Category Archives: Audiobook Industry

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.

GORUCK: A DIY Audiobook Adventure

In 2008, Jason and Emily McCarthy founded GORUCK with two goals: to create a backpack that could survive any environment, and to start a movement that shows people how to get the most out of a life where adventure calls and tomorrow is never promised. Jason joins us today to share how tackling those challenges set him up to self-produce an audiobook based on his experience.

When I began keeping a journal back in 2010, I had no idea that it would become my first book, How Not To Start A Backpack Company. I also didn’t know that I would go on to not only self-publish, but also self-record this very personal story in a small soundproofed room at our GORUCK Headquarters in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Turns out, producing an audiobook is a lot like rucking (aka walking with weight in a backpack). Both can be uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it, the better it gets over time. 

You see, in 2010 my life was a mess. I had just gotten out of the military, I was going through a divorce, and the US financial crisis was in full swing. Back then, GORUCK was little more than a hobby. I was broke and thought I had nothing to lose, so I hit the open road with my dog Java to visit all 48 contiguous states, to meet people and get into adventures. I thought we could sell a few backpacks, too.

Truth is, I lost a bunch of money, didn’t sell any backpacks, and ended up all alone. I had a great front row seat to watch my life burn down before my very eyes. The silver lining was that this trip became instrumental to me turning my life around, because I was motivated to not live in flames. The magical part of the journey came when I focused on building a community of people through rucking and the GORUCK Challenge — instead of just trying to sell gear. I believed in that people-first vision then and have followed it ever since. Ten years later, with thousands of GORUCK events and over $120MM in revenue behind us, what’s abundantly clear to me is that we would not be in business if we weren’t making a real impact on people’s lives, including our own. Serving others is the why that will always drive us forward.

In late 2019, Emily asked me if I had a specific photo – the one of Java in the GORUCK Truck in front of a herd of bison – to put on our Christmas card. I handed her my phone for her to find it as I headed to bed. After some digging, she found the photo and stumbled upon that journal that I had written during the summer of 2010 and completely forgotten about.

Emily stayed up most of the night reading, and the next morning, she came down to the kitchen and implored me to tell this story to the world. She described the journal as an unfiltered glimpse into my journey as an entrepreneur and human being. This was the GORUCK origin story that needed to be told. 

I started making the rounds to the publishers in New York. You meet in their office, they tell you what other books you need to copy to sell a few more copies of yours. You have no leverage because you’ve never sold a book. The publishers I chatted with wanted this story to be more of a business book with bullet points and to-do lists. Or they wanted it to be about how my life was like a bad country song where I had a broken heart and a dog and a bottle of whiskey. I wanted to one-up them and show both sides of building a business amidst personal chaos.

So, I decided to go directly to our audience, just like we did with our original backpack, GR1, way back when. Six months later, I self-published How Not To Start A Backpack Company with editorial help from my good friend and the original photographer from that summer 2010 trip, Alex Beck. It was really happening.

Within a few days of the launch, I got a message on Instagram from a member of our GORUCK Tough (GRT) community, Kat Lambrix of Audible Studios. She wanted to know if we planned to do an audio version of the book, because she and others would love to listen to it while rucking. She gave us some quick start tips that I’ve shared below, but her greatest advice, by far, was reminding me that this was my story, and I knew how to tell it best.

Tips for Successful Audiobook Recording

  • Speak half a beat slower than you think you need to. Remember that listeners don’t have the text in front of them, so they’ll need time to digest what it is you’re saying – especially if listening while training or rucking.
  • Read off of a tablet when recording. Avoid a laptop because your mic will pick up the fan noise.
  • Stay hydrated, and if you’re getting really clicky, try a few bites of a green apple.
  • Don’t eat anything new the night before you record. Your mic will pick up noises from your stomach!
  • When you take breaks, especially if you’re feeling like your energy is dragging, try a quick round of exercise to regain your focus.
  • Don’t worry about the first few pages. Record them without going back so you can get into the flow of recording. Then if you listen to it and feel like it doesn’t match the later parts of the book when you’re more comfortable behind the mic, go back and redo them.

Next thing I knew, Emily had bought a bag of green apples from the supermarket and said she’d hold down the fort with our three children. It was a surreal experience to lock myself in what we jokingly refer to as “The Champagne Room” at GORUCK HQ and reread the journal and emails I had written from my rock bottom. Emily narrated her part as well, and we both admitted afterward that tears were shed while revisiting the past.

Without ACX elevating the field of independent publishing, authors like me would have zero chance to tell our story in our way. For us, the goal was to create a calling card. Let’s get the story out there and see what people think. Self-publishing our book, and narrating the audiobook on ACX made that possible.

Above all I hope my story inspires others to NOT wait for the perfect time to follow their dreams, but just to get going and figure it out on the move.


Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? Listen to Jason and Emily’s audio opus on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

Then, get ready to go ruck on your own journey—creating an audiobook with ACX allows you to put your story out there, engage your audience, and learn a lot along the way. Click here to get started.  

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.


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.

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!

The Best of the Blog 2019: The Re-Gift of Knowledge

It’s been quite a year for the ACX community: ACX creators published over 30,000 audiobooks, aided by the launch of some exciting tools and features, like Royalty Share Plus and Enhanced Promo Codes. Thank you for continuing to elevate the field of independent publishing through your hard work and innovation. In this giving season, we’ve decided to honor the tradition of re-gifting by wrapping up a few of our favorite blog resources from 2019 and presenting them to you to help support your continued excellence. Enjoy… or re-joy!

Now Hear This: Promoting with SoundCloud: Audio samples are your best friend when it comes to marketing your audiobook—they’re a great way to grab a listener’s attention and leave them eager to purchase the audiobook. Check out this article for great ideas on leveraging this free audio platform to put those samples everywhere your audience is, so they’ll be sure to give them a listen.

Bonus: Want more content on low and no-cost social media promotion for your audiobooks? Check out this episode from ACX University.


Amy Daws on Her Authentic Social Media Self: Authenticity is the key to a devoted community of fans, and nobody knows that better than this author and social media maven who uses her own genuine energy, fun content, and regular engagement to keep her fans’ attention between new releases. Learn from her social media strategies and fan the flames in your own fan base.

Bonus: Want to hear more on engaging with your fans? This is the ACX University episode for you.


Lighting the Way: An Author’s Journey into Narration If you’re an indie author, you’re no stranger to doing it all yourself, so chances are you’ve considered narrating your own audiobook. Well, paranormal mystery author Mary Castillo decided to do just that for her series, and you can read her full account of the production process from a writer’s perspective here.

Bonus: Interested in narrating your own book? Learn more about the art of audiobook performance here.


Production Pointers from Audible Approved Producers Whether you’re a narration newbie or a production pro, it never hurts to hear from other independent Producers on how they’re getting the job done. In this Q&A with a few of 2019’s newest Audible Approved Producers (AAPs), you can read about their favorite gear, pre-recording rituals, and at-home studio setups—you might learn a thing or two to add to your own process!

Bonus: Looking for more tips, tricks, and technical advice for audiobook production? Check out this ACX University series from our QA team.


A Portrait of the Artist How do you make a big impression and catch the attention of the authors you want to work with? It all starts with a compelling, professional, comprehensive Producer profile. In this article, we walk you through creating an ACX profile that stands out with examples from some of our favorite AAPs.

Bonus: Looking for more advice on your audiobook production career? This ACX University episode is for you.


Whether you’re new to the blog or seeing these articles for the second time, we hope it renews your drive and enthusiasm for creating great audiobooks, and gives you some good ideas for propelling your passion and your work forward into a successful new year. Feel free to re-gift these to the indie author or producer on your list!

The 2019 Audie Awards: ACX Honorees Share Their Tips

The Audie Awards are the Audio Publishers Association’s annual occasion to honor the best titles in audio publishing. This year, eight ACX titles received Audie Award nominations, with His Viking Bride taking home the prize in the Romance category! We checked in with some of this year’s nominated Rights Holders to ask:

What lead you to submit your audiobook for an Audie Nomination? How do you plan to use your win in your audiobook marketing going forward?

His Viking BrideViking

Category: Romance
Written by: Olivia Norem
Performed by: Greg Patmore

A: I chose to enter His Viking Bride based on my reaction the first time I heard the audiobook. When you spend months putting together a novel, you eat, sleep and breathe it – you become consumed by it. Hearing Greg Patmore’s narration the first time, I was able to enjoy my story as a fan. I kept finding myself wondering “Who wrote that?”

I thought it was a good audiobook, so took a chance and entered. Honestly, I was never expecting to become a finalist, let alone to win.

I’ve spent more than three decades in marketing. When I left marketing to become an author, I didn’t realize in the beginning that I would be right back in marketing. I’ve found the organic approach works best. I utilize all social media channels, and reach out to a lot of bloggers. Podcasts are a channel I will be exploring now that we have the 2019 Audie award. I will also be reaching out to local, regional, and national television trying to gain more exposure.

The Goliath Code Goliath

Category: Faith-Based Fiction and Nonfiction
Written by: Suzanne Leonhard
Performed by: Gabrielle de Cuir

A: Submitting The Goliath Code for Audie consideration was my narrator’s idea from the start. Although I’ve written many books, this was my first audiobook, and the fabulous Gabrielle de Cuir has been the driving force behind its momentum from the beginning. She suggested we submit the audiobook because she was in love with the story and felt confident it would make the finals. And it’s paid off; sales for both the book and the audiobook have gone up since the Audie finalists were announced. When it comes to indie publishing, you’ve got to make your book as visible as you can. Awards are a great way to move your book ahead of the pack.

Now, I plan to have the Audie Finalist logo placed on the audiobook cover, and the nomination will be mentioned in all future promotions for the book itself. Even though the paperback book was first published in late 2017, I still have an ad running for it on Amazon. It’s the first of a series of books, so I work hard to keep it in the public eye. If the book wins an award, or gets a mention on social media somewhere, I always promote it on Facebook and Twitter. Having that prestigious Audie Award finalist logo on the audio cover is going to be eye-catching.

PossessionPossession

Category: Romance
Written by Jessica Hawkins
Performed by Christian Fox

A: I’ve been publishing my own audio since 2015, and at first, it was a labor of love. Gaining an audience has been a slow but steady process, which makes it all the more rewarding to see my listenership grow with each release. I submitted to the Audies to honor that journey as well as the amazing talent behind the scenes—the production team, Lyric Audiobooks, and the nuanced and enthralling narration of Christian Fox. It’s more than that, though. Getting recognized by the APA and by Audible for a self-published title feels like a noteworthy accomplishment in my career (and a win for my indie peers too).

As for promotion, I’ll be adding the Audie finalist designation to the blurbs on all retailers, to ads and marketing wherever relevant, and as a badge on my website. Audio lovers recognize the significance of such a nomination and I intend to make sure they know! I hope it signifies to listeners and retailers like Audible that quality is top of mind each time I start a new production.

Splat! A Quirky Cat Audio BookSplat

Category: Original Work
Written by: Adele Park
Performed by: a Full Cast

A: The Audies competition has several rounds of judging, which gives indie studios like Straight to Audio Productions [which Adele owns and operates] the chance to be heard by experts in the audiobook industry. Our 2011 Audie win for Multi-Voiced Narration for Jitters-A Quirky Little Audio Book showcased the cast in front of producers who hire talent. Winning an Audie or even becoming a Finalist lends credibility to both the author and the publisher of an audiobook.

I mention my Audie win for Jitters and Finalist status for Splat! A Quirky Cat Audio Book and Gadzooks! A Comically Quirky Audio Book in all my marketing. I request that Amazon and Audible note the title as an Audie Winner or Audie Finalist for the projects that have been recognized by the Audio Publishers Association. These logos are also used on CD covers. A lot of my marketing involves funny videos; here is the one we did to announce Splat! A Quirky Cat Audio Book as a Finalist in the Original Work Category:

Loki Ragnarok

Category: Original Work
Written and Performed by: Mark Binder

Loki

A: Loki Ragnarok was a labor of love and despair. Twisting the Norse Eddas into Loki’s epic poem took almost twenty years. When we went into the recording studio, it went beyond poetry into a full scale performance. The production and music by George Dussault were precise and chilling. By the time the audiobook was finished, we knew it was something powerful and moving, funny and disquieting. It seemed award-worthy, and the only way to find out was to try. That we were selected as a finalist was really an honor.

Promotion is always a challenge. We’ve already updated the packaging and “jacket” copy. I’ve begun doing some touring and reading from the book as a way of cross-promoting the audio. We’re continuing to promote it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and are experimenting with a GoodReads ad campaign. And of course, it would be lovely to catch some buzz from the upcoming Loki spinoff TV series.

Want more advice about getting reviews and award recognition for your audiobooks? Watch The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook from ACX University.

The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook

Today, we’re joined by Robin Whitten, Editor and Founder of AudioFile Magazine, one of the industry’s top sources for audiobook news and reviews. Robin is here to demystify AudioFile‘s editorial process, teach ACX Rights Holders how to cast the best voice for their book, and share how to submit for a review.

The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook

AuON14_cover_300dioFile has been around the block with audiobook reviews. I started the magazine in 1992 when I could not find any reviews that considered the audio performance or the listening experience. What started as a 12-page newsletter has morphed into a multi-platform audiobook review and recommendation source. We review nearly 200 audiobooks per month, and now have 36,000 reviews in our Review Archive.

Listeners, library selectors, authors, narrators, and publishers access AudioFile reviews in our print bi-monthly magazine, in weekly e-newsletters, on the AudioFileMagazine.com website, at AudiobookREX.com, and featured by content partners who sell audiobooks.

Audiobooks come into our Portland, Maine, offices in a steady (digital) stream. We receive review copies from all major publishers and in increasing numbers directly from authors, rights holders, and narrators. Our AudioFile reviewers –about 120 individuals from all over the country with a few scattered around the world—help us create 40-50 professional reviews each week.

What’s a professional review?

A professional or editorial review is often different from a user-review. Editorial reviewers step back and consider each audiobook from a wider perspective. They use their audiobook listening experience to evaluate and assess the quality of the narration, the overall performance, and the alignment with the author’s intent. A professional’s critique is considered alongside the many other audiobooks they’ve experienced.

There’s always a place for user-reviews. The candid enthusiasm and satisfaction (or lack thereof) offers immediate feedback and is easy for others to react to. AudioFile reviews are more than just one reviewer’s opinion; they’re deliberate and collaborative. At AudioFile, we encourage discussion of elements like successful emotional tone & dramatic style more than a rating system. Our reviews are carefully edited and meet strict standards. Three editors see each review, and the grammar and the sense of the language have to pass them all.

The Focus of AudioFile Reviews

Robin covers

Robin Whitten, AudioFile’s Founder and Editor.

AudioFile reviews very specifically focus on elements of the performance, and what sort of listening experience to expect. Obviously we have to discuss the storyline, but we are not there to critique the author’s written work, or to give a plot summary. Each AudioFile review should make clear to the reader that it’s an AUDIObook review. We may be critical of a performance choice, or the success of an accent, but we do not trash titles indiscriminately.

What Should Authors Listen For?

The most critical element for an audiobook review is the casting. The choice of the right narrator is essential. The skilled narrator can fulfill the intent of the written work and give subtle layers of brilliant storytelling. However, the narrator is not just a voice. The narrator has to get inside the words, and thus into the head of the author. Experience shows, and reviewers can spot the pros.

Sound quality is also something noticed by all listeners. Lapses in QC, like extraneous noise, sloppy edits, and varying sound levels will always be called out by reviewers. All of these are controllable issues, and not perfecting them is a black mark.

Unpredictability comes into reviews primarily because all performance choices or all stories do not appeal to all reviewers. Part of the professional review process is to match reviewers with audiobooks appropriate to their tastes and skills.

AudioFile reviewers are given criteria for their evaluation, criteria we take seriously enough to outline on our masthead: Narrative voice & style; Vocal characterizations; Appropriateness for audio format; Enhancement of the text. We have great respect for the narrators and authors. To get top marks with our review criteria, here are some specifics:

  • Listen for more than “a great voice.”
  • Choose a narrator whose vocal style and tone is aligned with your written style and tone.
  • Make sure the narrator emotionally connects to your intent.
  • Think about how much “performance” you want from your characters. (Note: at Audible, we recommend a subtle performance over a “cartoonish” one.)
  • Consider whether big accents will define your characters or distract from them.
  • Consider whether your book has visual elements like maps or charts, essential footnotes or multiple time-line shifts? These present extra challenges in audio production.

How Do We Choose Audiobooks to Review?

The audiobook publishing floodgates opened a few years ago when ACX added their titles to the already expanding lists from traditional publishers. AudioFile receives announcements of upcoming titles from traditional publishers and starts our selection process there.

CoverBest of-300We make one pass after looking over basic title merchandizing sheets; references from various book scouts in the library and publishing industries; and whatever publicity we find. If an audiobook comes out after the success of a print or eBook title, reviews and buzz can bring these into focus. We take recommendations from narrators, and authors, as well as standard publicity information.

Rights holders, authors, and narrators can submit titles to AudioFile by sending an email with information about the title to editor@audiofilemagazine.com. AudioFile’s managing editor, Jennifer Dowell, will coordinate the review copy and make sure we have all the relevant details.

Why a Good Review is Only Half the Story.

A good review can go a long way, but you need to get out in front of the crowd with the good news. Marketing audiobooks is one of the toughest parts of the process. ACX gives rights holder’s good tips and resources. AudioFile’s broad listener audiences are eager to find their next audiobook. Our readers depend on us to find and review gems that might otherwise be missed. To give listeners an additional resource we started the Indie Showcase for independent authors and publishers. The advertising program gives prime print and online exposure to individual titles. To find out more about the Indie Showcase, email Michele Cobb, michele@audiofilemagazine.com.

AudioFile strives to find the best audiobooks to recommend to our subscribers and visitors. If you follow our advice above and end up with a great audiobook, we’d love to hear it! Please send it in for review.

Robin Whitten is the Editor & Founder of AudioFile Magazine.