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Not Getting Work Thru ACX?
Eight Possible Reasons Why ...

 
Jeffrey KaferThe ACX - Audiobook Creation Exchange - was launched earlier this year by Audible Inc. as the online marketplace for audiobook professionals - where voice actors can audition to narrate audiobooks. 

By Jeffrey Kafer
Audiobook Narrator & Producer
November 2, 2011

I'm in a fairly unique position.
 
Not only is my primary job as an audiobook narrator and producer, but I also work with CrossRoad Press in casting and doing the post production on the audiobooks it produces through ACX.

We currently have close to 180 books waiting to be cast, 70 or so in production, and over 40 already completed. Ninety percent of them are royalty-share.
 
A GOOD VIEWPOINT
 
And I get to see both sides of the process.
 
I reject far more auditions than I accept, even if no one else is auditioning for them.
 
If you find that the auditions you are sending out are being rejected, here are some possible reasons why you're not getting cast, and what you can do about it. 
 
Ninety-nine percent of the time, you'll never know why you're not getting cast. So consider this a gift.  
 
1. You Are Not Right For The Book
 
This is the reason you should strive for. Not that you should hope to be rejected, but if you're going to be rejected, this is the reason you want. 
 
We often have a style of narration or vocal quality we're looking for. And since we get author input, they also may have a certain style in mind.
 
So if this is the reason you're not being cast, forget about it. There's nothing you can do about it. 
 
Unfortunately, this reason is also the rarest, in our experience.
 
What to do about it: Nothing. Move on to the next audition.
 
2. Your Acting Is Bad

Sorry, no other way to put this.
 
We get a lot of standard voice over - or worse, radio - folks trying to branch into audiobooks. And usually the result doesn’t work.
 
Of all voice work, audiobooks are the most "act-y" of them all.
 
You have to believably capture every single character in the book in a unique way, including the main narrator.
 
If you have no acting experience, we can tell.
 
We don't care how awesome your voice sounds. We care how well you tell the story.
 
What to do about it: Unfortunately, this is the hardest problem to remedy.
 
You need to build up some acting chops. Take some acting classes, get a professional coach.
 
Take improv. Learn to be an actor.
 
And if you're a radio person, for goodness sake, get the radio out of your voice.
 
3. Your Audio Quality Is Awful
 
I'm not talking about you; I'm talking about your technical stuff.
 
You have 15 decibels of white noise or an electrical hum.
 
Not only should you be able to hear those things in your recordings, you should be able to see them in the waveform in whatever sound editor you use.
 
Once the sound gets compressed and normalized by me in post, any sound artifacts are even more pronounced.
 
Plus, the more signal noise you have, the more work you create for me to get rid of. And I just don't have time to deal with a problem that you shouldn't have in the first place.
 
What to do about it: Get rid of the noise.
 
If it's a computer fan in the background, move it further away from the mic.
 
If it's electrical buzz or hum, swap out your cables, especially USB, and try a line conditioner.
 
If you record into a laptop, run off batteries instead of the wall.
 
4. Your Audio Quality Is Awful (Part Deux)
 
This one warrants its own bullet point and it's not strictly technical. It's about your setup and mic handling.
 
One of the worst problems is that I can "hear the room."
 
If you're recording in your kitchen, I can hear it.
 
There's echo, reverb and general room acoustics. And if you're too far away from the mic, this is exacerbated.
 
Where you record is just as important as what equipment you have.
 
Also, learn proper mic technique. Popping P's and volume fluctuations are a sure sign of an amateur.
 
What to do about it: If you can't hear your room, it's probably because you're listening in the same room you recorded in.
 
So of course you won't hear it.
 
Listen to your recording outside and see if it sounds like you're still in your kitchen.
 
If you have a walk-in closet or some space, fill it with clothes and use that to record in.
 
Or you can hang heavy blankets in your recording space.
 
No matter how you do it, just get rid of the room sounds. Oh, and get a dang pop screen, wouldja? 
 
5. Your Audio Quality Is Awful

Seeing a trend here yet?
 
This one is 100 percent avoidable. I have heard auditions with TV sounds in the background, rustling papers, chair squeaks, mouth pops and even a train going by.
 
Seriously people. Do not just brush these off as auditions.
 
I will assume your audition is representative of the final product, and if I hear your kids playing video games in the background of your audition, I will assume you'll include that same crap in the final product.
 
What to do about it: Listen to your audition and get rid of the crap.
 
It's called editing and it sucks. But it's part of the job so suck it up.
 
6. Your Editing Is Bad

There is so much more to this job than sitting in front of a mic.
 
Editing is a grueling marathon and as much an art as a science.
 
You have to know pacing, how dialogue should be cut, and when it's appropriate to have room tone.
 
Poor editing can absolutely destroy an otherwise good audiobook.
 
If your audition doesn't show decent editing, you're not getting the job.
 
What to do about it: Listen to professional audiobooks with an ear to pacing. 
 
7. Unprofessionalism
 
Ok, let's be clear. Just because this book is royalty-share and we're splitting it 50/50, it does not make you a co-publisher.
 
You don't get to demand things such as specialized credits in the intro, choice of music bumpers or editorial rights to change things you don't like in the book.
 
That last one was not a hypothetical. We actually had someone ask for the right to change things in the book after he was hired.  
 
We don't have time to deal with prima donnas and big egos.
 
If you're so awesome that you can make those demands, then you probably don't need to be on ACX.
 
What to do about it: Don't be a diva.
 
8. Not Following Directions
 
The biggest one here is people submitting a generic demo, instead of a demo of the script provided.
 
I really don't need to hear your crappy Aussie accent in the fake Outback Steakhouse ad you (didn't) voice.
 
I need to hear how you sound reading my book.
 
Why? Because anyone with a few hundred bucks can go into a pro studio with a pro engineer and a pro director and come out with a glorious demo.
 
But unless you're recording my book in that same studio with all those people, your generic demo is virtually useless.
 
Not only does the author want to know how you sound reading his/her characters, I need to know how your sound quality is from the place you'll be working (see reasons 3-5 above).
 
What to do about it: Read the snippet we provide, please.
 
So there it is. The most likely reasons you're not getting hired.
 
HIGH STANDARDS
 
You may be wondering why we have such a high bar. After all, these are just royalty-share titles, right?
 
Yep, they are, and the only way for you and everyone else to make their money is for all of us to release a high-quality product.
 
And as narrator/producer, that means you, first and foremost. 
 
Every piece of work you do is your personal signature. Sign yours with excellence.

ABOUT JEFFREY ...

Jeffrey Kafer is an award-winning voice talent specializing in audiobooks. With over 60 titles narrated, he's also a producer working with CrossRoad press and his own SpringBrook Audio. He's done the post production for such industry talent as Dick Hill, Karen White and Tara Sands. And he is the humorist and creator of the popular Voice-OverLoad comics featuring the voice over adventures of Mike and Zeke (pictured).

Web: http://Audiobook-voice-over.com
Voice-OverLoad Comics: http://Voice-Overload.com

Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX): www.acx.com

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Comments (15)
Clay Myers-Bowman
12/8/2012 at 4:09 PM
Great article. Thanks. I have two questions:

1. As a new "auditioner" on ACX, I wondered how many scripts and auditions I should start with? Is 10 enough? Or more?

2. Do you ever hear (via email) that you weren't chosen for a particular title?

Best,
Clay
Beverly Bremers
10/16/2012 at 3:07 PM
Great article, Jeff! Wonderful words of wisdom : - )
Elie Hirschman
11/10/2011 at 12:37 AM
This article spoke to me so deeply. It addresses every issue I have known as a voiceover/voice actor and have sought to avoid. I get it, I have been there... I must audition for you!! How can I do so?
Duane Hamilton
11/5/2011 at 9:45 PM
Thanks, man! Great info for those of us looking into getting into audiobook narration!
JAY LLOYD
11/3/2011 at 5:29 PM
Most impressed with this article. Sometimes the best way to instruct is to just "say it like it is." I had a career in radio, but I also taught acting at various agencies. So, it CAN be done. I tell students, "Acting is EASY; all you have to do is take in the words thru your eyes and then spit them out thru your mouth...and make listeners believe you just made it up on the spot!" That's all. Ummm, actually, you may have to practice a bit. Jay.
Ed Thompson
11/3/2011 at 2:27 PM
I grow weary of being made to feel that I should have to hide my radio experience. Trouble is, it's pretty darned hard to hide 30 years of my professional life. More often than not, if there's even a whiff of foreknowledge that I'm in or even know someone who has a friend's sister's cousin's next-door neighbor who works in radio, my audition is dismissed out of hand without even a courtesy listen. It's happened more times than I can count. I don't have a radio read. I never have. However, if these casting directors had bothered to listen to my auditions in the first place, they would have heard that.

I understood early on that VO is acting, not announcing. That's borne out in the fact that I have in the past taken as many acting classes as I could afford and retained an acting coach. Do not mark us with an "R" for radio as if it's a scarlet letter. Radio Boy might surprise you and show you that he indeed might have what you need. I'm not sayin'. I'm just sayin'.
Heather Farrar
11/3/2011 at 2:16 PM
Good article Jeffrey! Very informative. I currently am in production of an audiobook. I am extremely aware of all that you mentioned when editing, mastering and sweetening. Can you write some more on these issues, too?
Michael J. Schoen
11/3/2011 at 1:46 PM
Well stated, frank discussion that could well be applied to all voiceover auditioning. You have stated so many obstacles to having the performance shine through. Auditions are both the chance at a paying gig and also the way we work on our craft, both artistically and technically.
Bobbin Beam
11/3/2011 at 12:23 PM
Jeffrey-
Well-stated, my friend. All of it, especially about editing. Thanks for sharing and I'm so happy for your success!
Best,
Bobbin
Deb
11/3/2011 at 10:25 AM
Agree with Dave... best article. THIS is the reality of the VO industry I'm thrilled to be part of. Keep the bar high.
Grace Angela Henry
11/3/2011 at 9:29 AM
This WAS a valuable gift - thank you! Some things I already knew, and getting confirmation from a pro who knows both sides of the equation was a plus. There were new things for me, too, so the whole article was useful. One confirmation that just makes me sigh: we audiobook narrators have to be engineers, directors and producers as well, unless or until we've got the cash it takes to outsource those skills to the experts.
Jay Webb
11/3/2011 at 8:34 AM
Thank you for your article Jeffrey. Spot on!

Something else that might bear mentioning to people who want to audition on ACX is the fact that audiobook production can be a huge amount of work, particularly if you edit the book yourself.

This isn't something that keeps you from booking, but it seems worth mentioning here.

If you are not an editor at all, make sure you have someone you can rely on to take care of that for you. If you edit on your own, be prepared to spend a good deal of time on it.

Going into this blind will undoubtedly hand you a big surprise.

As usual, Paul's comments on this article are excellent and appreciated as well.
Paul Strikwerda
11/3/2011 at 7:35 AM
Jeffery might as well have called his article: "Why you're not getting any work as a voice-over talent, period."

This is exactly where the wheat separates itself from the chaff and why people shouldn't be allowed to call themselves 'professionals' until they meet certain standards.

But, this is the Wild Wild West of Voice-Over Land and people can pretend to be anything they want: actor, director, sound engineer and head of PR.

You can record at the kitchen table and tell the world you have your own 'voice-over studio.'

You can have an engineer fix all your flaws and make you sound like you know what you're doing on a doctored demo.

You can invest in high-end equipment, but if you cannot bring a script to life, your so-called VO career is dead upon arrival.

It takes men like Jeffrey only a few seconds to hear whether or not the emperor is wearing any clothes.

According to Kafer, there are a lot of naked voice-overs!

It's an embarrassment!
David Sigmon
11/3/2011 at 12:40 AM
Best damn VOXtra article so far this year.
Joe Piro
11/3/2011 at 12:21 AM
Thank you for brief summary of pitfalls and mistakes, I learned a great deal. So much of what you said is applicable to all voice over. Like you, I would rather do it right or not at all. Thanks for your article. Much appreciated.
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