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Auditioning For Audiobook Gigs: 
ACX's Promise, Potential & Process
 
By Andy Bowyer
Voice Actor
August 2, 2011
 
Audiobooks - the Final Frontier. Well, for some of us, anyway.
 
Once upon a time, not that long ago, getting picked up for an audiobook gig meant you either had a publishing/production house that wasn't a prohibitive commute from you, and you could go in and record a book "on site."
 
Or, you had a pipeline to enough auditions from publishers/authors that appreciated the power of a good home studio, that the odds weren't always stacked against you.
 
On May 12, 2011, that all changed.
 
ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) opened its doors - after spending quite a bit of time in beta testing - and suddenly there wasn't just one book to audition for, but literally hundreds to choose from.
 
On that first day alone, feeling like a kid with a bag full of money turned loose in a candy store, I auditioned for several titles ... OK, nine titles, with the intention of doing even more.
 
Note: ACX is the brainchild of Audible Inc. - an Amazon subsidiary and the leading provider of digital spoken audio information and entertainment on the Internet
 
NOT PAY-TO-PLAY
 
Probably the most astounding thing about this service is that it is utterly free to use.
 
Think Pay-to-Play without the "having to pay part.”
 
The process itself is a familiar one:
  • you browse the site,
  • narrow down a script (or scripts) you like,
  • say the words to the best of your ability,
  • send a demo and a quick note to the rights holder, and
  • sit back and wait.
... AND WAIT
 
And in the case of many of the titles on the site, you'll wait some more.
 
Of the titles I auditioned for on day one, I'm not entirely sure any of them have yet been awarded yet. (I've been too busy working on the books I've been awarded subsequent to that day to check!)
 
IF YOU ARE PICKED ...
 
So what happens when you're told "You're hired”?
 
A few things.
 
You'll find out about the financial arrangements:
  • Many books offer a per-finished hour rate.
  • Others offer a "royalty share” arrangement, in which the narrator and the rights holder will split the proceeds after Audible gets its share.
And of course, there will be a contract to review.
 
A deadline for the first 15 minutes of the production will be set, which gives the rights holder an opportunity to review your approach, and you'll learn the ultimate deadline for completion of the finished book.
 
ADRENALINE TO A DREAD
 
Then a few other things will happen: you'll get an adrenaline charge from the rush of finally getting a book gig like you've always wanted!
 
You'll call or email (or both) your friends and tell them of your triumph. You'll pat yourself on the back for a job well done ... and then you may freak out when you realize just how many words "180,000” really are.
 
After your near-death-experience-due-to-dangerous-coronary-overload, you'll likely set out to achieve benchmark #1: recording and finishing the first 15 minutes of the book.
 
FULLY PRODUCED FILE
 
But here's something important to consider:
 
ACX requires that uploaded files, even the first 15-minute benchmark file, be mastered to their standards.
 
Surprise!
 
To quote the site: "This is not just a rough record or punch edit ... it should be fully produced.”
 
WHERE TO GET HELP
 
If you don't understand what "mastered” means, don't panic yet.
 
The ACX team is, in my experience, pretty responsive about answering questions regarding the mastering process, and the site even offers a few video tutorials, including some tips and tricks on mastering.
 
Still unclear?
 
There are a plethora of tutorials that cover most of the typical audio editing programs available at YouTube and various other places.
 
You can also ask your other VO friends for tips and suggestions - but I'd refrain from doing so on your favorite water-cooler sites. World Wars have broken out over more trivial matters than "Parametric EQ-vs-Graphic EQ.”
 
HIRING EDITOR IS COSTLY
 
Of course, if you did all those things and your head still feels like it's about to explode, you can always hire out the editing and mastering portion of the project.
 
But be warned. The time it takes to edit an audio book can be pretty staggering.
 
The longer it takes to edit your work into a "retail ready” production for ACX, the more you're going to pay out of pocket for someone else to make it that way.
 
And if you're working a royalty share project, that could be quite a risky gamble to take.
 
TO ACX STANDARDS
 
One more thing about mastering, and perhaps the most important: remember that you're mastering your files to ACX's standard.
 
The rights holder may love the way it sounds, and you may have followed all the "advice by committee” you picked up in various online forums.
 
But if ACX feels it's inadequate, you could have some big problems on your hands when all is said and done.
 
CONTACT ACX
 
Contact someone at ACX and ask them to review a file you feel is "mastered” (the first 15-minute cut is probably a wise choice for this), and see what they say.
 
ACX may make a few suggestions, or they may say "You're good to go.”
 
As I mentioned, they're pretty responsive and quite helpful.
 
And really, at the end of the day, what ACX really wants is for your audio to be listenable.
 
After that, it's up to you to tell the story so that people want to keep listening.
 
For more about ACX, visit www.ACX.com.
 
ABOUT ANDY ...
 
Andy Bowyer is a nose-to-the-grindstone voice actor who has been cheerfully "saying words" for a diverse clientele for over 20 years. He also participates as a member of the SaVoa Advisory Board, and plays a mean game of backgammon.

Web: www.abVoices.com
 
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Comments (7)
Larry Culley
8/3/2011 at 9:59 PM
Great article, Andy. I will be looking into this. And thanx to John for posting it!
Paul J. Warwick
8/3/2011 at 10:36 AM
Thanks, Andy!
As they used to say on Laugh-In, "veddy intahlestink"
Roy Wells
8/3/2011 at 9:26 AM
Great article and advice, Andy. I did one short book for a local indie publisher, but they did all the fine editing. After reading about your experiences, think I'll just stay with short commercial vo's. Really appereciate your sharing on this.
Ron Chandler
8/3/2011 at 9:18 AM
Very helpfull information. I will be looking into this, and thanks.
Joel Richards
8/3/2011 at 8:23 AM
Currently working on my first ACX book. Thanks for the tip about mastering. Honestly, it was unclear to me about approval for that first 15 minutes. It sounds like in my contract that if the client signs off I should be fine. While I believe I'm OK (not my first audiobook), I think I'll take your suggestion and see if I can get someone at ACX to review my 15 minutes.

Seems really odd that they don't have one of their people review that if they can ultimately keep your book out of the market for QC reasons. I am cautiously optimistic about ACX's future, but while there is a lot to like, there are a lot of ways in which ACX (aka Audible) is asking the narrator to front the incredible risk/cost of producing an audiobook, which is exacerbated by a lack of a support network.
Dustin Ebaugh
8/3/2011 at 3:30 AM
Great information, Andy! Thank you SO much for sharing!
Jan Anderson
8/3/2011 at 12:00 AM
Thanks for this article, Andy. I've posted 6 or 7 auditions so far and I'm in the waiting mode. Thanks for the reminders and tips about the mastering part of the job, too. Now I'll go back to waiting and looking for more titles to audition for.
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