The Intentional audio book is about to hit Audible at the end of January 2022. Traditionally, different formats of each title I write are handled by my publisher. There is a good reason for this. Dealing with the complexities of the process soaks up time I usually don’t have and there are technicalities which I am ignorant of and were I to get up to speed I’d lose even more of the time I am short of.
For this title, however, I made an exception. Initially I thought of narrating it myself. I have a decent set up at home, plus I have access to recording studios and I could have managed to go in for a few hours. Except the book was over seven hours long which meant that in real terms we are probably looking at about 15-20 hours of recording in order to get the studio-quality sound necessary.
There was the additional thought, from me, that I am not a professional narrator. So while it may be fun to record an hour or two like when I do podcasts, recording twenty plus hours of studio-quality work may have been a stretch for my voice. Finally there was the consideration of time, again.
Despite the promise I made to myself to work less and enjoy life a little more in 2022, work considerations, this year, have only been piling up. So, this left me with only one viable option, to get someone to narrate it for me.
After some research and a lot of thinking I went with ACX and its market of professional narrators. I held the complete audio book rights for this title so there were no complexities in terms of territories and although ACX is an Amazon company which pushes for exclusivity the fact is that Audible (also an Amazon company) is the only viable platform for global distribution of audio books. Virtual monopoly considerations aside the choice was a no-brainer.
If you are thinking of doing the same then I hope my experience of it will help you out.
Choosing A Narrator For Your Audio Book
ACX has an amazing collection of professional and semi-professional narrators who are experienced in working with non-fiction titles like Intentional. So the real question was how did I go about picking one? If price was the only consideration the platform, again, provided a range of choices. When it comes to deciding how much you want to pay it is always worth bearing in mind that there are always great narrators who are just starting out and are willing to negotiate their rate in order to raise their profile with completed works.
In my case I was looking for a voice that would be autoritative, friendly and clear. Pleasant enough t listen to for seven hours and friendly enough so you don’t feel you’re at a lecture being talked down to.
I generally like controlling my books so I didn’t consider, in this case, sharing the royalties on a 50/50 split with a narrator for a waive or discount on the per-recording-hour. This is usually cited as cost per-finished-hour (or PFH for short).
The ACX platform makes it easy to listen to audio samples of prospective narrators. Once you post a project and select a cost-per-hour range you’re willing to work with on your budget, it also allows you to upload a test file for everyone to read so that you can test like-for-like when you listen to them.
Once I had an idea of how to describe the voice I was looking for and the money I was willing to pay for the recording it was a case of putting up the title in the ACX market place as a project, uploading the script I wanted everyone to read and waiting.
Within 48 hours I had over 70 submissions. That’s when I realized that picking a narrator was going to be harder than I thought.
How To Select From The Auditions on ACX
The file I uploaded to be read was not more than 2-3 minutes long. Even so, with over 70 auditions listening to it fully represented a hefty amount of time to listen to them all. Remember it was lack of time that drove most of my decision-making to this moment so losing more time listening to every detailed audition was not going to work.
I had to, however, make a choice and that choice had to be based on something a little more concrete than picking out a name from the bunch. The ACX platform allows you to listen to uploaded audition files right on the browser. This reduces significantly, the time it takes to download each audition file, keep track of its narrator, listen to it and decide what to do next.
To save time I listened to no more than 20, maybe 30 seconds of recording each time. Crazy as this may sound, as you go from person to person who auditioned you very quickly realize who sounds right for you and who doesn’t.
Despite the streamlined process I employed I never lost sight of the fact that behind each audition was a person who was, like me, using their skills to make a living. I took the time to check the profiles of those who made the shortlist.
How did I get to the shortlist from so many auditions? Read on.
Create A Shortlist Of Narrators From The Audition Files on ACX
This is the process I employed to get to the shortlist. First, I went through the entire number of people who auditioned and, in the first instance, listened to maybe 10-15 seconds of their audition file. This allowed me to screen out any that were immediately wrong for this because they were too faint, sounded too tired (yep, that was a thing on a couple of instances even though this was the very beginning of a very short audition file), failed to project the right amount of authority and friendliness.
I then screened for cost. I started out with a very clear budget in mind and I had mentioned this in my project description. Those who exceeded that were immediately ruled out, no matter the quality, on the basis that I just couldn’t afford them.
All this left me with a still sizeable number of 45 narrators any of whom seemed capable of reading Intentional, the way I imagined it should be read.
To further whittle down my shortlist I gave myself a little time to recharge and then returned, fresh to it. Again I listened to the introduction of the audition file. I went in a little longer this time (about 20 – 25 seconds).
When you compare high-quality narrators the differences in style between them become obvious. At that point it was my own subjective judgement on who sounded closest to what I had in mind that guided me.
At this stage I ended up with a shortlist of about 12 people. I still had to pick one to award the project to. To get there I needed to know a little more about them as people rather than just vocal instruments intended to bring my book to life.
How To Make The Final Decision On Your Narrator on ACX
Finally choosing who would narrate Intentional could no longer be done on the shortest possible time. With a dozen possible on my shortlist I took the time now to read the profile of each one, learn a little more about their background experience and other projects they’d done.
Those who, for instance, had narrated few, or no other non-fiction books were obviously easier to cross out. I looked again at cost as an additional guide. Anyone who in addition to having few or no non-fiction titles on their resume also cost the top end of my range was whittled out.
That process left me with half a dozen possible choices. Now I went back and listened fully to the audition file each one had uploaded. I compared them like-for-like on emphasis, warmth, intonation and breathing. I imagined myself listening to that voice for seven plus hours. I then messaged each one to ask a question or two. The questions were related to the project rather than their experience but really I was looking at their communication style.
At the end of the day I was going to hire someone to read my book and I was going to pay them my money. I wanted to make sure I could work with them without feeling any strain.
Ultimately, the final choice, was purely subjective. The differences between them all were so slight that I just had to trust my own instinct about how I felt about each one as I listened to their voice and looked at their resume and talked to them via the ACX messaging system.
Robert Barefoot (the narrator of Intentional: How to Live, Love, Work and Play Meaningfully) edged the others out on a purely subjective, emotional-connection basis.
What To Do After Choosing Your Narrator on ACX
Once you’ve made your choice on ACX the platform makes it easy for you to put a contract together and send it to your narrator to approve. This details the terms of service and also the cost of the production. It’s a pretty straightforward process and even though for me it was the first time it was really easy to do.
The narrator has 48 to 72 hours to review the contract and accept it (you get to stipulate the time, yourself). After they accept it the project is on. The platform guides you on pretty much everything else you need to do in order to complete your project successfully so I won’t bore you with those details here. They are easy to cover and, really, it is child’s play.
Just in case something happens and your chosen narrator, for whatever reason, pulls out it makes sense to keep all the names on your final shortlist somewhere, in case you need to reach out to them directly.
The more important thing is what to do after you’ve chosen your narrator and send them the contract. I am a writer and though, these days, I don’t often get rejections on my book ideas I still have to put together a proposal and send it out via my agent and it has to make the rounds.
I am sensitive to the fact that in a market place like ACX there is the usual list of people some of whom are really experienced, others who are gaining experience and bidding for projects and some who are just starting out on their journey as narrators. All of them are people like me who, like me, are working to earn a living.
The platform places the project owner in a position of power with the ability to listen to everything come in and reject anyone on a whim. It’s a hefty power trip if you’re not used to this kind of thing. In the pressure associated with learning a new process and doing something like this for the first time it is also easy to overlook the fact that rejections always sting, no matter how they happen.
After I’d chosen the narrator for Intentional I made a point of getting back personally to everyone who had auditioned for the job. I thanked them and, in each case, explained my rationale for not picking them. When it was something technical like a faint voice or hiss on the audition file I mentioned it specifically and as gently as I could. If there wasn’t anything technical I stressed the subjective nature of my choice.
This part took a little longer than I had originally anticipated or even allowed for but it left me feeling that it was time well-spent. If we can’t take a little time to humanize the connection between us that technology makes possible then we lose something that is vital to ourselves and who we are.
Final Thoughts On ACX and What I Learnt From The Experience
Despite the time it absorbed the whole process from posting the reading of Intentional as a project on the ACX platform to listening to auditions and picking a narrator, the entire thing took just three days.
In the process I came across a few narrators who I think will be perfect for my next audio book project. I learnt a whole lot of new terms and requirements for audio books which left me feeling relieved I hadn’t fallen into the trap of choosing to read the book myself.
I do not yet know how it will go in terms of sales or marketing as, at the time of writing, Intentional is still being recorded, but I now think next time I write a book I will, again, choose to hold onto the audio book rights after it has found a home and, again, I will seek to find a narrator for it myself and control what happens to it completely.