Here at Lucky Dog, we work with a pretty large network of voice actors, and one of the things that allows me to help with direction and communication is that I spend some time on that side of the glass myself. A friend had pointed out ACX.com to me some time ago, but I hadn’t given it much thought until an actor said, “I’d really like to do an audiobook.” Not having any firsthand experience, I decided to try to get some.
ACX is Audiobook Creation Exchage, a website that pairs authors, agents and other rights-holders with narrators. A sort of eHarmony for authors who otherwise don’t have an avenue to publishing audiobook versions of their work. As you can imagine, you don’t see top tier best-sellers here, but after production, most of the audiobooks are sold on Amazon.com and Audible.com. For the most part, compensation is a royalty share arrangement, split between the author or publisher and the narrator. This means that the work is done mostly on spec. If you narrate a book that doesn’t sell, then your pay is next to nothing.
I created a narrator profile page, posted some examples of my reading, and auditioned for a few books that looked interesting to me. Easy. Within a couple weeks, I had a positive response from an author and we contracted together to produce the audiobook.
My contact may have been different from most, but there was very little input. I was left to do the reading unsupervised, and there were never any requests for changes. This was briefly liberating, and then increasingly disconcerting. The questions begin to churn up in one’s own head: Is this the tone they had in mind? How much accent should I use on this French phrase? Does the voice I’m using for this character sound right?
With many characters, that last one was tricky for me. I’m not much for accents and impersonations, so I try to simply distinguish one character from another with fairly subtle shifts in tone. One scene in particular had five or six men in dialog and keeping them distinct was tricky. After a bad first pass, I made notes about each character, giving each a face based on an actor that I could imagine in that role. This let me get through the scene, with only the voice in my head asking, “Did that sound ok or stupid?”
The biggest take-away was simply the time it takes to produce. My book ran about 12 finished hours. For every finished hour, I spent between three and four hours recording, editing out mistakes and mouth noises (coming to hate the sound of my stupid mouth clicks), and processing for the finished file.
Was it worth it? Sure. I’d do it again. I recently got the first royalty check. Yay. Should you do it? If you’re used to recording commercials and five minute corporate videos, this will seem a huge undertaking. You must have the “finish it” gene, and be disciplined about your goals for each day. And you absolutely need to do your own recording and editing. With payment being a speculative royalty share, it’s hard to imagine hiring an audio editor to edit twelve hours of VO. But ACX makes for an excellent entry into narrating audiobooks.
Should you wish to evaluate my performance for yourself, or would enjoy an audiobook about psycic teens on the run from government bad guys written in the Seventies, here’s the link: