Author Archives: Emily Curran

Raise Your Voice: Narrator Erin Mallon Takes on Authorship

The driven artists in the indie publishing community are used to wearing multiple hats. Then there are the independent artists that are pushing the boundaries of their chosen profession to expand even further, following their creative spark to craft projects that expand their careers and enliven the audio storytelling genre.

Erin Mallon is one such artist – you might recognize this prolific narrator from her work with Lauren Blakely, Amy Daws, or Julia Kent, her recently-released audio play, These Walls Can Talk, or her first foray into novel-writing, Flirtasaurus, on Audible. Erin Mallon joined us recently to talk about her ever-expanding career journey.

Erin, you’re known for your work as a narrator of romantic comedies, but we heard you have two exciting new projects to add to your resume – a play and a novel, both written by you! Can you tell us a little about both of these? 

Sure! The first project is These Walls Can Talk, a six-character comedic audio play about intimacy and communication in marriage. And get this – the play is set in… the romance audiobook industry! I will tell you, it was a very “meta” experience. The next project is my romantic comedy novel which released on July 15th called Flirtasaurus. It follows Calliope, a young, determined paleontologist and her budding relationship with Ralph, the sexy astronomer who works in the planetarium at the Philadelphia natural history museum where she is interning. Absurd, dino-driven humor abounds!

Have you always been a writer or was it something you got a feel for as a narrator?

I have been writing for the theater for about ten years now – I actually wrote my first play and narrated my first audiobook the very same year! So I’ve been working both careers simultaneously all this time. Flirtasaurus is my first foray into writing a novel though. It’s been a wild ride taking what I’ve learned from creating my own comedic plays and narrating other authors’ great romantic comedies, then sort of bringing it all together in writing my own book.   

Has your work as a narrator influenced/informed your writing?

It has to, right? I started out performing on stage, so once I started writing plays I think I’ve always come to it from an actor’s perspective. When I’m on a roll, it feels a lot like playing all of the characters on the page. It’s always been really important to me that the actors who work on my plays feel energized and motivated by the story, the characters, the words, the comedy – so that every night they can’t wait to get in front of an audience and let that energy and excitement bounce.

Also, I’ve narrated almost 500 books at this point, and I’d say about 75% of those have been in the romance genre. It’s been such an inspiration over the years seeing and experiencing how awesome authors put their work out into the world and pondering how I might adapt my theatrical style and put my own voice out there in novel form.   

You chose to record These Walls Can Talk as an audio play – was that your plan from the beginning?

No, it actually wasn’t initially intended as an audio play! I wrote These Walls Can Talk back in February through a project I co-produce in NYC called The Brooklyn Generator – an “engine” for creating plays in under 30 days. I always intended it to be performed live onstage (and I hope it still will be), but we had only one public reading in midtown before Covid hit and shut our theaters down. In an effort to bring some laughs to people in quarantine at home, I teamed up with some of my romance narrator friends to do a zoom reading of the play and streamed it on Aural Fixation, an amazing Facebook group for lovers of romance audio. The reaction from the audience was really encouraging and folks kept asking when they would be getting the Audible version, so we made it happen!

Let’s turn to Flirtasaurus, your first novel. Was it daunting to start such a large new project like that? How did you know you could do it?

I think I was pretty much equal parts confident and doubtful when I started this process. After writing so many plays, I knew I could tell a story and I felt that I was strong with dialogue – after all, that’s what plays are – but I had some doubts about how to weave a story over the course of six to eight hours (plays usually clock in around two hours or less). Whenever I felt stuck or insecure though, I returned to my processes as a playwright and that always got me back on track. Slowly but surely, I found my natural style of storytelling in this new-to-me format. I think it’s always a bit daunting when you’re standing at the beginning of a creative project, full of ideas but staring a whole bunch of blank pages. That feeling keeps many of us from even starting, because we think we’re supposed to know what to do at every moment. I don’t think that’s how creativity works, though. You just have to show up every day and play. If you can make a commitment to doing that, word by word, page by page, the story starts to take over and tell you what needs to happen, instead of the other way around.

You chose to narrate the audiobook yourself. Why did you go that way instead of hiring a narrator, and how was it reading your own words?

When I started writing plays, I thought I would be writing roles specifically for myself, but that actually never happened. With this though, I felt like I wrote it so naturally in my own voice that I knew I wanted to give it a shot! Plus, my five-year-old son has made me a bit of an amateur dino-expert, so I knew I could get all the crazy dinosaur name pronunciations right without any additional research.

It was actually an incredibly helpful exercise in catching all those pesky final edits and typos before sending the book off for printing. Narrators are great at catching those, because we can’t say it out loud if it’s not quite right on the page. I don’t know that I will always narrate my future books, but for now I’m really loving the process! 

How did you go about marketing this audiobook? Did you reach out to any of your author contacts for advice? 

I teamed up with the awesome people at Social Butterfly PR, and they’ve done a considerable amount of hand holding. I’ve also been fortunate to have worked with so many amazing indie authors, particularly in the romantic comedy genre, so I’ve had the benefit of observing how they operate for years. Wonderful writers like Lauren Blakely, Amy Daws and Julia Kent have all been really generous with tips and support as I start to make my way.

So what do you think – can we expect more novels and audio plays from you? What’s next?

Yes, absolutely! Flirtasaurus is actually Book One in my Natural History Series, which will consist of three interconnected standalones. I am writing Book Two as we speak. I’m also excited that The Net Will Appear, my two-character play between a 75-year-old man (Emmy-nominated Richard Masur) and a 9-year-old girl (Matilda Lawler from Broadway’s The Ferryman) is streaming on The Alzheimer’s Foundation’s Youtube Channel July 24th. We put together a really beautiful online production that I’m eager to share with people. Next steps for that are figuring out the best way to bring it to the audio format. And there are a lot more plays where that came from, which I’m planning to adapt and bring to earbuds far and wide.       

Are you inspired by Erin’s ambition? Have your own ideas about taking your writing or narration career to new heights? Let us know!

Sound Check: Audio Lab Launches on ACX

Earlier this year, we launched Audio Analysis — a web tool that gives ACX Producers instant feedback on their production audio files, allowing them to identify and correct technical issues before submitting their projects for review. Audio Analysis improves the workflow for Producers during a production, but we want all ACX Producers to feel confident about their sound before they even submit their first audition, so we created Audio Lab. Simply upload your audio files and Audio Lab gives you immediate feedback on how they measure up to our Audio Submission Requirements on seven important metrics, including peak value and RMS. We’re excited about the potential this tool offers for new and seasoned Producers alike, so we thought we’d break down how you can use Audio Lab effectively to hone your sound like a pro.

Who can use Audio Lab?

Audio Lab is open to any ACX user – if you have an account with ACX, you can upload files for analysis on Audio Lab. New producers can create an ACX account and start using it to test their sound progress as they learn to gauge when they’re ready to start auditioning. Seasoned producers can use it to test and calibrate new gear to meet our submission requirements.

How do I use it?

It’s easy! Just upload your audio files to the Audio Lab page – you can find it under the “Production Resources” tab on ACX – and the system will give you immediate feedback on how your files measure up to our submission requirements on RMS, peak value, bitrate, bitrate method, and sample rate. The results are only visible to you.

What sort of files should I use?

Audio Lab is built to analyze any spoken word MP3 audio files, but we recommend uploading files that you’ve recorded, edited, and mastered to our submission requirements as you would if you were producing an audiobook, even if you’re just reading test passages from a favorite book. This will give you the best sense of how production-ready your sound is, and will let you know what you need to adjust to pass QA.

When do I use it?

Anytime you have audio you want to test! Here are just a few times you might find it useful:

  • Use it to test samples for your profile when you first join ACX
  • Use it to make sure you’re ready to take on audiobook projects
  • Before auditioning for a specific project
  • When you’re mid-project, to test your audio before sending it to the Rights Holder for approval
  • Whenever you change your equipment or studio space

Why should I use it?

Periodically testing your files with Audio Lab – whether you’re a new narrator or an ACX veteran – ensures you enter into every contract with the confidence that you can deliver a great production.

We hope that Audio Lab offers the Producer community the resources you need to craft awesome productions. If you’re new to ACX or to audiobook production in general, and you’re looking for more resources to help you narrate, record, produce, and distribute great sounding audiobooks, be sure to browse this blog for more tips, visit our YouTube channel, and check out our Audio Terminology Glossary to get up to speed.


Time Well Spent: Author Sarina Bowen

One of the greatest challenges of entrepreneurship is self-management. Whether you’re an independently published author or a narrator completing projects in your home studio, you likely don’t have a boss telling you how and when to manage your working hours. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to productivity when working from home, but the indie creator community has a wealth of collected knowledge on the topic. So, we’ll be checking in with a few productive ACX creators to see how they manage working for themselves.

First up: Sarina Bowen is the author of more than 30 audiobooks and co-host of the Story Bites podcast with producer Tanya Eby. She writes a blog, maintains an avid fan community, and manages a great-looking website and killer marketing strategy to boot. So how does she get it all done? She starts by keeping her creative time separate from her business and family time. Read on to find out how Sarina made consistency the cornerstone of her productivity.

Like so many other independent authors, my life is a juggling act between writing and business. I actually enjoy the business tasks, so when the writing is hard, I sometimes find myself poking at spreadsheets instead of adding words to my manuscript. But that’s not the most productive way for me to work, and I would often end up feeling bad about giving in to distractions.

Then I listened to Deep Work by Cal Newport (totally worth a credit!) and he touched on something that really resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that attention span and willpower are finite resources. As the day goes on, you’re less able to focus and control your impulses. I loved this advice, because it took away my self-judgment during those moments when I feel brain-bombed. Hey, I’m not a failure! I’m just fresh out of attention-span fuel. 

Certainly, there are authors who will argue this point. If you always do your best creative work at 2 a.m., that’s groovy, too. But the concept still holds, because it forces you to observe your capacity for focus like a happy little scientist, and then make adjustments where necessary. One author who goes into copious detail about this is Rachel Aaron in her book 2k to 10k. She actually kept a log of the hours she spent writing and how effective they were. The results allowed her to fine-tune her process and schedule.

My personal writing pattern is more tortoise than hare. I average a mere 1200 words a day. That’s four books a year. Not a day goes by that I don’t open up Facebook and see one of my friends reporting that she wrote 4,000, 6,000, 11,000 words that day. You have my sacred promise that I will never ever write eleven thousand words in a day. My brain just doesn’t move at that speed, and that’s okay.

I often tell people that novel-writing is the only kind of marathon that I will ever run. And I run a lot of them. So many, in fact, that my life can feel like a long stint on the treadmill. Even when I’ve finished a book, there’s another one waiting for me. If you want to keep up this kind of pace, you have to find ways to be kind to yourself. My friend Sarah throws herself a party each time she makes it to page 100 on her new manuscript.

My approach is a little different. I have a sticker chart, just like your average third grader. If I write 1200 words on my work-in-progress, I get a sticker in my planner. It’s hard to admit that I’m a sucker for bits of printed paper with adhesive. Yet it’s shocking how motivating it can be to chase that day’s sticker. Admittedly, I have really great taste in stickers—it’s nice to see an entire month’s worth of chickens or multicolored pencils covering the page. Jerry Seinfeld used the same approach with—gasp—red Xs on a wall calendar. Every day that he wrote a good joke, he’d make an X on that calendar. “Don’t break the chain,” he says of this method. It’s motivating to keep up your own good work, and it’s harder to look at a streak that’s broken. 

Consistency is therefore my single biggest secret. If I get that sticker by noon, I feel invincible. The key to this magic is avoiding my email inbox and social media. I’ve lost more work hours to email and Facebook than I care to admit. There are two ways that my inbox harms me: 1) FOMO. Is someone having fun on the internet without me? and 2) the lure of the easier items on the to-do list. It’s simpler to answer an email than to craft beautiful sentences or solve plot problems. But, when I avoid engaging with the world early in the day, I’m much more likely to stay in the zone and focused on my work.

And that early success is powerful. By hitting my goal, I feel relaxed and confident while I move onto other tasks, like looking after my house, my kids, my health. I can turn my attention to tidying up Quickbooks, searching for cover art, or listening to narrator’s samples. I feel good about my life on these days.

On the other hand, if I’m crawling across the word-count finish line at 10 p.m., it’s a little demoralizing. This usually happens because I fail to follow my own system. Maybe I checked my messages when I should have been writing. A single email can blow up whole my day. And by the time I put out the fires, it’s time to cook dinner and the daylight is shot.

Publishing your own work means you’ll have more of those days than an author who lets other people handle all the business challenges. Ultimately, that’s okay with me. This career is a choice, and I embrace the chaos when it comes to my door. But if I embrace it after I hit my word count goal, I’ll feel calm and in control anyway.

That’s how I get it done. With stickers. And science. And a little advice from smart people who have walked the same path.

Give Sarina’s audiobooks a listen on Audible, and take to the comments below to share your own productivity pointers.

An Update to Audio Analysis

Earlier this year, ACX launched the Audio Analysis tool for Production Manager, a new feature that allows Producers and DIY Authors to upload audio files and receive immediate feedback in a report identifying seven of the most common production issues—all before submitting the project to Quality Assurance.

We hope you’ve been exploring the new feature and are finding it to be a helpful tool in your production process. Now that you’ve had a little time to get comfortable with Audio Analysis, we’re making an adjustment to the ACX submission process: starting today, some accounts will see the new experience, and by May 4, all titles will be required to resolve any issues identified by Audio Analysis before they are able to submit for review.

Need help making corrections? The Audio Analysis tool provides a full report on all your audio files, with details on the issues that need addressing, and links to specific ACX Submission Guidelines and Reference Guides that can help you address them. And as always, if you need more guidance or assistance in getting your files QA-ready, the ACX blog and YouTube channel are at your disposal with further resources on recording, editing, mastering, and more.

Hannibal Hills: Lessons from the First Three Years Part 2

Last week, we heard from Audible Approved Producer Hannibal Hills on how he built a successful narration career from square one in three years. If you’re new to narration or thinking about taking it full-time and wondering where to start, be sure to catch up on the first part of this narrative and learn how to set a solid foundation for yourself. And now, with the help of our narrator, we continue on our journey…

Investing in Editing, Coaching, and Mentoring

Hannibal Hills in his booth

Like any growing business, your narration career may reach a point where you can afford to hire outside help to so your business can continue to grow. I have now reached the point where I outsource my editing so I can focus solely on narration. Earlier in my career, I felt the need to save on the pennies and stay in control of the whole process. But when income started to come in steadily, being behind the mic became the most valuable use of my time, and the increased output I was able to achieve from outsourcing easily counterbalanced the cost.

Performance coaching was another investment whose value I cannot overstate. Early on, I was beyond fortunate to connect with the great Sean Pratt, and he has been a true mentoring light as I moved from narration as a side-job to a full-time career. Coaching with a true expert is the single most important investment you can make in your narration career. The knowledge and advice they share can save years of trial and (mostly) error, and be the very difference between long-term success and failure.

Choosing the Right Projects

Choosing the right projects is every bit as important as having the performance skills or the right equipment. Sean, whose excellent book, To Be or Wanna Be: The Top Ten Differences Between a Successful Actor and a Starving Artist is a trove of clear wisdom, has given me countless useful pieces of advice and challenges to learn through. An example of the wisdom a coach like Sean can offer can be found in his famous three questions: Of each project ask yourself: will it pay, will it be good for my career, and will it be fun. If all three are true, that project is a clear good choice. If only two are a yes, it should only be accepted if you can comfortably live without the third. If only one (or none) is true you should never accept the project. This simple test is a golden barometer for a narrator in all stages of their career. 

I am now careful to evaluate every project I am offered or consider auditioning for—not only for value, but for scheduling. Overbooking is an easy trap to fall into in the early years, but spreadsheets are just as good for calculating reasonable monthly output as they are for projecting income. Don’t undervalue your time and work. When you have only a few books to your name and are starting to realize how much you still have to learn, impostor syndrome can bend your will to accept projects that aren’t right for you and poor rates of return. Though it is hard, you mustn’t stop believing you are worth the accepted industry rates. Too many hours working hard while knowing you are being underpaid will eventually start to poison your heart, smother your passion, hurt your performance, and eventually make you regret your career choice altogether. A good coach will help you to continue to believe in the value of what you do.

Finding My Voice and Building My Identity

With the right home setup, a process you feel confident in, ongoing training that produces real improvement in your performance, and a steadily growing output of titles, it very quickly becomes clear the sort of titles that best suit your voice. I worked to resist the temptation to be an “everyman.” One of Sean’s most valuable contributions to my career was helping me define my niche and refine my identity and brand—externally but also internally, in my performance and approach. I now look for projects that suit that brand. This personal “flavor” can be applied across both fiction and non-fiction, and in my case to horror, comedy, classic literature, and more colorful, opinionated non-fiction. Every narrator will have their own flavor that comes from their own heart and passions, and this should be embraced rather than denied. I have found that taking on projects that appeal to me as a person, and which match my own personality and tastes, makes for a far more fulfilling professional life. My most successful projects have been achieved through forging relationships of trust and mutual understanding, where they know you believe in their work, and trust you to make the right creative choices to best bring their words off the page. 

Occasionally, I have taken off-brand projects, sometimes because the money and opportunity were tempting, or because I wanted to experiment with a new genre outside my core brand. For these projects, I have several alternate names—a pseudonym or “nom de vox”—so that my brand remains clear, and I can work anonymously if needed.

Learning and Looking Forward

In creating recent box sets with long-term collaborators—the authors of the books—I have had to revisit some of my very early work. It was fascinating to see how far I have come, and how much coaching has helped me improve. It is good to be reminded of the lessons I needed to know then, so I keep them at heart moving forward. Even if we are not proud of our early work, we should be glad that it helped us take another step toward where we are today.

Goal-setting is essential for moving your career forward. I have two key reminders I look to every day—the first is a small whiteboard of my goals for the year. Some I have already achieved, others still need a lot of work, but they are there in plain sight. Each goal I set can be measured in a very real way, from royalty units sold to number of books completed. The goals cover all areas, and each one nudges some aspect for my narration career ahead one more step—and when it does, it is toasted (perhaps with a glass of something with my wife), erased, and replaced with another goal just a little more challenging. 

The Shared Adventure of Audiobooks

The second thing I come back to each day is our community: the indie audiobook narrators Facebook group, narrators I have met through mutual coaching, and those I’ve reached out to via email because I simply admire their work. Many authors and small publishers have also become friends through our collaboration, and I meet with many regularly on Zoom to discuss market trends and new project ideas.

Few industries have such a supportive, positive community of helpful cheerleaders, friends, joke-sharers, listeners, and advisors. We all want to see success in the others and cheer when we do, because we know that there is room for us all, that so many unique voices each have a place, and that what is right for me may be rightly different to what is right for you. We also know that together we are creating libraries of lasting enjoyment for millions of listeners. This really is an industry where dedication, honesty, manners, fairness, trustworthiness, and sharing are the qualities that build success. This is a job where the good guys and dedicated spirits really do win. It may have taken almost 46 years, but I found a home—one where each book brings to life a new adventure to be shared.

Hannibal Hills is the narrator of more than 40 titles. This ‘darkly sophisticated British storyteller’ can be found lending his voice to many a horror, mystery, or thriller novel.

Are you a narration newbie inspired by this career journey? An audiobook veteran who can add some sage wisdom of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

Hannibal Hills: Lessons from the First Three Years

There’s no roadmap to building your own narration career. Many independent narrators come to narration as a second profession, without a background in voiceover or audio engineering. With so much to learn and master, embarking on a career in audiobooks can be daunting to say the least. So how do you know if that plunge is one you should take? And where the heck do you start anyway? Well, there’s no one right way, but here to tell you how he built a career in audiobook narration from square one to successful Audible Approved Producer of more than 40 audiobooks, is “The Darkly Sophisticated British Storyteller,” Hannibal Hills. You may not follow the exact same path, but you’re sure to find some important road markers for your own journey.

The Inspiration

Audible Approved Producer Hannibal Hills

I was almost forty-six when I first read from a book into a microphone. This isn’t unusual in the world of audiobook narration—many of the voices you hear reading your favorite books came to the job with half a lifetime of experience in very different roles, and so it was with me. Although I trained in theater back in the early 1990s, I left that path. For a time I worked in banking, and for twenty years after that I was a self-employed web designer. I also worked as a wedding minister from my thirties on. Many narrators carry a love of performance from childhood, like a pilot light that waits patiently to be needed. After officiating one summer wedding, a guest made an off-the-cuff remark about wishing I could read them an audiobook. I remember the glimmer of a notion that maybe I would like to try that. Four years later, I finally did.

The First Auditions

In February 2017, on impulse, I decided to buy an hour of time at a small local studio with good, promising reviews—just to read something into a “real microphone” in a “real space.”I came out of that first session longing for something more substantial to read and most importantly, I had finally been behind the microphone, and I liked it. I liked it very much.

I then found ACX via Google, and it was very easy to create a profile. I booked a second hour in the local studio the following week and picked three books to audition for: a comedy, an urban fantasy, and a non-fiction title. I recorded the scripts, paid extra for the studio engineer to tidy up and master the final takes, and uploaded the files with a polite message of greeting to the authors. To my astonishment, forty-eight hours later I had been offered contracts for all three. This was my first major decision point. I knew I enjoyed recording, but also knew I would have to pay for the studio time. For three books, this was a much bigger expense, but I felt it was something I had to do. Recording for two or three hours a week, in a couple of months those books were done. So far, it was still just an expensive hobby. But I loved the process, and by the end of the first book I knew I never wanted to stop.

The Engineering

I made an agreement with my engineer, who would work for a cut of the royalties from the next book. This actually turned out a very good deal for all concerned, and we ultimately did five titles together—one of those books is still my best-selling Royalty Share project—but recording at a local studio had two significant drawbacks: it was cost-prohibitive and studio time was extremely limited.

From the beginning, I had been tracking my audiobook costs and income on a spreadsheet, and projecting probable earnings at various levels of output. I had already figured out this was a long game, and that I would not be making a sustainable full-time income for at least two years, and not unless I could record on my own terms in my own space. Looking back, the first couple of years narrating were primarily about investment: investing in time, in coaching, in a proper recording space and equipment, in learning more and more every day, and sticking with it every day, because momentum is essential.

Choosing and Funding a Home Studio

I live in a noisy location: heavy road and air traffic, many neighbors keen on gardening and DIY projects, and at the time we owned the world’s loudest cat. I realized quickly that blankets would not be enough to dampen the intrusive sounds. Between March and May of 2018, I worked hard at projecting the numbers for costs and income, and started inquiring about loans to cover the cost of a recording booth that would be good enough to beat the local noise pollution. Needing a booth that I could access twenty-four hours a day, in a location already available for free, I decided on our vacant guest bedroom. After gathering quotes for booth construction and some long, frank conversations with my wife, I talked to my bank and they offered me an “equipment” loan, which meant a lower rate than a typical personal loan. With those funds, I purchased my 6’ by 4’ Vocalbooth Platinum. I know that many narrators thrive with a much less expensive space treatment, but in my location I needed more. I have not regretted it a single moment, and in the two years I’ve had it, my beloved booth has given me a consistent,  professional sound quality that has allowed me to audition and perform with confidence, and prevented many noise issues that would have caused extensive and costly edits or re-takes.

Becoming an Editor

Having moved into my home studio, I needed to learn to edit and post-produce my own files—a significant undertaking. I tried months of tinkering, slowly improving, but finally knew I needed a professional to help. The marvelous Tim Tippets helped me create the right effects stack (the order in which one applies effects like EQ and compression to their audio files), and streamline the whole process. Sean Pratt, about whom you’ll learn in the next installment, had already taught me the essential value of “punch and roll,” a recording technique that makes audiobook editing far easier. Knowing that you have your process down means you can concentrate on performance and career-building. For narrators, I now believe the end goal is to outsource editing and post-production, but first we should know how to process our own audio. As with your recording space, the right DAW (your Digital Audio Workstation—the software used to record, edit, and post-produce audio) is different for everyone. I now record in Reaper and edit in Audition. There are a variety of DAWs that will get the job done; it’s about creating a system and process flow that gives you confidence and allows you to get on with the job of performance most effectively. For me, the simplicity and comfort of the Reaper interface perfectly suits my needs during the performance phase, while the functionality of Audition allows me to process every aspect of my recording and easily master files to the right specifications.

At this point, I had recorded over a dozen books, and learned a lot about the technical part of the process. But, I knew I still had a great deal more to learn about performing, and especially how to find work, build my brand, and to take my career to the next level.

Stay tuned for the second part of Hannibal’s narration career journey, where he’ll tackle specializing, outsourcing, and goal-setting.

Award-Worthy Advice from Indie Voices

The Audies were last night, and there was a strong showing from the ACX community, with several outstanding independent creators receiving nominations for their work. The Audies are the Audio Publishers Association’s annual awards for the best titles in audio publishing, and we have the inside scoop on what made these productions stand out, how they came to life, and why their creators submitted them for the consideration. Read on for inspiration, and let us know at the end if you’ll be submitting your title for next year.


Lauren Blakely – Birthday Suit

What makes Birthday Suit unique?

Birthday Suit is narrated by 12 amazing performers, full-cast style, so it sounds like a book met a radio play. It’s an aural experience, a book experience, and a theatrical experience all at once. The cast sounds great together and you can tell they had fun playing off each other.

Tell us about the vision for this project—how did you bring it to life?

I’m a theater lover, so I’d wanted to produce a full-cast audiobook for some time and Birthday Suit was the perfect story for it because the romance includes an interesting cast of characters that the hero and heroine interact with during a scavenger hunt. I felt each character was unique, with his or her own quirks and traits, and because of that, the story called out for a new audio style. More so, I believe Birthday Suit has a powerful love story at its core—one that plays out over ten years, with all sorts of angst for the hero, which Sebastian York captured brilliantly as his character falls in love with his best friend’s girl.

I worked closely with two talented people who I partner with on most of my audio books—Andi Arndt, who is both my primary heroine narrator and the force of nature behind Lyric Audiobooks, and Tyler Whitlatch at Plunk Productions, who edits and produces all my ACX titles. The project was a true collaborative production, with us bouncing ideas off each other, then assembling the cast and sending them to a studio in New York. Not only is Andi an award-winning narrator, she makes casting call spreadsheets like nobody’s business! And Tyler is vital to all of my books with his terrific ear for detail and his focus on creating a fantastic final product—he was in studio working with the actors during the recording, and he made sure everything sounded amazing in post.

What gave you the confidence to submit this project for an Audie?

I fell in love with this production from the very first minute I listened to the files. It was everything I’d hoped it would be and more—bright, dynamic voices interacting together. I decided before it even released to submit it, though I never expected the nomination to come in audio drama! That was a terrific surprise!


Stephanie Bentley & Miranda Ray – Lustily Ever After: The Audiobook Musical

What makes Lustily Ever After unique?

We are thrilled to be the first audiobook musical for adults!  This multicast narration of a novella-length fictional story includes 20 original songs inspired by 90’s pop music peppered into the book, which heightens the comedy of the romance parody. Characters voice their own dialogue and chapter headings are sung by a trio invoking the R&B group En Vogue.

Tell us about the vision for this project—how did you bring it to life?

I am a full-time audiobook narrator and a longtime musical comedy performer, so the inspiration for this book was truly as organic as it could get. I narrate mostly romance novels and would find myself giggling in the booth over and over at some of the tropes. Suddenly these lyrics just started coming into my head for the classic billionaire character—“the models in my bed don’t keep me warm at night, and no amount I spend can make me feel alright”—I started writing, and pretty soon a whole musical just came tumbling out! The songs were mostly written before I hired Miranda Ray to pen the actual book, so this was very much an audio-first project. 

There was so much creative collaboration on this project. Miranda was sending me pages from her theater tour on a cruise ship, I was sending vocals to Aaron Wilson to create the tracks, and I brought in very funny comedians from The Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade Theater to voice the other characters in my home studio. This was such a labor of love and every person who touched this project changed and enhanced some part of it and made it into what it is today! 

What gave you the confidence to submit this project for an Audie?

I hope more than anything that this nomination will inspire ‘regular people’ like myself to go out there and just create whatever they are dreaming of! This is such an exciting time to be an author and anything truly is possible! I submitted my work for an Audie because I absolutely love it, and I believe that this audiobook musical niche is about to be a huge marketplace in audiobooks.


Tanya Eby & Blunderwoman Productions – Nevertheless We Persisted: Me Too

What makes NWP: Me Too unique?

This is truly a unique audiobook. It was created by survivors of sexual abuse/discrimination and features original essays and poems, as well as original music and art for the cover. When casting, we asked our narration community for people who felt a connection to this topic, and we did crowd funding to underwrite the production so that we could pay all participants in it.

Tell us about the vision for this project—how did you bring it to life?

Blunderwoman looks for unique and important storytelling, and I try to do one passion project each year. I was deeply touched by the #MeToo movement and saw that so many of my loved ones had similar experiences. I wanted to amplify the message that abuse and discrimination still happens—is happening—and to give those stories a chance to be heard. An audiobook seemed to be the natural way to amplify voices—literally—so I created a call for submissions from writers, and narrator and writer Karen White joined me as co-editor for the piece. Friends and fans helped me spread the word about submissions, and we received pieces from all over the world. Narrators recorded poems and stories in their studios, Amanda Rose Smith did post-production and created original music, and singers who recorded tracks in their own studios and sent them in to be mastered. This was truly a sprawling project, and sort of a marvel on what we can accomplish using modern technology.

This project was definitely created with audio in mind—there is something deeply powerful about hearing a story told. In this case, having people speak directly to the listener and say “here is what happened to me.” It’s incredible the impact that audio can have. It connects emotionally with the listener, it can be transformative, and the team who came together to produce this (all 100 of us as writers, singers, artists, and performers) felt connected not only to a project, but also to something bigger: the power in telling a story, of the end of secret keeping, and the empowerment and healing that can come through expressing your truth.

What gave you the confidence to submit this project for an Audie?

I knew no matter what happened, I was going to submit this. While this is not an easy listen, I wanted to give it a chance to be heard by as many people as possible, and I thought the Audies would be a wonderful way of thanking the creators of this project by acknowledging their hard work and commitment to creating something powerful. I’m so honored and pleased that it received a nod as one of the Best Original Works. In my mind, we’ve already won.


Congratulations to all this year’s Audie nominees! Your boundless creativity and drive to create never fail to inspire us. Let us know in the comments what you’re feeling inspired to create, and if you’ll be submitting your 2020 title for next year’s Audies!

Feedback Without Distortion: Audio Analysis is Here

Today, the ACX team is excited to announce the launch of a new feature available in Production Manager: it can analyze all your audio files, let you know if they meet ACX Standards, and give you a precise report on the changes that need to be made, all before you ever submit your project to QA—it’s the Audio Analysis Tool!

This feature will be accessible to producers and DIY authors on all new ACX projects. Now when you upload audio to ACX—starting with the 15-minute checkpoint—you’ll get an immediate report on seven common audio issues:

RMSSample Rate
Peak LevelsMixed Channels
BitrateDuplicate Files
Bitrate Method

That means no more waiting for the book to go through QA to learn you have one file in stereo and having to resubmit the whole project over again. Now you can find out right away and quickly make the required adjustments. The report contains precise indications on what needs to be adjusted and by how much, with links to helpful resources on how to do it. Don’t worry—all ACX audiobooks will get a final listen from our QA team before going on sale, and they’ll be on the lookout for spacing, noise floor, and other issues that can’t be detected by the tool—only now the process will be able to move a little easier, with smoother production timelines for all.

To give you some time to get used to this new feature, we’re accepting all audiobook submissions, even if Audio Analysis identifies errors within your files. When the feature launches fully, any issues detected by Audio Analysis will need to be corrected before the project can be submitted for Quality Assurance. This initial phase will give you time to identify recurring issues in your productions and make the necessary adjustments to your workflow without impacting your ability to submit audio and receive QA feedback.

We’re excited for this feature and we hope you are, too—we hope the earlier feedback and additional insights will help you improve you skills and setup, and result in a smoother production experience for all. And as always, if you have any questions about the feature, the answers can be found in our Help Center.

Love Is in the Airwaves

Audiobook airwaves are all a-flutter with a spectrum of sweet-to-sizzling love stories for the month of February. Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward have dozens of individual NY Times best-selling romance titles between the two of them, and together they have co-authored nine novels and counting that have gone on to capture the ears of audiobook listeners with the voices of Sebastian York, Andi Arndt, and other top narrators. In celebration of their gal-mance and gal-mances everywhere, we got them to tell us (and romance writers looking to learn from their success), what they love about each other’s audiobooks. Take it away, ladies!

Keeland and Ward headshot

Authors Vi Keeland (l) and Penelope Ward (r)

Vi Keeland: Just One Year is one of my very favorite audiobooks for so many reasons. It starts out as a light and fun story about a British college student coming to the United States to study abroad, but turns into a heartfelt story exploring why we sometimes need to travel far to find ourselves. One reason I loved the audio of Just One Year, and it might just be at the top of my list of reasons to listen to this book, is the hero’s sexy British accent. So, when I sat down to ask Penelope some questions, I was curious to know how she decided which narrator was the right fit for her character. Penelope, before you decided on casting, how many narrators did you listen to?

Penelope Ward: I actually listened to several! I had a pretty good idea whom I might want to cast as the hero, but I wanted to keep an open mind before finalizing my decision. I’d never written a British hero into my solo books before, so this was my opportunity to branch out and use a new-to-me narrator. I’d listened to Shane East several times before, so it felt comfortable casting him.

VK: How did you find narrators with a British accent to listen to?

PW: I knew a few because I’m an avid audio listener myself, but I also checked out Audible’s Accent on Love page. They list books with all different accents.PWJustOneYearAudioBookCover2

VK: Did you write the “British” into your book or give the narrator free rein to decide how to make the character sound like a true Brit?

PW: A bit of both, actually. I incorporated some British terms into the written book to give the narrators something to work with. But the narrator also had free rein to determine which words to play up with the accent more than others when speaking. If there are special notes about pronunciations, accents, or any other concerns, I make them known to the narrators when I send them the manuscript. However, since I’m privileged to work with very experienced talent, I pretty much let them do their thing with little guidance. They always message me if they have questions along the way.

PW: Okay Vi, now I have some questions for you! I recently listened to Inappropriate and loved it. It’s actually my favorite book of yours. One of the things I loved was the dual narration of Sebastian York and Andi Arndt. They just became Grant and Ireland, and their performances were amazing.  Sebastian’s deep, sexy voice was perfect for the alpha CEO, and true to the typical Vi Keeland heroine, Ireland is strong, independent, and feisty, and Andi nails that side of her personality. Why did you choose dual narrators over a single narrator?

VK: I think dual narration allows listeners to connect to the individual characters more. It also provides a nice break of voice, which keeps the material feeling fresh. I’ve been dying to try duet narration, and I think Inappropriate would have also been perfect for that.

PW: What’s the difference between dual narration and duet narration?

Temp Inappropriate cover (1)VK: In duet narration the female reads all the female parts and the male reads all the male parts—they’re acting it out together. Whereas in dual narration, one person reads an entire chapter based on which point of view is being presented in the text, so that each narrator must read both the female and male roles at times. Lauren Blakely does a ton of amazing full-cast and duet narration audiobooks.

PW: I think you should definitely try that! Okay, here’s an unrelated question. If you could choose one actor to voice one of your characters in an audiobook, who would it be and why?  You have no budget constraints!

VK: I think I’d have to pick Sam Elliott! I’m in love with his voice. It’s iconic and memorable, and his delivery is just so dry and on point with sarcasm.  Same question for you…who would you dream cast?

PW: For a male, I would have to say Josh Duhamel. I was watching a movie with him once and couldn’t help but think how good his voice would be for an audiobook. For a female narrator, I would say Claire Danes. I recently listened to her narrate The Handmaid’s Tale.

VK: While we’re on the subject of iconic voices, do you ever give direction to your narrators using a famous actor or scene that you had in mind while writing dialogue?  For example, if your character is saying “Could you be any more difficult?” you might suggest the narrator make it sound like Chandler from Friends?

PW: Not yet, but that’s a great way of helping give the proper direction for a performance. It’s a little more specific than a direction like “spoken with a Southern twang” or something like that!

Okay…one last question. Who’s your favorite author to co-write with when publishing audiobooks?

VK: I’ll get back to you on that one. 😉

The S.M.A.R.T. Guide to Goal Setting for 2020

Light Bulbs Concept

We’re a month into 2020, and now is a great time to check in on your 2020 goals to see what progress you’re making. Didn’t make any resolutions? It’s not too late! There’s still 11 months left to set and meet some big audiobook goals for this year. Not sure where to start? We’ve got a device that can help you figure it out: S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related, and when applied to planning for the coming year, it can help you set goals that you’ll actually attain. Here’s your ACX guide to putting S.M.A.R.T. to work for you.

S is for Specific

Think about any task you set out to complete—it’s always easier to get it done if you have good, clear instructions. Choosing definite areas for your goals makes it easier for you to get to work on them and measure your progress. For example, if you’re an author, instead of setting the goal of growing your fanbase, consider setting a goal of increasing your social media followers on Facebook or Twitter specifically. If you’re a narrator, instead of setting the goal of expanding your repertoire as a voice actor, perhaps you set a goal to master one or two new specific accents or dialects.

M is for Measurable

Setting goals that are measurable is essential to achieving them—otherwise, you have no way of determining whether your goals have been met. That means you need quantifiable indicators of progress. So, if you’re that author that wants to grow your social media followers on Twitter, set an amount by which you’d like to grow them. Or if you’re a producer and your goal is to master a new dialect, maybe your quantifiable indicator of progress is adding a sample with that dialect to your ACX profile, or auditioning for three new titles for which that accent is required.

A is for Assignable

hatsThis one might not make sense for you at first glance—but as self-publishing authors and independent producers, you are your own business, so wouldn’t you just assign everything to yourself? Not quite. Maybe this means taking the time to assess your workflow to see what you can outsource. For authors, that might be cover art or advertising graphics, as a producer, maybe that’s editing and post-production. But it could also mean taking a look at all the different hats you wear as an indie creator, and determining which of your many personas each goal falls under. Is it your writer persona that will be working toward  these goals? Your publicist persona? Your actor? Your engineer? Assigning your goals to the different sides of yourself-as-business can be a good way to make sure you stay focused and on task (authors have told us, for instance, that they separate writing work from marketing work by time of day, so they can better “activate” those areas of their brain to get the job done). If you have too many goals in one area of your business, it might be the time to consider balancing with other goals or outsourcing some work. Which conveniently brings us to our next point…

R is for Realistic

We know you’re dreamers and risk-takers—as independent creators, you have to be! But when setting smart goals for yourself, it’s important that most are things you could realistically achieve. Consider the resources you’re working with—time, skills, finances, outsourcing, and what you’ve managed to achieve in similar periods in the past—and set your goals accordingly. For example, if you’re that author looking to grow your social media followers, look at how your followers have grown in previous terms. If you’re a voice actor mastering those dialects, consider how long it took you to learn similar skills in the past. Maybe that means increasing your goals compared to past years if you’ve gained more resources, or maybe it means pulling back a little if you’ve found yourself overwhelmed. Either way, setting realistic goals is a great way to keep yourself motivated—or put another way, setting a bunch of goals you won’t achieve is a great way to get discouraged fast. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dream big—you can break big goals down into smaller goals so you’re hitting milestones along the way, and you can and should set a few reach goals for yourself outside the ones you know are realistic to give yourself something to keep reaching for.

T is for Time-Related

close up of calendar and alarm clock on the green background, planning for business meeting or travel planning concept

We all know we start big with the enthusiasm when we set new goals, but it can be difficult to maintain that momentum if we don’t have deadlines. When setting your goals, be sure to specify when you want to complete them by and whether it’s a short, medium, or long-term goal. Maybe you set your social media follower goal at 100 new followers in three months, 300 in six months, and 1,000 by the end of the year. If you’re that dialect-mastering narrator, set a date by which you want to submit your first audition in that dialect. And if you aren’t already, consider using a marketing or production calendar to track your goals and keep yourself accountable. It doesn’t hurt to put a little pressure on yourself to stay motivated, and seeing a deadline in writing can do just that.

Now that you know how to plan your goals for the new year and beyond, we want to hear what they are! Let us know in the comments if you’re setting any 2020 audiobook publishing goals, and what you’re doing to make sure you’re meeting them. Now get to work—you only have 11 months to go!