Arika Rapson was one of our first ACX success stories, and we’re excited to revisit her story today. A year and a wedding after she collaborated with her then-fiance James Rapson on his title Anxious to Please: 7 Revolutionary Practices for the Chronically Nice, Arika is back to offer an update on her experiences producing and narrating on ACX.com and some words of wisdom for producers.
I have always had a bit of a pioneering spirit, and thrive in environments where there is room to explore and feel my way around. Things just aren’t as much fun when every stone has already been turned. I need a little room in my life for something unexpected or even astonishing to occur.
It was this spirit that drew me to ACX and the possibilities it opened up. As incredible as this new platform seemed, I tried to keep my excitement in check and approach with caution. Pioneering may be fun, but you don’t always discover a new continent; sometimes you end up with an empty belly and a fever.
Sixteen months have since passed, and I have some notes from my Field Journal that I would like to share. While at times I did miss the certainty of a clear path through well-manicured woods, the journey through ACX has been far more fruitful than I ever imagined back when I first stepped in. I have been building relationships with authors and publishers that I hope will flourish for years to come. Many of my books have sold well and continue to sell – my royalty books alone have sold about 8,500 units. One of my titles became the best selling book in its genre for months. I have done a number of pay-for-production titles, both on and off ACX, so I’m delighted with the substantial number of ACX royalty sales that represent such a small amount of my time.
So what happened? Did I just get lucky? Do only certain types of books sell on ACX? The answers here are no, and no. My three best-selling titles have been in 3 different genres and have absolutely nothing to do with each other in terms of content. It often does take some luck to get a title that stays at the top of the charts, but you can do really well with a handful of books that continue to sell moderately, too. Even without my bestseller, I still would have about 5,500 units sold from my other projects. I believe there is an approach to navigating ACX that will help you make the most of your experience.
It’s Not Just About Your Voice
Many people think that the most talented narrators
get all the work. Talent definitely plays a part, but the narrators who get called on again and again are the ones that people love working with. Be reliable, on time, communicate well, and deliver consistent, quality work. Don’t expect the rights holder to manage you. And consider this benefit of return business: if a rights holder you already know keeps asking you to narrate more books for them, that means you are spending less time auditioning and more time working.
Keep An Open Mind
Branding has become a very hot topic and I agree that it’s pretty important. But we narrators can’t lose sight of our primary jobs. As story tellers, we morph ourselves to become the brand for each book, each author, each publisher for whom we work. It’s not about our brand, it’s about their brand. If you’ve tried to be the kind of narrator who only does this or that type of book, you may be defining your own brand so narrowly that you put yourself into a very small box. You may also find yourself with less work than you’d like.
Having said that, there are times when you do want to consider the image you are trying to maintain. If the book is very political, religious, or in any way controversial and you don’t want to be associated with the subject matter or the ‘side’ the book is supporting, you can always record it under a different name. I have used a pseudonym on numerous titles and it’s worked out just fine.
I’ve heard some narrators say they find certain genres offensive. Personally, I am more offended by bad writing than by any particular genre, but hey, suit yourself! Your opportunities will increase in proportion to your openness. My own thoughts about narrating anything with sexual content relate to the situation itself. In my opinion, audiobooks are in stark contrast to what you may find in Hollywood—on the big screen, you are statistically much more likely to see a woman experiencing sexual violence than sexual pleasure. I would very much prefer to read a scene where a woman is enjoying herself.
The point is this: ultimately it’s up to you to decide what you are comfortable with, but if your goal is to stay busy, keeping an open mind will be an asset.
Get out of Your Mental PJs
I will confess that I may have narrated in my long johns a time or two, but when it comes to accepting a royalty title, I get into a total business state of mind (suit and tie optional).
What does that mean? It means it’s time to investigate! Does the author have an active online presence? Has the book sold well? What about other books by the same author? If I’m unsure about auditioning for a title, I like to send a message to the rights holder, to ask questions like how they will be promoting the audiobook once it is released.
If they don’t write back, move on.
Your Voice Counts
This brings me to my final point, which I think pretty important. I am not a social media guru and I don’t have thousands of friends on Facebook and Twitter that I am conversing with nonstop around the clock. But I do make it a point to invest in the people who I admire and/or have something to learn from and who feel the same way about me.
Last year I became friends on Facebook with a woman with a top rated podcast that gets up to 60,000 hits per episode. Rose Caraway has an awesome online presence and had recently gotten in to narrating audiobooks herself. We began exchanging all sorts of helpful information with each other about equipment, breaking into audiobooks, figuring out social media, etc. Eventually, she convinced me to appear as a guest on her show, the Kiss Me Quicks, which I agreed to as an exercise in getting myself out there (although I was a bit terrified about how her devoted fans would receive me!). On the show, Rose introduced me, mentioned some of the audiobooks I’ve done, and then had me read a short story. Frankly, I was completely floored by what happened after that. The book I did that had been #1 in its genre when it was released a year earlier went back to #1 all over again and stayed there for weeks! It was pretty awesome.
So in my mind, social media is not always about who has the most ‘friends,’ but about having friends that you have something to offer and who in turn have something to offer you. A mutually beneficial relationship is by far the best kind to have (which is the same way it works with ACX rights holders)!
Pioneering can be frustrating and uncertain at times, but if you focus on building the right team of explorers to accompany you on the journey, you may find some pretty incredible things can open up along the way.
Thanks Arika, for charting the path for future ACX pioneers. What do you think of Arika’s recommendations? Tell us, and add your own, in the comments!