Tucker Max may not be the first New York Times bestselling author to use ACX, but he’s certainly one of the most skilled at understanding and adapting to the new paradigm for publishing success today. Max had a flourishing website and a TV deal before selling his first book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, which became a bestseller in 2006 thanks to Max’s tireless promotion of his book (and himself) and his ability to connect with his fans through the internet. Since that initial success, Max has published two more bestselling books, built a legion of fans through social media and word of mouth, and in another example of forward thinking we particularly like, he just made two of his books in audio himself through ACX. Since Max personifies the idea of author empowerment we talk about so much at ACX, we thought other ACX users might learn something from a Q&A, to which Max generously agreed. Thanks, Tucker!
How did you discover ACX?
I found out about ACX through my old assistant, Ian Claudius. He’s now running a publishing start-up I invested in, and he came to me with the idea of retaining my audio rights and just doing the audiobooks myself. I thought it was a great idea, and I was in.
You’ve now narrated four of your books. What makes the audiobook format important to you as an author? Do you think the audio format is becoming more important for authors?
I actually didn’t want to narrate the audiobooks at first, and only did it because they paid me 5k (Editor’s note: “they” refers to the audio publishers of Max’s previously published, non-ACX audio titles). But once I did it, and I started getting feedback from my fans, I realized that they really liked how I told the stories. They liked that I laughed at certain parts or that I ad-libbed certain things not in the book, or my little intonations or things that I did that only the person who wrote the book could bring to the reading of the stories. Once I realized that they liked it, I started taking it seriously and really putting some time into it.
I have no idea what the future holds for audio format for books. Sometimes I wonder about this–I think that oral storytelling is an incredibly cool and difficult art form, but I don’t think most authors currently give any real thought to creating different products for audio than for print–myself included–and maybe they should. Though the fact is, they are different art forms. For example, because I am a funny writer and quick-witted in person, lots of people tell me I should do stand-up comedy. No chance. That is a VERY different style of comedy, but people who aren’t artists don’t get that.
Any advice for other authors considering narrating their own work? How challenging is narration, and does it get easier?
It depends. If you like doing it, and you can bring something to the work that a professional voice actor cannot, then yes. I hate my recorded voice, but I do bring an authenticity and immediateness to my readings that no actor could ever replicate, because he wasn’t there and he didn’t live these experiences. I did.
Did you find yourself changing or editing your book as you narrated it? Did the experience change the way you felt about the book(s) in any way?
Oh yes. No matter how much I edit it, reading the book out loud fundamentally changes how I see it. I ALWAYS want to make changes and it drives me nuts each time. But that’s part of writing a book–you can always find something to fix. Sometimes you gotta just put it out.
A big part of the ACX message is self-empowerment for authors—promoting your work and driving your sales. You have proven that this method works. What tips can you give other authors about effective promotion and use of social media? What approaches/strategies have worked for you?
Oh man, there are about 1000 things I could say here. I wrote a big piece about this for Tim Ferriss, but the big takeaway is this: The best marketing is a great book. The second best marketing is having something out there for free that people can try.
I just signed on to co-write the autobiography of the highest grossing movie star in the world. I can’t say exactly who it is until his people announce the book, but you should be able to guess who it is from that pretty obvious clue.