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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.

This Week in Links: January 29 – February 2

For Producers:

3 Reasons Why You Need a VO Accountability Partner – via Dave Courvoisier – Learn the benefits of an honest relationship with a trusted colleague and how to select the right person for you.

Three Characteristics Of Successful Voice Actors: What Keeps Them On Top? – via Voice-Over Xtra – “I think we all know well-educated people with great skills and a nice set-up who can barely make ends meet. So, there must be other factors at play that determine the difference between success and failure.”

The Voice Actor’s Law of Diminishing Returns – via Backstage – “I was willing to buy into the lie rather than face the truth that the marathon path to success in VO requires persistence, savvy, patience, hard work, facing your demons, and overcoming your fears.”

Is Your Portfolio Demonstrating the Best You? – via Natasha Marchewka – Are you highlighting the full breadth of your abilities on your ACX profile, your website, and elsewhere? Natasha’s got tips to make the most out of your promotional real estate.

For Rights Holders:

Why Focused Goals Can Help You Sell More Books – via a marketing expert – “If you have no direction other than “book sales” you’ll often make bad decisions, spend money you shouldn’t have, and end up nowhere near the final, end goal of selling more books.”

Submit Your Book to Holiday Gift Guides – via The Book Designer – Getting your audiobook listed in a book guide can be a great way to expose your work to tons of potential listeners. Note that you needn’t wait for the year-end holidays to take action on this tip.

What Your Brand Needs – via CreateSpace – What’s the one simple trick that will make your author brand more interesting to your fans? CreateSpace’s Richard Ridley offers his answer.

How to Get Kicked Out of a Facebook Group – via Build Book Buzz Facebook groups are a hotbed of fan activity and a great place to connect with listeners. Make sure you conduct yourself appropriately by checking out this list of “don’ts.”

This Week in Links: January 7 – 12

For Producers:

When You Don’t Know What To Do – via Natasha Marchewka – Now is a great time to jump on board with Natasha’s 2018 series teaching you to “pull your business together, get on track, and keep your ducks in a row.”

Stop Talking for a Better Voice – via Dr. Ann Utterback – This counterintuitive advice makes sense once you read when you’re recommended to abstain from speaking.

Voiceovers And The New Tax Code – vi Tom Dheere – If you have questions about how the new tax code will affect your VO business, Tom’s got you covered. Part two can be read here.

Talk British To Me!’ … A Desirable Talent  For Voice Actors – Here’s What To Practice – via Voice-Over Xtra – Add another accent to your repertoire with this advice from VO  Sarah Mitchell.

For Rights Holders:

How to Build Your Brand in 2018 – via CreateSpace – Author Richard Ridey has three quick tips to improve your promotions in 2018.

Jump-Start Your Writing: 3 Myths That Hinder Creativity—and How to Conquer Them – via Writer’s Digest – If you’re battling writer’s block, it may be time to unlearn some of the less helpful pieces of wisdom you’ve come to believe.

10 Critical Author Marketing Lessons We Can Learn from Apple – via where writers win – From keeping it simple to developing an aura of mystery, this fun infographic has a number of helpful ideas.

Masterful Narrative Scenes in Novel – via C.S.Lakin – The more compelling the book, the more appealing it will be to narrator and listeners alike.

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.

This Week in Links: November 6 – 10

For Rights Holders:

Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – November 2017 – via The Book Designer – This week, honesty is the best policy. Learn the right ways to drive your sales organically source authentic reviews.

18 Ways To Promote Your Book – via BookMarketingBuzzBlog – Here’s an easy assignment for you: pick a few suggestions off this list and put them into practice for your audiobook.

8 Things You MUST Do When Your First Book Is Launched – via Writer’s Digest – Just about all of these tips work when launching your audiobook too! Just remember to enjoy first.

Setting Goals – via CreateSpace – “You can’t develop a marketing strategy until you define what will make your marketing efforts a success.”

For Producers:

More Relief for Your Voice in Stressful Times – via Dr. Ann Utterback – Pair with part one of this series, and you’ll get the full scope of advice as we approach harsh weather and a potentially stressful holiday season.

Ask: ‘I’m A Voice Actor – But Why?’ Understand That To Grow Your Career – via Voice-Over Xtra – “Answering the question of “Why” will help us learn how to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. And it can lead to knowing what we can specifically do to achieve this vague notion of individualism. ”

Why You Flunked That Audition – via Dave Courvoisier – CourVO offers some insight on why you may not get the part – and it might just be in someone’s head.

ACX Storytellers: Luke Daniels – via ACX – Follow this multi-award winning voice’s path to success, and find some great advice along the way.

This Week in Links: July 3 – 7

For Rights Holders:

Do You Have a Platform? – via The Book Designer – “The problem is that most authors focus on where they will build their platform and how they will build their platform. They fail to identify what their platform is and whom they intend to reach.”

How to Go On Vacation & Write While You’re Not Writing – via Writer Unboxed – Learn some ways to involve your brain in tasks that will set you up to write when you finally sit back down at the keyboard, this is something that has worked a lot for me lately, last time I rented my vacation home from outer banks rentals I was able to sit down, relax, and just write about many things that just came up to my mind.

How to Ace the First Act in Your Sequel – via Helping Writers Become Authors – Want to hook listeners with multi-part series? Find out how to kick off successive books with a bang.

Start Your Own Think Tank – via CreateSpace – Might starting a group of like-minded authors be beneficial to your writing and marketing efforts?

For Producers:

How To Attract and Keep New Clients – via Paul Strikwerda – Even though you and I are likely to have different clients with different needs, there are three factors that always play a role in every purchase decision: price, benefits, and perception.

Who Said Goofing Off Is a Waste of Time? – via Dr. Ann Utterback – “Think of the constant onslaught of information coming from the Internet, email, news stories, conversation, and our own busy thoughts. We’re asking our brains to digest all of this every second of every day. We need to shut this off for a time if we want to recharge.”

How Acting Ability Helps in Voiceover Work and Ways to Improve It – via Victoria DeAnda – “If you’re having a hard time turning yourself into a character required in a voice recording project, maybe it’s time you try acting classes on the side.”

Five Things To Do After a Voiceover Conference – via Rob Marley – The action doesn’t end when you return from a voiceover event. Take a look at how to continue the momentum once you return home.

 

Celebrating Five Years of Audiobook Creation

Way back in 2011, Audible launched ACX with a threefold vision: to help Rights Holders get their books into audio; to provide work for talented audiobook Producers; and to get more audiobooks into the ears of Audible’s listeners. Here in 2016, we’re thrilled to celebrate five fantastic years of fulfilling those promises made possible by you, the authors, actors, studios, and publishers that have created over 60,000 audiobooks through ACX.

Watch as ACX team members, past and present, take a trip down memory lane. Then head on over to ACX.com to see what we got ourselves for our birthday.

Share your favorite ACX stories in the comments below.

This Week in Links: May 23 – 27

For Producers:

Five Alternate Streams of Income as a Voiceover Artist – via Victoria DeAnda – “While this business can be quite lucrative and exciting at times, many voiceover artists want more from their talent.”

Zip Through Your Day, Get Everything Done Seriously! Six Tips For Boosting Productivity – via Voice-Over Xtra – Learn how to manage the limited hours in your day to get the most out of your VO career.

Why You Need To Set A Deadline – via Marc Scott – When setting a goal, you’ll go a long way towards successful completion by setting a deadline.

For Rights Holders:

How to Host a Facebook Launch of Your Self-published Book – via ALLi – Learn 10 steps to successfully host a virtual book (or audiobook!) launch party on the popular social network.

5 Things Most Self-Publishing Authors Overlook – via Book Marketing Tools – “To avoid making the common mistakes, review the following 5 things you should always check off your pre-publishing list.”

Do Writers Offer A Dialogue Or A Rant? – via BookMarketingBuzzBlog – “The good author…tries to think like the reader and understands the assumptions, standards, and knowledge that such readers operate under.”

 

 

This Week in Links: February 15 – 19

For Producers:

How to Create a Business Plan for Your Voiceover Business – via Victoria DeAnda – “You cannot achieve success without a plan. It’s just like trying to reach a destination without a map.”

Improving Home Studio Acoustics [INFOGRAPHIC] – via Bobbin Beam – “A great quick-reference guide to help improve the sound of the home studio for recording.”

3 Tricks to Turn No into Yes – via J. Christopher Dunn – Learn when to use “no, but” rather than just “no.”

How Drug Ad Narrators Take the Scariness Out of Side Effects – via Stat – An interesting perspective on how the human voice can be used to very specific intentions.

For Rights Holders:

How to Get Traffic to Your Author Website: 30+ Tips for Discouraged Writers – via Your Writer Platform – “Consider changing your goal from quickly growing your traffic, to focusing on ensuring that the traffic you are attracting is right for your author blog. ”

9 Author Website Trends You Need to Know About – via BookBub – Check out this handful of author website enhancements to maximize your marketing efforts.

6 Low-Cost Avenues for Greater Audiobook Sales – via Ind’tale Magazine – Audible Approved ACX producer Karen Commins offers 6 audiobook specific marketing tactics.

How to Connect on Twitter Without Selling Out Your Community – via Writer’s Digest – Learn how to build an authentic social media presence without shouting “buy my book!”

How to Put Together a Marketing Plan for Your Book – via Mediashift – “This marketing plan will help you decide whether you’ll blog and have a presence on social media, and it’ll help you organize your outreach strategy for reviews.”

This Week in Links: November 9 – 13

For Producers:

Let’s Get Serious About Breath Support – via Dr. Ann Utterback – Breathing is the energy for speech, and not having good breath support is like driving a car with watered down gasoline.”

7 Things (And A Bonus) You Can’t Overlook Before Sending Your Voice Over Auditions via Voice-over Xtra – “[T]hese 7 points cannot be overlooked. They are the Holy Grail of “must-do” actions on the pre-flight list – a “basic necessities” list of pertinent reminders.

How to Effectively Deal with Customer Dissatisfaction in Voiceover – via Victoria DeAnda – “It is never easy to hear criticism. The first step in dealing with it is to understand that this happens to everyone. The next step is to help the client.”

Audiobook Narrator Tavia Gilbert Shares Her Secret to a Riveting Read – via Writer’s Digest – Learn from this short Q and A with a seasoned audiobook narrator.

From Amateur to All-Star: Everything I Wish I’d Known About Audiobook VO – via That’s Voiceover – Join ACX at That’s Voiceover in Los Angeles on November 14th to learn audiobook production from three Audible Approved Producers.

For Rights Holders:

Book Marketing on Facebook – via Book Marketing Tools – Learn why Facebook may be better for brand building than direct sales.

From Casting to A Narrator to Happily Ever After – via Karen Commins – The Audible Approved Producer offers pro tips on casting your audiobook from an actors’ perspective (check out Karen’s companion article here).

Book Marketing: How Authors Can Use Periscope’s Video Streaming Service – via ALLi – Author Chris Syme takes a look at how the emerging social video platform can work for book promotion.

How to Write Funny Dialogue – via Helping Writers Become Authors – Give your narrator something fun to voice.