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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Down and out on ACX

Disclaimer: This blog post refers solely to my own experiences on only one audiobook creation platform. It is not my intention to imply everyone else's experiences should be the same as mine or everyone should use the same platform.

I must admit... I dawdled. I should have gotten on the audiobook bandwagon a LONG time ago, shortly after I became serious about my writing and translation. But I dawdled. I listened to tons of audiobooks while traveling by car with my husband (and we are VERY devout drivers - we'd driven to Wyoming and back. Twice. Yeah.) I was laid off after working from home 7 years and found another job requiring me to drive to an office, at which point I started listening to audiobooks on my way to and from work. And I still dawdled. Finally, "on a not so special day" I asked my sister-in-law, who is a professional actress and voice artist, how it all worked. She directed me toward ACX.com... and the rest is history.

It's funny to talk about history that's only been about a month and a half in the making - but it feels like it's been a lot longer. First, the mechanics of it all. If you have an Amazon KDP profile and a list of works published for Kindle with their corresponding ASIN numbers, you can post projects on ACX. The Amazon profile login applies - you don't have to create a new one. And the ASIN number allows ACX to find your book - this applies to both original and translated works (if you are a crazy translator of obscure foreign literature like I am). The payment details, the bank account setup, etc. is all very much like what you would do for Kindle.

Project details are also pretty straightforward. The book blurb is pulled in automatically from Amazon, but you can change it if you'd like. There is an additional field to provide more details about the book and the author/publisher. ACX recommends using this field to describe the author's or publisher's reach, Twitter audience, etc. I use it entirely frivolously to talk more about the book.

When choosing narrator parameters - the gender, the voice, the accent, the narrative style - think carefully. Read your own text and think what voice would be best for telling the story.

The choice of the audio script is entirely up to you. Use the field offered to provide additional details to the auditioning narrators to help them out. Make it interesting. If you want to test the narrators' ability to handle multiple voices, make it a dialog or a mass scene. If you want to pull them in, make it an intriguing scene from your book.

Second, the "soft" aspects of audio production. ACX offers two payment schemes - a 50/50 royalty split. With the exclusive ACX distribution, the author/publisher together get 40% of the royalties. So, with a 50/50 split, you get 20%. The advantage is - there are no upfront costs for the author/publisher. Not all narrators are fond of this option because they, like you, are betting on the book selling. No sales - no royalties to split. Of course, it's a blessing in disguise, because when the book goes live, the narrator is as motivated to plug it as you are. So, you get some help in that area.

Another payment option is PFH - the per-finished-hour cost. The narrators charge a wide range per hour - from $50 to $400. You do have the option to post all your books as a 50/50 option only. This will appear as the search criterion on the narrators' side, so if they are not at all interested in 50/50 projects, they won't search for them.

Yet another option is to do a 50/50 split and sort things out with the narrator off line and offer them an end-of-production payment. It's a reasonable compromise, and I've used it with some of my narrators.

When you start getting auditions, remember, you don't have to agree to the first one that comes up. It is totally ok to decline the ones you don't like. You are under no obligation whatsoever. Use ACX functionality to mark your favorite ones to make the selection easier for yourself. That said... while it's not mandatory by any stretch of imagination, it wouldn't hurt to write the narrators you reject a nice note, thanking them for their interest in the project and submitting their audition. Think of every time you submitted a job application and heard... NOTHING. It's like that.

Don't forget to measure your time carefully. I was really insane going into ACX - I posted 80 projects in a month and a half, had 25 of them in production in the first two weeks. Don't do that. That is insane. Remember, it's not just posting the project there and then sitting and waiting for the narrator to get it done. No. The narrators will have questions (by the way, ACX messaging is wonky - exchange normal e-mails immediately) - you'll have to answer them. The narrators will post excerpts and chapters - you'll have to listen to them to catch any recording issues. Make sure you have time for all that.

Which brings me to one of possibly the most important points of it all. Narrators are people too. Human beings. Some are just starting in the audiobook business and are terribly nervous about it all. They are terrified to get it wrong and need a lot of reassurance. Some have been at it for a while, but still freak out before every new project - they too need reassurance. Be nice to your narrators. Love on them. Work with them. Ask their opinion. Provide reasonable schedules for production. When they don't deliver the milestones (the 1st 15 minutes of the recording, the finished production), ask them if they are overbooked and if you need to adjust timelines. If they have to drop out of the project for some reason (so far, it's happened to me three times), don't growl at them. Try to be understanding and drop the contract gracefully. Most of all, if things don't work out with one narrator, don't just give up on the whole audiobook thing - it's just one narrator, one project. Take a breath, recoup, and try again. Don't flip when a book doesn't get through the audio review the first time - been there, done that. Based on my experience, when the project is that close to completion, the narrator will work hard to fix the sound and get it through. Have confidence and trust your voice talent.

So far, I've had great experiences with all my narrators - three dozen of them at this point, but certain performances truly stand out. Some of them made me laugh so hard and have so much fun, I listened to certain passages several times. Some made me cry. Some made me hold my breath. Some - all of the above. I make a point to send my narrators a nice testimonial and let them know they can post it wherever they want along with excerpts from their recording of my publication. By the time all the backbreaking work is done, they have more than earned an acknowledgment and some material to beef up their audio work resume.

Gianni Versace said there were many beautiful women and many beautiful dresses, but only when the right beautiful woman appeared in the right beautiful dress did a true fashion history moment take place. To use the same approach when it comes to audiobooks, there are are many beautiful stories and many very talented narrators. But the magic only happens when just the right talented narrator tells just the right beautiful story. And trust me - it truly is magic. It's unlike anything else. If you make the right choice with your narrator, and the two of you work well together, you will hear your story in a way you could have never imagined. Possibly even better.


Graham Whittaker said...

A very well written and informative article Maria. Thank you! I have, like you, been dawdling.... well, rather procrastinating for some time about audio books and did actually contact the company in question some months ago. They were very solicitous and polite, but then, well, I just kept on writing while watching what Amazon was doing with Audible. I bought some of that product but found it to be not up to the standards I would like. The "free" model is not for me. Free never gets what you really want. I will certainly have a go with ACX. Thanks again for a great article!

Russell Newton said...

As one of the Producers for Maria K on ACX, I can attest to her professional and personable approach. It was a pleasure to work with her on one of her titles, even if I did have to audition like seven times before we found the right fit for my voice and style. Thanks, Maria, for your direction, assistance, and patience.