Today I'm chatting with fellow author, Steven A. McKay. We'll talk audiobooks, history and influences.
Steven and I are from a similar part of the world (I patrol the central section of the Antonine Wall and he's watching over the western end) and there are many parallels in our paths to writer-dom. Steven has enjoyed a notable year with his sparkling debut, 'Wolf's Head', rocketing to the top of Amazon's war chart. Well deserved, I reckon, as his retelling of the Robin Hood legend was one of my top reads of 2013. Indeed, I'm saving the sequel, 'The Wolf and the Raven', for this year's summer break. Recently, Steven was one of the first UK authors to have his work converted into an audiobook and listed on Amazon's Audible website.
Around the same time, 'Legionary' was being narrated for the same purpose. So Steven and I have shared ideas and advice on various aspects of this process, and we thought it would be good to share our thinking with the wider world. So, here we go (straightens question sheet and clears throat):
Gordon: The world of publishing is fairly new to both of us. The audiobook world was even newer still for me, and I’m guessing it was the same for you. There are lots of options and advice (sometimes contradictory) out there. How did you go about getting started and selecting Nick Ellsworth for the job of narrating Wolf’s Head?
Steven: I'd wanted to make an audiobook but, to be honest, it wasn't high on my list of priorities as Wolf's Head hadn't even been out for a year and I was concentrating on getting the sequel finished. But ACX/ Amazon contacted me to ask if I'd like to be one of the first authors outwith the USA to use their program to have an audiobook made. I was going to the London Book Fair to be part of the Kindle/Createspace team so this meant I was also able to talk about the ACX process while I was there.I found the process really simple – just put my ad out there on the ACX page asking for narrators to audition and basically selected the best one. I used the filters to find people who were a) male b) middle-aged and c) had a refined English accent. I think that describes Nick Ellsworth, or at least his voice! He was ideal and I'm happy he accepted the job.
Gordon: Nick has a very engaging narrative voice, and I find that his style complements the tale of Wolf’s Head perfectly. Did the narration highlight any areas of the story that made you feel really proud (I think the combat scenes are very well handled by Nick), or any areas that made you wish you had written differently?
Steven: Yeah, I loved how he read the scenes between Will Scarlet and his daughter, Beth. I literally had tears in my eyes as I was listening to that, his reading was very powerful. The one thing I didn't like was the beginning of, I think it was chapter two. There was a lot of scene-setting without any dialogue or action and I thought it dragged a bit, which I never noticed until I heard someone reading it. No fault of Nick's, it was just the writing and it made me more aware of that kind of thing for future novels.
Gordon: In the narrating and proof-listening process, were there any bloopers or misunderstandings, e.g. a romantic scene being narrated in an angry voice?
Steven: Not really, as I say I was so lucky with Nick, he was a real pro. The one thing I asked him to change was the beginning of one chapter, where a character shouts, “Ride!” to start a joust. I asked Nick to make that single word more forceful but, apart from that, I don't think I asked him to change anything. There were some issues with glitches in the first versions of the recordings, words repeated or sound levels changing, but I noted exact times they happened and Nick sorted them. Sorry, I wish I had a hilarious story to tell about him reading a fiery sex-scene in a Peter Griffin voice, but the guy was a joy to work with!
Gordon: How did you work with Nick in terms of clarifying pronunciations, corrections etc?
Steven: Again, Nick knew his job and read everything perfectly, as far as I recall, first time around. In fact, the one time there was a genuine error, it was down to me: I'd made a mistake in the book! I had to ask him to re-read it then edit the book and upload it to Amazon again! To be fair, my book doesn't have any, like, Latin words or anything so the pronunciations are pretty simple. I imagine it would have been a lot harder for your own audiobook (which is excellent by the way) with all its limitanei and comitatenses!
Gordon: I like Nick’s adoption of different accents/tones and twangs as he switched between jeering peasant or haughty lords. Did you guide Nick on this at all?
Steven: This is turning into an advert for Nick Ellsworth's narration skills! He asked me at the very start what I wanted in terms of accents, but he'd already read the first chapter during the audition and I loved what he did with it so I just asked him to continue the way he'd started. I think I told him he could play with the accents of characters like Friar Tuck, who came from different areas from the rest of the cast but I really just left it up to him and he, clearly, knew what he was doing.
Gordon: How did you pay (upfront or royalty share?)
Steven: I paid the full fee upfront. I'm always quietly confident that people will like what I do so I thought I'd make the money back eventually. Hopefully time proves me right....
Gordon: Are you glad you paid in that way?
Steven: Yeah. I had my first royalty cheque from ACX just last week and it was more than I'd expected. It's very hard to figure out how much money you're earning from the audiobooks as there's so many ways for people to buy it. Discounts for Audible members, discounts for people who already bought the Kindle version etc. So it's not as simple as saying, “X amount of sales at X price equals a total royalty of £X”. Going on the first cheque though, I'll hopefully make my costs back within a year or so.
Gordon: Did you consider self-narrating at all?
Steven: Ha! I have the audio equipment to do it. I write and record a lot of songs for my heavy metal band so I know my way around a basic home recording studio and, since I sing as well as playing guitar I don't mind people hearing my voice. But Wolf's Head is a book about a load of Yorkshiremen and one of England's greatest folk heroes. Taking that into account, I don't think my broad Glasgow accent would go down too well....
Gordon: You’ve got the eBook, the treeBook and now the audiobook . . . any plans to get Robin and the lads onto the big or small screen?
Steven: I'd love to see the books turned into an HBO series like Rome or Game of Thrones but I'm sure everyone that's ever written a book would like that to happen for them! I do believe Wolf's Head and The Wolf and the Raven would make better films than the Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe ones but it would take a lot for me to beat the TV series Robin of Sherwood. I don't have an agent anyway so there's not much chance of anyone picking up the rights for a screen version. Maybe once I sell a few million books? Ask me again in six months!
Gordon: What are your writing plans for the future? Do you intend to see the Forest Lord series to a conclusion and then move on to something else, or will you start another series and alternate those releases with further volumes of the Forest Lord? And do you anticipate audiobook versions of each new work?
Steven: I definitely want to have all the books made into audio versions now. It seems the way to do it, having them made up as you go. I was talking to your friend SJA Turney and his problem is he has so many novels, making them all into audiobooks is going to be both hugely expensive and time-consuming. So I'd really want to have each new novel of mine made into an audiobook as I go, finances permitting. Nick has already been asked about doing The Wolf and the Raven, I'm sure we'll get around to that within a few months.
In terms of my writing, The Forest Lord series will only run to four books, I really don't want to drag it out and end up with it being watered down. I'm working on the third just now, and I know how it will all end. How I'll get there, I don't know yet, stay tuned to find out! After that I'm not sure where I'll go. I'd like to do something with the Hospitaller, Sir Richard-at-Lee, but I always loved reading about the Romans in Britain and, being a Scot who lives at the end of the Antonine Wall, I wonder if I could do anything with that... Please, join me to find out..!
Steven A. McKay was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland. He lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children.
His second book, The Wolf and the Raven was released on April 7th, at the London Book Fair where he was part of the Amazon stand. His début novel, Wolf's Head, was also released the same day as an audiobook.
Wolf's Head is a Kindle top 20 best-seller and The Wolf and the Raven was the “War” chart number 1. He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.
Visit Steven's website here.
Gordon Doherty, writer, history fan, explorer.
Empires of Bronze: The Dark Earth - the story of the Bronze Age's catastrophic end.