Should You Publish an Audio Book?

Audio books are the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry. They are especially appealing to readers who prefer to multitask such as listening while driving.

“Audio books reached 1.3 billion in 2020,” says Scott Ellis of Scott Ellis Reads, an audio book production company. “Revenue increased 113 percent over 5 years.”

With such impressive numbers, it’s no wonder writers increasingly seek to produce an audio book as an adjunct to their print and electronic books, allowing their manuscript to reach a vast new audience.

How can turn your manuscript into an audio book? Ellis spoke to my summer narrative writing class about how to produce and market an audio book.

He outlined the process, breaking things down into production and distribution. Production includes the process by which you written book is narrated and recorded as an audio book. You can do this yourself or you can hire a company like his to do it for you.

 It is most common for authors to perform their audiobook themselves in non-fiction where the audience expects and appreciates hearing the author’s voice. It’s less common in fiction where a trained actor can bring to life the book’s characters with a range of accents.

If you choose to narrate your own audiobook you will need a quiet place to record, equipment and software, time and some technical expertise. The equipment and software you would cost around $250. By far the biggest investment will be in the times it takes you to narrate your book and the time it takes you to edit your audio files in post-production.

Estimate, some 9,400 words per hour for a professional narrator. Thus, a 70,000-word novel will result ion a 7.5 hour audiobook. Budget about triple that amount of hours for retakes and editing.

It is most common for authors to perform their audiobook themselves in non-fiction where the audience expects to hear the author’s voice. It’s less common in fiction where the range of characters and accents, or dialects can become overwhelming and may be better suited for a professionally trained voice actor.

If you’d like to have a professional narrator for your book, you can go to Amazon’s ACX service to find one. Many ACX actors are members of the SAG-AFTRA union, and as members, they can accept no less than $250 per finished hour for audiobook projects. Other professional narrators may charge more or less, depending on their experience.

Companies like Scott Ellis Reads also have a roster of professional narrators who can not only record your book but help with the production process. For more:

Should you Self-Publish Your Book?

Mike Medberry, author of Living in a Broken West: Essays, talked to my spring narrative writing class for The Writer’s Workshop about how to self publish a book. All those interested in deciding if and how to self publish their book will benefit from this talk. I’ve include the summary of it below.

By Mike Medberry

Henry David Thoreau who self-published the American classic, Walden, wrote that if you have built castles in the air, all of that work need not be lost as that is where your castles should be. He added, “Now put foundations under them!” You’ve written an interesting book at with extreme effort, and you’d like to sell it, so put a foundation under it! Do some research, take a critical look at your own writing, and a define how much self-publishing will cost and yield.  The following are a few of the things that you might want to consider:

1) Define what you expect in publishing your own book. Is it for your friends or colleagues or do you think that your book serves a much broader audience? Your next steps will depend on that decision. Keep in mind that about 800 million books are published every year in the US, half of them self-published, and they sell only a handful of copies. Average book sales per year (standard publishers and self-published) are 200 copies and less than 1,000 copies in that book’s lifetime. Can you do better?

2) Build a foundation for your work: create a good website for $500 – 2500, develop high numbers of supporters on your defined social media networks like Facebook or Twitter, write supportive blogs on the web or articles in hard copy magazines or newspapers. This is all so basic but people often fail to accomplish it because it is hard, consistent, long term work.

3) Have your manuscript edited and understand what editing means. Good editors are expensive at $20 to $100/hour, but they are indispensable. There are essentially five kinds of editing: a) Developmental Editing which looks at the basic content of the manuscript; b) Structural Editing which looks at the logical flow of the manuscript, style, tone, and overall quality of your writing; c) Copy Editing which assesses the tone, reads for clear and consistent style, asks who is your audience, and looks at word choices and grammar; d) Line Editors should go through your writing line-by-line to look closely at the impact of your writing, word choices, and add polish that will allow your writing to be clear and eloquent; e) Finish Editing is the last stage of writing which focuses on raking up all of the missed minor errors like capitalizations, misspellings, word choice–things like using “there” when you meant to use “they’re” or “their.” All of this is pretty painful, but get used to that pain.

4) Design your book!  I know, I know: it was news to me that I had to think about a million arcane details to make my manuscript look like a classy book. But, of course, I wanted my book to look like one of the very best! This should be a fun process, but you can get bogged down in accomplishing the many details to the point of its becoming numbing. I could always hire a consultant to iron out the particulars, but I would learn nothing. I found it very fascinating to learn. I suggest that you hire a good designer at roughly $2,000 to $5,000, retain many of the critical details, and work closely with her. Learn what she is doing for you. It is a lot! I will simply list the items: Define your book cover. Approve of the text, graphics, Table of Contents, and chapters. Place photos and write the captions. Create a publication page: define the International Standard Book Numbers or ISBNS, barcodes (which set the price of your book), QR codes all of which are available through the mystical company Bowker, which, it turns out, you must use. The publication page also includes acknowledgements, the author, credits, and defines the critical subjects that bookstores depend upon to create a shelf your book fits into, like adventure, memoir, or outdoor recreation. Inside the back cover includes your vita, photo of yourself, and defines your other publications. The outside of the back cover includes your picture, a great summary of your book, great quotes from recognized authors supporting your book, the logo for your publisher, the QR code, and the barcode. That is all you need…  But the bookstores will know exactly what is needed!

5) Print the book and publish your book. Nowadays, it is much simpler, much cheaper, and more effective to print books than it was ten years ago because of self-publishing software and Print on Demand services. It is your decision to have your book printed in exactly the way that you’ve imagined and there is no stigma about publishing your own book, as there was in the past. Using color or distributing photos across the book or making editorial opinions are decisions that can be made by you and are now relatively cheap.

6) Find Target Audience – I think that self-publishers, you or me, can effectively aim at smaller audiences than standard publishers can and still make money; that is strictly a matter of your expenses and theirs, in which you are able to saturate your target at a more local place and at a reasonable price.

7) Choose publishing platform – Publishers include Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark among many others, but in my world those two are absolutely key to consider. If your manuscript is in good shape, there will be no problem publishing your book with either or both publishers. If the manuscript is in bad shape, well, good luck… Read the contracts carefully or your book may be pulled from publication if you don’t follow their guidelines. You will come to understand that: Profit with Ingram = book price – 30% – printing price  And that will set the price you can choose.

8) KDP vs Ingram  – There are significant differences between KDP and Ingram, however. All independent bookstores will reject KDP books (or will offer you a consignment plan) and will favor Ingram because Ingram will guarantee that bookstores can return any book. That will cost you money, but you will have many more places to sell (all of the indie bookstores!) if you’re using Ingram. With the e-books the circumstances will reverse, however. It is a yin-yang relationship with publishers; you need both, and you must read that annoying contract very, very carefully with any publisher.

9) Distribute and sell your book. Your foundation and all the work you’ve done to publicize your book will come into play when you go to distribute and sell your book. With an action plan that extends one-year from the publication date you would be able to rack what is happening with your book and will help you plan readings. Keep good track of your book sales for tax purposes. This is particularly important when a store offers you a consignment plan, which will be hard to collect-on without good records.

10) Road to Success – Now, as if all of that wasn’t enough to think about, I’d say that you are on the road to a most extravagant and interesting success! And all of us should cheer for every other writer who treads upon this path.

Living in the Broken West: Essays:

WWR 17

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Make a Scene: How to Write a Dramatic Scene

J.K. Rowling uses dramatic scene in her Harry Potter books, a technique we teach in writing classes at The Writer's Workshop.
J.K. Rowling uses dramatic scene in her Harry Potter books, a technique we teach in writing classes at The Writer’s Workshop.



Scenic writing is the basis for some of the most moving, satisfying, sophisticated works of literature, something I teach in all my writing classes. It is especially effective in bringing readers into the story because it helps them create a world, a world that you the writer have inhabited and can share with the reader through words. Scenes present a visual, sensual world the reader can inhabit, a kind of imaginary garden with real toads, whether that’s the world of the astronaut program of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, the vast landscapes of the Southwest in the work of Terry Tempest Williams, or the hard-bitten, humorous Irish Catholic childhood of memoirist Frank McCourt.



  1. a) OPENING SENTENCE: Find a sentence that creates suspense and foreshadows what will happen. This makes clear to the reader that information in summary lead is important and needs to be read.
  2. b) SETTING DETAILS: Provide details that suggest what will happen in scene. These should be chosen for their inherent interest, color and humor and also for what they illustrate about main point of story. The best scenic details do double duty, both painting a picture and creating suspense.
  3. c) NUT GRAPH: After sketching in the scene and introducing the people, the writer makes a transition to the action. This transition is crucial, often spelling out the main point or alerting the reader that something important will happen in the scene.

This transition usually leads to a nut graph, a paragraph that suggests or explains the larger point or goal of the scene and furnishes its larger context. It’s called a nut graph because it puts all of these things together in a nutshell. Who? What? When? Where? And most importantly, why? As in, why should the reader care? What will the scene accomplish?



  1. a) BEGINNING – Show how it gets started. Describe the important events that precede the scene.
  2. b) MIDDLE – Describe how it builds, highlight the conflict.
  3. c) END – Describe how it gets resolved; answer all the necessary questions. Don’t leave the reader guessing. The writer Anton Chekhov said that if a gun appears in the first act of a play it must be discharged by the end of the play.


  1. a) UNPACK THE SCENE – Explain what happened in the scene and why it’s significant. What point does it illustrate? Too much symbolism and obscurity will result in confusing and frustrating the reader. how to compose dramatic scenes.
  2. I teach writers how to compose dramatic scenes in all my writing classes for The Writer’s Workshop, including Seattle writing classes, online classes and travel writing classes. Take a look at my website for more:!

Seattle Writing Classes Discuss Interview

Winston Churchill interviewing in Seattle Writing Classes.
Journalist interviewing Winston Churchill discussed in Seattle Writing Classes.

In my fall Seattle writing classes, I will discuss interviewing, a vastly underappreciated skill, with application in fiction writing, nonfiction writing, poetry writing and screenplays. As a former reporter and regular magazine writer, I understand how useful it is to interview subjects for background information as well as for a full profile. Many writers are uncomfortable with interviewing, so I walk people through the steps so that they will be ready to take these skills beyond this Seattle writing class.

Interviewing is an essential skill for any writer. Almost all non-fiction articles and books require some interviewing as part of the research. Novelists, poets and others frequently need to interview people. There are several reasons for interviewing: 1) Background info; 2) Support quotes; 3) Full fledged interview for profile, story or memoir or novel background.

1) Explanation of ground rules – Tell subject about yourself and your credentials. Explain where you want to publish the interview, profile, etc. Also discuss how you’ll use their answers, whether they can review the profile before it is published.

2) Contact a magazine or newspaper to see if you can get them to agree in advance to publish the interview. This helps a lot. Famous people want to know that their time is well-spent, that the interview will be published. If you can assure them of this, they’re more likely to grant the interview.

3) Time – Plan ahead: really newsworthy people are frequently difficult to get in touch with. Contact them early, and always double check date and time right before interview.


There’s still room in the fall Seattle Writing Classes. Let me know if you’d like to sign up!

Shitty First Drafts, Writing Classes

Seattle Writing Classes uses text Bird by Bird.
Seattle Writing Classes uses text Bird by Bird.

In her book, Bird by Bird, writer Anne Lamott talks about the need to write a “shitty first draft” in order to get to a more polished draft. Giving yourself permission to write a “shitty first draft” allows you to get black on white and begin to come to terms with your story. This is not to say that the first draft is totally undirected; I will discuss how you can use a story idea to give some kind of focus and shape to your story or book chapter. The story idea gives you a sense of where the story is headed: what kind of story is it? What is the point? How are you going to structure it? With even a limited plan, you then can proceed ahead with the draft knowing that you aren’t just spinning your wheels or “spaghetti-ing” in writer Jon Franklin’s memorable term from his book Writing for Story. Allowing yourself to write this first draft is absolutely critical to getting the story out. Once it’s down on paper, you can begin to see it’s overall shape, its strengths and weaknesses, as I discuss in my Seattle writing classes. You then can move to the second draft, where you focus on blocking out the larger structure of the piece. Franklin likens this process to the framing step in building a house, making sure that the larger structure of the piece is sounds so that you can begin work on the finer details of trimming, polishing, etc. The “shitty first draft” is a necessary step in this process, not proof that you have no talent and should take up golf instead! This is part and parcel of the writing process which we’ll discuss in my fall class, Revising Your Life. There’s still room; let me know if you’d like to sign up!

Travel Writing Marketing

Nick O'Connell speaking at the Travel Writing Marketing Workshop.
Nick O’Connell speaking at the Travel Writing Marketing Workshop.

I had the pleasure of speaking at Roy Stevenson’s recent Travel Writing Marketing Workshop. I’m including below a guest blog post from Roy about how to market your travel stories, including some very helpful books and articles:

The majority of travel writers struggle with marketing and selling their articles to print publications. Most of us just want to write, but the stark reality of travel writing is that if you can’t sell your stories, you don’t get to write them.

My books address this dilemma by presenting travel writers with a suite of manuals and guides that show exactly how to go about pitching, querying, and selling your stories to travel editors.

  • The Complete Guide To Query Letters For Travel Writers

Everything you need to know to craft compelling query letters. Includes 20 sample query letters that were actually used successfully to get assignments.

  • 100 Print Magazines That Want To Publish Your Travel Articles

Save yourself hundreds of hours of time and accelerate your travel writing career with this travel magazine distribution list.

  • Fifty Websites That Want To Publish Your Travel Stories

50+ quality travel websites, along with ten pages of advice on getting published online.

  • How To Land Press Trips And Fam Tours

How to leverage travel assignments for free or discounted travel, meals, tours, accommodations, and entry to museums and tourist attractions.

  • How To Break Into The Luxury Travel Writing Market

Break into the luxury travel market faster because you’ll know how to do it right. This 130-page book includes a listing of 55 print magazines and 21 travel websites that publish luxury articles – sales leads that will save you time and get your story ideas out to editors faster.

  • The Complete Guide To Marketing And Selling Your Travel Articles

Everything you need to know to sell your travel articles: how to select story ideas that are enticing to editors, how to pitch your ideas the right way, how to find magazines that will be interested, and much more.

Please feel free to check out these guides and manuals at:

While you’re at my website, please sign up for my free weekly freelance marketing eZine. If you haven’t signed up for it yet, you’re really missing out on solid, actionable advice about selling and marketing your travel stories and landing press trips. And you’ll get insider discounts on my eBooks, coaching, and upcoming workshops. Please sign up here:

Strangers on a Train

The Writer’s Workshop Blog highlights my adventures teaching writing classes, writing stories, articles and books, leading travel, food and wine writing classes to France and Italy, traveling the globe, promoting my books including the novel, The Storms of Denali, and other aspects of the wild and crazy world of writing and publishing. Writing and publishing are changing enormously and I hope this blog will help keep you up to date on some of the changes.

The following story is from Mary Beadles, a student in my 2013 Travel, Food and Wine Writing Class in Montalcino, Italy. I’ll be publishing a number of stories from students in my travel writing class on this blog. They provide a vivid picture of the wonderful places, people and experiences encountered on the trip.

Strangers on a Train

In principal, I have no problem traveling by myself. There’s a lot you can miss if you are constantly surrounded by people. Initial impressions are often interrupted or altered by input from others. And so much local culture and color can be missed during a conversation with a friend, not to mention the loss of freedom to see and do exactly as I choose. And yet, travelling from Florence through the hills of Tuscany alone proved to be plenty challenging, even with a sense of adventure and Fodor’s Italian for Travelers to guide me.

There is no easy way to reach Montalcino from Florence, but the destination is well worth the effort (or so I’d been promised). I was traveling to the ancient hilltop town for a writing seminar on travel, food and wine. The journey would begin with a one-hour train ride to Sienna followed by another hour winding through the hillside on a bus. I’d never traveled alone by train and the bus ride would be a totally new experience. I hated asking for directions and I knew only a smattering of Italian but I had studied the guide book carefully and memorized the bus connection in Sienna. I was confident I could navigate the Italian transportation system with few problems. But there is nothing more deceptive (or dangerous) than the confidence of a fool.

I stepped into Firenze Santa Maria Novella, the main train station in Florence, and was met by a crush of mostly-young travelers carrying massive backpacks with ease. I focused on the task ahead. Buy a ticket to Sienna. To the left was a row of windows below a large sign with a word I recognized. “Biglietti”– Tickets. This was exactly where I needed to be! I smiled with smug satisfaction and followed the line of people until I reached the end which was somewhere along the back wall. It was just now noon—plenty of time. The trains left frequently and, as long as I was on the train before 2P.M. I would have no problem catching the bus from Sienna to Montalcino.

At 1P.M., the line had moved at least ten feet. Now there were only about fifty people ahead of me. I began to worry just a little. If I missed the 1:59 train, I wouldn’t be able to leave Sienna until after five. It would be evening before I reached Montalcino. Time for a new plan. I turned to a friendly-looking young man behind me. “Excuse me. Do you speak English?” I asked.
He smiled, “Yes, I do.”

“Is this the only place I can buy a ticket?”

The boy shook his head. “You can use a machine. Would you like me to help you?”

Problem solved. Soon I had a ticket in hand and was boarding my train. The first row of seats provided space for my bags and a seat for me. Perfect! It was a relief to know that any worries about making this leg of my trip alone were groundless. I settled back as the train pulled away from the station.

It was two or three stops before we cleared Florence. Some passengers had gotten off and others had boarded. At the last stop, a young woman dragging a large suitcase took the seat across from mine. We exchanged smiles before she pulled out a magazine and I turned to watch through the window as the city view gave way to a rural vista.

The train swayed in a gentle rhythm as it rolled down the track. The door at the far end of the car opened and a wild-haired man resembling a caricature of Albert Einstein entered. He was dressed in a shabby dark blue uniform with shiny brass buttons and I watched as he moved from passenger to passenger. The conductor, I realized as he came closer. When it was my turn, I handed him my ticket and waited for its return. Why was he taking so long? Finally, he handed it back, all the while speaking rapid-fire Italian. I shrugged and shook my head — the universal sign for “I have no idea what you’re talking about!” I turned to my fellow passengers. Across the aisle, a young woman looked on in apparent sympathy while the man in front of her watched the proceedings with a smirk that seemed aimed at the conductor rather than me. I assumed they didn’t speak English and would be of no help.

The conductor took back the ticket and pointed to it. “Forty Euro,” he said. I stared back. He held his hand out. “Forty Euro,” he repeated more loudly. Yes, I understood he wanted me to give him forty Euros for some reason. I shook my head. Was I being held up? Was this some kind of train scam I hadn’t heard about? The conductor turned and walked to the end of the car and I allowed myself to hope that was the end of it. But a minute later he was back. “Come with me,” he said.

“What?” Where could he possibly take me on a train? There was nowhere to go but off.

“Come with me.” His impatience with this American seemed to be growing. I stuffed my book and my iPod into my purse and stood to follow him.

“Should I take my suitcase?” I called after him as he strode down the aisle. The passengers seemed enthralled with the drama, particularly the smirker across the aisle. Through his eyes, I began to see the humor in the situation and I found myself playing to my audience. “Are you throwing me off the train?” I called after him, raising my voice and throwing my hands in the air. “Should I bring my bag?” Of course he couldn’t understand anything I was saying, but I hoped he understood that he could not intimidate me. I was also somewhat comforted by the fact there were witnesses.

He stopped in front of a poster on the back wall of the car and put his finger on a paragraph written in English. “Passengers must validate tickets before boarding. Failure to do so may result in a fine up to €40.” Having grown up in a family of lawyers, all I could see were the words “may” and “up to” and more than anything I wanted to argue my case.

“Forty Euro.” The man knew about five words in English and I knew five different words in Italian. There would be no appeal. I handed over forty Euros and took the walk of shame back to my seat. The passengers went back to their books and their music. As my adrenaline dissipated, I just felt like crying. But the young woman across the aisle who had been watching me with obvious sympathy during the entire affair, leaned over and said, “Aso’le!” gesturing toward the receding back of the conductor. I wasn’t sure what she was saying, and then it hit me.

“Asshole?” I asked.

She nodded. “Si. Aso’le!”

And with that one, crude, mispronounced American insult we bonded and I understood that, although I was traveling solo, I wasn’t alone. There were always as-yet-unknown comrades to help along the way. Those like the man with the smirk who reminded me to let humor dispel fear. And the sympathetic kindness of a young woman willing to join me in solidarity against the mini-tyrants we encounter along the way. And even the “aso’les” in this world that bring us all together. When we arrived in Sienna, I gathered my things and took my luggage outside to find the bus that would complete the final leg of my trip to Montalcino. But, along with my luggage, I carried a newly-discovered rule of the road. I might be by myself at the start of my journey, but as soon as I board a train, a bus, a plane, or even a taxi, I’m no longer alone. My traveling companions may be strangers, but for a brief moment in time, we’re all in it together.

Social Media for Writers

The Writer’s Workshop Blog highlights my adventures teaching writing classes, writing stories, articles and books, leading travel, food and wine writing classes to France and Italy, traveling the globe, promoting my books including the novel, The Storms of Denali, and other aspects of the wild and crazy world of writing and publishing. Writing and publishing are changing enormously and I hope this blog will help keep you up to date on some of the changes.


Social media are a great way to get the word out about your book and to develop a community interested in hearing about your work. There are lots of social media useful for authors, including Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Good Reads.

You probably won’t be able to use all these media, so ideally choose one or two to concentrate on. Pick one that you like and can update regularly. Andrea Dunlop of Girl Friday Productions recently spoke to my class at The Writer’s Workshop about how authors can best use social media to promote their work.

“It’s an exciting time to be an author,” she says. “Facebook, Twitter and other social media are the main tools to promote books.”

Reviews in traditional media like the New York Times or Seattle Times are also important, but newspapers are running fewer reviews and most people are getting their recommendations from friends, a definition which has grown to include Facebook and other friends.

“Don’t get too obsessed with numbers,” she says. “Focus more on quality rather than quantity. You want to cultivate an interesting stream of information. Get people interested in you as a person, and then bring up the book.”

Fall Writing Retreat


Writing retreatDo you have a story you’re burning to write, but never have time to get it done? If so, this is the course for you. This intensive weekend seminar, taught by one of the Northwest’s master teachers, will help you complete a personal essay or story from start to finish.

You will utilize writing practice techniques to generate an entire rough draft of your story in several hours. By the end of the weekend (Sept. 27-29) you will have your piece finished and the polishing process well in hand.

You will learn craft techniques, including starting in the middle of the action to ensure a captivating lead, that would otherwise require weeks of coursework to assimilate.

You will learn secrets of how to prepare the piece for the market and how and where to send it.

The Friday (Sept. 27) session 4 to 6 p.m. will include an introduction to the course and dinner at the inspiring Icicle Creek Center for the Arts outside Leavenworth and a 7 p.m. reading/ slide show at the nearby Wenatchee River Institute (347 Division Street, Leavenworth, WA 98826.). The Saturday (9 to 4) and Sunday (9 to noon) sessions will be held at the center’s Canyon Wren recital hall, a peaceful, beautiful place designed to enhance our creative work together.

The course fee will be $425 per person double occupancy, $400 triple occupancy, $500 single occupancy, or $325 for meals but no lodging. The fee includes two nights lodging, four meals, and expert writing instruction.

To enroll, please contact Nick. The course is limited to 15 participants and will likely fill quickly.