Category Archives: Storytellers

ACX Storytellers: Nick Sullivan

With over 225 narration credits on Audible, not to mention his work on Broadway and TV, Nick Sullivan is an accomplished actor. The release of his second novel, Deep Shadow, reveals that Nick is a skilled writer as well. Nick recently sat down with us to share how his history as a performer influenced his work as an author.

Actor/author Nick Sullivan

Q: How did you become an audiobook narrator/producer?

A: Growing up, I was fascinated with “radio books,” and listened to the Radio Reader with Dick Estell on my local NPR station. When I became a professional actor and moved to New York, I came across an ad asking for actors to record for the Jewish Braille Institute. About a week later, I was shooting a short film and the actress playing my wife told me about the now-defunct Talking Book Productions, which recorded books for the Library of Congress. I auditioned and within days I was recording my first book, A Day No Pigs Would Die.

I’ve worked in film and TV, toured with a couple of shows, and have even appeared on Broadway a few times, but I always came back to audiobook work. I got into full-service audiobook production via Audible Studios, and I was involved in the first beta for ACX.

Q: What made you decide to try your hand at writing?

A: I dabbled in screenplay writing early on. Then, as my narration career hit its stride, it occurred to me I might be able to write if I put my mind to it. Then one day a few years ago, inspired by the wacky garden decorations in SkyMall magazine, I bought ZombieBigfoot.com and wrote a screenplay. Before I did anything with it, I booked Newsies on Broadway, then a tour of Kinky Boots. Finally, when I got back, I looked at the screenplay and thought: “I’m a narrator. I’ve been recording various authors across all genres for twenty years. Why don’t I novelize this first?” And I did. Zombie Bigfoot hit #1 in Horror Comedy in 2017. My second novel, Deep Shadow, about a team of scuba divers who get caught up in some dangerous international intrigue, just came out last month, and it’s off to a great start. There’s nary a zombie nor a Sasquatch to be found in its pages.

Q: How did your experience telling stories with your voice influence your writing?

A: I think it’s helped with the dialogue. I already have a “visual style” to my writing, with my structure having a lot in common with movies and episodic television. I married that to my desire to have every line of dialogue sound at home flowing from that character’s mouth. There were many times where I’d stop writing and “narrate” what I’d just written; often this would result in “oh my goodness, no…” and I’d go back and tweak the sentences to flow better. Once in front of the microphone, I made a number of changes during the audiobook recording process: I simplified some of the dialogue when it seemed too wordy or made a change here or there to let a conversation unfold more smoothly. There’s also the overall pacing of a scene that I think narrators are very attuned to. The author might be building to a climax, ratcheting up the action, or simmering in a tense situation—the narrator has to be on the same page with that, adjusting their pace and intensity accordingly. I’m hoping I managed to provide some excellent builds, transitions, and even moments of quiet.

Q: Do you write with the audio performance in mind?

A: Oh yes. For Deep Shadow, I picked voices I knew I was at home with and wove them into the characters from the start. I used accents for some characters that I was quite comfortable with; though I did use Afrikaans in Zombie Bigfoot and I’d never done it, so I forced myself to learn it since it was crucial to the character. But some dialects are my kryptonite. You will never hear a Chicagoan in my books. I sound like that “Da Bears” sketch from Saturday Night Live.

Q: Were there any authors that you tried to emulate or use as specific influences?

A: I think I’ve got a fair amount of Carl Hiaasen in my blood—I recorded one of his books long ago and went out and read-for-pleasure nearly all of his works. I love how he can fold absolutely absurd situations and broad characters into serious, suspenseful situations. Stephen King’s work has also informed my writing. He can go full-horror, but he’s not afraid to go all “funky n’ cool” too, inserting levity into the horror. And King’s book On Writing has some gleaming gems of wisdom about the craft.

Nick the actor in the booth

Q: You wrote an impressive variety of voices/accents into Deep Shadow. Why did you decide to go that route?

A: It’s tricky, because I didn’t want to go overboard, but honestly, the location and nationalities involved in the story required a lot of accents. In fact, I decided to tone down a couple of the accents because there were so many. One example is with Martin, the elderly cook and father figure to Boone. He’s a native Bonairean, and would speak Papiamentu, a creole dialect on Bonaire. It’s a fascinating mish-mash of languages, but I decided I wanted him to have a clean delivery to match his straightforward wisdom. I knew some Bonaireans and Curacaoans who didn’t have strong accents, so this was something I felt I could do.

My general rule is, if someone is “from” somewhere, they need to speak accordingly. That being said, I didn’t want my main character to have an accent, so even though I wanted Boone to be from my home state of Tennessee, the decision to give him a Dutch father (which is part of his connection to Bonaire) gave me the license to have him speak without a Southern accent. Emily, on the other hand… I’ve noticed that the Caribbean is chock full of divemasters from the UK, Australia, and South Africa, so I wanted her to be a Brit from the beginning.

Q: Did you find the experience of narrating your own writing to be easier or harder than narrating someone else’s work?

A: I hope it’s not a cop-out to say “both.” Honestly, the dialogue was a blast, because I knew exactly the intonation and intention I wanted. But, since I wrote the material, I knew in the moment if my vocal choices weren’t accomplishing what I intended, so it took longer than usual to record. I didn’t finalize the text for either book until I recorded it, so I was able to change any sentence that struck me as clunky, and I even reordered a few things. I remember a particular section in Deep Shadow where I had a lot of exposition to get through and finally I just stopped and said “No…if I don’t find a way to begin the dialogue earlier, people will drive off the road listening to this.” I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I found a way to introduce a second character earlier, allowing me to intersperse some dialogue.

Finally, no editor can catch typos like a narrator. For both books I hired a professional editor who caught plenty of them, but I still caught quite a few more when I narrated…and then a couple more when I QC’d and edited the audio.

The Caribbean island of Saba, as seen on one of Nick’s recent visits.

Q: What’s next for Nick the author?

A: After Nick the Narrator finishes up a couple of projects, Nick the Author is going on a scuba trip to Saba in June, then he’s off to Bonaire for a writer’s retreat with two other authors. I’m hoping to have a first draft of the sequel to Deep Shadow by late September.

NICK SULLIVAN has narrated audiobooks for over twenty years and has recorded over four hundred titles, receiving numerous AudioFile Earphones and Audie nominations and awards. He has performed on Broadway and appeared in many TV shows and films, such as The Good Wife, The Affair, Divorce, Bull, Madam Secretary, Boardwalk Empire, 30 Rock, Elementary, and all three Law and Order series. Nick is also the author of Deep Shadow and Zombie Bigfoot.

Doubling Down on Audiobook Success

Audible Approved Producer Eric Martin joins us today to discuss one of the rewarding creative partnerships he’s forged on ACX and how it has grown across multiple audio projects. Here’s Eric in his own words.

Hitting the Jackpot

Audible Approved Producer Eric Martin

Audible Approved Producer Eric Martin

I got my start in audiobooks via ACX back in 2012. A lifelong love of storytelling and audio recording led to podcasting in the mid-aughts, which led to audiobook narration and production a few years later. Publishers like Penguin Random House, Hachette, and Tantor Audio quickly found me through my work, and I’ve since gone on to narrate or produce more than 150 titles and counting. I’m grateful to ACX for the opportunity to get my foot in the door and learn what there is to know about audiobook production and narration. Even today, ACX remains an important part of my portfolio. I love being able to work directly with authors and create projects that I’m passionate about. Here’s the story of how I hit the jackpot working with a great author on one of my favorite subjects.

Place Your Bets

When I’m not narrating for work, often I’m reading for pleasure—and I particularly love adding nonfiction titles to my library and learning something new. In 2014, I picked up Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas, and was immediately fascinated by the story of larger-than-life impresario Jay Sarno, the creator of the iconic Caesars Palace and Circus Circus casinos in Las Vegas.

The book was written by David G. Schwartz, who is the Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He’s a prolific writer on websites like Vegas Seven and an engaging public speaker with a dedicated following. The combination of great material, engaged author, and excited fanbase made this a very attractive project to take on. I approached David and asked if I could help adapt the book into audio. He agreed, and we began our collaboration.

Grandissimo_CoverA couple of months later, the audio edition of Grandissimo was released. David helped get the word out to his fans and readers via social media, and I interviewed him on my podcast “This American Wife.” Together, we reached a lot of potential listeners.

The combination of a great story and a marketing push from both author and narrator using podcasts and social media helped drive sales, and contributed to Grandissimo being featured as an Audible Daily Deal a few months later.

Let it Ride

Based in part on the success of Grandissimo, I was inspired to create an original audio work of my own about Las Vegas. Hoot Gibson: Vegas Cowboy features an all-star cast including Andy Daly, Weird Al Yankovic, Rachel Bloom, and many others.

We included a lot of real Vegas history in the series, and because David and I had collaborated together and kept in touch, he was able to refer me to the Center for Gaming Research that he directs at UNLV. It’s a big library and an incredible resource for all things Vegas and gambling.

I listened to oral histories at the Center that became a huge inspiration for many characters and scenarios in the finished series. It was an unexpected thrill spending many hours listening to old tapes in the library and hearing such incredible stories that brought history to life.

Roll the Bones

A few months ago, David reached out to ask if I’d be interested in adapting his classic work Roll the Bones (Casino Edition) – The History of Gambling for audio.

I did a bit of research and discovered that nothing like this was available in audio. I thought it would be a great way to learn about a fascinating topic, and I knew that Vegas and gaming fans (as well as UNLV students) would be eager to have a resource in audio that could tell the compelling tale of humankind’s relationship to chance. So, I rolled the dice and said yes!

RTB_CoverRight away, I knew that I wanted to get David’s voice into the project. I’d previously had authors narrate their intros to include them in the audiobook, and this time, we took it to the next level. The printed book ends at about 2013. We thought we could bring listeners right up to the current moment with a funny and informal audio interview that would end the book.

Plus, it would be a great excuse to get out to Vegas for a trip!

David and I met at a local Vegas studio in late December, not far from the Strip, and recorded a great conversation about the latest trends in gaming, e-sports, entertainment, online betting, and VR. This interview, exclusive to the audio edition, is the final chapter of the audiobook.

Eric and David

Eric (r) interviews author David G. Schwartz (l)

To promote the audiobook, this time I went on the popular podcast “Obsessed with Joseph Scrimshaw” to discuss, what else? Vegas.

Know When to Hold ‘Em

Working with David has been a great experience. Bringing these amazing stories to life in audio is a reminder of why I do this work in the first place—to bring projects that I’m passionate about to listeners.

Along the way, I learned a lot about the value of creative partnerships in this business. My advice to those that want to build relationships and further their career is:

  1. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. None of this would have come to fruition had I not taken a chance and approached David in the first place.
  2. Keep the lines of communication open, even after the initial project has been completed. You never know when one good idea might lead to another, or who might be able to set you up with your next big opportunity.
  3. Combine powers. David and I made an excellent marketing team, and together we were able to reach more listeners than we’d have been able to individually.
  4. Get creative. Find a way to offer your fans something of value that they wouldn’t have without you. In this case, my exclusive interview with David made for a unique experience that differentiated the audiobook from other formats.

So, if you play your cards right, you won’t get lost in the shuffle. And you might just win big.

Eric Martin is the narrator of over 150 audiobooks, including works by George Saunders, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Foster Wallace. He is the director and narrator of Audible’s hit audio show Stinker Lets Loose! also starring Jon Hamm, Rhea Seehorn, Andy Richter, and many more, and co-creator of the original audio series “Hoot Gibson: Vegas Cowboy.”

David G. Schwartz, the Director of the Center for Gaming Research and a history instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is a historian and writer whose research interests include gambling and casinos, competitive video gaming, and professional wrestling. Schwartz has written several books, including Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas, Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, and Boardwalk Playground: The Making, Unmaking, & Remaking of Atlantic City. He also writes regular features and the “Green Felt Journal” column for Vegas Seven magazine.

ACX Storytellers: Joe Hempel

Joe Hempel Stats

Audible Approved Producer Joe Hempel took up audiobook narration and production on a dare. Over the next few years, he invested his full focus into learning his craft, and made audiobook production his full time career in 2017. 176 audiobooks and 6 ABR Listener’s Choice nominations later, Joe joins us to share the highs and lows of his journey and the value of leaning on his fellow creatives in times of need.

Q: How did you become an ACX Producer?

A: I became a narrator/producer in an odd way. Back in 2014, I was starting to gain some traction as a book reviewer, writing for sites like Horror Novel Reviews. I reviewed an audiobook, and while I took pains to avoid being overly harsh, I did give it a poor review. I was later contacted by the narrator and told “If you think you can do so much better, you do it.” I had always enjoyed books, and I loved audiobooks for the way the narrator’s performance brought the book to life, so I took the challenge. I did a little bit of research and found my way to ACX back in late 2014. I happened to notice that an author I’d recently reviewed had a book up for audition, so I reached out, and ended up producing his audiobook. At that point I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons, but I realized that this was something I loved. About 3-4 months later, I still found myself longing to be a part of the publishing world. So, I came back with a new perspective and built up from there.

Q: How did you make the leap to full-time audiobook narrator/producer?

A: In late 2015, I was at something of a crossroads in my life. I found myself shopping for my kids’ Christmas presents at the Dollar Tree because I had no money. I felt like a failure because I wanted to provide for my kids better than I was provided for, and I wasn’t doing that. At that point, I made a conscious decision: I was never going to be in this position again, and I was going to make sure of that by getting good at audiobook production. From there, I became more active in online audiobook communities like the Indie Narrators and Producers group on Facebook. I listened to everything those who came before had to say, I watched what they did, and I took as much audiobook work as I could handle. I picked some winners (and some non-winners) on the Royalty Share side, but I kept at it and started to see an upward trend to my abilities and earnings. This took a lot of sacrifice, including sleeping three hours a day in order to do both audiobook work and my full-time job.

In the middle of 2016, I started to get a good mix of both Per-Finished-Hour work and Royalty Share work. By the end of 2016, my royalties were closing in on my monthly salary at my full-time job. I figured if I could keep finding good titles and marketing myself as a serious narrator, things would continue to improve. I was beginning to learn how to network by watching how narrators I admired utilized social media, and how to market myself to authors that didn’t have audiobooks. People were now approaching me to produce their titles! All my hard work was starting to pay off, but there was still something missing, and I didn’t figure out what that was until a few months later.

Tempt the Playboy

Joe and Melissa teamed up to co-narrate this romantic comedy on ACX.

Q: What was it that you were missing?

A: A creative partner. In my opinion, it’s incredibly important to have that one professional colleague you can talk openly with, someone who keeps you focused and motivated when you feel like a fake, who you can celebrate the successes and excitement with. For me, that person is Melissa Moran. We began working together in 2016 when Melissa posted in the Indie Narrators and Producers Facebook group, seeking a partner for dual POV (that is, male and female) romance narration. I was looking to give the genre a try, so I put my hand up, we submitted together, and ended up landing the book. From there, a natural friendship bloomed. Since we were at roughly the same point in our careers, we kept the same crazy schedule. We made audiobook production our full-time careers within a few months of each other, and we started getting hired by publishers around the same time. We found ourselves comparing notes more and more, and in the beginning of 2017, we started working as a dual romance narration team (and marketing ourselves as such).

Melissa is someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to complain to when things aren’t going well, someone to share celebrations with. We check in on each other’s progress, offer encouragement, and help build confidence. We seem to do better together at conventions and workshops than we do separately. It’s wonderful to know that someone is there to question my sanity when I’m about to make a wrong turn or to give me the lift I need when I’m down. Almost a year and a half later, we are still celebrating successes and trading marketing ideas. I encourage everyone to find that person. This can be a solitary business, but no one person will make it without someone else’s help.

In 2017, I made more money than I’ve ever seen in my life on ACX, and with that encouragement, I fired my boss. I quit my job mostly due to what I was making on ACX royalties. At almost 40 years old, I finally feel like I’ve got a handle on life, but it all started with clicking “I’m Done” on that first project.

Q: How do you make sure you continue to grow and improve in your audiobook career?

A: For one, I listen to audiobooks every day. You absolutely cannot be successful in this business without being an avid audiobook listener. Listen to those that are better than you; listen to those that are where you want to be. I’m a big audiobook fan, so I’ve turned the passive listening I’d be doing anyway into active listening that helps make my own performances better. If I’m trying to build a specific skill, like giving an engaging nonfiction read or transitioning between moods in a novel, I’ll listen to something by Sean Pratt or Scott Brick. When I’m looking to develop character voices I’ll study Marc Thompson’s work on the Star Wars audiobooks. I try to learn as much as I can from these performances before I start bugging fellow narrators for tips or advice.

I’m also continuously getting coaching and attending workshops. I have studied with Sean Pratt and Scott Brick, I’ve used Jeffrey Kafer’s Audiobook Mentorship a few times, and I’ve gone to workshops put on by Johnny Heller and others. These are some of the top people in the business, and for good reason! Listen to them, and take their advice.

Q: What is your favorite piece of studio gear?Audio Booth

A: My booth and everything inside it. I enjoy horror pop culture. I’ve got a signed Pop! figure and mask from Kane Hodder, a mask from Derek Mears, and a signed machete from CJ Graham—all of whom played Jason Voorhees in various Friday the 13th films. They keep me company while I’m spending hours upon hours in there.

Q: Do you have a fun hobby or skill unrelated to your audiobook work?

A: I worked in professional wrestling for 10 years in production and as a referee, and got to meet most of the wrestlers you see on TV today (if you’re into that sort of thing). I also play fingerstyle guitar and have built up a nice little collection of vinyl records. I’ve always got something spinning, whether I’m prepping a book or writing this blog post. The words you’re currently reading were soundtracked by Rod Stewart/Faces Live from 1973.

Joe Hempel has entertained listeners with over 175 audiobooks ranging from horror to romance, and mystery to non-fiction. Joe still lives in Cincinnati with his three amazing children, enjoys running marathons, and bringing words on a page to life. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators—Part Four

On Sunday, as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, Audible announced the inaugural inductees of the Narrator Hall of Fame. This week, four ACX Producers receiving this honor share their reflections and their advice to future inductees. For our final installment, Simon Vance offers his thoughts.

I honestly never suspected I’d make it into any kind of Hall of Fame. That I have been inducted into Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame is beyond my wildest dreams, and I am so honored.

Hall of Famer Simon Vance

I was asked here if I had any advice for narrators just starting out. Well, I’ve been recording audiobooks for a long, long time. So long that I wouldn’t have the first clue how to get into this business if I wasn’t in it already! But I do know people who are the kinds of teachers I would go to and who can give excellent advice. They’re the people who have a good track record of experience themselves. Johnny Heller and Paul Alan Ruben are based in New York, and Scott Brick and are two narrators I trust on the west coast. Almost all these narrators (Paul Alan Ruben is a Grammy-winning director) will coach via Skype if you’re not in their city.

Once you’re underway, then I would advise you to keep Neil Gaiman’s three rules for success in your work life in mind:

  1. Be very good at what you do.
  2. Be pleasant to work with.
  3. Always deliver what you promise on time.

And bear in mind, he says (and I think it’s true) that you can survive on two out of the three. So, you may not be the best, but if you’re good to work with and you deliver on time, you’ll probably always find work.

Audiobook narration is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it can be a grueling marathon. It’s certainly not a sprint. But the rewards (maybe not always the financial, but certainly the spiritual rewards) can be amazing. If you’re lucky and you’re talented you might find both. This is a wonderful community to be a part of.

Congratulations to all the inductees, especially those who joined us this week! Read the full series here.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators—Part Three

This week, four ACX Producers who are among the 20 inaugural inductees into Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame join us to share their reflections and advice for their fellow narrators and producers. Today, Luke Daniels offers his thoughts.

Hall of Famer Luke Daniels

For almost a decade, I have been blessed to become a small part of the audiobook industry, and now I am extremely honored to be selected for Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame. I want to share this recognition with every other narrator, producer, proofer, casting director, designer, sales rep, engineer, and listener who labors in their own significant way to bring these stories to life. It’s all of us who have made this industry what it is today, and I am lucky to count myself among your ranks. As for Audible, thank you for being the lighthouse as we discover this new world.

Choice is the lynchpin of any journey, and I’ve been asked to share some of the decisions that I believe helped get me to this point.

  1. Listen to audiobooks! Listen to other narrators. Talk to people in the industry and listen to what they have to say. Gather information like its oxygen. Learn about all sides of the business. You’re not just a talk-monkey. Well, you are, but become a better one by being aware of what’s happening in the audiobook industry.
  2. You are your product. Tend to yourself. As a performer, your body is your instrument. Sitting still with intense focus in front of a screen is not great for our physical or mental health. Do other things. Get out. Experience life. It will inform you as a performer and help make you a more well-rounded product.
  3. Market yourself. Put yourself out there. Take chances. Build a fan base through social media. Help out your peers in the industry. Lift each other up, and we all rise to the top.

Thanks for all the hours of listening and for this incredible honor. I am truly grateful.

Want even more Luke? Read his recent Storytellers post, or find him on ACX, Facebook, Twitter, and—of course—Audible.

Get more advice from hall of fame inductees here, and join us on Friday for the final installment of our series, featuring Simon Vance.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators—Part Two

On Sunday, as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, Audible announced the inaugural inductees of the Narrator Hall of Fame. This week, four ACX Producers receiving this honor are sharing their reflections and their advice to future inductees. Today, we’re joined by Scott Brick.

Hall of Famer Scott Brick

Being told I’ve been elected to Audible’s Hall of Fame is easily the most surreal experience of my life. As a sports fan, I’ve grown up in awe of the men and women worthy to be designated Hall of Famers, but never anticipated the possibility of it happening in my life. And while I don’t feel even close to worthy, I am nevertheless grateful, hugely grateful for the honor. Like my peers, I didn’t come into this industry for accolades. We work in isolation, after all, reading alone in a room, unconnected to the listening audience.

And in some ways, I try to maintain that isolation. I think it helps me, I think it can help all of us. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice review like anyone else, but I try not to read them, because good or bad, they’re one person’s opinion. If you’ve spent any time in Hollywood, you’ve likely heard the saying, “Oh, he believes his own press.” Staying away from listener reviews or blog sites keeps me from doing that, but also protects me from getting bogged down by negativity.

Yes, ours is a profession that relies heavily on self-promotion, so it’s a fine line to walk, but I try to navigate it as best I can. I will absolutely post the occasional rave for a project I’ve worked on, but I do so primarily to help publicize the book, as well as to honor the author and the publisher, and show my appreciation for the faith they’ve shown in me. That’s both good manners and good business. Beyond that, though, I try not to pay attention. While speaking at a conference a few years ago, a fan approached me on the street and asked how many narration awards I’ve won, and I told her truthfully, “I don’t know.” I kinda don’t want to know, you know?

When I was in my twenties I got the chance to work with a well-known actor, and in a quiet moment I asked him which of his many roles was his favorite. His response? “My next one.” That taught me a valuable lesson and has been an example I’ve tried to follow. I have never once forgotten what it felt like to walk into Dove Audio in Beverly Hills all those years ago for my very first narration job—on June 10, 1999; yes, I wrote it down! Although I had already booked the job, I nevertheless knew that my work in the studio that day was an audition: I was auditioning for my next job, and I have been ever since.

Thank you, Audible. It’s been a lovely twenty years, and I am deeply grateful.

Scott Brick can be found at ScottBrick.net, and you can listen to one of his 683 audiobook roles on Audible.

Tomorrow, ACX Storyteller Luke Daniels stops by to share his thoughts.

Audiobook Advice from Hall of Fame Narrators—Part One

On Sunday, as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, Audible announced the inaugural inductees of the Narrator Hall of Fame. The 20 members of this founding group were chosen by a panel of passionate listeners at Audible who spent many, many hours deliberating the merits of hundreds of talented performers based on the caliber of their work, the breadth of catalog, and listener feedback.

Among the honorees? Four ACX Producers! This week, they are sharing their reflections on the honor, and their advice to future inductees. Today, we kick things off with ACX University alumna Andi Arndt.

Hall of Famer Andi Arndt

When I got the call informing me that I had been voted into the inaugural “class” of the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame, I was in shock. I have only worked in audiobooks for the latter half of Audible’s 20 years. My fellow inductees have been, and continue to be, my role models, my teachers, my mentors. To be included among them is the highest honor I can imagine.

When I look back at the things that made a big difference along the way, a couple come to mind.

  1. Surround yourself with people who support you and believe in you. My dear husband Chris bought me a Dell Media Center computer for Christmas back in the 1990’s, and said he thought maybe I could use it for a home studio. That gift got me thinking about starting my own business, and along the way Chris and my daughters gave their blessing and encouragement as I traveled all over the country for workshops, conferences, and recording sessions, and as my increasing working hours complicated our family schedule. I know from talking with some of my coaching students and colleagues that not everyone has that kind of moral and financial support, and I absolutely do not take it for granted. This advice applies to people you hire as well; when I asked our family’s former tax accountant some questions about the tax implications of my then-new small business, he said “ask me that when you make over $10,000.” I felt like I’d been patted on the head and dismissed. We now have a great accountant who takes our questions seriously and helps us plan for the future with an eye toward growth.
  2. Show up for stuff. Go to workshops and keep up with your classmates and teachers. Go to industry events, big and small, a few times a year. Don’t worry about immediate results; focus on getting to know people that you will learn from and work with for years to come. You can do a lot from your home studio, via social media and email, but until you show up in person and start getting to know your clients and colleagues as people, you’ll have a hard time feeling as though you truly have access to the information and connections you need to get where you want to go.

Best wishes to you in your professional endeavors, and please join me in congratulating Audible on their two decades bringing the spoken word to ever-increasing audiences. Congratulations also to my fellow Narrator’s Hall of Fame inductees. Here’s to the future!

Andi Arndt is an Audible Approved Producer who’s voiced more than 180 titles on Audible. Find her on ACX, Facebook, and at her website.

Read reflections from Hall of Famers Scott Brick, Luke Daniels, and Simon Vance.

ACX Storytellers: Luke Daniels

Old school meets new school with ACX producer Luke Daniels. Beginning his narration career with Brilliance Audio in 2009, Luke kept his ear to the ground and rode the wave of home studio expansion to find success producing audiobooks for major publishers and ACX Rights Holders alike. Luke’s hard work has paid off with 13 Audiofile Magazine Earphones Awards and 7 Audie nominations, most recently for The Purloined Poodle, written by Kevin Hearne and produced via ACX. Luke joins us today to share his story.

Q: How did you become an audiobook narrator?

A: I was raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in an environment of storytelling. Both my parents were actors, directors, and taught theatre, so from the very beginning, the arts spoke to me. I loved movies, plays, music, and visual arts. But most of all I loved stories. Books, comics, 50s radio dramas…I absorbed it all. My undergrad years were spent exploring storytelling through film production/interpretation, literature, and theatre. I got my Master’s from the University of Connecticut in Performance. But it wasn’t until I recorded my first audiobook that I felt that old connection to a story told solely through words and voice. I knew I was taking part in a ritual as old as human beings themselves, and it electrified me.

I got the chance at my first book narration due to a lot of hard work, plus more than my share of luck. My older brother had narrated audiobooks for Brilliance Audio, based in Grand Haven, Michigan, back in the cassette tape days. He was kind enough to pass my name to their casting directors. After I auditioned, they offered me my first book, a backlist John Lescroart title called Sunburn. I was in. But now I had to actually record it…and what the heck did I know?

I jumped in with both feet and I read. But I also listened—to the directors, to the engineers, to other narrators that I met, to the text. I listened to what the authors told me. I listened to the TV with my eyes closed. What images did the voices I heard create in my mind? I listened to people on the street and I used their voices in the books I narrated. I relistened to my books after they were released and shuddered at the choices I’d made that fell flat. I felt exulted in the few moments that felt electric and tried to learn from it all. Listening to my own performances highlighted familiar rhythms and stress patterns I can slip into during narration. This is a clear sign that I’m just reading and not fully engaged with the text. Relistening also showed me times when I went too far with a character and other times when I wish I’d gone further.

In addition to all that listening, I read, and I read and I read some more. The more familiar I became with different genres and authors, the more I started to understand how their stories should be told. Before I knew it, I was recording two books a week for Brilliance.

Luke’s latest Audie-nominated performance

Q: How did you grow your business from that point?

A: While Brilliance and their studio system were fantastic, I knew I needed to diversify to be a viable entity in this emerging industry. But I lived in Michigan. Hemmed in by the Great Lakes, Michigan is known for cherries, beer, and snow days, but it’s no major industry hub like New York or Los Angeles.

I’d heard that my fellow narrators were now able to record for other companies from their home studios and still be home in time for dinner —because they never had to leave home in the first place. From there I slowly began to build my stable by searching out producers at other studios. After working with Brilliance, I was comfortable asking their casting directors for other studio contacts that I could reach out to. Word of mouth through other narrators, directors, and engineers helped, too. I learned that having an easily accessible website where studio producers could listen to my samples was essential. I never made them click more than two buttons to listen to me. When introducing myself, I supplied producers with practicalities right off the bat. Saying “I have my own studio,” or “this is my availability,” gave them answers before they had to ask the questions.

Publishers and producers hired me to record from home. I also continued to record at Brilliance’s studios until they were comfortable letting me take over the reins from my own studio.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?

A: 1. “Think before you act.” I’ve always been so gung ho to make my mark that I’ve sometimes been overzealous or guilty of trying too hard. I have to remind myself to take a moment. Breathe. Slow down. Tell. The. Story.

2. “You are your greatest asset.” Trust yourself, but also push yourself out of your comfort zones. Take risks. Have a point of view. Make a choice and commit!

3. “Support other narrators and producers.” We’re all in this together. It’s not a competition. Stats are great. Good reviews are manna from heaven, but none of it is as important as people. From the proofers to the producers, everyone has an equal right to play the game and no one part is more important than the whole: a story well told.

Q: Do you have any other advice for those just getting their feet wet with audiobook production?

A: In addition to courting producers and casting directors, it’s important to develop relationships with your fans and authors. Social media is a boon to us performers, a free marketing tool for our product, audiobooks, but also ourselves. Listeners love a shout-out on Facebook. That small personal interaction can translate into a lifelong fan. Authors love Twitter, so use it to connect with them and promote your work. I use YouTube and Facebook Live as a way to give fans and authors a small glimpse behind the curtain. In an emerging industry like audiobook production, the sky’s the limit.

How can you find your niche and create your own brand? If you are writing to a current or prospective client, take the time to make your emails simple, clear, and to the point, but also find some small way to personalize it. I would say 90% of my interactions with producers/authors is through email. How can you show them you’re not an automaton? It’s difficult to build a strong business relationship with someone you’ve never met in person, but it’s not impossible.

Q: How do you define success in your creative career?

A: When producers, authors, or Rights Holders reach out to me and ask me to do a book without auditioning. Whether or not I take on the project, that is success. That’s someone saying we’ve heard your work, or at least heard of you, and we want you to tell this story. Success is when my previous work is good enough to pave the way for future work.

Q: Do you have a fun hobby or skill unrelated to your audiobook work?

A: I lived and worked in Yosemite National Park for a while and was an avid climber and hiker. I still try to make it out to the mountains at least once a year.

Luke Daniels is the recipient of Audible’s 2012 Narrator of the Year Award. Daniels’ vast repertoire of work ranges from Kerouac to Updike, Nora Roberts to Stephen King, and Michael Crichton to Philip K. Dick. His background is in classical theatre and film. He can be found at http://www.luke-daniels.com/.

 

The Diary of a Canadian Author: Part Five

We asked Sci-Fi Romance author Susan Hayes to keep track of her progress publishing Double Down in audio, and we’ve been sharing her journey over the past few weeks. Missed Parts One, Two, Three, or Four?

07/06/17 – Day 36: Telling My Fans About My First Audiobook… And Planning the Next One

It was less than six weeks from the date I started on this audiobook adventure until I was ready to approve the final version of Double Down. The only thing that could have made the moment more satisfying is if ACX included a brief digital set of fireworks that went off when I hit the “approve” button [We’ll take it into consideration! – Ed.].

My title passed through ACX QA within 48 hours with no problems, and then I began waiting for my title to become available for sale at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. During the wait, I put together some promotional images, wrote marketing copy, and researched what blogs I could submit my new audio title to for reviews. I found both the Audiogals and Eargasms Audiobook Reviews receptive. I teased my readers with “coming soon” posts on social media, too. I wanted to be sure my readers were as excited as I was!

By the time I had approved Double Down, plans were already in motion to produce All In, the second book in the series, as an audiobook. I wanted to make sure that readers could continue with the series right away. There are currently four books in the Drift series, and I plan on having them all available to readers by early next year. Now that I have the fantastic Tieran Wilder and know more about how the process works, I’m eager to keep up the momentum. [All In is now available for sale as well – Ed.] From my research, I’ve learned that audiobook production is a marathon, not a sprint, though. It will likely take some time to earn back the money I’m investing, so I’m trying to temper my excitement and make sure I stay within my budget.

Looking back over the last two months, I’m amazed at how quickly everything came together. Despite having listened to a number of audiobooks, it was stunning to hear my narrator bring my characters to life. It gave me a much greater appreciation of the work that goes into every audiobook. Listening to the completed work also got me thinking about ways to deepen the characters on paper, especially the way they speak. Going forward, I know I’ll be using what I learned by including more information about the character’s verbal tics, accents, and cadence to help enrich the story.

I’m very happy that ACX finally opened its doors to Canadian authors. It’s given me an opportunity to expand my markets, reach new readers, and think about my craft in new ways. Having taken the plunge, I can say it was worth the risk to try something new.

Susan lives out on the Canadian west coast surrounded by open water, dear family, and good friends. She’s jumped out of perfectly good airplanes on purpose and accidentally swum with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef.

To contact her about her books or to arrange end of the world team-ups, you can email her at susan@susanhayes.ca or find her at susanhayes.ca. If you’d prefer to stalk her from afar, you can sign up for her newsletter http://susanhayes.ca/susans-newsletter/

The Diary of a Canadian Author: Part Four

We asked Sci-Fi Romance author Susan Hayes to keep track of her progress publishing Double Down in audio, and we’ve been sharing her journey over the past few weeks. Missed Parts One, Two, or Three?

Day 29 – 06/30/17 : My Audiobook’s Complete!

Tieran sent me the completed audiobook several days ahead of schedule, which was a lovely surprise. The entire book came in at just under six hours of finished audio, but it took me longer than that to go through it all. I needed to stay focused, but often I found myself getting caught up in the story, and I would have to go back a bit and make sure I hadn’t missed anything that needed correction.

As it turned out, there was very little that needed to be changed. Tieran’s characterizations and pronunciation were almost perfect. I had kept notes of any issues that cropped up as I reviewed everything, and once that was done, I went back and listened to sections I’d noted a second time to make sure I had the correct chapter and timestamp. Once that was done, I hit the “request changes” button and sent a handful of changes Tieran’s way

The experience of listening to my own book was an amazing one. I wrote this book over a year ago, and getting to revisit it again in a new format let me enjoy moments that I had forgotten about. My producer added her own subtle touches to my characters. She expressed the personalities I had given them with differences intonation, cadence, and speaking styles, and the result put a smile on my face from the very first scene.

Tieran’s rendition of my story enriched everything from the description of the scenes to the personality of even the smallest background character. There’s a lot of trust that goes into a collaboration like this, and I am very pleased with the way everything is coming together.

Susan can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Continue on to Part Five of Susan’s diary on Friday.