I was invited to attend Digital Book World in New York on January 15th as a panelist for a breakout session supposedly focused on authors "facing the market." When I received the invite, it sounded like fun and since I'm from New York and can easily reach mid-town from my home in Connecticut, I agreed to attend and looked forward to the event. I've attended and presented at more high-tech conferences and exhibits than I can remember, but had never been to a book industry expo and was intrigued by the opportunity.
Unfortunately, the panel was an utter fiasco, presided over by the worst moderator I've ever seen at a show (and I've run 14 high-tech conferences on my own, so that's saying something). Instead of four people, seven ended up on the dais, including the moderator, who instead of staying at the podium and doing her job, squeezed in with the panelists and tried moderating while simultaneously mike grabbing. Worse, when I attempted to run through a short slide preso that the event owner had requested I provide, I was prevented from doing so. All in all, the most gruesome show experience I've ever had (other than working the floor of COMDEX five days straight while a bevy of booth babes gyrated to rock music in the exhibit next to me. Those were the days).
A few quick tips in case you ever run your own conference. If you decide to incorporate panels, never have one featuring more than four people (and three is a much better number). This cuts down on mike grabbing. Last minute invites onto a panel are a no no except in the case of a panelist no show. Also, the moderator must understand that they are not a panelist and should never sit with the panelists nor attempt to hog panelist time. Reward moderators for their work by assigning them to another panel or a speaking slot. And, of course, it is absolutely verboten for a moderator to behave rudely to a panelist who has taken their time and spent their money to attend your show. They're doing you the favor, not vice versa.
In all fairness to the show, I attended other moderated sessions and the ones I saw went smoothly; however, these panels were all populated by personnel from various publishing firms. As an author, I suggest you vet DBW and similar events carefully before spending time and money to attend or present. Dedicated speaking slots are probably worth it, but be careful of panels. Also, if you're an independent, there won't be a great deal of info on self publishing, though this may change in the future. My presentation focused on the amount of sales you needed to generate as an independent to recoup your time expenditure (four slides), but, of course, no one at the show saw it.
What prevented DBW from being a complete fiasco was my visit to the exhibit hall. The show sports a very healthy tradeshow component, though if you're an author, not a publisher, only some of the exhibits are relevant to you. One that is relevant to authors is Booktrack, an online system that enables you to add music, ambiance tracks, and sound effects to your book. I've heard of the technology, but when I went over to the demo booth and watched it in action, I was blown away. If you're writing any sort of genre fiction, you should immediately head over to Booktrack.com, open up your account, and play with the system. It's a blast to use and will make you rethink what digital books should be and also possibly change the way you write. And for many of you, it's the closest chance to being the "Great Auteur Behind the Camera " that you'll ever have.
Working with Booktrack
The first thing to note is that as of this writing, opening up a Booktrack account is free. Only a username and a password is required (there is a more extended profile page). Your book can be slotted into two genres, a type (novel, novella, etc.), a rating (G, PG, etc.) a language (currently, only the English character set is supported so no Chinese, Korean or Japanese at this time), and tags assigned. You can also upload your front cover art at publishing time. There are currently 10K titles in the Booktrack library, so while the system has a robust selection, you have a shot of standing out.
The system is very easy to use. First, you will need to import your book's text into the system.This is a cut and paste operation. One point to note is that if your book relies on more elaborate formatting, it will be lost in Booktrack. The editor currently only supports bolding and italics. I wouldn't be surprised if under the hood you can do some HTML formatting, but don't count on it for production work. The system does not currently enable you to embed pictures in with your text, though one picture per page support is planned for later this year.
Once the text is imported (you can do this in stages), you apply sound to your narrative. You can pick from a fairly extensive library of music and effects and paint your text with the sonics of your choice, upload your own personally composed music (your chance to be your own Hans Zimmer!) or use tracks you may have downloaded from sites such as this. Sounds can overlap, loop, and fade in and out (I suggest you become comfortable with the fade control quickly; it's often disconcerting for a sound to abruptly stop.)
You can also adjust the speed at which the text is read while a reader is "experiencing" your book, and this ties back to the fact that Booktrack encourages you to think "cinematically" as well as narratively. It's what I was referring to when I said the system has the potential to change the way you write. To hear what I mean, go to the site and click on a book.
From a creative standpoint, the process of using Booktrack for an author is utterly addictive. Literary crack. Internally, I actually started to call the system "Bookcrack." Once you begin, it's difficult to pull yourself away. And the rush you get as your book come to audible life is hard to describe unless you've experienced it.
Publishing Your Book on Booktrack
This is an area where you should take care. Books produced via the system are released under a series of open source, Creative Commons' licenses. For example, this variant:
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation.
You may not want to do that. Perhaps this version may be more to your taste:
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially with credit to you (their new works must also be non-commercial).
I suggest you read up more on Creative Commons here and think through the ramifications of releasing your work via this mechanism carefully before moving ahead.
Booktrack is right now primarily a browser-based experience, though there are reader apps (not editors) for iOS and Android. No Kindle. Booktrack is also available as a Chrome app. I briefly tested it in Chrome, IE (no, I didn't test in IE 6. Don't use IE 6), Safari, Firefox and Opera and it worked fine.
How Does Booktrack Monetize?
Booktrack plans to begin monetization at the end of the first quarter of 2015. Right now, you can read the titles in their library for free. The model is similar to the Apple split, 70/30. The author sets the base price (no Amazon Stalag $7) and Booktrack adds $X (between $1 to $2) on top of that when a book is sold. Initially, the Booktrack store model will be title, not subscription, based. Once the ecommerce component of the store is up and running, promotional capabilities will be added such as bundling and couponing. If the author wants Booktrack to create their book's soundtrack, it will cost under $1K (but I strongly recommend you do this yourself. Who else other than the writer knows how the book sounds in his/her inner ear)?
How Long Does It Take to "Booktrack" a Book?
This of course will depend on the type of book, and its length, but using my own sci/fi fantasy novel Rule-Set as a base (120K words), I'd say about 10 to 14 days, factoring in your initial track creation, review, and music reedits. Plan on spending two to three hours a day working on the project.
Some Booktrack Operating Tips
First, resist the desire to go overboard with the auditory bling. This will be hard to do because using Booktrack is so much fun. My suggestion is to add tracks to the first couple of chapters, stop, and listen to how it all sounds. Perhaps ask a family member to listen to early tracks. If they start to find the music distracting, start paring down the effects.
Second, Booktrack does not currently keep a list of the auditory effects you've applied to your text. Before you start adding sound, create a simple text file and list by section/chapter every sound you apply by its name. This will help you keep track of how often and what kinds of sounds you're using and assist you to adjust and change things up as needed.
Third is take care of your editing fixes before applying sound. When you switch to the Text tab, Booktrack loses its focus on your spot in the text and takes you to the top of the section.
Fourth is don't be afraid to upload third party sound. It's easy and immediately broadens your creative palette.
Fifth is start using the music controls immediately. Layered sound adds another dimension to your book.
What Are the Obstacles Facing Booktrack?
Booktrack is a new technology and introduces yet another E-book platform to publishing. Right now, the market is divided between Kindle, Apple, Android, Kobo and others. This adds complexity to the book buying decision, never a good thing.
But I personally think Booktrack is unstoppable (particularly once they allow you to monetize). Once you've experienced a book in this fashion, it's hard to give it up; I speculate people during the silent film era had very much the same reaction to "talkies." I very much believe that Booktrack will become a technology standard and its use will spread into the mainstream. I have to believe the major players are giving the platform close scrutiny. I think Booktracking at least some of your works is an excellent thing to do and an opportunity to learn about how the book is going to evolve as digital printing subsumes print.
Am I Booktracking Rule-Set: A Novel of a Quantum Future?
Are you kidding? Of course I am! Rule-Set takes place in a 50 mile long giant nuclear particle accelerator located under Waxahachie, Texas which in turn houses a virtual reality lab where samurai sword fights are taking place on a regular basis. The prologue describes a group of 2087 special forces soldiers engaging in close combat with homicidal werewolves. And at the penultimate climax of the book, there's an audible computer countdown to catastrophe. I have to do it!
And that's where Booktrack continues to get interesting. I want to bring that countdown to life, and I was thinking about where I could find the right voice for the part. Then I looked at my wife, the radiant Mrs. Chapman. She's worked for years as a hospital floor unit admin and is capable of projecting a Dave-I-think-you-should-sit-down-take-a-stress-pill-and-think-things-over-Hal-9000-tone at will.
I told her I wanted her for the part of Aida the Computer voice and her eyes widened and she said "cool." Then I started to think of a new song by Big Data called "Dangerous" and how it would be a perfect fit for the chase scene I'm writing in the sequel to Rule-Set, Vorpal Sword. And I know that music licensing is a mess, but maybe, just maybe, the music moguls might be interested in opening up a new and untapped micro payment revenue stream?
Technology shakes things up and Booktrack is going to join Kindle in shaking shake up books even more.
Review Submission Guidellines
Want me to review your book? You must join the Rule-Set mailing list and contact me at email@example.com. Do NOT use the contact form for a review request; for press and publishers only. Your book can be a proof but ready for sale within 60 days.
Scifi/-fantasy only at this time. Make sure it's been professionally copyedited. If it's not, I'll know in about five pages and will reject the book. I don't mean to be a hump about it, but approximately 40% to 50% of the books I've received have had far too many typos, comma splices, misuse of dependent clauses, etc. (No, it doesn't have to be perfect. Most books have a few typos, including ones coming out of "traditional" publishing.) Your book cannot succeed in the market with such flaws and it's not fair to ask reviewers to read it in such a state.
I'll take a look at YA, but I'm not the best fit to that audience. PDF, Mobi, print all fine. If you have an author website you wish me to link to, please provide the URL. I don't charge and I also don't guarantee a good review!
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