The frustrating saga of how Deadly Enterprise (finally) got published on Audible.

For those of you who have been following the Mike Stoneman Group Facebook page, you know that I have been battling with ACX/Audible to get the audiobook version of Deadly Enterprise posted for sale on the Audible platform. Audible has the lion’s share of audiobook sales, so It’s rather important. Today – on June 3 – as I was in the middle of recording a podcast (stay tuned for information about that), I got the email from ACX that the book is now available – after a tortured journey.

I first uploaded the audiobook files of Deadly Enterprise to ACX/Audible and to Findaway Voices (the leading alternate distribution network) on February 6, 2020. Within a week, the audiobook was available for sale through Findaway Voices via Chirp, Barnes & Nobel (Nook), Kobo, iTunes, Scribd, and 37 other retailers within a week.

But not on Audible.

Audible’s technical folks at ACX are said to be understaffed and experiencing long delays. They said on their website that authors could expect their audiobooks to be processed with 30 days. Then, as February turned into March and I was still waiting, ACX sent out an email saying that the processing time would be 30 business days. Grrrrrr. I was planning to send out marketing materials for the audiobook versions of both Righteous Assassin and Deadly Enterprise (the first two books in the Mike Stoneman Thriller series), but I didn’t want to send it out until I could include the Audible sales links.

On March 18, 2020, I got an email from ACX. But, instead of advising me that the audiobook was available for sale, the email informed me that my audiobook files had been rejected by the ACX Quality Control team. I was livid. They waited more than a month, then rejected the book? It had taken less than a week for ACX to approve the audiobook files for Righteous Assassin. And that audiobook had a bunch of problems. The ACX email did not identify any particular files (chapters) that failed the QC process, but told me that some of my files had either too much or too little blank (quiet) space at the beginning (supposed to be 0.5 to 1.0 seconds) or end (supposed to be 1-5 seconds) of some of the individual files.

So, I carefully reviewed each of the 45 files that comprise the audiobook for Deadly Enterprise. I did find one file that inexplicably had 8 seconds of blank space at the end of the file. The requirement is between 1 and 5 seconds. I have no explanation for how that happened. But, technically it was out of compliance with the ACX standards. (Sure, they could have just deleted the last 3 seconds of the blank space, but why would they do anything to fix the problem.)

There was also one file that had no blank space at the end. The text ended at the end of a sentence, and there was a pause of maybe a half-second, and then the file ended. (WTF?) I could have sworn that I checked each file carefully to make sure each one met the specifications. When I listened to the end of the track, I realized that the end of the file was not the end of the chapter. (Again, WTF???) Somehow, in the process of putting the files together – perhaps when I was trying to delete excess blank space at the end of the track – I had deleted almost 10 minutes of text! This was not just a technical violation of the blank space requirements, it was a missing chunk of the book. In this case, the ACX Quality Control process saved me from sending out my audiobook with a big section of text missing.

It turned out that the place where the text was cut off was the end of a paragraph, and although not the end of the chapter, it made a little sense as a stopping point. The text that was deleted was not super-critical to the plot.

So, not the total end of the world. But, then I thought – Holy Crap! What about all the copies of the audiobook that have already been distributed via Findaway Voices on other retail platforms?? Were they also missing the 10 minutes of text? It turned out that the same file error was included in the Findaway Voices files. (Apparently, Findaway does not have as strict a QC process.) I was able to send amended files to Findaway so that anyone who bought the book would get an updated copy with the corrected text. Whew!

Now it was mid-March and I had to go back to the back of the queue at the ACX Quality Control desk and wait for them to review my revised files. I waited, and waited. March became April. Toward the end of April, I got another email from ACX. It was not the expected announcement that the book had passed the QC check. No – that would have been too easy. Instead, it was another rejection. This time, ACX told me that there were “noises” in the blank space that was supposed to be quiet “room noise” at the beginning or end of some tracks. They apologized that they had not flagged these problems when they rejected the files the first time. They did not specify which tracks had an unacceptable amount of noise (e.g., mouse clicks, breaths, scratches, etc.) inside the sections that were supposed to be quiet. I can’t express how frustrating this was! I was planning to send out my marketing email in early May. There was no chance that the audible version of Deadly Enterprise would be ready by the date of the newsletter. So, the newsletter went out without the Audible links. (Grrrr.)

I checked every file (track) of the audiobook, listening carefully for any stray noises during the 0.5 to 1.0 seconds of quiet at the beginning of each track, or the 1-5 seconds of quiet at the end of each track. What I found was that the level of “quiet” on different tracks was inconsistent. Some were more quiet than others. A few had clicks or breath noises. They were tiny and probably would never be noticed by a listener, but they were there. The solution was to delete all the blank space before every chapter, and the blank space at the end of every chapter. Then, I cut and copied a totally clean segment of quiet “room noise” that was exactly 0.8 seconds long and pasted that same segment into the beginning of each chapter. Then I pasted a similar segment that was exactly 4.3 seconds long to the end of every track. I then saved each track, converted each track to MP3 format, and uploaded each one to the ACX platform. This was effectively a complete re-do of the uploading process.

At the end, I did a spot-check of the beginning of each chapter, just to double-check that they were all uploaded in the correct sequence. I listened to “chapter 33 . . . chapter 34 . . . chapter 34.” Wait. What?? The file for chapter 35 was chapter 34. What happened to chapter 35?? Somehow, while saving the chapters, I had saved chapter 34 twice, once correctly naming it “035_Chapter34” (file number 01 is the intro, file 02 is Chapter 1) and once naming it “036_Chapter35.” Fortunately, I still had back-up files and was able to re-create the correct version of file 036 (Chapter 35) and upload it. Whew! Dodged another QC bullet there!

Now it was May. I was working from home because of COVID. My readers were asking – when will we be able to order the Audible audiobook? In mid-May, I got another email from ACX. They were very sorry, but the book was rejected again!! Really? This time, they identified two tracks (35 and 36) which had “noises” during the quiet sections that were supposed to be blank room noise. When I went in to check the files, I realized that track 36 was the one file that I had to fix during the prior upload because I had mis-labeled the file after the last rejection sequence. I had not cut-and-pasted the standard 0.8 seconds of quiet “room noise” at the head-end of that file. Instead, there was 1.1 seconds of blank space, that contained one audible click. It was not much, and it was really minor, but it was there. I fixed it. But, file 035 was perfect. I could not detect any issue at the front or back of that file. I uploaded the revised file 036 and send an email back to ACX’s QC team saying that I could not find anything wrong with file 035.

Today, on June 3 – almost four months after the original submission of my files – I got the email from ACX informing me that Deadly Enterprise is now available on Audible. The link is HERE. If you’re in the US and you are not already an Audible subscriber, you can make Deadly Enterprise your very first Audible book by using this special link.

Note that file 035, which was flagged as one of the two files was rejected, was approved this time around. I made no changes to that file. It was perfect the last time, but the ACX team flagged it as a problem. It wasn’t. I guess they didn’t want to reject a book based on one blemish on one file. So, they were happy to just make up another error. Whatever.

The long saga is finally over. Deadly Enterprise is available on Audible. Now I can send out my June newsletter and include the Audible links for my fans. It really shouldn’t take this much effort. But, the publication process for Deadly Enterprise is finally over. Meanwhile, book #3 in the series, Lethal Voyage is at my editor and should be published before the end of 2020. You can be sure that when I upload the audiobook files for the new book, the beginnings and ends of every file will be perfect – the first time!

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