I live in central London and every time I travel on the Tube, I see people reading … with headphones plugged in. They are listening to music at the same time as reading.
But what about using sound to actually enhance a book?
We're not talking about audiobooks where you are being read to, but a sound track that goes alongside your reading, one that adjusts to your reading pace.
Booktrack provides this kind of soundtrack for books.
Last year, I interviewed Paul Cameron, the CEO of Booktrack, and we talked about how Booktrack worked and what it offered readers. Click here to watch the interview.
I have a couple of sample chapters up at Booktrack and one fully-booktracked book, Day of the Vikings, so I am testing the waters because I find it fascinating.
But some authors are going all in and today, AD Starrling writes about her experience with Booktrack.
Why Booktrack is a such great platform by AD Starrling
I first came across Booktrack after reading a post on indie author Hugh Howey’s blog back in 2014.
As an author who writes with music and puts together individual playlists for my books which I make available to my fans on my website, the concept of reading an ebook while listening to a movie-style soundtrack was mind-blowing.
With the rise in ebook and audiobook sales over the last few years and more readers than ever before using their phones and tablets to buy and read fiction, the potential for Booktrack to be the next big thing in the reading world did not escape me. And it didn’t escape Hugh either.
Booktrack is not going to be for everyone.
Many readers enjoy their fiction in silence and will find the soundtrack distracting. But for the very large and growing generation of readers who love their mobile devices and are heavily into their music and films, Booktrack is something they are going to love. It will be an immersive experience unlike anything they’ve ever come across outside a movie theatre.
I was very excited when Booktrack approached me to work with them in November 2014. They thought my supernatural action-thriller series Seventeen would make great booktracks and the initial chapters I posted on the platform got such great reviews, I decided to turn all my novels and short stories into booktracks.
Soul Meaning (A Seventeen Series Novel: Book One) is the first novel in the series and is now available as a booktrack here.
As part of the launch, we gave readers the chance to produce a short booktrack for an extract from the book, which was a lot of fun!
Here's an interesting anecdote and food for thought for the skeptics out there.
I shared this trailer for the Soul Meaning booktrack with my newsletter subscribers and fans a few weeks ago and got some interesting feedback.
A lot of people who thought this would be an intrusive way of reading changed their minds after seeing what the platform can do and have been eagerly awaiting this release. So, don’t rule it out before you’ve had a read and a listen.
Production tips for using Booktrack
Making a booktrack is fun! The first time I went online and started working on the Soul Meaning booktrack, the experience was so thrilling it gave me chills.
Here are some extra production tips that have helped make my booktracks great examples of what you can achieve on the platform.
I would also advise that you watch the video tutorials available under the “Help” section and check out D.C. Grant’s book, The Booktrack Author User Guide.
And play with it. It’s the best way to learn.
1. General tips
Use headphones or earphones when “booktracking”. It makes the experience much better for the creator. Readers are also advised to read a booktrack with headphones or earphones.
When you first start using the platform, you can get carried away and find yourself being unproductive. To make it work for you, you need to develop a systematic approach to making a soundtrack. What follows is my system. Feel free to adopt it or modify it.
2. Finding a “track”
From here on, I am going to presume that you are at least familiar with the platform and know its basic elements.
After selecting a section of text, you can find a “track” of music, ambience, or effect in three ways. You can free type words in the search box, you can explore the different categories individually, or you can use a combination of both to fine-tune your search.
In the example above, I’ve chosen the adventure and mystery-thriller “genres”, the cinematic “style”, and the “determined-focused” emotion to find my music track. Note I can choose however many different elements of “genre”, “style”, or “emotion” I want to define a search, i.e. I am not limited to one “genre” per track search.
Note how I also added the word “desert” by typing it in the search box. There is only one “track” that fits this refined search; it’s called “Turbulent and Foreboding Music Track” and it’s 3 minutes and 10 seconds long.
The red arrow indicates what you will find under each music/ambience/effect track: these are “keywords” or “tags”. Over time, these will become familiar to you and will allow you to search for tracks faster. Had I typed “explorer” or “suspense” rather than “desert” in the search box, the very same music track would have come up.
The “+” button to the right of “Search” is where you can upload your own tracks to the Booktrack library. I have yet to do this and will likely never do but you may want to record a particular effect you can’t find and add it to the library to use exclusively in your booktrack.
3. Fine-tuning your track and the review panel
Above is a screenshot of the booktrack for King’s Crusade (A Seventeen Series Novel: Book Two).
When adding a new track or editing an existing one, a new window will appear at the top of the page. Note that you select sections of music, ambience, or effect to edit by clicking on the text. Depending on what tracks you have already added, your clicks will bring up “music”, “ambience”, and “effect” to edit in that order.
In the above example, I’ve selected my music track, which is called “C) Kaisik”. If I want to change this piece of music, all I have to do is click “Change Track”. I can also “Delete” it, select the text again, and add another music track. Whenever I make a change, I click “Save”.
Note the circle at the end of the music track. There will be a similar circle at the beginning of the track and these denote the start and end points of that particular track. You can lengthen or shorten this track by dragging the circle over the text. So if you want to extend this music over more text, just lengthen it instead of deleting it and adding it again. Similarly for ambience and effect.
When you first select a track from music, ambience, or effect, you will get a standard setting for “Volume”, “Fade in”, “Fade Out” and “Loop”.
This is where this stuff gets even more exciting.
Adjusting these functions can make a world of difference to your booktrack. And the only way to learn how to fine-tune this skill is to play with the platform. The first three are pretty self-explanatory. Note that the numbers in “Fade In” and “Fade Out” indicate seconds and I cannot emphasize how important it is to get the volume and fade in/out right. “Loop” is where you can repeat a short track over a long section of text over and over again. Say you’re doing a desert scene that takes up an entire chapter.
The ambience track you choose may be 1 or 5 minutes long. By looping it across the whole chapter, which could be 20 minutes long, it negates the need to select the section of text the ambience track will not cover and add it again. Looping works well for music and ambience but can be comical with some effects, so always listen to what you’ve done to make sure you’re happy with it.
At the bottom of the page are three important buttons. “View in Reader” allows you to read and listen to the booktrack in the actual reading app. “Reading Speed” is pretty self-explanatory; note that modifying the speed modifies the rate at which the sountrack is delivered, so the text and soundtrack will stay in sync no matter how slow or how fast you read. Next is the “Play” button.
This is the button I use to listen to and review the work I’ve done. It’s much faster than finding your text in “View in Reader”, especially when you’ve uploaded 100 000 words of your book. I suggest you use “View in Reader” for final pre-release checks or to check how your “Fade Out” is working.
4. Overlap, fade to zero, using music free sections
One thing that struck me when I first used the Booktrack platform was how jarring a chapter change could be in the actual reader app. Most creators end their music and ambience tracks, the longest and most powerful elements of the soundtrack, at the end of a chapter and begin anew with fresh music and ambience in the next chapter. As a reader, this ripped me out of the immersive experience and made me “stumble” in the story. I knew this was something I didn’t want in my own books and I was determined to find a way around it.
The answer is to overlap and use “Fade Out” to zero. In the example above, you will see that my music track starts in the prologue and extends into the next chapter. Similarly for ambience below in the same section of text.
You can totally avoid the jarring experience of a chapter change by overlapping music and ambience tracks across chapter transitions. The trick here is to choose how far into the next chapter you want the previous tracks to carry over (I suggest a sentence of two) and what length of “Fade Out” to use. Note that I used 10 seconds for the music and 4 seconds for the ambience. There are no hard and fast rules here, just experiment and see what it sounds like.
Also note that I use music and ambience even on the Chapter titles.
You can have text that is overlaid with two different music tracks or ambience tracks anywhere in the soundtrack, not just at chapter transitions. You can sometimes have more than two ambience tracks overlapping a section of text but be wary of creating too much “noise”. Using the correct length of “Fade Out” for the first music/ambience and the correct length of “Fade In” for the second piece of music/ambience is where the fine-tuning happens.
This used to take me a few minutes to do. It now takes me seconds.
If you don’t want to use overlap, then the other method to avoid too much of a jarring experience at chapter transitions is to select 0 seconds for the “Fade Out” of the final music and/or ambience tracks for that chapter. The best place to hear how this sounds is in “View in Reader”. If the person reading and listening to your booktrack stops at the end of that chapter, he won’t hear silence but ongoing music and/or ambience. If you use this method, be careful with how you “Fade In” music and/or ambience in the next chapter. Use a gradual, longer “Fade In” to gently get your reader into the next scene.
When Booktrack gave me the Soul Meaning booktrack to review, I noted that there were sections of text where there was no music. Although I found this initially a bit jarring, I have to admit that this can work well for specific scenes, especially if you’re building up to something big.
In the above scene in the red box, the text only has ambience and effects as the heroine finds herself running from the path of a bomb. We used a “heartbeat” effect to make this scene tense. And it worked rather well for this portion of the booktrack. Similarly, you can have sections of text that only feature music and effects, or music alone.
5. Booktrack in sections
It can be tempting to want to do all the music for a chapter, followed by the ambience and effects. My advice is to work in sections or scenes.
I normally do music, followed by ambience and effects. I once tried effects and ambience first, followed by music. I had to adjust the volume for my ambience and effects as music is normally such a predominant element of the soundtrack.
Thoughts on Marketing and the future of Booktrack
I have had many discussions with the Booktrack team about how to promote these unique products and I have to admit that advertising for booktracks is still in its infancy.
The market for booktracks is out there. The challenge right now is reaching it.
One idea would be to approach existing platforms that review and promote audiobooks and ebooks to see if they would be interested in looking at booktracks. I suspect many would.
The other idea is to link and advertise booktracks on powerful retail platforms such as Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. I’m particularly thinking of how you have the option to buy the ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audio book versions of the same book on Amazon. Although it would be amazing if you were also able to buy the booktrack version, I don’t know whether Booktrack is considering working with these companies right now.
The third idea might be some kind of bundling service where you could buy the ebook without the soundtrack and the booktrack together.
Things I have spoken to Booktrack about for future improvements of the platform:
1. Making a user-specific library folder.
Currently, I save tracks that I use a lot or that I’ve discovered and intend to use at some stage in specific Evernote files. I then refer to these notes when I’m making a soundtrack. I have suggested to Booktrack that they add a folder section to the creator’s dashboard, where you can list your most used music, ambience, and effects.
2. Improving text formatting.
Currently, the way the platform works means your text is very basic. You can “bold” and “italicize” but that’s pretty much it. All your lovely ebook formatting, font, and paragraph indents go right out of the window on Booktrack. You can indent all your paragraphs manually by using the space bar if you wish but I suspect you will soon decide you’d rather not do that. The way I understand it, for music, ambience, and effects to work properly on the platform and within the reader app, the text has to be in this simple format. I hope the company is working on changing this in the future.
When reviewing a completed novel the length of one of my books (100k+ words), the platform really slows down. This has to do with the size of the file and I believe Booktrack are making changes to improve the platform’s speed for creators.
4. Sales and royalties.
Booktrack have set a minimum threshold of $50 in sales before they start paying out royalties on a quarterly basis. Each payment will also include a detailed sales report. I hope that Booktrack will be able to provide monthly and even daily sales and earnings reports in future.
5. Pre-order and preview functions.
Booktrack made embedded widgets available earlier this year and I was the first author in the world to feature one on her website. They are currently reviewing this to limit the embedded view to one chapter or 10% of the book (currently the embedded widget gives access to the entire book) and they are also working on a pre-order function.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on Booktrack.
If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them below and join the conversation!
A.D.Starrling is the award-winning author of action thriller series, Seventeen. Born in Mauritius, AD is a now a pediatrician as well as an author and lives in the UK.
Connect with AD on twitter @adstarrling