There’s no set formula for finding success as an indie creator, but sometimes to see ahead towards where you’re going, it helps to take a look at those who have been where you are now. This year’s Audies saw wins from more than a few friends of ACX – authors and narrators who got their start on the platform or pros who have been featured in ACX educational programs throughout the years – and to inspire your journey forward as an independent creator, we’re looking to a few of our old friends to ask about their recent Audie wins. First up, authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, and their narrator Andi Arndt for Best Romance Audiobook, Dirty Letters.
What do you think you did that contributed the most to your win this year?
Vi Keeland & Penelope Ward: Two things make an audiobook stand out: exceptional narration and a unique story that allows the cast to shine in their performances. For Dirty Letters, we believe the heartfelt correspondence between our two characters at the beginning of the book allowed listeners to immediately connect with the unique personalities of the hero and heroine. Jacob Morgan’s portrayal of the charismatic British rock star, Griffin, and Andi Arndt’s portrayal of the quirky and awkward agoraphobic Luca were the perfect complement to each other. Not to mention, their amazing work voicing all of the different side characters truly gave the impression there was an ensemble cast rather than only two narrators doing all the work.
Andi Arndt: Oh my goodness, I have no idea! I’ve been lucky to enjoy a long and fruitful relationship with everyone involved in the project, from Brilliance Publishing, to authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, to co-narrator Jacob Morgan. Vi and Penelope had a very strong positive reaction to the way this particular book and audiobook turned out, and asked that it be put forward for consideration. But I prepped and recorded it the same way I approach all of my projects. Learn more about Andi’s production process here.
How can winning an Audie be used to help further your career?
Vi & Penelope: We feel like the benefits of wining an Audie are akin to other titles of distinction such as hitting a bestseller list. These prestigious accolades tell a prospective purchaser that a book has been vetted. The Audie win provides a sort of validation that may encourage buyers to take a chance on a new-to-them author. In turn, if those buyers enjoy the work, they may also go on and buy backlist titles and become loyal readers of future books. We’ve already experienced Dirty Letters climbing back up the charts the day after the Audie winners were announced!
Andi: Beyond the marketing aspect of it, I take it as a challenge to renew my commitment to this work, to deepening my technique, stretching my abilities, and also giving myself permission to rest and refresh. With summer not far off, I’m thinking about things I want to do that are not work, to enjoy the life that audiobook narration has made possible.
What advice would you give a new creator who wants to see their name among the finalists someday?
Vi & Penelope: This may sound obvious, but hire the right narrators for the right roles. Our hero is British, so we knew early on that we wanted Jacob Morgan who does a fabulous accent. Listen to multiple stories by each narrator to learn how versatile they are. Not every narrator with a beautiful voice and popularity is right for every role.
Also, and this may be tough for creators who are just starting out and anxious to get their stories published, but make sure the audiobook is published simultaneously with eBooks and print. When you maximize your promotional efforts and treat audio as important as the other formats, audio will eventually become more important to your finances.
Andi: You never know which book is going to be the book. Details matter, so attend to them.
Are you working on any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
Vi & Penelope: We’re always working on multiple projects at once! Next up, we have Not Pretending Anymore, voiced by Erin Mallon and Sebastian York. Erin is perfect for the project because she voices a young, conflicted heroine like no other. And Sebastian nails the sarcasm and wit of our hero. Not Pretending Anymore will release simultaneously with print and eBooks on April 12th.
Andi: Always! This week I’m working on the first book in Stella Gray’s new Charade series and Louise Bay’s new romance, a co-narration with Shane East. Both of these authors I either work with or connected with through ACX.
Congratulations to all this year’s fabulous Audies winners and nominees, and a big thanks to Vi, Penelope, and Andi for sharing a few words of wisdom about their wins. Stay tuned for more award-winning advice from industry pros and keep your eyes on the prize! We can’t wait to see more indie wins in the future.
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.
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!
Last week, we heard from Audible Approved Producer Hannibal Hills on how he built a successful narration career from square one in three years. If you’re new to narration or thinking about taking it full-time and wondering where to start, be sure to catch up on the first part of this narrative and learn how to set a solid foundation for yourself. And now, with the help of our narrator, we continue on our journey…
Investing in Editing, Coaching, and Mentoring
Like any growing business, your narration career may reach a point where you can afford to hire outside help to so your business can continue to grow. I have now reached the point where I outsource my editing so I can focus solely on narration. Earlier in my career, I felt the need to save on the pennies and stay in control of the whole process. But when income started to come in steadily, being behind the mic became the most valuable use of my time, and the increased output I was able to achieve from outsourcing easily counterbalanced the cost.
Performance coaching was another investment whose value I cannot overstate. Early on, I was beyond fortunate to connect with the great Sean Pratt, and he has been a true mentoring light as I moved from narration as a side-job to a full-time career. Coaching with a true expert is the single most important investment you can make in your narration career. The knowledge and advice they share can save years of trial and (mostly) error, and be the very difference between long-term success and failure.
Choosing the Right Projects
Choosing the right projects is every bit as important as having the performance skills or the right equipment. Sean, whose excellent book, To Be or Wanna Be: The Top Ten Differences Between a Successful Actor and a Starving Artist is a trove of clear wisdom, has given me countless useful pieces of advice and challenges to learn through. An example of the wisdom a coach like Sean can offer can be found in his famous three questions: Of each project ask yourself: will it pay, will it be good for my career, and will it be fun. If all three are true, that project is a clear good choice. If only two are a yes, it should only be accepted if you can comfortably live without the third. If only one (or none) is true you should never accept the project. This simple test is a golden barometer for a narrator in all stages of their career.
I am now careful to evaluate every project I am offered or consider auditioning for—not only for value, but for scheduling. Overbooking is an easy trap to fall into in the early years, but spreadsheets are just as good for calculating reasonable monthly output as they are for projecting income. Don’t undervalue your time and work. When you have only a few books to your name and are starting to realize how much you still have to learn, impostor syndrome can bend your will to accept projects that aren’t right for you and poor rates of return. Though it is hard, you mustn’t stop believing you are worth the accepted industry rates. Too many hours working hard while knowing you are being underpaid will eventually start to poison your heart, smother your passion, hurt your performance, and eventually make you regret your career choice altogether. A good coach will help you to continue to believe in the value of what you do.
Finding My Voice and Building My Identity
With the right home setup, a process you feel confident in, ongoing training that produces real improvement in your performance, and a steadily growing output of titles, it very quickly becomes clear the sort of titles that best suit your voice. I worked to resist the temptation to be an “everyman.” One of Sean’s most valuable contributions to my career was helping me define my niche and refine my identity and brand—externally but also internally, in my performance and approach. I now look for projects that suit that brand. This personal “flavor” can be applied across both fiction and non-fiction, and in my case to horror, comedy, classic literature, and more colorful, opinionated non-fiction. Every narrator will have their own flavor that comes from their own heart and passions, and this should be embraced rather than denied. I have found that taking on projects that appeal to me as a person, and which match my own personality and tastes, makes for a far more fulfilling professional life. My most successful projects have been achieved through forging relationships of trust and mutual understanding, where they know you believe in their work, and trust you to make the right creative choices to best bring their words off the page.
Occasionally, I have taken off-brand projects, sometimes because the money and opportunity were tempting, or because I wanted to experiment with a new genre outside my core brand. For these projects, I have several alternate names—a pseudonym or “nom de vox”—so that my brand remains clear, and I can work anonymously if needed.
Learning and Looking Forward
In creating recent box sets with long-term collaborators—the authors of the books—I have had to revisit some of my very early work. It was fascinating to see how far I have come, and how much coaching has helped me improve. It is good to be reminded of the lessons I needed to know then, so I keep them at heart moving forward. Even if we are not proud of our early work, we should be glad that it helped us take another step toward where we are today.
Goal-setting is essential for moving your career forward. I have two key reminders I look to every day—the first is a small whiteboard of my goals for the year. Some I have already achieved, others still need a lot of work, but they are there in plain sight. Each goal I set can be measured in a very real way, from royalty units sold to number of books completed. The goals cover all areas, and each one nudges some aspect for my narration career ahead one more step—and when it does, it is toasted (perhaps with a glass of something with my wife), erased, and replaced with another goal just a little more challenging.
The Shared Adventure of Audiobooks
The second thing I come back to each day is our community: the indie audiobook narrators Facebook group, narrators I have met through mutual coaching, and those I’ve reached out to via email because I simply admire their work. Many authors and small publishers have also become friends through our collaboration, and I meet with many regularly on Zoom to discuss market trends and new project ideas.
Few industries have such a supportive, positive community of helpful cheerleaders, friends, joke-sharers, listeners, and advisors. We all want to see success in the others and cheer when we do, because we know that there is room for us all, that so many unique voices each have a place, and that what is right for me may be rightly different to what is right for you. We also know that together we are creating libraries of lasting enjoyment for millions of listeners. This really is an industry where dedication, honesty, manners, fairness, trustworthiness, and sharing are the qualities that build success. This is a job where the good guys and dedicated spirits really do win. It may have taken almost 46 years, but I found a home—one where each book brings to life a new adventure to be shared.
Hannibal Hills is the narrator of more than 40 titles. This ‘darkly sophisticated British storyteller’ can be found lending his voice to many a horror, mystery, or thriller novel.
Are you a narration newbie inspired by this career journey? An audiobook veteran who can add some sage wisdom of your own? Let us knowin the commentsbelow.
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!
I have always had a bit of a pioneering spirit, and thrive in environments where there is room to explore and feel my way around. Things just aren’t as much fun when every stone has already been turned. I need a little room in my life for something unexpected or even astonishing to occur.
It was this spirit that drew me to ACX and the possibilities it opened up. As incredible as this new platform seemed, I tried to keep my excitement in check and approach with caution. Pioneering may be fun, but you don’t always discover a new continent; sometimes you end up with an empty belly and a fever.
ACX Producer and Pioneer Arika Rapson
Sixteen months have since passed, and I have some notes from my Field Journal that I would like to share. While at times I did miss the certainty of a clear path through well-manicured woods, the journey through ACX has been far more fruitful than I ever imagined back when I first stepped in. I have been building relationships with authors and publishers that I hope will flourish for years to come. Many of my books have sold well and continue to sell – my royalty books alone have sold about 8,500 units. One of my titles became the best selling book in its genre for months. I have done a number of pay-for-production titles, both on and off ACX, so I’m delighted with the substantial number of ACX royalty sales that represent such a small amount of my time.
So what happened? Did I just get lucky? Do only certain types of books sell on ACX? The answers here are no, and no. My three best-selling titles have been in 3 different genres and have absolutely nothing to do with each other in terms of content. It often does take some luck to get a title that stays at the top of the charts, but you can do really well with a handful of books that continue to sell moderately, too. Even without my bestseller, I still would have about 5,500 units sold from my other projects. I believe there is an approach to navigating ACX that will help you make the most of your experience.
It’s Not Just About Your Voice
Many people think that the most talented narrators get all the work. Talent definitely plays a part, but the narrators who get called on again and again are the ones that people love working with. Be reliable, on time, communicate well, and deliver consistent, quality work. Don’t expect the rights holder to manage you. And consider this benefit of return business: if a rights holder you already know keeps asking you to narrate more books for them, that means you are spending less time auditioning and more time working.
Keep An Open Mind
Branding has become a very hot topic and I agree that it’s pretty important. But we narrators can’t lose sight of our primary jobs. As story tellers, we morph ourselves to become the brand for each book, each author, each publisher for whom we work. It’s not about our brand, it’s about their brand. If you’ve tried to be the kind of narrator who only does this or that type of book, you may be defining your own brand so narrowly that you put yourself into a very small box. You may also find yourself with less work than you’d like.
Having said that, there are times when you do want to consider the image you are trying to maintain. If the book is very political, religious, or in any way controversial and you don’t want to be associated with the subject matter or the ‘side’ the book is supporting, you can always record it under a different name. I have used a pseudonym on numerous titles and it’s worked out just fine.
I’ve heard some narrators say they find certain genres offensive. Personally, I am more offended by bad writing than by any particular genre, but hey, suit yourself! Your opportunities will increase in proportion to your openness. My own thoughts about narrating anything with sexual content relate to the situation itself. In my opinion, audiobooks are in stark contrast to what you may find in Hollywood—on the big screen, you are statistically much more likely to see a woman experiencing sexual violence than sexual pleasure. I would very much prefer to read a scene where a woman is enjoying herself.
The point is this: ultimately it’s up to you to decide what you are comfortable with, but if your goal is to stay busy, keeping an open mind will be an asset.
Get out of Your Mental PJs
I will confess that I may have narrated in my long johns a time or two, but when it comes to accepting a royalty title, I get into a total business state of mind (suit and tie optional).
What does that mean? It means it’s time to investigate! Does the author have an active online presence? Has the book sold well? What about other books by the same author? If I’m unsure about auditioning for a title, I like to send a message to the rights holder, to ask questions like how they will be promoting the audiobook once it is released.
If they don’t write back, move on.
Your Voice Counts
This brings me to my final point, which I think pretty important. I am not a social media guru and I don’t have thousands of friends on Facebook and Twitter that I am conversing with nonstop around the clock. But I do make it a point to invest in the people who I admire and/or have something to learn from and who feel the same way about me.
Last year I became friends on Facebook with a woman with a top rated podcast that gets up to 60,000 hits per episode. Rose Caraway has an awesome online presence and had recently gotten in to narrating audiobooks herself. We began exchanging all sorts of helpful information with each other about equipment, breaking into audiobooks, figuring out social media, etc. Eventually, she convinced me to appear as a guest on her show, the Kiss Me Quicks, which I agreed to as an exercise in getting myself out there (although I was a bit terrified about how her devoted fans would receive me!). On the show, Rose introduced me, mentioned some of the audiobooks I’ve done, and then had me read a short story. Frankly, I was completely floored by what happened after that. The book I did that had been #1 in its genre when it was released a year earlier went back to #1 all over again and stayed there for weeks! It was pretty awesome.
So in my mind, social media is not always about who has the most ‘friends,’ but about having friends that you have something to offer and who in turn have something to offer you. A mutually beneficial relationship is by far the best kind to have (which is the same way it works with ACX rights holders)!
Pioneering can be frustrating and uncertain at times, but if you focus on building the right team of explorers to accompany you on the journey, you may find some pretty incredible things can open up along the way.
Thanks Arika, for charting the path for future ACX pioneers. What do you think of Arika’s recommendations? Tell us, and add your own, in the comments!
We love a good success story here at ACX. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy when we get to show you the many ways that ACX can work for you. And while you might not be ready to take on quite as big of a workload as producer Kevin Pierce did, his story shows that with a little knowledge and some hard work, you too can break into the world of audiobook production. But enough from us. Let’s let Kevin tell you himself.
Last week, I uploaded a production to my ACX dashboard and pressed “I’m Done” on what was my 50th book through ACX. Which was surprising, because only several months ago, I had never recorded an audiobook.
I had a career in radio and TV in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and transitioned to full-time voiceover work after that. But despite decades of long-form narration work (documentaries, training videos, and radio series), I could not figure out how to crack the code and get into audiobooks. Near the end of 2012, though, I read a blog post that mentioned something called ACX and I checked it out.
ACX became my gateway into audiobooks. It gave me a way to audition for my first projects without having to demonstrate experience in the field. Armed with confidence in my related narration and production experience, and a copy of the ACX Rules for Audiobook Production, I gave it a whirl. I auditioned for a less-than-one-hour royalty-share project that would let me experience the entire production process quickly (if it wasn’t going to work, I wanted to know sooner than later). I accepted an offer, completed the production, and got rights holder and ACX approval.
I, Kevin Pierce, was officially an audiobook narrator and producer.
For the next 100 days straight (weekends and holidays included), I was in my studio auditioning, reading and producing audiobooks, managing as many as 10 at a time. On Thanksgiving Day, I put two 24-pound turkeys in the oven, read and produced two one-hour chapters, then served dinner for 50. On Christmas Day, my kids, wife and I opened presents before I started opening audio files. I was the ideal designated driver on New Year’s Eve, because I would be having a happy New Year’s morning in the audio booth.
After that first royalty-share project came several pay-for-production projects, and I got to see how ACX served both rights holders and producers through its approval and payment process (I couldn’t get paid until requested changes were made; the rights holder wouldn’t receive the completed work until payment was made).
Then I received notice from ACX about a stipend program that would both pay me for production AND give me royalties on up to 10 books produced (I managed to do nine). One of these audiobooks has generated my best royalties to date, so it’s stipend was a nice bit of lagniappe.
I’ve had the pleasure of repeat business from publishers like Berrett-Koehler, University Press Audiobooks, Crossroad Press and Callisto Media, as well as authors both self-published and those who have regained audio rights to their previously published works.
I’ve worked with publishers and producers who do their own mastering, and I’ve mastered my own (I prefer the former). And I’ve worked with publishers and producers who provide their own Quality Control editing and I’ve done my own (again, I prefer the former). But all of my the recording was done in my own state-of-the-art, room-within-a-room studio, the resulting recording from which one of the delighted outside producers called “pristine.”
More important, I’ve done enough business (and see enough ahead of me) to be able to move into audiobook narration and production full-time (which now provides an answer for the wife and kids to the question, “What exactly does your husband/father do?”).
So now, as an Audible-Approved Producer and narrator (a recognition I inquired about and received after I pressed “I’m Done” on number 50), I’m looking forward to the next 50 and the next hundred and the hours and hours of fascinating storytelling in the months and years ahead.
You may have seen Actor Nick Sullivan on TV in shows such as 30 Rock and Law & Order: SVU, and he is currently appearing nightly on Broadway in Disney’s Newsies. He also has over 100 audiobook credits to his name. Nick took a few moments to tell us why ACX is an important addition to his already busy schedule.
I think what I find most attractive about ACX is the flexibility it offers. I work in theater, television, film, and voice-overs and tend to have an extremely busy schedule. Many times I will receive offers on top of each other and have to turn work down only to hit a slow patch a few weeks later. ACX has proved useful at “filling the gaps” in my work flow. If I’d like additional work I can log in and find it for myself. And when I book it I have more control over when I record it since I’m in direct contact with the rights-holder
I also enjoy the ability to “be my own casting director”. Most narrators know what they’re best at: which genres they most enjoy, what dialects they excel at, what subjects are of special interest to them. I love the ability to spot a title that you know you have a special affinity for and plunge right in and audition for it.
Finally, ACX has surprised me a number of times with authors and producers approaching me because they’ve heard me narrate and think I’d be ideal for a project. And in one case I found myself helping an excellent author who needed a new publisher. With my contacts that I’d gained through ACX we were able to get him together with a great publishing house. ACX really has been great for all sides of the audiobook community.
Are you an ACX sucess story? Tell us why in the comments and you may be our next guest blogger!