When I was young, I had this poster or similar ones taped on my bedroom wall.
You probably recognize David Cassidy from his work on The Partridge Family TV show.
I adored David when I was young, and I learned a valuable lesson from him as an adult.
When I was young, I had this poster or similar ones taped on my bedroom wall.
I adored David when I was young, and I learned a valuable lesson from him as an adult.
Last updated 1/22/23
When the obstacle in your way seems to have stopped you in your tracks,
it’s not a failure.
It’s part of what’s calling forth the necessary change
so you can move through, around, over, or under whatever is on your path to success.
— Christian Sørensen
This quote applies to my relationship to public domain books,
Although I started narrating audiobooks in 2002, it wasn’t until ACX launched in 2011 that I really got a foothold in the industry. Prior to that point, the market didn’t exist for a narrator who lived in Atlanta. You either had to be in New York or LA; otherwise, producers didn’t want to talk to you. With ACX, all of the rest of us could have a voice in audiobooks, too.
I soon burned out doing ACX projects since most of them were royalty share books where the rights holder was not promoting the audiobook. (Shameless plug: If you’re interested, I explain how to pick good ACX titles in my webinar Put Yourself in the ACX Drivers Seat, available on my Shop page.)
At the same time, I wasn’t getting traction with publishers. I decided to start recording more public domain books.
Public domain (PD) books are those where the copyright has expired. They belong to all of us, and anybody can do anything they want to with a book that’s in the public domain.
Over time, I’ve kind of become what I think of as the Public Domain Whisperer™️. I regularly search HathiTrust.org for interesting PD books. HathiTrust is a consortium of academic and research libraries with over 17 million digitized items, I often find a book that I think would be a good one for another narrator to do, so I send the link and the suggestion to them.
I’ve been gratified by the enthusiastic and excited responses to my finds. One experienced and award-winning narrator told me I had set them on a new path, and they’ve won a number of awards for their PD productions!
This article will be my Public Domain Narration Headquarters. I’ll start with ten reasons why I love, love, LOVE recording and publishing public domain books. Plus, check out the resources list below as well as the comments, where I answer your questions!
Happy belated birthday Walt Disney!
I narrated, produced, and published the public domain book The Story of Walt Disney by Diane Disney Miller and Pete Martin. I was thrilled that it released on 5 December in celebration of the 120th anniversary of Disney’s birth.
While I’m excited to announce this audiobook, I’m writing this post to talk about its cover art, and more specifically, information about image usage that may help you if you publish your audiobooks.
I’ve previously written about Copyrighted Images in a Public Domain Book.
That article discussed the images inside the book. Of course, the copyright laws also apply to the cover art, so I encourage you to read it.
Today, I want to talk about the laws concerning right of publicity. (Insert my usual disclaimer about not being a lawyer though I have voiced many in audiobooks.)
As far as I know, iAnnotate software doesn’t have a way to automatically highlight all your search results.
However, good ole MS Word — even my 2004 copy for Mac — has that option under Find and Replace. This article has instructions.
In addition to or instead of highlighting the text, the Find and Replace formatting box lets you make font changes like underline and bold to the search results. You can even change the font, its size, and color on each search result.
Of course, you also can change the font type and size for the entire document in Word, which you can’t do in iAnnotate. PDF means “portable document format” and was devised as a method to present the text in the same way to all users regardless of their software or hardware. As long as a document is a PDF, you have no ability to change the size, color, or type of the font.
If Word can’t open your PDF, you can cheaply and easily convert it to a Word file using Adobe Export PDF.
Once you’ve made all the global changes you want in Word, iAnnotate automatically opens Word files and converts them back to PDF.
By the way, you can pretty quickly manually highlight your iAnnotate search results if you don’t want to transfer the doc to Word and back. With the search results showing on the right side of your iAnnotate screen, tap the Highlighter tool on the left side with your document. Then, tap on each search result to go to the next instance, and highlight the word.
Members of my NarratorsRoadmap.com site can watch my 12-module video course on iAnnotate to learn how to use this software to its fullest advantage in prepping audiobooks.
I always wondered why Margaret Mitchell didn’t write another novel after Gone with the Wind. I thought she could have feared the critics’ comments as they compared a second book to the epic, monumental achievement of her first. Nothing could ever live up to the reputation of her Great American novel.
However, when I narrated Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell by Anne Edwards, I learned one big reason for Mitchell’s later absence from the bookshelves of new releases: she was too busy responding to correspondence about her book to write another book!
I’ve read the 2 books of her letters linked below. I’ve also been collecting the pictures of her letters posted by eBay sellers.
Mitchell published GWTW in June 1936, and it instantly became a runaway bestseller. David O. Selznick then paid the highest price to that date for the movie rights, causing Mitchell’s celebrity to rise even higher.
Suddenly, all the newspapers and magazines wanted to do interviews with the reluctantly-famous author. In numerous letters, she described fans as jumping out of the bushes at her home to get her autograph.
She was so besieged by people who wanted her to sign their books that she stopped signing them after a couple of months. However, she replied to hundreds or maybe thousands of letters requesting an autographed book to explain why she wouldn’t do it — and then signed the letter!
Maybe Mitchell felt compelled to respond to almost everyone due to her inborn sense of graciousness and Southern hospitality. Maybe she secretly thrilled at being a celebrity and sought to keep more recognition coming to her.
Whatever her reasons, she spent all day, every day, immersed in and often overwhelmed by her mail. For instance, she fielded fans’ questions, as well as requests for speaking engagements and material mementos.
Although Mitchell vowed not have any part in making the movie, she answered and wrote a barrage of letters about it. She also kept eagle eyes and a tight rein on the foreign rights and translations of her book, initiating and participating in countless exchanges about those aspects of publishing.
I think of Margaret Mitchell often when I’m reading, replying to, and writing my email and communicating in online forums. I learned a few things from the way she dealt with her voluminous correspondence that I want to share with you.
Margaret only had her trusty typewriter and reams of paper at her disposal. What might she have achieved and how productive might she have been with a computer? Rather than re-typing the same info to multiple people like she did, we have the luxury of copying and pasting from one message to another.
If you find yourself sending the same message on a recurring basis, create a template for that type of correspondence. For instance, I have a folder in Evernote containing my templates for numerous situations, including:
I even have a template for newcomers who leave me voice mail asking to talk with me about becoming a narrator! It’s super fast and easy for me to open my Evernote app on my phone, find that template, and copy and paste it to a text message back to the originating phone number. In the time it took for me to write or you to read that sentence, I could have taken those actions, responded to that query, and moved on with my day.
2. Create and use keyboard text shortcuts.
Facebook Messenger, WordPress, and other platforms don’t maintain my email signature. As pictured below, I set my keyboard text replacement to automatically and magically type Cordially, Karen Commins when I type the 3 letters ckc and press space or return.
I have created a number of text shortcuts for things that I type frequently:
MacOS has text replacement as a built-in feature. From my quick Google search, it looks like you have to use a separate text expander utility in Windows to get this functionality. I saw this one recommended on several sites, and its capabilities go beyond simple text replacement.
I have multiple Gmail accounts, and I noticed that text replacement only worked in some of them. I Googled the problem and learned that you have set the Gmail Spelling setting to Spelling suggestions off.
3. Don’t answer everybody even when you know the answer.
Mitchell prided herself on the depth and accuracy of her historical research for GWTW. She felt compelled to set the record straight whenever anyone questioned the facts in her book. Instead of defending her previous research, she could have spent that time doing new research for a new project.
This tip is becoming one of my mantras! I remind myself of this point when I am reading Facebook forum threads. I’ve decided it’s not my job or even in my best interest to share my knowledge every time the opportunity presents itself.
In addition, I receive LOTS of messages from narrators, authors, and wannabes via email, text messages, and social media. As I’ve previously noted, if I personally assisted everyone who asked for my help, I would never have time to do any work of my own.
I state on my Contact page:
Due to the volume of requests that I receive, I may not personally respond to your message. I prefer to answer publicly so that more than one person benefits from the answer.
If I can quickly point someone to a blog article or other resource, I am very happy to do so. Otherwise, since I have stated my policy, I feel no guilt when I sometimes need to press the delete key. I especially use the delete key when I know someone wants to sell me something or I can tell that writing a suitable answer would take more than 5-10 minutes. I make a note of questions that require more involved answers for subjects to explore here on the blog.
4. Don’t put others’ needs ahead of your own creative output.
I saw a quote recently that speaks to this thought:
“When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.”
— Paulo Coelho
When I re-read my journals, I’ve noticed that I’ve said on too many occasions that I didn’t even start on my project for the day because I was helping other people.
Helping people gives me joy. I feel it’s a large part of my purpose.
I’m realizing, though, that I can help more people in the long run by prioritizing my creative projects (like writing this article!) ahead of helping a single person in the moment.
5. Get to the point quickly, and don’t bury the lede.
Mitchell’s letters show her immense strength and charm as a loquacious storyteller. She wrote the most chatty, lengthy letters and would wax on for paragraphs assuming that her recipient was devouring her every word with keen interest.
People today are too busy and get far too many sources of info hammering at us every day.
When I worked as the deputy branch manager in my government IT career, my boss complained that he received lengthy emails that left him wondering what the person wanted him to do. He often forwarded such messages to me to decipher and resolve.
At least once a week now, one of those kinds of messages appears in my inbox. If I can’t quickly figure out what the person wants from me, I delete the message.
A while back, I did some research to learn the ideal length for a prospecting email to a potential client. One writer uses a 5-sentence rule.
The sweet spot falls between 50 and 125 words, which is not much longer than a tweet. I use this site to check the length of emails before I send them.
You also may want to compose messages on your phone because more people are now reading and replying to emails on their phones. If you have to scroll your message, it’s time to make some cuts!
If you wonder why your emails go unanswered, one article writer commented that, like my former boss, s/he felt anxious when seeing large blocks of text. Do they have time to read it? Would they get all of the sender’s points? Do they need to read it carefully? Do they have time to write a long response?
When I’m drafting a message, I may write it in linear/chronological fashion about the situation, which naturally causes my call to action to fall near the end. I then move that action to the 1st or 2nd sentence so it’s immediately clear to the recipient why I sent the message and the action I want them to take. I’ll also enter the action as the subject of the message. I’ll edit the message to use a journalism-style of inverted pyramid where the least important info is left to the end.
Applying these 5 guidelines to my own correspondence and forum participation enables me to spend more quality time on my own projects. How do you make time for your creative work? Please leave a comment!
I’ve recently helped a number of narrators research the audio rights holder in cases where the author has passed away. I decided to share my process as it might be helpful to other people.
I start by examining the book’s copyright date.
Each January 1st, another year’s books enter the public domain. On 1 January 2023, books published in 1927 entered the public domain, and so on.
Books published in the US before or in 1927 are already in the public domain. If it falls between 1928 and 1963 inclusive, I first check to see if the title is in the public domain using the links in this article. (Note: While some of the info below is summarized in the last bullet point on that page, I want to offer more explanation and show the successive steps in this post.)
If I find that the book is in the public domain, I stop my research. The narrator can perform and publish the book on their own without contacting anyone or paying any licensing fees or royalties.
A large percentage of texts from those years appear to be copyrighted but are actually in the public domain due to a key technical requirement of the copyright law at that time. Copyright owners — usually the author, but it could be the publisher — had to renew the copyright by the end of the 28th year following publication in order to maintain their copyrighted status.
These books can be categorized into one of these ways:
As an aside, be aware that everything that was published in 1928 is going to be in the public domain on 1 January 2024. Enterprising narrators may want to pay attention to that point because you could start looking for an upcoming public domain book that you want to do! If this topic interests you, I’ve created a video course for members of NarratorsRoadmap.com that includes a discussion about how to find some of these public domain gems.
For works still under copyright that were traditionally published, you can contact the subsidiary rights department of the publisher. An inestimable number of books were published before commercial audiobooks became a mainstream form of entertainment. Depending on the contract, the publisher may have acquired all or only limited rights to the text, and those rights may revert to the author after a certain period of time.
I prefer to find someone representing the author since publishers can take a long time to respond, if they respond at all. You would also need to do this research for books independently published.
Jessica Kaye suggested during an APA webinar about audio rights that you might find the author’s agent or family by reading the book’s Acknowledgements and Dedication pages.
I perform a number of Google searches that will seem like word association.
This first search is best for prolific authors or those who wrote 1 or more books that are considered to be classic literature. If you’re lucky, the results will lead you directly to the door of the person who manages the rights.
[author name] literary estate or [author name] literary rights
As an example, doing this search for reclusive author J. D. Salinger will readily show in the results that his work is zealously controlled by his son Matthew. The estate waited until 2019 to allow ebook productions of Salinger’s works and still hasn’t permitted audiobooks to be made.
I usually then search for the author’s obituary.
[author name] obituary
Once I find the obituary, I look for the names of the author’s agent, the publisher, and survivors. If the survivors live in a different city from the author, their city is usually listed in the obituary.
[survivor’s name] [city name]
Sometimes I need to search for a survivor’s name with the author’s name.
[survivor’s name] [author name]
I’ll usually get some hits, possibly including the survivor’s obituary if the book was published decades ago. I once wound up creating a family tree for one famous, early 20th century author!
Sometimes the survivor’s name will pop up on a site with some contact info, or I might see other tidbits that I can add to my search terms, like a business name or organization they are associated with.
If I don’t find those names in the obituary, I will do satellite searches with the author’s name, like
[author name] agent
[author name] manager
The author may have left their papers with a museum or university. If the archivist has created a finding aid for the papers, you may see contact info for the estate, especially if the material is restricted. I’ve also paid an on-site researcher to look through the contracts. I search for finding aids with this format:
[author name] papers finding aid
Once you’ve determined a promising contact name, you’ll need to find their contact information. If you’re living a charmed life, you might see an email address, web site, and/or phone number listed on one of the pages you’ve already reviewed.
Without that serendipity, you can do some more searches to look for those pieces to the puzzle.
My favorite Google search uses the site: modifier. Adding site: tells Google to only look at the pages of the specified site.
site:[sitename.domain] [search term]
As an example, LinkedIn.com becomes my personal rolodex with a search like
site:LinkedIn.com Macmillan subsidiary rights.
With LinkedIn, you can learn a person’s city and company name.
In this Tuesday Tip, I offer 3 ways to find the person’s email address.
Now that you’ve located a person who could respond about the audio rights for your book, your query to them starts a conversation about the audiobook. You could present yourself as the sub-contractor to whom they can hand off the audiobook production process, but don’t overwhelm them with a proposal, audio sample, or contract in the initial query.
We have to think of our queries from the point of view of the people who receive them. What would make you want to stop what you’re doing and get you excited about working with a random person who sent you an email? This Tuesday Tip gives you pointers for creating short and concise emails.
If you’re contacting a family member, I’d ask if that person manages the author’s literary rights or could direct you to the correct person. You might have a better chance of convincing them to let you produce it.
Be mindful that lawyers, agents, and publishers are less apt to hire a narrator they’ve never heard of to make an audiobook of unknown quality from a (probably backlist) book they weren’t even thinking about. Hiring a narrator means they have to make time in their already overloaded schedule to manage the audiobook production process, where they usually have no expertise and lack the time and/or inclination to learn.
Especially in the case of a well-known author, these folks are much more interested in licensing the rights — note that it’s not a purchase, but a license for a specified period of time.
If you want to learn about licensing rights, head to my Shop page, where you can purchase the fantastic webinar I did with Grammy-winning director, long-time audiobook distributor, and IP attorney Jessica Kaye on this very topic.
Some publishers and agents don’t want to license rights to an independent narrator. If they do indicate interest in getting an audiobook done, they might ask your license terms. You need to show everything you can to give them confidence in your ability to produce a quality product and promote it to increase sales. I’d be ready to offer the distributor name I’d plan to use and any other facts they’d need to trust me.
All of the research you’ve done may make you feel more emotionally attached to the book. You have to be prepared to let it go. Once someone expresses interest in creating an audiobook, the RH may shop the rights around to maximize their deal.
The good news is that millions of other books still need audio editions, so you can easily get interested in a different book!
Last updated 5/4/22