As we transition from sweater season to full-on winter, warming up takes on a whole new meaning. We’ve got just the thing to carry you through the cold days and keep your voice in tip-top shape: Caitlin Kelly’s special tea, perfect for any season. As an Audible Approved Producer who has narrated over 200 audiobooks, she knows the importance of vocal health and credits this recipe for soothing her vocal chords before recording sessions. For best results, pair it with Caitlin’s tips and techniques for audiobook producers, featured on ACX University.
I have one “go-to” for when my voice is fatigued. It could be from a particularly rigorous recording session or from a night out with friends and a few cocktails. So, when I have vocal swelling from overuse or dehydration, I turn to a hot cup of apple cider vinegar and honey. This elixir was introduced to me in college by my vocal performance teacher, Alix Korey – a broadway diva who drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes all day – and it has been part of my vocal care regimen ever since. I think of it as hot bath and a warm hug for my throat.
Here’s how I make it:
The heat will relax and soothe the muscles in your throat. Use 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, or however much you can stand (this stuff is strong for the uninitiated). I use Bragg, which is unfiltered and raw. Shake up that bottle, and dump it in the hot water. The sediment is good for you – it’s called “the mother,” and it’s said to help in a number of ways: aiding digestion, balancing the pH of the body, and supporting the immune system. I swear by it to care for my voice. Honey is a humectant, which means it retains moisture. It will coat your throat and protect it while you rest your voice.
You might also try adding lemon juice. If you have mucus, the citric acid can help cut through it. A touch of cinnamon adds anti-inflammatory properties. Play around with the measurements. These are not hard and fast ratios or anything; just my own preference.
Now, I’m going to be honest with you: this stuff smells like feet. But it will make your vocal folds so happy, you will see the strong smell as a small discomfort compared to the restorative effects of the tonic!
Caitlin Kelly has been doing voice over since 2009. She got started in VO while living in Tokyo, Japan. Since diving into audiobook narration in 2014, Caitlin has recorded over 200 books. To hear more from Caitlin, check out her site, www.CaitlinKellyVO.com.
It’s a tale as old as time—author meets narrator, narrator reads story, a few editing and mastering techniques later and behold! An audiobook is born. Sometimes, though, the audiobook journey includes a number of twists and turns before the narrator even steps into the booth. Here to tell a tale of one such story brought to audio for the first time is David Niall Wilson, mastermind behind Crossroad Press, a publishing house founded to bring forgotten or undiscovered out-of-print gems into the limelight.
As a publisher and author, I find that sometimes between the marketing, the writing, the craft, and the sheer volume of energy that is expended just living your life, you need a few moments to remind yourself that there’s more out there. Some stories find their way to just the right situation that allows them to reach a level that no one vision or voice alone could have created. That’s where this story begins—with a novel titled Case White by Thomas Sullivan. Over a period of many years, I fought to bring it to publication. I’ve been privileged to bring many of Sully’s novels back into print, but Case White is different. It’s an original, and I believe it’s his finest work.
It began as an eBook, then a print edition, and when the time was finally right to bring it to audio, I simply put it up for auditions on ACX. Even now, this incredible story has barely begun to find its way into the hands of readers, so I wasn’t sure who would be interested in taking a very long royalty share project with a less-than-stellar sales record. I was not prepared for one of the most talented voices I have worked with to come to me, ready (in his words) to “fight for this book.” The material covers the time leading up to the Third Reich, and the way madness can take control of a nation, and the narrator who took the project is Joshua Saxon, whose own family fled the Russian pogroms in the early 1900s and immigrated to the United States in the mid-20th Century to avoid the persecution that would inevitably claim millions of lives.
The synchronicity of this book finding its way to Joshua and linking him to his own past would have been enough to make a great story, but in this case, it’s only the beginning.
To add a twist to this plot, sometimes the reader must find and chase the book. When Case White had wrapped up, Sully, Joshua, and I all moved on to other things, but one day, out of the blue, I received a message: Joshua had discovered that a book he has always loved, published back in the 1960s, had never been made into an audiobook. That book was The Last Temptation of Christ, by Nikos Kazantzakis. The idea seemed crazy. The book was hugely popular, published by a major New York House. If the rights were available at all, I was sure they would be with an agent, or the original publisher, and priced well out of our range. After I got done laughing at the idea of Crossroad Press being able to produce something like that, he let it go.
But I couldn’t. I checked to be certain he was right, and he was. There were many printed editions of the book (it’s still in print), there was a movie adaptation that turned the world on its ear for a while, but there was no audiobook. The currently available trade paperback is a reprinted edition from Simon & Schuster, and it’s been on sale in that same format since 1988. Experience told me that if Simon & Schuster had the rights to the book, the odds of getting to do the audiobook had just toppled off a cliff. More likely I’d give them the idea to do it themselves if I brought it up.
Maybe I just needed a little more faith. During that same period, I was negotiating for rights to some books by author Leslie Alan Horvitz, and corresponding daily with his agent, Cynthia Manson. I happened to mention my “quest” to her, and she happened to have connections at the publishing house, so she said she would check with them and see what she could find.
What she found was that Simon & Schuster did not have the rights to the audio. What they did have was an e-mail address they hadn’t used for a very long time for the author’s heirs, and they shared it with me. Still not hoping for much, I wrote to them, explaining how much Joshua wanted to perform the novel, how our company works, and my desire to bring it to audio. Then I waited. And waited. I was about to shrug and let it go, when I woke up one morning to a long, very cheerful note from Greece: the rights holders were very pleased at the idea of an audiobook! Then came the next bump—the book we need to use for the script was a translation, and the contract stated I had to have permission to use the translation, which I still needed.
The book was translated around 1960, and the translator was listed as P.A. Bien. Initial searches had Google trying to translate the name into French, found other books he’d translated, but no real information on the man himself. Then I found an article that mentioned that his full name was Peter A. Bien. Once again, I had picked up the trail. Peter is a Professor Emeritus at Dartmouth, and still attached to their Creative Writing department. When I found the e-mail address, I was not sure what to find, but again, I wrote my note, made my introductions, and waited.
There was no answer to the e-mail, but there was also a phone number. I called it. Peter was on vacation at his home in the Adirondacks, the message explained. At the end of that message was another phone number.
I wish I had time to explain the wonderful phone call I had with Peter, about Kazantzakis’ works, of which he’d translated several, and about translation in general. He gave his blessing, and even said that Joshua could, if he wished, reach out with any questions on pronunciation. I know that the two talked, and it felt like generations merging. The contract was finalized and signed. Original cover art was commissioned from West Coast artist Steve Smith, who outdid himself, and the production that has just now been completed began.
Chasing the rights to books can be frustrating—the older the book, the more popular, the more editions, the harder it becomes. This one felt like a marathon, but in the end, the journey through the words of Thomas Sullivan, the passion of a narrator to perform the book he’d always dreamed of producing, through agents, other authors, across an ocean and back to the Adirondacks, lead to an unforgettable audiobook.
Now I’m going to find my Indiana Jones hat and set out after the next one. I hope some of you will come along for the ride. Remember—audio is still a fairly young medium, and no matter how unlikely a project may seem, it never hurts to ask.
David Niall Wilson is a prolific author and the founder and CEO of Crossroad Press, a publishing company that specializes in giving out-of-print stories new life through e-book and audiobook publication. The publishing company’s work can be found at crossroadspress.com, and the author’s own work can be found on his website, davidniallwilson.com.
Launched in 2011, the Audiobook Creation Exchange has paved the way for exponential growth in audiobook production and consumption, today supplying over 200 audiobooks in store per day to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. The ACX online rights marketplace and production engine is available to all authors, publishers, literary agents, narrators and studio pros in the US, UK, Canada, and Ireland. ACX.com connects and educates independent authors and rising actors—many of whom are among 20,000 professional actors who have worked with Audible in the past 5 years—in the art of audiobook performance and creation, and provides title-promotion tools and methods to drive sales and audiobook awareness, allowing our creative stakeholders to reach new audiences on Audible and beyond. Free programs, including ACX University and the Promo Code tool, seek to level the playing field and further expand opportunity for authors, narrators, rights holders and producers alike.
As you know, we’ve been working to address some ACX authors’ concerns about Audible’s overall exchange policy, and we appreciate your feedback. The intent of this program is to allow listeners to discover their favorite voice, author, or story in audio. In instances where we determine the benefit is being overused, Audible can and does limit the number of exchanges and refunds allowed by a member. But as designed, this customer benefit allows active Audible members in good standing to take a chance on new content, and suspicious activity is extremely rare.
We hope this helps convey perspective to our valued writers and ACX partners as to the impact of our current returns policies. However, in recognition of these concerns, moving forward and effective as of January 1, 2021, Audible will pay royalties for any title returned more than 7 days following purchase. This adjustment does not impact our customers’ current benefits of membership, and we look forward to continuing to welcome millions of first-time listeners, enabling our members to discover new content they enjoy and growing the audience for our valued creative partners.
It feels like just yesterday that we were wrapping up our fall mini-season of ACX University, and now the holidays are almost here! We know that everyone has a lot on their (metaphorical) plates right now, and we want to help make your upcoming releases available to listeners by the December holiday season.
Please submit your project for review no later than Tuesday, November 10th for the best chance of having it on sale by the holidays.
Want to get your production in tip-top-shape and don’t know where to start?First, review our Audio Submission Requirements, then use our free Audio Lab tool to check your sound files before submitting to our QA team. For even more production tips and tricks, look to our YouTube channel.
Great news, everybody: actors can now accept Royalty Share Plus deals with SAG-AFTRA Health and Retirement contributions on ACX!
What This Means for Actors
SAG-AFTRA actors now have the opportunity to accept more audiobook projects on ACX, and actors hoping to join the union have another pathway to membership. With Royalty Share Plus, actors get paid a per-finished-hour rate that can help cover production costs and receive royalties on every sale, splitting royalty earnings 50-50 with the audiobook’s Rights Holder.
Actors will be able to contribute to the SAG-AFTRA Health and AFTRA Retirement funds directly through qualifying Royalty Share Plus projects. Get started by adding your SAG-AFTRA ID to your ACX account. Then, ensure your union contribution will be made for qualifying Royalty Share Plus deals by clicking “Accept with SAG-AFTRA H&R.”
This update makes it easier to recruit top talent for your next audiobook production. To hire a SAG-AFTRA actor for a Royalty Share Plus project, you must offer a minimum per-finished-hour rate of $100. When your chosen actor accepts with SAG-AFTRA, you simply pay them through their designated Paymaster, then royalties for your audiobook are split 50-50 with the actor as usual.
We can’t wait to hear the new audiobooks that come to life through Royalty Share Plus!
The driven artists in the indie publishing community are used to wearing multiple hats. Then there are the independent artists that are pushing the boundaries of their chosen profession to expand even further, following their creative spark to craft projects that expand their careers and enliven the audio storytelling genre.
Erin Mallon is one such artist – you might recognize this prolific narrator from her work with Lauren Blakely, Amy Daws, or Julia Kent, her recently-released audio play, These Walls Can Talk, or her first foray into novel-writing, Flirtasaurus, on Audible. Erin Mallon joined us recently to talk about her ever-expanding career journey.
Erin, you’re known for your work as a narrator of romantic comedies, but we heard you have two exciting new projects to add to your resume – a play and a novel, both written by you! Can you tell us a little about both of these?
Sure! The first project is These Walls Can Talk, a six-character comedic audio play about intimacy and communication in marriage. And get this – the play is set in… the romance audiobook industry! I will tell you, it was a very “meta” experience. The next project is my romantic comedy novel which released on July 15th called Flirtasaurus. It follows Calliope, a young, determined paleontologist and her budding relationship with Ralph, the sexy astronomer who works in the planetarium at the Philadelphia natural history museum where she is interning. Absurd, dino-driven humor abounds!
Have you always been a writer or was it something you got a feel for as a narrator?
I have been writing for the theater for about ten years now – I actually wrote my first play and narrated my first audiobook the very same year! So I’ve been working both careers simultaneously all this time. Flirtasaurus is my first foray into writing a novel though. It’s been a wild ride taking what I’ve learned from creating my own comedic plays and narrating other authors’ great romantic comedies, then sort of bringing it all together in writing my own book.
Has your work as a narrator influenced/informed your writing?
It has to, right? I started out performing on stage, so once I started writing plays I think I’ve always come to it from an actor’s perspective. When I’m on a roll, it feels a lot like playing all of the characters on the page. It’s always been really important to me that the actors who work on my plays feel energized and motivated by the story, the characters, the words, the comedy – so that every night they can’t wait to get in front of an audience and let that energy and excitement bounce.
Also, I’ve narrated almost 500 books at this point, and I’d say about 75% of those have been in the romance genre. It’s been such an inspiration over the years seeing and experiencing how awesome authors put their work out into the world and pondering how I might adapt my theatrical style and put my own voice out there in novel form.
You chose to record These Walls Can Talk as an audio play – was that your plan from the beginning?
No, it actually wasn’t initially intended as an audio play! I wrote These Walls Can Talk back in February through a project I co-produce in NYC called The Brooklyn Generator – an “engine” for creating plays in under 30 days. I always intended it to be performed live onstage (and I hope it still will be), but we had only one public reading in midtown before Covid hit and shut our theaters down. In an effort to bring some laughs to people in quarantine at home, I teamed up with some of my romance narrator friends to do a zoom reading of the play and streamed it on Aural Fixation, an amazing Facebook group for lovers of romance audio. The reaction from the audience was really encouraging and folks kept asking when they would be getting the Audible version, so we made it happen!
Let’s turn to Flirtasaurus, your first novel. Was it daunting to start such a large new project like that? How did you know you could do it?
I think I was pretty much equal parts confident and doubtful when I started this process. After writing so many plays, I knew I could tell a story and I felt that I was strong with dialogue – after all, that’s what plays are – but I had some doubts about how to weave a story over the course of six to eight hours (plays usually clock in around two hours or less). Whenever I felt stuck or insecure though, I returned to my processes as a playwright and that always got me back on track. Slowly but surely, I found my natural style of storytelling in this new-to-me format. I think it’s always a bit daunting when you’re standing at the beginning of a creative project, full of ideas but staring a whole bunch of blank pages. That feeling keeps many of us from even starting, because we think we’re supposed to know what to do at every moment. I don’t think that’s how creativity works, though. You just have to show up every day and play. If you can make a commitment to doing that, word by word, page by page, the story starts to take over and tell you what needs to happen, instead of the other way around.
You chose to narrate the audiobook yourself. Why did you go that way instead of hiring a narrator, and how was it reading your own words?
When I started writing plays, I thought I would be writing roles specifically for myself, but that actually never happened. With this though, I felt like I wrote it so naturally in my own voice that I knew I wanted to give it a shot! Plus, my five-year-old son has made me a bit of an amateur dino-expert, so I knew I could get all the crazy dinosaur name pronunciations right without any additional research.
It was actually an incredibly helpful exercise in catching all those pesky final edits and typos before sending the book off for printing. Narrators are great at catching those, because we can’t say it out loud if it’s not quite right on the page. I don’t know that I will always narrate my future books, but for now I’m really loving the process!
How did you go about marketing this audiobook? Did you reach out to any of your author contacts for advice?
I teamed up with the awesome people at Social Butterfly PR, and they’ve done a considerable amount of hand holding. I’ve also been fortunate to have worked with so many amazing indie authors, particularly in the romantic comedy genre, so I’ve had the benefit of observing how they operate for years. Wonderful writers like Lauren Blakely, Amy Daws and Julia Kent have all been really generous with tips and support as I start to make my way.
So what do you think – can we expect more novels and audio plays from you? What’s next?
Yes, absolutely! Flirtasaurus is actually Book One in my Natural History Series, which will consist of three interconnected standalones. I am writing Book Two as we speak. I’m also excited that The Net Will Appear, my two-character play between a 75-year-old man (Emmy-nominated Richard Masur) and a 9-year-old girl (Matilda Lawler from Broadway’s The Ferryman) is streaming on The Alzheimer’s Foundation’s Youtube Channel July 24th. We put together a really beautiful online production that I’m eager to share with people. Next steps for that are figuring out the best way to bring it to the audio format. And there are a lot more plays where that came from, which I’m planning to adapt and bring to earbuds far and wide.
Are you inspired by Erin’s ambition? Have your own ideas about taking your writing or narration career to new heights? Let us know!
Earlier this year, we launched Audio Analysis — a web tool that gives ACX Producers instant feedback on their production audio files, allowing them to identify and correct technical issues before submitting their projects for review. Audio Analysis improves the workflow for Producers during a production, but we want all ACX Producers to feel confident about their sound before they even submit their first audition, so we created Audio Lab. Simply upload your audio files and Audio Lab gives you immediate feedback on how they measure up to our Audio Submission Requirements on seven important metrics, including peak value and RMS. We’re excited about the potential this tool offers for new and seasoned Producers alike, so we thought we’d break down how you can use Audio Lab effectively to hone your sound like a pro.
Who can use Audio Lab?
Audio Lab is open to any ACX user – if you have an account with ACX, you can upload files for analysis on Audio Lab. New producers can create an ACX account and start using it to test their sound progress as they learn to gauge when they’re ready to start auditioning. Seasoned producers can use it to test and calibrate new gear to meet our submission requirements.
How do I use it?
It’s easy! Just upload your audio files to the Audio Lab page – you can find it under the “Production Resources” tab on ACX – and the system will give you immediate feedback on how your files measure up to our submission requirements on RMS, peak value, bitrate, bitrate method, and sample rate. The results are only visible to you.
What sort of files should I use?
Audio Lab is built to analyze any spoken word MP3 audio files, but we recommend uploading files that you’ve recorded, edited, and mastered to our submission requirements as you would if you were producing an audiobook, even if you’re just reading test passages from a favorite book. This will give you the best sense of how production-ready your sound is, and will let you know what you need to adjust to pass QA.
When do I use it?
Anytime you have audio you want to test! Here are just a few times you might find it useful:
Use it to test samples for your profile when you first join ACX
Use it to make sure you’re ready to take on audiobook projects
Before auditioning for a specific project
When you’re mid-project, to test your audio before sending it to the Rights Holder for approval
Whenever you change your equipment or studio space
Why should I use it?
Periodically testing your files with Audio Lab – whether you’re a new narrator or an ACX veteran – ensures you enter into every contract with the confidence that you can deliver a great production.
We hope that Audio Lab offers the Producer community the resources you need to craft awesome productions. If you’re new to ACX or to audiobook production in general, and you’re looking for more resources to help you narrate, record, produce, and distribute great sounding audiobooks, be sure to browse this blog for more tips, visit our YouTube channel, and check out our Audio Terminology Glossary to get up to speed.
One of the greatest challenges of entrepreneurship is self-management. Whether you’re an independently published author or a narrator completing projects in your home studio, you likely don’t have a boss telling you how and when to manage your working hours. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to productivity when working from home, but the indie creator community has a wealth of collected knowledge on the topic. So, we’ll be checking in with a few productive ACX creators to see how they manage working for themselves.
First up: Sarina Bowen is the author of more than 30 audiobooks and co-host of the Story Bites podcast with producer Tanya Eby. She writes a blog, maintains an avid fan community, and manages a great-looking website and killer marketing strategy to boot. So how does she get it all done? She starts by keeping her creative time separate from her business and family time. Read on to find out how Sarina made consistency the cornerstone of her productivity.
Like so many other independent authors, my life is a juggling act between writing and business. I actually enjoy the business tasks, so when the writing is hard, I sometimes find myself poking at spreadsheets instead of adding words to my manuscript. But that’s not the most productive way for me to work, and I would often end up feeling bad about giving in to distractions.
Then I listened to Deep Work by Cal Newport (totally worth a credit!) and he touched on something that really resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that attention span and willpower are finite resources. As the day goes on, you’re less able to focus and control your impulses. I loved this advice, because it took away my self-judgment during those moments when I feel brain-bombed. Hey, I’m not a failure! I’m just fresh out of attention-span fuel.
Certainly, there are authors who will argue this point. If you always do your best creative work at 2 a.m., that’s groovy, too. But the concept still holds, because it forces you to observe your capacity for focus like a happy little scientist, and then make adjustments where necessary. One author who goes into copious detail about this is Rachel Aaron in her book 2k to 10k. She actually kept a log of the hours she spent writing and how effective they were. The results allowed her to fine-tune her process and schedule.
My personal writing pattern is more tortoise than hare. I average a mere 1200 words a day. That’s four books a year. Not a day goes by that I don’t open up Facebook and see one of my friends reporting that she wrote 4,000, 6,000, 11,000 words that day. You have my sacred promise that I will never ever write eleven thousand words in a day. My brain just doesn’t move at that speed, and that’s okay.
I often tell people that novel-writing is the only kind of marathon that I will ever run. And I run a lot of them. So many, in fact, that my life can feel like a long stint on the treadmill. Even when I’ve finished a book, there’s another one waiting for me. If you want to keep up this kind of pace, you have to find ways to be kind to yourself. My friend Sarah throws herself a party each time she makes it to page 100 on her new manuscript.
My approach is a little different. I have a sticker chart, just like your average third grader. If I write 1200 words on my work-in-progress, I get a sticker in my planner. It’s hard to admit that I’m a sucker for bits of printed paper with adhesive. Yet it’s shocking how motivating it can be to chase that day’s sticker. Admittedly, I have really great taste in stickers—it’s nice to see an entire month’s worth of chickens or multicolored pencils covering the page. Jerry Seinfeld used the same approach with—gasp—red Xs on a wall calendar. Every day that he wrote a good joke, he’d make an X on that calendar. “Don’t break the chain,” he says of this method. It’s motivating to keep up your own good work, and it’s harder to look at a streak that’s broken.
Consistency is therefore my single biggest secret. If I get that sticker by noon, I feel invincible. The key to this magic is avoiding my email inbox and social media. I’ve lost more work hours to email and Facebook than I care to admit. There are two ways that my inbox harms me: 1) FOMO. Is someone having fun on the internet without me? and 2) the lure of the easier items on the to-do list. It’s simpler to answer an email than to craft beautiful sentences or solve plot problems. But, when I avoid engaging with the world early in the day, I’m much more likely to stay in the zone and focused on my work.
And that early success is powerful. By hitting my goal, I feel relaxed and confident while I move onto other tasks, like looking after my house, my kids, my health. I can turn my attention to tidying up Quickbooks, searching for cover art, or listening to narrator’s samples. I feel good about my life on these days.
On the other hand, if I’m crawling across the word-count finish line at 10 p.m., it’s a little demoralizing. This usually happens because I fail to follow my own system. Maybe I checked my messages when I should have been writing. A single email can blow up whole my day. And by the time I put out the fires, it’s time to cook dinner and the daylight is shot.
Publishing your own work means you’ll have more of those days than an author who lets other people handle all the business challenges. Ultimately, that’s okay with me. This career is a choice, and I embrace the chaos when it comes to my door. But if I embrace it after I hit my word count goal, I’ll feel calm and in control anyway.
That’s how I get it done. With stickers. And science. And a little advice from smart people who have walked the same path.
Give Sarina’s audiobooks a listen on Audible, and take to the comments below to share your own productivity pointers.
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.