Author Archives: Emily Curran

Better Together: Aleron Kong & Nick Podehl on Collaboration: Part 1

The standard ACX equation is words + narration = audiobook. But when is an audiobook more than just the sum of its parts? Aleron Kong and Nick Podehl have teamed up over the course of the author’s eight-book series, Chaos Seeds, to create an audio odyssey that has fans hanging on every narrated word. In 2019 they joined us at the VO Atlanta conference to discuss the audio magic that’s made when authors and narrators collaborate to turn the audiobook into an art form all its own. With VO Atlanta’s Audiobook Academy, their first-ever audiobook-specific virtual conference coming up April 22 – 23, we’re bringing our conversation the blog so everyone can benefit from seeing what wonders true collaboration can yield.

Scott Jacobi: Thank you so much for joining us today at VO Atlanta. I’m joined today by narrator/producer Nick Podehl and author Aleron Kong whose first book together, The Land: Founding, was recently named Audible’s 2018 customer favorite. We’re here today to talk about how narrators and producers through ACX can directly collaborate to create fantastic sounding audiobooks that highlight both their artistic abilities, wow listeners, make money, and just be awesome. Ready to be awesome?

Nick Podehl: Yeah!

Aleron Kong: Whoo!

Scott Jacobi: So let’s start with you, Nick, being that this is a VO-focused event. You have an acting background, but before you got into audiobooks, I understand that you didn’t think you’d be able to do that and make a living with your passion.

Nick Podehl: Mmhm. I was trained in theater in college, but changed my major at the end because all the professionals coming in said that you do theater because you love theater, and it’s got to be the first love of your life—nothing else can come first. And that didn’t jive well with me because I wanted to have a family and I didn’t want to be in a box, you know? So changed my major. After I graduated, I was doing a job that I hated and my mom actually suggested, “Hey, there are these things called audiobooks—we used to listen to them on car rides and stuff. You should do that.” I was like, “Okay, Mom. You’re my biggest fan. You’ve got to say that.” But I thought, “Okay—I hate my job, let’s do it. Let’s put together a demo.” I sent it in, and amazingly enough, they called me in for an audition and I got it.

Then, it was like, “Hey, good! You got a book! You’re probably not going to get another one for awhile. That’s just how this business works. Don’t feel bad.” But I kept with it and then I discovered this platform that was new to me—ACX—after I had done a few titles with some of the major producers and I thought, “Well, okay, this is a great way to work with some more up-and-coming authors and get more consistent projects.” So I gave it a shot—I used the services of some local studios near me and I recorded books there, and after a few of these, I realized like, “okay, this is picking up, like I could actually do this,” so I looked into building a home studio and decided to finally take that plunge. And it’s kind of just been rocking and rolling ever since.

Scott Jacobi: Aleron, can you give us a quick background on you and tell us how you came be an author and got into audiobooks, and then why you were publishing through ACX?

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Author Aleron Kong

Aleron Kong: I had the opposite story from Nick. I had to hide the fact that I wrote my book from my mother. And when I published it, I told my cousin who told his mother who then told my mother. And she called me and said, “Why are you lying to people? People said that you wrote a book. And I was like, “Oh, I wrote a book.” And she was like, “No, you didn’t.” And I’m like, “No, it’s for sale. It’s a book.” And she goes, “I’m going to look this up.” And then I hear in the background, “There’s another Aleron Kong that wrote a book. I can’t believe this!” She’s like, “Why would you take credit for this person’s work?” But she finally put it together and then she was like, “Well, what did you say about me?” I’m a physician by training, and when I decided to focus solely on writing, my dad said, “Son, are you paying your bills?” and I was like, “Yeah.” And he’s like, “Well, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Then my mom said, “So you’re just going to spit on all your ancestors. That’s the plan right now?”

Scott Jacobi: This, I think, could be its own book.

Aleron Kong: I started writing for me. I never thought it would go anywhere. It was more of a psychological exercise than anything else. But I had found LitRPG, which is my genre—literature role playing games. It’s only been around in the States for about four years and I found it around three and a half years ago. And when I found it though, it was like, “Where have you been my entire life? Like video games and sci-fi fantasy??” At the time, were only like four books available because it started either in Russia or Korea. So I was bemoaning the fact that there was nothing more to read one day and I was like, “Well, why don’t I just give this a shot?” I wrote six books in 14 months, and then the seventh one weighs five pounds and I wrote that a year later. It’s been a year since then. And I’ve kind of just started enjoying my life again, so…

Scott Jacobi: And how did you get to the audiobook publishing side of that?

Aleron Kong: I had never really listened to an audiobook before, but I had fans that were like, “I really enjoyed reading your book, but I really love listening to audiobooks.” I was hearing that more and more, so I thought, “Okay, well, let me figure out how to do this.” I found a narrator who did a perfectly reasonable job on my first book, but the feedback I got was, “Oh, I loved your book.” And I’d ask, “Well, what did you think of the production?” And they’d say, “Oh, it was fine.” And these are my babies, so that wasn’t enough. So I started asking my fan base, “who are some narrators you guys like?” And one of the people they mentioned was Nick.

I reached out and he read a demo for me, and I loved it. For the very first time I got excited about audio. And I said, “Look, man, I just want to be very clear—it’s important to me that we have a collaborative effort, we work together, we bounce stuff off each other…” and he’s like, “Look, man, just so you know, it’s important that we have a collaborative effort, that we work together…” and so on. And then he says, “I’m booked for nine months.” And I was like, “I’ll wait for you.”

Scott Jacobi: And so it’s interesting that you both wanted collaboration to be a big part of this. Do you find that with all authors, Nick, or are there some that really are just like, “Here’s my book—go read it and I’ll pay you and then we’re done”?

Nick Podehl: For the most part, my experience with ACX authors is that they’re invested in their book and they want to be a part of it. So generally speaking, yes. They want to be a part of that collaborative effort. I’m sure that there are some who don’t really care. They’ve written the book and their job is done in their eyes. But most of them want to be a part of it to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s just like, “Yeah I’ll help you with some character choices” or “I’ll help you with pronunciations, but really, you know what you’re doing so go do it.”

Scott Jacobi: What is your preferred level of author involvement? At what point does it get to be too much?

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Narrator Nick Podehl

Nick Podehl: If they’re texting me at three in the morning, it’s too much. I would say that as long as we have ample time before the recording starts we’re good—once the recording process has started and I get some feedback from them on what they’re hearing, we’ll pretty much call it good after that. We do some edits and revisions, and I’m perfectly willing to change things. If they hear something and say, “I really didn’t like what you did with this character,” alright, we’ll do something different.

But this is why, for me, a big part of the process is having them involved as it’s going. I know that a lot of narrators will just do the “I’m going to give you the first 15 minutes and then that’s it until I give you the finished book,” but I don’t think that’s a good idea. Some people are just, “Let’s crank these out guys, come on,” but that’s not how I work. I want to have the author be a part of the process. So I’ll send updates, I’ll send them chapters and say, “Here—if you care to, listen to this. Give me some feedback before we go any further.” Because what I don’t want, because then it really gets into wasting time and money, is to have them come back and say, “I don’t like what you did with the main character. Can you re-record the whole book?”

Scott Jacobi: Aleron, I guess all that struck you pretty well, the collaboration that Nick wanted?

Aleron Kong: Oh yeah. He’s awesome when we work together. And we joke around—in the seventh book, I actually wrote characters intentionally meant to be difficult for him. So that was a lot of fun because he’d be like, “well, how do you expect me to do this?” I’m like, “Sounds like your problem.” I thought it was hilarious. And he wouldn’t talk to me for a week and…

Nick Podehl: Then you go and send me an Edible Arrangement…

Scott Jacobi: Have there been any points during your time working together where you did bump heads?

Aleron Kong: I don’t think bumping heads—and it’s definitely streamlined as time’s gone on—but sometimes it’s as simple as, he’ll be like, “Hey, I have this idea. Let me send you this YouTube clip—is this what you were thinking in your head? And I’m like, “Oh, well, it’s actually more like this,” and that’s about the extent of it.

Nick Podehl: Yeah. I mean, we’ve had those character choices where you’ve heard something very specific in your head and then I have to come back with, “That’s great. I can’t do that.”

Aleron Kong: And I’m like, “You will do it.”

Nick Podehl: And then we’ll go back forth and we’ll compromise on something that I can do that he’s happy with.

Scott Jacobi: So it sounds like it’s important for a narrator to first understand what they can and can’t do, and then have the confidence to communicate that to authors. I can imagine for somebody who’s just picking this up—and maybe you experienced this when you were first getting into the business—I could see there being a desire to just do whatever the author wants, or whatever the publisher wants—and it sounds like that’s not really the best mindset?

Nick Podehl: No, because then you run into some pretty sticky situations. If you’re just blasting out auditions for anything you can get, and for some reason an author picks you to read a book where the main character is a Korean lady and you’re a middle-aged white male, that’s maybe not the best choice. So you do have to be cognizant of what your abilities are. I recognize that I have a much higher register in my voice, so I can’t do those really deep, gravelly, low voices. And we talk about that—we talk about it beforehand.

Another thing that I think is a really big sticking point is making sure that you understand the project that you’re getting into—meaning, read it beforehand. Apparently, there are people out there who don’t read a manuscript before they record it, and that makes no sense to me. I don’t know how you can do a cold read and expect it to be really, really good. A lot of the work that we do comes in beforehand. It’s prepped. If you’re doing a 15-second radio voiceover, yeah, go into it cold. That’s fine. You’ll work the kinks out. It’s 15 seconds. But we’re talking…book seven was 47 hours.

Scott Jacobi: How long did that take you to produce altogether?

Aleron Kong: That was a solid month and a

Nick Podehl: …Half.

Aleron Kong: He had no idea it was going to be that long, and I’m like, “So, I have to send you the book in two parts, because they won’t save that big.” He was like, “Ah, Aleron…”

Scott Jacobi: That naturally leads me into my next point—with a book that big, it’s a good thing to get booked on a month and a half’s worth of work all at the same time, but how did you two work out the payment structure?

Aleron Kong: We were just talking about that. Nick gets contacted by a lot of new authors, and they ask them like, “oh, can we do the royalty share?” Because they don’t really want to invest. I’m like, if you want a top quality thing, you have to invest and you pay the man what he needs to get paid for. Nick told me what his hourly was, and I’m like, “You’re worth it.”

Scott Jacobi: So for you, it’s understanding the value of a good narrator.

Aleron Kong: Yes.

Scott Jacobi: And I guess having the faith in your own work, and that you will earn that back.

Aleron Kong: Yeah. And having worked with somebody else the first time, everything was fine, but I definitely differentiate when I’m talking about Nick. There are narrators and then there are audio performers.

Scott Jacobi: And what is the difference to you?

Aleron Kong: Every character didn’t sound the same, that’s one bomb. That’s fun. I think the professionalism as well. Very simply, Nick will read the book. He has an Excel sheet of like, “these are words that you’ve clearly made up, what do you want me to call them?” And then we’ll go through that, and then he’ll talk to me like, “All right, which of these characters are important, and which ones are a little bit less?” Because if you have a nuance, just in the same way like if you’re watching a really good TV show, and you hear a slight inflection in the actors voice, it makes you excited. “Like, “Oh my God, is he going to be a horrible person later??” The same thing comes through in a book, and maybe it’s a red herring, maybe it’s not, but it makes it more enjoyable, and understanding that I think makes for a better experience for everybody.

For more on how these two use teamwork to make the self-publishing dream work, stay tuned to the blog for Part 2 of this interview!

ACX Alumni at The Audies

There’s no set formula for finding success as an indie creator, but sometimes to see ahead towards where you’re going, it helps to take a look at those who have been where you are now. This year’s Audies saw wins from more than a few friends of ACX – authors and narrators who got their start on the platform or pros who have been featured in ACX educational programs throughout the years – and to inspire your journey forward as an independent creator, we’re looking to a few of our old friends to ask about their recent Audie wins. First up, authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, and their narrator Andi Arndt for Best Romance Audiobook, Dirty Letters.

What do you think you did that contributed the most to your win this year?

Vi Keeland & Penelope Ward: Two things make an audiobook stand out: exceptional narration and a unique story that allows the cast to shine in their performances. For Dirty Letters, we believe the heartfelt correspondence between our two characters at the beginning of the book allowed listeners to immediately connect with the unique personalities of the hero and heroine. Jacob Morgan’s portrayal of the charismatic British rock star, Griffin, and Andi Arndt’s portrayal of the quirky and awkward agoraphobic Luca were the perfect complement to each other. Not to mention, their amazing work voicing all of the different side characters truly gave the impression there was an ensemble cast rather than only two narrators doing all the work. 

Authors Vi Keeland & Penelope Ward

Andi Arndt: Oh my goodness, I have no idea! I’ve been lucky to enjoy a long and fruitful relationship with everyone involved in the project, from Brilliance Publishing, to authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, to co-narrator Jacob Morgan. Vi and Penelope had a very strong positive reaction to the way this particular book and audiobook turned out, and asked that it be put forward for consideration. But I prepped and recorded it the same way I approach all of my projects. Learn more about Andi’s production process here.

How can winning an Audie be used to help further your career?

Vi & Penelope: We feel like the benefits of wining an Audie are akin to other titles of distinction such as hitting a bestseller list.  These prestigious accolades tell a prospective purchaser that a book has been vetted. The Audie win provides a sort of validation that may encourage buyers to take a chance on a new-to-them author. In turn, if those buyers enjoy the work, they may also go on and buy backlist titles and become loyal readers of future books.  We’ve already experienced Dirty Letters climbing back up the charts the day after the Audie winners were announced! 

Narrator Andi Arndt

Andi: Beyond the marketing aspect of it, I take it as a challenge to renew my commitment to this work, to deepening my technique, stretching my abilities, and also giving myself permission to rest and refresh. With summer not far off, I’m thinking about things I want to do that are not work, to enjoy the life that audiobook narration has made possible. 

What advice would you give a new creator who wants to see their name among the finalists someday?

Vi & Penelope: This may sound obvious, but hire the right narrators for the right roles. Our hero is British, so we knew early on that we wanted Jacob Morgan who does a fabulous accent. Listen to multiple stories by each narrator to learn how versatile they are. Not every narrator with a beautiful voice and popularity is right for every role. 

Also, and this may be tough for creators who are just starting out and anxious to get their stories published, but make sure the audiobook is published simultaneously with eBooks and print. When you maximize your promotional efforts and treat audio as important as the other formats, audio will eventually become more important to your finances.

Andi: You never know which book is going to be the book. Details matter, so attend to them. 

Are you working on any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?

Vi & Penelope: We’re always working on multiple projects at once!  Next up, we have Not Pretending Anymore, voiced by Erin Mallon and Sebastian York. Erin is perfect for the project because she voices a young, conflicted heroine like no other. And Sebastian nails the sarcasm and wit of our hero. Not Pretending Anymore will release simultaneously with print and eBooks on April 12th.

Andi: Always! This week I’m working on the first book in Stella Gray’s new Charade series and Louise Bay’s new romance, a co-narration with Shane East. Both of these authors I either work with or connected with through ACX.

Congratulations to all this year’s fabulous Audies winners and nominees, and a big thanks to Vi, Penelope, and Andi for sharing a few words of wisdom about their wins. Stay tuned for more award-winning advice from industry pros and keep your eyes on the prize! We can’t wait to see more indie wins in the future.

Going Beyond the Book with Eric Jason Martin

Eric Jason Martin

Audio: the final frontier. These are the voyages of independent creators. Their mission: to dream up and build strange new worlds. To bring new life to characters and stories from the page—and beyond. To boldly take us where no ear has gone before! Our captain: Eric Jason Martin. Veteran ACX-ers might recognize this Audible Approved Producer from our 2018 post, Doubling Down on Audiobook Success, but not one to be pinned down by labels, this producer/director/narrator has just added another title to his name—author. Martin’s first novel, New Arcadia: Stage One came to audio yesterday, and this multi-cast adventure is full of A-list vocal talent, an original score, and a tasteful soundscape that gives you the feeling if you closed your eyes for a moment, you might just open them in 199X, in the arcade-inspired dystopian world of the story. We were lucky enough to snag a moment of this creative multi-hyphenate’s time to talk sound design, writing and casting his first novel, and the endless possibilities of audio.

What sparked the idea for this project?

Well, I really wanted to write a book! It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time—I’ve written some original audio productions in the last few years, but it was a little scary to consider sitting down and writing an entire novel, something that could sit on a shelf and have a bar code and a Dewey Decimal classification and all that cool stuff. I knew I had to write a GameLit or LitRPG novel to get started. I’ve been a fan of video games since I was little, and I’ve since come to understand their potential both in terms of play, and as a powerful learning tool. Playing Roller Coaster Tycoon back in the day was literally how I got into the business of themed entertainment, so it legitimately helped kick-start my career. These days, I narrate a lot in the GameLit/LitRPG genre, so it’s a world I know very well, and I’ve been thinking about using a “beat ‘em up” game as the subject for a story for a few years—the stories these games told were often about fighting criminals in a big bad city. I was really drawn to the idea of doing something with this world in literature.

What was the process for writing this story like, and how did being a narrator/ producer first influence your writing on this project? Did you already have a vision for the audio when you started?

When it came time to actually write the book, it happened very fast. I had already done a decent amount of work imagining the mechanics of a virtual game world like this, because I had developed another version of this project for audio a couple of years prior. Even though the finished story turned into something very different, it helped to have that base to work from. Once everything shut down last year, it got me thinking of this project in a new way. I started imagining this retro game city as a way to bring people together again in a virtual space—people who have been apart for a long time. So I starting writing over the summer, and it was very helpful to think of it as an audiobook. That “one weird little trick” helped me get over a lot of the fear of writing, because I already knew how to do audiobooks, so suddenly I was working from a place of confidence. Thinking of the project in audio also helped me picture certain performers for each role, performers that I actually wanted to cast in the audiobook version we would be recording. Once you can get that specific about a character or role, it takes something that can be really hard—creating compelling story and dialogue—and it makes it a little easier to do. Having narrated nearly 300 audiobooks, I also a had a clear sense of what would work in audio and what would not. I knew I’d be narrating the book as the main character, and that was another opportunity to revise the text, right there in the studio. If something didn’t sound right to my ear, I would change it as I was recording the narration. It’s usually a big no-no to stray from the recordable script… but if you’re the author, nobody can stop you!

Once it was written, what was the process of casting and recording/producing like?

The audiobook production moved very fast. I’d say from my first email to a performer, to the final mastering, it was about three months. That includes recording 19 performers, two incredible musicians writing a full original soundtrack, and a lean post- production team cutting it all together and adding effects. Again, it was easier having written the roles for specific people. I was nervous and didn’t have any expectations, but I was blown away that everybody agreed to be a part of this. It helped that they were all voice actors, so I figured they had home recording setups that would work, although I had options available in case I needed to get them equipment. Technology is so good these days that having a decent mic and recording in a quiet well-padded closet can get you pretty far. And if you have a quality post-production team, as we did here, you can make it all sound fairly uniform.

There are some pretty well-known names in the voice credits for this production – do you have any advice for authors nervous to ask big-name vocal talent to work on their projects?

Yes, be nice! And do everything you can to make it easy for people to say yes. They may not make a fortune doing your project. But if it’s quick, easy, and a lot of fun, and they’ll be with other great people whom they like and respect, that’s a lot harder to say no to. Be clear about the time commitment, make it as small as possible, and be flexible in scheduling, as much as you can.

Now Available on Audible.

This production has some great extra audio elements like an original score and sounds – how do you incorporate elements like that without overwhelming the listener or overshadowing the narration?

We were very careful in how we approached the sound design for this project. We worked with the team at Mumble Media to focus on the multi-cast recordings, as well as the original soundtrack, as the primary tools to communicate the story and scene. The old arcade sounds are a lot of fun, but a little of that goes a very long way in an audiobook format. The action could be exhausting if you heard an unending stream of punching and kicking and yelling. So we let the actors and narrator communicate a lot of the action in the performances, we were very sparing with sound effects, and we supplemented the action in places with the soundtrack to give it additional emotional impact. The great Lloyd Cole created our main theme, and it was such a thrill to be able to work with him, I’m a huge fan of his work. For New Arcadia, he has created a beautiful piece, ambient and propulsive and mysterious. He describes it as “Escape from New York meets Stranger Things, with a hint of Dune.” When we incorporated it into the audiobook, it became the de facto theme of the real world. The few times we leave the game world and go back to reality, you’ll hear different pieces of this theme as you re-emerge, which signals to the listener that we are transitioning to a very different place. Casey Trela is a fantastic composer, very versatile, and expert in the chiptune style of these retro games. He’s created some truly catchy tunes that serve the game story beautifully. He had the added challenge of creating special songs that evoke the world of “199X,” songs that sound like they’d actually be coming from your radio back then. These extra audio elements can really help build a strong sense of environment in an audio-only production where visual cues and backdrops are absent.

What makes this production special and how do you see productions like this one carrying audio storytelling forward?

It’s such a blast to bring great talent together on a production like this. I enjoy the traditional one book / one narrator approach very much (indeed, you can find me in my home studio a few days a week telling stories this way). That said, I think there’s a growing space and increasing demand for multi-cast productions, and we’re all just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Audio is great for many reasons, and one practical one is that the listener’s mind handles most of the big-budget effects and locations in your story. You can communicate complex stories much more quickly and cheaply with sound alone. It’s a very exciting and innovating time in this medium, and it’s a thrill to be a part of it all. When you work as relatively fast and cheaply as you can in audio, you can get a lot more done than you can in other mediums, meaning you can experiment and learn much faster in your craft. I’ve tried a lot of different things in my time creating these stories in audio, and have made some mistakes along the way. But even those mistakes were instructive, and I can see how they led directly to some of my biggest successes. So that’s why I embrace this lean and iterative style of working, and audio is an ideal vessel for that approach. You can do cool stuff in audio fairly easily and quickly, so maybe you should! Each project you take on and complete can become a stepping stone, every single one can teach you something or connect you with someone. And for this project, in many ways, it’s the apotheosis of all of the different things I’ve done up to this point. But it’s not the end, it’s a beginning. There’s lots more to do. I’m excited for you to hear what we’ve put together with New Arcadia: Stage One, AND I’m excited for what comes next.

Eric Jason Martin is a producer, director, voice performer, and author, based in Los Angeles. He is the AudioFile Earphones and Audie Award–winning narrator of over 275 audiobooks. He has developed several original audio productions, including directing the NY Times Bestsellers Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne’s original series Heads Will Roll, featuring Meryl Streep (Broadway Video/Audible), and Stinker Lets Loose!, starring Jon Hamm (Audible). His production of Mr. New Orleans, starring Westworld’s Louis Herthum, is a 2021 Audie Award nominee.

Runnin’ Down A Dream Project

It’s a tale as old as time—author meets narrator, narrator reads story, a few editing and mastering techniques later and behold! An audiobook is born. Sometimes, though, the audiobook journey includes a number of twists and turns before the narrator even steps into the booth. Here to tell a tale of one such story brought to audio for the first time is David Niall Wilson, mastermind behind Crossroad Press, a publishing house founded to bring forgotten or undiscovered out-of-print gems into the limelight.

David Niall Wilson from Crossroad Press

As a publisher and author, I find that sometimes between the marketing, the writing, the craft, and the sheer volume of energy that is expended just living your life, you need a few moments to remind yourself that there’s more out there. Some stories find their way to just the right situation that allows them to reach a level that no one vision or voice alone could have created. That’s where this story begins—with a novel titled Case White by Thomas Sullivan. Over a period of many years, I fought to bring it to publication. I’ve been privileged to bring many of Sully’s novels back into print, but Case White is different. It’s an original, and I believe it’s his finest work.

It began as an eBook, then a print edition, and when the time was finally right to bring it to audio, I simply put it up for auditions on ACX. Even now, this incredible story has barely begun to find its way into the hands of readers, so I wasn’t sure who would be interested in taking a very long royalty share project with a less-than-stellar sales record. I was not prepared for one of the most talented voices I have worked with to come to me, ready (in his words) to “fight for this book.” The material covers the time leading up to the Third Reich, and the way madness can take control of a nation,  and the narrator who took the project is Joshua Saxon, whose own family fled the Russian pogroms in the early 1900s and immigrated to the United States in the mid-20th Century to avoid the persecution that would inevitably claim millions of lives.

The synchronicity of this book finding its way to Joshua and linking him to his own past would have been enough to make a great story, but in this case, it’s only the beginning.

Audible Approved Producer Joshua Saxon

To add a twist to this plot, sometimes the reader must find and chase the book. When Case White had wrapped up, Sully, Joshua, and I all moved on to other things, but one day, out of the blue, I received a message: Joshua had discovered that a book he has always loved, published back in the 1960s, had never been made into an audiobook. That book was The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis. The idea seemed crazy. The book was hugely popular, published by a major New York House. If the rights were available at all, I was sure they would be with an agent, or the original publisher, and priced well out of our range. After I got done laughing at the idea of Crossroad Press being able to produce something like that, he let it go.

But I couldn’t. I checked to be certain he was right, and he was. There were many printed editions of the book (it’s still in print), there was a movie adaptation that turned the world on its ear for a while, but there was no audiobook. The currently available trade paperback is a reprinted edition from Simon & Schuster, and it’s been on sale in that same format since 1988.  Experience told me that if Simon & Schuster had the rights to the book, the odds of getting to do the audiobook had just toppled off a cliff. More likely I’d give them the idea to do it themselves if I brought it up.

Maybe I just needed a little more faith. During that same period, I was negotiating for rights to some books by author Leslie Alan Horvitz, and corresponding daily with his agent, Cynthia Manson. I happened to mention my “quest” to her, and she happened to have connections at the publishing house, so she said she would check with them and see what she could find.

What she found was that Simon & Schuster did not have the rights to the audio. What they did have was an e-mail address they hadn’t used for a very long time for the author’s heirs, and they shared it with me. Still not hoping for much, I wrote to them, explaining how much Joshua wanted to perform the novel, how our company works, and my desire to bring it to audio. Then I waited. And waited. I was about to shrug and let it go, when I woke up one morning to a long, very cheerful note from Greece: the rights holders were very pleased at the idea of an audiobook! Then came the next bump—the book we need to use for the script was a translation, and the contract stated I had to have permission to use the translation, which I still needed.

The book was translated around 1960, and the translator was listed as P.A. Bien.  Initial searches had Google trying to translate the name into French, found other books he’d translated, but no real information on the man himself. Then I found an article that mentioned that his full name was Peter A. Bien. Once again, I had picked up the trail.  Peter is a Professor Emeritus at Dartmouth, and still attached to their Creative Writing department. When I found the e-mail address, I was not sure what to find, but again, I wrote my note, made my introductions, and waited.

There was no answer to the e-mail, but there was also a phone number. I called it. Peter was on vacation at his home in the Adirondacks, the message explained. At the end of that message was another phone number.

Cover art by Steve Smith

I wish I had time to explain the wonderful phone call I had with Peter, about Kazantzakis’ works, of which he’d translated several, and about translation in general. He gave his blessing, and even said that Joshua could, if he wished, reach out with any questions on pronunciation.  I know that the two talked, and it felt like generations merging. The contract was finalized and signed. Original cover art was commissioned from West Coast artist Steve Smith, who outdid himself, and the production that has just now been completed began. 

Chasing the rights to books can be frustrating—the older the book, the more popular, the more editions, the harder it becomes. This one felt like a marathon, but in the end,  the journey through the words of Thomas Sullivan, the passion of a narrator to perform the book he’d always dreamed of producing, through agents, other authors, across an ocean and back to the Adirondacks, lead to an unforgettable audiobook.

Now I’m going to find my Indiana Jones hat and set out after the next one. I hope some of you will come along for the ride. Remember—audio is still a fairly young medium, and no matter how unlikely a project may seem, it never hurts to ask.

David Niall Wilson is a prolific author and the founder and CEO of Crossroad Press, a publishing company that specializes in giving out-of-print stories new life through e-book and audiobook publication. The publishing company’s work can be found at crossroadspress.com, and the author’s own work can be found on his website, davidniallwilson.com.

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.