Tag Archives: storytellers

ACX Storytellers: Amanda Rose Smith

As an engineer, editor, and director, Amanda Rose Smith has worked on over 700 audiobook productions, 300 of which are ACX titles. After years of working with studios and publishers, she struck out on her own, and recently dropped a vocal booth into her Brooklyn apartment so she can see productions through from start to finish. Read on to learn her thoughts on collaborating with narrators and the value of knowing what “ə” sounds like.

Q: How did you become an audiobook studio pro?

A: I was a music major at Smith College, studying to be a composer for film, TV, and video games, and I decided I’d like to record my own work. Simultaneously, my work-study job in college involved read aloud for blind and dyslexic students, recording each week’s lessons onto those old tiny tape recorders.

Later, when I traveled to New York to get my masters in Music Technology, I began working for the American Foundation for the Blind as a recording engineer and editor for audiobooks. After that I was at a commercial studio for several years, working on audiobook productions for several publishers, doing post-production for film and television, and eventually became the production manager for the entire studio. A few years ago, I left that position to start my own business. I now work directly for publishers, with narrators on ACX, as well as continuing my work in film, television, and video games. I recorded all the ADR for the second season of Orange Is the New Black, for instance.

As a studio professional working indirectly with ACX (I’m usually hired by producers to edit and master their home-recorded audio), ACX work factors in as a significant portion of my income and in growing my business. After encountering lots of producers who would love to work on ACX but don’t yet have their own recording spaces, I decided to buy my own booth and create my own recording space.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?

A: I wish someone had explained to me how vulnerable one has to be, as an actor, to get the right performance across. Consistently connecting with this work on an emotional level is a hard job. Over the years, directing actors, I’ve learned how closely collaborative this work is. The engineer/director and the actor have to fully engage with each other to allow the best product to emerge.

In my early years, I was sometimes afraid to be as hands-on as I could have been in that collaboration. That feeling probably stemmed from an interaction I had with a very seasoned—but also sensitive—narrator on a book. They had started the book with another director, and I had been brought in to finish things off at the last minute. So we hadn’t really built a rapport yet. Being the pronunciation and misread nerd that I am, I came down a little hard and fast from the start of our session, pointing out all of their mistakes right away, before we had built any trust. It made for an uncomfortable session and the ensuing performance suffered.

Tremontaine

One of Amanda’s 300 ACX productions, the serialized prequel to the Audie-winning Swordspoint

Mistakes are important to catch, of course, but over the years, what I’ve learned first and foremost is the nature of collaboration in session work. Now, I record all sorts of people—from actors who have been narrating for decades to authors who have never spoken in public—and I always approach it from a place of collaboration rather than just fixing someone else’s mistakes. The overall quality, performance, accuracy, and technical sound quality are all part of the whole.

Q: What are you doing to grow your skills and get better at your profession?

A: I’m always researching new gear, new software, new techniques, etc. Social media plays heavily into my keeping track of what my peers in the industry are doing. When I notice buzz about a new piece of software or gear, I’ll try it out. In any technical industry, which this is, it’s important to stay current. For example, I was using ProTools pretty much exclusively when I started out, but a number of other digital audio workstations (DAWs) have cropped up in the past few years. Different programs have different strengths, and studying them allows me to find the most efficient ways to get the work done. While I still often use ProTools, Reaper is also fantastic for audiobook production, especially since it works equally well on PC and Mac. Twisted Wave is great for bulk processing. Izotope RX is indispensable for noise reduction.

Staying up-to-date in this way also helps me advise others when they have technical problems. This is still a very word-of-mouth industry, and I’ve gotten lots of work simply by offering a few minutes of my time to fix a problem.

Q: What are your favorite educational resources for audiobook production?

A: The main physical dictionaries: Merriam Webster and Oxford. When I worked for the American Foundation for the Blind, we weren’t allowed to use online resources. So, I had to learn to read all of the pronunciation symbols in order to do pronunciation research. I’m grateful for that now, because most of the pronunciation sites that are reliable, like Merriam-Webster online or Dictionary.com, may only have audio files for one version of the pronunciation. Those will often be followed by a bunch of symbols only nerds like me can read.

Workspace

Amanda’s home studio and editing suite

Q: What is your must-have piece of studio gear?

A: There are a lot of microphones and pre-amps and plug-ins that I like, and I’m sure that one of those would probably be the expected answer here. But honestly? My favorite piece of studio equipment is the iPad. I have the new 12.9 inch pro in my studio and I’m in love. I started working in this field while people were still using paper scripts. When the iPad became ubiquitous in the audiobook studio, the changes I saw were profound. Narrators who previously had to stop every two pages or so (to avoid the page flip getting caught on-mic) could now go on for as long as they desired—or until I stopped them for a misread. I saw some actor’s output go up by as much as 15%; people who previously finished a session with 180 minutes of raw audio were now finishing with 200 or 210. That might not seem like a big deal, but since most publishers pay on a per-finished-hour basis, it was a game changer.

Q: How do you define success in your creative career?

A: I feel most successful when I pull my head out of my book/computer/headphones and think, “Wow, I’m getting paid to do this.” For me, getting paid to do something you’d probably do anyway is the highest form of success. I also try to keep moving forward, in terms of my level of knowledge. If I can look back on a year and feel that I know more than I did last year, that’s a good year.

ScubaQ: Do you have a fun hobby or skill unrelated to your audiobook work?

A: I love to travel! Also, I scuba dive. In 2013, I went scuba diving off the coast of Belize, at the second biggest barrier reef in the world. To an audio engineer, there’s something oddly relaxing about the near-silence of an underwater environment.

After earning a BA in Music Composition from Smith College, Amanda, originally a musician, moved to NYC where she completed a master’s degree in Music Technology at New York University.  Recently, she was the dialogue editor for Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead: The Game.” She loves most things Star Trek, and hopes to visit all seven continents before she dies. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

ACX Storytellers: Bethany Claire

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Self-published author Bethany Claire has used ACX to publish her ten books and two boxed sets in audio, amassing over $60,000 in earnings in 20 months. A master of Scottish time travel romances who harbors a not-so-secret Disney obsession, she joins us today to share her audiobook story.

Q: How did you become an author and audiobook publisher?

A: The writing bug bit me in college. I started writing creatively just for fun, which allowed me to escape from my 18-hour course load for a half an hour each day, and I lived for it. But that half hour quickly grew into several hours, and I knew that my passion for writing went far beyond the enthusiasm I’d had for any other hobby. Over the course of the next four years, I changed my major seven times. But it wasn’t writing.

Then, on one fateful summer day, I heard about a writers’ academy hosted by my university. I enrolled right away. It was the first time I’d been around other people who were as passionate about writing as I was. It totally changed my world.

When I decided to drop out of college and pursue writing full-time, I wrote like a fiend, studied every single thing I could find about the business, and made a plan for publication. I continued to work part-time before releasing my novels, but five months after dropping out of school, I released the first three books in my Morna’s Legacy Series. Less than a year after that, I hit the USA Today best-seller’s list.

Two years after releasing my first three books, I made the jump into audio after listening to ACX representatives speak at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) national conference. It was something that my readers wanted, and I’d been curious about for a while. I knew it had the potential to be an extra source of income for my business, and I looked forward to the creative process of bringing the characters in my stories to life.

Q: What decisions have contributed to your audiobook success, and what made them the right decisions?

A: From the very start, I think one of the best things I did was offer a high per-finished-hour payment rather than the royalty share option. Despite my fear of investing so much money upfront for the audiobook production, I knew that my goal with my business has always been to look at long-term success. I knew that eventually I would earn out on that investment, and once I did, I would be so glad that I was able to keep my full royalties. It was an excellent decision. It only took a couple of months for me to earn out on the investment of paying my narrator a set amount.

Focusing a section of my marketing efforts towards the sale of my audiobooks has really helped with my success. Giving out the free download codes that ACX provides with each new audiobook release is a great way to build buzz among your readers about a new release and to encourage reviews. I also post and tweet about my audiobooks often, and use online design tools such as Canva to create beautiful and professional-looking images to go along with my posts and ads.

cover01Q: What are you doing to grow your skills and get better at your profession?

A: Writing consistently is one of the best things I do to continually grow my skills. When I do skip a few days of writing—whether it be to travel, sickness, or just plain laziness— my writing is always a little rusty on my first day back.

On the business end of things, I’m continually working to stay on top of changes in the industry. Conferences are a great way to do this. I try never to miss RWA’s national conference and will be attending the NINC conference for the first time this year.

Podcasts are a great way to stay educated. I love Joanna Penn’s podcast. She does a great job of discussing a wide range of self-publishing topics, including audiobooks. Another great podcast is the Sell More Books Show, which focuses on current news, and is a great way to stay on top of changes in the industry.

Blogs are another phenomenal resource. Jane Friedman covers everything from traditional publishing to self-publishing, marketing, and social media. I also think every author should read BookBub’s regular blog posts, which are filled with marketing tips.

Q: What do you wish you’d known when you first started out as an author?

A: I wish I’d understood the importance of creating work-life balance from the start. My first few years as an author, I worked nonstop. While I know it contributed to my success, every other area of my life took a hit as a result. I hit a wall in 2016. Totally burned out and exhausted, I had to stop everything for a number of months. Hard work is important, and I love my job, but if I had started writing and publishing from a place of balance—with self-care as a top priority—I wouldn’t have suffered the major burnout that I did last year. Now that I’ve re-evaluated my priorities, everything is in better shape—even work.

Bethany's writing room

Bethany’s writing room

Q: How about when getting your start in audiobooks?

I wish that someone had urged me to start sooner! I waited two years to get into audiobooks—two years that I could’ve spent growing my audiobook audience and income. I was nervous to take the initial dive into this format, but I had nothing to fear and so much to look forward to. I wish that I had considered audiobooks at the beginning of my publishing career.

Another piece of advice I would offer to fellow authors is that if you have a book that contains multiple points of view, post an audition piece that allows the narrators to read from each POV. For example, all of my books have scenes from both female and male POVs, and they are romance novels. So when I posted my audition script, I included a scene from each POV, as well as a love scene. Hearing the narrators read these portions helped me cast the perfect voice.

Q: What is your “must have” item in your writing space?

A: Every time I sit down to write, I diffuse peppermint and orange essential oils in the diffuser that sits close to my desk. The peppermint keeps me alert, and the orange is a mood lifter.

Bethany and friends at Disneyland

Bethany and friends at Disneyland

Q: Do you have a fun hobby or skill unrelated to your audiobook work?

A: I can plan a trip to any Disney theme park like a boss! Seriously, Disney should hire me. I also love to play the piano, although I’ll admit that eighty percent of the songs I know are Disney. In case you can’t tell, my love for Disney is a bit of a problem.

Bethany Claire is a USA Today Bestselling Author of the Morna’s Legacy Series, with more than ten books published since the release of her first novel in 2013. Bethany loves to immerse her readers in a world filled with lush landscapes, hunky Scots, lots of magic, and happy endings. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

ACX Storytellers: Sandra Edwards and Regina Duke

ACX authors Sandra Edwards and Regina Duke understand the impact a mentor can have on a writer’s career. A chance meeting at a local writers’ luncheon turned into an opportunity for Regina to learn from the writing, publishing, and marketing knowledge Sandra gained over her nine ACX productions. They join us today to explain how they both benefit from their mentor/mentee relationship and share some tips they’ve learned along the way.

ACX: Regina, how did you and Sandra first meet?

Regina Duke

ACX Author Regina Duke

Regina: I went to a luncheon to talk to another writer who was quite popular with the group. But other authors immediately surrounded her, so I sat next to a friendly looking lady with the hint of a southern accent. Within half an hour, she was doing all the talking and I was taking notes on every piece of paper I could find…a flyer, a napkin, and an envelope. She outlined for the group, step by step, what she had done to get her books up for sale on Amazon. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a successful indie author outlining what steps to take. Near the end of our luncheon, Sandra leaned over and said to me, “Email me if you need a formatter.” I was thrilled.

Sandra: Romance writers are incredibly generous. Find one who knows her stuff and let her lead you.

ACX: How did this relationship lead to publishing your audiobooks through ACX?

Regina Wedding WagerRegina: I’d decided that 2015 was the year I would get into audio, but the prospect was daunting. Sandra told me of her experiences with ACX, and that helped make up my mind. I bought her first audiobook and absolutely loved hearing it “read” to me. It was a short hop from Sandra’s success to my decision.

ACX: Sandra, what aspects of publishing and marketing have you helped Regina with?

Sandra: There are a few areas where I think I helped Regina. Here are some specific pieces of advice:

  • Work on your craft. Everyone says this, but its importance cannot be overstated. Even now, we read writing books between projects. Never stop improving your writing.
  • Hire a cover artist. Once you are ready with the best book you can write (after proofreaders and editors have done their jobs), seek out a professional cover artist. Writers often think covers don’t count, but on a site such as Audible or Amazon, a compelling, professional cover is as important as the quality of your content.
  • Take your time reviewing the auditions you receive on ACX. Don’t rush to hire someone. It takes voiceover artists time and effort to submit an audition. Listen, listen, listen. Make notes to yourself about what you like or don’t like in an audition. Listen to samples and read reviews on Audible to get a sense of what listeners like and don’t like.
    Sandra Edwards

    ACX Author Sandra Edwards

  • Include your audio version in every bit of marketing and promotion you do. Don’t let your audio version languish as a stepchild. Promote it as vigorously as you promote your Kindle books. And make sure your audio version qualifies for Whispersync, because that makes it even more desirable for your readers.
  • Budget your time between writing and marketing. Many writers love the writing process to the exclusion of all else. If you want to sell your audiobooks, you will need to parcel your time to include marketing. “No, no! Not the M word!” There’s a lot to learn when it comes to marketing. It’s been a “trial and error” thing for us. What works for some may not work for others.
  • Dont wait to publish (in audio or otherwise) until youve written five books. We hear this advice at every conference and it astounds us. Some successful authors are telling newbies to wait until they have five books written before publishing. We respectfully disagree. What are you waiting for? There is so much to learn about being an indie author. Get that first book out there. Do it right: hire an editor, proofreaders, cover designer, formatter, and start learning.

ACX: How can ACX authors go about finding a mentor themselves?

Regina: I would turn that question around and first ask what I can offer someone who might, in turn, have information they’re willing to share with me? I call Sandra my mentor in the Romance category, but she has frequently assured me that our friendship is very give-and-take. I share any and all marketing opportunities I run across, and we both share learning opportunities.

Sandra_Marriage CaperSandra: This is where conferences and writers group meetings come in handy. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be able to email a New York Times Bestselling Author out of the blue and ask them for advice. Well, I guess you could, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get very far.

Sandra and Regina can be found online at: SandraWrites.com and ReginaDuke.com. Sandra and Regina’s collaborative efforts can be found at: www.LoversLaneRomance.com.

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ACX Storytellers: Joanna Penn

In addition to connecting authors and publishers with voice talent and studio pros, ACX offers those with completed audiobooks a pathway to distribution through the top audiobook retailers, Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. This DIY” workflow is a popular choice for authors who want to voice and even produce their own work. Author Joanna Penn recently completed the process herself, and she joins us today to share her experience recording Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur (out today) for ACX.

ACX Author and DIY Narrator Joanna Penn

ACX Author and DIY Narrator Joanna Penn

How to Record Your Own Audiobooks For ACX

Audiobooks are a fantastic growth market for authors, narrators, and producers alike, and I’ve been working with fabulous narrators for my fiction since ACX opened up in the UK in 2014. But as a listener, I prefer non-fiction audio in the voice of the author themselves, so I decided to record one of my own books, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur.

Here are the lessons I learned in the process:

1. Make Sure You Record the Highest Quality Audio

There are specific technical requirements one must adhere to when publishing an audiobook on ACX, so that the listener has the best experience possible. You can reach this level of quality by recording in your own home, but only if you can get rid of the various noises that may pollute the audio, which you may not even hear anymore.

I’m a podcaster so I’m used to recording and editing audio, but when I listened to the sounds of my flat, I could hear planes overhead, cars going past, the rattle of someone in the garden, and the occasional yapping of a dog outside.

AndyMarlowRecordingStudioInstead, I hired professional audio producer (and musician) Andy Marlow (pictured), who has a great little studio just a bus ride away from me in South London. We worked in two-hour slots and Andy made sure that the quality of the initial audio was excellent, and he mastered the file to produce my retail-ready audio for upload to ACX.

2. Prepare Yourself for Recording

It’s surprising how tiring recording audio can be. I was exhausted after each two-hour session, because it was essentially a performance. You have to put energy and expression into what you’re saying. And in a professional studio you might be shut into a small, padded box, which takes some getting used to! Here are my tips to manage yourself during the audio process.

  • Schedule sessions a few days apart if you’re new at recording to ensure you have enough energy. People can hear exhaustion in your voice, so respect your audience and make sure you’re at full strength when starting, and stop before your voice begins to drop. It took 7 sessions of 2 hours each to get to a finished audiobook of 6.5 hours, a ratio of about 2:1.
  • Try to avoid dairy before recording or anything that might give you excess phlegm or clog your throat. Try cleaning your teeth and create a routine so that you know your voice will be ready for speaking. If you’re ill or your voice is affected in any way, you’ll need to postpone, as audiobook listeners will be able to hear the difference.
  • Joanna Penn records her audiobook.

    Joanna Penn records her audiobook.

    When you’re recording, try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. I found that I needed to stop sometimes for deep breathing during longer chapters. I would consider a voice coach for help with this if I was recording more often, as it definitely affected my stamina. Professional actors and voice artists can record for a much longer period, as they have mastered this.

  • You’ll want to read from a Kindle or other tablet so you don’t encounter page-turning noises while recording. Remember to turn off any WiFi connection on the devices and set to airplane mode as they can make a static noise on the audio, even if you can’t hear it when recording.

3. Learn Some Editing Skills to Keep the Costs Down

You can pay a producer to edit the audio files as well as record and master them, but this will make your cost per book higher, meaning less profit for the project. Since I already edit audio for my podcast and I had high-quality raw audio files, I decided to do the edits myself.

Here are some specific tips:

  • You can use free editing software like Audacity to produce professional-sounding audio.
  • If you make a mistake when recording, clap your hands so you create an obvious spike on the audio file that you can use to find the error later (pictured).Clap in Waveform_01 Your error rate will increase as you become more tired, so make sure that you take breaks. I found that 40 minutes was the maximum time I could spend reading “in the box” before I needed a break.
  • The ACX technical requirements require you to add a few seconds of room tone at the beginning and end of the file. We recorded this separately, in the silence of the empty vocal booth. I then just used the pre-cut segments to begin and end each file, which made the process quick and easy.
  • After editing, there needs to be a full QC listen to the audio to ensure all the edits are done properly and the audio matches the book. Since I was truly sick of hearing my own voice by this stage, I employed my Virtual Assistant to do this step for me. Most of the files were fine, but there were a couple of instances where I had repeated myself without editing the error, so this QC step is crucial to avoid issues later.
  • High-quality audio files are very large, and because you’ll be sending them back and forth, you can’t use email for this. They will also fill up your computer memory really fast. I used Dropbox to send the edited files to my Virtual Assistant and the final files to the producer.

For more recording and editing tips, I recommend Audiobooks for Indies by Simon Whistler which has a lot of useful information, whether you want to record your own books or work with a narrator.

Would I do it again?

This process has given me a renewed respect for audiobook narrators, because now I know how hard the job is and how many hours go into recording and editing a book. It was much harder work than I expected!

businessaudioHowever, it was definitely rewarding and I will be recording other non-fiction books in the future. It also gives the entrepreneurial author another product in their business, and if you’d like to learn more about that, check out Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, available now on Audible.

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn. She also writes inspirational non-fiction for authors and is an award-winning creative entrepreneur and international professional speaker. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com is regularly voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers. Connect on Twitter @thecreativepenn.

ACX Storytellers: Rosalind James

Audie-nominated ACX author Rosalind James has done it all throughout her audiobook journey. A longtime audiobook listener, Rosalind self-published 6 titles through ACX, driving enough buzz and sales of her audiobooks that Audible Studios bought the rights to her next series. She joins us today to share her path to success and the benefits of a varied audiobook portfolio.

Rosalind

Audie-nominated ACX author Rosalind James.

Almost exactly a year ago, my first audiobook, Just This Once (Escape to New Zealand), went live on Audible via ACX. To say that I didn’t know what to expect would be an understatement. Not only was the book my first work of fiction, it was my narrator’s first audiobook. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it?

The results of that experiment, and the four books in the series that have followed it over the past year, have far exceeded my expectations. It hasn’t been cheap­ (more than $16,000 for narration), but I’ve earned a good return ($35,000 so far), publishing-industry visibility and credibility, and—to my utter shock—an Audie nomination in the Romance category for that first book.

Why did it work? I think partly because, as an early adopter with hundreds of books in my audio library, I knew what to listen for. The narrator is truly an equal partner in an audiobook—not just a reader, but an actor. A talented narrator can make a good book great and a great book outstanding. When it came time to pick my own narrator, I opted to pay upfront (in the $200-400 per finished hour range) in order to attract the quality I wanted. I was able to choose from a multitude of excellent narrators, and the one I cast, Claire Bocking, absolutely nailed the feel and tone of the book. She somehow read that little piece of an emotional scene at the end of the book exactly the way it had played out in my head. Readers (not to mention the Audie judges) have felt the same way, and I have reaped the benefits.

Just This Once_HDNot to say that the past year has been entirely smooth. First, there was listening to the auditions. I had to have my grown son sit with me to do it—that is how strange it felt to listen to my words spoken aloud. And after three books produced by three different studios, Claire has finally settled on producing them herself, facing her own learning curve. Fortunately, through all the trials, her acting talent has never wavered, and the books just keep getting better and better.

The Next Phase

As happy as I have been with my narrator, and with the production wrinkles ironed out, why did I sell the rights to my second series to Audible Studios? Two reasons: time and money. The benefit of ACX is that the author has control. We select the narrator, we listen to the book as it is recorded, and we guide the performance. I think a lot of authors (especially indie authors) have a little control freak in us. It is definitely more comfortable to get your book narrated and produced your way. And the royalties are better, but there’s that pay-upfront aspect, too. And the control comes at a price in terms of the time spent listening to auditions, communicating with your narrator, and proofing the audiobook—time you could spend writing.

So when Audible Studios offered me an advance and promised to take all that work off my hands for my Kincaids series, I jumped at the chance to be one of the chosen few authors. I knew they could do the project quickly, accurately, and with less input on my end than going through ACX. They even solicited my input on narrators and secured my first choice, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Now I have what I hope will be the best of both worlds: two series, each with a different professional narrator, and each produced in a way that worked best for me at the time.

KincaidsWhile audiobooks don’t currently have a fan base to rival print and eBooks, I believe that the medium is still in its infancy. From what I have seen with my books, the Whispersync for Voice program seems to be attracting a whole new group of customers to audio, and their purchases push Whispersync enabled books higher up the charts. From there, the books can be noticed by subscribers looking for a place to spend their next credit. For that reason, I always beg for my books to be Whispersync enabled early—it’s the best tool I’ve found for visibility. I believe that, in our multitasking, mobile society, audio is only going to grow, and that authors who have their catalogs in audio will be in the best position to benefit from that growth.

Most importantly, perhaps, having my books in audio is just about the coolest thing that’s come out of my publishing career. When I realized that one of my books could be seen alongside Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ latest—that was an incredible moment. Right there with the woman whose books I had listened to again and again, who set my standard of what a romance audiobook could be? Cool.

Rosalind James, a publishing industry veteran and former marketing executive, is an author of Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense novels published both independently and through Montlake Romance. She and her husband live in Berkeley, California with a Labrador Retriever named Charlie (yes, she named a character after her dog, but she swears she didn’t realize it until later).

ACX Storytellers: Anna Parker-Naples

ACX Producer Anna Parker-Naples was a classically trained actress with a career on the rise. But when family and health concerns threatened to derail her dream, she turned to voice acting as a way to continue to getting work and making use of her acting skills. Now she’s an accomplished audiobook producer with nearly thirty titles under her belt in less than two years. Read on to learn how she turned a challenging situation’s silver lining into a fulfilling new career.

The Silver Lining: Audiobooks

My path into audiobook narration and production has been unusual. You never know what life will throw your way, and I am a firm believer that in every cloud there is a silver lining. For me, it turned out audiobooks were just that.

APN_StudioI trained in London with The Actors Company as an actress, and worked predominantly in theatre, touring nationally and internationally including performing at the RSC’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre, until I took a break to have children. My third pregnancy was very difficult, and I found myself in a wheelchair, not knowing if I would ever walk again. I had worked on occasional high-profile short-form voice overs during my acting career, (including work for Aardman Animations and the UK’s main children’s television channels, CBeebies and CiTV) and an audio producer friend mentioned that since technology had changed so dramatically in the past few years, many voice actors could now work from home to create professional quality audio. It was a light-bulb moment for me. I knew I could make a success of voice over work and perform that way even if I remained in a wheelchair for the rest of my days.

My lovely husband set about building me a booth, and I set about learning everything I could about the voice over industry – how to record and edit, how to promote myself, and all that jazz. I found I was quickly establishing myself as one of the leading young British female voice over artists, creating commercial and corporate audio for many top international brands. And most importantly, my health recovered. I think chiefly because I had work that I could be passionate about and could put positive energy into.

As my kids grew, I realised that I would one day want to return to acting, and thought that audiobook narration would be a great way to cross that bridge. After submitting a reel, and rigorous auditions, I was selected to narrate for the UK charity the Royal National Institute for the Blind, and soon found that I fell in love with narrating audiobooks. I discovered that it is an art form in itself, and that performing in this field provides a tremendous amount of creative satisfaction. As a narrator, you get to paint the whole picture yourself – you are all the characters and often the engineer and APN Coverdirector as well, so it feels like your creative baby, which is so different from stage and screen work. I also found it so much more gratifying than the short form VO commercial work I was doing, as I could really get my teeth into telling a story. This narration business seemed like a great fit for me, and I quickly went on to work for other mainstream audiobook producers in the UK, and have now completed 28 titles in just under 18 months.

Since March of 2014 I have completed 11 audiobooks through ACX, with 4 more on the way.  I love the creativity narration allows me, and the freedom I have to pick and choose which titles I get involved with when I use ACX.  I specialize in Young Adult, Historical Fiction and Romance, and there are some great stories for me on the site. I have a young family, and working from home means I am always there for school pick-ups and can still bring to life some fascinating characters and tell absorbing stories. At the start of my acting career, this would not have seemed an obvious choice to me, but I am delighted to have found my way to being an audiobook narrator.

Check out Anna’s ACX profile here.

ACX Storytellers: Sharon Hamilton

ACX author Sharon Hamilton and producer J.D. Hart are a match made in heaven, and it all started with a breathtaking audition. Learn why they work so well together, and how their partnership has lead Sharon to not only recoup, but exceed her $30,000 investment in 10 short months.

ACX Author Sharon Hamilton

I’ve enjoyed writing my whole life. There is something about the process that touches the best parts of my soul and makes me want to open up to my reading audience. What I didn’t realize until a year ago, was the effect hearing my stories in audio format would have on me. Just as I am so sated and satisfied when I sit down and create a compelling story, hearing those words spoken dramatically by a professional storyteller brings a whole new dimension to the experience. He literally breathes life into my characters, and they become real.

When I heard J.D. Hart’s voice, it was like magic, the kind of magic I feel when I write. And when he accepted my offer, I was beyond thrilled. I was literally dancing around the room, jumping on beds and celebrating down the hallway.

I am happy to report that excitement has remained to this day. If anything, it’s gotten stronger, after working on eleven books together.He doesn’t just read my stories, he performs them. He has become another character, and his narration is through his eyes, his heart.

A decision I made early on has proven to be one I’m still happy with. I decided to offer J.D. pay for production deals rather than royalty shares. I had faith in my own writing and in the process of creating the audiobooks. I 51eAae4kVKL._SL300_planned to have an initial expense to this project, but I’m happy to report the returns have been much better than I had expected, and the investment well worth it. I have invested over $30,000 of my own money and have gotten every penny back, plus a profit. To have done this just 10 months into a 7 year contract is wonderful. I plan on releasing a new audio book every 60 days or so, and I’m confident that every dollar spent will bring me back much more.

One reason for my confidence is that J.D. also helps me market my books. We create “audio trailers” so listeners can hear what he will sound like in the recording. This assists in the promotion the audiobook, but sells my other formats as well. Now I’m getting reviews and comments from people who can’t decide which format they love best. People who have read my stories are buying the audio as well – sometimes over two years after the initial print or eBook sale – wanting to experience the story all over again through J.D. I think this has converted many readers to audiophiles.

Author Sharon and Producer J.D. Hart

Author Sharon and Producer J.D. Hart

Having listened to so many hours of J.D.’s storytelling, I hear his voice in my head while I’m writing. I think it has made me a better writer to have my books in audio format. I choose words carefully, or adjust words to those that I know will sound better when my audio version comes out. My dialogue has become crisper because I trust that he will bring the voice of the character to the book. I’m writing faster, more efficiently. I feel the story on a deeper level, and that is always good for a writer. I notice my speech patterns, flow of words and uses of descriptors. We have a fantastic working relationship, made even better by the fact that he gets paid for his work, and I get to keep all the profits.

NYT, USA Today and Amazon Top 100 Bestselling Author Sharon Hamilton’s SEAL Brotherhood series have earned her Amazon author rankings of #1 in Romantic Suspense, Military Romance, and Contemporary Romance.  A lifelong organic vegetable and flower gardener, Sharon and her husband live in the Wine Country of Northern California, where most of her stories take place.

Are you an ACX success story? Tell us in the comments!

ACX Storytellers: Ryan Winfield

Author Ryan Winfield is no stranger to audiobooks, having published five through ACX. As an author who has published both traditionally and independently, he recently made the unconventional choice to turn down an advance from a major publisher and keep his audio rights. Today, learn why audiobooks mean more to his portfolio than ever, and why he made this surprising decision. 

Why I bet on myself with ACX.

Ryan Winfield Headshot

ACX Author Ryan Winfield.

It was an exciting day when I published my first novel with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. I’ll never forget sending out the announcement email to my friends and seeing the first few downloads show up in my sales report almost immediately. I could never have imagined that just two years later I would be logging in to read my name on the New York Times bestseller list. A lot has changed since that first book. In addition to my independently published work, I now have a contract with a major New York publisher, and I spend more time flying to book conventions and less time writing than I would prefer. But one thing hasn’t changed: my desire to connect with readers through my stories. And getting my stories in front of as many readers as possible means making them available in every format—print, eBook, and audio.

After my first novel had found success, many readers reached out to me requesting I make the book available in audio for them to listen to. Some quick research led me to the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), a new Amazon company that facilitates the creation of audiobooks and distributes them through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. I used their helpful tips and videos to create a home studio and record my first book in my own voice. It was a rewarding process that left me with great respect for professional narrators.

When my fourth book, Jane’s Melody, hit the New York Times bestseller list, readers were once again begging for an audio edition. This time I used ACX to secure auditions from several pre-qualified Audible Approved Producers until I found just the right one. The book was up and available for readers within 45 days, selling well and getting great reviews. The process was so easy I couldn’t wait to audition narrators for my other work, and all three books of The Park Service trilogy are now available alongside my other titles, read by an extremely talented voice actor who listened to my input and brought my characters to life!

Park ServiceIt was this experience that led me to turn down an offer from one of the Big 5 New York publishers for the audio rights to my upcoming titles, which are being published by one of their imprints, deciding instead to use ACX. There was a time when I would have thought myself crazy for turning down the offer of a generous advance in favor of self-producing my own audiobooks. But now I know it’s just smart.

I believe every author must market themselves once they have a book out in the world, whether it’s published traditionally or independently, and the generous royalties offered by ACX, along with the $50 bounty payments, provide me with the royalties I need to invest in finding new readers. Having just returned from Book Expo America (BEA) in New York, I am more aware than ever of just how easy it is for one book to get lost in the flood of titles pouring onto the market each year. I had to ask myself: Who has more interest in getting my books out to readers and listeners than I do? The answer was easy: No one does. With a 40% royalty and the possibility of earning a $50 bounty every time a new Audible listener downloads my title as their first book, I have the revenue to reinvest in myself by advertising my work. How and where to spend that money is a different topic for a different blog post, but I have met few people more on the cutting-edge when it comes to marketing than the creative community of independently published authors currently climbing the charts.

In short, and in case you couldn’t tell, I love ACX. And who wouldn’t? A portfolio of professional narrators who will audition to read your work, an easy-to-use system for professionally producing your audiobooks, 40% royalties, $50 bounty payments, distribution on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, plus daily sales reporting that allows me to gauge the success of my marketing campaigns. With five titles already produced through ACX and a sixth on the way, I’m looking forward to continuing to reach new listeners while enjoying royalties for the rest of my life and beyond. And that’s why I bet on myself with ACX.

Ryan Winfield is the New York Times bestselling author of Jane’s MelodySouth of Bixby Bridge, and The Park Service trilogy. He lives in Seattle. To connect with Ryan, visit him at ryanwinfield.com or Facebook.com/RyanWinfield.

ACX Storytellers: Mark Tufo

ACX Author Mark Tufo has written over 20 books currently on Audible, including the wildly popular Zombie Fallout series. Mark initially sold his audio rights to a studio, but as he learned about audiobook production, he realized he could make more money and and gain creative control by keeping his rights and having his books produced via ACX. Today, Mark joins us to discuss the decision to take control of his audiobook publishing.

Why self-produce? Well, the simple answer is money. There was so much more that went into the decision, but money was the major factor. The studio that picked up the rights to most of the Zombie Fallout series was, in a word, awesome. I felt a loyalty to them, and making the move to go solo was not taken lightly. But ultimately, it came down to what was best for my family. It made no sense to be paid pennies on the dollar when I could make more doing it myself. When I found out that ACX would allow me to continue my partnership with Sean Runnette, the multi-talented narrator of the previous entries in the Zombie Fallout series, it was nearly a no-brainer (which is a good thing for me).

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L to R: ACX Author Mark Tufo and Zombie Fallout narrator Sean Runnette

I know that going this alone can seem daunting for some folks. Finding the perfect narrator for your work is just about as important as the story itself. But there’s something to be said for getting to be ‘hands-on’ during this endeavor. If you’re a control freak like me, blindly trusting a publisher can be scary too. But working with ACX has been nothing short of great. I didn’t think this process was going to be as smooth as it has been. As an independent author there is always so much work to do, and the thought of taking on more was cause for concern. But beyond giving the go-ahead to Sean’s work (by approving the 15 minute checkpoint) and uploading my manuscript, it was only about one large iced coffee worth of work. And ACX has been there every step of the way, whether we had questions in regards to paying the talent or receiving royalties.

Looking back, it seems like it all happened pretty fast. While my family and I were going through it, not so much. I’ve always loved to read and I’ve always loved to write. Even in grade school, when our teacher would assign a writing project and the rest of my classmates were groaning, I was secretly happy. I started writing my first novel in college and finished it many moons later. My wife shipped it to every publisher’s address we could find. I could probably make a book just from the stack of rejection letters. I did not have much hope that my book would ever see the light of day.

I released my first book via CreateSpace & Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)  in February of 2009. One morning my wife said ‘Hey, there’s this self-publishing thing on Amazon and I’m going to put your book up there.’ I didn’t even know what that meant, but I agreed. I thought it’d be cool to see my book in ‘print,’ even electronically. I saw a ‘blistering’ sales rate of three copies over the first seven months (two were actually from family members who I think felt bad for me). When I found myself laid off, I turned to my hidden passion and wrote the first installment of Zombie Fallout, not because the “Zombie” genre was heating up (I had no clue), but rather because I truly love zombies.

I finZF7ished the book, and had a blast writing it. I self-edited (which I don’t recommend) and again published it with Amazon. We still had low expectations, so I almost swooned when we sold seven copies that first month (I said almost). At this point we actually weren’t doing any advertising, but were lucky when a few bloggers happened upon the first book and helped get the word out.  When the book started selling more and we could afford it, we had the book professionally edited. Increasing sales inspired me to keep writing, plus I really wanted to know how this was going to turn out for my characters!

It was with the release of Zombie Fallout 4 that my wife and I figured that this could be more than additional income; it could become our primary source.  It was with the release of the fifth book that I noticed more and more readers asking me about an audio version. I asked my wife if anyone actually listens to audiobooks anymore. I remember my mom with her ancient cassette player, listening to books in the kitchen. I thought it was a dying market, not a thriving one. So when that studio contacted me, I felt I had nothing to lose by signing with them and giving it a shot.

I admit I was misguided in my thinking and lack of research before signing.  I received my first royalty check about 8 months later and realized that there was actually a very large audio consumer group out there, and that I had signed away a very large sum of money by giving up my audio rights. That just goes to show you how much we were stumbling through the dark and trying to learn through this entire process.

Luckily, KDP puts out a monthly newsletter, and one issue had a write up on ACX.  I did some research into the service and decided to jump ship from my studio, as good as they’d been, and go with ACX for my next audio book.

ACX is there from start to finish of each project, ready to answer any questions I have. Payments are accurate and timely (something I’ve learned the hard way is not always standard in the ‘published’ world). ACX has been an incredible boon for us, without their help we would not have been able to move from our cramped townhouse to our own house with a yard.

Do you have an ACX story to tell? Put it in the comments and you might be the next featured user on our blog!

ACX Storytellers: Wendy Lindstrom & Julia Motyka

Wendy Lindstrom’s previous post on the blog, Writing For Audio, was such a success that we’ve asked her back. This time, she speaks with the narrator of her popular Grayson series, Julia Motyka. Read on to find out about Julia’s emotional connection to Wendy’s characters and how her career on stage informs her audiobook work.

Wendy Lindstrom: The inflections in your voice and the ways in which you approach each character’s dialogue are just wonderful. What is your process for bringing a character to life within a book?

Julia: I come to the world of audiobooks from the world of theater, so I find that I approach each book I narrate very much as I would a play, or one person show. As I read the book for the first time, I create a spread sheet of every character which contains their age, physical features and a few key descriptive words about their personality. I note whether the character has an accent of any kind or is described vocally in any way as well. After having read the book once, I look back both at the primary scenes a character takes part in and also at my description sheet.

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“Grayson” series narrator Julia Motyka

Most often, what happens next is a bit of a mystery- even to me! I sit quietly for a little while and kind of meditate on each character. I know it sounds silly, but I start to feel what it would feel like to be them, in my body; How they carry themselves, where they speak from (are they more intellectual or sentimental), etc. When I have a feeling for the essence of the character, I try on a little bit of their dialogue. If that feels ‘right’, I try a little bit more.

I don’t rehearse the entire book- that would take WAY too long, and besides, it would take a lot of the fun of the spontaneity out of the recording process, but I do try to get as fully ‘inside’ each character as possible before recording so that, as I read their dialogue, I feel fully invested in who they are are where they’re each coming from.

Which scene(s) in Shades of Honor/The Grayson Brothers Series did you most enjoy recreating and why?

Julia:  There were so many!! Truly! But, if I have to choose… [Spoiler Alert!] I’d say the scene(s) surrounding Evelyn’s father William Tucker’s death. I became very fond of that character and felt a particular affinity for him. I have a very close relationship with my father (both of my parents, actually) and spent several years caring for him when he was in ailing health in my late teens and early twenties, so that provided an added connection for me within that material.

727tpe4761sf5cg11374614520830I also felt the writing in that section to be particularly evocative and very moving. I had to stop narrating in the booth more than once to blow my nose and dab at my eyes! It’s always the best when the investment in a given set of circumstances and characters becomes overwhelming to that degree. It makes me feel like I’m doing justice to great writing!

Can you describe a typical day in the studio during the recording of Shades of Honor/The Grayson Brothers Series? For instance, what happens the day of recording, and how long are your days in the studio?

Julia:  A typical day of recording for me is pretty simple. I’m generally in the studio for about 5 hours per session (some people prefer a 6 or 4 hour session, but 5 is my preference). I generally take about 5-10 minutes every 60-90 minutes to use the restroom, rest my voice, and/or eat a snack.

On the actual day of recording I get up pretty early, do about an hour of yoga, have a good breakfast, and steam my voice (Keeping your chords well hydrated is of paramount importance! If I’m recording a lot in a given week I’ll likely be steaming my voice at least 2x per day for about 20 minutes each time). Before I leave home, I warm my voice up a little bit – everyone is different, but I do little articulation exercises and sometimes even little vocaleases to get my voice as pliable as possible. I also look over the pages I’m hoping to record that day, reminding myself of any new characters that may be emerging in the book, and perhaps running through a couple of voices to make sure I have easy access to them.

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ACX Author Wendy Lindstrom

What one piece of advice would you share with those who would love to do what you do for a living?

Julia:  I LOVE what I do and feel so lucky to get to do it but people often think it’s MUCH easier than it is!! If you’re interested in narrating audiobooks, find a book you like and choose a chapter. Then record yourself reading it out-loud while sitting COMPLETELY STILL! Stop and go back every time you make a mistake, have to clear your throat, or swallow. If you still enjoy it (like I said, I LOVE it, but it’s not for everyone), listen back and see if you like what you hear. If you’re still giving yourself the thumbs up, consider putting a demo together and creating an ACX profile! The book world is booming with opportunity! Go get ’em!

Julia can be found on via Brick Shop Audiobooks’ ACX profile or at her website, www.juliamotyka.com.

What did you learn from Julia’s interview? Leave a comment and let us know!