With me is Terry Lessig who produces books on CD, technically known as audio books, or more loosely known as books on audio.
I chose Terry for an interview about audio book publishing because his personal philosophies suit me. He’s honest and forthright. He has a subtle sense of humor. He’s sophisticated but never snobby. He’s….
I’ll stop there. I just like him a lot as a friend.
We met in an online writer’s workshop; hadn’t yet met in person. When I commented on something I couldn’t accomplish, Terry inadvertently gave me a slogan that was very apropos:
Did I mention that this man who publishes books on CD is also very wise?
He has quite an interesting history to tell about how his life led him to recording books on audio. It’s his history that makes him excellent at what he does.
Publishing books on CD has always interested me. I have a project in particular that I’m considering and Terry would be the expert to produce it.
Consider recording your book to CD. The demand for books for the blind and dyslexic is huge, and the gesture on their behalf immensely rewarding.
Some of the books Terry has produced are listed at the bottom. But please, enjoy this great interview too.
Terry W. Lessig
(MD) Welcome Terry. Great to speak with you again.
(TL) Always nice to talk with you, Mary. I appreciate this opportunity, and I’m flattered to be the first person you chose to interview on your new site. I really meant those nice things I said about your novel, The Ka. I wasn’t just trying to curry favor.
(MD) You really stunned me when you showed up at my book signing in Phoenix. Do you like surprising people like that? We talked about putting books on CD at that time too, didn’t we?
(TL) Yes, we did. And I do enjoy surprising people, but in a pleasant way. Bringing something unexpected into another person’s day is like putting a cherry on top of their sundae. It was already good, but the added treat—the idea that someone thought of you—makes it that much more enjoyable.
(MD) Have you always lived in Phoenix? Where are you from?
(TL) I grew up in a small town in north central Pennsylvania. Our family moved to Phoenix in 1967, when I was 14. The city grew up, and I grew up, and it seemed as good a place as any to live.
Then, as I began working in my own endeavors, it was a good base of operations. I’m close to LA for talent, and Southwest Airlines made Phoenix a major hub, so I can be anywhere I need to be in a matter of hours. It’s getting a bit too big, now. I’m not looking for a new home yet, but I may soon.
(MD) Tell me a little about your family, some of your personal life.
(TL) I thought you wanted people to read this, Mary. I was raised by wolves in cheap clothing. When they threw me out, I got married to Bonnie, who was a request girl at a radio station here. We’ve been together 35 years, and she’s long since stopped taking requests. Now, she’s a Certified Master Pedicurist. We have no children. Current household population—two humans, one Pomeranian, one grey-cheeked parakeet, all overseen by one crotchety cat.
I was an only child, and books became my early playmates. I come from a family of readers, and I was read to often when I was little.
I’m eternally grateful to my great-uncle who would put down his own reading material and invite me onto his lap whenever I came along dragging a worn Donald Duck comic book. No matter how often he had read it, each time he made it live as never before.
He was retirement age when I came along, so he was around a lot. I like to think he helped shape me, and I’m happy that his name, Wilson, appears in the middle of mine.
I grew up around oldsters, and friends would stop by to visit, and I’d listen to their stories. I was fascinated by their voices, how each one was different, and gave personality to their owners.
Each laugh was different, also. I remember those voices, and can hear them in my head now, some fifty years later. I wish I could go back in time and record them for all to hear. Perhaps it’s why I’m enamored with voices today.
(MD) I understand your career began in broadcast engineering. What are some of the occupations you’ve had before publishing books on CD?
(TL) Disc jockey, in the beginning, then production director in radio. After a few years, I worked in television engineering and did audio mixing, camera shading, master control, and ended up as a technical director for eight years.
A mentor saw me, and admired my work, so when he created a commercial film production company, he promised me enough freelance work to leave the 40 hour grind for a blissful week of 60 hours.
Now, my time was my own, so as always, I maximized it by selling my services to other film companies, working on such high profile advertising accounts as Revlon, Maybelline, Mattel, Wells Fargo Bank, United Airlines, and many others.
By then, my mentor had worked himself into a position at NBC, overseeing the production of seasonal promotions involving the stars of upcoming shows. He needed me, he said, so I dropped everything to work with him again. He fell ill and died suddenly a few years later, so I came home and built a recording studio to create radio programs and commercials so I wouldn’t have to get up at 4AM anymore.
Funny thing happened, though. A large semiconductor manufacturer came to me and asked if I’d be able to record their engineers reading technical material about the chips they were making, and then make hundreds of cassette copies of the recordings for them to send out to design engineers. Of course I said YES, and we began.
(MD) You said cassettes, not books on CD. They weren’t around at that time, right?
(TL) That’s right. They hadn’t told me they had thirty such manuals they wanted done. They probably thought I would faint. Now, not only was I in the recording studio business, but I had to supply thousands of audio cassette copies, and was in the duplication business as well.
In typical fashion, I maximized this opportunity and made high-quality cassettes for a number of companies. This chugged along until 2004, when the demand for analog audio declined dramatically. I closed the studio, and sold the remaining duplication equipment to a firm in Dallas.
While looking for the next opportunity, I began to assess what I really liked doing, and it turned out to be recording those technical manuals, which were nothing more than books, and making copies of them. About that time, books on CD began to climb in popularity, and AudioBookMan was born.
(MD) You're a lifetime member of Mensa, is that right?
(TL) Technically, I say I’m a life-long member. They have a program where you can pay a sum of money based on your age that will give you lifetime membership status.
Every year at renewal time I look at that and do the math, and I always feel like I’d be better off to pay as I go. Maybe I won’t live as long as they think I will.
I’ve been a member since 1979, when I was 26. I’d seen a sample test in Reader’s Digest, and I did very well on it, so I checked into taking the test for real.
In 7th grade, one of my teachers rode me hard because I got C’s in his class. He told me I was capable of better work, but he didn’t tell me how he knew this.
In school, I never studied. If I were interested in a subject, like chemistry, I’d get the top grades in the class, but if it weren’t of interest to me, I’d get C’s. I put the same amount of effort into studying—none—it’s just that things I liked stuck with me, or I paid better attention in class.
So, I took the Mensa test and learned what had been withheld from me in school. I had a genius IQ. No wonder Mr. Sherwin thought I should do better. He was right—I was capable of more. Now that I had been validated to myself, I was better able to trust my decisions.
The Mensa community, as you can imagine, are a strange lot. I use the membership to remind myself of my capabilities, not for any fellowship with kindred minds. Did I mention how strange they can be?
There’s a funny story my wife tells about the day of the test. I stopped at fast-food restaurant for an egg sandwich on my way to the four-hour test. She says I’d have gotten into the .999 Society if I hadn’t done that. Triple-nines are those whose IQ tests at the 99.9 percentile, while Mensa is only the 98th percentile.
(MD) You're also a published writer. Tell us about that.
(TL) Mensa, again. They put out a call for unique animal stories to be published in their national monthly magazine. At the time, I had a diabetic cat that had just succumbed to a rapid-growing pancreatic tumor, and while fresh in my mind, I wrote a story about him that was accepted for publication.
I love writing very short stories. I’m in awe of people like you who can write longer forms. I can’t focus that long. When I spend two weeks working on an audio book, I’ve had enough.
(MD) How long have you written? When did your interest in writing begin?
(TL) The very first thing I wrote was when I was a junior in high school. A group of us who were interested in the entertainment industry would spend a couple of after-school afternoons each month at a local TV station where a long-standing kids show was produced live.
Steve Clark and I wrote a skit expressly for the characters in the show. We presented it to the lead actor about five minutes before airtime one day, and he told us that they usually write their own stuff, but he’d look it over and get back to us.
Imagine our delight and surprise when they were performing our script, word for word, not fifteen minutes later. If you wonder why I like surprising people, Mary, it’s because I know the elation it can cause. Once you are the recipient, you yearn to pass that pleasure on to others.
(MD) Do you still write?
(TL) It might surprise you to know that I didn’t write anything for the next thirty years.
A friend suggested I join Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s on-line writing community, because I was searching for some short stories for an audio anthology. As I read stories, the idea struck me that I could do as well or better, so I began writing and submitting. It turns out that I am a poet, as well. Who knew?
(MD) You are too funny. I hope this comes across in the printed interview.
(TL) I write all the time. I write business proposals, rights contracts, cover copy, and my blog. Recently, a fellow blogger sent me a gift card for something I’d written on her blog. That was a surprise, and you know how I like surprises.
Another blog held a contest recently where you had to write a 250 word story based upon a picture. I looked at the picture, and dismissed the idea of entering. A few hours later while I was in the shower, a story came to me, and I couldn’t write it fast enough.
I like when that happens. Some call it The Muse, or Inspiration. I call it The Natural. It comes from writing; that which you do regularly comes more easily the more you do it. If you write, don’t stop. If you don’t write, stop that and write something everyday.
(MD) Who would you consider a mentor with your writing?
(TL) I used to receive a weekly newsletter about societal trends, and a monthly one about living life intentionally—creating your own reality.
I hesitate to mention the writer’s name because I need to tell you he turned out to be a shady character, skipping out on his financial responsibilities to both his family, and his business associates. But he could write beautifully, and passages he wrote would make me jealous that I had not written them.
Some lessons learned from him were costly, but he elevated my writing style unwittingly. If he had known, I think it would have cost me.
(MD) Are there any entities that have supported you, outside of family members?
(TL) Zoetrope.com got me started writing again. I had no support for my writing within my family. They weren’t opposed; they just didn’t lend any support. Perhaps I should tell them I write. That might make a difference in the level of support I receive.
For me, it’s easier to share my writing with non-family. Other writers understand the process, the drive, the ache to make an idea come alive on paper. Sometimes all that family understands is that you are at a keyboard with your back turned toward them when you should be taking out the garbage.
(MD) Who is your favorite author and what is it about their work that attracts you?
(TL) That’s a tough question. I like so many, and for different reasons. Peggy Noonan for her breezy narrative style that puts you right alongside her as she recounts her time with Presidents.
I love history, and no author writes history as well as David McCullough. Ayn Rand had large and interesting ideas, but economy wasn’t her writing style.
Here’s where books on CD shine. Why slog through a wordy tome that is heavy in content as well as heavy in your hands when Edward Herrmann is willing to read it to you?
(MD) What do you see as influences on your own writing?
(TL) I don’t write much fiction. I’ve always heard that we should ‘write what we know’ so I write about incidents from my childhood—memoir, mostly. I write it for me, so that I can remember it, and I usually have an epiphany of sorts as I see it unfold from a more mature perspective than I had at the time.
People I encountered, and how they impacted me, always seem to creep into my thoughts. Sometimes, I’ll hear the voice of someone I hadn’t thought about in years suddenly scream in my head, “Tell them about me!” As I do, it becomes clear how important that person was to me.
(MD) Do you have a specific writing style?
(TL) I hope I have my own voice, but I think our voices, as writers, are merely combinations of the voices of the authors we read. If that’s true, then it’s important to be well read so that the many voices are distilled into something unique, and it’s impossible for someone to read your work and see a specific influence.
(MD) Do these influences affect what you accept to convert to books on CD?
(TL) Not really. On the fee-for-service side of the business, I rarely turn anything away. If someone is willing to pay to convert books to CD, that’s their right to publish, and it’s sacred.
Of course, there are occasions where I feel I’m not the best person for the job, the material conflicts with my moral or ethical code, or I am too busy at the time it needs done.
On the publishing side, I have to like the story, or the author. There has to be something there that makes me want to share the book with the world, and I have to hear the book in my head.
As I read submissions, I imagine the story being read to me by certain voices—an audition, of sorts. If I can’t hear it, I won’t publish it.
(MD) You’re known as the AudioBookMan. How did you decide to begin publishing books on CD?
(TL) Only recently have I begun to publish under the AudioBookMan banner. I used to be just a service provider for authors, or other publishers who wanted to do occasional books on CD. I still do that, but now, when I run across an untold story that I find compelling, I can do it myself. I’ve enjoyed storytellers all my life, and this is just a natural progression for me, it seems.
(MD) Please provide the URLs for any of your Web sites. If more than one, state what happens on that site.
...is my main web site. There you can learn about my approach to books on CD, follow links to other industry sites, submit a form to receive a quote to produce books on CD, or email me with any questions you might have. It will soon link to a store where the books on CD I have produced can be purchased.
...is my blog. It was my goal, initially, to report something everyday, but it’s impossible. Some days, I just have nothing to say.
I run the blog site like a newspaper. There’s a news ticker at the top, local weather, the column, and some pictures related to what I’m working on. There’s a photo album of flowers from a photographer friend in Maine. Last fall she sent me a picture of a flower covered in frost, and in ten seconds I wrote a four-line poem that gave it voice. Periodically, she sends another, and I write a poetic caption as if the flowers are speaking. I’d like to see that project work into a book, eventually.
(MD) What types of queries or submissions do you wish to receive when people are interested in publishing their books on CD?
(TL) If they are publishing the title, all I need is the on-line form filled out and submitted so I can give them a price, and budget the time to do it. If they want me to publish any books on CD, I need a synopsis emailed. If it’s a story I think I’d be interested in, I’ll ask for a manuscript by snail mail.
I need reading material for my cigar and cognac times. I usually don’t take a long time to decide; there’s no editorial board here.
(MD) What do people need to know prior to contacting you to get their books onto CD?
(TL) My name, my email address. I know the rest of the stuff.
(MD) Terry, prior to this interview, you sent me one of your 4-CD set audio books. I remember receiving it and sitting there with my hands trembling. Your package was so professionally put together. Once I listened to the CDs, I realized that everything meshed – the cover art, the colors. Your product is outstanding.
(TL) Thanks, Mary, but I can't take all the credit. My passion is the sound, and I'm very careful to know what I can and can't do, so I use other professionals to handle the graphics. What I will take the credit for is being able to find the best people.
For instance, printing on paper is quite different from printing on plastic, so I work with a certain printer exclusively, and I have the CDs professionally silk-screened to match the cover. These operations are performed thousands of miles apart by people who don't know each other. They were chosen by me for their reliable color matches.
(MD) Do you ever reject someone’s book for audio? That is, are certain topics unsuitable for books on CD?
(TL) Cookbooks and books that are heavy with charts and graphs are difficult to translate into books on CD. In those cases, it is more convenient to have a printed book rather than fumble around trying to find a recipe, or a chart that goes with what the narrator is telling you. Audio is meant for convenience, but having it all on a page is sometimes more convenient.
(MD) What advice do you have for writers whose submissions for books on CD that you must reject?
(TL) Keep submitting. Use all the feedback you receive to improve your work. Look for a publisher that fits your work. Use common sense—don’t submit your cookbook to a house that publishes only vampire stories unless all your recipes call for blood.
(MD) Oh, Terry, that’s hilarious! Is there any kind of book content that you prefer not to work with?
(TL) I’m not a big fan of horror, or the dark side. I’ll spend a minimum of sixty hours working on a title, and that’s just too long to feed darkness to my brain.
(MD) Are you working on any audio book projects that you would like to share with us? We' d love to hear all about them!
(TL) I just finished Waldo McBurney’s My First 100 Years. He’s 104, now, and I’m checking to see if he’s the oldest person ever to record a book on CD. I spent four days with him in his hometown of Quinter, Kansas to record the book. There wasn’t a studio nearby, so I used a quiet room in the town’s library. I thought that was fitting.
(MD) What is it about his life…?
(TL) His story is important because it contains information that, if followed, will help us live long, fruitful lives. He was a joy to work with. I don’t talk about books I’m working on for other publishers. If they want people to know I did their project, it’s up to them to say. In my opinion, confidentiality is best.
(MD) You do seem to choose wisely for books on CD. Any others?
(TL) My next title is still being written. It’s called Chasing Hope, by Christine Walker. It’s an informational book for parents of an autistic child. The people who need this information need it now, and don’t have the time to read.
I’m also interested in a story called The Magic Gameboard, which I will publish if I can find a ten-year old boy who can perform it. I’m auditioning one in a week, or so. It has time-travel, a three-legged dog, an artist, and a pair of fifth-graders who push their fears aside and go on an adventure. When a story begins with a ten-year old writing his will, I’m hooked. It should do well because it mentions farts a few times.
(MD) How do you put out a call for submissions for books on CD?
(TL) I believe the stories that I’m supposed to do have a way of finding me. I haven’t formally sought submissions. I have a few places I look for rights postings, and I contact authors if their story seems interesting to me. Sometimes, manuscripts mysteriously appear in my mailbox. In the case of Waldo McBurney, I saw him on TV and wrote him a letter.
(MD) What type of copyright, if any, do you require for your part of the business?
(TL) Obviously, I can only deal with the owner of a work. You can’t make books on CD unless you have the necessary rights. The copyright always stays with the author. I buy the audio rights and pay royalties to the author on the books I publish on CD.
I do take a copyright on the finalized sound recording because that is my creation, except in the cases where I’m producing a book on CD for a fee. Then it is a work for hire, and the sound recording belongs to the party who hired me.
(MD) Once you record books on CD, do you also help the authors with promotion?
(TL) I promote the titles I publish, but it’s up to the publisher or author to promote their books on CD if I’ve been hired just to produce them. They should seek professional marketing assistance, which I am not. I can steer them in a direction, but I don’t have the time to actively engage in their marketing efforts.
I will say this, though. If I’m also chosen to manufacture books on CD for them after I’ve produced the master, they will likely find me more helpful with distribution ideas.
(MD) You promote yourself as an “on-demand” audio book producer. Would you explain what that means when a writer wants additional copies of the CDs? I imagine CDs can go into second and third printings just like books do.
(TL) By ‘on-demand’ I mean to say I’m a publisher’s audio department, and when they need a title produced, they can use me like I am part of their organization. Once finished, I’ll support them with large or small quantities of their titles. I’m not a place where someone can order one copy of something and have it made, like print-on-demand (POD) books.
I’m in the process of building an on-line store to sell single copies of the titles I publish. It will be up to my clients, though, whether or not they allow me to sell their titles as well.
(MD) How can readers of books on CD purchase any that you’ve produced?
(TL) Amazon.com, direct from the authors, or soon, my store on-line. When it’s functional, there will be a link from the blog and the web site.
(MD) What do you do to unwind and relax? Do you listen to books on CD? ....I'm joking!
(TL) I have very few interests outside of work because I love what I do. I even use work to relax—I’ll sit and review a manuscript while I have a cigar and a cognac. For me, sometimes life interrupts work, and it annoys me.
(MD) If you could leave your readers a legacy, what would you like it to be?
(TL) Go your own way. Forge your own path. Lead; do not follow. Find your bliss.
(MD) What advice can you give to writers just starting out that would help them understand the benefit of books on CD?
(TL) People are busy and are accustomed to multitasking. Books on CD give them a way to ingest the pleasure or knowledge from a book while performing mundane tasks, or during their commute to work. It makes them feel productive, and when the conversation demands to know if they’ve read a certain book, they are able to discuss it intelligently.
A certain segment of people are intimidated by the thought of reading a book. It seems like too much work for them, so they listen. Then, there are people for whom reading is a chore. They didn’t learn the skill well, or they must overcome dyslexia to enjoy reading. These people benefit, too.
(MD) Terry, it’s always an enlightening experience talking with you. Thank you for consenting to this interview about yourself and books on CD. You are in a promising niche at the moment because books on CD are in great demand.
(TL) It’s my pleasure, Mary. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with your audience, and I invite them to contact me if they have any questions about audio publishing.
Terry Lessig is AudioBookMan. If interested in converting your books to CD – or if you’re interested in bypassing the printed book format and want to go directly to books on CD – check out Terry’s Web site or blog.
Here are a couple of publications produced by AudioBookMan:
The Alien Abduction Handbook - a tongue-in-cheek look at what the abduction phenomenon might be all about, written by Peggy Johnson.
Other publications that Terry has produced as books on CD are The Marketing of Evil, read by author David Kupelian, Managing Editor of worldnetdaily.com. Also, Paul Batura's definitive biography of Paul Harvey titled Good Day: The Paul Harvey Story.
This has been a lengthy interview – as most of my interviews are. At times, due to time and space constraints, and with the interviewee’s permission, I cut a lot of information from an interview. That’s done to keep the focal point of the interview on track.
With Terry’s interview about publishing books on CD, I want to give a well-rounded sense of the man and his work.
Publishing books on CD is a relatively new capability and it’s important to report about a person who is an expert at his craft.
Books on audio is a run-away phenomena. If you wish to publish your books on CD, it’s important to connect with one of the few top people in the industry.
Audio book publishing is no simple task. But Terry Lessig, as AudioBookMan, is my choice for publishing books on CD.