Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Self Publishing my First Audiobook

I'm pleased to announce that I've begun self-publishing audiobooks. My first, RUM RUNNER, is currently available.

What took me so long to self-pub audio?

It all began 30 years ago...

When I was a sophomore in high school back in halcyon days of 1986, I was flush with cash from my job at Burger King (all about the fryer, baby) and eager to spend my whole $70 paycheck on music.

Cassette tapes were my preference, because I could rock the jams in my car stereo, and also in my Sony Walkman, and in my Panasonic ghetto blaster (which ate D batteries like Pac-Man ate quarters.)

While I admit I did own a pair of Hot Topic parachute pants that were shiny enough to be seen from space (and boasted no less than ten non-functional zippers as decoration), my style at the time tended toward Hawaiian shirts and Vans before most folks in Chicagoland knew what Vans were. And my musical affectation in '86 was metal.

Classic NWOBHM, like Priest, Raven, Tank, Motorhead, and Maiden, but also the newer, faster indie stuff coming out of the US as exemplified by Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer, Exciter, and my personal favorite, Stormtroopers of Death.

I loved me some SOD.

If you were a young metalhead with fast food money burning a hole in your camo pants, you eventually discovered Megaforce Records, the label that released the first Metallica and Anthrax records.

So one fine summer day in '86, I'm in the mall record shop (Flip Side? Musicland?) and see a new cassette compilation called FROM THE MEGAVAULT by Megaforce. New songs and B-sides by Overkill, Exciter, Raven, Blessed Death, and SOD.

I immediately plunked down my ten bucks, and raced out to my car, eager to hear SOD shred RAM IT UP.

But RAM IT UP did not come out of my car speakers. Something else did. And as I fast-forwarded through the tape, I didn't hear any Raver or Exciter, either.

In fact, the music on the tape wasn't metal at all.

Somehow, some southern rock album had been recorded over From the Megavault. Or the factory that manufactured both albums spooled the wrong tape in the wrong case.

Major screw-up. And I was only making $3.35 an hour. How could life be so unfair?

Once I got over my immediate anger at the bait and switch, I gave the mystery album a thorough listen.

And I liked it.

I liked it so much, I made copies for my friends. They liked it, too. But we had no idea who the artist was, or the name of any of the songs.

Remember, this was 1986. No way to look up lyrics. I took that tape to a dozen record shops, playing them cuts, and no one knew who the band was.

Which was especially irritating, because the band was really good. I grew up when John Hughes was making movies for my age group, and he was correct that the music you listened to in high school imprinted on you strongly.

My buddies and I called the tape The Mystery Album, which we labeled with a single question mark. And we played the hell out of that album.

Cut to 1988. One of my good friends moves out of state. We stay in touch, and one day he calls me up, excited.

"I heard a song from the Mystery Album on the radio. The name of the band is The Rainmakers."

And they had a second album out, TORNADO. And soon put out a third, THE GOOD NEWS AND THE BAD NEWS, in 1989.

The second and third albums were just as good as the first, and The Rainmakers became my favorite band ever. Which was a big deal for me, because at the time I had over a thousand albums. My entire bedroom wall was lined with cassettes. I was into tunes in a big way, and this band represented everything I liked about music. Catchy melodies. Powerful lyrics. Songs to dance to, songs to sing along with, songs that hit you in the gut.

Great rock and roll.

But fate was cruel in my younger days, and The Rainmakers broke up before my friends and I ever got to see them live.

Years passed. I toked and drank my way through college and spent years waiting tables and trying to sell a novel on my way to racking up 500 rejections. I was working on a word processor, because I wasn't convinced buying a computer is a good investment, even though this burgeoning "Internet" thing seems like it might be useful someday.

When I finally did get online, I looked up The Rainmakers (it was, literally, my first search ever), and I saw they had a website and a message board. I also found out they've released a live album, and a new CD, FLIRTING WITH THE UNIVERSE. If that wasn't exciting enough, I posted a question on their forum and the lead singer, Bob Walkenhorst, was kind enough to answer it.

His answer: No, they weren't touring.

More years passed. I was still collecting rejections for my novels. The Rainmakers put out their fifth album, SKIN, which was terrific, and then they immediately broke up again.

I was convinced that I'd French kiss the Loch Ness Monster before I ever saw The Rainmakers live.

In 2002 I sold WHISKEY SOUR. My audio rights went to Brilliance Audio in Grand Haven, MI, the largest independent audiobook producer in the world. I loved Brilliance. They rolled out the red carpet for me, the narrators were terrific, and I even got to voice a few characters.

In 2009 I discovered self-publishing on Kindle and started making real money for the first time in my life. Brilliance Audio continued to buy my self-pubbed books, and I was fine with that because they did a great job.

In 2011, The Rainmakers put out a new album, 25 ON, and announced a reunion concert.

I don't think I'm overly nostalgic, or overly excitable, but I do consider myself a fanboy of certain things. Going to see The Rainmakers with my high school buddies, after first hearing the Mystery Album twenty-five years earlier, was surreal.

Maybe I'm not using the word "fanboy" in the proper context. Bob Walkenhorst and The Rainmakers have released nine albums (my current fave being MONSTER MOVIE), and I know every song. By heart. I can sing each tune from start to finish with minimal lyric mistakes depending on how much beer I've had.

So when we finally saw them live, and they played The Mystery Album in its entirety, I was hoarse by the middle of the show from screaming so loud.

That's the happy ending, right? Throw in a romantic subplot, and some conflict within the friend group, and it's enough to be the backdrop for a John Hughes film. Or a Cameron Crowe flick.

No more to tell, you'd think.

But actually, there is more.

I kept checking The Rainmakers website every so often, hoping to hear news of another show or new album, and I noticed Bob was offering to do house concerts. Fly him out, pay him well, and you can have a Rainmaker in your living room.

This resonated with me. In 2006, I toured for two months and stayed in fans' houses. It was a tough tour, but rewarding. Getting to know people that my work had touched was something I'll never forget, and I wondered if it was possible to have an experience like that with Bob.

So I emailed him, saying I'm a famous author (this no doubt didn't impress him, as the previous famous author who flew him out for a show was Stephen King). I said I'd like to book him for two nights, three hours a night.

He was skeptical we'd want to hear him for six full hours. He was also dubious of the crowd; this is a man who has played 20,000 seat arenas, and I was asking him to play for just me, my wife, and my two high school buddies. For two nights in a row.

After some back and forth emails he did eventually accept, and his wife came along (to save him if the gig turned sour).

It was one of the most fun things I'd ever done. Even though you really couldn't hear Bob over my singing.

We talked in the downtime, trading stories about our professions and basically get to know each other as people.

And that somehow turned into a friendship.

Besides being the greatest singer/songwriter of our generation, Bob is a ridiculously nice guy and extremely easy to get along with. And for some reason, I amuse him.

So a few years pass, and we've hung out a dozen times, and talk and text as friends tend to do. When my other friends come over, we usually drink too much and sing some of Bob's tunes and then send him the videos because what rock star doesn't want to see drunken idiots screeching off-key to songs he labored over? To one-up me, Bob sent me a video of him reading one of my books aloud. But unlike my singing, Bob was good at reading. Really good.

I told him he should check out ACX, because I thought he could make some decent money narrating audiobooks.

Then I promptly forget about it.

My secret fanboy fantasies involving Bob Walkenhorst all center around his work, not mine. Like perhaps someday he'll invite me on stage to sing with him (he's heard my voice, so he hasn't), or maybe he'll call me up, stuck on a lyric, and ask me to use my writing skills to assist him (his lyrics are perfect, so he hasn't).

But in the past six months, I've been pretty prolific. RUM RUNNER, WATCHED TOO LONG, and WEBCAM, with LAST CALL coming up, and more on tap for later in the year. I was planning on selling the audio rights to Brilliance, but my old buddy Blake Crouch told me I was foolish for not self-pubbing audio since the royalties are so much better.

The seed was planted in my head, but I still didn't connect the dots until we were at Bob's house and my wife said, "You should ask him if he wants to narrate your books."

Right. Then I could call Bill Gates and ask him to overclock my CPU.

But my wife pushed it. So, expecting a no, I gave Bob the worst pitch ever, "If this is something you might consider, maybe you could try it, but I have no idea if it'll make any money because I haven't done it before and it'll probably take a long time to do and you might hate the book, so if you don't want to try, it's totally cool, I don't want to push you or anything, really. It was Maria's idea."

Bob surprised me by saying yes.

And that's the story of how I self-published RUM RUNNER, narrated by Bob Walkenhorst, whom I was listening to thirty years ago because I liked heavy metal.

Life is funny, isn't it?

Now, I'd really like to say that RUM RUNNER is easily the greatest audiobook ever recorded.

And I can say that, because it's true.

Bob nailed it. He hit the right notes for the humor, and for the suspense. His characterizations are up there with the best I've ever heard. His pace is impeccable. The whole things sounds great.

If you like my work, you'll love this. If you like audiobooks, you'll love this. If you have ears and a pulse and understand English, you'll love this. This will stand up to any audiobook produced by anyone.

And yes, that's me voicing my character, Harry McGlade.

I had expectations that were probably too high, and perhaps I’m still too much of a fanboy to be fully objective, but I really love how Bob has interpreted the work. His voice is terrific (obviously, the guy is a rock star), but he went above the call of duty to create specific voices and mannerisms for the different characters to make them all stand out. He’s got a very good sense of comic timing, he pours on the pathos during the emotional scenes, and he makes the book better.

I invited Bob to answer a few questions about the process.

Joe sez: So this is a first for you. Not reading aloud—I’m pretty sure you’ve done that before—but performing an audiobook. What are your initial thoughts?

Bob: It is a rather LARGE task. Fun, but large. Your books, and Rum Runner specifically, cover such a wide range of emotions and moods. From terror to love, graphic violence to painfully immature humor. You bring it all, and I've done my best to bring it to audio-life. From gangstas, to babies, to a damn parrot. Then there is the whole gigantic data management of keeping all the chapters and sections in order.

Joe: How does this compare to recording music?

Bob: LONGER, a lot LONGER! But the construction of mood is similar, in that you change tones and volume and tempo. The big difference being that is all has to be done with the spoken (or shouted!) voice, rather than all the infinite choices of instruments and effects in music.

Joe: You just finished recording WATCHED TOO LONG, and the scenes I’ve heard are hilarious. Are you up for doing more Konrath audiobooks? Or do you need a little break?

Bob: I have this suspicion that you can write them faster than I can record them. So keep 'em coming  -  I'll catch up. I really have enjoyed Rum Rummer immensely. I love the story, enjoy the dramatic challenge, and the big jigsaw puzzle of putting it all together.

Joe: Now that you’re a narrator on ACX, are you going to consider doing audiobooks for other authors?

Bob: Now that I know how much time and work it entails, I would hesitate to do an audiobook for a first time author. Just being honest. You were gracious and trusting enough to let me do it as I wanted - you told me from the start that you did not want to "direct" or edit it. I fear other authors might be very picky and have specific ideas about how characters should sound, how pacings should go. It could easily become a giant pain, and an endless job to finish it for a finicky author.

Joe: Stephen King used several Rainmakers lyric quotes in The Tommyknockers, and he even flew you guys to Maine to perform for him. What if he wanted you to read one of his? On the plus side, he probably pays better than I do. On the minus side, his books are 3700 pages long...

Bob:  Sure, I would entertain the idea of a King book. Again, I am trying to avoid high-pressure situations in my life, and a King book might be a "be-careful-what-you-wish-for" thing. Hey, you should write a book where an insane author chains his narrator in the basement and makes him keep recording it over and over and over . . .     Maybe that's already been done.

Joe: So, when can we expect a new album from you and/or your band?

Bob: I am currently working on a quickie album of solo acoustic versions of past Rainmakers tunes. I did one a few years ago called Spare. This will be Spare Vol. 2. I mostly sell these at my solo house concerts, kind of a souvenir of the evening. And always writing new songs for whatever happens down the road.

Thanks again Joe, for letting me take a crack at this. I think we made something damn good here.   Now, let's go drink beer.

Joe: I'm all for that.

RUM RUNNER is available as a digital audio download on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. You can find Bob at his Facebook page, or if you're in the Kansas City area, catch him at a gig. It's some of the best rock n' roll you'll ever hear. Guaranteed.

But don't take my word for it. Download a few of his shows for yourself, for free.