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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
5-4-3-2-1! ACX author, narrator, and master motivator Mel Robbins joined us in-studio to discuss The 5 Second Rule and how her method can help creatives of all stripes achieve success. Writing one of the best-selling audiobooks of 2017 and an Audible Original out this past May, Mel knows a thing or two (or five!) about maximizing your productivity and growing your listening audience. Listen to our interview below or read through the transcript to learn from the path she’s blazed.
Key points from our interview with Mel:
Learn The 5 Second Rule and what went into creating the bestseller. (02:25)
Discover how you can join the indie publishing revolution by publishing or producing audiobooks on ACX. (05:20)
Hear how to connect with your listening audience from the recording booth. (08:15)
Build your social media following the 5 Second way. (09:18)
Learn the role of graphic and video content in promoting your work on social media. (11:40)
Find out how authors and actors can use The 5 Second Rule to increase productivity. (15:00)
How does Mel recognize when she is one the right path to success? (22:15)
Mel has inspired a great number of people, but who inspires her? (29:15)
Read the transcript:
Scott Jacobi: This is Scott Jacobi with ACX, and I’m here with Mel Robbins. Thanks for joining us today.
Mel Robbins: Well, thanks for having me.
Scott Jacobi: We are in our Newark, New Jersey studios and today, Mel and I are going to talk about her book, The 5 Second Rule and how some of her tactics can be applied to ACX authors and actors to find success in their own lives.
Mel Robbins: That’s right. Listen up, baby.
Scott Jacobi: So could you please start by, give us sort of your 60 second elevator pitch on yourself and The 5 Second Rule, just set us up with what we’re dealing with today.
Mel Robbins: Sure. My name is Mel Robbins, and I’m a businesswoman, a mother of three. I’ve been married 21 years, which is a small miracle that Chris stuck around for that long, and I wrote The 5 Second Rule which is a book about a mind trick that I created by accident 10 years ago that will help you change any habit and have a deeper connection with your authentic self. That sounded so cheesy it’s unbelievable, but that’s just what fell out of my mouth.
Scott Jacobi: I don’t think it sounds, I think it sounded authentic. Like you said, authentic self. If you’re doing it without thinking about it, I think it’s coming out just right.
Mel Robbins: There you go.
Scott Jacobi: So there you go. Okay, so to get into it, your book has been a smashing success on Audible as well as in ebook and print. It quickly became one of the best selling books that we have on Audible. It has a 4.6 rating over 17,000 reviews.
Mel Robbins: That’s insane.
Scott Jacobi: Yeah.
Mel Robbins: Can we just stop right there?
Scott Jacobi: And it’s just been out a year, right? Last February?
Mel Robbins: It hasn’t even been out a year. 17,000 reviews, 4.6 stars, that is the thing I’m the most proud of. The fact that it’s not only done well, but more importantly, people fricking dig it.
Scott Jacobi: They dig it. They’re giving it great reviews, and you’re nearing 300,000 Audible units. Okay, all right-
Mel Robbins: No, we’ve passed it. Nearing. Give me all the credit it is due.
Scott Jacobi: I need an updated paper. The big thing there that I find so fascinating is your audiobook sales are more than your print and your ebook sales combined.
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: Which blows my mind, and I’m sure it blows a lot of people’s minds that’ll be listening to this. It seems, in some ways, like it came together very quickly, like it showed up on the scene very quickly, but we know that usually, overnight success is a misnomer. Can you tell us about the work that you put into The 5 Second Rule that most people wouldn’t see that they might be able to learn from?
Mel Robbins: Well, I’m gonna answer the question two ways. First, I’m gonna talk about The 5 Second Rule concept, and then I’ll tell you into the work that went into creating not only the book but an audio experience that became the sensation that it’s become.
Scott Jacobi: Give it to me.
Mel Robbins: So first of all, the idea of The 5 Second Rule is super simple, and that is that you can change your life in five seconds. In fact, that’s the only way that you change your life, and I came up with this simple trick 10 years ago to help me beat a habit of hitting the snooze button and oversleeping every single morning.
Mel Robbins: So the idea of The 5 Second Rule was something that I used in private for five years. I then shared it on a stage just kind of extemporaneously. I said that correctly, right? Okay. Somebody taped the speech that I was giving and the speech went crazy viral and then people started to write to me about The 5 Second Rule. The writing and the kind of emails that we got from people that saw this speech online drove me to want to figure out why The 5 Second Rule actually works, and so I did a three year long research project into the science of habits and human behavior. I’m a real nerd. Like I’m super curious about human behavior and life hacks and brain hacks and it turns out The 5 Second Rule is one of the most powerful brain hacks backed by science that will help you make any change happen.
Mel Robbins: So there was eight years of using The 5 Second Rule and three years of research that went into the concept, and I think that’s one thing to understand that particularly simple concepts, the reason why a simple concept can be powerful is there’s typically a ton of work behind it. So that’s how the background on the actual concept, but with the book, okay. You’re talking to a chick that has some dyslexia. I have ADHD.
Scott Jacobi: Same.
Mel Robbins: I have horrendous executive functioning skills, and the idea of writing a book is literally the equivalent of taking a pencil and shoving it into my eyeball.
Scott Jacobi: I hope that’s not how you wrote it.
Mel Robbins: Pretty much, yes.
Scott Jacobi: But that’s a big undertaking to put all that together.
Mel Robbins: Yeah, and my business partner will tell you it was probably the worst six months experience for either one of us, because I was complete jackass to deal with, because I was stressed out all the time.
Scott Jacobi: I’m sure a lot of our authors can relate to that.
Mel Robbins: Totally. So we wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, and I also … So the book took about six months to write. Now here’s the thing that happened. We self published the book, and so what happened is we had all this kind of pent up demand because I have a social media following and I have a speaking platform, and when the book came out, it sold out in terms of the print copies, because it was a really small print run in the beginning. Sold out immediately, I don’t know, the 15,000 copies that they printed. The only thing that was available was the audiobook.
Scott Jacobi: Was the audio, right.
Mel Robbins: Or the ebook. Now, the thing about the audiobook that I think was a differentiator is that when you say overnight success usually means 10 years of experience, the one thing that is different about me as an author is that I have five years of broadcast experience. So when it came time to do the audiobook, I just naturally looked at the audiobook as if it were producing a radio show.
Scott Jacobi: Another broadcast project.
Mel Robbins: Correct. So the interesting thing, and I fricking love ACX. The experience that I have had as an author using your platform and, I should say, this platform, has been mind blowing and very eye opening. Number one, we all know that there’s a huge paradigm shift in publishing, and authors make the mistake of letting their egos make big business decisions. There are a lot of authors, and you may be one of them, that feels a little insecure about your work, and so you think you need an agent, or you think you need a big publisher. You think you need some kind of advance in order to validate your work. The truth is, you don’t need … anybody. The only thing that will validate your work is you actually doing your work.
Scott Jacobi: Getting it out there.
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: Doing it and getting it out to people.
Mel Robbins: Yes. Regardless of how the book gets published, you still have to market it. So finish the book, but then when you publish the book, it’s gonna be on you to push it. You’re gonna make more money if you are pushing people to the audiobook, because if you do your global distribution, the percentages are fantastic. Now-
Scott Jacobi: Right. Better than you’re gonna find on the print or the ebook side.
Mel Robbins: Better. Are you kidding? 10 times better for crying out loud. I say to everybody that I talk to that reaches out to us about advice about writing a book and publishing, number one, no matter what, sever all audio rights. Do it yourself through ACX. It’s the smartest business move, it’s a long tail strategy, you have all the resources right here, you’re being a complete dummy driven by ego if you do it any other way. Because let me tell you something, that big publishing house that is launching your book for you, you know what they’re gonna do? They’re gonna hire the same actor you could hire. They’re gonna stick him in the booth here at ACX, and they’re gonna distribute it themselves through ACX and they’re gonna give you a penny. Goodbye.
Scott Jacobi: Right. So do it yourself, and that’s a big part of our platform is the ability either to do it yourself as you did, reading it, or to sort of be your own author entrepreneur or actor entrepreneur, take the power into your own hands, put yourself in the booth, or put yourself in the director’s chair, as it were.
Mel Robbins: The other thing that I wanna say quickly is that just like The 5 Second Rule was a mistake.
Scott Jacobi: A happy accident.
Mel Robbins: Seriously, it was a happy accident that changed my life and will change yours. The audiobook experience and us self publishing for the first time on ACX was an incredibly happy accident, and one of the things that I want you to understand if you do narrate your own book, and this is something I learned at radio that you don’t think about. When you’re doing an audio product, it is a one to one experience. So when you go into that booth, one of the tricks that we used to have when I was in the radio business is we would print out the avatars on Facebook of our fans and I would have one person paste it up, their face in the booth, and I would talk to that one person.
Scott Jacobi: And that’s your audience.
Mel Robbins: That’s your audience. It’s an incredibly intimate experience.
Scott Jacobi: Absolutely, and that’s one of the reasons that theater professionals, theater actors do so well with this, because they’re used to performing to the last row, and that’s a similar sort of idea to that. I think that’s great advice. You bring up your social media followers, which is a great point for me to pivot into my next question, and it also ties into the idea of no overnight success. You mentioned having a good social media following before you launched the book. You said people were reaching out to you and such about The 5 Second Rule when the video went viral. How did you use, once you had this book, how did you use the content around it to grow your social media channels, giving you a captive audience to then market the book to? What did you do that ACX authors or actors could try to replicate?
Mel Robbins: Well, so I have some particular rules about social media. Number one, it’s not about you. It’s about them. Unless you’re Beyonce and people wanna be a voyeur on your life, nobody really gives a shit, and so your social media is about what the audience that follows you is getting. So before you publish the book, as you’re writing a book, if you have something to say in a book, you also have something to say on social media. You need to start pushing yourself now to start publishing more content on social media. That content should be authentic. It should be personal. It should of value to your audience, and how do you figure that out? Well, you start publishing all kinds of stuff, and then you see what people comment on. You see what they heart. You see what they share. They will give you so much information based on how they’re interacting with you. Do more of what people interact with. That’s how you build an audience.
Scott Jacobi: Right. Test and repeat.
Mel Robbins: Yes, and you need to do it now. Don’t wait until the fricking book comes out and now you wanna sell something to people. Do it now.
Scott Jacobi: Right, get them involved. As we said, build up a little momentum, get them involved in the process early. We always tell our authors, tell them that you’ve cast your actor. Tell them that you’ve stepped in the studio. Share a picture of yourself as you step into the studio. Get people bought in emotionally to that product, so that when it comes out, they raring to buy it.
Mel Robbins: More importantly, as you’re writing it, take a photo of yourself as you’re struggling with procrastination. Write about it. Show people what you’re doing, and what happens is people feel like they know you. They feel like they’ve been along for the ride. They feel like for an entire year, you’ve done nothing but give value, value, value, and then when the time comes to support your work, now you can make the ask.
Scott Jacobi: And they feel like they’re giving you something back for what you’ve given them. I love that idea.
Mel Robbins: 100%. 100%.
Scott Jacobi: So as you’re talking about this social media content that you’ve created and you’re recommending others create, looking at your social media feeds, I noticed that you use a lot of video and image. It’s not just text based. I think a very basic thing people hopefully know about social media is video and pictures are going to get more engagement than just text based posts. They catch the eye. They take up more real estate, et cetera. How do you do that? So maybe you’ll tell me you are also a video producer and you’re also a Photoshop expert.
Mel Robbins: Not me. No, I’m not.
Scott Jacobi: So how do you do that and how could others possibly recreate that?
Mel Robbins: Well, the first thing that you could do is first of all, just shoot stuff on your smartphone for crying out loud. I mean, if you look at the stuff that goes viral, it’s really shady, fuzzy looking stuff that people shoot on their phones, so stop worrying about it being perfect. It’s not a book. This is a piece of micro-content that’s gonna last like 10 seconds. It’ll go viral if you’re lucky. Okay?
Mel Robbins: The second thing is that it’s platform dependent, so people that are on Instagram are image heavy. Things that are on Facebook tend to be either longer form or tend to be natively uploaded video. You don’t wanna just link to YouTube. That’s lazy. You gotta upload the video yourself to Facebook, otherwise you’re gonna decrease the amount of stuff that, the amount of times people share it. With YouTube, obviously it’s all video. If you start shooting your own video, almost like a selfie, just kind of talking to camera and showing people what you’re up to, sharing what you’re thinking about, you’ll see if it resonates with people. If you need to do more video, what you’re gonna do is you’re going to take a video of yourself and you’re gonna say, “I’m looking for an intern. Is there any high schooler out there that understands how to use iMovie or any of the editing tools, and I’ve got an incredible, killer, 10 hour a week internship with you that could turn into a paying gig.”
Mel Robbins: All of your friends’ nieces, nephews, sons and daughters will reach out to you, and next thing you know, you’ve got a couple people that are interested in editing video as an internship. Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna tell them to take five or six of the crappy videos that you’ve shot yourself and edit together something kind of cool. You give them that project as a way for them to try out, pick the best one, boom. Now you have a video editor. You do this one little push at a time, and so that’s how we started. We now have three full time video editors. We have a creative director that runs social media. We have community managers that respond to all the posts and the comments, and one woman who does nothing but just answer emails all day. Because my brand is all about helping people get the advice and the entertainment and the connection that they need so that they can do a little bit better.
Scott Jacobi: So speaking of that, let’s do that right now. We’ve talked about some of the broad tactics that you’ve used for marketing your books, but I love The 5 Second Rule. I think it’s so fascinating, and I tried it myself the other night. I’ve personally not been going to bed early enough, and I have a little daughter who wakes me up at the same time every morning, no matter how late I go to bed, and I’m playing on my phone too long and I’m staying up too late. So having listened and researched your book, I said, I really should go to bed, and then I said 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, I’m getting up and I’m going to bed.
Scott Jacobi: So it worked for me in that little instance. How can authors and actors apply The 5 Second Rule specifically to what they’re trying to achieve in their day to day lives with their audiobook and writing?
Mel Robbins: Great, well, so let’s talk about the big creativity killer, which is procrastination. So procrastination is a habit. You’re not a procrastinator. You have a habit of procrastinating, and when you look at the research around habits, there are three parts that make up a habit. Then those become like a closed loop that get encoded in your brain, and then you get stuck in the habit of procrastinating.
Scott Jacobi: What are the three parts?
Mel Robbins: The first is the trigger. The trigger is something that is outside of you that triggers you to repeat a pattern, and then when you do the pattern, you get a payoff. So with procrastination, the trigger is 100% always the same. Procrastination is a habit that’s triggered by stress. Believe it or not, when you procrastinate on work, it has nothing to do with work. You’re actually stressed about something else, typically, and the stress triggers you to blow off the things that require focus. And so blowing off writing, blowing off editing a video, blowing off working on your marketing, blowing off watching the videos on the ACX university platform in order to get better at the acting stuff that you need to do. All of that is triggered by greater stressors.
Mel Robbins: The reason why you have the pattern of procrastinating is because when you blow off the work that requires focus, you get a small amount of release from the stress that you’re feeling. So the only way to change a habit is not to worry about the trigger. There’s always gonna be shit that stresses you out. You just can’t control that.
Scott Jacobi: That’s life.
Mel Robbins: That’s life. But you can always choose how you respond to the trigger. So if the habit right now is procrastinating as a form of stress release, what we need to do is we need to actually retrain you that when you’re stressed, that you recognize it and that you actually push yourself forward and do a little work anyway.
Mel Robbins: And so the way that you’re gonna use The 5 Second Rule is when you catch yourself procrastinating, number one, acknowledge oh. Don’t say, oh, there I go procrastinating again. Go oh, I must be stressed about something.
Scott Jacobi: Okay, so link the two together.
Mel Robbins: Yeah, link the two together, and it might be maybe your dad’s … Somebody on our team, she’s worried about her dad’s health. They’ve got a test back that’s a little sketchy and she’s now extraordinarily upset about it. Okay? That’s the trigger.
Scott Jacobi: I hope he’ll be okay.
Mel Robbins: So acknowledge, I’m just stressed about dad. So that disappears the trigger, and then go 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and I want you to just work for five minutes. That’s it. The reason I want you to just start working for five minutes is starting is the hardest part, number one. Number two, we’re not actually trying to turn you into a workaholic. We’re trying to retrain you and your response to the trigger of stress. Your old habit when you felt stress was to step back and procrastinate. The new habit is to recognize the stress, acknowledge it, and lean into the work.
Mel Robbins: So I only want you to work for five minutes because if I can get you started, 83% of you will keep going.
Scott Jacobi: 83%?
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: That’s pretty good.
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: I have a question about what you just said. I can say in my personal life, I’ve been working to try to do the first step of what you said, which is sort of step back and recognize, what am I actually feeling right now? What’s going on in my head or my body? Do you have a good way to take, is it a physical step back? Is it closing your eyes and taking a deep breath? How do you grab onto that moment and to not let it pass by?
Mel Robbins: Well, first of all, I count backwards, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That’s The 5 Second Rule, and you’ve got to do that because what you’re doing is you’re interrupting all of the bad habits and reactions that get stored as habits in the interior part of your brain, and you’re awakening your prefrontal cortex. By the time you get to one, your mind is now primed to focus, to act with courage, to do something new. So the counting backwards is essential.
Mel Robbins: You can use the rule, the second that you hit one, you’re in control. So you now have the ability to make a conscious choice, whether that’s pushing yourself forward by speaking up, or by doing something outside your comfort zone, or starting the work where normally you’d procrastinate. Or maybe you’re gonna use it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and now pull yourself back. You’re not gonna micromanage your team. You’re not gonna snap at your kids. You’re not gonna reach for that Manhattan, that you’re going to redirect yourself away from the thing that you do that’s destructive.
Mel Robbins: So for me, when I first started using The 5 Second Rule, I used it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, get up on time. Then I used it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, get to the gym. Then I used to it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, kinda curb the drinking a little bit. Then I started using it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, change the way and the tone in which I was speaking to my husband. We were going through some shitty stuff at the time, and I was not being that nice. Now, I use it mostly for thinking patterns.
Scott Jacobi: Give me an example.
Mel Robbins: So self-doubt. Imposter syndrome. Anxiety. Any garbage that you think that’s actually self destructive. It is a habit, just like chewing your nails is a pattern that you repeat that’s annoying, so is self-doubt. So if you catch your thoughts drifting, you can 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, give yourself like a mental … slap, awaken the prefrontal cortex, and insert something that is optimistic or positive or self-serving instead of defeating. In the five years that I have been using The 5 Second Rule to redirect my thoughts and reframe them, I have fundamentally changed my mindset. I’ve cured myself of anxiety. I have no imposter syndrome, and this goes back to the original question, which is how do you, in the moment, figure out how to do this?
Mel Robbins: Well, I think that inside each and every one of us, whether you call it a GPS or you call it your inner wisdom or you call it your soul or whatever you want to call it, that there is a guidance system inside of you.
Scott Jacobi: Something innate.
Mel Robbins: It’s always talking to you. It’s a combination of all the experiences of your lifetime, situational intelligence. It’s your intuition. The fact is that when you start to use The 5 Second Rule to push all the excuses aside, you gain a level of clarity that is very hard to describe. It gives you a direct line to your intuition, because so many of us, our intuition kind of rises up, and then we shut it down with an excuse or with self-doubt or with anxiety. When you start to empower your own intuition, and you start to have a little bit more courage in your life, what happens is your ability to hear those moments, your ability to really know yourself and be able to self-monitor, it’s extraordinary. It’s the most powerful thing that you could learn to do.
Scott Jacobi: So you’re stripping away the self doubt-
Mel Robbins: Yeah.
Scott Jacobi: Which is leaving room for the way you truly want to be feeling and acting to bubble up and for you to be able to recognize it and act on it.
Mel Robbins: That’s a beautiful way to say it.
Scott Jacobi: Thank you.
Mel Robbins: Yeah, really.
Scott Jacobi: Great. So you talk about success and achieving this success based on these methods that you’re talking about. What are some of the metrics that you use to define success in your own life, and maybe also specifically for your book and your audiobook? What are your benchmarks?
Mel Robbins: Well, I want to be the number one audiobook in the world.
Scott Jacobi: All right.
Mel Robbins: There you go. There’s my benchmark. Let’s go. We’re well on our way. I’m just kidding.
Scott Jacobi: So you said, well okay, you set very high level goals. Do you set sort of sub goals under those to hit along the way, or do you just set that stretch goal and you do everything you can to hit that.
Mel Robbins: So I’m what you would call an outcome thinker, so I’m always thinking about where I want to get to. Maybe this is from a lifetime of experiencing anxiety, which is always living in the future and normally the future’s terrible. So that’s why you feel anxious right now. But I’m an outcome thinker, so I think about the things that I want to achieve, and then I always work backwards to figure out, well, what are the steps that lead me there? I measure my personal success by whether or not I’m energized and proud of what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with. I think the single thing that has been a really remarkable tipping point, and this will be another book that we’re gonna write.
Scott Jacobi: Somebody already used the tipping point, so I would suggest a different-
Mel Robbins: Oh, not that one, sorry.
Scott Jacobi: Just a different title, but I love the idea, so keep going.
Mel Robbins: There is this really interesting tipping point in our business where things just exploded. The deals were suddenly massive and the platform was getting bigger, and that was when we stumbled upon this really interesting little tool that I can’t wait to write more about. That is that every single one of us has an internal fuel gauge. If you think about it like a gas tank that has a gauge that goes from empty to full. When your gas tank is empty, you feel depleted. When your gas tank is full, you feel fully energized. I think we discovered this because we were trying to create an online course around passion, and passion is a very difficult topic to teach because at the end of the day, passion isn’t a thing. It’s not a profession. It’s not something that the place that you live or relationship that you’re in. Passion is energy.
Mel Robbins: The way to discover passion in your life is to follow the energy. When you tune inward and you pay attention to the data that your own body is giving you, you actually have the answer to the question that vexes everybody, which is how do I find my passion? You find your passion by aligning your life with the things that naturally energize you. So we made a crazy, lunatic woo woo business decision a year ago, my business partner and I, that we would only do things and we would only work with people that we are energized by. Anything that depletes us … we’re not doing it. I don’t care how much money they offer. I don’t care how big the person is, and when you use your internal fuel gauge as a way to make decisions, what you’re actually doing is you now have found a tool to make decisions that are aligned with the things that you’re naturally passionate about.
Mel Robbins: The cool thing is that when you’re energized, you do better work. When you’re energized by the people around you, you’re a better leader. When you’re energized by the projects that you’re working on, you’re fricking creative. So what that may mean for you as a writer is you might be depleted when you sit down to write at home. You might notice that if you go to the local library or you go to a coffee shop, you’re more energized. So if you make the small shift to write in places where you naturally feel more energized, you will be shocked at how your creativity and your productivity flourishes.
Scott Jacobi: So it sounds like in order to notice that, we go back again to what you were talking about earlier, that need to take a step back, check in with yourself, use The 5 Second Rule to center yourself, if you will. What I’m getting from what you were just saying is it almost sounds like a melding between eastern and western. It sounds like it’s a little bit spiritual, but you also say it’s internally data driven, and I love the idea of taking something that there are people out there that think spirituality is a squishy concept and aren’t super into it. If you can use it for yourself in a way that feels more authentic, as you said, I agree. I think it can be a great driver to success.
Scott Jacobi: I have a quick question for you on what you just said. I imagine that it’s easier to say, I’m only gonna work with people that make me passionate. I’m only gonna take projects, regardless of the money, that I really feel passionate about. I imagine that’s easier when you’ve had a measure of success then when you’re either just starting out or you’re sort of at that pivot point, like you mentioned, just prior to that tipping point. Any tips for how somebody could avoid the allure of, I need the money. I should just take that project even though I don’t love it. Because you went through that.
Mel Robbins: Oh, god. Look, if you’re at the point where you’re trying to pay your bills, take the … project, okay? What I’m talking about is having the awareness so that if you’re in a situation where you work for a company and there are people in the company day to day that deplete you, be aware of that, and take intentional steps not to get hooked into them. So it’s more of the awareness around how people’s behavior is contagious. If there are people you have to work with every day that deplete you, take steps to remove yourself from conversations with them. Take steps not to engage in the passive aggressive stuff.
Scott Jacobi: Minimize the exposure.
Mel Robbins: Yes. Exactly, and spend more time with the people at work that actually do energize you. If you are somebody that you’re starting the process of becoming an actor and you’ve got, it’s a new paradigm and learning something new depletes you, every time you notice that you’re depleted, I want you to redirect your thoughts to the thing that got you excited about wanting to do this in the first place, and anchor yourself there in the part of what you’re taking on now that actually energizes you. Does that make sense?
Scott Jacobi: Yeah, no, absolutely.
Mel Robbins: So it’s kind of the fact that this awareness around what naturally depletes you and what naturally energizes you, how that can give you the beacons that you need to pivot in order to align your life and your work in ways that are more satisfying and more successful for you.
Scott Jacobi: Right. I love it. That definitely does make a lot of sense. As we start to wrap things up here, I’ve got one more question for you and then we’ll go into our little end game here.
Mel Robbins: Cool.
Scott Jacobi: But as you’ve mentioned and as people will see the moment they click on any of your website or social media profiles, you’ve inspired a great deal many people with this 5 Second Rule. I’m curious, who inspires you? Who has inspired you, or who do you currently see as a hero, and don’t say yourself.
Mel Robbins: Well, if I have to be … The first person that comes to mind, as cheesy and as predictable as it is, is Oprah, and there’s a reason why. The reason why is, first of all, I grew up with her. So I’m gonna be 50 this year, and when I got home from school, she would be on TV. It was my first habit that I remember in terms of television-
Scott Jacobi: A good habit.
Mel Robbins: And always looking forward to something. What I loved about her show was the fact that she made the fact that we’re all screwed up normal, and she wasn’t the kind of expert that was talking down to people. She was the kind of person that was right there alongside with you, and that really inspired me. Then when 10 years ago, I first stepped into the media business, and I signed a development deal with ABC, one of the people that was coaching me was one of the creators of The View, and they wanted to turn me into a talk show host. I remember him making me watch all these clips of Oprah Winfrey.
Mel Robbins: One of the things that he said about her that he wanted me to pay attention to, and as an actor and as an author, when you think about your audio experience of the story that you want to tell, I want you to remember this.
Scott Jacobi: Hit me.
Mel Robbins: When Oprah Winfrey opens her show, it doesn’t matter what she’s about to talk about. She exudes a level of excitement about what’s about to go down that makes you lean in because she believes that what you’re about to hear about the brand new microwave that’s gonna hit, that it’s gonna change your life. So she was a master at piquing your curiosity and making you pay attention. She was also a master at being passionate about what she was talking about.
Scott Jacobi: You took the words out of my mouth. I was going to say, based on what you’ve just said, she must be very passionate about what she does, and that makes a great point for especially actors as they step into the booth and they’re preparing to read their tenth book in a row and they’re looking to get those energy levels up. Having that passion and being passionate about it is such a key part in connecting with the audience for that performance. You’ve taught me, I was gonna say, Oprah must be incredibly passionate about what she does to bring that level of excitement every show.
Mel Robbins: Yeah, and when I step on a stage, for example, it could be an audience of 20,000 in a stadium. It could be 500 folks that work in financial services like we had in the audience yesterday in Dallas. The thing that drives me is knowing that there is one person in that audience whose life is about to change because of something they’re about to hear. If you step into the booth before you record your book, and you convince yourself that that one person, there’s one person out there that has to hear this story, and I’ve got to tell it in a way that is so compelling that I reach that one fricking person, you’ll win.
Scott Jacobi: Going back to what you said before about the audio medium being very one to one, being very intimate. Absolutely. I love it. I think that is great advice, and I think that’s a great point to wrap up the meat of this on, and to launch into our end feature, which we normally call the lightning round, but for this session we’ll call it the 5 second round.
Mel Robbins: Okay.
Scott Jacobi: So I have, and you have not seen these, so I’m-
Mel Robbins: I have not seen these.
Scott Jacobi: And they’re not difficult. They’re not gotcha questions, don’t worry.
Mel Robbins: Okay.
Scott Jacobi: But yeah, favorite place to write?
Mel Robbins: My favorite place to write? Into a microphone. I don’t like to write. I dictate everything.
Scott Jacobi: You dictate everything.
Mel Robbins: I’m an editor. I’m not a writer.
Scott Jacobi: So who puts it down for you?
Mel Robbins: Siri.
Scott Jacobi: Siri?
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: Okay.
Mel Robbins: Or Dragon Dictate, I use those two.
Scott Jacobi: Okay, all right. Cool. What is your favorite time of day to dictate?
Mel Robbins: Any time.
Scott Jacobi: Any time?
Mel Robbins: Yes, because I’m not a writer. If a thought comes to me, it’s like, I just puke it out right now.
Scott Jacobi: You gotta get that out right away.
Mel Robbins: Before I forget it. Remember, ADHD, dyslexia. You gotta work with what you got, people.
Scott Jacobi: So along those lines, coffee or tea, or no caffeine at all?
Mel Robbins: Coffee for sure with whole milk, except for when I have bronchitis, which I get every fall and spring, and then it’s tea.
Scott Jacobi: Okay. All right. Favorite pizza topping?
Mel Robbins: Mushrooms.
Scott Jacobi: Mushrooms?
Mel Robbins: And sausage.
Scott Jacobi: Together? Mushrooms and sausage?
Mel Robbins: Yes, mushrooms and sausage. More mushrooms.
Scott Jacobi: Okay. Favorite place to go on vacation?
Mel Robbins: Eleuthera. We had our best family vacation there.
Scott Jacobi: Eleu, where is that?
Mel Robbins: Bahamas.
Scott Jacobi: Bahamas, okay. Great. What item would you bring to a desert island?
Mel Robbins: A tent.
Scott Jacobi: A tent?
Mel Robbins: Yes, a water well.
Scott Jacobi: That’s a very … some people would say their favorite book or a locket from their mother.
Mel Robbins: God, no! I want to survive. Are you kidding?
Scott Jacobi: I like that answer. I like that answer. What was the last movie that you saw? Do you have time to see movies?
Mel Robbins: Yes. I watch movies on planes. I watched Wind River last night on the plane here, and it is a very upsetting movie. It’s a riveting story. I bet it would make an incredible audiobook, but it was very upsetting to watch.
Scott Jacobi: Last question. What is one thing we didn’t ask you about today that you would like our listeners to know?
Mel Robbins: I have no idea. Join us on social media. We reach 20 million people a month on social, and we bring you behind the scenes, and I don’t think I’m an expert in anything. I am a professional over sharer. I am intellectually curious. I’m a nerd about personal development, and I love sharing the stuff that I’m learning that’s working, not because I think that it’s what you should do, but because I hope it makes you think about what you are doing and how you could do it better for you.
Scott Jacobi: Great. Well, thank you for sharing that everything you’ve shared today with us. Definitely, definitely, definitely go check out The 5 Second Rule on Audible.
Mel Robbins is a serial entrepreneur, best-selling author, internationally recognized social media influencer, and one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the world.
In addition to connecting authors and publishers with voice talent and studio pros, ACX offers those with completed audiobooks a pathway to distribution through the top audiobook retailers, Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. This “DIY” workflow is a popular choice for authors who want to voice and even produce their own work. Author Joanna Penn recently completed the process herself, and she joins us today to share her experience recording Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur (out today) for ACX.
ACX Author and DIY Narrator Joanna Penn
How to Record Your Own Audiobooks For ACX
Audiobooks are a fantastic growth market for authors, narrators, and producers alike, and I’ve been working with fabulous narrators for my fiction since ACX opened up in the UK in 2014. But as a listener, I prefer non-fiction audio in the voice of the author themselves, so I decided to record one of my own books, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur.
Here are the lessons I learned in the process:
1. Make Sure You Record the Highest Quality Audio
There are specific technical requirements one must adhere to when publishing an audiobook on ACX, so that the listener has the best experience possible. You can reach this level of quality by recording in your own home, but only if you can get rid of the various noises that may pollute the audio, which you may not even hear anymore.
I’m a podcaster so I’m used to recording and editing audio, but when I listened to the sounds of my flat, I could hear planes overhead, cars going past, the rattle of someone in the garden, and the occasional yapping of a dog outside.
Instead, I hired professional audio producer (and musician) Andy Marlow (pictured), who has a great little studio just a bus ride away from me in South London. We worked in two-hour slots and Andy made sure that the quality of the initial audio was excellent, and he mastered the file to produce my retail-ready audio for upload to ACX.
2. Prepare Yourself for Recording
It’s surprising how tiring recording audio can be. I was exhausted after each two-hour session, because it was essentially a performance. You have to put energy and expression into what you’re saying. And in a professional studio you might be shut into a small, padded box, which takes some getting used to! Here are my tips to manage yourself during the audio process.
Schedule sessions a few days apart if you’re new at recording to ensure you have enough energy. People can hear exhaustion in your voice, so respect your audience and make sure you’re at full strength when starting, and stop before your voice begins to drop. It took 7 sessions of 2 hours each to get to a finished audiobook of 6.5 hours, a ratio of about 2:1.
Try to avoid dairy before recording or anything that might give you excess phlegm or clog your throat. Try cleaning your teeth and create a routine so that you know your voice will be ready for speaking. If you’re ill or your voice is affected in any way, you’ll need to postpone, as audiobook listeners will be able to hear the difference.
Joanna Penn records her audiobook.
When you’re recording, try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. I found that I needed to stop sometimes for deep breathing during longer chapters. I would consider a voice coach for help with this if I was recording more often, as it definitely affected my stamina. Professional actors and voice artists can record for a much longer period, as they have mastered this.
You’ll want to read from a Kindle or other tablet so you don’t encounter page-turning noises while recording. Remember to turn off any WiFi connection on the devices and set to airplane mode as they can make a static noise on the audio, even if you can’t hear it when recording.
3. Learn Some Editing Skills to Keep the Costs Down
You can pay a producer to edit the audio files as well as record and master them, but this will make your cost per book higher, meaning less profit for the project. Since I already edit audio for my podcast and I had high-quality raw audio files, I decided to do the edits myself.
Here are some specific tips:
You can use free editing software like Audacity to produce professional-sounding audio.
If you make a mistake when recording, clap your hands so you create an obvious spike on the audio file that you can use to find the error later (pictured). Your error rate will increase as you become more tired, so make sure that you take breaks. I found that 40 minutes was the maximum time I could spend reading “in the box” before I needed a break.
The ACX technical requirements require you to add a few seconds of room tone at the beginning and end of the file. We recorded this separately, in the silence of the empty vocal booth. I then just used the pre-cut segments to begin and end each file, which made the process quick and easy.
After editing, there needs to be a full QC listen to the audio to ensure all the edits are done properly and the audio matches the book. Since I was truly sick of hearing my own voice by this stage, I employed my Virtual Assistant to do this step for me. Most of the files were fine, but there were a couple of instances where I had repeated myself without editing the error, so this QC step is crucial to avoid issues later.
High-quality audio files are very large, and because you’ll be sending them back and forth, you can’t use email for this. They will also fill up your computer memory really fast. I used Dropbox to send the edited files to my Virtual Assistant and the final files to the producer.
This process has given me a renewed respect for audiobook narrators, because now I know how hard the job is and how many hours go into recording and editing a book. It was much harder work than I expected!
However, it was definitely rewarding and I will be recording other non-fiction books in the future. It also gives the entrepreneurial author another product in their business, and if you’d like to learn more about that, check out Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, available now on Audible.
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn. She also writes inspirational non-fiction for authors and is an award-winning creative entrepreneur and international professional speaker. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com is regularly voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers. Connect on Twitter @thecreativepenn.