In February 2020, Shane Robitaille released his third book and first novel, Rockit Crew: The Adventures of Teenage Hip-Hop Misfits. He was as excited as any author would be when this sort of thing happens and had a string of promotional events laid out for the following months. Then COVID-19 struck the USA, and in March Massachusetts, the state he calls home, announced a shelter in place order.
Businesses and schools shut down. Public gatherings were canceled.
Not to be held back by this turn of events, Robitaille did some thinking and took his marketing online. He also decided to do an audio version of the book, an experience which gave him insights that would be useful for many writers. Valley of Writers spoke to him about his journey to audio publishing.
Your book was published in February, just before everything was shut down because of COVID-19. How did this affect your launch plans?
The paperback and e-book were published just a few weeks before COVID-19 changed everything. All of the physical events were initially postponed and ultimately canceled when it became apparent COVID wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I had to roll with the punches though and had to be creative. I ended up doing some really cool interviews and events via an American podcast called Decoding The Muse, The Storyteller’s Cottage on YouTube, and Disco Scratch, British radio show/podcast. I have more virtual events in the near future. I’ve also had to up my social media game, which is a lot of work, but has helped increase exposure for the book.
1984 was almost thirty years ago. What spurred you to write this book now?
The characters and situations in the book are based on my best friends when I was a teenager in the mid-80s. The book actually started as a bunch of short stories and short indie screenplays that I wrote for a youth film school. I started writing the novel in late 2018 and finished in early 2020. Although this is my third book, it is my first novel. I don’t think I could have written the novel without the life experience I’ve had since being a kid in the 1980s. I think if I tried to write it in the 90s or early 2000s it would have lacked a perspective that I wanted it to have. Whether it took place in the 80s, 90s, or today, the themes in the novel are universal and really transcend decades.
You said you wrote this book mainly in the evenings. Mainly on Monday evenings to be specific. Can you speak a bit about your writing process and why the writing bug hits you at the beginning of the week?
For Rockit Crew, I approached the writing from the perspective of a film director. I pictured every scene as if I was a director on the set of a film, looking out at the world through the lens of a camera. This film perspective informed the dialogue and every scene in the novel. I find this perspective reminds me to SHOW the reader what is happening, versus just telling them what is happening. As far as Monday nights go, this was mostly because of my work and family schedule. With another career and being a dad, Monday nights made the most sense. I tend to be a slow writer and don’t do a great job multitasking, so writing for a few minutes whenever I had a chance wasn’t really an option. As I said in a recent interview, finding real time to write, and then protecting that time, is a struggle many writers have, especially when they are balancing family and other responsibilities. I looked forward to Monday nights with a passion every other day of the week and cherished the time I could go back in time and hang out with the Rockit Crew in the summer of 1984.
Soon after your book came out, you started working on getting an audio version released. How did this part of the journey begin?
Initially I wasn’t interested at all in an audiobook, mostly because I didn’t know anything about audiobooks, but also because I had these romantic ideas about what a book should be. A book is something you should be able to hold and see, right? As the weeks and months wore on the COVID world, I learned that a lot of people were listening to podcasts and audiobooks more than ever. I quickly got over my romantic ideas and decided to jump into this bold new world. I’m really glad I did because the experience was very rewarding, I learned a lot, and couldn’t be happier with how it came out. The publisher, producer and voice actor brought the paper to life in an exciting and tangible way.
The audiobook is now out – barely 5 months after the publication of the book. Do things usually move this fast in the audio world?
The length of time an audiobook takes to develop and publish depends on how the author does it. For me, I went through ACX, the Audio Creation Exchange. With ACX, everything moves pretty quickly. As the author, my biggest responsibility was selecting the producer, which only took a few days. After that, it’s just working with the producer to ensure they have all the information they need about the book and characters. Once the producer starts developing the audiobook, my only input was approving each chapter after it was completed. I imagine it might take a lot longer if an author chooses to read the book themselves and/or develop and publish the audiobook independently.
What are the biggest lessons you learnt from your audiobook journey?
If you’re going to invest the time and energy in writing something awesome, then you should strongly consider making it available in formats that readers prefer. Not doing an audiobook would have excluded a lot of people from enjoying the Rockit Crew story. It’s the same with e-books; I’m not a big fan of e-books but I know so many folks love them. Meeting your audience where they are is important.
Selecting the best producer for your book is so important. For me, I wanted the opportunity to “meet” the producers before I selected somebody. After I narrowed the candidate list down to a few, I scheduled video meetings with the candidates to get to know them, beyond the short audition that I heard. I ended up selecting an awesome producer who not only had the skills and experience to do a stellar job, but was excited and believed in the story and characters. The last thing I did with the producer was providing the back story and details around the characters. Similar to casting a film, I wanted to ensure the producer had as much information as possible about each character.
For writers out there looking to have their books available in audio format, how do they begin the process?
If you’re interested in ACX, check out their website (www.acx.com); it’s pretty straightforward.
Rockit Crew (The Adventures of Teenage Hip-Hop Misfits)
By Shane Robitaille
Find him on Twitter: @ShaneRobitaille
Available internationally in paperback, e-book and audiobook
Synopsis: In the summer of 1984, four best friends become hip-hop outcasts and learn about the power of friendship, life, death, and how hard it is to be unique in a town that doesn’t always welcome those who are brave enough to be different.