One of the real rewards for me doing lgbtSr is the opportunity it’s given me to meet and interview a fascinating variety of people. We connect sometimes in the most inadvertent ways: I’ll see a website, or read an article about someone, or, now and then, I get an email.
I recently became aware of Karen Wolfer and her audio book production company located 9,000 miles above sea level in the Rocky Mountains. Dog Ear Audio specializes in lesbian fiction and currently has a project on Kickstarter to bring the book ‘Safe Harbor’ by Radclyffe to a listening audience. Karen was kind enough to give me the following interview, shedding light on the process of audio recording, living with solar energy, and generally being one of those interviewees I’ve been privileged to pose a few questions to.
MM: Your website says you and your partner have lived in an energy efficient home you built yourselves 17 years ago. Can you say a little about yourselves and how you ended up in the Rockies?
KW: Pattie and I have been together nearly 28 years. We met while I was still in the Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen, Colorado. Trust me, I was one of the worker bees, not part of the jet set that plays there. I’m originally from Ohio, but moved to Colorado after watching a TV series filmed out west. Pattie is a native of Colorado, from the wheat farming plains of the eastern part of the state. We met in Denver when I was just coming out.
I was a big fan of lesbian fiction with Naiad Press being an integral part of a happy coming out process.
MM: Dog Ear Audio started as an offshoot of a video company. Is the video company gone, and was it in the same location, 9,000 feet above sea level?
KW: My partner’s video production company, Zoom’n Dog Productions (www.zoomndog.com) is definitely still here and doing better than ever. The soundbooth and her video editing equipment are downstairs while I’ve got the main floor to do the sound editing on the audio books. Her legs are younger than mine, so she gets the steps. 🙂 With her incredible video filming and editing skills, we are also conducting extended author interviews of writers of lesbian fiction.
MM: You’re still in business. How has that journey been – were there difficult times, or has it been fairly stable all along?
KW: Audio books, in general, sell a percentage of what a print book does, and it is expensive to bring a story to the spoken word. Since lesbian fiction starts out as a niche market, then we are a niche of a niche market. But no one else is doing it, and while I look forward to continued growth with making more titles available and a wider distribution, it will be some time until it can financially support us completely. Most authors have outside jobs to allow them to create the works they do, and we are no different…for now. But there is unlimited potential for growth thanks to the internet and social networking. As we ‘boomers’ age, I feel audio books will be more important than ever. With the next question, I look forward to talking about where we can increase distribution.
MM: I’m guessing the market for audio books has grown tremendously the last decade or so. What’s your experience with that, and why do you think they’ve become as popular as they have?
KW: Yes, the market for audio books is seeing a resurgence of popularity. The ease of using CD’s while in a car, and now iPods, and other electronic devices, has made downloading stories from Audible.com, SimplyAudiobooks, etc, an almost instantaneous process. Dog Ear Audio has just entered the Audible world with two of our titles available there now: “Breaking the Ice” by Kim Baldwin, an adventure/romance story set in the wilds of Alaska, and Catherine Friend’s “Hit By A Farm”, a humorous and touching look at what it was like to start a sheep farm with her partner, Melissa, in the not-so-wilds of Minnesota. There is a lengthy reformatting process to take our current selection of books which are available on CD’s , and make them available via downloads, but it is something we are working on as fast as we can, when not editing new titles.
I think audio books have become so popular because they allow us to enjoy a good story while commuting to work, doing the dishes, or sitting in the sun. Even with e-readers being able to increase the size of fonts for our older eyes, listening to a story is a wonderful alternative, and in some cases, the only way to enjoy that tale. We have several fans who have unfortunately, lost their vision completely, so these stories mean the world to them, as there are few alternatives to hearing stories from our community.
MM: You specialize in lesbian fiction. What’s the market like for that, and has it remained steady over the years, any generational shift? Also, have audio books given authors a new audience?
KW: As I said earlier, no one else is recording these lesbian titles with real narrators. The lesbian fiction market is exploding with new authors and new titles daily. There has never been a better time to be a reader of lesbian fiction. The writing from the established publishers like Bold Strokes Books is as good as, and many times, better than what you will find in mainstream fiction. Romance novels, as with mainstream publishing, are the biggest sellers. You can find everything from a sweet, gentle story, to some of the ‘hotter’ stories of our fictional lives. Independent writers are beginning to make their mark, too, with some self-publishing. The writers that hire good editors, and the ones becoming successful in that endeavor.
Yes, having a print book transformed into an audio book, reaches an additional audience. Some people who enjoyed the print edition, will purchase the audio book edition as well to enjoy a completely different experience. Narrators these days are ‘voice actors’ and if they do a good job, it is like hearing, and seeing, a movie in your head. The characters come alive in a new way.
Our biggest challenge is getting people to know we are here! Some women do not even know that there are several lesbian print publishers available to them.
MM: There’s been a seismic shift in publishing brought about by eBooks. Do you see significant changes in audio books coming down the pike? If so, what might they be (streaming audio, cloud audio books, etc)?
KW: Yes, audio book delivery systems are evolving, but not as drastically as with eBooks. We have progressed from tapes, to CD’s, and now to downloads. Downloads is where it is happening! Audio book publishers do not make as much money, per sale, with downloads as they do with CD’s, but the volume and ease of distribution hopefully makes up for that. Libraries have the potential to be our largest distribution network. There are over 9,000 public libraries in the US, and their mandate to have a diverse range of books for their patrons, has me looking forward to getting our titles into as many libraries as I can. So many individuals do not have the funds to purchase our books, but they can request a library to purchase them for the libraries’ collection and then they and others can listen for free. We do not up our prices for libraries as other publishers do, and have a great immediate replacement program for any CD’s that accidentally get damaged. Please see our website for more details on this.
We have just been informed by our down load distributor, Big Happy Family, that we will now be on the PlayAway library system as well as the Overdrive library system.
MM: You’ve got a project on Kickstarter now to bring the book ‘Safe Harbor’ by Radclyffe out as an audio book with actress Diane Gaidry to narrate. What got you to use Kickstarter for this project?
KW: I had heard about the Kickstarter phenomenon awhile ago, and that little voice we all have in the back of our heads said it might be a good idea to experiment with it for an audio book. We’ve had the rights to ‘Safe Harbor’ for a few years now, but I was waiting for just the right voice to record it because this classic love story by Radclyffe was always on our list of books most people want to see recorded.
Another Bold Strokes Books author, Rachel Spangler, met Diane Gaidry while doing research for a book, and through conversation, discovered that Diane would be interested in narrating a book. Rachel connected us via email, and the rest is history. Serendipity in the finest sense! It also provided the perfect vehicle to try out Kickstarter. We are a little way yet, from our goal, but the experiment has been a great success.
MM: I’ve always wondered what it was like to narrate an audio book. Could you just describe that a little? Set the scene a bit, as it were. (The narrator doesn’t really read for 6 hours, I assume . . . )
KW: Good question. Actually, the narrator can read for over 6 hours in a day with breaks throughout the day to rest the vocal cords. Voice-over artists describe performing audio books as grueling marathons. And performing is the operative word. The older style of audio books was a ‘straight read’ with little acting and changing of voice to fit a character. Now, the best narrators are actually ‘voice actors’ with their roles being every character in a book. Their skill at delineating a character by a slight voice change, or cadence change, or proximity to the microphone is what is valued today.
The process here at Dog Ear Audio, is to have the selected narrator take the script, which has been printed off onto 8 x 11 paper to avoid the noise from reading from a book, and go over it, marking the script so that it is easier to perform. She will mark the lines of various characters with different colored pens so that it is easier to see at a glance who is supposed to be talking. Perhaps some notes will be made in the margins, too, to remember to add some special emotion at that place in the story.
There is a lot of prep work that goes into things before the first word is spoken.
On the first day of recording, sound levels are ‘dialed in’. We record no more than one chapter at a time to keep the computer files manageable. The narrator is not expected to be perfect! We came up with a dog clicker for the narrator to use when there is a small flub. That creates a sharp spike on our computer screens that makes it easy to see when we go back to edit the sound later. Then they continue with the correction, or ‘re-take’ of the line.
The recording process can be a fun experience! We save all ‘bloopers’ for posterity. One of my favorite bloopers came from Catherine Friend when she was here recording her book, “Hit By A Farm” It was so funny, she posted it to her blog for all to enjoy. Here is the direct link.
While the narrator is recording, another person follows along with the script, listening for any words that don’t match what is on the page or any word that might need to be re-done for clarity. Once the recording is complete, which can easily take a full week, then the sound engineer listens once again to the entire book listening without the script in front of them, to see if there is anything that needs to be re-recorded before the narrator heads back home. This is the last chance to get it right.
Then phase two can begin. I take all the computer files and take out the mistakes that have been ‘clicked’ during recording, and patch in the correct lines to make it seamless. The sound editing phase is also where extraneous noises like mouth clicks and any errant background noises are removed. Today’s software is absolutely amazing with what can be done, but it still is a slow, meticulous process.
Finally, music is selected that will enhance the story and help set the mood, it is overlaid on the sound track, invisible ‘chapter points’ are put in before burning to a master CD so that someone listening to the story in their car can fast forward or backward to sections quickly. Finally the master CD is burned, listened to one more time for any problems, and then it is duplicated for distribution from Dog Ear Audio. All of this is done ‘in-house’, using renewable, solar energy.
MM: Something we have in common: my partner and I have a house in rural New Jersey (late night comic jokes aside, Jersey is beautiful) where we intend to live permanently some day. What are a few of the best things about living where you do, with deer and fox as your neighbors?
KW: The best things are the quiet, the uninterrupted views around the house, and the stars at night. The Milky Way is a constant presence. Being able to take Halley, our dog and company mascot, for hour-long walks without meeting a soul, is nice. Living with solar energy (my other company is Daystar Solar Energy which I founded 19 years ago) permits us to never worry about running out of power because of the weather or a tree coming down on a power line somewhere. We are connected to the grid, but it is only for backup power. Our computers are exclusively on the solar system, because the energy generated from the solar equipment is steadier, cleaner, and more dependable than anything from the power company. Even our water pumping is accomplished with a DC pump run directly from the sun. I plan on doing some educational videos about all this one day, but right now, as you can tell from my answers, my passion is lesbian audio books.
The other day, we had a short blast of winter and this ‘neighbor’ came through to say Hi. He was gorgeous.