Category Archives: DIY

Flipping the Script: Narrator Joe Arden Takes in the View from the Other Side of the Pen

Narrator Joe Arden’s solo authorial debut, The Chameleon Effect

Creativity is contagious. It’s one of the best things about the indie creator community—how it empowers artists to try new mediums, following what inspires them. The roles here aren’t restrictive, nobody has to “stay in their lane,” and once you get the storytelling bug, there’s no limit to the ways you can go about telling yours.

Meet Joe Arden—one of the industry’s most prolific narrators of romance & erotica. He’s won every major industry award for his smoky baritone voice and this week, he adds romance writer to his impressive list of achievements with The Chameleon Effect. Arden’s first solo project as an author debuted on Audible September 13th to rave listener reviews, proving that in this industry, there’s no need to limit yourself to one forte. We caught up with Joe just before his big audiobook release to talk inspiration, writing as a narrator, and what it means to write romance from a male perspective.

Appropriately, Joe even offered to narrate his answers for us so you can listen along! Enjoy!

First, can you tell us a little about the book? Whats it about? 

The Chameleon Effect is a male-POV rom-com about love, lies and Los Angeles. The story follows a young actor, Will O’Connell, who can’t seem to catch a break in Hollywood. After lamenting that all the “good roles” are going to overseas actors, he decides to pretend he’s one of those impressive foreign talents at his next audition.

Much to his surprise, this scheme takes off, his career along with it! But when he meets Raven Locke, he gets caught in a web of feelings and deceptions that become more than young “Liam” can handle.

Where did the inspiration come from? 

If I’m being honest, Will’s transformation into the Irish Liam O’Connell is something I’ve fantasized about during my own trials as an aspiring actor. And the beauty of storytelling is that you can do whatever you’re brave enough to let these characters do! So, what was only wishful thinking in my own life has become very real for this fictional character. And what fun it has been to imagine his whole journey!

What made you decide to try your hand at writing? Did you have a story in mind you wanted to tell? 

Having narrated over 500 romance novels in a relatively short period of time, I felt uniquely qualified to put my own spin on the form. I feel like I have a pretty firm understanding of the structure of a romance novel.

I wouldn’t say that I had a story in mind before I started writing, but I did return over and over again to one question that acted as guiding principle for my writing process: “Why am I telling this story?” Basically, tons of wonderful writers are out there telling amazing stories, so if I was going to attempt to infiltrate that space, I knew I had to do it authentically. So, as a man with a secret identity, I found myself telling the story of what happens to someone’s own sense of self when he deliberately dons a mask.

A secret identity romance written, quite suitably, by a man with a secret identity.

This might seem like a rather impertinent question, but how did you know you could do it—write a novel, that is?

I did not know that I could do it. But I knew that it wouldn’t get finished if I didn’t at least get started. Once the first few chapters came, then it was a matter of staying disciplined enough to keep grinding out pages. Eventually, I hired an editor, the wonderful Rebecca Hodgkins, and got on her schedule. Once I had a deadline and I was accountable to another human being, I locked in enough to get it finished.

Did you have a writing practice before starting this book—journaling, letter-writing, etc.?

I co-wrote another rom-com, How To Get Lucky, with New York Times bestselling author Lauren Blakely in early 2021. She was wonderful to work with and taught me a great deal. Lauren impressed upon me the importance of scheduling. She also showed me how I could thoughtfully revise my work to add greater clarity and specificity to scenes.

To your question about my background with writing, well, my mother was a prolific letter writer. She was very big on hand-written thank you notes, so I do probably write more letters than most people. My brother is currently serving overseas and I love to write him letters. There’s something special about receiving a piece of physical mail. It hits different than an email or a social media post, even if the content is identical.

As to what my writing process is…Lock myself in a room and pace around until words end up on a page seems to be the way for me.

How did you get started? 

The prologue came to me one night and those first 800 words poured onto the page. Nine months later, I finished my first draft.

This story takes place in Los Angeles, my hometown. Setting this book in the city where I was born and raised was really important to me. That gets back to that idea of telling a story that I, specifically, am qualified to tell. I know LA. I love LA. And that should be very apparent when you read this book. I name drop so many of my favorite spots. My secret hope is that some fans of this story will visit some of the places that Liam and Raven frequent!

How did your work as a narrator, particularly a romance narrator, shape your writing of this book? How did it inform your writing? 

One of the epiphanies I had while writing this book is that the romance genre isn’t simply about telling stories with happily ever afters. It’s also about creating compelling, believable worlds that unapologetically make us feel good. So this genre gives me permission not simply to tell a love story, but to create a world full of love.

I wanted Will to live amongst people that love and support him. Folks that are invested in his happiness and care about his success. So he has friends and family in this book that provide that for him. And I gotta say, it felt damn good to write those moments. 

Did you write with audio in mind?

Oh, absolutely. This book was written to be read aloud. Simple as that. And to your previous question, my background in narration was instrumental in shaping some of that stylistically. For example, there is not a lot of texting in this book. Why? Because text messages are SO DIFFICULT to narrate. Because it’s not actually the characters speaking to each other. It’s actually one of the characters reading in his/her head the words of the other person. So when you’re narrating that, you want to give a hint of the person’s voice, but you don’t really have permission to fully commit to the emotion behind the words because no one reads a text in their head with the full-out emotional delivery that the sender may have intended. That’s just weird.

So whenever possible I would force characters into space together to actually speak to each other. In one spicy scene, they do use their phones, but they allow technology to create a, let’s say, more intimate space…

Why did you choose to narrate it yourself?

In answering that initial question about why I was writing this story, I knew part of the answer needed to be so that I could TELL the story. To that end, I’ve created a world that allows me to highlight some of the things my fans have celebrated in my work in the past. Namely, this book has lots of fun accents and an adorable young child, all of which I get to voice.

That said, I want to give a huge shout out to Maxine Mitchell who has a cameo appearance in this book. Though I tried to always view this story through William’s lens, I found myself needing to hear from Raven on occasion. So I wrote a series of short interludes from her perspective and I knew it was critical to find a grounded, confident performer to bring her words to life. That’s Maxine. And she nailed it. 

What was it like reading your own words for the first time instead of someone elses? 

Joyous. Surprising. Hyper-Critical.

There were moments when I was recording when I felt in total control. I knew this story better than any that I have ever performed before, so my timing, my flow, felt dialed in. But in other ways, interestingly, I found myself having to go back and re-record sections because I would become overly critical of the writing or notice something about my phrasing or word choice that needed authorial attention and so that part of my brain would kick in and take me out of the storytelling mode.

I took a month off after final revisions of the story before I narrated it because I wanted to be able to approach it solely from that narrator/raconteur vantage point, and I think that served the performance really well overall. In addition, it had the added bonus of creating a few moments of surprise for me when I would come across a sentence or phrase or paragraph that I really liked and then I’d think to myself, ‘damn, that’s good. I can’t believe I wrote that.’

I know you have a wide net of author relationships from all the narration work you’ve done—did you consult any authors you’d worked with in the past about writing, editing, or promotion? 

I have often said that the audiobook narrator community is the most supportive and inclusive group of artistic professionals I have ever encountered. They are now in stiff competition with Indie Romance authors for that title. I have been simply overwhelmed by the amount of time, energy and resources that some extremely high-profile authors have shared.

I cannot say this enough: I am a man in a space dominated by powerful, dynamic, fearless women, and I am so grateful that they have made space for me. I’m so freakin’ lucky.

I’m also so curious about what it’s like as a male author writing in the romance space—to my knowledge, many, if not most, of the romance writers out there are women, which makes you unique! Were you thinking about that at all as you were writing, and do you think it impacted your process at all? Is there a different/interesting perspective you think that brings to the book?

Well, my previous answer segues quite seamlessly into this question (go us!).
The fact that I am a man writing in a predominantly female arena was definitely on my mind. And frankly, it’s one of the reasons I wrote a male POV book. Because I wanted to start from a place of strength. Write what I know. In addition, I gave myself permission to write my main hero (and the other men in this story) with as much emotional depth as I share with my friends. I think often there is this notion that men are guarded all the time or that they bury their feelings. Or perhaps, that for a man to be sexy, he must be mysterious.

And while I certainly know some men like that, I also know others… very attractive, very powerful men, who navigate life with an emotional vulnerability that I think gets underrepresented in the romance space. I gave my hero permission to feel his feelings. And to be unafraid to express them. And I think that’s sexy.

Is this the first of more books to come from you as an author?

This has been an extremely gratifying (and exhausting) process…

Ask me again in a few months!

ACX University is Back with New Episodes 3/15

Break out your pens and pencils, students of sound—ACX University is back in session and we’ve got an all-new slate of fresh, essential programming for your continuing audiobook education.

Whether you’re an author, producer, narrator, or director, this syllabus will have you playing, imagining, experimenting, connecting with your community, and springing into action. This season’s all-star roster of instructors includes:

  • Khristine Hvam
  • PJ Ochlan
  • Jorjeana Marie
  • Eboni Flowers
  • Tyrrell Harrell (of TYDEF Studios)
  • Jocqueline Protho (of The Audio Flow)
  • Eric Jason Martin
  • Erika Ishii
  • Matthew Mercer

And more!

We’re releasing three new episodes to YouTube this week, so keep an eye on our channel for details and get to the head of the class by clicking that ‘Subscribe’ button so you don’t miss a lesson. As always, ACX University is free and open to everyone—so join us, won’t you?

Work-Life Balance for Freelancers

“Work-life balance.” “Self-care.” “Unplugging.” “Boundaries.”

These buzzwords have been popping up more than ever the last couple years. Working from home, modified schedules, and career transitions have blurred the lines between work and not-work, and you’ve probably seen more than a handful of articles on leaving time for yourself and not letting your job absorb your personal life.

But if you work for yourself, this concept of work-life balance can be a good deal trickier. For independent creators, the work you do for yourself may be exactly what recharges you or gives your life meaning, so it can be easier to justify working overtime on your passion projects, and harder to put them down. It’s likely too that if you’re self-employed (and especially if you’re trying to get an independent career up and running), any time away from that work is accompanied by guilt—that you’re not pushing yourself hard enough or that you won’t “make it” if you don’t devote every spare second to your craft.

And while it’s true that when you’re your own boss, no one is going to keep you on track if you don’t, it’s equally true that all work and no play makes you a burned-out author, or actor, or publisher, who starts to resent your passion projects and doesn’t have the energy to give them your best work anyway (as someone who spent nearly a decade as a freelance producer, ask me how I know).

Since I’ve always found that balance pretty tough to strike, I thought I’d turn it over to someone who’s always struck me as being really good at this to give you some tips on how to care for yourself, maintain your work-life balance, and still feel like you’re the kickass boss of your own creative destiny.

Khristine Hvam is a narrator, producer, director, voice coach, and the co-creator of the pLAy and play NYCe workshops for creatives with fellow multi-hyphenate voice actor PJ Ochlan. She’s won multiple awards for her many different audio projects and continues to balance an impressive self-made career in vocal production and performance with a full life outside her work.

Here are her tips for finding your own balance and making your creative work, work for you:

  1. Set a “work schedule” that works for you and your life…and then ditch it when a really great opportunity comes up. And then go back to it. It’s fine. I promise. Figure out how much finished time you can realistically record in any given week and don’t over extend yourself. For a long time during the pandemic, I worked in two-hour chunks. Morning, late afternoon, and after the kids went to bed. I hated it, but I reminded myself often, “as are all things, this too is temporary.” Now that the kids are back in school, I have a new work schedule that I feel much more comfortable with. We’ve got to be flexible, otherwise we’re just frustrated.
  1. Give yourself a routine. Mine: wake up, make coffee, feed cat, drink coffee, wake children, feed children, drop off children, work…you see where I’m going with this. Humans need a bit of routine. It helps our ancestral brains function better.
  1. Break the routine once a week and do something different. Different coffee shop, different route to drop off the kids, different workout, trip to Vegas…shake things up. It’s GREAT for the creative brain.
  1. Make a list of your priorities. Balance is about compromise. This list will help you see what you want to give your attention to—OH, and it will change, so re-do this list every few months and check back in with yourself.
  1. Celebrate the little things. Whether it’s with a night out, or an expensive coffee, or a leisurely walk—celebrate your accomplishments. “Hey I made my bed today! Whoot whoot!”
  1. Don’t be afraid to say no. No one is keeping score on how many times you say yes and no. “Booked” is booked, and that’s ok. If you want to take an action, add into those “no” emails when you’ve got avails coming up. That’s helpful. And don’t overbook yourself. Saying no to a project is much better than saying you’re late with it.
  1. Choose “work-free days.” I don’t work on the weekend, BUT there are times when I need to break that rule for the bigger picture. Like, “I need to work over the weekend because the kids have off this Monday from school and I need to be with them.”
  1. Plan vacations well in advance—like a year in advance—so that you’re able to plan projects (and pickups) and finances around them. And plan long vacations. Give yourself a proper vacation. Plan for it. Save for it. And then enjoy the heck out of it.
  1. Put your phone away! Like WAY away. Scrolling is a time suck and social media just makes you think people are doing more/better than you. They’re not. Do what you need to do on there, then kick rocks. 
  1. Take a long hard look at your financial situation. What do you need? What do you want? Talk to a financial expert, get some help and some good advice. Sacrifices will have to be made, but future you will thank you for it. Knowing what you need to earn in order to reach your financial goals will help you choose when to say yes and when to say no to projects.
  1. Set attainable goals. Think big, then work backward to what you can do today.
  1. Find a good therapist, and lean on your support people when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It makes other people feel good and it helps form stronger bonds.
  1. Find ways to PLAY. What brings you joy? Do more of that. Make a list of what you liked to do when you were in Elementary school and find the adult equivalent. Then go do it. Not every day, or every week, but when you can. When it fits.
  1. Be nice to you and don’t “should on yourself.”
  1. Balance isn’t a day-by-day endeavor. Think of it over the long term. In one-year chunks instead of one-day. It’s life balance, not day balance. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Work-life balance is a fairly new concept to be embraced by the mainstream workforce, and many of us weren’t conditioned to think it’s important, much less trained to structure our own lives to prioritize it. So, give it a shot, and don’t beat yourself up if it takes you a little while to figure out a balance that works for you. Self-forgiveness is great for morale and makes it a whole lot easier to get back on track when you get derailed.

Turn Up the Feedback: ACX Audio Analysis Now Checks Spacing

Have you met Audio Analysis? In case you haven’t been acquainted, we launched this tool (and its partner, Audio Lab) last year to give you instant feedback on your audio files, allowing you to identify and correct technical issues before you submit them to our QA team.

Audio Lab can be used to check any audio for important metrics like peak value and RMS. That means you can upload your auditions, your profile samples, examples of your production audio, etc. for our robot review. And if you don’t take that step beforehand, Audio Analysis checks your production audio files within each of your projects as you upload them. Together, this sound-screening dream team helps make sure you’re putting your best foot forward every time.

And now, in addition to the seven metrics this dynamic duo already assesses, both tools now check the spacing at the beginnings and ends of each file, to make sure they measure up to our Submission Requirements.

Accompanying this announcement, we’re adjusting our spacing requirement to improve the listener experience—going forward, all files must have no more than 5 seconds of “room tone,” or spacing, at their beginning and end.

We hope these adjustments help your audio achieve a seamless journey through our QA check, helping get your audiobooks to retail faster and making you (and your fans) happier. And if you haven’t checked out Audio Lab yet, give a spin to see how it can save you time and energy making your next big audition or production just right.

Announcing Our Improved Time-to-Retail

Today, we’re excited to share that audiobooks which meet our Submission Requirements will be made available for sale within 10 business days. In the past year, ACX has received more audiobook submissions than in any other period, and together, we shared this record-breaking number of titles with eager listeners across the globe. This success also brought challenges to our processing timeline, and we thank you for your patience and feedback as we worked to enhance our workflow.

Once the Rights Holder approves and submits the final project, the production will be checked by our Quality Assurance team, and, if there are no issues with the audio files, cover art, or retail data, you can expect to see your title live on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes within 10 business days. If we find that your production does need an adjustment, we’ll let you know—with resources to help you get it right—within that same 10-business day period.

We understand that timing is everything when it comes to marketing and promoting your work, and we hope this time-to-retail will help you plan your promotional efforts with greater ease, getting your work in front of listeners sooner.

It’s a pleasure to help bring your best books to life, and we can’t wait to hear your next production! For further questions and assistance on this update, or any other topics, please visit our Help Center. We also recommend diving into our latest blog posts and ACX University episodes for storytelling and production inspiration.   


Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Narrator Karen Commins

We’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of ACX this spring by sharing career journeys from some of the amazing indie creators who have used ACX to share their stories with the world over the last decade. Read this blog series from the beginning, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller—narrator, producer, and expert audiobook educator Karen Commins.

When did you know this was what you wanted to do?

Beginning in fifth grade, I knew I wanted to do voiceover work. I started listening to audiobooks in the 90s when I was already volunteering as a reader for the Georgia Radio Reading Service, and decided to become a narrator. In 1996, I wrote to Frank Muller, who was one of the industry’s titans. I found his contact info and sent him an email with just a few questions, like how he got his work and whether he worked at home or in a commercial studio. He very kindly replied with enough info and encouragement that I knew I could do it.

Fast forward to 2013—after working consistently through ACX for a couple of years, I made what some would call a radical career decision. I wrote to my 3 commercial agents asking them to remove me from their rosters, explaining that I wanted to devote all of my attention to audiobooks. I left online groups that discuss any voiceover topics that weren’t specifically about audiobooks and I changed my website to remove demos for and testimonials from corporate clients.

This eliminated the distractions of commercial auditions, developing marketing campaigns for corporate clients, updating 2 versions of my website, and wasting energy comparing myself to other voice talent and pressuring myself to make my career look like theirs. My life revolves around audio books, and I couldn’t be happier!

Karen’s journal entry celebrating her first ACX contract in 2011

How has ACX affected your journey, and what would you recommend to first-time narrators as far as learning about their craft and the industry?

Although I had narrated a few audiobooks, taken a workshop with Pat Fraley, and attended APAC and two APA job markets, I couldn’t get traction with publishers. Most recorded in LA or NY, cast local talent, and didn’t hire narrators with home studios. I will always remember the excitement I felt in January 2011 when Audible invited me to be one of the beta testers for its new site, acx.com—the fact that I had a home studio was a key reason they chose me. The audiobook world opened up for me that day!

I devoured everything on the site. I didn’t —and still don’t—audition for every title. Instead, I carefully choose the titles for audition to suit my voice, style, and interests. I recommend that newcomers do the same to build a portfolio they’d be proud of. I continue to watch ACX University videos and read all of the help articles to maintain an expertise about the site and narration resources.

I advise newcomers to listen to good audiobooks every single day. Read AudioFile Magazine and choose award-winning audiobooks in genres you like and want to perform in. I’m not just listening for the story or entertainment, I’m critically listening to hear:

  • How is the narrator phrasing the words?
  • Do the character voices sound like believable people or cartoonish caricatures?
  • How did the narrator interpret the book differently that I might have done?
  • Are any words mispronounced?
  • Can I discern where a correction was inserted?

Continuing coaching in audiobook performance is essential regardless of your background. Audiobook narration is an intimate medium with acting requirements that are unlike any other role. A list of vetted coaches is available on NarratorsRoadmap.com.

You can learn so much from being active in the narrator community. I joined the Facebook group Indie (ACX and Others) Audiobook Narrators and Producers and started answering questions about ACX from other narrators. After a while, I created this FAQ for the group. You do need to be wary about the online advice you accept. I’ve seen other Facebook groups and some on Reddit where veteran narrators participate, as well as many more that don’t include any experienced voices in the membership. You need to observe the group interactions to discern the professionals who consistently dispense advice that you can trust.

Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell was a Voice Arts Awards finalist

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent producer?

During my previous 30+-year career as an IT specialist at everyone’s favorite government agency, I arose before dawn and drove to an office 30 miles away in Atlanta rush-hour traffic in all kinds of weather. Once there, I worked diligently on management’s priorities and solved problems with users’ hardware, software, and data.

Now, I’m grateful every day to enjoy such tremendous freedom! I only do work that is meaningful to me. I plan my work around my life rather than planning my life around my work, and I don’t need anyone’s permission to submit audiobooks I’ve published for review and award consideration. AudioFile has reviewed my work three times, my audiobook Road To Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell by Anne Edwards was a finalist for the Voice Arts Awards, and my audiobook So Big by Edna Ferber was a finalist for the Independent Audiobook Awards.

So Big was a finalist for the Independent Audidbook Awards

Who was most instrumental in getting your career going (besides you)?

I am beyond blessed and exceedingly grateful that my husband Drew, who is the hero of my life story, has been a full partner in my career since day one. He’s helped me in big ways, like agreeing we should get a home equity loan and construct an addition onto our previous house for my recording studio. He’s helped me in small ways, like listening to scenes and helping me select one to perform during classes. He directs all of my recording sessions, he maintains my websites, updates my mailing lists, and most recently, he disassembled my WhisperRoom booth and assembled my new Studiobricks booth!

How has your career grown since first coming to ACX?

Being an audiobook narrator fulfilled a life’s dream, but I’ve learned that it too narrowly defines me and what I’m capable of and interested in doing. In the last 10 years, I’ve become a leading expert on audiobook production, especially when using ACX.

I’ve written articles for the ACX blog about marketing (here and here) and performing audiobooks. I’ve also written my own blog, contributed to other sites, been a featured guest speaker on an APA webcast along with numerous videos and podcasts, and I’ve presented sessions at Johnny Heller’s Splendiferous Workshop and APAC. In 2018, I participated on ACX’s panel for VO Atlanta, where we discussed “Creating Your Audiobook Career,” and later that year, I was a guest on ACX University where I talked about “Acting With Intention.”

In 2019, I launched my own site, NarratorsRoadmap.com, which is the destination for narrators of all levels! It contains original content, a curated list of links to an incredible array of resources, color-coded calendars for eight types of worldwide events, a reviewers directory searchable by genre, and several exclusive video courses.

To celebrate my 10 year ACX-iversary, I developed and taught a three-hour webinar for VoiceOverXtra a few months ago titled “Put Yourself in the ACX Drivers’ Seat.” It includes 90+ slides and an extensive list of resource links to help narrators make an appealing profile, search for and vet titles and Rights Holders in the system, communicate effectively, and establish effective work flows. The recording and materials are available on my Shop page.

Another journal entry depicting Karen’s dashboard when it reached 10,000 units sold in 2014

What important connections have you made on ACX?

The entire ACX staff has been unfailingly kind and helpful to me in all our interactions, and Debra in Support deserves special mention. I’ve met so many publishers and authors through my auditions and narrations on the site that I can’t possibly list them all!

I joined the Facebook group I referenced shortly after it began in 2013. Originally, it was a group devoted to narrators on ACX, and it has grown to over 8000 members. I can’t say I’ve met all 8000+ people, but the number of narrators I know through that group is staggering. A few of those folks are now among my most cherished friends!

How do you define success in your career?

I’m doing creative work that matters to me and helps other people. I would say I’m wildly successful!

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started?

The audiobook industry and my previous IT career in the federal government share many aspects—you’re expected to conduct yourself in a professional manner, which includes showing respect to other people, keeping the team informed about the status of your projects, undertaking training on an ongoing basis to maintain and improve your skills, and meeting or beating your deadlines.

A major difference for me has been learning to stop comparing myself to other narrators. I admit that I still sometimes struggle with this issue! We may all be headed in the same general direction, but we have different missions and are on completely different paths to get there. I love this quote from Ernest Holmes: “We should never watch to see what another is doing or how he is doing it, for when we do this, we are limiting our own possibilities to the range of another’s vision.”

What do you aspire to next?

I always have short, medium, and long-term goals. As a narrator/producer/publisher, I’ll soon start recording a wonderful autobiography that I excavated from the public domain. Later on, I’m planning to license the audio rights to some more titles that I want to narrate, produce, and publish. I’m also eyeing two books with the hope of producing full-cast audiobooks from them.

NarratorsRoadmap.com is fast becoming my life’s work! Drew and I are constantly updating the site. I’m planning some more articles and video courses, and we’re currently building a mammoth casting directory. Stay tuned!

You can find Karen Commins on her website, or access her wealth of educational resources for all narrators at NarratorsRoadmap.com.

Keep an eye on the ACX blog for more career retrospectives from ACX’s finest!

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Producer Tanya Eby

This spring marks 10 years of ACX, and we’re celebrating a decade of authors and narrators telling stories their way by sharing the career journeys of several amazing indie creators. Read this blog series from the beginning, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller—quadruple threat author-publisher-producer-narrator, Tanya Eby.

How did you become a narrator/producer? 

That’s a really long story and includes a fair amount of missteps and embarrassment. Once I’d recorded about 300 books at a studio, ACX launched, and I knew I could produce audio on my own. I’d been well-trained by all those previous books, so I became a producer/publisher and created Blunder Woman Productions. Since then, I’ve produced or published over 200 audiobooks, won an Audie, been nominated for 3 Audies, created original audiobooks with large casts, and earned Earphones and SOVAS awards. It’s been a pretty wild ride. 

How did you find ACX? 

I found ACX pretty early on when it first started. There was a competition for a book I really wanted to record that I’d heard about. I didn’t get the book (it went to a famous actor) but it did get me to jump into producing audiobooks from home instead of always going into a studio.

The Brink: Stories was Tanya’s first ACX project as a publisher and 2017 Audie winner for Best Short Story Collection

How has your career grown since first coming to ACX? 

When I started ACX, I was primarily a performer. Now I perform, produce, publish, and create original content. It’s a really satisfying career where I have a lot of creative input and control. Plus, audiobooks are now my sole source of income. That’s a pretty great gift. 

Are you a full-time narrator? 

I am. I’ve been recording audiobooks now for about 20 years, and have been recording from home for about 10. 

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent narrator? 

I can create my own schedule, control my workflow, work from home, and choose projects that really resonate with me. It’s a dream job come true.

What was your big “I made it” moment? 

The first audiobook I published through ACX was The Brink: Stories by Austin Bunn. When they read our name at the Audies for Best Short Story Collection, I know that I’d arrived as a publisher and producer. This gave me the courage to create and produce original content including short story collections and also Nevertheless We Persisted and Nevertheless We Persisted: Me Too, collections of poetry and prose that talk about getting through the hard stuff. These books involved hundreds of writers, narrators, artists, composers, musicians, and a wonderful production team. We were nominated for Audies for both productions, proving that small companies with big ideas and a community working together can have real impact on the industry. I’m so proud of those productions. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started?  

Tanya’s first original content production, Nevertheless We Persisted, was nominated for an Audie and inspired a sequel

You need to be self-motivated and a real entrepreneur in this career. Don’t wait for people to give you work. Create it.

If you could narrate any book ever, what would it be? 

Ooooooh! I love this question! I would love to narrate The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, and anything by Shirley Jackson or Stephen King. 

What do you aspire to next? 

I’d love to work on some more original content. I have a lot of connections with the writing community and the audiobook community, and it’s a wonderful thing to bring these two worlds together. 

You can find Tanya Eby on her website, Facebook, or on Twitter and Instagram @BlunderWomanPro. Return to the blog next week for more stories of ACX creators making their mark on the world of audio.

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Author Amy Daws

This spring, we’re saying cheers to 10 years of ACX by shining a spotlight on the amazing creators that make this a milestone worth celebrating. Check out the first post in the series if you missed it, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller, author Amy Daws.

How did you become an author?

My first book was a memoir about my struggles through recurrent pregnancy loss. After that, I got the writing itch and took a turn into the world of romance novels.

Are you a full-time author? 

Yes, I have been for nearly four years now.

How did you find/come to ACX? 

I’d heard through various author channels that ACX had a royalty share option for authors and narrators to collaborate, so I didn’t have to invest money in a narrator up front for a format I was unsure I’d be successful in. Splitting the earnings with a narrator felt like a win-win situation!  

Has your career grown since then? 

One hundred percent. I used to only be able to afford narrators willing to do Royalty Share and now I am happy and willing to pay the full per finished hour rate for my narrators of choice. It took some time, but my audio earnings have continued to double every year for the past three years.

What was your big “I made it” moment? 

When I had a book make more in one month than I did for an entire year at my day job, I knew things had changed for me.

Amy’s latest sports romance, Replay, was released in audio earlier this month.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started? 

Growth takes time. Both in the e-books/paperback publishing sector and in audio. You have to build that audience. Make connections. Write a memorable story and hopefully they’ll keep coming back for more.

Why are you so passionate about advocating for audiobook production?

First of all, writing a book is a lot of work. But once you’ve polished your story and made it shine, why wouldn’t you want to milk it for all it’s worth? That’s why audio is so important to me. I’ve already done the hard part—I’ve written the book. Now I need to get it out to all the major channels so readers and listeners can consume it in their preferred medium.

Not producing an audiobook is like taking a four-course dinner you worked on for hours and deciding not to serve all four courses to your guests. Someone is certainly going to leave hungry and good food will go to waste. 

The fact that there’s a service like ACX that’s user-friendly enough for someone with no experience in audio production to publish their own audiobook is all the help I need to serve all four courses to my guests!

What important connections have you made on ACX? 

My relationships with my narrators are very special. I’ve been able to meet nearly all of them in person and now we’ve worked together on so many books, it feels like they wrote the story with me. And sweet, kind Debra in ACX customer service has a special place in my heart!

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent author? 

The flexibility of my job is wonderful. I work from home, which I very quickly realized was extremely valuable during a pandemic situation. I love that I get to make my own covers and choose my own release dates. I’m not just an author, I’m an entrepreneur and I can take my career in a variety of directions.

What do you aspire to do next? 

Amy’s bestselling novel Wait With Me has been optioned for film by Passionflix.

The movie/television industry is always a big dream of mine. And with one of my books (Wait With Me) optioned for film by Passionflix, I’m super excited to see what comes of that. I have also been trying to manifest my Harris Brothers series into a TV show. I’ve been telling people that I want it to be picked up by Netflix, HBO, or Showtime and I want it to be like Ted Lasso meets Grey’s Anatomy but with more HEAT! HAHA. It’s good to have dreams!

You can find Amy & all her audiobooks on her website, check out her ACX University episode here, follow @amydawsauthor on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to join her in the fun. Tune in again next week when the ACX anniversary spotlight shines on another celebrated creator!

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.