New Idea For A New Year

If you’ve visited my website over the past few months, you’ve noticed a lot of changes. There’s a blog, a slideshow of my China visit, and several audio downloads now available at Anansi’s Store.

This is the result of some earthshaking events that are jolting the publishing industry. Editors are being laid off. Lists are being cut back. Major houses announce they are no longer acquiring new manuscripts. Recent proposals would have authors accepting a profit sharing arrangement on sales of their books instead of an up-front advance. Bookstores would no longer be able to return unsold copies.

These changes are as tumultuous as global warming. Those who say, “There will always be books,” are ignoring the evidence before their eyes. Yes, we love books: that wonderful paper and cardboard artifact you can hold in your hand and take anywhere. My grandma loved horses. But love isn’t enough to stop the big changes that are happening fast.

We can no longer afford to depend on editors and publishers. Any of us may pick up the phone one morning and suddenly learn that we no longer have an editor. Or a publisher! Authors are being forced to take responsibility for their own careers. Fortunately, the web gives us the tools to do this.

To give an example, some of you may have read the latest Anansi story, Anansi’s Party Time. At the end of the book Anansi and Crab are stuck on the moon. Several readers have written to ask how they get down.

Good question. I worked out one way they might do it. I sent the manuscript to my editor, Mary Cash, at Holiday House. Mary gave the story a careful reading and decided it wasn’t working. She liked some of the story’s elements, but didn’t feel it all came together as well as it should.

I respect Mary’s opinion. In the long run, she may be correct. But I really liked the story. I wasn’t ready to give up on it. Sending it to another editor at another publishing house was out of the question. Holiday House publishes my Anansi stories. Writing another story could take months. It might take Janet Stevens a year or more to finish the artwork, assuming she could start right away—which isn’t usually the case. By then, Anansi and Crab on the moon would be ancient history. I needed something now; a sequel I could get out right away.

I had a manuscript. Why not publish it myself? Not as a book, but as an audio download. I’d recorded audio versions for three Hanukkah stories and was pleased with the response. Why not do the same with Anansi on the Moon?

You’d be surprised at how little equipment it takes. All I needed was my computer, a Zoom digital microphone which I learned about at a children’s literature bloggers conference this summer, and a free downloaded audio program called Audacity. (I learned about Audacity from my banjo teacher, Peter Schwimmer. I record my lessons on my laptop, then transfer the file to my desktop, picking and grinning in front of the computer.)

I’ve spent the past two days recording the story. There’s always a bit of trial and error. I needed to adjust the sensitivity of the microphone. I had it set too low at first. I solved the problem with the volume, only to discover that I didn’t like the sound at all. The story sounded as if I were recording it inside a tin can. Was the problem with the microphone? Or was it where I was doing the recording.

I had gone into the upstairs bathroom to get away from household noises. I didn’t want telephones, doorbells, running faucets getting into my recording. However, the hard surfaces of a bathroom might be affecting the sound. I decided to experiment by recording someplace softer. The bedroom seemed ideal, with its piles of bedding, laundry, books, and the carpeted floor.

Hurray! A warm, natural sound came through the earplugs. I downloaded the digital file onto my computer; did a slight bit of editing with Audacity; and converted the file to the mp3 format, which can be played on iPods, computers, anywhere a digital recording can go.

I meet with my web guy, Wess Willis, on Friday. Within a short time I expect that the audio version of my unpublished story, Anansi On The Moon, will be available here on the website at Anansi’s Store. In the future, if I’m asked how Anansi and Crab got down from the moon, I’ll just say, “Visit the website and find out.” Only a buck!

This is an experiment. It may work; it may not. It’s certainly worth a try. If it proves successful, I’d like to follow it up with more unpublished stories. My next project may be an unpublished novel which I’d like to offer online as an audio book. One chapter a month.

If that works, there’s no limit to what we can do. I say “we” because I believe that all authors today face the same problem. We need to work together and support each other. The web allows us to do that. So if there are any authors out there who would like to do what I am doing or share any other ideas, please let me know.

I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. I’m eager to hear what you’ve discovered.

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