Tag Archives: ACX

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Narrator James Romick

It’s ACX’s 10th anniversary this spring, and we’re celebrating by sharing career journeys from some of the impressive indie creators who have used ACX to share their stories with the world over the last decade. Read this blog series from the beginning, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller—narrator and producer, James Romick.

How did you become a professional audiobook narrator/producer?

The first project that I auditioned for and won on ACX was in 2014. Before that, I had never considered narrating audiobooks. I’d listened to them for years—all of them non-fiction—read by narrators whom I have come to know personally. But I never thought about becoming an audiobook narrator myself.

After I left the Broadway show that I had been with for quite some time, I was finding it difficult to land another who needed a “gentleman of a certain age,” so I sought out (well, needed) another creative outlet. The on-camera commercial career wasn’t gaining any traction, and voiceover was my next trial balloon. I had some limited success at first, but when I focused my efforts on audiobook recording and production, I found that creative acting niche I had been looking for.

How did you find ACX?

Kind of by accident. I started pursuing a voiceover career in 2013. That was also when the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Voiceover Lab (EIF VO Lab) in New York City came into being. I think I first heard about ACX from some of the other attendees and instructors who encouraged me to look into it. I was nearly finished with constructing my first, very tiny home studio, and collecting some professional quality recording equipment. Once that was done, I started auditioning for projects on ACX, and landed a pretty good one right away.

Book one in bestselling author Brandan Zenner’s After War series, for which James has provided all the narration

What was your big “I made it” moment?

The first telephone conversation with the Rights Holder and the first sale of my very first audiobook production—and the faith that Rights Holder (who had been in the audiobook business for over 25 years) had in me to deliver a quality narration of their work.

How has your career grown since first coming to ACX?

The world of audiobooks and narration was a completely foreign world to me, coming from a live theatre performing background of some 35+ years. I attempted to immerse myself in it as much as I could—learning the terms, nomenclature, jargon and such of the business. Attending a couple of the live ACX events at Audible Studios in Newark, NJ and meeting a lot of people who were also in the beginning stages of their audiobook careers opened up this whole new world for me.

I consider voiceover the 4th or 5th phase of my 40+ year acting career. But never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that I would be recording and producing audiobooks at home in my den from a vocal booth I designed and built myself. I have now recorded and produced some 100+ fiction and non-fiction audiobooks.

Why is continual, ongoing education so important to your career, and how has ACX University played a role in that? 

As with fashion and music and other forms of art, the trends change rapidly. Whereas a few years or months ago it might have been fiction or non-fiction books about zombies and spaghetti monsters, now it might be YA (young adult) or alien romance or pandemics. You have to keep up or be left in the dust. I am not the best businessman and I’m self-aware enough to know that about myself—ongoing education that helps you stay current on industry trends, offers suggestions on how to attack that end of the business or how to communicate with authors and convince them to take a chance on you as the narrator of their baby (or take a chance on audiobook narration at all)—that only serves to support the narration community. And hopefully it puts money in your bank account. That, and I was promised a nice, new ACX University t-shirt to replace the ratty old one I got at the last live ACX event in Newark some years ago.

What important connections have you made on ACX?

I got to meet RC Bray and talk with him at the last live event, in 2015, which was great because I am a super fan of his work. And I’ve made some personal connections with other narrators with whom I share information all the time. I also have very good relationships with the authors with whom I have collaborated—many have kept me on for one series or another and multiple standalone books. One of my authors even wrote my wife and I into the story as supporting characters for one book of a murder mystery series.

How do you define success in your career?

When people buy, listen to, and appreciate my work (although I really don’t pay much, if any, attention to reviews).

Book one in C.J. Park’s Park trilogy—another series James narrated in its entirety

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started?

There are “industry standards” and “best practices” that need to be understood and met. That, and until you have some experience and a body of work behind you that you are proud of, take the advice of other seasoned and respected professionals, and don’t try to be a maverick or re-invent the wheel. You really might do so at your own peril. Study. Study. Study. Not only coaching for your narration, but also in understanding the tech side with whichever DAW and equipment you choose to use.

Who was most instrumental in getting your career going (besides you)?

Although I never took his course, David H. Lawrence XVII, because he provided the impetus for me to pursue audiobooks in the first place, Jayme Mattler, for encouraging me to go beyond narrating only non-fiction, and Johnny Heller, well, for being Johnny Heller.

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent narrator/producer?

People think that I’m crazy. But I actually like editing and mastering my (and other people’s) work. In between acting gigs in the 80s, I went to audio engineering school—that’s when editing analog tape with a block, razor blades, and adhesive tape was still the norm—so the tech challenges appeal to that side of my brain. Digital recording, editing and mastering is so much easier.

What does being an independent narrator allow you to do that you couldn’t otherwise?

To more or less go at my own pace in my own space with some really good equipment. And to do projects that I (and my pseudonym) choose to do for my (his) own reasons. I do not accept any old thing just to have a narration credit.

What do you aspire to next?

I have been coaching fellow voice artists and narrators on using and configuring REAPER as their DAW of choice for recording their work. Everybody and their relative likes to make videos on one topic or another, but I think I’d like to create a video series on REAPER, specifically geared toward audiobook narration. Of the 8 or 9 DAWs I have installed and played with, REAPER is by far my favorite.

You can find James Romick on his website, check out his numerous titles on Audible, or you might just catch him answering questions and welcoming newcomers to the community at the next ACX University premiere or industry conference.

Keep an eye on the blog for more stories from ACX’s finest!

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Narrator Karen Commins

We’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of ACX this spring by sharing career journeys from some of the amazing indie creators who have used ACX to share their stories with the world over the last decade. Read this blog series from the beginning, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller—narrator, producer, and expert audiobook educator Karen Commins.

When did you know this was what you wanted to do?

Beginning in fifth grade, I knew I wanted to do voiceover work. I started listening to audiobooks in the 90s when I was already volunteering as a reader for the Georgia Radio Reading Service, and decided to become a narrator. In 1996, I wrote to Frank Muller, who was one of the industry’s titans. I found his contact info and sent him an email with just a few questions, like how he got his work and whether he worked at home or in a commercial studio. He very kindly replied with enough info and encouragement that I knew I could do it.

Fast forward to 2013—after working consistently through ACX for a couple of years, I made what some would call a radical career decision. I wrote to my 3 commercial agents asking them to remove me from their rosters, explaining that I wanted to devote all of my attention to audiobooks. I left online groups that discuss any voiceover topics that weren’t specifically about audiobooks and I changed my website to remove demos for and testimonials from corporate clients.

This eliminated the distractions of commercial auditions, developing marketing campaigns for corporate clients, updating 2 versions of my website, and wasting energy comparing myself to other voice talent and pressuring myself to make my career look like theirs. My life revolves around audio books, and I couldn’t be happier!

Karen’s journal entry celebrating her first ACX contract in 2011

How has ACX affected your journey, and what would you recommend to first-time narrators as far as learning about their craft and the industry?

Although I had narrated a few audiobooks, taken a workshop with Pat Fraley, and attended APAC and two APA job markets, I couldn’t get traction with publishers. Most recorded in LA or NY, cast local talent, and didn’t hire narrators with home studios. I will always remember the excitement I felt in January 2011 when Audible invited me to be one of the beta testers for its new site, acx.com—the fact that I had a home studio was a key reason they chose me. The audiobook world opened up for me that day!

I devoured everything on the site. I didn’t —and still don’t—audition for every title. Instead, I carefully choose the titles for audition to suit my voice, style, and interests. I recommend that newcomers do the same to build a portfolio they’d be proud of. I continue to watch ACX University videos and read all of the help articles to maintain an expertise about the site and narration resources.

I advise newcomers to listen to good audiobooks every single day. Read AudioFile Magazine and choose award-winning audiobooks in genres you like and want to perform in. I’m not just listening for the story or entertainment, I’m critically listening to hear:

  • How is the narrator phrasing the words?
  • Do the character voices sound like believable people or cartoonish caricatures?
  • How did the narrator interpret the book differently that I might have done?
  • Are any words mispronounced?
  • Can I discern where a correction was inserted?

Continuing coaching in audiobook performance is essential regardless of your background. Audiobook narration is an intimate medium with acting requirements that are unlike any other role. A list of vetted coaches is available on NarratorsRoadmap.com.

You can learn so much from being active in the narrator community. I joined the Facebook group Indie (ACX and Others) Audiobook Narrators and Producers and started answering questions about ACX from other narrators. After a while, I created this FAQ for the group. You do need to be wary about the online advice you accept. I’ve seen other Facebook groups and some on Reddit where veteran narrators participate, as well as many more that don’t include any experienced voices in the membership. You need to observe the group interactions to discern the professionals who consistently dispense advice that you can trust.

Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell was a Voice Arts Awards finalist

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent producer?

During my previous 30+-year career as an IT specialist at everyone’s favorite government agency, I arose before dawn and drove to an office 30 miles away in Atlanta rush-hour traffic in all kinds of weather. Once there, I worked diligently on management’s priorities and solved problems with users’ hardware, software, and data.

Now, I’m grateful every day to enjoy such tremendous freedom! I only do work that is meaningful to me. I plan my work around my life rather than planning my life around my work, and I don’t need anyone’s permission to submit audiobooks I’ve published for review and award consideration. AudioFile has reviewed my work three times, my audiobook Road To Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell by Anne Edwards was a finalist for the Voice Arts Awards, and my audiobook So Big by Edna Ferber was a finalist for the Independent Audiobook Awards.

So Big was a finalist for the Independent Audidbook Awards

Who was most instrumental in getting your career going (besides you)?

I am beyond blessed and exceedingly grateful that my husband Drew, who is the hero of my life story, has been a full partner in my career since day one. He’s helped me in big ways, like agreeing we should get a home equity loan and construct an addition onto our previous house for my recording studio. He’s helped me in small ways, like listening to scenes and helping me select one to perform during classes. He directs all of my recording sessions, he maintains my websites, updates my mailing lists, and most recently, he disassembled my WhisperRoom booth and assembled my new Studiobricks booth!

How has your career grown since first coming to ACX?

Being an audiobook narrator fulfilled a life’s dream, but I’ve learned that it too narrowly defines me and what I’m capable of and interested in doing. In the last 10 years, I’ve become a leading expert on audiobook production, especially when using ACX.

I’ve written articles for the ACX blog about marketing (here and here) and performing audiobooks. I’ve also written my own blog, contributed to other sites, been a featured guest speaker on an APA webcast along with numerous videos and podcasts, and I’ve presented sessions at Johnny Heller’s Splendiferous Workshop and APAC. In 2018, I participated on ACX’s panel for VO Atlanta, where we discussed “Creating Your Audiobook Career,” and later that year, I was a guest on ACX University where I talked about “Acting With Intention.”

In 2019, I launched my own site, NarratorsRoadmap.com, which is the destination for narrators of all levels! It contains original content, a curated list of links to an incredible array of resources, color-coded calendars for eight types of worldwide events, a reviewers directory searchable by genre, and several exclusive video courses.

To celebrate my 10 year ACX-iversary, I developed and taught a three-hour webinar for VoiceOverXtra a few months ago titled “Put Yourself in the ACX Drivers’ Seat.” It includes 90+ slides and an extensive list of resource links to help narrators make an appealing profile, search for and vet titles and Rights Holders in the system, communicate effectively, and establish effective work flows. The recording and materials are available on my Shop page.

Another journal entry depicting Karen’s dashboard when it reached 10,000 units sold in 2014

What important connections have you made on ACX?

The entire ACX staff has been unfailingly kind and helpful to me in all our interactions, and Debra in Support deserves special mention. I’ve met so many publishers and authors through my auditions and narrations on the site that I can’t possibly list them all!

I joined the Facebook group I referenced shortly after it began in 2013. Originally, it was a group devoted to narrators on ACX, and it has grown to over 8000 members. I can’t say I’ve met all 8000+ people, but the number of narrators I know through that group is staggering. A few of those folks are now among my most cherished friends!

How do you define success in your career?

I’m doing creative work that matters to me and helps other people. I would say I’m wildly successful!

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started?

The audiobook industry and my previous IT career in the federal government share many aspects—you’re expected to conduct yourself in a professional manner, which includes showing respect to other people, keeping the team informed about the status of your projects, undertaking training on an ongoing basis to maintain and improve your skills, and meeting or beating your deadlines.

A major difference for me has been learning to stop comparing myself to other narrators. I admit that I still sometimes struggle with this issue! We may all be headed in the same general direction, but we have different missions and are on completely different paths to get there. I love this quote from Ernest Holmes: “We should never watch to see what another is doing or how he is doing it, for when we do this, we are limiting our own possibilities to the range of another’s vision.”

What do you aspire to next?

I always have short, medium, and long-term goals. As a narrator/producer/publisher, I’ll soon start recording a wonderful autobiography that I excavated from the public domain. Later on, I’m planning to license the audio rights to some more titles that I want to narrate, produce, and publish. I’m also eyeing two books with the hope of producing full-cast audiobooks from them.

NarratorsRoadmap.com is fast becoming my life’s work! Drew and I are constantly updating the site. I’m planning some more articles and video courses, and we’re currently building a mammoth casting directory. Stay tuned!

You can find Karen Commins on her website, or access her wealth of educational resources for all narrators at NarratorsRoadmap.com.

Keep an eye on the ACX blog for more career retrospectives from ACX’s finest!

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Producer Tanya Eby

This spring marks 10 years of ACX, and we’re celebrating a decade of authors and narrators telling stories their way by sharing the career journeys of several amazing indie creators. Read this blog series from the beginning, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller—quadruple threat author-publisher-producer-narrator, Tanya Eby.

How did you become a narrator/producer? 

That’s a really long story and includes a fair amount of missteps and embarrassment. Once I’d recorded about 300 books at a studio, ACX launched, and I knew I could produce audio on my own. I’d been well-trained by all those previous books, so I became a producer/publisher and created Blunder Woman Productions. Since then, I’ve produced or published over 200 audiobooks, won an Audie, been nominated for 3 Audies, created original audiobooks with large casts, and earned Earphones and SOVAS awards. It’s been a pretty wild ride. 

How did you find ACX? 

I found ACX pretty early on when it first started. There was a competition for a book I really wanted to record that I’d heard about. I didn’t get the book (it went to a famous actor) but it did get me to jump into producing audiobooks from home instead of always going into a studio.

The Brink: Stories was Tanya’s first ACX project as a publisher and 2017 Audie winner for Best Short Story Collection

How has your career grown since first coming to ACX? 

When I started ACX, I was primarily a performer. Now I perform, produce, publish, and create original content. It’s a really satisfying career where I have a lot of creative input and control. Plus, audiobooks are now my sole source of income. That’s a pretty great gift. 

Are you a full-time narrator? 

I am. I’ve been recording audiobooks now for about 20 years, and have been recording from home for about 10. 

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent narrator? 

I can create my own schedule, control my workflow, work from home, and choose projects that really resonate with me. It’s a dream job come true.

What was your big “I made it” moment? 

The first audiobook I published through ACX was The Brink: Stories by Austin Bunn. When they read our name at the Audies for Best Short Story Collection, I know that I’d arrived as a publisher and producer. This gave me the courage to create and produce original content including short story collections and also Nevertheless We Persisted and Nevertheless We Persisted: Me Too, collections of poetry and prose that talk about getting through the hard stuff. These books involved hundreds of writers, narrators, artists, composers, musicians, and a wonderful production team. We were nominated for Audies for both productions, proving that small companies with big ideas and a community working together can have real impact on the industry. I’m so proud of those productions. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started?  

Tanya’s first original content production, Nevertheless We Persisted, was nominated for an Audie and inspired a sequel

You need to be self-motivated and a real entrepreneur in this career. Don’t wait for people to give you work. Create it.

If you could narrate any book ever, what would it be? 

Ooooooh! I love this question! I would love to narrate The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, and anything by Shirley Jackson or Stephen King. 

What do you aspire to next? 

I’d love to work on some more original content. I have a lot of connections with the writing community and the audiobook community, and it’s a wonderful thing to bring these two worlds together. 

You can find Tanya Eby on her website, Facebook, or on Twitter and Instagram @BlunderWomanPro. Return to the blog next week for more stories of ACX creators making their mark on the world of audio.

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Author Aleron Kong

It’s ACX’s 10th anniversary this spring, and we’re marking the occasion by sharing the stories of amazing independent creators that make this a milestone worth celebrating. Start reading this series from the beginning, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller, author Aleron Kong.

How did you become an author?

I started writing for me. I never thought it would go anywhere. It was more of a psychological exercise than anything else. But I had found LitRPG, which is my genre—literature role playing games. It’s only been around in the States for about four years, and I found it around three and a half years ago. And when I found it, it was like, “Where have you been my entire life? Like video games and sci-fi fantasy??” At the time, there were only like four books available in English because it started either in Russia or Korea, so I was bemoaning the fact that there was nothing more to read one day and I was like, “Well, why don’t I just give this a shot?” I wrote six books in 14 months, and then the seventh one – I wrote that a year later and it weighs five pounds. 

You went from being an audiobook skeptic to being a champion for the audio format, with audiobooks outselling print books! What role did ACX play in helping you to make that leap?

I knew nothing about audiobooks before I became an author. I had only listened to one—Lord of the Rings—in my life, and honestly, while it was nice hearing the story, it felt a bit dry. And at the time, that felt right because that was just the accepted “right way” to create an audiobook. The more British the better. Because of that, I thought audiobooks were just a different way to read a book. I didn’t understand yet that audiobooks could be an artform in and of themselves, the same way music videos in the 70s and 80s could transcend the song. Nick [Podehl – narrator of The Land series] was able to elevate my words and worlds in a way I could not do alone. That is the blessing and wonder of working with another talented artist who is willing to share their gift.

I didn’t have a master plan when I started, but the worlds I create are as precious to me as a family member. One you actually like. It was only because of my partnership with Nick Podehl and ACX that I was able to push boundaries and make something incredible. Even including sound effects, something that has become the standard for my genre of LitRPG, was considered a big risk several years ago. It had been done before, but I was told I might alienate half of my listeners, as it wasn’t something they would be used to.

Book one of Aleron’s popular series The Land, narrated by Nick Podehl

The people at ACX have created a model that provides the opportunity and support a motivated person requires to reach great heights.  Rather than try to convince me of the “right way” to do things, the feedback I got was that if I wanted to take a chance, ACX would help as much as they could. The connections I’ve made with ACX have played a huge role in my success. Whether it be advice, internal support, marketing, or hard work, it has been a joy to have a partner in connecting with my fans.

What was your big “I made it” moment?

It’s an interesting question. I have hit several big milestones because of my awesome fans—The Land saga is a WSJ bestseller, has sold over a million copies, has more than 100,000 five-star reviews, and became Audible’s Customer Favorite of the year, reaching the Top 5 on both Audible and Amazon.

But with all of that, I remember sitting on a panel with Jim Butcher—I introduced myself, sharing all of those facts, and the fact that I was a physician, and I got applause from the crowd. Then I handed the microphone to Jim. He said, “I’m Jim Butcher,” dropped the mic, and the crowd went wild like Aerosmith just rocked the Garden, lol.

So basically, I feel very happy with what I’ve achieved, but I know I still have miles to go before I sleep.

What important connections have you made on ACX?

I have met many amazing people, and Debra in the ACX call center would be towards the top of the list. Not only is she amazingly helpful, I always end our calls with a smile on my face. It’s nice to have our interactions be friendly as well as professional.

What’s your most essential piece of writing “gear?” What do you have to have around when you’re writing?

From what I hear, I’m very different than most authors. I write anywhere, at anytime, and have no issues devoting three days to perfecting a cookie recipe or hiking instead. My fans do not generally like that I have an active life outside of the books (lol), but the energy I can bring to the page is fueled by the moments of my life that I’m not typing.

Aleron’s latest audio release, God’s Eye, narrated by Luke Daniels

Any particular or weird habits you have while you’re writing?

Too many cookies. Cookies feel like love. Cookies are evil… and I love them.

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent author?

Freedom!

What does being an independent allow you to do that you couldn’t otherwise?

There is no oversight on your words, and you don’t have to delay a launch by 1-2 years like many traditionally published authors.

If you could have anyone in the world narrate a book of yours, who would it be?

Ricky Gervais.

What’s your dog’s name?

Chewbacca.

What do you aspire to do next?

I would love to make the leap to the screen—either big or small, live action or anime. I feel that my story would translate well to nearly any medium.

How do you define success in your career?

I have two definitions: 1) Am I making enough money to live the life that I want to live? 2) Am I making a difference in the world in a way that I am proud of? And the answer to both questions for me is yes.

You can find Aleron on his website, and check out this panel he did for VO Atlanta with narrator Nick Podehl on successful collaboration between authors and narrators. Keep an eye on the blog for the next ACX creator to get the storyteller spotlight!

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Author Amy Daws

This spring, we’re saying cheers to 10 years of ACX by shining a spotlight on the amazing creators that make this a milestone worth celebrating. Check out the first post in the series if you missed it, or read on to hear from our next celebrated storyteller, author Amy Daws.

How did you become an author?

My first book was a memoir about my struggles through recurrent pregnancy loss. After that, I got the writing itch and took a turn into the world of romance novels.

Are you a full-time author? 

Yes, I have been for nearly four years now.

How did you find/come to ACX? 

I’d heard through various author channels that ACX had a royalty share option for authors and narrators to collaborate, so I didn’t have to invest money in a narrator up front for a format I was unsure I’d be successful in. Splitting the earnings with a narrator felt like a win-win situation!  

Has your career grown since then? 

One hundred percent. I used to only be able to afford narrators willing to do Royalty Share and now I am happy and willing to pay the full per finished hour rate for my narrators of choice. It took some time, but my audio earnings have continued to double every year for the past three years.

What was your big “I made it” moment? 

When I had a book make more in one month than I did for an entire year at my day job, I knew things had changed for me.

Amy’s latest sports romance, Replay, was released in audio earlier this month.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started? 

Growth takes time. Both in the e-books/paperback publishing sector and in audio. You have to build that audience. Make connections. Write a memorable story and hopefully they’ll keep coming back for more.

Why are you so passionate about advocating for audiobook production?

First of all, writing a book is a lot of work. But once you’ve polished your story and made it shine, why wouldn’t you want to milk it for all it’s worth? That’s why audio is so important to me. I’ve already done the hard part—I’ve written the book. Now I need to get it out to all the major channels so readers and listeners can consume it in their preferred medium.

Not producing an audiobook is like taking a four-course dinner you worked on for hours and deciding not to serve all four courses to your guests. Someone is certainly going to leave hungry and good food will go to waste. 

The fact that there’s a service like ACX that’s user-friendly enough for someone with no experience in audio production to publish their own audiobook is all the help I need to serve all four courses to my guests!

What important connections have you made on ACX? 

My relationships with my narrators are very special. I’ve been able to meet nearly all of them in person and now we’ve worked together on so many books, it feels like they wrote the story with me. And sweet, kind Debra in ACX customer service has a special place in my heart!

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent author? 

The flexibility of my job is wonderful. I work from home, which I very quickly realized was extremely valuable during a pandemic situation. I love that I get to make my own covers and choose my own release dates. I’m not just an author, I’m an entrepreneur and I can take my career in a variety of directions.

What do you aspire to do next? 

Amy’s bestselling novel Wait With Me has been optioned for film by Passionflix.

The movie/television industry is always a big dream of mine. And with one of my books (Wait With Me) optioned for film by Passionflix, I’m super excited to see what comes of that. I have also been trying to manifest my Harris Brothers series into a TV show. I’ve been telling people that I want it to be picked up by Netflix, HBO, or Showtime and I want it to be like Ted Lasso meets Grey’s Anatomy but with more HEAT! HAHA. It’s good to have dreams!

You can find Amy & all her audiobooks on her website, check out her ACX University episode here, follow @amydawsauthor on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to join her in the fun. Tune in again next week when the ACX anniversary spotlight shines on another celebrated creator!

Celebrating 10 Years of Storytellers: Narrator Janina Edwards

This spring marks ACX’s 10th anniversary as a hub for self-driven authors, actors, and publishers to make connections, produce compelling stories, and distribute their art to a world of listeners. We’re proud to have made it ten years, but ACX would be nothing without the creators who use it to pursue their dreams. So we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary by celebrating you! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing stories from ten years worth of creators that have made ACX special. First up, narrator/producer Janina Edwards.

How did you become a narrator? 

My career has a Part One and Part Deux. In Part One, I recorded my first audiobook around 1989 in New York City for the American Foundation for the Blind. I was and am pretty shy, and although my undergrad degree is in acting, I couldn’t handle the theatrical audition process. AFB was mentioned in a voice over class I took. I inquired, and was hired to do about 5 books. Then life happened. Part Deux began around 2010, after my daughter graduated college. I always wanted to get back to voiceovers, specifically audiobooks. I got some coaching (Paul Armbruster and Diane Cardea), took some classes in audio recording and basic editing, met a demo producer (Eileen Kimble), and she mentioned ACX as something to investigate. I also went to APAC (the Audio Publishers Association Conference) and networked with narrators and publishers I met there. When I returned from the conference I started auditioning on ACX, and pay2play sites. Started getting experience. It took about a year before the traditional publishers started hiring me.

Are you a full-time narrator?

Yes. But I didn’t go full-time until 2019. There were a couple of years when I worked full time as a grant proposal writer, and then recorded in the evening and on weekends. I went full-time when I had enough publishers hiring me regularly, and paying me a livable rate (I had joined the SAG-AFTRA by then), and I’d paid off all my credit card debt.

You’ve been with ACX since the beginning! How did the platform help you build your career in narration and where have you gone since?

ACX was instrumental in creating the initial body of work that launched Part Deux of my career. While there are publishers on ACX, at that time the traditional publishers didn’t know me and weren’t yet ready to take a chance on me. Further, ACX allowed me to try different genres and styles, from romance and mystery, to how-to and academic history, to memoirs.  Working directly with authors on ACX, I learned how to develop a relationship with the writer, understand their goals for the project, support them, and be responsive to their needs.

When did you know this was what you wanted to do? When did it click for you?

Janina notably contributed narration for the 2021 title, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev.

1989. The booth is my stage. It just took a while for the dream to fully manifest.

Who was most instrumental in getting your career going (besides you)? 

Other narrators who introduced me to their contacts. Narrators and engineers who allowed me to pester them with questions about equipment, software, and everything I didn’t know. Producers who gave me a chance.

What was your big “I made it” moment? 

It’s exhilarating when I see my name placed with the same prominence as some of my idols and peers. The other week I realized that Andre DeShields (the original Wiz in the stage production of The Wiz, and part of the original Ain’t Misbehavin cast) was a co-narrator for The Final Revival of Opal and Nev. I was floored. The first time I ran into January LaVoy at a recording studio I was like “Ms. LaVoy, so glad to meet you…” And she was like “Oh, you’re Janina, right? I couldn’t believe she knew my name.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started? 

It’s all about relationships. I recently heard the wisdom “don’t be a jerk.” Though a lot of folks are joining our ranks, in the upper echelon, all the narrators know each other. There’s about two degrees of separation between folks. If you’re a jerk, it’ll boomerang eventually.

Any particular habits you have while you’re recording? 

I try to limit myself to 4-5 hours of recording a day. Usually from 11-5, with a break in the day somewhere.  Beyond that, my productivity is compromised. Sometimes I have to go longer, but I really try to respect those limits. My goal is to do great work. That means I have to allow time for rest (vocal and body), creativity, life and play.

What’s your most essential piece of studio gear? What do you have to have around when you’re recording? 

A big glass of water (room temperature), and a hot cup of ginger tea (Yogi brand: Mango Ginger, Lemon Ginger, or plain ol’ Ginger), or warm lemon and honey or agave.

Elaine Raco Chase is the author of one of the first ACX titles Janina narrated, and the two recently reconnected to release two new titles in 2019 & 2020.

How do you define success in your career? 

I want to do projects about things that interest and excite me and do great performances. I want every project I do to be great. When authors/producers see your great work, then great(er) work is offered to you. I think that’s also a lesson from ACX. Do the work that allows you to shine, and make every project great.

What’s your favorite thing about being an independent narrator? 

Re: Independent—I love working for myself. It’s a lot, but I don’t have to answer to anyone but my own conscience. Re: Narrator—I love that I get to do all the characters (in a traditional 1-person narration). It’s just fun. Independent means I can take on whatever projects I want that showcase my abilities. I can take a vacation or break when I want (though you have to be very deliberate and set that time aside as sacrosanct).

What’s your favorite listen?

I’m a longtime Nora Roberts fan. I love Julia Whelan’s and January LaVoy’s performances of her books. I really enjoy Amanda Ronconi’s performance of Molly Harper’s books—vampire, werewolf, human fantasy romance stuff. (I am so ashamed. Not.) Kim Staunton’s performance of Beverly Jenkins’ historical romances—the perfect blend of black history, romance, and mystery. And Karen Chilton’s performance of Alyssa Cole’s books—multicultural, inclusive romances and mysteries. 

If you could narrate any book ever, what would it be? 

I would be lying if I said a specific book. When I agree to narrate a book, I’m the most excited about narrating that book (and if I’m not, I shouldn’t be accepting the project). I feel like the Cookie Monster in a roomful of cookies when I’m offered a project. I want to say yes to them all and just wolf them down.

What do you aspire to next?

I made my living as a professional grant proposal writer for about 13 years. I am now writing fiction and essays on things that interest me. I’m particularly interested in creating audio specific content. Who’d a thunk it?

You can find Janina on her website, and you can find her many award-winning and nominated audiobooks on Audible. Stay tuned for another story from a celebrated creator in our next installment of this special anniversary series!

Better Together: Aleron Kong & Nick Podehl on Collaboration: Part 1

The standard ACX equation is words + narration = audiobook. But when is an audiobook more than just the sum of its parts? Aleron Kong and Nick Podehl have teamed up over the course of the author’s eight-book series, Chaos Seeds, to create an audio odyssey that has fans hanging on every narrated word. In 2019 they joined us at the VO Atlanta conference to discuss the audio magic that’s made when authors and narrators collaborate to turn the audiobook into an art form all its own. With VO Atlanta’s Audiobook Academy, their first-ever audiobook-specific virtual conference coming up April 22 – 23, we’re bringing our conversation the blog so everyone can benefit from seeing what wonders true collaboration can yield.

Scott Jacobi: Thank you so much for joining us today at VO Atlanta. I’m joined today by narrator/producer Nick Podehl and author Aleron Kong whose first book together, The Land: Founding, was recently named Audible’s 2018 customer favorite. We’re here today to talk about how narrators and producers through ACX can directly collaborate to create fantastic sounding audiobooks that highlight both their artistic abilities, wow listeners, make money, and just be awesome. Ready to be awesome?

Nick Podehl: Yeah!

Aleron Kong: Whoo!

Scott Jacobi: So let’s start with you, Nick, being that this is a VO-focused event. You have an acting background, but before you got into audiobooks, I understand that you didn’t think you’d be able to do that and make a living with your passion.

Nick Podehl: Mmhm. I was trained in theater in college, but changed my major at the end because all the professionals coming in said that you do theater because you love theater, and it’s got to be the first love of your life—nothing else can come first. And that didn’t jive well with me because I wanted to have a family and I didn’t want to be in a box, you know? So changed my major. After I graduated, I was doing a job that I hated and my mom actually suggested, “Hey, there are these things called audiobooks—we used to listen to them on car rides and stuff. You should do that.” I was like, “Okay, Mom. You’re my biggest fan. You’ve got to say that.” But I thought, “Okay—I hate my job, let’s do it. Let’s put together a demo.” I sent it in, and amazingly enough, they called me in for an audition and I got it.

Then, it was like, “Hey, good! You got a book! You’re probably not going to get another one for awhile. That’s just how this business works. Don’t feel bad.” But I kept with it and then I discovered this platform that was new to me—ACX—after I had done a few titles with some of the major producers and I thought, “Well, okay, this is a great way to work with some more up-and-coming authors and get more consistent projects.” So I gave it a shot—I used the services of some local studios near me and I recorded books there, and after a few of these, I realized like, “okay, this is picking up, like I could actually do this,” so I looked into building a home studio and decided to finally take that plunge. And it’s kind of just been rocking and rolling ever since.

Scott Jacobi: Aleron, can you give us a quick background on you and tell us how you came be an author and got into audiobooks, and then why you were publishing through ACX?

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Author Aleron Kong

Aleron Kong: I had the opposite story from Nick. I had to hide the fact that I wrote my book from my mother. And when I published it, I told my cousin who told his mother who then told my mother. And she called me and said, “Why are you lying to people? People said that you wrote a book. And I was like, “Oh, I wrote a book.” And she was like, “No, you didn’t.” And I’m like, “No, it’s for sale. It’s a book.” And she goes, “I’m going to look this up.” And then I hear in the background, “There’s another Aleron Kong that wrote a book. I can’t believe this!” She’s like, “Why would you take credit for this person’s work?” But she finally put it together and then she was like, “Well, what did you say about me?” I’m a physician by training, and when I decided to focus solely on writing, my dad said, “Son, are you paying your bills?” and I was like, “Yeah.” And he’s like, “Well, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Then my mom said, “So you’re just going to spit on all your ancestors. That’s the plan right now?”

Scott Jacobi: This, I think, could be its own book.

Aleron Kong: I started writing for me. I never thought it would go anywhere. It was more of a psychological exercise than anything else. But I had found LitRPG, which is my genre—literature role playing games. It’s only been around in the States for about four years and I found it around three and a half years ago. And when I found it though, it was like, “Where have you been my entire life? Like video games and sci-fi fantasy??” At the time, were only like four books available because it started either in Russia or Korea. So I was bemoaning the fact that there was nothing more to read one day and I was like, “Well, why don’t I just give this a shot?” I wrote six books in 14 months, and then the seventh one weighs five pounds and I wrote that a year later. It’s been a year since then. And I’ve kind of just started enjoying my life again, so…

Scott Jacobi: And how did you get to the audiobook publishing side of that?

Aleron Kong: I had never really listened to an audiobook before, but I had fans that were like, “I really enjoyed reading your book, but I really love listening to audiobooks.” I was hearing that more and more, so I thought, “Okay, well, let me figure out how to do this.” I found a narrator who did a perfectly reasonable job on my first book, but the feedback I got was, “Oh, I loved your book.” And I’d ask, “Well, what did you think of the production?” And they’d say, “Oh, it was fine.” And these are my babies, so that wasn’t enough. So I started asking my fan base, “who are some narrators you guys like?” And one of the people they mentioned was Nick.

I reached out and he read a demo for me, and I loved it. For the very first time I got excited about audio. And I said, “Look, man, I just want to be very clear—it’s important to me that we have a collaborative effort, we work together, we bounce stuff off each other…” and he’s like, “Look, man, just so you know, it’s important that we have a collaborative effort, that we work together…” and so on. And then he says, “I’m booked for nine months.” And I was like, “I’ll wait for you.”

Scott Jacobi: And so it’s interesting that you both wanted collaboration to be a big part of this. Do you find that with all authors, Nick, or are there some that really are just like, “Here’s my book—go read it and I’ll pay you and then we’re done”?

Nick Podehl: For the most part, my experience with ACX authors is that they’re invested in their book and they want to be a part of it. So generally speaking, yes. They want to be a part of that collaborative effort. I’m sure that there are some who don’t really care. They’ve written the book and their job is done in their eyes. But most of them want to be a part of it to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s just like, “Yeah I’ll help you with some character choices” or “I’ll help you with pronunciations, but really, you know what you’re doing so go do it.”

Scott Jacobi: What is your preferred level of author involvement? At what point does it get to be too much?

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Narrator Nick Podehl

Nick Podehl: If they’re texting me at three in the morning, it’s too much. I would say that as long as we have ample time before the recording starts we’re good—once the recording process has started and I get some feedback from them on what they’re hearing, we’ll pretty much call it good after that. We do some edits and revisions, and I’m perfectly willing to change things. If they hear something and say, “I really didn’t like what you did with this character,” alright, we’ll do something different.

But this is why, for me, a big part of the process is having them involved as it’s going. I know that a lot of narrators will just do the “I’m going to give you the first 15 minutes and then that’s it until I give you the finished book,” but I don’t think that’s a good idea. Some people are just, “Let’s crank these out guys, come on,” but that’s not how I work. I want to have the author be a part of the process. So I’ll send updates, I’ll send them chapters and say, “Here—if you care to, listen to this. Give me some feedback before we go any further.” Because what I don’t want, because then it really gets into wasting time and money, is to have them come back and say, “I don’t like what you did with the main character. Can you re-record the whole book?”

Scott Jacobi: Aleron, I guess all that struck you pretty well, the collaboration that Nick wanted?

Aleron Kong: Oh yeah. He’s awesome when we work together. And we joke around—in the seventh book, I actually wrote characters intentionally meant to be difficult for him. So that was a lot of fun because he’d be like, “well, how do you expect me to do this?” I’m like, “Sounds like your problem.” I thought it was hilarious. And he wouldn’t talk to me for a week and…

Nick Podehl: Then you go and send me an Edible Arrangement…

Scott Jacobi: Have there been any points during your time working together where you did bump heads?

Aleron Kong: I don’t think bumping heads—and it’s definitely streamlined as time’s gone on—but sometimes it’s as simple as, he’ll be like, “Hey, I have this idea. Let me send you this YouTube clip—is this what you were thinking in your head? And I’m like, “Oh, well, it’s actually more like this,” and that’s about the extent of it.

Nick Podehl: Yeah. I mean, we’ve had those character choices where you’ve heard something very specific in your head and then I have to come back with, “That’s great. I can’t do that.”

Aleron Kong: And I’m like, “You will do it.”

Nick Podehl: And then we’ll go back forth and we’ll compromise on something that I can do that he’s happy with.

Scott Jacobi: So it sounds like it’s important for a narrator to first understand what they can and can’t do, and then have the confidence to communicate that to authors. I can imagine for somebody who’s just picking this up—and maybe you experienced this when you were first getting into the business—I could see there being a desire to just do whatever the author wants, or whatever the publisher wants—and it sounds like that’s not really the best mindset?

Nick Podehl: No, because then you run into some pretty sticky situations. If you’re just blasting out auditions for anything you can get, and for some reason an author picks you to read a book where the main character is a Korean lady and you’re a middle-aged white male, that’s maybe not the best choice. So you do have to be cognizant of what your abilities are. I recognize that I have a much higher register in my voice, so I can’t do those really deep, gravelly, low voices. And we talk about that—we talk about it beforehand.

Another thing that I think is a really big sticking point is making sure that you understand the project that you’re getting into—meaning, read it beforehand. Apparently, there are people out there who don’t read a manuscript before they record it, and that makes no sense to me. I don’t know how you can do a cold read and expect it to be really, really good. A lot of the work that we do comes in beforehand. It’s prepped. If you’re doing a 15-second radio voiceover, yeah, go into it cold. That’s fine. You’ll work the kinks out. It’s 15 seconds. But we’re talking…book seven was 47 hours.

Scott Jacobi: How long did that take you to produce altogether?

Aleron Kong: That was a solid month and a

Nick Podehl: …Half.

Aleron Kong: He had no idea it was going to be that long, and I’m like, “So, I have to send you the book in two parts, because they won’t save that big.” He was like, “Ah, Aleron…”

Scott Jacobi: That naturally leads me into my next point—with a book that big, it’s a good thing to get booked on a month and a half’s worth of work all at the same time, but how did you two work out the payment structure?

Aleron Kong: We were just talking about that. Nick gets contacted by a lot of new authors, and they ask them like, “oh, can we do the royalty share?” Because they don’t really want to invest. I’m like, if you want a top quality thing, you have to invest and you pay the man what he needs to get paid for. Nick told me what his hourly was, and I’m like, “You’re worth it.”

Scott Jacobi: So for you, it’s understanding the value of a good narrator.

Aleron Kong: Yes.

Scott Jacobi: And I guess having the faith in your own work, and that you will earn that back.

Aleron Kong: Yeah. And having worked with somebody else the first time, everything was fine, but I definitely differentiate when I’m talking about Nick. There are narrators and then there are audio performers.

Scott Jacobi: And what is the difference to you?

Aleron Kong: Every character didn’t sound the same, that’s one bomb. That’s fun. I think the professionalism as well. Very simply, Nick will read the book. He has an Excel sheet of like, “these are words that you’ve clearly made up, what do you want me to call them?” And then we’ll go through that, and then he’ll talk to me like, “All right, which of these characters are important, and which ones are a little bit less?” Because if you have a nuance, just in the same way like if you’re watching a really good TV show, and you hear a slight inflection in the actors voice, it makes you excited. “Like, “Oh my God, is he going to be a horrible person later??” The same thing comes through in a book, and maybe it’s a red herring, maybe it’s not, but it makes it more enjoyable, and understanding that I think makes for a better experience for everybody.

For more on how these two use teamwork to make the self-publishing dream work, stay tuned to the blog for Part 2 of this interview!

Going Beyond the Book with Eric Jason Martin

Eric Jason Martin

Audio: the final frontier. These are the voyages of independent creators. Their mission: to dream up and build strange new worlds. To bring new life to characters and stories from the page—and beyond. To boldly take us where no ear has gone before! Our captain: Eric Jason Martin. Veteran ACX-ers might recognize this Audible Approved Producer from our 2018 post, Doubling Down on Audiobook Success, but not one to be pinned down by labels, this producer/director/narrator has just added another title to his name—author. Martin’s first novel, New Arcadia: Stage One came to audio yesterday, and this multi-cast adventure is full of A-list vocal talent, an original score, and a tasteful soundscape that gives you the feeling if you closed your eyes for a moment, you might just open them in 199X, in the arcade-inspired dystopian world of the story. We were lucky enough to snag a moment of this creative multi-hyphenate’s time to talk sound design, writing and casting his first novel, and the endless possibilities of audio.

What sparked the idea for this project?

Well, I really wanted to write a book! It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time—I’ve written some original audio productions in the last few years, but it was a little scary to consider sitting down and writing an entire novel, something that could sit on a shelf and have a bar code and a Dewey Decimal classification and all that cool stuff. I knew I had to write a GameLit or LitRPG novel to get started. I’ve been a fan of video games since I was little, and I’ve since come to understand their potential both in terms of play, and as a powerful learning tool. Playing Roller Coaster Tycoon back in the day was literally how I got into the business of themed entertainment, so it legitimately helped kick-start my career. These days, I narrate a lot in the GameLit/LitRPG genre, so it’s a world I know very well, and I’ve been thinking about using a “beat ‘em up” game as the subject for a story for a few years—the stories these games told were often about fighting criminals in a big bad city. I was really drawn to the idea of doing something with this world in literature.

What was the process for writing this story like, and how did being a narrator/ producer first influence your writing on this project? Did you already have a vision for the audio when you started?

When it came time to actually write the book, it happened very fast. I had already done a decent amount of work imagining the mechanics of a virtual game world like this, because I had developed another version of this project for audio a couple of years prior. Even though the finished story turned into something very different, it helped to have that base to work from. Once everything shut down last year, it got me thinking of this project in a new way. I started imagining this retro game city as a way to bring people together again in a virtual space—people who have been apart for a long time. So I starting writing over the summer, and it was very helpful to think of it as an audiobook. That “one weird little trick” helped me get over a lot of the fear of writing, because I already knew how to do audiobooks, so suddenly I was working from a place of confidence. Thinking of the project in audio also helped me picture certain performers for each role, performers that I actually wanted to cast in the audiobook version we would be recording. Once you can get that specific about a character or role, it takes something that can be really hard—creating compelling story and dialogue—and it makes it a little easier to do. Having narrated nearly 300 audiobooks, I also a had a clear sense of what would work in audio and what would not. I knew I’d be narrating the book as the main character, and that was another opportunity to revise the text, right there in the studio. If something didn’t sound right to my ear, I would change it as I was recording the narration. It’s usually a big no-no to stray from the recordable script… but if you’re the author, nobody can stop you!

Once it was written, what was the process of casting and recording/producing like?

The audiobook production moved very fast. I’d say from my first email to a performer, to the final mastering, it was about three months. That includes recording 19 performers, two incredible musicians writing a full original soundtrack, and a lean post- production team cutting it all together and adding effects. Again, it was easier having written the roles for specific people. I was nervous and didn’t have any expectations, but I was blown away that everybody agreed to be a part of this. It helped that they were all voice actors, so I figured they had home recording setups that would work, although I had options available in case I needed to get them equipment. Technology is so good these days that having a decent mic and recording in a quiet well-padded closet can get you pretty far. And if you have a quality post-production team, as we did here, you can make it all sound fairly uniform.

There are some pretty well-known names in the voice credits for this production – do you have any advice for authors nervous to ask big-name vocal talent to work on their projects?

Yes, be nice! And do everything you can to make it easy for people to say yes. They may not make a fortune doing your project. But if it’s quick, easy, and a lot of fun, and they’ll be with other great people whom they like and respect, that’s a lot harder to say no to. Be clear about the time commitment, make it as small as possible, and be flexible in scheduling, as much as you can.

Now Available on Audible.

This production has some great extra audio elements like an original score and sounds – how do you incorporate elements like that without overwhelming the listener or overshadowing the narration?

We were very careful in how we approached the sound design for this project. We worked with the team at Mumble Media to focus on the multi-cast recordings, as well as the original soundtrack, as the primary tools to communicate the story and scene. The old arcade sounds are a lot of fun, but a little of that goes a very long way in an audiobook format. The action could be exhausting if you heard an unending stream of punching and kicking and yelling. So we let the actors and narrator communicate a lot of the action in the performances, we were very sparing with sound effects, and we supplemented the action in places with the soundtrack to give it additional emotional impact. The great Lloyd Cole created our main theme, and it was such a thrill to be able to work with him, I’m a huge fan of his work. For New Arcadia, he has created a beautiful piece, ambient and propulsive and mysterious. He describes it as “Escape from New York meets Stranger Things, with a hint of Dune.” When we incorporated it into the audiobook, it became the de facto theme of the real world. The few times we leave the game world and go back to reality, you’ll hear different pieces of this theme as you re-emerge, which signals to the listener that we are transitioning to a very different place. Casey Trela is a fantastic composer, very versatile, and expert in the chiptune style of these retro games. He’s created some truly catchy tunes that serve the game story beautifully. He had the added challenge of creating special songs that evoke the world of “199X,” songs that sound like they’d actually be coming from your radio back then. These extra audio elements can really help build a strong sense of environment in an audio-only production where visual cues and backdrops are absent.

What makes this production special and how do you see productions like this one carrying audio storytelling forward?

It’s such a blast to bring great talent together on a production like this. I enjoy the traditional one book / one narrator approach very much (indeed, you can find me in my home studio a few days a week telling stories this way). That said, I think there’s a growing space and increasing demand for multi-cast productions, and we’re all just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Audio is great for many reasons, and one practical one is that the listener’s mind handles most of the big-budget effects and locations in your story. You can communicate complex stories much more quickly and cheaply with sound alone. It’s a very exciting and innovating time in this medium, and it’s a thrill to be a part of it all. When you work as relatively fast and cheaply as you can in audio, you can get a lot more done than you can in other mediums, meaning you can experiment and learn much faster in your craft. I’ve tried a lot of different things in my time creating these stories in audio, and have made some mistakes along the way. But even those mistakes were instructive, and I can see how they led directly to some of my biggest successes. So that’s why I embrace this lean and iterative style of working, and audio is an ideal vessel for that approach. You can do cool stuff in audio fairly easily and quickly, so maybe you should! Each project you take on and complete can become a stepping stone, every single one can teach you something or connect you with someone. And for this project, in many ways, it’s the apotheosis of all of the different things I’ve done up to this point. But it’s not the end, it’s a beginning. There’s lots more to do. I’m excited for you to hear what we’ve put together with New Arcadia: Stage One, AND I’m excited for what comes next.

Eric Jason Martin is a producer, director, voice performer, and author, based in Los Angeles. He is the AudioFile Earphones and Audie Award–winning narrator of over 275 audiobooks. He has developed several original audio productions, including directing the NY Times Bestsellers Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne’s original series Heads Will Roll, featuring Meryl Streep (Broadway Video/Audible), and Stinker Lets Loose!, starring Jon Hamm (Audible). His production of Mr. New Orleans, starring Westworld’s Louis Herthum, is a 2021 Audie Award nominee.

An Update from ACX

We’re committed to making Audible and ACX the best experience it can be for our creative community, and we’ve heard your feedback. We have been hard at work building a new reporting system to reflect details on returns, including returned units by title. Starting March 2021, you’ll be able to see this data on your ACX Sales Dashboard. This data will also be included in your monthly financial statements for March 2021 and the following months. We appreciate your patience as we invest the time and resources to make these updates to the dashboard and our backend systems, so that we can expand reporting details for our thousands of creators. As of January 1, 2021, we are paying royalties on any return made more than 7 days after purchase.

We are also making other changes to our ACX policies to provide more flexibility, which we know is important to you. Effective February 1, ACX Rights Holders of DIY or Pay-for-Production titles that have been on sale for 90 or more days can convert their distribution type from exclusive to non-exclusive. In addition, all ACX Rights Holders will have the option to terminate after 90 days of distribution, but Rights Holders with Royalty Share or Royalty Share Plus deals must provide Producer consent when making their request. More details about this update will come in the payments letter that will be sent next week.

We wish you all the best in 2021.

Runnin’ Down A Dream Project

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.

David Niall Wilson from Crossroad Press

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.

Audible Approved Producer Joshua Saxon

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.

Cover art by Steve Smith

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.