Last week, I looked at the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX.com) as a matchmaking site between indie authors and narrators. Today in part 2 of the series, we’ll continue exploring the ACX process, from casting the narrator you love to living happily ever after with your completed audiobook.
I should mention at this point that ACX refers to everyone on the production side as a producer. Some producers only manage the project, but most ACX producers are also the narrator with whom you will contract your book. Therefore, I’ll use these 2 words interchangeably.
In most cases, one narrator will perform the entire book, giving voices to characters of both genders. You can find your ideal narrator by taking either of 2 non-mutually exclusive paths on ACX: contact narrators individually, or let them find your title.
You can use ACX’s Search function to look for producers meeting certain criteria: genre, gender, language, accent, voice age, voice style, payments, location, and Audible Approved. Many of these selections look familiar because you chose them when you created your title profile. You can also search for narrators who have posted samples that meet your specifications.
One important selection criterion is Audible Approved. According to ACX, these producers are:
…the crème de la crème of ACX…extra-dependable, knowledgeable members [who] have a verifiable record of achievement in the audiobook industry […with] favorable reviews of [their] productions…our seal of approval; the thumbs-up from Audible.com…[the producer is] experienced and trusted.
If you hear a narrator you think is a good fit for your story, you can send that person a message through the ACX internal communications system to invite her to audition.
Searching through the thousands of producer profiles and samples can seem overwhelming and time-consuming. Many people prefer to simply let narrators find the title and submit auditions.
Regardless of which path you chose for gathering auditions, your casting workflow will be the same.
Before I met my husband Drew, who is the hero of my life story, a friend gave me a short booklet titled HOW TO GET MARRIED. She meant it to be a joke, but it actually had some good advice. The only thing I can remember from it is that I filled out a checklist of traits that I wanted in a husband. When I met Drew, I remember mentally putting checkmarks by everything on my list!
I’m reminded of my fairy-tale beginnings with Drew because I have the same advice for you: create a checklist of the qualities you want in your narration to help you evaluate each audition.
Like falling in love with the wrong man, falling in love with a particular narrator’s voice without regard to other factors can lead to disastrous consequences! You want to hear a narrator with acting ability who is fully engaged with your text. She adds nuance to the narrative sections as well as the dialogue, and she may even surprise you with her interpretation of your words.
In short, your goal when listening to auditions is to cast the narrator who is in the best service of the text and fulfills your vision in telling your story.
Here are 10 questions for your listening checklist:
- Does the narrator sound like the voice you heard in your head? Realize, though, that a particular pitch or tone is only a single characteristic and shouldn’t be the overriding factor in your casting decision.
- Does the narrator sound like a synthesized voice reading text to speech? Does she deliver the words in a sing-songy manner or with a set pattern to her rhythm? If you answer “yes” to either question, keep looking!
- If your subtext contains humor, how well did the narrator use timing and inflection to indicate she got the joke and is making sure the listener understands it?
- Can you distinguish between characters without looking at the text or hearing the dialogue tags?
- Did the narrator pronounce all of the words correctly?
- Do you hear any sounds in the background, like the computer fan, chirping birds, kids, TV, the refrigerator, paper or clothes rustling, a lawnmower, etc.? Did you hear variations in volume or sloppy edits? Carefully listen to auditions through earbuds or, even better, headphones to evaluate the recording production quality.
- Does the narrator speak too quickly, too slowly, or at a comfortable speed? Can you understand everything she says without backing up and re-listening to passages?
- Is her diction either slurred or so precise that you start focusing on how she’s saying the words rather than the meaning she intends to convey?
- How well does the narrator fit the character mindset and book style?
- Does the narrator have experience and good reviews in your genre? If her audition sounds good to you, look at her ACX profile and check out her portfolio of audiobooks on Audible.com.
As you hear each audition, you can click on the screen to Like or Dislike the audition in order to develop your short list of favorites. Don’t worry about hurting the producer’s feelings if her audition is not a good fit for your book! Narrators do not receive any notifications indicating you’ve listened to an audition.
Make An Offer
Remember your first date? It’s easy to get dazzled by the first person you go out with and think that they are the ONE!
Listening to your book voiced by a professional actor for the first time can cause the same sort of heady rush. Your perfect narrator may have submitted the first audition you heard, but generally, you’ll need to listen to more than one audition to know whether a narrator is truly a good fit for your book.
You could receive so many great auditions that your casting decision becomes more difficult, but that’s a good problem to have!
Before you extend an offer, here are 4 points to remember:
- Some authors want to post their short list of auditions on their web sites to get votes and increase buzz among family, friends, and fans. The narrator owns the copyright to her performance in her submission, so you will need her advance permission to publicly post her file.
- Note that if your book is in a series where the main characters appear in each book, be aware that listeners like to keep the same narrator throughout the series. I’ve seen some authors who were eager to get their books into audio and simultaneously offered contracts to different narrators to voice the same characters in a series.
- ACX does not allow you to negotiate on or make any changes to an offer. You really should send a message to the producer BEFORE you send an offer to determine her availability and negotiate the deadlines for your work.
- It’s not uncommon for an author to request a second, short audition of a different selection from the talent on her short list.
You can click on the Make Offer button from the producer’s audition in your Dashboard that you thought was the best match for your story.
You also can send an offer directly to a narrator without even hearing an audition by going to his narrator page and clicking Make Offer. A drop-down will come up with your available titles; books with outstanding offers won’t show up in this list. You click on the title that you want to offer him and follow the directions from there.
You’ll find ACX’s Production FAQ and the ACX Production Standard Terms to be extremely helpful resources at this stage. The Terms page spells out specific timeframes for any revision requests and your approvals.
In your offer, you’ll specify 2 deadlines: dates for the first 15 minutes, and the completed audiobook.
Once a narrator accepts your offer, you must supply the final, recordable manuscript within 3 business days. Let your narrator know of any pronunciation issues or requests at this time.
The deadline for the first 15 minutes is in place to be sure you and the narrator are on the same artistic page. You can request adjustments in tone or acting choices such as a character’s voice before approving this first submission.
ACX has no involvement with deadlines except in increasingly rare cases where it is paying a PFH stipend. The rights holder of a stipend book must approve the completed audiobook within 60 calendar days of the date the contract was signed. Otherwise, it’s up to you and the narrator to work out any changes in the production schedule.
Within 10 business days of the audiobook’s completion, you must review the final product or request an extension from the producer for this review. Many authors attempt to give acting directions and line reads to the narrator upon audiobook completion. However, the only acceptable revision requests involve technical errors, such as noises, misreads, etc.
Once the narrator makes any corrections and you approve the recording, your new audiobook generally will be available for sale within 2-3 weeks. Congratulations, and best wishes for many more!
I’ll look at other production options in upcoming articles. In the meantime, please leave questions and comments here on the blog.
The original version of this article appeared in the November 2015 issue of InD’tale Magazine. I’ve updated it and added more links.