Author Resource: Let’s Talk AUDIOBOOKS

Recently, I asked my author friends on Twitter what they wanted to know about audiobooks. I promised to write a “big, newsy thread” answering their questions.

I quickly realized this is way too big of a topic for a Twitter thread! So let’s jump right into a big, newsy blog post about publishing audiobooks as indie authors.

As with other in-depth posts I’ve done, I’m including a handy-dandy table of contents. Click on any of the topics to jump to the part you want to read. (The links don’t sync perfectly. Scroll up just a bit after clicking the link, to see the beginning of the section.)

Table of Contents

Why should I consider having an audio version of my book?
How much does it cost to produce an audiobook?
Who should distribute my audiobook?
How do I choose a narrator?
Will my book sell well as an audiobook?
When should I release my audiobook?
Should I record my own audiobook? If so…how?
Miscellaneous questions

Why should I consider having an audio version of my book?

Audiobooks are a rapidly growing market. Check out this info from Deloitte:

In 2020, Deloitte predicts, the global audiobook market will grow by 25 percent to US$3.5 billion … in a world where overall media and entertainment growth stands at just 4 percent.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of a rapidly growing market!

Yet many indie authors don’t have audiobooks associated with their printed or digital books. When I click the “Teen & Young Adult” category on, there are nearly 15,000 titles. The same category on Amazon Kindle? Over 70,000 titles.

There’s less competition on Audible than on Kindle. Plus, when you’re an indie author who has audiobooks, you stand out as being more professional.

One more thing to chew on: having audio versions of your books makes them more accessible. I was thrilled when a friend of mine told me how much her daughter with dyslexia loved listening to my book! Visually impaired consumers often love audiobooks too.

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How much does it cost to produce an audiobook?

Authors have told me, “I can’t afford to have an audiobook produced!”

I have good news! There are multiple ways to get audiobooks produced…and one method requires no cash from the author. Let’s go over some of your options, starting with the cheapest upfront cost.

  • Royalty Share: Through ACX (more on them in the next section), you can search for a narrator (also called a “producer”) who will record your book and prepare it for sale, then split the royalties with you 50/50 for the first seven years. You don’t have to pay them anything upfront.
    • Upfront Cost: $0. (I’m not including cover art in any of these estimates; you’ll need a square version of your cover.)
    • Pros: No upfront cost. A relatively risk-free way to dip your toe in the audiobook market.
    • Cons: Royalty share producers are often (not always!) less experienced narrators. The experienced, talented narrators who are open to royalty share may only take you on if you’re selling a lot of books already. If your audiobook does well, royalty share may cost you more in the end! And you’re required to sell your book exclusively through ACX throughout your seven-year royalty-share period. (ACX distributes to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.) Only available in US, UK, Canada, & Ireland.
  • Produce Your Own Audiobook: This is what I do, and I’ll go over the ins and outs of it in detail later on in this post. But here are a few things for you to consider.
    • Upfront Cost: Anywhere from $100 to $1000+, depending what equipment and/or software you buy and how you set up your studio. Most people can get a good setup for a few hundred bucks or less. Some people choose to narrate their own work but hire someone to edit the sound files. That may cost about $100 per finished hour of recording.
    • Pros: Fairly inexpensive cost upfront, and you shouldn’t have to buy new equipment very often. Some readers like listening to the author narrate. If you enjoy performance, narration can be fun. You keep 100% of your royalties.
    • Cons: It’s super time consuming. It’s hard to do it well (at the same level as talented professionals). There’s a big learning curve. Some readers prefer not to hear the author narrate.
  • Royalty Share Plus: This is another ACX-specific option. It’s just like royalty share, except that in addition to giving your narrator half your royalties, you also give them a certain amount per finished hour (PFH).
    • Upfront Cost: Whatever you negotiate with your narrator. You may pay $25, $50, $100, or more PFH ($250 to $1000+ for a 10-hour audiobook).
    • Pros: Could be relatively affordable upfront, depending on what price you negotiate. More experienced/talented narrators may be easier to find.
    • Cons: As with royalty share, this could end up being expensive in the end if your book is successful; and you must stay exclusive with ACX for seven years. Only available in US, UK, Canada, & Ireland.
  • Voices Share: This is an option if you use Findaway Voices (more on them below) to produce your audiobook. Narrators can agree to take half their normal hourly rate (PFH) upfront, in exchange for them receiving 20% of total royalties.
    • Upfront cost: Half the narrator’s normal price. I don’t think you’ll find the “bargain basement” narrators on Findaway Voices you might find on ACX. Half a narrator’s normal price will probably be $75 to $250+ PFH ($750 to $2500+ for a 10-hour audiobook).
    • Pros: Slashes upfront cost in half. Findaway Voices helps connect you to a narrator who fits your book. You can buy out of the contract, though you’ll pay more than you would’ve if you’d paid the narrator 100% upfront.
    • Cons: As with royalty share, this could end up being expensive if your book is successful; and you must stay exclusive with Findaway Voices unless you buy out of the contract. (Keep in mind Findaway distributes to a huge number of retailers including all the major ones, so exclusivity doesn’t really limit your book’s availability. It just means you can’t go directly to any retailers or distribute directly through ACX.)
  • PFH (Per Finished Hour): In a PFH deal, you negotiate an hourly price with a narrator/producer. “Hourly” means the finished product. A 10-hour audiobook may have taken the producer 40 to 150 hours to produce! You can audition and select PFH narrators through ACX or Findaway Voices or by contracting with a person or company on your own.
    • Upfront Cost: $50 PFH at the very low end up to $1,000+ PFH at the very high end, which comes out to $500 to $10,000+ for a 10-hour book. (Few people actually pay $1,000+ PFH!)
      • You can find plenty of talented narrators for $250-$300 PFH and many for less.
      • Findaway Voices also charges $49 to help match you with a narrator, but there are various ways to get that fee waived. Just Google it. Also, according to this post, Findaway has an upcharge of about 15% in addition to the narrator’s fee.
      • If you use ACX or Findaway to contract with a narrator for a PFH deal, you can distribute that book wherever you want.
    • Pros: Some of the best narrators may only take PFH projects. With a pure PFH project, you don’t share your royalties with anyone. You’re free to sell your audiobook wherever you want to and aren’t required to bind yourself to exclusivity clauses.
    • Cons: PFH can get really expensive!
  • Audioworks: Audioworks is available only through Findaway Voices. This is a simple, hands-off way to produce an audiobook. Findaway will choose your narrator and work with them and the editor to make sure the result is a professional, high-quality audiobook.
    • Upfront cost: $450 PFH and up. A 10-hour audiobook will run you $4500 or more.
    • Pros: If you can afford it, this is a simple way to produce a high-quality book. Major publishers use Audioworks.
    • Cons: That whole “if you can afford it” part. You’d better be confident your audiobook is likely to sell a lot of copies if you choose this option (or any expensive PFH option).

There’s one option I didn’t cover here. Some indie authors whose books sell successfully are approached by production companies (such as Tantor) who offer to produce their books as audiobooks. These production companies act as audio publishers, sometimes even offering advances (and generally keeping the lion’s share of the profits). This can be a great, hands-off option for some authors, but I don’t know much about it. We’re sticking with indie methods for this post.

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Who should distribute my audiobook?

I’ll review the two most common options with you, but you can search online to find others.

  • ACX
    • Distribution: ACX is owned by Amazon/Audible. They only distribute to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
    • Narrator Connection: Through ACX, you can hire a narrator for royalty share, royalty share plus, or PFH. (See “How much does it cost to produce an audiobook?” above.) You’re also welcome to bring completed files to ACX that were narrated by you or someone you contracted with outside their system.
    • Pricing: ACX doesn’t give you any pricing flexibility. They’ll price your book, primarily based on its length. And the retail price is not usually the price listeners pay! Instead, expect these prices:
      • Audible members get monthly credits that they use to buy audiobooks. These credits usually cost $14.99 each, but each credit costs less for members on higher membership tiers (more than one credit per month).
      • If you’re in the romance genre, you may request to enroll your book in Audible Escape, an all-you-can-listen program similar to Kindle Unlimited. You’ll be paid by how many minutes people listen. A quick Google search tells me the royalties are really low, so authors should only choose this path if they expect the quantity of listeners to make the low royalties worth it.
      • Whispersync for Voice, syncs your Audible audiobook to your Kindle ebook so readers can switch between the two. Amazon customers can buy your Kindle book, then “upgrade” to your audiobook for a discounted amount. For my books (which are all on the long side, over 12 hours), this “upgrade” price is $7.49. (Note that it can take Amazon/ACX time to sync your book. I had an audiobook published last week, and Whispersync still isn’t set up on it.)
      • Lastly, you may occasionally have a buyer who pays retail price on Audible or Amazon (and the retail differs a bit between those two sellers). These prices tend to be high (The Frost Eater is $21.83 on Amazon and $24.95 on Audible), and most audiobook listeners are understandably unwilling pay that much.
    • Royalties: ACX pays royalties in two tiers.
      • 40% of the sales price if your audiobook is exclusive with them (not sold through any other distributors or retailers).
      • 25% of the sales price if your audiobook is not exclusive.
      • Royalties are based on what the purchaser actually pays. Don’t let that high retail price fool you!
      • Lastly, I’ll say it bluntly: ACX’s sales/royalty reporting sucks. Their payment schedule is awesome (30 days after the end of the month in which the purchase was made…so I got paid for July sales at the end of August), but you won’t know your exact royalty amount until about the time you’re getting paid. Edit, February 2021: ACX is making some improvements to their reporting.
    • Review Codes: If you’re exclusive with ACX , they will provide you with a limited number of review codes so that reviewers can listen to your book for free, then review it.
      • When your book goes live, ACX gives you 25 codes for use on Audible in the US and 25 for use in the UK.
      • Once at least 10 codes in one market (US or UK) are redeemed, you can request 25 more codes for that market…IF if you’ve sold at least 100 total audiobooks through ACX.
      • Important note: in the past, ACX paid royalties when review codes were redeemed. It was pretty awesome; I made a lot of money by giving away free audiobooks! As of March 26, 2020, ACX is no longer paying royalties on review codes for books published that day or later. (Honestly, I knew it was probably too good of a deal to last forever!)
      • Countries: You can use ACX if you live in the US, UK, Canada, or Ireland. Sorry, Australia and elsewhere!
    • Findaway Voices
      • Distribution: Findaway Voices distributes to what they call “the world’s largest network of audiobook sellers” including retailers, libraries and subscription services.
        • Note: Findaway does distribute to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, but if you prefer, you can distribute through ACX in a non-exclusive agreement (so that Findaway doesn’t take its cut on Audible sales) and use Findaway for other retailers.
      • Narrator Connection: Through Findaway Voices, you can hire a narrator for Voices Share, PFH, or Audioworks. (See “How much does it cost to produce an audiobook?” above.) You’re also welcome to bring completed files to Findaway that were narrated by you or someone you contracted with outside their system.
      • Pricing: You can set your own price through Findaway and can even set up short-term promotional deals for some retailers. You can also submit Findaway audiobooks to Chirp, an audio deals site that’s connected to BookBub. Note that ACX/Audible still sets their own prices for Audible and Amazon, even if you distribute through Findaway.
      • Royalties: Findaway Voices pays you 80% of what the various sales channels pay them. What does that mean?
        • Let’s talk ACX/Audible first, since it’s the biggest player in the market.
          • When you publish through Findaway, you’re non-exclusive with ACX, which means they pay 25% royalties. You’ll make 80% of that, which comes out to 20% of the sales price. So on a $15 sale, you’ll make $3.00.
          • To avoid giving Findaway 20% of their royalties from Audible/Amazon, some people distribute directly to ACX use Findaway for the rest of their distribution.
          • Note that iTunes is different. Yes, ACX can distribute to them…but iTunes pays better royalties to books that don’t come from ACX! Books sold through iTunes make a 25% royalty through ACX but a 45% royalty elsewhere. So if Findaway is handling your iTunes sales, you’ll make 80% of 45%…which comes out to a 36% royalty for you. (And before you ask…if you upload your book at ACX and at Findaway to avoid paying Findaway a cut on your ACX books…I’m not sure which distributor handles the iTunes sales!)
        • Here’s the good news: outside ACX, other audiobook sellers pay better! 25% is a really low royalty rate. ACX gets away with it since they’re so big in the market, but from what I’ve seen, most other sellers pay more like 40-50%, and with Findaway, you’ll keep 80% of that.
        • With Findaway, you’ll be part of subscription programs and your book will be available to libraries. Read this article for more info on how this affects your royalties.
        • Findaway will pay you at the end of the month, and their payment will include what retailers have paid them within the last 30 days. So it’ll take about a month longer to get paid than it would with ACX, since Findaway has to get paid before you do.
      • Review Codes: Findaway will give you a limited number of review codes so that reviewers can listen to your book for free, then review it.
        • You’ll receive 30 codes that can be used on the Authors Direct website or app to download your book. (I just got one of those codes from an author, and it was easy to use.)
        • If you sign up for Voices Share (see “How much does it cost to produce an audiobook?” above), you’re exclusive with Findaway…and that earns you 100 codes! Score!
        • Unfortunately, Audible only allows listeners to review if the listener got the audiobook from Audible or Amazon. That means your Findaway review codes won’t result in Audible reviews.
      • Countries: Anyone anywhere can use Findaway Voices!
    • So…which one should I choose?
      • If you need the lowest-cost narration (Royalty Share), ACX is your only option.
      • I chose to be exclusive with ACX because I knew Audible was huge in the audiobook market, and I wanted to get that 40% royalty on my Audible sales.
      • I also loved those paid review codes; they made it worth it to be exclusive with Audible! But, as I said before, they’re not paying for code redemptions anymore (except for books that were grandfathered in under the old terms)
      • As I read more, I realize there are a lot of other players who sell a lot of audiobooks. I’m missing out on large portions of the market.
      • Exclusivity with ACX lasts for seven years. However, if you are not in a Royalty Share agreement, ACX will release you from the exclusivity contract after 90 days upon request. Findaway even provides a form letter for this purpose!
      • I’m probably going to take the plunge and remove my first series from ACX exclusivity, using Findaway for non-ACX retailers. I may do the same with my current series, once I pass the 90-day mark for my final book in the series.
      • For my next series, I’m not sure if I’ll take advantage of Audible’s 40% royalty for exclusives for 90 days, then switch to being non-exclusive or if I’ll start out non-exclusive from the beginning.

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How do I choose a narrator?

Before hiring a narrator, you’ll want multiple people to audition (unless you already know a narrator who’s the perfect fit or you’re contracting the whole thing out to a company who chooses a narrator for you).

ACX and Findaway Voices both have systems set up to connect you with narrators who will audition for your book. The process can vary depending what system you’re using to pay your narrator (royalty share, PFH, etc.) and where you’re finding your narrator.

I’ve heard authors who use ACX give this piece of advice: don’t just wait for people to find your book and audition. Listen to narrator samples on ACX, and invite the ones who are great fits to audition for you.

Head back up to the “How much does it cost to produce an audiobook?” topic. It has the links you need to get started.

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Will my book sell well as an audiobook?

I’ve heard this piece of advice a couple of different times: If your book isn’t selling well as an ebook, it probably won’t sell well as an audiobook. If it is selling well digitally, it’ll probably do well as an audiobook.

I think that’s mostly true, across genres. But there are some notable exceptions.

At times my 43-hour trilogy ominbus, The Complete Sun-Blessed Trilogy, has sold better than the ebook. A lot of people love long audiobooks, especially when they’re using Audible credits to buy them.

Speaking of my massive omnibus…Early in my career, I saw some really solid advice:

When sales slow down for the individual books in your series, put the series (or part of it) into a “box set” (ebook and audio) and see if you can rejuvenate sales.

I did that with my Sun-Blessed Trilogy, and my audiobook has far outsold the individual audiobooks. The ebook “box set” isn’t a huge seller, but it does much better in KU than the individual books do. KU and audiobooks can both really help a lagging series if you create “box sets.” Here’s an ACX tutorial on how to make an audio box set.

I can think of a couple more exceptions to the “books that sell well as ebooks will probably sell well in audio” rule .

  • A short book may not sell well, even if its digital and/or paper versions sell well. With Audible credits (a source of a lot of sales), listeners pay the same amount for a 30-minute book as a 30-hour book. Most listeners won’t use a credit for a very short book.
  • It doesn’t matter how well they sell digitally or in hard copy…most “visual” books (like graphic novels and cookbooks) shouldn’t be made into audiobooks!

One more note about sales: the audiobook market is smaller than the ebook market, and you’ll usually sell fewer audiobooks than ebooks. However, because audiobooks tend to cost more than ebooks, authors often make a higher average profit per audiobook (even taking into account the lower royalty percentages for audio).

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When should I release my audiobook?

Should you release an audiobook at the same time you release the ebook and paperback or later?

Some people like having separate release dates so they can rejuvenate interest in a book after it’s been out a while.

I tend to think releasing at the same time is best. You can take advantage of that launch momentum! My goal is always to have the audiobook for sale on launch day. I did break that rule for my most recent release, but I plan to have the next audiobook ready by launch.

Here’s the catch.

  • ACX doesn’t let indie authors choose their own release date. (Insert sobs.) You have to upload the audiobook and wait for it to be approved through quality control. When it’s approved (which used to take two to three weeks but is taking more like a month these days), the book heads to retail. (Major edit, February 2021: At some point, ACX quietly started allowing those with books exclusive to ACX to set pre-orders. Click here for details.)
  • Findaway does allow you to set a release date…but some retailers may still release before that date.

I try to submit my files to ACX at least a month before my launch date…preferably five weeks before.

When I’ve done that, the book has always been approved and for sale well before the ebook release date. It gives me time to start bringing in some early audio reviews. (Audiobook reviewers are welcome to post on Amazon too!) Then on launch day, I can advertise that the book is available in “ebook, paperback, and audiobook.” (Edit: See above if you want to do a pre-order instead.)

In reality…most indie authors release the ebook and paperback, then release the audio when it’s ready. You can decide how you want to do it. That’s the beauty of indie publishing!

Should you release an audiobook on a book that’s been out a while?

If the book is selling well, go for it!

If the book isn’t selling well, I’d suggest not putting a bunch of money into an audiobook. You may have trouble selling it. You could always try to find a royalty share narrator so you don’t have any upfront production cost.

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Should I record my own audiobook? If so…how?

There are more reasons to say NO to recording and producing your own audiobooks than to say YES. See the “How much does it cost to produce an audiobook?” section for a rundown of the pros and cons.

But let me go into more detail about one of the cons: narrating and producing your own audiobook can be incredibly time consuming.

ACX says it takes an average of 6.2 hours to produce one finished hour of an audiobook. Somewhere else, I’ve seen an estimate of 4 to 10 hours per finished hour.

Here’s the thing. A narrator/producer on ACX might’ve made dozens of audiobooks. You and I haven’t! Newbies tend to take longer on tasks like this.

I didn’t keep good track with my first audiobook, but I bet it took me about 12 to 15 hours per finished hour.

I recently released my fifth audiobook. I’m down about 8.75 hours per finished hour for recording, editing, and mastering. My 12.5 hour audiobook took me over 109 hours to produce. (That doesn’t count setting up to record over and over and over or uploading files!) And that was my fastest production yet.

What takes so long? It’s not the recording. It’s the sound editing. You may be shocked how many little noises your mouth makes once a microphone picks them all up and you’re listening to them through headphones! Then there are breaths that may need to be removed or deamplified. And there’s noise reduction and equalization and normalization and…is your head swimming yet?

(You can record the audio and hire someone to edit for you. I don’t know much about that, so I can’t give you any advice on finding a good editor.)

I enjoy producing audiobooks. But it’s intense, tiring work. Editing the sound can be hard on your hands and wrists because it’s repetitive computer work. Recording can be hard on your voice. If you choose to do this, make sure you know what you’re getting into!

In most cases, I don’t suggest recording your own. But I had some reasons to say YES.

  • My background is in speech and theatre, so I figured it might be a good fit. (While some authors of fiction books do a “straight” reading without any character voices, many listeners expect character voices these days.)
  • I enjoy learning new skills.
  • I thought it would be a creatively gratifying project.
  • I wanted a high-quality production…without paying much for it!

If you think recording your own audiobooks might be for you, keep reading.

Let’s talk about your recording space and your gear.

A walk-in closet can make a great home studio! The clothes act as sound-dampening material. I use my little walk-in closet with a blanket draped over the door over a small wall that doesn’t have clothes on it.

There are plenty of other options for recording spaces. I’d suggest you search online for terms such as “audiobook recording studio” or “home voiceover space.” Some people have posted videos on YouTube with their suggestions.

As for recording gear, you’ll need the following:

  • A USB microphone or an XLR microphone (XLR is the typical, three-pronged mic plug.)
  • If you use an XLR mic, you’ll need an audio interface. The interface is a little box that connects via USB to your computer. You plug the mic into it.
  • If you use an XLR mic, you’ll also need an XLR cable. The USB mic will likely come with a cable.
  • A mic stand (the type that stands on the floor or the type that sits on a desk)
  • A pop screen (like this)
  • Studio headphones for editing and, if you want, for recording (like these)

What kind of mic do you need? There’s not one answer to that question. I will say this: while you can spend several hundred bucks on a mic, a lot of people use mics that cost $100 or less. Do your research first!

I’m going to suggest you check out some resources to help you hunt down the right mic.

  • Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks (and How to Produce Them) by J. Daniel Sawyer, an audiobook producer. Well worth the $10 Kindle price!
  • Audiobook Recording: A Beginner’s Guide to Producing Audiobooks Using Audacity by Krystal Wascher
  • Search online for “audiobook microphone reviews” to find tons of info.

I’ve tried a few different mics, and here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Most condenser mics are “large-diaphragm condensers,” and they have a very bright sound. That could be great if your voice is growly and rumbly and a little too warm. My voice is already bright, and my condenser mic brightened it further. Also, large-diaphragm condensers tend to pick up every little sound, which makes for more editing.
  • Dynamic mics tend to lend warmth to your voice. This is great for me…not so great if your voice is already too warm or muddy! They also tend to be more forgiving, not picking up quite as many unwanted sounds. However, my voice tends to “pop” a lot more (for instance, my “P” sounds) with a dynamic mic…even with two pop filters between my mouth and the mic!

I use a Sennheiser E609. It runs about $100 on Amazon. I didn’t buy it; my husband already had it. It’s made to mic instruments, but he’d heard it worked well for voices, and it does give my bright voice a nice, warm tone. It’s a dynamic mic.

In the Making Tracks book I linked to above, the author suggests trying a Shure SM-58, one of the most popular vocal mics out there. It’s another dynamic mic. We have one of those too (benefit of being married to a musician!), and I tried it. I liked it a whole lot, almost as much as the Sennheiser. It runs about $104 on Amazon.

I started out with the AKG P220 mic, a large-diaphragm condenser mic. I got it as part of this bundle (which included all the items I listed in the must-have list above), currently priced at $350. The mic alone runs about $119 on Amazon. It’s a nice mic but was too bright and unforgiving for me. I sold it to recoup some of my cost.

All the mics I’ve tried are XLR mics. If I were starting over, I’d probably get a USB mic. It eliminates the need for a USB interface box. And while I’ve read that USB mics don’t produce the same quality of sound as XLR mics, many narrators use them with great results.

What about software?

The four audio recording/editing/mastering programs I hear mentioned most often are Audacity, Adobe Audition, GarageBand (for Apple devices only), and Reaper.

Exploring software options in detail is beyond the scope of this post or my expertise.

I use Audacity because it’s free, open-source software that does everything I need it to do. GarageBand is free too, but its capabilities are more limited. (Some producers love it though!)

The learning curve for mastering and editing is steep. That’s why I’ve put together five in-depth video tutorials, totaling 2.5 hours+, on using Audacity to create audiobooks. These are the videos I wish I had when I was starting! Check them out here.

You’ll need to meet the Audio Submission Requirements before uploading. Here they are for ACX and for Findaway Voices.

Here are a few room-noise standards I use for my books. (Yours may vary.)

  • Just over 0.5 seconds of room noise (no noise except the slight, ambient hiss in all recordings) at the start of a chapter
  • Just over 3 seconds of room noise at the end of a chapter
  • 3 seconds of room noise for a mid-chapter scene break (signified by *** in my manuscript)
  • 1 second of room noise between the chapter title and the first paragraph

These times are never perfect in the recording; I get them just right during editing.

How do I upload my audio to ACX and Findaway?

Both platforms make it easy to bring your own audio files and upload them, bypassing the hassle of finding a narrator.

However, I don’t upload to ACX as an author. Instead, I created an ACX narrator account because one day, I may want to narrate for others. I want my own audiobooks listed as credits on my narrator account.

So I have two ACX accounts, my author account and my narrator account.

  • When I’m ready, I start my project in ACX as an author. I indicate that I’ve already chosen a narrator.
  • I send an “offer for production” to my narrator account. I offer myself $1 per finished hour, because the website doesn’t allow me to ask my narrator to work for free!
  • In my narrator account, I accept the offer.
  • There’s more back and forth throughout the process. I use different browsers for my narrator and author accounts to make it easy to switch between the two without logging in and out.

There may be an easier way to do this, but this way works.

My last piece of advice if you’re considering narrating your own audiobooks? Join my Authors Who Narrate Their Own Audiobooks Facebook group. It’s got a ton of great information in it, and it’s a supportive environment.

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Miscellaneous questions

Should I ever hire multiple narrators for one book?

If your book is narrated by multiple first-person narrators, it makes a lot of sense to hire multiple narrators. It’s not a must, but it often works well to do it that way.

In other cases, you don’t need to hire multiple narrators. You may choose to, especially if you have multiple third-person “deep” or “close” points of view, and each one has a very different voice.

Normally, you’d want the same narrator for each book in a series. However, if each book has a different main character, you may consider changing the narrator, especially if the main characters aren’t all the same gender. It’s up to you.

Sometimes, people hire multiple narrators to voice various characters’ dialogue. In my opinion, this can be problematic if one narrator is voicing most of the characters and only one or a few characters have different voices. There are “full-cast” audiobooks where every character has their own narrator, but that type of production is out of reach for most indies.

Note that if you’re using Royalty Share through ACX, you can only use one narrator per book and per box set/omnibus.

How can I make it more likely my audio files will be accepted by ACX or Findaway?

Before I convert my files to .mp3s, I use an awesome, free program (donations are accepted) called 2ndOpinion to make sure my .wav files meet ACX standards. You can pass along this resource to your narrator, and you can use it for Findaway standards too.

When I upload the files to ACX, I listen to the very beginning and very end of each chapter to be sure it’s the right file and that it’s complete. I do a lot of double- and triple-checking. I don’t ever want my files to be out of order or for any to be missing!

If you’re not narrating your own work, you’ll need to do at least one listen-through of the whole book to catch any errors.

What’s the best way to distribute review codes and get reviews?

I’ve found a few good ways.

  • I distribute my codes through StoryOrigin, a totally free service. They even remind reviewers to follow through! I seem to get more reviews this way than when I do all the distribution and reminders myself.
  • Again through StoryOrigin, I connect with other authors in Audiobook Review Group Promotions. We all have our audiobooks shown on one snazzy giveaway page, and we each promote the giveaway to our readers (through mailing lists and social media). This way we’re helping each other connect with new listeners.
  • Offer review codes to your mailing list and/or Facebook reader group. Send reminders to review or let StoryOrigin remind them.
  • Offer review codes in the Audiobx Facebook group (and any similar groups you find). I’ve connected with several new fans this way! Note that Audiobx doesn’t let you use StoryOrigin or any method that requires an email address from the listener. You’ll need to DM the codes to the listeners and follow up with them individually.
  • One note: I’m not sure about Findaway Voices, but with ACX, narrators get review codes too! You can encourage your narrator to distribute those codes.

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Wrapping it up

Please comment below or find me on Twitter if you have any more questions!

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Author Resources: Organize Your Marketing Links


Don’t have time to read the whole blog post? Here’s the too-long-didn’t-read version:

  • Save time by saving important links (like sales links to your books on Amazon) in a note-taking app that syncs across your devices. You can then copy and paste the links into social media and other marketing.
  • Suggestions for free note-taking apps: Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote, Apple Notes.

Let’s Jump In!

As indie authors, we often share links on social media and in our other marketing.

We can end up wasting a lot of time pulling up these links over and over! Someone wants a link to your Amazon sales page, so you go to Amazon, search for the book, copy the URL, and paste it in. What a pain.

Thankfully, it’s quick and easy to organize your links in a note-taking app that you can access from various devices. Then you just have to pull up your app, copy the link, and paste it where you need it.

First, let’s talk about what links you might want to save. Then I’ll give a few note-taking app suggestions.

What Links You Might Want to Save

I’ll show you two screenshots from my link list.

This is a list I’ve built over years. Your list will likely be way shorter than mine when you start it.

Start with a few important links that you share most often, like your book sales links. When you go hunting for a link and realize it’s one you may share multiple times, add it to your list!

Screenshot 1 shows:

  • Links pertaining to my books, organized by series.
  • Links to important posts and pages on my website.

Screenshot 2 shows:

  • Social media links and “short links” (using a link shortener like I use these “short links” in my Twitter pinned post.
  • Other links that don’t fit anywhere else.

You may organize yours differently. Do what works for you! Honestly, I didn’t add headings to my list and get it in order until today. I had a big, not-very-organized list before then, and it still worked great.

Hot Tip for Sharing Amazon Links:

Don’t use a big, long, ugly Amazon link for your books. Use a nice, “clean,” shorter link.

Here’s an example of a long, ugly link: For various technical/marketing reasons, you don’t want to use links like this. (Just Google “indie author Amazon clean links” if you want to read more.)

And here’s a link to that same book, but the short version.

How do you get the pretty link? Go to your KDP Dashboard and hover over “View on Amazon.” Then click the country code for the link you want.

Don’t have a KDP dashboard? No problem. Search for your book on Amazon. Copy the link. Then delete everything in the link EXCEPT (Note: the ASIN is a 10-digit string of characters identifying your product on Amazon. See my example above. Also, some product URLs say “gp” instead of “dp.”)

Test your link and make sure it works, then paste it into your list!

Note-Taking Apps

If you don’t have a note-taking app, it’s time to get one! I’d suggest you consider three criteria:

  • Price. It’s nice to start with a free app (even if it’s one with paid upgrades).
  • Easy to use. You can use this same app for other purposes. For instance, I use my Notes app to jot down ideas “on the go” for my WIP.
  • Syncs on multiple devices. This is important if you use multiple devices to post on social media and to communicate with potential buyers. For instance, I use both my phone and my laptop all the time. I want my links available on both.

I asked the Twitter #WritingCommunity what apps they’d suggest. I’ll share some of their suggestions, and my own, below.

I’m choosing options that are totally free. If you want to see all the suggestions I got (including apps with paid upgrades), click on any of the Tweets below to read the whole thread.

Google Keep

After @jaime_dill suggested Google Keep, @DreamingAria_, @RR_Wondering, and @RivRains all agreed it’s a great option!

It’ll sync between multiple devices on different platforms…whether you’re taking notes on an Android phone/tablet, an iPhone/tablet, or a laptop (through a Chrome browser plug-in or the Google Keep website).

And yes…it’s free.

Click here to check out Google Keep, or search for it in your device’s App Store (or in Chrome).

Microsoft OneNote

After @suedeyloh suggested Microsoft OneNote, @NAndreatiWrites and @C3D_TomR mentioned it too!

OneNote works on iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets, Windows computers (as an app), and other computers (on the web)…all for free!

Check out Microsoft OneNote here.

Apple Notes

We’ve covered a Google/Android option and a Microsoft option. Let’s discuss the Apple option for Apple devotees like me!

Apple Notes is free. It doesn’t have a ton of features; if you’re looking for a fully-featured Notes app, you may be better off with other options.

However, if you’re entrenched in the Apple ecosystem like I am (my two primary devices are an iPhone and a MacBook), it works really smoothly.

Geeky note: Apple Notes also works with Siri. I can’t tell you how many times a month I say, “Hey, Siri, add to shopping list milk” (or whatever item I need).

Like most Apple apps, this one’s best if you use primarily Apple products. There’s no Android or Windows app. You can, however, access it on non-Apple computers through the iCloud website. It comes pre-installed on Apple devices.

Wrapping it Up

Do yourself a favor: keep all those important links in a Notes app that syncs across your devices! You’ll save yourself headaches and make your marketing a little easier.

Author Resources on my website are 100% free. But if you’d like to buy me a coffee to thank me, click the “Tip Me” button at the bottom of the page!

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Author Resources: Creating Audiobooks With Audacity

Audacity is free, open-source software used for recording, mastering, and editing sound files. It can be used to create audiobooks. I’m nearly done with my fifth audiobook, all made with Audacity.

Photo by Jean Balzan from Pexels

Now, folks…I’m not a sound engineer! I’m self-taught. I’ve read books, watched YouTube videos, read online tutorials, and experimented to figure out what works for me.

This series will take you through my process, assuming you know nothing about Audacity or about mastering and editing sound. I’d like to make your self-taught process smoother than mine was!

In this series, I’m not talking much about setting up a studio space and purchasing equipment. There’s plenty of advice online about those topics. I’m focusing specifically on using this software.

Follow along with the document that covers the details in the videos by clicking here.

Here’s the 5-part video series:

1. Installing and setting up Audacity (31 minutes)

2. Recording (8 minutes)

3. Mastering (33 minutes)

4. Editing (part 1) (40 minutes)

5. Editing (part 2) and finishing (48 minutes)

Please let me know if you have any questions!

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Common Grammar Errors, Part 1: Dialogue Tags and Action Tags

I’ve done a fair amount of beta reading for other authors, and I’ve noticed several recurring errors many authors make.

Let me be clear:

It’s okay to struggle with grammar when you’re a writer.

Grammar and storytelling are different skills, and copy editors/proofreaders exist for a reason!

That being said, the better your grammar, the smoother your writing, publishing, and marketing processes will likely be.

In this blog series, I’ll review core grammar rules and how they’re often broken. Let’s get started with our first one, punctuation when using dialogue tags and action tags.

In the sections below, you’ll find the following:

  • Examples and detailed rules
  • Typical errors and how to fix them
  • An “in-a-nutshell” downloadable image with examples and quick rules

Punctuation When Using Dialogue Tags and Action Tags

Dialogue Tags

What’s a dialogue tag?

  • A dialogue tag is a short indication of who’s speaking. It identifies the character and includes a verb such as said, asked, whispered, or exclaimed.
  • Dialogue tags include phrases like, “my friend said,” “Joe exclaimed,” and Alma asked.”
  • The verb used in a dialogue tag must be said or another word that can be used in place of said. You can say, ask, whisper, or even growl a statement. You can’t swallow or blink a statement. (See the Action Tags section below!)

How do I punctuate dialogue tags?

  • Example 1: “I’d like to drive to New York,” my friend said.
    • In this example, the dialogue tag is used after a quote that would normally end in a period.
    • Use a comma in place of the period at the end of your quote (within the quotation marks).
    • Don’t capitalize the beginning of your dialogue tag unless it’s a proper name.
  • Example 2: “Let’s drive to New York!” my friend exclaimed.
    • In this example, the dialogue tag is used after a quote that’s an exclamation. These rules apply to quotes that are questions too.
    • Use a question mark or exclamation point at the end of your quote (within the quotation marks).
    • Don’t capitalize the beginning of your dialogue tag unless it’s a proper name.
  • Example 3: My friend asked, “Should we drive to New York?”
    • In this example, the dialogue tag is used before the quote.
    • Use a comma at the end of the dialogue tag.
    • Use normal end-of-sentence punctuation at the end of the quote, within the quotation marks.

Action Tags

What’s an action tag?

  • An action tag describes an action that a speaker takes before or after they speak. It identifies the character and is a complete sentence with a subject and predicate (verb).
  • Why use action tags?
    • They help us follow a classic rule: show, don’t tell. Instead of a character saying something “nervously,” we can write that the character “chewed on her lip.”
    • Action tags allow us to identify characters without using said so often.

How do I punctuate action tags?

  • Example 4: “I’d like to drive to New York.” My friend glanced at his car.
  • Example 5: My friend smiled. “New York or bust!”
    • In these examples, the action tags are “My friend glanced at his car.” and”My friend smiled.
    • Action tags are complete sentences, unlike dialogue tags!
    • Punctuate the quote with normal punctuation within the quotation marks.
    • Punctuate the action tag with normal, end-of sentence punctuation.

Typical Errors and How to Fix Them

Error 1

  • Mistake: “I want some cookies.” She said.
  • This is punctuated as an action tag, but it’s a dialogue tag. See Example 1 above.
  • Correction: “I want some cookies,” she said.

Error 2

  • Mistake: “I can’t believe you’d do that!” She screamed.
  • Even though the dialogue ends with an exclamation point (or question mark), “she” shouldn’t be capitalized since “she screamed” is a dialogue tag. See Example 2 above.
  • Correction: “I can’t believe you’d do that!” she screamed.

Error 3

  • Mistake: “I’ve loved you since the moment I saw you,” she wrapped her arms around his waist.
  • This is punctuated as a dialogue tag, but it’s an action tag. I see this mistake all the time!
  • The action tag is a complete sentence and should be treated as such. See Example 4 above.
  • Correction: “I’ve loved you since the moment I saw you.” She wrapped her arms around his waist.

Error 4

  • Mistake: Sal smiled, “I didn’t know you liked cotton candy.”
  • This is punctuated as a dialogue tag, but it’s an action tag. Again, this is an incredibly common error. You can say a sentence or scream a sentence; you can’t smile a sentence!
  • “Sal smiled” is a complete sentence and should be treated as such. See Example 5 above.
  • Correction: Sal smiled. “I didn’t know you liked cotton candy.”

Error 5

  • Mistake: Running from the monster, “Somebody help me!”
  • This is an action tag, but it’s punctuated like a dialogue tag, and it’s not a complete sentence.
  • Action tags should always be complete sentences and should be punctuated as such. See Example 5 above.
  • Correction: Walter ran from the monster. “Somebody help me!
  • Alternate Correction: This could be reworded (and punctuated) as a dialogue tag. Running from the monster, Walter gasped, “Somebody help me!”

Here’s an image you’re welcome to download to help you remember these rules! Right-click to save it to your computer, or hard-click to save to your phone.

“Now sit and write some amazing dialogue,” Beth said.

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Are Your Books Clean? Why Do Your Books Have LGBTQ+ Characters?

I could subtitle this post “Not-So-Frequently Asked Questions.” I’m guessing some readers who’ve been along for the ride ever since I wrote the Sun-Blessed Trilogy have wanted to ask these questions, so I’d like to answer them.

Are Your Books Clean?

I marketed my first series as “clean” fantasy. It was free of explicit sexual content, cursing, and gory violence.

I don’t love the term “clean,” as it insinuates that other books are “dirty.” I went with it since it’s a well-known term among some readers.

I’ve stopped using the term in my marketing for my second series. The Magic Eaters Trilogy is edgier. It includes some cursing (fairly mild words, but probably too many of them for a lot of “clean” readers.) The romance is hotter, though still what I’d consider appropriate for 14+, and there isn’t any sex. The level of violence hasn’t changed a lot compared to my first series; in fact, there may be a little less of it.

Here’s how I look at it:

  • Language: To me, cursing is realistic, and it doesn’t hold the “taboo” for me that it once did. I’m far more concerned about the overarching messages my books convey.
  • Sex: I want to show teenagers dealing with the reality of sexual desire and figuring out how to respond to it in responsible ways that aren’t shame based. I don’t get explicit, but I love sweet passion, and kissing scenes are some of my favorites to write and read! I’m a romantic at heart.
  • Violence: I’m a big wimp when it comes to violence, so you probably won’t ever find me writing books with lots of gore.

I know some people want books that toe the “clean” line, and I fully respect that! Not every book fits every reader, and there are some amazing writers out there who fill the need for such literature.

Why Do Your Books Have LGBTQ+ Characters?

My first series was very heteronormative. In other words, anywhere romantic relationships were mentioned, they were heterosexual.

I wish that weren’t the case. Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.”

I’m a Christian. That’s been the case all my life. However, my beliefs on issues like same-sex relationships have changed over the years. I am an LGBTQ+ affirming Christian, and I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to take that stand. If you’d like to read about my reasoning—and my apology to LGBTQ+ folks for where I used to stand—check out this article I wrote.

I believe LGBTQ+ people are made in God’s image, and I affirm who they are. I want to include positive representations of them in my books. You’ll see that in The Magic Eaters Trilogy.

In Conclusion

I know all of these topics are controversial ones, particularly among Christians or those who are devout adherents to certain other faiths. I want you to know I love you, wherever you stand.

If you check out my books, I hope they make you think, regardless of the conclusions you draw.

The Magic Eaters Trilogy: A Freebie, an Upcoming Release, & a Cover Reveal!

This week (6/1-6/5), The Frost Eater is free on Amazon! If you haven’t read my YA dystopian fantasy novel, this is a great time to check it out.

Download The Frost Eater on Amazon. You can even add the highly-rated audiobook for $7.49. (Or click here if you’d like to get the audiobook free through Audible’s free trial membership.) Remember to review it after reading/listening!

And an update on the rest of the series…

I bumped up the release date of The Vine Eater, the sequel to The Frost Eater! The ebook will now be available on June 23 instead of September 1. Check it out here; it’s available for pre-order.

I’ve also put Book 3 on pre-order! Currently I have it scheduled for April 1, 2021, though I may bump that date up. You ready to see the dark, moody cover and the title? This is the the first place I’m posting it, since you’re an Insider. Here it is, from cover designer Mariah Sinclair:

Check out the entire series on Amazon, and add them to your Goodreads. (I invite you to follow me at those places while you’re at it!)

And remember, The Seer’s Sister, the prequel to this series, is free for Email Insiders only! Click here to snag it.

Author Email List Providers: MailerLite vs. SendFox

In a nutshell:

  • Compared to MailerLite, SendFox is an extremely inexpensive way to send out an email newsletter to over 1,000 subscribers.
  • SendFox works well but has far fewer features than MailerLite.
  • Price comparison:
    • MailerLite is a monthly-subscription program starting at $0 for up to 1,000 subscribers. Prices increase to $15/month for up to 2,500 subs, $30/month for up to 5,000 subs, and $50/month for up to 10,000 subs.
    • SendFox has a Lifetime plan that can be purchased through AppSumo. It’s a one-time cost of $49 per 5,000 subscribers. You can buy up to 5 codes that will give you up to 25,000 subscribers.
  • I recently switched to SendFox and am happy with it, though I miss certain features of MailerLite. All the SendFox links in this post are affiliate links. I paid full price for my SendFox service.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty!

One of the most common pieces of advice indie authors get is this:

Start an email list.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

When I was writing my first book, I followed that advice. I got a free account with MailChimp, because I’d heard of them.

Before long, I switched to MailerLite, because I learned that if I ended up with a big list, it would be a cheaper option. I used their free plan until I hit 1,000 subscribers, at which point I switched to a paid plan ($15 a month).

Then I started hearing about SendFox, a service that would let me pay $49 one time for up to 5,000 subscribers. Yep, that’s a lifetime plan. I avoided switching for a while, because I’d heard it’s not as fully featured and because I didn’t want the hassle of moving my email to another service.

Last week, however, I decided to make the switch. I plan to do a big giveaway soon to grow my email list. I know that will likely push me over 2,500 subscribers, which would’ve bumped me into MailerLite’s next tier, $30 a month (ouch).

I’ve heard a rumor that SendFox will eventually have more features…and will also force all new subscribers into monthly subscription plans. Those with existing lifetime plans, however, will be protected.

I don’t know if that’ll happen, but it makes a lot of sense. So I decided to buy three sets of 5,000 subscribers…allowing me to send newsletters to up to 15,000 subscribers. I paid $147.

For some reason, SendFox added 3,000 free subscribers to my Lifetime plan. As long as I never have over 18,000 subscribers, I’ll never again have to pay for an email-distribution service.

SendFox is not as fully featured as MailerLite. I’ve used it for four email campaigns and have also set up some automated email series with it, so I’ve gotten a good sense of what it does and doesn’t do. To me, the price difference is worth it. You’ll have to determine if it’s worth it for you.

Let’s talk about what SendFox does well.

  • Simplicity
    • I appreciate the streamlined interface.
  • Create multiple email lists
    • It’s easy to create multiple lists. For instance, I have my big Email Insiders list for readers plus a smaller list for authors who want notification about posts like this one. (See the bottom of the page.)
  • Website forms
    • It’s very easy to create forms for my website (so people can sign up).
  • Automation sequences
    • I can set up email Automation sequences (for instance, when someone signs up for a list).
  • Image size
    • I haven’t run into any issues with image size. In MailerLite, I sometimes had to make images smaller for them to be accepted in my emails.
  • Deliverability
    • SendFox claims to have very good deliverability, and I’ve had good open and click rates in the emails I’ve sent.
    • From their website: “We use a best-in-class sending platform that gives all Sumo-lings access to a IP address ranked High in Google Postmaster Tools. On many other email tools, customers are given a Medium or Low IP address unless they pay for an expensive dedicated IP.”
  • Sumo is the parent company
    • Sumo is the parent company of SendFox, AppSumo (who sells the SendFox 5,000 subscriber codes I’m telling you about), and KingSumo. They’re a respected company.

Now I’ll review what I miss about Mailerlite (ML).

  • Email options
    • ML has a lot more options to make an email “pretty.” For instance, in MailerLite, I can post a photo of a book with text next to it. In SendFox, I have to post the book photo with text underneath.
    • Note: I’m primarily drafting my SendFox emails in Google Docs, then copying/pasting them into SendFox.
    • There is a $10/month “Empire” add-on for SendFox that includes an HTML editor. I’m not comfortable enough with HTML to consider this.
  • Form options
    • When I created forms for my website through ML, I had more customization options on the form.
    • I was also able to do a pop-up form through ML. When I switched to SendFox, I had to use another service to make that pop-up form. (I used the Sumo WordPress plug-in. Sumo is part of the same company as SendFox.)
  • Automation options
    • In ML, the Automation sequences have more options.
  • Automatic resend
    • ML makes it easy to automatically resend an email to those who didn’t open it the first time. While I know there’s a way to do that on SendFox, it’s not as straightforward.
  • Link-click info
    • ML has a cool, visual interface showing which links have been clicked. The interface in SendFox is text-based, and it’s not always easy to tell what each link is for.
  • Using with StoryOrigin
    • I use StoryOrigin, a service that lets me add readers to my mailing list when they download free copies of my books. It also lets me arrange newsletter swaps with other authors.
    • StoryOrigin connects with both ML and SendFox (and will send new subscribers directly to either service). However, ML’s API allows StoryOrigin to import stats on Open and Click rates. SendFox’s API doesn’t allow that. That means my email list on StoryOrigin is no longer “Verified.” I have to input my Open and Click rates manually.

Summing it up…

I spent just shy of $150 on SendFox since I wanted lots of room to grow my subscriber list. As I said, I don’t think I’ll ever have to spend money on an email service provider again. Normally, I’d spend $150 every 10 months on MailerLite … and that’s at my current subscriber level. The price is, as far as I know, unbeatable.

I do miss some of the features of MailerLite, but the massive price difference makes the tradeoff worth it. I hope SendFox will continue improving their software, but it does what I need it to do.

While SendFox does have a free option, they slow down your email delivery with that option. If you want free, I’d suggest going with MailerLite or MailChimp’s 1,000-subscriber free service.

If you’re concerned about trying SendFox and not liking it, you can try the free option, or you can get the paid option and cancel it if you’re not happy. They have a 60-day, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee. (Please note, you also have to activate the service within 60 days or your purchase codes won’t work!)

Full disclosure: The SendFox links in this post are all affiliate links. If you purchase it using my link, I’ll get paid. (However, I paid full price for SendFox.)

If you’d like to get SendFox for $49, click here. Let me know what you think once you’ve tried it out.

What email service provider do you use? Feel free to comment below and share your experience.

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How to Get My Newest Novel for Free

The Seer's Sister cover

Before I started writing The Frost Eater, I wrote The Seer’s Sister. It’s the prequel novel to The Magic Eaters Trilogy.

The Seer’s Sister started as a 50-word story on Twitter.

As I started planning my next series, I realized I could base the prequel on this little story. I wrote a novella.

My alpha readers (who always read my books in their very early stages) wanted more worldbuilding. More character building.

I revised the story. It turned into a short novel.

My beta readers wanted even more.

I did more revisions. And that 50-word story turned into a full-length novel, about 80,000 words long. Writing this book gave me the opportunity to create a world that was rich and exciting, the world of The Magic Eaters Trilogy.

Here’s the cover of The Seer’s Sister, designed by Mariah Sinclair.

The Seer's Sister cover

I was going to wait to release it until I’d released the entire trilogy. Then I thought, What if I waited to release on Amazon…but gave the book away for free to my newsletter subscribers?

And that’s what I’m doing. To get your 100% free copy of The Seer’s Sister, click here to become an Email Insider.

If you’d like to know a little more about it first, keep reading.

The Magic Eaters Trilogy is YA fantasy with some sci-fi underpinnings. The Seer’s Sister is far more sci-fi than fantasy. It’s about the last living seer on the planet of Anyari. She foresees the upcoming apocalypse…and she and her sister have to try to stop it.

Keep scrolling to read the very beginning of the book. As you can see, it’s heavily influenced by that tiny little story I wrote on Twitter.

THE END, Rona wrote on the calendar square.

Ellin stood behind her sister’s chair and glanced at the words. “End of what?”

“Humanity. Most of us, anyway.” Rona’s shoulders lifted in a little shrug. 

Ellin had entered the room to discuss their dinner plans. All at once, her appetite fled, and her thoughts blurred into a thick haze. She stared at the whorl of short hair on the crown of Rona’s head.

At last, one thought wriggled free from Ellin’s sluggish brain: Rona shrugged. Mind sparking back to life, Ellin scrambled to interpret the gesture: She was joking. Or she’s not sure what she saw.

She opened her mouth to voice her suspicions, but nothing came out, because she knew the truth: Rona was a seer. She didn’t joke about her visions. And her certainty was only matched by her accuracy.

Ellin drew a deep breath and turned away. It didn’t help. In her mind’s eye, she still saw Rona, pen in hand, her prophecy scrawled in stark, black ink on the white page. Gritting her teeth, Ellin spun back around. She grasped her sister’s shoulder and squeezed it hard. “I’m going to stop it.”

Rona looked up. Her eyes, unblinking and calm, met Ellin’s. “Please do.”

Want to keep reading? To get your 100% free copy of The Seer’s Sister, click here to become an Email Insider.

Four Words: A Short Story

close-up of a green reptile eye next to green reptilian skin

“It’s bred to be tame from birth. It’ll breathe smoke only, never fire. And I personally guarantee it won’t get bigger than a large dog. In a few years, everyone will have a dragon as a pet. Don’t you want to be one of the first?”

Later, no one could agree on whether the dragon-egg peddler was tall or short, dark or pale, skinny or portly. But they all agreed on the essentials of his spiel and the trustworthy smile that accompanied it.

Five years later, the peddler was nowhere to be found, but my husband Stiver and I were hearing plenty of stories. Tales of pet dragons as big as houses, of entire blocks burning from a dragon’s belch.

When rumor reached us of a dragon named Prettynose snacking on a child, we knew we had to act. I left my bakery’s management in the hands of my sister, and Stiver quit his job at the sawmill. We bought an abandoned farm and started the Dragon Rehabilitation Center, a place to prepare pet dragons to live in the wild.

I’d always been able to communicate with dragons, so I entered our venture with naïve optimism. It might be harder than baking bread, but it was bound to be more fun. 

The day we opened, a farmer brought us a glorious, gray-blue dragon, eight feet tall when seated, with a wingspan twice that big. I came to a quick understanding with him. Stiver and I would help him gain independent-living skills as quickly as possible; he’d refrain from eating us or burning us. A month later, we released him into the wild. I still saw him in the distance for years after that, soaring over the forest, sleek and strong. Based on occasional wisps of thought the wind carried to me, the big fella was happy.

More people entrusted their dragons to us. Some wept as they dropped off their dear pets; others fairly danced after handing us the leash. The dragons, too, reacted in any number of different ways, from despondent to excited to wary. 

Stiver took them hunting in the little woods behind our house. I sat with them, discussing how things were going and how they might learn to be more self-sufficient.

It was, of course, more difficult than I’d expected. I’d had conversations with dragons all my life, but we never got personal. It wasn’t until I was living with them that I realized how emotional they can be. After the third time a weeping dragon nearly burned me with flaming sobs, I started a meditation class to teach them to control their emotions. I explained that I understood it was hard to be away from their owners, but I couldn’t help them if I was charbroiled.

Stiver and I released dragons back into the wild at a rate of nearly one a week, and we were both happy with that result. We only kept a dozen at a time; we didn’t have room for more. One day after I watched a sweet red female ride the wind currents to her new home on the mountain, I checked our waiting list.

“Stiver,” I said, “can you walk down to the rectory? They’re next on the list.”

His eyes darted up from the salve he was mixing. (He was forever trying to soothe reptilian necks that were chafed by collars.) “The green dragon?”

“That’s the one.”

“You, uh . . . you sure?”

I sighed. “I’m sure, Stiver. We can handle this.”

He wiped his hands clean and departed without another word.

Stiver doesn’t often get nervous, and I tried to shake off my concern at seeing such a reaction from him. Sure, the green dragon at the rectory was different. He was big, for one thing, taller than most buildings in town. More than once, he’d gotten loose and sat in front of the church, wings spread. Oddly, it was always on Meeting Day. We’d relocate our service to the street, watched over by those huge, jade eyes.

close-up of a green reptile eye next to green reptilian skin

And to top it all off, the dragon had never spoken to me, not once. I’d reached out to him, said hello, asked his name, complimented his sleek, grass-green scales. (Most dragons are notoriously susceptible to flattery.) I was sure he understood me; those eyes of his were deep vats of intelligence. But he never deigned to respond.

Well, what was done was done. Stiver was on his way over there, and soon enough, we’d both have to deal with the creature I’d taken to calling Green. I walked over to Lair One (a converted barn) to check on the residents and distract myself from my anxiety.

I heard Green arrive before I saw him. I was comforting one of our newest residents, singing her a lullaby like her owner had always done, when Green let out a massive roar that shook me to my shoelaces. After kissing my little homesick dragon on the cheek, I turned, squared my shoulders, and marched to the center’s front gate.

I nearly stumbled when I got close enough to see what awaited me there. Green was standing tall, holding Stiver against his chest with a muscular, scaly tail. From fifteen feet above the ground, my husband’s eyes and mouth were wide. But his coloring was normal, leading me to believe he was alive and breathing. Green stared at me with impassive eyes that dared me to react improperly.

Perhaps my first reaction should’ve been panic. I do love Stiver, deeply and truly. But I also love a challenge. I kept my wits and stepped right up to Green, so close that when I craned my head to gaze at his face, I looked straight up into his ashy nostrils.

Not taking my eyes off Green’s head, I crouched and placed a hand on his lower body, a foot off the ground. My fingers felt the invisible seam which I knew led to a male dragon’s most vulnerable and personal organs, kept hidden most of the time. Most people know nothing about how this great species mates. But lonely dragons tend to get talkative, and I’d learned a lot in the year our sanctuary had been open.

I didn’t talk aloud, just sent a thought to Green: If you have any desire for children or pleasure in the future, you’ll release my husband.

A moment later, that great belly nearly touched my head as Green bent over and placed Stiver on the ground behind me, setting him down as gently as a mother kisses her baby.

Green straightened and finally lowered his head to look at me. I removed my hand and stood, again communicating silently with him. Thank the heavens; I really didn’t want to stick my hand in there. I arched a brow and led him to Lair Three, a building custom-built for large dragons. The green behemoth followed me quietly, a small puff of acrid smoke the only indicator of his displeasure. 

Green wasn’t the slightest bit tame. And like all our residents, he could have flown off at any time.

He didn’t stay because he wanted to be a pet. He stayed because he was pragmatic enough to know that habitual churchgoer intimidation hadn’t prepared him for a life of hunting and plundering.

Green didn’t tell me any of this, of course. Even after a week, he still wouldn’t speak a word to me. But dragons, like people, communicate through far more than words. I read his wildness in the tension of his rippling muscles. I saw his determination in his hunting, after which he regularly crashed to the ground in exhaustion, having spent all day seeking prey. And every time I sneaked a look in his shimmering, green eyes, I saw his hatred of the captivity he’d been born into.

When he finally spoke, we didn’t have a conversation about the weather or his hunting. In fact, it didn’t quite qualify as a conversation at all. Rather, it was a reprimand.

Green had hunted from sunrise to twilight that day, with nary a break for food or water. Then he’d fainted, falling from above the treetops to the ground, earning himself a gash from a heavy branch on the way down. I’d been trying to get him to descend for hours by then, and I was none too patient when I ran home and returned with Stiver’s salve.

But when I tried to rub the stuff in Green’s wound, he rewarded me with a slap from his muscular tail, so hard I knew my entire hand would be bruised the next day.

Forget wooing him with silent words. I let loose on him, screaming with a voice hoarse from lack of sleep (thanks to his recent antics). “You could at least show some gratitude, you big, green oaf!” I dug my hand into the pungent ointment and flung a fistful of the stuff at him, missing the wound entirely.

That was when his voice at last pierced my mind. Four words, spoken in a tone that, while telepathic, was nonetheless full and rumbling, a sound that was surely born of the molten rock at the center of the earth.


I opened my mouth to argue, but I couldn’t. There I was, standing next to this carnivore who couldn’t hunt, a beast who should’ve been free to develop such skills from his first days but had instead been walked on a leash by a rector’s son. And I perceived the tragic truth of his life for the first time.

I saw that wildness without freedom is fraught with injustice. I saw that even if Green learned to live with his cousins in the mountains, he would never truly be one of them. That was humanity’s fault.

It was my fault.

How many times had I passed someone walking their dragon and shaken my head in self-righteous disapproval, doing nothing to stand up for the captive creature? How many times had I laughed when I’d heard of a pet dragon burning up some outhouse? I’d mused that the owners had gotten what was coming to them. But the justice of such little disasters didn’t provide any relief for the hapless pets who were likely treated even worse afterward.

All this filled my head in perhaps a minute. I stepped back from Green, far enough to be out of reach of his tail, but close enough that a fiery breath could incinerate me if he so desired. I opened my mind to him, letting him read my heart, my newly awakened sense of what was real.

He stared at me with unblinking, emotionless eyes, their jade irises so deep I could swim in them. Then he lifted himself to his feet and soared toward his pitiful, human-built lair.

After Green spoke those four words to me, I allowed him to be wild. I offered him space to sleep and hunt, expecting nothing in return. He mostly ignored me. When his inexperienced hunting led to inevitable hunger, he alighted atop the barn where we kept animals for just that purpose, until Stiver or I fetched a pig or a few chickens for him. He ate those meals in the woods, not a hint of emotion seeping from his closed mind.

My actions toward the other dragons changed, as well. No more lullabies, no more meditation or deep conversations. They needed to be wild, rather than coddled. 

I became aware of my error within a day, when my head virtually exploded with incoming dragon cries: WHERE ARE YOU? a newcomer screamed. PLEASE COME!

Forced wildness, I realized, could not overcome the tragedy of a dragon’s tameness. I shifted my strategy again, giving every dragon just what they needed, no more or less, never asking for anything from them.

One morning, I woke to a voice in my mind. It was the dragon who always requested lullabies. WOULD YOU LIKE TO RIDE ME? she asked.

I sat up in bed fast enough to wake Stiver. I was about to send back my enthusiastic Yes!, for riding a dragon was my lifelong dream. It had been illegal for a century, since the great wars that had decimated both human and dragon populations. But surely if a dragon was offering . . .

And then I thought of the face of that sweet lullaby dragon when she’d caught a fox the day before. I pictured the fire that had filled her gentle eyes. The wild pride.

No, I sent back to her. You don’t owe me a thing. I owe you everything.

A soothing rush of reptilian relief filled my mind. Two days later, the lullaby dragon flew off, waves of confident anticipation flowing behind her, ready to join her family.

Every dragon who’d preceded Green to the Rehabilitation Center eventually left. The ones who’d come after him began finding their freedom, as well. Yet Green still struggled to catch more than a squirrel, despite long days, and occasional nights, in the skies.

Strolling through town one day, I saw a young woman walking a rust-colored dragon twice her size.

I stopped in front of them both, causing them to halt.

“Do you think she wants to be a pet?” I asked, not even trying to tamp down the fury in my voice.

To my surprise, the woman’s eyes filled with tears. “I know she doesn’t. She tells me every day.”

The next day, the woman came on staff at the Rehabilitation Center. We accepted her dragon as our thirteenth resident, then built Lairs Four and Five, expanding our capacity to eighteen.

A year later, we had more workers, more lairs, and no more waiting list.

And still, Green hunted unsuccessfully every day, watching his fellow dragons come and go, never speaking a word.

I didn’t attempt to talk to him for months, until finally one day I stood before his lair in the pre-dawn darkness and sent him my own four-word message:

I know you can.

That afternoon, he caught a deer.

The next day, a badger.

The next, a wild hog.

On the fourth day, he soared away, not looking back once. I watched as his form grew smaller, dwarfed by the looming mountains in the distance. Green was going home.

Dragons came and went. Some returned to visit, often telling us of the new names their kinfolk had given them.

A month after he’d left, Green appeared in the distant sky early one morning. Occasionally, he dove down, probably to grab prey. Then he flew up again, gliding on wind currents. When the sun was reaching for the horizon, Green returned to the mountains.

The next day, he did the same thing—and every day after that until, one afternoon, a quick-learning resident took to the skies and soared toward the mountains. Green joined the deep-gray dragon, escorting her to her new home.

I wiped tears from my cheeks and sent a message as far as I could with every bit of strength I could muster: Green, I’ll call you when we’ve got one leaving. I didn’t know if I could reach him all the way at his mountain home, but experience had taught me that even a weak dragon’s telepathic reception far surpassed mine. And Green was not weak.

I received no response. But I didn’t see Green again until a few days later, half an hour after I’d thrust a message through the sky: The white dragon is leaving today.

When the snow-colored creature took to the air, she had a quiet escort home.

Years passed. Stiver and I had children of our own. Decades escaped our grasp like water flowing through our open hands. Once again, we were alone in our little farmhouse. The Center reached a peak resident count of eighty-two dragons. Then the numbers gradually dwindled, for the public had at last learned that wild animals make poor pets.

Our staff members found other professions. The sensitive young woman I’d first brought on was the last to leave. At last, Stiver and I found ourselves caring for only one dragon, a silver female who’d always been called Spot and was anxious to get a better name from her mountain family.

Spot was small, perhaps the size of our kitchen table. She’d somehow convinced us to let her sleep before our fireplace. She worked hard, learning to hunt during winter, even taking to the air on stormy days.

When she let us know she was ready to meet her family, we all cried—Stiver and I with salty tears, Spot with a beautiful, silent song of grief.

ONE MORE NIGHT? she asked.

I made the fire extra hot for her.

The next morning, I called Green. Spot waited, watching the sky. I stood on one side of her, Stiver on the other.

I pointed at a speck in the distance, barely visible against the mountain crags.

“Don’t know how you can see anything that far away,” Stiver said, as he always did.

I chuckled, as I always did.

Green grew larger, reaching the point he never flew beyond, about half a mile away. Then he kept coming, his great wings slowly flapping, until he was over our house. He landed, huge and regal, atop the chimney.

For the first time in thirty years, I saw his jade-green eyes, their depths unfathomable, full of wild wisdom. I looked at the ridge of scar tissue on his side where he’d fallen against a tree branch so long ago.

Spot lifted into the sky, the golden sun radiant on her silver scales. She joined the great, green dragon in the air. They soared off together.

Stiver returned to the house, but I stayed, watching the sky.

Just before the creatures were out of sight, the morning wind carried four words to my mind in a deep tone, conceived within the earth, a voice I’d never forgotten:



This story was part of the March Short Story Contest sponsored by Gestalt Media, and it won! It’ll be published in their 2020 short-story anthology.

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