students,studying,academic like mysteries and spy novels. When I got older, I devoured the biography section along with whatever caught my fancy, from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to photojournalism to the French Revolution. Luckily, my mother spent countless hours there, so I was able to feed my overactive imagination without worrying about running out of time.

I haven’t been back in a long while, and I’m sure it’s not nearly as big a building as I remember. I don’t even know if the structure is still there. Several levels opened to the lobby, all boasting heavily polished floors and creaky wooden shelves, groaning under the weight of so many hard-bound tomes, giving it an old world, floor-to-ceiling bookstore feel. Early on I discovered an ancient circular stairwell behind the stacks and when I grew tired of searching for something new, I’d hide there, alone with the subject du jour, lost in another world of my choosing.

The lobby at SPL

2nd Floor Lobby at SPL

This past weekend my cousin Fieke, visiting from the Netherlands, suggested we visit the Seattle Public Library.  She works as a photographer in Eindhoven and was acquainted with the photographer who assisted the architect, also from the Netherlands. I’d been to SPL a couple of times before, but hadn’t been able to take the time to really discover the place.  If you haven’t had the chance to visit, put it on the list for whenever you’re in Seattle. It’s an amazing, mind-bending building dedicated to all things literature.

The structure is a honeycomb of concrete, gleaming steel, and glass. The natural light streaming in through the walls is impressive on a sunny day–and it’s a fabulous place to be in the middle of winter when the skies are the same steel-gray as the supports. Each floor is its own world and conveys a different feeling, from future-shock orderliness to saturated, mind-warping tomato reds and neon yellows. Nothing here is understated. Every nook and cranny demands that you pay attention.

Photo of the 4th floor of the Seattle Public Library

4th Floor Red

That Seattle voters chose to support the revitalization of the library system in such large numbers is a telling regional character trait. Folks who live in the Pacific Northwest, from Vancouver, BC to Portland, Oregon, are known as voracious readers. (Yes, we’re heavy caffeine abusers and like our wines and microbrews, but when it’s dull gray and bone-chilling wet outside, curling up with a good book, be it on our Kindle, Nook, iPad, or the printed page, is one of this area’s favorite pastimes.) The libraries in western Washington embraced eBooks early, and several offer a large selection of audio books for downloading. One of the benefits of living in a tech-heavy area (Amazon and Microsoft are based here, among several other tech organizations) is that early adopters drive innovation and concepts are introduced here long before other areas of the country.

Below are a few more of the photos I took of the interior. Do you have a library story?  I’d love to hear it 🙂

Happy Monday!

Photo of SPL

Looking down at the 2nd floor

Neon Yellow Escalator

SONY DSC

SONY DSC


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