Saturday, July 23, 2016

9 tips for hiring a narrator on ACX

(First of all, I must confess this post was a day late. My apologies.)

If you're an avid audiobook listener, then you're probably aware that you can download audiobooks from places such as Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. But how do these audiobooks come together? From where are they birthed?

Well, the detailed answer would take about another 20,000 or so words to fully explain, and by then your eyes will have glazed over, so let's take it to ACX instead. "ACX" stands for "Audiobook Creation Exchange," and it's a site where you can turn words into audiobooks with the help of "Producers," the official term for narrators there. It's not the only way you can get it done (suffice to say for now that there is no standard way to get it done), but it's probably one of the simplest and most informative.

This is less of a tutorial for how to get a Producer hired and your book read aloud, and more just a list of pointers for those who are already familiar with the process. It won't guarantee you success, but it will save you and me (and those like me) some headaches.


#1: Offering to split royalties usually won't get you anywhere fast.
ACX offers you two ways to pay; either all at once per finished hour, or splitting your royalty check in half with the Producer (you keep 20% of the full sale, the Producer keeps another 20%, the remaining 60% disappears into the great Amazonian black hole). Many Producers familiar with the industry and what it takes to craft the little monster known as an audiobook will ignore you if you offer to split royalties. Why is this?

Because quite simply, it means we're not guaranteed pay. We'll particularly shy away from lengthy or high-maintenance books if our only payment option is split royalty, because that could be 100 hours of work to sell 5 audiobooks. If 100 hours of work doesn't get you enough money to buy five Snickers bars, it's not worth it. Many of us know this, and so we promptly click out of the offer's description the moment we see both "royalty share only" and "0 stars, 0 reviews" on the same page.

Of course, audiobooks aren't cheap to produce if you're paying by the finished hour, so it's understandable why you'd go for royalty first. Just be aware many Producers won't stick around long enough to even ask questions.

#2: Less than $50 PFH won't get you anywhere fast, either. I acknowledge audiobooks can be expensive to produce; that's partly because we don't always get paid often, and partly because of how much work on our end we typically need to do make the audiobook happen. However, offering to pay any less than $50 per finished hour (or really any less than 80) is about as appealing as a royalty share with an audiobook that won't sell. In the professional word, that's the kind of chump change you pay your nephew to mow your lawn because you pity him. If it's a very small project (as in, no more than one or two hours), you may get some takers because it won't take so long to make, but expect very few auditions if you're effectively paying them in potato chips.

#3: If you are doing royalty share only, let us know your marketing plans. Sometimes I do audition for royalty share projects, but only if I think the effort could actually get me somewhere. If I see your written book has no rating, no reviews, and otherwise no fanbase, there's no reason for me to think the job will be worth the investment. If you tell me you have 30,000 Twitter followers, a website, and a detailed, realistic marketing plan, I'm more willing to listen. This is, of course, contingent on you actually having a plan; if you don't have one of those, it would be in the best interests of everyone involved for you to get one.

#4: Give us as much information as possible. Every narrator is going to have a somewhat different interpretation of a script from the next guy, but we still want to match your vision for the project to bring it to life the way you envision. For that, we'll need as much information as possible to get into character and create the right impression. There are options on ACX for what age range you want, what genre, what vocal style, not to mention a description box for getting more in-depth. Be specific with what you want - do you want dark-humored for your sci-fi noir? Gritty? Or if there's an element of romance, do you want a charming delivery? Because we don't know. We may come up with something totally different. It's fine if you're not quite sure what you want, but give us as much info as you can; otherwise, it'll be harder to find someone who actually gets your material.

#5: Don't post more than a few pages of audition script. Even auditions take a lot of work to bring together in a way that sounds presentable and professional, so we don't have time to read and edit 10 pages of your riveting space stock market exchange scene. All you really need is a few minutes of reading; you should know whether the narrator is worth considering by then. Also, it's cumbersome for an auditioning narrator to waddle through all 206 pages of your entire script. We'd greatly prefer you just give us a few pages to read through, and if you are posting the whole thing, tell us which part (or parts) you'd prefer to hear. Remember, we're busy people whose job involves racing against a clock, so don't be surprised if fewer auditions get sent your way if you just throw the entire script of your romantic hippogriff love story on the site.

#6: Pick a good scene representative of the rest of the story for your audition script. Does your book have characters? Do those characters speak? Then include a good talking scene in your audition script. It's important to hear what voices the narrators want to use for the main cast. Also consider the genre and themes of your book and pick a scene that corresponds. If your story is suspenseful, pick a chase scene or an interrogation. If you're still trying to get that hippogriff love story published, pick a scene with chemistry. (Come on, you'd be surprised just how many of the job offers on ACX are basically softcore porn.) In other words, don't just pick a scene describing some building the character enters or anything you would consider "ordinary" - choose something that you feel truly embodies the story's themes and can represent it on the whole.

#7: Clarify foreign/made-up words. Your hippogriff romance story takes place in the mystical land whose name is pronounced "Humpdinger." (Yeah, we're still running with that.) But the thing is, "Humpdinger" could potentially be spelled any number of ways, and we won't always guess the correct one right off the bat. (Who knew the J was actually silent, right?) We know we "should" contact the Rights Holder to get confirmation on how made-up words are pronounced, but that eats into valuable time we could be actually auditioning, not to mention if you don't respond in time and we don't audition in time, you could choose another Producer before we have time to get our bearings. In your book or audition descriptions, include a quick list of pronunciations if any are needed - just makes things quicker for all of us.

#8: ...Give us a little time before settling on a Producer. To build off of the last point, we'd appreciate it if you didn't choose a Producer less than 24 hours after posting your request on ACX. In full disclosure, this is more for the Producers' sake than yours; I once saw an open audition just posted that day, worked quickly to get an audition made, and returned to find the Producer had already been chosen within about 18 hours. It wasn't an overly long or difficult audition, but it was still a bit of a slap in the face to have that work mean nothing. Besides, if you wait at least a few days, you can hear multiple voices and interpretations of your story, so you have more options rather than just settling on the first guy who sounds kind of neat.

#9: Post your audition scripts in the easiest, most universal formats you can. Voice actors read their scripts in a variety of different ways, from printing them out to sending them to a tablet to be read electronically. Me, I download the script on my computer and send it to my Dropbox account, where I can then easily access it from my iPad. My computer doesn't share my recording space with me because its cooling fan is stupidly loud. You may think sending your audition or full scripts in PDF form makes things convenient, but that actually complicates things because we're now dealing with a very exclusive kind of format. Voice actors like to mark up scripts with notes and doodles so we have all the info we need at our fingertips, and it's notoriously difficult to do that in a PDF. .doc and .rtf formats (like what you'd find on Wordpad) are very easy to transfer around, whereas PDFs often require special software to even view, let alone share across electronic devices to make recording easier. Stick with the most basic document format you can, and we'll handle the rest.

Getting an audiobook made is not a cheap, quick, and easy process, and these points don't guarantee you an easy time or success, but they do make things flow faster and smoother for everyone involved. If you know anyone who's looking at having an audiobook made, specifically through ACX, share this article with them. Subscribe via the email form to be the first to know about updates every week!

Want some perspective on putting together a home studio so you can record audiobooks from home, too? Check out "Creating a cheap home studio for voice acting - how I made mine." Or if you want to check out one of the audiobooks I've done, you can start by reading about Knights in Time: Knight Blindness here. Any further questions or suggestions? Email me at jamesburtonvo@gmail.com, and I'll see what I can do.

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