After I published my last article, Drew and I moved to a new house! We had lived in our other house for 30 years, so it took 6 weeks to get everything relocated from there to here. We’re STILL unpacking and hanging artwork in between our other activities, including actually doing some work!
Like finding the right place to live and physically moving in, choosing the right career — even if it’s a career change — should start with significant self-reflection about the way you want to structure your life, the activities you enjoy, and your skills. I think most people spend more time planning their vacations than they do in planning their lives!
Many people think they want to become an audiobook narrator until they realize that being successful in this career entails a large number of skills and personality traits they may not have considered. I therefore created my Audiobook Narrator Self-Assessment Quiz.
In the first article about analyzing your answers, I explained the rationale behind the questions in the Baseline and Language sections.
Today, we’ll look at the first 8 of the 15 questions in the Personality/Work Habits section.
Do you like to work independently or with other people?
Most narrators work in their home studios without aid from anyone like a director or engineer. As a result, some people report that the isolation and solitary nature of the job wears on them.
However, others say that they feel they need to be around other creative people to maintain their energy. If you fall in this category, you may want to consider renting an office for your booth.
The newer narrator you are, the more you need coaching and directorial guidance to shape your performance. I recommend that you book time with one or more reputable coaches before starting your first projects.
Are you a self-starter?
When I switched from part-time to full-time work at the IRS, I was surprised that they rang a bell at the start and end of each work day. I already was accustomed to the regimented and precise 15-minute break times. Full-time employees also had a 30-minute lunch period. You didn’t go a minute early or stay a minute late during either break or lunch. Any personal business must be attended during those times or off hours.
As an audiobook narrator, you have complete freedom in setting your schedule. No one will be looking over your shoulder telling you when to start or stop work or ensuring that you even perform any work. You don’t fill out time sheets or submit your accomplishments to anyone. Best of all, no one will hound you about the dreaded TPS reports!
Producers and publishers want to work with people they can trust. You prove your value to your clients by being efficient, maintaining communication, and completing quality work within your deadline. You must determine how much time is needed to prep and narrate your book and plan your days around getting it done.
Do you consider yourself organized?
Organizational skills extend beyond the number of papers — or stacks of papers — on your desk. A narrator must manage the project from beginning to end.
Your computer files need to be orderly so that you can quickly and easily find and load the project recordings when you receive corrections. You’ll need to know when, to whom, and for what amount to submit invoices and follow up if payments are late.
Being organized for success includes having the necessary materials to attract clients, especially a well-functioning web site with demos that are labeled and immediately clickable. As somewhat of a tangent about being organized, I also suggest that you have an email address with your own domain as it looks more professional than a free account.
I could write an entire article about organization. Wait. I already did! This article offers lots of ideas and resources related to 3 main areas of organization that would be useful regardless of your career.
Are you detail-oriented?
Attention to detail goes hand in hand with organization. In addition to sometimes extensive pronunciation research on individual projects, which I’ll address in the next article in this series, you ALWAYS need to pay close attention to the recording specifications and file naming conventions provided by each publisher or distributor. Detail-oriented people also log every communication with prospects and clients in order to build and maintain relationships and improve their results.
You need to maintain consistency of character voices across the book or even a series. A large part of your prep for a book is learning about the characters. I described my process and gave an example in the “Take Notes” section of this article.
During the recording sessions, my director makes WAV files of each voice and stores them in a folder for a project. Since they are WAVs, I don’t have to spend time to find and load a different project file in order to hear a character’s voice. This practice becomes even more useful for books in a series as quite some time may pass in between book releases.
When you receive corrections from a proof listener, you’ll want to listen to the original recording in order to match your voice before re-recording the line. Such re-recorded segments, known as “pick-ups”, must be inserted seamlessly into the original recording. Our goal is for listeners to feel like we told the story in one sitting.
Are you adept at time and project management?
If the narrator is also the producer, as is the case on ACX.com, you’re responsible for hiring, scheduling, and paying editors and proof listeners. Once you become established, you could be doing the prep for one book, recording another, and re-recording corrections on a third. Of course, you have other things going on in your life that must be planned and scheduled concurrently with your work.
Are you thick-skinned when it comes to criticism?
As a performance artist, you can’t escape criticism. Audible listeners often hide behind a pseudonym and leave soul-destroying comments about your narration or even you as a person. Professional reviewers will point out flaws in your vocal abilities and acting choices. I therefore encourage you to read my article How Do You Respond to Criticism? for more information and thoughts about coping with the negativity in reviews.
Are you curious? Do you like to learn new things?
I think that if you don’t learn something new almost every day, you might as well be dead. Aside from that mindset, though, I added this question because of the research involved in narration. Fiction books often require a narrator to learn the flavor of an accent in order to portray a character. With a non-fiction book, you need to sound like you know what you’re talking about because you are standing in for the author who is indeed an expert. In either case, getting up to speed quickly will be easier for those who are innately curious.
However, research can easily send narrators exploring one rabbit hole after another. Did I mention you need to be good at time management?
Aside from the research, the best narrators are constantly looking for ways to improve our performances and work flow. We listen to audiobooks, talk with other narrators, get coaching, read articles, and experiment with everything from software usage to mic technique.
How do you deal with constant rejection or perhaps even feeling ignored?
Some new narrators who audition on ACX think the rights holder casting the title should let them know whether they listened to the audition. These same narrators also want feedback about their performance. Experienced pros, on the other hand, know that you do the best you can in the audition, submit it and FORGET it. Actor Bryan Cranston gives the best advice about the actor’s job in the audition process in this 1:22 video.
Beyond auditions, you can expect that you may not receive a response for weeks, months, or ever, no matter how persistent and consistent you are in marketing yourself to prospects. Your goal is to stay in touch frequently enough that you pleasantly stay on the radar of producers and publishers without being perceived as a nuisance. If you need constant strokes of praise and/or can’t live with the uncertainty about your next contract, you will not enjoy being an audiobook narrator.
We’re halfway through this section and will get to the remaining 7 questions in an upcoming article. In the meantime, are you writing things down? To further encourage you to spend time writing answers to the quiz and thinking in depth about how you want your life to be, I will send a special journal to the first 5 people who leave a meaningful comment on this post! I’d love to know your thoughts about the quiz, and, if you’d care to share, any revelations you’ve had after taking it.