Earlier this year, ACX launched the Audio Analysis tool for Production Manager, a new feature that allows Producers and DIY Authors to upload audio files and receive immediate feedback in a report identifying seven of the most common production issues—all before submitting the project to Quality Assurance.
We hope you’ve been exploring the new feature and are finding it to be a helpful tool in your production process. Now that you’ve had a little time to get comfortable with Audio Analysis, we’re making an adjustment to the ACX submission process: starting today, some accounts will see the new experience, and byMay 4, all titles will be required to resolve any issues identified by Audio Analysis before they are able to submit for review.
Need help making corrections? The Audio Analysis tool provides a full report on all your audio files, with details on the issues that need addressing, and links to specific ACX Submission Guidelines and Reference Guides that can help you address them. And as always, if you need more guidance or assistance in getting your files QA-ready, the ACX blog and YouTube channel are at your disposal with further resources on recording, editing, mastering, and more.
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.
Today, the ACX team is excited to announce the launch of a new feature available in Production Manager: it can analyze all your audio files, let you know if they meet ACX Standards, and give you a precise report on the changes that need to be made, all before you ever submit your project to QA—it’s the Audio Analysis Tool!
This feature will be accessible to producers and DIY authors on all new ACX projects. Now when you upload audio to ACX—starting with the 15-minute checkpoint—you’ll get an immediate report on seven common audio issues:
That means no more waiting for the book to go through QA to learn you have one file in stereo and having to resubmit the whole project over again. Now you can find out right away and quickly make the required adjustments. The report contains precise indications on what needs to be adjusted and by how much, with links to helpful resources on how to do it. Don’t worry—all ACX audiobooks will get a final listen from our QA team before going on sale, and they’ll be on the lookout for spacing, noise floor, and other issues that can’t be detected by the tool—only now the process will be able to move a little easier, with smoother production timelines for all.
To give you some time to get used to this new feature, we’re accepting all audiobook submissions, even if Audio Analysis identifies errors within your files. When the feature launches fully, any issues detected by Audio Analysis will need to be corrected before the project can be submitted for Quality Assurance. This initial phase will give you time to identify recurring issues in your productions and make the necessary adjustments to your workflow without impacting your ability to submit audio and receive QA feedback.
We’re excited for this feature and we hope you are, too—we hope the earlier feedback and additional insights will help you improve you skills and setup, and result in a smoother production experience for all. And as always, if you have any questions about the feature, the answers can be found in our Help Center.
Listen here, ACX Producer—when’s the last time you updated that profile page of yours? Here on the blog, we can often be found extolling the importance of investing in your home studio, honing your editing and mastering skills, and publicizing your work on social media platforms. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight the value of your professional presence on ACX—your Producer profile! A curated, well-maintained profile will not only make it easier for Rights Holders to find you on ACX, it can help you stand out from the crowd and command the attention of authors and publishers on the hunt for talent like yours.
So, what are the elements of a successful profile? We’ve written a guide to giving your profile the makeover it deserves and sprinkled it with examples from some excellent Audible Approved Producers. Refer to the highlighted areas in the image below as you read along at home.
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A complete, professional-looking ACX profile should include an image, first and foremost (1). Many Producers choose a professional headshot or a picture of themselves having fun in the studio. Not all voiceover artists wish to provide a headshot, however; many feel that their physical appearance sets an expectation incongruent with the variety of vocal performance they’re able to deliver, and would prefer to let their voice speak for itself. In that case, we recommend a graphic or logo developed to represent your brand—Fiverr can be a great place to source one of these—or a picture of your studio without you in it.
There are two places for you to biographize yourself on your ACX profile: the one-line blurb that appears beneath your name, and the “About” section (2). The first is a great place to offer a zippy little intro that grabs the searcher’s attention. Draw some inspiration from these great one-liners:
Confident, Intellectual, Charismatic—The Darkly Sophisticated British Storyteller. (Hannibal Hills)
A smooth blend of professional sound with a personal touch! Bringing stories to life for over 15 years as a narrator and voiceover talent. (Heather Costa)
Then, there’s space under the “About” tab to add a longer bio (3). This is a place to give a comprehensive overview of how you got started, how long you’ve been narrating/producing, why you love it, what sorts of characters/projects you’re drawn to, your vocal range, repertoire, and any special skills you possess. For example, Kyle Tait highlights his extensive experience as a sports announcer. Listing this type of skill might seem irrelevant to audiobook production, but it can capture the attention of the author of a sports biography that wants to be confident their narrator is up to tackling the specific jargon and style of their book. Consider your unique skills and knowledge outside the world of audiobooks, and include anything that makes you stand out!
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We know it’s tempting to include samples of the great work you’ve done in short form VO, but compelling as they may be, they aren’t especially relevant to Rights Holders looking to hire you for an audiobook project. For your ACX Profile, it’s best to include audiobook samples (4). If you’re new to audiobooks and don’t have many (or any) productions under your belt, head over to Project Gutenberg and choose an appropriate piece from the 60,000 free public domain books on their site. Remember, you can always link to your website from your profile and include your other VO work there.
Next, be judicious when it comes to the number of samples on your profile: too few and your experience and range won’t be apparent, too many, and authors may find themselves overwhelmed and moving on before they give you a good listen. Choose just 5-7 of your best samples that showcase great production values, your range as a performer, and a variety of genres, character types, and dialects. Hannibal Hills and Suzanne Barbetta use their “Sample” sections to great effect, including samples from a wide variety of genres so prospective authors can hear their range as a performer and don’t have to imagine whether they’re up to the task. Pro Tip: you’ll notice these producers have named the samples according to the genres and/or vocal styles they represent. The author or publisher perusing your profile may be completely unfamiliar with the book titles listed in your repertoire, so help them out a little by describing the vocal skills and characteristics on display in each sample.
Think of this section (5) as your IMDB page on ACX—this is your space to list not only the audiobooks you’ve recorded, but the movies, television shows, theater productions, commercials, radio programs, or video games you or your voice has appeared in (yes, here we encourage you to include relevant non-audiobook work). We also find that successful Producers include related experience, education, and training, be it a master’s degree in theater or a vocal performance workshop they took. Many producers, such as Kyle Tait, also choose to list the gear they use in their home studio setup here so that authors know they have the tools to produce a great audiobook, whereas Suzanne Barbetta features her experience as a paralegal under “Special Skills” to impart her knowledge of legal terminology. Heather Costa lists all of her available audiobook titles under “Credits,” which not every Producer chooses to do, but the list is impressive and the effect is clear—you can tell at a glance she has plenty of experience and has been re-hired by several authors to narrate multiple titles in their catalog.
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Awards and Recognition
This is no place for humility, folks—this section (6) is your chance to brag a little! Show off your accomplishments and tell ‘em what the critics are saying—include any awards you’ve won or been nominated for, include ratings and reviews from listeners on Audible (like Hannibal Hills has done) or from authors who have been happy with your performance and delivery of the project, such as in Heather Costa’s profile. Most consumers don’t make an online purchase without reading the reviews first, so why should we assume shopping for an audiobook narrator should be any different?
Now that you know the ins and outs of a shining producer profile, don’t let it get dusty! Keep it current and up to date with your achievements, new releases, and professional development. Your producer profile is more than just your resume on ACX—there’s a good chance you won’t meet the authors you work with in person, and won’t have contact with them until they make the offer to produce their book, so think of your profile page as your resumé, audition, and interview, all rolled into one. Someone wise once said you only get one chance to make a first impression, so you’d better make it an impressive one, don’t you think?
Today, we’re excited to introduce a long-requested feature: Royalty Share Plus!
With Royalty Share Plus, authors and publishers can invest in their audiobooks by contributing to the production costs and accessing an even greater community of Producers. This new payment option is an evolution of the Royalty Share concept, allowing ACX Rights Holders to negotiate a per-finished-hour payment for their projects in addition to splitting royalties with their Producer. Once the audiobook production is complete, Rights Holders send the Royalty Share Plus fee to their Producer, and ACX will split your royalties once the audiobook becomes available for sale.
For Producers, this means building a portfolio of steady residual income and paying everyday expenses. Producers tell us this option helps them pay for supporting services like audio engineering, take care of everyday expenses, upgrade their recording equipment, and expedite production to create even better audiobooks. Authors and Publishers can discover talented performers that may not have been previously accessible to take your audiobook production to new heights.
We hope you’ll consider Royalty Share Plus for your next audiobook production. We can’t wait to hear what you do next!
Good news, everyone! Today, we’re introducing a faster, easier way to publish your audiobooks on ACX. With the new Direct Offer feature, authors and publishers can now choose to work directly with their favorite Producers and narrators without opening their titles to accept auditions. We’ve heard from many Rights Holders that they’ve found “the one” —that perfect voice—either through past projects or by browsing samples on the ACX site, and would like to move their audiobook projects directly into production, and today’s changes are meant to help make that even easier.
To make a Direct Offer to a Producer, navigate to your title from your Project Dashboard, or add a new project to your account. As you set up your title, you’ll have the option to accept auditions for your project or make a Direct Offer to the Producer of your choice. Selecting the option to make a Direct Offer will allow you to select your Producer by searching for his or her name, or selecting from a list of Producers that you’ve collaborated with in the past. You’ll then be able to make an offer directly to your Producer of choice and start collaborating as soon as your offer is accepted.
Want tips for selecting that perfect voice? The ACX Blog has you covered. What other features would you like to see added to ACX? Comment with your suggestions below.
Did you tune in last night for How to Pass QA Every Time, the fourth episode of ACX University 2017? David and Brendan from the ACX QA team joined us to discuss the top reasons your audiobook productions may get flagged during our QA process, how to avoid these errors, and what you can do to fix them after the fact. You can watch the full episode below, then check out our QA checklist that you can use to finalize your productions before hitting “I’m Done!”
The ACX QA “Top Five” Checklist
1. Properly Edit Your Audiobook
Here are some ways to set yourself up for success in the editing stage of your audiobook production:
☐Record in a quiet, non-reverberant room to minimize background noise.
☐Make sure there’s enough distance between your voice and the microphone to prevent pops, loud breaths, and unwanted vocal artifacts.
☐Use a pop filter placed in front of the microphone to help tame plosives and sibilance.
☐Learn and use the punch ‘n’ roll recording technique. Recording through an entire chapter in one take will often result in the file containing repeated lines, noises, and breaths that need to be edited out.
☐Record and save 30–60 seconds of clean room tone to use when editing out noises.
☐Utilize a QC sheet to identify and resolve any editing issues.
Sounds in your recording that should always be edited out include:
Narration with excessive mouth noise and vocal artifacts.
Clicks and pops located at the beginning of a file before the performance begins and at the end of a file after you’ve finished recording a chapter.
Long gaps of audio silence within the middle of a file.
Heavy background noise.
2. Encode Your Files According to ACX Guidelines
Make sure all of your audiobook files meet the following requirements before uploading them to ACX:
☐ No files exceed 120 minutes in length or 170 mb in size.
☐ All files must be recorded at a 44.1khkz sampling rate.
☐ All files must be 192 kbs or higher MP3s, encoded at a constant bit rate (CBR), not variable bit rate (VBR).
☐ All files within a given production must be either all stereo or all mono files.
☐Keep your monitor level consistent during mastering.
4. Adequately Space Your Audio Files
☐ Make sure you are editing with both fidelity to the manuscript and the listening experience in mind.
☐ During the edit/QC stage, keep room tone handy to use when structuring files.
☐ Leave one half second to 1 second of clean room tone at the beginning and between 1 and 5 seconds of clean room tone at the end of each file.
5. Correctly Order and Structure Audio Files
☐ Ensure that all of your audiobook project’s files have been uploaded to ACX only once each, and in the proper order.
☐ Make sure you’ve included the appropriate chapter/section headers at the start of each file.
☐ Record each section or chapter in a separate track in your project file within your DAW.
☐ Include the file order number along with the section name in your file name. This will help you keep track during upload. Example: 01_Tom Sawyer_Opening Credits.mp3, 02_Tom Sawyer_Acknowledgements.mp3, 03_Tom Sayer_Ch01.mp3, etc.
Print this blog post out and use it as a checklist to ensure you hit all of our QA team’s recommendations. Following the QA team’s advice will put you on the right path to speeding your production to “on-sale,” and will help ensure a satisfied Rights Holder and happy listeners for your audiobook.
Hot on the heels of announcing ACX opened its doors to Canadian authors, publishers, and narrators, Audible has announced the opening of Audible.ca. This means even more great news for ACX authors, because we’ve automatically enrolled your audiobook in this new distribution channel if you selected Worldwide distribution rights or included Canada as one of your distribution territories on ACX. You’ll continue earning the same great royalties paid monthly, while enjoying readership from a new class of listener.
All aboard with Audible!
Audible kicked off their dedicated Canadian digital storefront with a train trek from Toronto to Montreal, leading with readings of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale by Elisabeth Moss. Read all about it, or find more inspiration right here: Last week, we concluded Canadian author Susan Hayes’s audiobook diary on the ACX blog.
And what can you do to promote your audiobooks in this new marketplace? Get ideas at ACX University, now in session, with tips and ideas for creating and promoting award-winning audiobooks.
ACX is excited to welcome new voices and stories onto our revolutionary audiobook creation platform. Starting today, Canadian and Irish Rights Holders and Producers can list their audio samples and audiobook projects for auditions in the ACX marketplace. To date, authors, publishers, studios, and narrators in the US and UK have produced over 80,000 audiobooks using ACX, and we can’t wait to hear what audiobooks you make next. We’d especially like to thank you for the opportunity to help create audiobooks around the world and support the creative community.
Like to listen? Click on the player below to hear this post in audio.
As an author, actor, and audiobook producer, Craig Tollifson brings a unique perspective to ACX. His publishing industry background has allowed him to make the most of the time he spends auditioning by putting his effort into the most promising titles. He joins us today to share his tips for picking the best Royalty Share projects.
ACX Author/Narrator Craig Tollifson (aka Andrew Tell)
The first audiobook I narrated went on sale in early 2015. It sold 11 copies. Since then, I’ve narrated 19 other titles, learned a lot about narrating, and learned even more about choosing good Royalty Share projects. This month I’ll pass 10,000 total sales, and recently averaged over 1,500 sales a month. And those numbers just keep going up. Not bad for a beginner!
I got my start on ACX as an author. I had my novella, The Junior Arsonists Club, produced as an audiobook by the talented Amy McFadden. I was interested in eventually narrating my own work, and had experience as a stage actor, so I decided to jump in and try it myself. Now I’m a full-time audiobook narrator and no one can say it’s weird that I sit in a giant box and talk to myself all day.
Having been on the other side of the fence as an independent author has helped shape my choices as a narrator. I knew from the start I wanted to pursue Royalty Share projects. For years I’ve followed the indie publishing scene and noted a parade of successes, like Hugh Howey, Michael Bunker, and many more. The potential to earn more than a regular Per-Finished-Hour rate over the long term and gain passive income was very appealing. I also knew that I had to be smart in choosing the right projects. I had to get good at picking the books with the most potential for success.
ACX gives you the basic research right on the project page. Now, let’s assume you’re skilled at narration, you’re interested in the project, and your voice is a good fit for the work. Here are some of the key points to consider:
The Amazon sales rank can be very important for predicting success. This number represents sales per day compared to every other book in the Amazon store. Audiobook and eBook sales tend to rise and fall together. Remember, this is one product on two platforms. The lower the sales rank, the better! Without going into too much detail: a sales rank under one hundred is amazing. Run to the booth and start auditioning! A sales rank in the thousands is pretty great (remember there are over a million books in the Amazon store!). When you get over a hundred thousand, or two hundred thousand or more, well…that’s not so great. But remember: this rank is only a snapshot of one moment which represents that day’s trend. Message the Rights Holder on ACX to see how the book has been selling historically. Oftentimes, a great rank can be the result of a recent promotion, and when the promotion’s over it can completely sink again. Also, make sure the number you’re looking at is the paid rank. If the book is free, the rank loses a lot of its meaning and is not a good predictor of audiobook sales.
The more reviews the better, and the reviews should be mostly positive. Take some time and read some of those reviews. I recommend reading the most recent reviews, as early reviews are often solicited. Click through some of the reviewers themselves and check their profiles–if it’s the only book they’ve reviewed, it’s likely they are friends or family of the author and shouldn’t be considered. Reviews are also great for quickly getting a sense of the story, often more so than the author’s description, or first few pages of the book.
Length of time on sale is a great metric when combined with the number of reviews and sales rank. A book that’s selling great, and has been on the market for, say, two years may have better potential than a book that’s only been out for two weeks with the same sales rank.
Evaluate the rest of the author’s catalog–every last book–with the same criteria as the one up for production: sales rank, reviews, etc. If they have other audiobooks, even better. Ask the Rights Holder how many copies the other audiobooks have sold. Or, check to see how many ratings the other audiobooks have on Audible. More ratings mean more copies have been purchased.
Now that you’ve done your research, you need to define success. Though you’re not working for a Per-Finished-Hour (PFH) rate when producing Royalty Share projects, you should still be thinking about how much you hope to earn. What is your time worth? Recording usually takes around 2 hours in the studio for every finished hour of audio. Then there’s editing, proofing, and mastering, which can add 3-4 hours (or more!) per finished hour of audio. You could easily be putting in 6 hours for every finished hour. With all that in mind, come up with your ideal PFH rate for the project. Multiply it by the length of the book in hours. Now, divide that total with a ballpark royalty and you’ll see how many copies you’ll need to sell to be satisfied that you’ve made a good decision. Do you really think the audiobook can sell that many copies? Does the Rights Holder? If you’re on the fence about a project, I find that thinking about earnings goals can help cement a decision.
Once the book is produced and on the market, you and the Rights Holder both have a stake in its success. Before you jump into your next production, spend some time marketing. I spend time every week promoting titles via giveaways and soliciting reviews. Social media can be a great resource if you find the right communities. There are a ton of places online that fans gather to discuss their favorite genre, like Goodreads, reddit, and many Facebook groups. Get yourself into those communities. You’ll meet fans and authors, both of which will help your audiobook career.
The last thing you’ll need is a little bit of luck. All the points of research can add up to the best looking potential project on the planet, and you can do great promotion, but still…the audiobook may not sell well! Royalty Share comes with an element of risk. Your job is to find the ones with the best odds.
I hope that the research tips I’ve given you today can help you choose the best bets for success.
Craig Tollifson is the author of the Kindle Single the Junior Arsonists Club, the forthcoming novel Happy, and has written for Mystery Science Theater 3000. When he’s not writing or performing on stage, he narrates audiobooks under the name Andrew Tell. He lives with his wife and kids in sunny Los Angeles, California.