Have you met Audio Analysis? In case you haven’t been acquainted, we launched this tool (and its partner, Audio Lab) last year to give you instant feedback on your audio files, allowing you to identify and correct technical issues before you submit them to our QA team.
Audio Lab can be used to check any audio for important metrics like peak value and RMS. That means you can upload your auditions, your profile samples, examples of your production audio, etc. for our robot review. And if you don’t take that step beforehand, Audio Analysis checks your production audio files within each of your projects as you upload them. Together, this sound-screening dream team helps make sure you’re putting your best foot forward every time.
And now, in addition to the seven metrics this dynamic duo already assesses, both tools now check the spacing at the beginnings and ends of each file, to make sure they measure up to our Submission Requirements.
Accompanying this announcement, we’re adjusting our spacing requirement to improve the listener experience—going forward, all files must have no more than 5 seconds of “room tone,” or spacing, at their beginning and end.
We hope these adjustments help your audio achieve a seamless journey through our QA check, helping get your audiobooks to retail faster and making you (and your fans) happier. And if you haven’t checked out Audio Lab yet, give a spin to see how it can save you time and energy making your next big audition or production just right.
Today, we’re excited to share that audiobooks which meet our Submission Requirements will be made available for sale within 10 business days. In the past year, ACX has received more audiobook submissions than in any other period, and together, we shared this record-breaking number of titles with eager listeners across the globe. This success also brought challenges to our processing timeline, and we thank you for your patience and feedback as we worked to enhance our workflow.
Once the Rights Holder approves and submits the final project, the production will be checked by our Quality Assurance team, and, if there are no issues with the audio files, cover art, or retail data, you can expect to see your title live on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes within 10 business days. If we find that your production does need an adjustment, we’ll let you know—with resources to help you get it right—within that same 10-business day period.
We understand that timing is everything when it comes to marketing and promoting your work, and we hope this time-to-retail will help you plan your promotional efforts with greater ease, getting your work in front of listeners sooner.
It’s a pleasure to help bring your best books to life, and we can’t wait to hear your next production! For further questions and assistance on this update, or any other topics, please visit our Help Center. We also recommend diving into our latest blog posts and ACX University episodes for storytelling and production inspiration.
The true story of ACX’s 10th anniversary is told in the journeys of the impressive indie creators who have written their own career narratives via ACX. Read the latest entry from Audible Approved Producer Joe Hempel, below, then catch up on the rest of the series here.
Where have you taken your career since we last spoke?
My career has taken so many different twists and turns. It’s really been a wild ride! When we last spoke, I was working mainly on ACX, with one or maybe two publishers at the time. Now, I do a lot of work for a lot of different publishers, and I’ve even started my own publishing company, Fireside Horror. I barely have time for myself these days, but I tell you what, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I enjoy the pace of this, I enjoy being a workhorse, and I enjoy the grind required to stay at the top of my game.
These days, I’m always paying attention to new trends, not just looking at old ones and staying the course. I want to be at the forefront of anything that comes up—be it with technology, or with new ideas, or what new listeners are wanting to hear.
What important connections have you made on ACX?
I work with so many wonderful people on ACX, I want to say they’re all important! If I were to choose one – and this is no slight to anyone else—I’d have to say author Ambrose Ibsen. We teamed up and we created one heck of a little horror empire. After listening to some of the samples I have on ACX, he approached me to narrate his book, Whispering Corridors, in 2017, and it just took off. From there we’ve sold well over 25,000 audiobooks together. We do Royalty Share because that allows us both to make more money than we would with major publishing companies. I’m not sure what’s next, but you can bet it’ll be a hit.
What was your big “I made it” moment?
I think for me, the biggest thing was being able to move to Texas and buy my own house strictly from being an audiobook narrator. That was something I never dreamed would happen, and when I signed on that dotted line and walked into it, and realized “wow, this is mine, I did this” it was the greatest feeling of all time.
How do you define success in your career?
This is a tricky one. Success can be many things to different people. I define success as continuously working, continuously grinding, and having the ability to take some time off when I want to without feeling stressed financially.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the industry since getting started?
Relationships are EVERYTHING. This community is so small, though it may seem big, and everyone knows everyone, and everyone talks to each other—be it indie publishers, authors, or other narrators. Solid relationships built on trust and mutual respect are indispensable in this industry.
Who was most instrumental in getting your career going (besides you)?
Hands down my coaches. Johnny Heller, Sean Pratt, Jayme Matler, Scott Brick, and many more that I have had the pleasure of learning with. I wish I could name them all because they all deserve so much recognition. Even all the new people that are coming up, I learn from them too. I think you can get to a point in your career when you begin to miss certain trends, and those that are newer to the industry keep me on my toes and help me look at things differently. And I think that’s instrumental in staying relevant.
What’s your favorite thing about being an independent narrator/producer?
Networking with authors and narrators. Now that I’ve stepped into publishing as well, I’m connecting with more narrators that are just dipping their toes in the water, and let me tell you, there is an amazing pool of talent out there. It makes me want to continuously keep my eyes up and well coached and trained.
What does being an independent creator allow you to do that you couldn’t otherwise?
Without a doubt, I’d say “being able to make my own schedule and set my own working hours.” If something happens and this career goes belly up, I don’t think I’d be a good employee anymore!
What would you say ACX means to you?
Everything. ACX means everything to me. I would not have a career without ACX. ACX was on the forefront of directly connecting authors and narrators. So many people get to have such great careers and really turn their life around because of ACX. I haven’t lost sight of that, and I continue to use ACX to this day and will into the future.
Now that I’m a publisher, I use ACX to distribute to Audible, and it makes me incredibly happy to bring some really great horror to the Audible shelves that maybe they otherwise wouldn’t have. While there are other distributors out there, I wouldn’t dream of using anyone else.
What’s your most essential piece of studio gear?
I can’t really say one thing is more important than the other one. Obviously, the booth is what keeps things quiet so that I can work during the day, so I guess having that quiet space is the most important thing of all. Everything just works in synergy to create the audio—from the space, to the mic and interface, to the PC and Reaper, the DAW that I use.
If you could narrate any book ever, what would it be?
Anything by Stephen King. That’s the brass ring for me. I want it so bad, I even went out and bought the audio rights to The Science of Stephen King just so I could narrate in his world! HA!
What do you aspire to next?
I would like my publishing company to become known as THE place to get horror audiobooks into the world. It’s a grind, and things get a little behind because I’m a one man band. But it’s growing, and I’m hoping that, in the next 2 years, Audible will have a lot more horror out there—enough to classify it as its own genre, rather than a sub-genre under “Mysteries and Thrillers.”
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.
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).
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!
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?
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
It’s been quite a year for the ACX community: ACX creators published over 30,000 audiobooks, aided by the launch of some exciting tools and features, like Royalty Share Plus and Enhanced Promo Codes. Thank you for continuing to elevate the field of independent publishing through your hard work and innovation. In this giving season, we’ve decided to honor the tradition of re-gifting by wrapping up a few of our favorite blog resources from 2019 and presenting them to you to help support your continued excellence. Enjoy… or re-joy!
Now Hear This: Promoting with SoundCloud: Audio samples are your best friend when it comes to marketing your audiobook—they’re a great way to grab a listener’s attention and leave them eager to purchase the audiobook. Check out this article for great ideas on leveraging this free audio platform to put those samples everywhere your audience is, so they’ll be sure to give them a listen.
Bonus: Want more content on low and no-cost social media promotion for your audiobooks? Check out this episode from ACX University.
Amy Daws on Her Authentic Social Media Self: Authenticity is the key to a devoted community of fans, and nobody knows that better than this author and social media maven who uses her own genuine energy, fun content, and regular engagement to keep her fans’ attention between new releases. Learn from her social media strategies and fan the flames in your own fan base.
Bonus: Want to hear more on engaging with your fans? This is the ACX University episode for you.
Lighting the Way: An Author’s Journey into Narration If you’re an indie author, you’re no stranger to doing it all yourself, so chances are you’ve considered narrating your own audiobook. Well, paranormal mystery author Mary Castillo decided to do just that for her series, and you can read her full account of the production process from a writer’s perspective here.
Bonus: Interested in narrating your own book? Learn more about the art of audiobook performance here.
Production Pointers from Audible Approved Producers Whether you’re a narration newbie or a production pro, it never hurts to hear from other independent Producers on how they’re getting the job done. In this Q&A with a few of 2019’s newest Audible Approved Producers (AAPs), you can read about their favorite gear, pre-recording rituals, and at-home studio setups—you might learn a thing or two to add to your own process!
Bonus: Looking for more tips, tricks, and technical advice for audiobook production? Check out this ACX University series from our QA team.
A Portrait of the Artist How do you make a big impression and catch the attention of the authors you want to work with? It all starts with a compelling, professional, comprehensive Producer profile. In this article, we walk you through creating an ACX profile that stands out with examples from some of our favorite AAPs.
Bonus: Looking for more advice on your audiobook production career? This ACX University episode is for you.
Whether you’re new to the blog or seeing these articles for the second time, we hope it renews your drive and enthusiasm for creating great audiobooks, and gives you some good ideas for propelling your passion and your work forward into a successful new year. Feel free to re-gift these to the indie author or producer on your list!
Sharpen your pencils and get ready to hit the books: October 28th, ACX University is back at 5:30PM ET for its seventh year and it’s all about the pros: pro tips, pro experts, and the biggest pro of all—it’s free! We can’t think of any cons.
Our 2019 curriculum is a masterclass in taking your audiobook business to the next level, so expect plenty of advanced techniques and insider tips from the industry’s best. Get to the head of the class by marking your calendars with this handy calendar reminder and catching up on past episodes here.
Want a sneak peak at this year’s classes? Check out acxuniversity.com to catch a glimpse of our instructors and see what’s on the agenda for this season. We hope to see you in class!
5-4-3-2-1! ACX author, narrator, and master motivator Mel Robbins joined us in-studio to discuss The 5 Second Rule and how her method can help creatives of all stripes achieve success. Writing one of the best-selling audiobooks of 2017 and an Audible Original out this past May, Mel knows a thing or two (or five!) about maximizing your productivity and growing your listening audience. Listen to our interview below or read through the transcript to learn from the path she’s blazed.
Key points from our interview with Mel:
Learn The 5 Second Rule and what went into creating the bestseller. (02:25)
Discover how you can join the indie publishing revolution by publishing or producing audiobooks on ACX. (05:20)
Hear how to connect with your listening audience from the recording booth. (08:15)
Build your social media following the 5 Second way. (09:18)
Learn the role of graphic and video content in promoting your work on social media. (11:40)
Find out how authors and actors can use The 5 Second Rule to increase productivity. (15:00)
How does Mel recognize when she is one the right path to success? (22:15)
Mel has inspired a great number of people, but who inspires her? (29:15)
Read the transcript:
Scott Jacobi: This is Scott Jacobi with ACX, and I’m here with Mel Robbins. Thanks for joining us today.
Mel Robbins: Well, thanks for having me.
Scott Jacobi: We are in our Newark, New Jersey studios and today, Mel and I are going to talk about her book, The 5 Second Rule and how some of her tactics can be applied to ACX authors and actors to find success in their own lives.
Mel Robbins: That’s right. Listen up, baby.
Scott Jacobi: So could you please start by, give us sort of your 60 second elevator pitch on yourself and The 5 Second Rule, just set us up with what we’re dealing with today.
Mel Robbins: Sure. My name is Mel Robbins, and I’m a businesswoman, a mother of three. I’ve been married 21 years, which is a small miracle that Chris stuck around for that long, and I wrote The 5 Second Rule which is a book about a mind trick that I created by accident 10 years ago that will help you change any habit and have a deeper connection with your authentic self. That sounded so cheesy it’s unbelievable, but that’s just what fell out of my mouth.
Scott Jacobi: I don’t think it sounds, I think it sounded authentic. Like you said, authentic self. If you’re doing it without thinking about it, I think it’s coming out just right.
Mel Robbins: There you go.
Scott Jacobi: So there you go. Okay, so to get into it, your book has been a smashing success on Audible as well as in ebook and print. It quickly became one of the best selling books that we have on Audible. It has a 4.6 rating over 17,000 reviews.
Mel Robbins: That’s insane.
Scott Jacobi: Yeah.
Mel Robbins: Can we just stop right there?
Scott Jacobi: And it’s just been out a year, right? Last February?
Mel Robbins: It hasn’t even been out a year. 17,000 reviews, 4.6 stars, that is the thing I’m the most proud of. The fact that it’s not only done well, but more importantly, people fricking dig it.
Scott Jacobi: They dig it. They’re giving it great reviews, and you’re nearing 300,000 Audible units. Okay, all right-
Mel Robbins: No, we’ve passed it. Nearing. Give me all the credit it is due.
Scott Jacobi: I need an updated paper. The big thing there that I find so fascinating is your audiobook sales are more than your print and your ebook sales combined.
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: Which blows my mind, and I’m sure it blows a lot of people’s minds that’ll be listening to this. It seems, in some ways, like it came together very quickly, like it showed up on the scene very quickly, but we know that usually, overnight success is a misnomer. Can you tell us about the work that you put into The 5 Second Rule that most people wouldn’t see that they might be able to learn from?
Mel Robbins: Well, I’m gonna answer the question two ways. First, I’m gonna talk about The 5 Second Rule concept, and then I’ll tell you into the work that went into creating not only the book but an audio experience that became the sensation that it’s become.
Scott Jacobi: Give it to me.
Mel Robbins: So first of all, the idea of The 5 Second Rule is super simple, and that is that you can change your life in five seconds. In fact, that’s the only way that you change your life, and I came up with this simple trick 10 years ago to help me beat a habit of hitting the snooze button and oversleeping every single morning.
Mel Robbins: So the idea of The 5 Second Rule was something that I used in private for five years. I then shared it on a stage just kind of extemporaneously. I said that correctly, right? Okay. Somebody taped the speech that I was giving and the speech went crazy viral and then people started to write to me about The 5 Second Rule. The writing and the kind of emails that we got from people that saw this speech online drove me to want to figure out why The 5 Second Rule actually works, and so I did a three year long research project into the science of habits and human behavior. I’m a real nerd. Like I’m super curious about human behavior and life hacks and brain hacks and it turns out The 5 Second Rule is one of the most powerful brain hacks backed by science that will help you make any change happen.
Mel Robbins: So there was eight years of using The 5 Second Rule and three years of research that went into the concept, and I think that’s one thing to understand that particularly simple concepts, the reason why a simple concept can be powerful is there’s typically a ton of work behind it. So that’s how the background on the actual concept, but with the book, okay. You’re talking to a chick that has some dyslexia. I have ADHD.
Scott Jacobi: Same.
Mel Robbins: I have horrendous executive functioning skills, and the idea of writing a book is literally the equivalent of taking a pencil and shoving it into my eyeball.
Scott Jacobi: I hope that’s not how you wrote it.
Mel Robbins: Pretty much, yes.
Scott Jacobi: But that’s a big undertaking to put all that together.
Mel Robbins: Yeah, and my business partner will tell you it was probably the worst six months experience for either one of us, because I was complete jackass to deal with, because I was stressed out all the time.
Scott Jacobi: I’m sure a lot of our authors can relate to that.
Mel Robbins: Totally. So we wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, and I also … So the book took about six months to write. Now here’s the thing that happened. We self published the book, and so what happened is we had all this kind of pent up demand because I have a social media following and I have a speaking platform, and when the book came out, it sold out in terms of the print copies, because it was a really small print run in the beginning. Sold out immediately, I don’t know, the 15,000 copies that they printed. The only thing that was available was the audiobook.
Scott Jacobi: Was the audio, right.
Mel Robbins: Or the ebook. Now, the thing about the audiobook that I think was a differentiator is that when you say overnight success usually means 10 years of experience, the one thing that is different about me as an author is that I have five years of broadcast experience. So when it came time to do the audiobook, I just naturally looked at the audiobook as if it were producing a radio show.
Scott Jacobi: Another broadcast project.
Mel Robbins: Correct. So the interesting thing, and I fricking love ACX. The experience that I have had as an author using your platform and, I should say, this platform, has been mind blowing and very eye opening. Number one, we all know that there’s a huge paradigm shift in publishing, and authors make the mistake of letting their egos make big business decisions. There are a lot of authors, and you may be one of them, that feels a little insecure about your work, and so you think you need an agent, or you think you need a big publisher. You think you need some kind of advance in order to validate your work. The truth is, you don’t need … anybody. The only thing that will validate your work is you actually doing your work.
Scott Jacobi: Getting it out there.
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: Doing it and getting it out to people.
Mel Robbins: Yes. Regardless of how the book gets published, you still have to market it. So finish the book, but then when you publish the book, it’s gonna be on you to push it. You’re gonna make more money if you are pushing people to the audiobook, because if you do your global distribution, the percentages are fantastic. Now-
Scott Jacobi: Right. Better than you’re gonna find on the print or the ebook side.
Mel Robbins: Better. Are you kidding? 10 times better for crying out loud. I say to everybody that I talk to that reaches out to us about advice about writing a book and publishing, number one, no matter what, sever all audio rights. Do it yourself through ACX. It’s the smartest business move, it’s a long tail strategy, you have all the resources right here, you’re being a complete dummy driven by ego if you do it any other way. Because let me tell you something, that big publishing house that is launching your book for you, you know what they’re gonna do? They’re gonna hire the same actor you could hire. They’re gonna stick him in the booth here at ACX, and they’re gonna distribute it themselves through ACX and they’re gonna give you a penny. Goodbye.
Scott Jacobi: Right. So do it yourself, and that’s a big part of our platform is the ability either to do it yourself as you did, reading it, or to sort of be your own author entrepreneur or actor entrepreneur, take the power into your own hands, put yourself in the booth, or put yourself in the director’s chair, as it were.
Mel Robbins: The other thing that I wanna say quickly is that just like The 5 Second Rule was a mistake.
Scott Jacobi: A happy accident.
Mel Robbins: Seriously, it was a happy accident that changed my life and will change yours. The audiobook experience and us self publishing for the first time on ACX was an incredibly happy accident, and one of the things that I want you to understand if you do narrate your own book, and this is something I learned at radio that you don’t think about. When you’re doing an audio product, it is a one to one experience. So when you go into that booth, one of the tricks that we used to have when I was in the radio business is we would print out the avatars on Facebook of our fans and I would have one person paste it up, their face in the booth, and I would talk to that one person.
Scott Jacobi: And that’s your audience.
Mel Robbins: That’s your audience. It’s an incredibly intimate experience.
Scott Jacobi: Absolutely, and that’s one of the reasons that theater professionals, theater actors do so well with this, because they’re used to performing to the last row, and that’s a similar sort of idea to that. I think that’s great advice. You bring up your social media followers, which is a great point for me to pivot into my next question, and it also ties into the idea of no overnight success. You mentioned having a good social media following before you launched the book. You said people were reaching out to you and such about The 5 Second Rule when the video went viral. How did you use, once you had this book, how did you use the content around it to grow your social media channels, giving you a captive audience to then market the book to? What did you do that ACX authors or actors could try to replicate?
Mel Robbins: Well, so I have some particular rules about social media. Number one, it’s not about you. It’s about them. Unless you’re Beyonce and people wanna be a voyeur on your life, nobody really gives a shit, and so your social media is about what the audience that follows you is getting. So before you publish the book, as you’re writing a book, if you have something to say in a book, you also have something to say on social media. You need to start pushing yourself now to start publishing more content on social media. That content should be authentic. It should be personal. It should of value to your audience, and how do you figure that out? Well, you start publishing all kinds of stuff, and then you see what people comment on. You see what they heart. You see what they share. They will give you so much information based on how they’re interacting with you. Do more of what people interact with. That’s how you build an audience.
Scott Jacobi: Right. Test and repeat.
Mel Robbins: Yes, and you need to do it now. Don’t wait until the fricking book comes out and now you wanna sell something to people. Do it now.
Scott Jacobi: Right, get them involved. As we said, build up a little momentum, get them involved in the process early. We always tell our authors, tell them that you’ve cast your actor. Tell them that you’ve stepped in the studio. Share a picture of yourself as you step into the studio. Get people bought in emotionally to that product, so that when it comes out, they raring to buy it.
Mel Robbins: More importantly, as you’re writing it, take a photo of yourself as you’re struggling with procrastination. Write about it. Show people what you’re doing, and what happens is people feel like they know you. They feel like they’ve been along for the ride. They feel like for an entire year, you’ve done nothing but give value, value, value, and then when the time comes to support your work, now you can make the ask.
Scott Jacobi: And they feel like they’re giving you something back for what you’ve given them. I love that idea.
Mel Robbins: 100%. 100%.
Scott Jacobi: So as you’re talking about this social media content that you’ve created and you’re recommending others create, looking at your social media feeds, I noticed that you use a lot of video and image. It’s not just text based. I think a very basic thing people hopefully know about social media is video and pictures are going to get more engagement than just text based posts. They catch the eye. They take up more real estate, et cetera. How do you do that? So maybe you’ll tell me you are also a video producer and you’re also a Photoshop expert.
Mel Robbins: Not me. No, I’m not.
Scott Jacobi: So how do you do that and how could others possibly recreate that?
Mel Robbins: Well, the first thing that you could do is first of all, just shoot stuff on your smartphone for crying out loud. I mean, if you look at the stuff that goes viral, it’s really shady, fuzzy looking stuff that people shoot on their phones, so stop worrying about it being perfect. It’s not a book. This is a piece of micro-content that’s gonna last like 10 seconds. It’ll go viral if you’re lucky. Okay?
Mel Robbins: The second thing is that it’s platform dependent, so people that are on Instagram are image heavy. Things that are on Facebook tend to be either longer form or tend to be natively uploaded video. You don’t wanna just link to YouTube. That’s lazy. You gotta upload the video yourself to Facebook, otherwise you’re gonna decrease the amount of stuff that, the amount of times people share it. With YouTube, obviously it’s all video. If you start shooting your own video, almost like a selfie, just kind of talking to camera and showing people what you’re up to, sharing what you’re thinking about, you’ll see if it resonates with people. If you need to do more video, what you’re gonna do is you’re going to take a video of yourself and you’re gonna say, “I’m looking for an intern. Is there any high schooler out there that understands how to use iMovie or any of the editing tools, and I’ve got an incredible, killer, 10 hour a week internship with you that could turn into a paying gig.”
Mel Robbins: All of your friends’ nieces, nephews, sons and daughters will reach out to you, and next thing you know, you’ve got a couple people that are interested in editing video as an internship. Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna tell them to take five or six of the crappy videos that you’ve shot yourself and edit together something kind of cool. You give them that project as a way for them to try out, pick the best one, boom. Now you have a video editor. You do this one little push at a time, and so that’s how we started. We now have three full time video editors. We have a creative director that runs social media. We have community managers that respond to all the posts and the comments, and one woman who does nothing but just answer emails all day. Because my brand is all about helping people get the advice and the entertainment and the connection that they need so that they can do a little bit better.
Scott Jacobi: So speaking of that, let’s do that right now. We’ve talked about some of the broad tactics that you’ve used for marketing your books, but I love The 5 Second Rule. I think it’s so fascinating, and I tried it myself the other night. I’ve personally not been going to bed early enough, and I have a little daughter who wakes me up at the same time every morning, no matter how late I go to bed, and I’m playing on my phone too long and I’m staying up too late. So having listened and researched your book, I said, I really should go to bed, and then I said 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, I’m getting up and I’m going to bed.
Scott Jacobi: So it worked for me in that little instance. How can authors and actors apply The 5 Second Rule specifically to what they’re trying to achieve in their day to day lives with their audiobook and writing?
Mel Robbins: Great, well, so let’s talk about the big creativity killer, which is procrastination. So procrastination is a habit. You’re not a procrastinator. You have a habit of procrastinating, and when you look at the research around habits, there are three parts that make up a habit. Then those become like a closed loop that get encoded in your brain, and then you get stuck in the habit of procrastinating.
Scott Jacobi: What are the three parts?
Mel Robbins: The first is the trigger. The trigger is something that is outside of you that triggers you to repeat a pattern, and then when you do the pattern, you get a payoff. So with procrastination, the trigger is 100% always the same. Procrastination is a habit that’s triggered by stress. Believe it or not, when you procrastinate on work, it has nothing to do with work. You’re actually stressed about something else, typically, and the stress triggers you to blow off the things that require focus. And so blowing off writing, blowing off editing a video, blowing off working on your marketing, blowing off watching the videos on the ACX university platform in order to get better at the acting stuff that you need to do. All of that is triggered by greater stressors.
Mel Robbins: The reason why you have the pattern of procrastinating is because when you blow off the work that requires focus, you get a small amount of release from the stress that you’re feeling. So the only way to change a habit is not to worry about the trigger. There’s always gonna be shit that stresses you out. You just can’t control that.
Scott Jacobi: That’s life.
Mel Robbins: That’s life. But you can always choose how you respond to the trigger. So if the habit right now is procrastinating as a form of stress release, what we need to do is we need to actually retrain you that when you’re stressed, that you recognize it and that you actually push yourself forward and do a little work anyway.
Mel Robbins: And so the way that you’re gonna use The 5 Second Rule is when you catch yourself procrastinating, number one, acknowledge oh. Don’t say, oh, there I go procrastinating again. Go oh, I must be stressed about something.
Scott Jacobi: Okay, so link the two together.
Mel Robbins: Yeah, link the two together, and it might be maybe your dad’s … Somebody on our team, she’s worried about her dad’s health. They’ve got a test back that’s a little sketchy and she’s now extraordinarily upset about it. Okay? That’s the trigger.
Scott Jacobi: I hope he’ll be okay.
Mel Robbins: So acknowledge, I’m just stressed about dad. So that disappears the trigger, and then go 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and I want you to just work for five minutes. That’s it. The reason I want you to just start working for five minutes is starting is the hardest part, number one. Number two, we’re not actually trying to turn you into a workaholic. We’re trying to retrain you and your response to the trigger of stress. Your old habit when you felt stress was to step back and procrastinate. The new habit is to recognize the stress, acknowledge it, and lean into the work.
Mel Robbins: So I only want you to work for five minutes because if I can get you started, 83% of you will keep going.
Scott Jacobi: 83%?
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: That’s pretty good.
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: I have a question about what you just said. I can say in my personal life, I’ve been working to try to do the first step of what you said, which is sort of step back and recognize, what am I actually feeling right now? What’s going on in my head or my body? Do you have a good way to take, is it a physical step back? Is it closing your eyes and taking a deep breath? How do you grab onto that moment and to not let it pass by?
Mel Robbins: Well, first of all, I count backwards, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That’s The 5 Second Rule, and you’ve got to do that because what you’re doing is you’re interrupting all of the bad habits and reactions that get stored as habits in the interior part of your brain, and you’re awakening your prefrontal cortex. By the time you get to one, your mind is now primed to focus, to act with courage, to do something new. So the counting backwards is essential.
Mel Robbins: You can use the rule, the second that you hit one, you’re in control. So you now have the ability to make a conscious choice, whether that’s pushing yourself forward by speaking up, or by doing something outside your comfort zone, or starting the work where normally you’d procrastinate. Or maybe you’re gonna use it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and now pull yourself back. You’re not gonna micromanage your team. You’re not gonna snap at your kids. You’re not gonna reach for that Manhattan, that you’re going to redirect yourself away from the thing that you do that’s destructive.
Mel Robbins: So for me, when I first started using The 5 Second Rule, I used it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, get up on time. Then I used it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, get to the gym. Then I used to it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, kinda curb the drinking a little bit. Then I started using it to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, change the way and the tone in which I was speaking to my husband. We were going through some shitty stuff at the time, and I was not being that nice. Now, I use it mostly for thinking patterns.
Scott Jacobi: Give me an example.
Mel Robbins: So self-doubt. Imposter syndrome. Anxiety. Any garbage that you think that’s actually self destructive. It is a habit, just like chewing your nails is a pattern that you repeat that’s annoying, so is self-doubt. So if you catch your thoughts drifting, you can 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, give yourself like a mental … slap, awaken the prefrontal cortex, and insert something that is optimistic or positive or self-serving instead of defeating. In the five years that I have been using The 5 Second Rule to redirect my thoughts and reframe them, I have fundamentally changed my mindset. I’ve cured myself of anxiety. I have no imposter syndrome, and this goes back to the original question, which is how do you, in the moment, figure out how to do this?
Mel Robbins: Well, I think that inside each and every one of us, whether you call it a GPS or you call it your inner wisdom or you call it your soul or whatever you want to call it, that there is a guidance system inside of you.
Scott Jacobi: Something innate.
Mel Robbins: It’s always talking to you. It’s a combination of all the experiences of your lifetime, situational intelligence. It’s your intuition. The fact is that when you start to use The 5 Second Rule to push all the excuses aside, you gain a level of clarity that is very hard to describe. It gives you a direct line to your intuition, because so many of us, our intuition kind of rises up, and then we shut it down with an excuse or with self-doubt or with anxiety. When you start to empower your own intuition, and you start to have a little bit more courage in your life, what happens is your ability to hear those moments, your ability to really know yourself and be able to self-monitor, it’s extraordinary. It’s the most powerful thing that you could learn to do.
Scott Jacobi: So you’re stripping away the self doubt-
Mel Robbins: Yeah.
Scott Jacobi: Which is leaving room for the way you truly want to be feeling and acting to bubble up and for you to be able to recognize it and act on it.
Mel Robbins: That’s a beautiful way to say it.
Scott Jacobi: Thank you.
Mel Robbins: Yeah, really.
Scott Jacobi: Great. So you talk about success and achieving this success based on these methods that you’re talking about. What are some of the metrics that you use to define success in your own life, and maybe also specifically for your book and your audiobook? What are your benchmarks?
Mel Robbins: Well, I want to be the number one audiobook in the world.
Scott Jacobi: All right.
Mel Robbins: There you go. There’s my benchmark. Let’s go. We’re well on our way. I’m just kidding.
Scott Jacobi: So you said, well okay, you set very high level goals. Do you set sort of sub goals under those to hit along the way, or do you just set that stretch goal and you do everything you can to hit that.
Mel Robbins: So I’m what you would call an outcome thinker, so I’m always thinking about where I want to get to. Maybe this is from a lifetime of experiencing anxiety, which is always living in the future and normally the future’s terrible. So that’s why you feel anxious right now. But I’m an outcome thinker, so I think about the things that I want to achieve, and then I always work backwards to figure out, well, what are the steps that lead me there? I measure my personal success by whether or not I’m energized and proud of what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with. I think the single thing that has been a really remarkable tipping point, and this will be another book that we’re gonna write.
Scott Jacobi: Somebody already used the tipping point, so I would suggest a different-
Mel Robbins: Oh, not that one, sorry.
Scott Jacobi: Just a different title, but I love the idea, so keep going.
Mel Robbins: There is this really interesting tipping point in our business where things just exploded. The deals were suddenly massive and the platform was getting bigger, and that was when we stumbled upon this really interesting little tool that I can’t wait to write more about. That is that every single one of us has an internal fuel gauge. If you think about it like a gas tank that has a gauge that goes from empty to full. When your gas tank is empty, you feel depleted. When your gas tank is full, you feel fully energized. I think we discovered this because we were trying to create an online course around passion, and passion is a very difficult topic to teach because at the end of the day, passion isn’t a thing. It’s not a profession. It’s not something that the place that you live or relationship that you’re in. Passion is energy.
Mel Robbins: The way to discover passion in your life is to follow the energy. When you tune inward and you pay attention to the data that your own body is giving you, you actually have the answer to the question that vexes everybody, which is how do I find my passion? You find your passion by aligning your life with the things that naturally energize you. So we made a crazy, lunatic woo woo business decision a year ago, my business partner and I, that we would only do things and we would only work with people that we are energized by. Anything that depletes us … we’re not doing it. I don’t care how much money they offer. I don’t care how big the person is, and when you use your internal fuel gauge as a way to make decisions, what you’re actually doing is you now have found a tool to make decisions that are aligned with the things that you’re naturally passionate about.
Mel Robbins: The cool thing is that when you’re energized, you do better work. When you’re energized by the people around you, you’re a better leader. When you’re energized by the projects that you’re working on, you’re fricking creative. So what that may mean for you as a writer is you might be depleted when you sit down to write at home. You might notice that if you go to the local library or you go to a coffee shop, you’re more energized. So if you make the small shift to write in places where you naturally feel more energized, you will be shocked at how your creativity and your productivity flourishes.
Scott Jacobi: So it sounds like in order to notice that, we go back again to what you were talking about earlier, that need to take a step back, check in with yourself, use The 5 Second Rule to center yourself, if you will. What I’m getting from what you were just saying is it almost sounds like a melding between eastern and western. It sounds like it’s a little bit spiritual, but you also say it’s internally data driven, and I love the idea of taking something that there are people out there that think spirituality is a squishy concept and aren’t super into it. If you can use it for yourself in a way that feels more authentic, as you said, I agree. I think it can be a great driver to success.
Scott Jacobi: I have a quick question for you on what you just said. I imagine that it’s easier to say, I’m only gonna work with people that make me passionate. I’m only gonna take projects, regardless of the money, that I really feel passionate about. I imagine that’s easier when you’ve had a measure of success then when you’re either just starting out or you’re sort of at that pivot point, like you mentioned, just prior to that tipping point. Any tips for how somebody could avoid the allure of, I need the money. I should just take that project even though I don’t love it. Because you went through that.
Mel Robbins: Oh, god. Look, if you’re at the point where you’re trying to pay your bills, take the … project, okay? What I’m talking about is having the awareness so that if you’re in a situation where you work for a company and there are people in the company day to day that deplete you, be aware of that, and take intentional steps not to get hooked into them. So it’s more of the awareness around how people’s behavior is contagious. If there are people you have to work with every day that deplete you, take steps to remove yourself from conversations with them. Take steps not to engage in the passive aggressive stuff.
Scott Jacobi: Minimize the exposure.
Mel Robbins: Yes. Exactly, and spend more time with the people at work that actually do energize you. If you are somebody that you’re starting the process of becoming an actor and you’ve got, it’s a new paradigm and learning something new depletes you, every time you notice that you’re depleted, I want you to redirect your thoughts to the thing that got you excited about wanting to do this in the first place, and anchor yourself there in the part of what you’re taking on now that actually energizes you. Does that make sense?
Scott Jacobi: Yeah, no, absolutely.
Mel Robbins: So it’s kind of the fact that this awareness around what naturally depletes you and what naturally energizes you, how that can give you the beacons that you need to pivot in order to align your life and your work in ways that are more satisfying and more successful for you.
Scott Jacobi: Right. I love it. That definitely does make a lot of sense. As we start to wrap things up here, I’ve got one more question for you and then we’ll go into our little end game here.
Mel Robbins: Cool.
Scott Jacobi: But as you’ve mentioned and as people will see the moment they click on any of your website or social media profiles, you’ve inspired a great deal many people with this 5 Second Rule. I’m curious, who inspires you? Who has inspired you, or who do you currently see as a hero, and don’t say yourself.
Mel Robbins: Well, if I have to be … The first person that comes to mind, as cheesy and as predictable as it is, is Oprah, and there’s a reason why. The reason why is, first of all, I grew up with her. So I’m gonna be 50 this year, and when I got home from school, she would be on TV. It was my first habit that I remember in terms of television-
Scott Jacobi: A good habit.
Mel Robbins: And always looking forward to something. What I loved about her show was the fact that she made the fact that we’re all screwed up normal, and she wasn’t the kind of expert that was talking down to people. She was the kind of person that was right there alongside with you, and that really inspired me. Then when 10 years ago, I first stepped into the media business, and I signed a development deal with ABC, one of the people that was coaching me was one of the creators of The View, and they wanted to turn me into a talk show host. I remember him making me watch all these clips of Oprah Winfrey.
Mel Robbins: One of the things that he said about her that he wanted me to pay attention to, and as an actor and as an author, when you think about your audio experience of the story that you want to tell, I want you to remember this.
Scott Jacobi: Hit me.
Mel Robbins: When Oprah Winfrey opens her show, it doesn’t matter what she’s about to talk about. She exudes a level of excitement about what’s about to go down that makes you lean in because she believes that what you’re about to hear about the brand new microwave that’s gonna hit, that it’s gonna change your life. So she was a master at piquing your curiosity and making you pay attention. She was also a master at being passionate about what she was talking about.
Scott Jacobi: You took the words out of my mouth. I was going to say, based on what you’ve just said, she must be very passionate about what she does, and that makes a great point for especially actors as they step into the booth and they’re preparing to read their tenth book in a row and they’re looking to get those energy levels up. Having that passion and being passionate about it is such a key part in connecting with the audience for that performance. You’ve taught me, I was gonna say, Oprah must be incredibly passionate about what she does to bring that level of excitement every show.
Mel Robbins: Yeah, and when I step on a stage, for example, it could be an audience of 20,000 in a stadium. It could be 500 folks that work in financial services like we had in the audience yesterday in Dallas. The thing that drives me is knowing that there is one person in that audience whose life is about to change because of something they’re about to hear. If you step into the booth before you record your book, and you convince yourself that that one person, there’s one person out there that has to hear this story, and I’ve got to tell it in a way that is so compelling that I reach that one fricking person, you’ll win.
Scott Jacobi: Going back to what you said before about the audio medium being very one to one, being very intimate. Absolutely. I love it. I think that is great advice, and I think that’s a great point to wrap up the meat of this on, and to launch into our end feature, which we normally call the lightning round, but for this session we’ll call it the 5 second round.
Mel Robbins: Okay.
Scott Jacobi: So I have, and you have not seen these, so I’m-
Mel Robbins: I have not seen these.
Scott Jacobi: And they’re not difficult. They’re not gotcha questions, don’t worry.
Mel Robbins: Okay.
Scott Jacobi: But yeah, favorite place to write?
Mel Robbins: My favorite place to write? Into a microphone. I don’t like to write. I dictate everything.
Scott Jacobi: You dictate everything.
Mel Robbins: I’m an editor. I’m not a writer.
Scott Jacobi: So who puts it down for you?
Mel Robbins: Siri.
Scott Jacobi: Siri?
Mel Robbins: Yes.
Scott Jacobi: Okay.
Mel Robbins: Or Dragon Dictate, I use those two.
Scott Jacobi: Okay, all right. Cool. What is your favorite time of day to dictate?
Mel Robbins: Any time.
Scott Jacobi: Any time?
Mel Robbins: Yes, because I’m not a writer. If a thought comes to me, it’s like, I just puke it out right now.
Scott Jacobi: You gotta get that out right away.
Mel Robbins: Before I forget it. Remember, ADHD, dyslexia. You gotta work with what you got, people.
Scott Jacobi: So along those lines, coffee or tea, or no caffeine at all?
Mel Robbins: Coffee for sure with whole milk, except for when I have bronchitis, which I get every fall and spring, and then it’s tea.
Scott Jacobi: Okay. All right. Favorite pizza topping?
Mel Robbins: Mushrooms.
Scott Jacobi: Mushrooms?
Mel Robbins: And sausage.
Scott Jacobi: Together? Mushrooms and sausage?
Mel Robbins: Yes, mushrooms and sausage. More mushrooms.
Scott Jacobi: Okay. Favorite place to go on vacation?
Mel Robbins: Eleuthera. We had our best family vacation there.
Scott Jacobi: Eleu, where is that?
Mel Robbins: Bahamas.
Scott Jacobi: Bahamas, okay. Great. What item would you bring to a desert island?
Mel Robbins: A tent.
Scott Jacobi: A tent?
Mel Robbins: Yes, a water well.
Scott Jacobi: That’s a very … some people would say their favorite book or a locket from their mother.
Mel Robbins: God, no! I want to survive. Are you kidding?
Scott Jacobi: I like that answer. I like that answer. What was the last movie that you saw? Do you have time to see movies?
Mel Robbins: Yes. I watch movies on planes. I watched Wind River last night on the plane here, and it is a very upsetting movie. It’s a riveting story. I bet it would make an incredible audiobook, but it was very upsetting to watch.
Scott Jacobi: Last question. What is one thing we didn’t ask you about today that you would like our listeners to know?
Mel Robbins: I have no idea. Join us on social media. We reach 20 million people a month on social, and we bring you behind the scenes, and I don’t think I’m an expert in anything. I am a professional over sharer. I am intellectually curious. I’m a nerd about personal development, and I love sharing the stuff that I’m learning that’s working, not because I think that it’s what you should do, but because I hope it makes you think about what you are doing and how you could do it better for you.
Scott Jacobi: Great. Well, thank you for sharing that everything you’ve shared today with us. Definitely, definitely, definitely go check out The 5 Second Rule on Audible.
Mel Robbins is a serial entrepreneur, best-selling author, internationally recognized social media influencer, and one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the world.