ACX Storytellers: Joe Hempel

Joe Hempel Stats

Audible Approved Producer Joe Hempel took up audiobook narration and production on a dare. Over the next few years, he invested his full focus into learning his craft, and made audiobook production his full time career in 2017. 176 audiobooks and 6 ABR Listener’s Choice nominations later, Joe joins us to share the highs and lows of his journey and the value of leaning on his fellow creatives in times of need.

Q: How did you become an ACX Producer?

A: I became a narrator/producer in an odd way. Back in 2014, I was starting to gain some traction as a book reviewer, writing for sites like Horror Novel Reviews. I reviewed an audiobook, and while I took pains to avoid being overly harsh, I did give it a poor review. I was later contacted by the narrator and told “If you think you can do so much better, you do it.” I had always enjoyed books, and I loved audiobooks for the way the narrator’s performance brought the book to life, so I took the challenge. I did a little bit of research and found my way to ACX back in late 2014. I happened to notice that an author I’d recently reviewed had a book up for audition, so I reached out, and ended up producing his audiobook. At that point I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons, but I realized that this was something I loved. About 3-4 months later, I still found myself longing to be a part of the publishing world. So, I came back with a new perspective and built up from there.

Q: How did you make the leap to full-time audiobook narrator/producer?

A: In late 2015, I was at something of a crossroads in my life. I found myself shopping for my kids’ Christmas presents at the Dollar Tree because I had no money. I felt like a failure because I wanted to provide for my kids better than I was provided for, and I wasn’t doing that. At that point, I made a conscious decision: I was never going to be in this position again, and I was going to make sure of that by getting good at audiobook production. From there, I became more active in online audiobook communities like the Indie Narrators and Producers group on Facebook. I listened to everything those who came before had to say, I watched what they did, and I took as much audiobook work as I could handle. I picked some winners (and some non-winners) on the Royalty Share side, but I kept at it and started to see an upward trend to my abilities and earnings. This took a lot of sacrifice, including sleeping three hours a day in order to do both audiobook work and my full-time job.

In the middle of 2016, I started to get a good mix of both Per-Finished-Hour work and Royalty Share work. By the end of 2016, my royalties were closing in on my monthly salary at my full-time job. I figured if I could keep finding good titles and marketing myself as a serious narrator, things would continue to improve. I was beginning to learn how to network by watching how narrators I admired utilized social media, and how to market myself to authors that didn’t have audiobooks. People were now approaching me to produce their titles! All my hard work was starting to pay off, but there was still something missing, and I didn’t figure out what that was until a few months later.

Tempt the Playboy

Joe and Melissa teamed up to co-narrate this romantic comedy on ACX.

Q: What was it that you were missing?

A: A creative partner. In my opinion, it’s incredibly important to have that one professional colleague you can talk openly with, someone who keeps you focused and motivated when you feel like a fake, who you can celebrate the successes and excitement with. For me, that person is Melissa Moran. We began working together in 2016 when Melissa posted in the Indie Narrators and Producers Facebook group, seeking a partner for dual POV (that is, male and female) romance narration. I was looking to give the genre a try, so I put my hand up, we submitted together, and ended up landing the book. From there, a natural friendship bloomed. Since we were at roughly the same point in our careers, we kept the same crazy schedule. We made audiobook production our full-time careers within a few months of each other, and we started getting hired by publishers around the same time. We found ourselves comparing notes more and more, and in the beginning of 2017, we started working as a dual romance narration team (and marketing ourselves as such).

Melissa is someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to complain to when things aren’t going well, someone to share celebrations with. We check in on each other’s progress, offer encouragement, and help build confidence. We seem to do better together at conventions and workshops than we do separately. It’s wonderful to know that someone is there to question my sanity when I’m about to make a wrong turn or to give me the lift I need when I’m down. Almost a year and a half later, we are still celebrating successes and trading marketing ideas. I encourage everyone to find that person. This can be a solitary business, but no one person will make it without someone else’s help.

In 2017, I made more money than I’ve ever seen in my life on ACX, and with that encouragement, I fired my boss. I quit my job mostly due to what I was making on ACX royalties. At almost 40 years old, I finally feel like I’ve got a handle on life, but it all started with clicking “I’m Done” on that first project.

Q: How do you make sure you continue to grow and improve in your audiobook career?

A: For one, I listen to audiobooks every day. You absolutely cannot be successful in this business without being an avid audiobook listener. Listen to those that are better than you; listen to those that are where you want to be. I’m a big audiobook fan, so I’ve turned the passive listening I’d be doing anyway into active listening that helps make my own performances better. If I’m trying to build a specific skill, like giving an engaging nonfiction read or transitioning between moods in a novel, I’ll listen to something by Sean Pratt or Scott Brick. When I’m looking to develop character voices I’ll study Marc Thompson’s work on the Star Wars audiobooks. I try to learn as much as I can from these performances before I start bugging fellow narrators for tips or advice.

I’m also continuously getting coaching and attending workshops. I have studied with Sean Pratt and Scott Brick, I’ve used Jeffrey Kafer’s Audiobook Mentorship a few times, and I’ve gone to workshops put on by Johnny Heller and others. These are some of the top people in the business, and for good reason! Listen to them, and take their advice.

Q: What is your favorite piece of studio gear?Audio Booth

A: My booth and everything inside it. I enjoy horror pop culture. I’ve got a signed Pop! figure and mask from Kane Hodder, a mask from Derek Mears, and a signed machete from CJ Graham—all of whom played Jason Voorhees in various Friday the 13th films. They keep me company while I’m spending hours upon hours in there.

Q: Do you have a fun hobby or skill unrelated to your audiobook work?

A: I worked in professional wrestling for 10 years in production and as a referee, and got to meet most of the wrestlers you see on TV today (if you’re into that sort of thing). I also play fingerstyle guitar and have built up a nice little collection of vinyl records. I’ve always got something spinning, whether I’m prepping a book or writing this blog post. The words you’re currently reading were soundtracked by Rod Stewart/Faces Live from 1973.

Joe Hempel has entertained listeners with over 175 audiobooks ranging from horror to romance, and mystery to non-fiction. Joe still lives in Cincinnati with his three amazing children, enjoys running marathons, and bringing words on a page to life. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

This Week in Links: March 26 – 30

For Producers:

3 Trends in VO Shaping Your Future – via Dave Courvoisier – “CourVO” has recently spotted of some emerging themes in the voiceover industry, and he highlights a few for you here.

Voice-Over Is NOT Easy Money – Success Follows Hard Work And These ‘Must-Haves’ – via Voice-Over Xtra – Voice actor Natasha Marchewka offers her look at the items and skills you need to possess for success in VO.

7 Places to Learn Audio Editing for Audiobooks – via Karen Commins – Regardless of your preferred digital audio workstation (DAW), Karen’s got a directory of her favorite resources to make the most of it.

How to Get Voice Work: Define Your Brand As A Voice-Over Artist – via suchavoice – “A brand is what sets you apart from your competitors – it’s a reason for potential clients to work with you! A strong personal brand can also help you get voice work.”

For Rights Holders:

8 Tactics To Try When Seeking Media Coverage For Your Book – via BookMarketingBuzzBlog – “[S]ome of the best ways to promote or market a book may be unusual, less common, even seemingly counter-intuitive…So what might help that often isn’t tried by others?”

How to Market a Book: 10 First Steps – via The Write Practice – Every new book you publish (and each format you publish it in) is a good excuse to go back to the basics of book marketing. Do have each of these steps covered?

Ready Player One: 3 Painful Lessons About Success for Writers – via Writer’s Digest – The smash hit book’s success may just be attributed to some factors authors would rather not consider.

A Fitness Routine for Social Media – via The Write Conversation – “We all know the importance of staying in shape. Today I’m going to give you a workout plan to keep your social media life in shape. To stay efficient at social media we’ve got to be lean. After all our goal is a writing life, not a marketing one.”

This Week in Links: March 12 – 16

For Rights Holders:

9 Types of Pitches to Use When Promoting Your Book – via The Book Designer – “The success of your book depends on approaching people, companies and groups and asking for their help to publicize, promote and sell it… Here are nine things consider when it comes time to pitch your book—before, during or after your launch.”

How To Promote Your Book Like My Self-Promoting Kid – via Book Marketing BuzzBlog – Learn how emulating 13-year-old Ben in three key ways can help you shine light on your latest audiobook project.

How to Implement the Ideal Content Strategy to Grow Your Author Brand – via ALLi – “Jyotsna Ramachamdran, founder and director of Happy Self-Publishing, asks why a carefully curated content strategy is so important for authors, and how to build and implement one.”

Is a Press Release Still a Good Book Promotion Tool? – via Author Marketing Experts – AME offers a ruling on this tried and true technique. Take note of the rules you’ll want to follow to make sure your press release breaks through the crowd.

For Producers:

A Voice Artists Shouldn’t Just Talk. Also Listen to Yourself – via Edge Studio – Read up on the value of including time to listen back to past performances in your daily practice sessions.

Let’s Talk About Your Jaw – via Dr. Ann Utterback – Stress can wreak havoc on your jaw, which in turn can disrupt your vocal performance. Never fear – the doctor’s got some exercises that can help relieve tension and build strength.

Celia Siegel’s Voiceover Achiever – via Paul Strikwerda – “The big question in our industry used to be: Do you have a beautiful voice? Do you know how to act? Those are still important. But they’re no longer enough. These days the question is: Are you brandable?”

ACX U Presents: Ahead of the Curve: Prospecting for Pros – via ACX – Audible Approved Producers Steven Jay Cohen and Neil Hellegers discuss the finer points of researching authors with books not yet in audio and bringing them to ACX to produce their audiobook.

Audible Introduces Author Profile Pages

Authors, put your headphones on and listen up: It’s now even easier for listeners to find you and your audiobooks on Audible. Audible recently launched Author Pages to highlight you and provide a homepage for your audiobooks on Audible. Today, we’ll take a look at these new pages and how they can help listeners learn more about their favorite audiobook authors.

Paging Audiobook Authors

An example Author Page. Click to expand

Your Audible Author Page is your fans’ one-stop-shop for learning about you and your audiobooks. Your page is built on the information you provide to your Amazon Author Central profile, and features your author photo, biography, and your Audible audiobooks.

Listeners can find these new pages by clicking on your name any time it appears on Audible: on genre pages, in search results, on your book’s product detail page, etc. You can also direct your fans to your page via links on your website and in social media posts.

How can you make the most of these new Audible Author Profile Pages? Glad you asked!

  1. Make sure you’ve got an up-to-date bio in Amazon Author Central. Listeners love learning about their favorite authors, and it helps you connect with them in an authentic way. Ensure your bio includes your latest links and a clear headshot.
  2. Share your Audible Author Profile Page with your fans. Inviting your fans to learn more about you on Audible is a great way to entice them to listen to your books in audio and set yourself up to earn those $50 Bounty Payments for turning them into Audible subscribers.

Audible Author Pages are another tool in your audiobook marketing toolbox. Work regular updates to your profile into your marketing plan, and schedule posts that highlight it to your fans on your favorite social media platforms. With Audible Author Pages, you can connect with your fans, invite them into your world, and give them something great to listen to while they’re there.

Be Good, Be Ready, Be Lucky

ACX author Joshua Gayou snagged all-star Audible Approved Producer R.C. Bray to narrate his debut novel, Commune: Book One, after he approached R.C. during a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). But before that fateful question, Joshua set himself up for a ‘yes’, putting the right pieces in place to catch lightning in a bottle. Joshua joins us today to share the work that enabled his audiobook achievement.

ACX author Joshua Gayou

Working with Audie Award-winning voice artist R.C. Bray has resulted in the audio version of Commune: Book One outselling both the eBook and print formats of the title, sending it to the #1 position on Audible’s post-apocalyptic genre charts for several weeks. Not too shabby for a debut novel by a completely unheard-of author, no?

I have written at length on why I believe audiobooks are the new place to be in today’s market, but for this article, I wanted to offer some insight into how I managed to have a book produced and performed by R.C. Bray, given my relative obscurity. Sadly, there is no fast and easy answer to this. There is a lot of groundwork to have in place before you ever approach the narrator of your choice. Here’s what I recommend.

1. Be Good

The importance of this concept cannot be overstated. I truly believe R.C. Bray would not have signed on to produce my audiobook if he had not been wowed by my writing. Generally, the steps necessary to become a good writer will vary from person to person, but all involve a great deal of practice.

  • Read/listen to lots of books to learn what works well and what doesn’t with regard to telling a story using the written/narrated word.
  • Do a lot of writing and share your work with people you trust. Most importantly, ask for blunt criticism.
  • Write with a view toward the audiobook production process. Concern yourself with narrative flow, delivery, and dialogue structure.

2. Find a Way to Distinguish Yourself from the Herd

I know I just told you to be good, but I’m going to reveal the hard truth: good writers are a dime a dozen. You’ve also got to be refreshing. One way I’ve done this for myself has been to consume a great deal of similar media from other creators with a hyper-critical eye. You know that jerk that’s always picking apart movies and TV shows to a surgical degree to discover what’s wrong with them? Yep, that’s me. I’m looking for things that I don’t like, and if the opportunity presents itself, I actively work to avoid those tropes and clichés in my own work.

If you focus on finding some way to make the story an uncommon reader experience, and more importantly, if the result of that focus is exciting to you as the writer, you’re most likely on the right track.

3. Make Sure Your Work Fits the Narrator

The better narrators tend to be very protective of their brand, as they should be. A performer of any type wants a project that will favorably show his or her talents. Be sure to research your dream narrator’s body of work and learn what projects he or she typically likes to pursue. If you’ve written a gritty procedural crime drama and the performer you’re looking at spends most of their time in the fantasy and cyberpunk genres, you may not have the best chance of getting that person on board with your project.

Both R.C. Bray and I enjoy a good apocalypse story; I know this because I’m a fan of his. To set yourself up for success, do your research on both the type of project you’re looking to publish as well as the people you’ll want to work with along the way.

4. Get a Narrator on Board

Up until this point, everything has been under your control. Now you have to convince someone else that your story is worth investing in. No one is going to just dive in to help you make your book, unless they think there’s a payday on the other side of their efforts. Narrators do this for a living, after all.

Audible Approved Producer R.C. Bray

I started by connecting with my favorite narrator via social media. I was a fan of R.C. Bray’s for a few years before I ever signed him for my books. I followed him on Facebook, I interacted with him, and made it a point to let him know that I appreciated and supported his work. This was not for the purpose of schmoozing him to do my books; I hadn’t even written any at the time. But we built a rapport such that, when he hosted a Reddit AMA (and I actually had written a book by this time), I felt comfortable asking him about the steps necessary for a newbie to break into the audiobook business, which he graciously answered in a private email. Unbeknownst to me, he also went and downloaded a copy of my book, and after reading the first chapter, decided that he wanted to produce it.

It was a lucky break, absolutely, but a lucky break that would have never happened had I not done the work outlined above and made it a point to reach out and connect. Work on your craft, study the industry, find ways to connect with those narrators you most enjoy, and interact on a human level. This is the best advice I can offer to help you open up your own doors. Good luck!

Joshua Gayou is the author of the best selling novel Commune: Book One, the first entry in the Commune Series Tetraology. He lives in Southern California with his wife Jennifer and son Anthony. When he isn’t writing, he divides his time between being a senior engineer in the avionics industry, accomplishing tasks around the house as assigned by his wife (The Boss), and goofing off with his kid. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog

This Week in Links: February 12 – 16

For Producers:

The Difference Between ‘Urgent’ & ‘Important’ Makes A Difference In Your VO Career – via Voice-Over Xtra – Casting director Hugh Klitzke offers a lesson in emotional recognition and how it can help your VO business.

You Can Pick Your Nose, But You Can’t Pick Their Brain – via Dave Courvoisier – Get a lesson on the etiquette of  seeking free advice from a VO mentor and the topics that are and aren’t recommended for discussion.

Do You Really Need a Bio? – via Natasha Marchewka – As a freelance professional, you’re constantly on the hunt for that next gig, which makes a compelling, up-to-date bio a must-have.

Voice-Over Is a Fun Business. Listen to These Hilarious Clips – via Edge Studio – Give yourself a breather with these entertaining outtakes.

For Rights Holders:

Use Quirky Holidays in March for Book Marketing – via BuildBookBuzz – Learn about some truly wild holidays coming up and how to leverage them for your audiobook marketing.

Writing Tip: Make It Clear Who Is Talking…but Not Too Clear – via CreateSpace – Bestselling author Maria Murnane has great advice on writing vocal tags that’s especially helpful when writing with your audio edition in mind.

Writing A Book Marketing Plan: 7 Ways That Will Guarantee Success – via BookBuzzr – Spelling out your book marketing goals at the start can give you a reliable map to follow to achieve success.

ACX U Presents: The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook – via ACX – Listener reviews are a critical part of the sales ecosystem for your audiobook, with many listeners basing their purchasing decision on critical commentary. In this video, the editors of Audiofile and Audio Book Reviewer reveal how they choose which audiobooks make their listen lists.

This Week in Links: February 5 – 9

For Rights Holders:

Five Marketing Tools for Authors Who Hate Marketing – via Writer Unboxed – “If you’re a writer and you’re on social media, have a website, blog, or even just talk about your work with friends, you’re already marketing. So here are five inexpensive and relatively easy-to-use tools to help optimize the marketing you’re already doing.”

How to Collaborate Effectively with Other Indie Authors In Your Genre – via ALLi – Find out what happened when one author decided to stop competing with his fellow writers and start building a shared fan base.

Book Marketing (and Publicity) is not About Book Sales – via Author Marketing Experts – Learn why “exposure,” while harder to measure than unit sales, can be just as important an area of focus as the number of (audio)books you sell.

15 Ways to Strengthen Writer Courage – via Live Write Thrive – Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome? Are there steps you’d like to take in your career, if only they didn’t seem so daunting? Read on to find ways to overcome your fears and access your inner strength.

For Producers:

Who Are Finalists For The Coveted 2018 Audio Publishers Association Audie Awards? – via Voice-Over Xtra – Audible has racked up 28 nominations, including 6 titles published by ACX Producers and Rights Holders! Check out the full list of nominees.

3 Things to Consider Before You Build Your Voice Over Studio – via Marc Scott – Follow along as the VO pro and coach shares lessons (and photos) from his own home studio construction process.

The Superbowl’s 3 Big Lessons for Voice Actors – via Dave Courvoisier – “It’s not often I find inspiration in professional sports…but there is much to be noted in the successful portrayal of the truly deserving individual who masters spectacle, excellence, and legacy.”

ACX U Presents: Beyond the Booth: Monetizing Your Voice – via ACX – Find out how to make sure the time you spend off-mic is just as lucrative as the time you spend on it.

 

This Week in Links: January 29 – February 2

For Producers:

3 Reasons Why You Need a VO Accountability Partner – via Dave Courvoisier – Learn the benefits of an honest relationship with a trusted colleague and how to select the right person for you.

Three Characteristics Of Successful Voice Actors: What Keeps Them On Top? – via Voice-Over Xtra – “I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.”

The Voice Actor’s Law of Diminishing Returns – via Backstage – “I was willing to buy into the lie rather than face the truth that the marathon path to success in VO requires persistence, savvy, patience, hard work, facing your demons, and overcoming your fears.”

Is Your Portfolio Demonstrating the Best You? – via Natasha Marchewka – Are you highlighting the full breadth of your abilities on your ACX profile, your website, and elsewhere? Natasha’s got tips to make the most out of your promotional real estate.

For Rights Holders:

Why Focused Goals Can Help You Sell More Books – via a marketing expert – “If you have no direction other than “book sales” you’ll often make bad decisions, spend money you shouldn’t have, and end up nowhere near the final, end goal of selling more books.”

Submit Your Book to Holiday Gift Guides – via The Book Designer – Getting your audiobook listed in a book guide can be a great way to expose your work to tons of potential listeners. Note that you needn’t wait for the year-end holidays to take action on this tip.

What Your Brand Needs – via CreateSpace – What’s the one simple trick that will make your author brand more interesting to your fans? CreateSpace’s Richard Ridley offers his answer.

How to Get Kicked Out of a Facebook Group – via Build Book Buzz Facebook groups are a hotbed of fan activity and a great place to connect with listeners. Make sure you conduct yourself appropriately by checking out this list of “don’ts.”

This Week in Links: January 22 – 26

For Rights Holders:

‘Failed’ Songwriter Goes Up Against Bruce Springsteen for a Grammy – via Variety – Have you heard? ACX’s first Grammy nomination is for Shelly Peiken’s Confessions of a Serial Songwriter. Learn about Shelly and her road to the nomination here.

Free Book Trailer Templates – via Adazing – Trailers work, especially for audiobooks! So, team up with your narrator, and use this guide to create one with software you probably already have on your computer.

How to Jumpstart Book Reviews for Self-Published Books – via The Book Designer – These easy-to-follow tactics can help you get audiobook reviews too, of course.

Indie Author PSA: Do NOT Do These Things in 2018 – via Author Marketing Experts – When setting goals for success, it can be helpful to remember actions you’ll work to avoid.

For Producers:

From Couch to Mic: How To Market Your Voice-Over Skills – via suchavoice – “What does ‘market myself more’ or ‘get more gigs’ look like to you? What do you do every day to make that happen?”

5 Tips for Working From Home – via Marc Scott – Let Marc show you the way towards achieving a healthy work/life balance when your home is your office.

Surviving the Gig Economy – via Paul Strikwerda – “Today I’d like to share a number of attributes I believe to be the trademark of any successful solopreneur. If you want to make it on your own, you have to be…”

4 Ways to Avoid Shooting Your VO in the Foot – via Dave Courvoisier – “We make enough mistakes on our own through impatience, inattention, sloppiness, or just plain ole pig-headedness.  Why add to your troubles with stupidity?”

This Week in Links: January 7 – 12

For Producers:

When You Don’t Know What To Do – via Natasha Marchewka – Now is a great time to jump on board with Natasha’s 2018 series teaching you to “pull your business together, get on track, and keep your ducks in a row.”

Stop Talking for a Better Voice – via Dr. Ann Utterback – This counterintuitive advice makes sense once you read when you’re recommended to abstain from speaking.

Voiceovers And The New Tax Code – vi Tom Dheere – If you have questions about how the new tax code will affect your VO business, Tom’s got you covered. Part two can be read here.

Talk British To Me!’ … A Desirable Talent  For Voice Actors – Here’s What To Practice – via Voice-Over Xtra – Add another accent to your repertoire with this advice from VO  Sarah Mitchell.

For Rights Holders:

How to Build Your Brand in 2018 – via CreateSpace – Author Richard Ridey has three quick tips to improve your promotions in 2018.

Jump-Start Your Writing: 3 Myths That Hinder Creativity—and How to Conquer Them – via Writer’s Digest – If you’re battling writer’s block, it may be time to unlearn some of the less helpful pieces of wisdom you’ve come to believe.

10 Critical Author Marketing Lessons We Can Learn from Apple – via where writers win – From keeping it simple to developing an aura of mystery, this fun infographic has a number of helpful ideas.

Masterful Narrative Scenes in Novel – via C.S.Lakin – The more compelling the book, the more appealing it will be to narrator and listeners alike.