You don’t have to be a student of American history to know about the Donner party.
In the 1840s, this group of around 90 people had heard about the wonders of California and decided to travel west to seek their fortune.
Rather than following the rutted road of the hundreds of settlers before them, they took an unproven shortcut given by a person who had not actually made the trip he proposed and therefore had no business in directing others to go that way. None of the Donner party had traveled the route before, either, so they had no experience or knowledge to measure the shortcut against.
As a direct result of taking the disastrous advice about the shortcut, most of the party didn’t live to tell the tale. Those who did live endured unimaginable and grisly hardships in camp.
People today have heard about the gold rush in audiobooks, leading many to decide to become a narrator. While mistakes in audiobook narration don’t carry such severe consequences, they do have repercussions. Therefore, narrators participating in online forums need to be careful about the advice they give and take.
Regardless of the site/group and discussion, established narrators have the same goal — maintain and even improve the quality of the art form.
I can’t express how incredibly frustrating and maddening it is to spend my valuable time offering guidance learned through years of expensive training classes and hands-on practice only to have a newcomer dismiss my hard-won knowledge with the comment “in my experience” and/or an argumentative reply.
I’ve been a member the Facebook Indie (ACX And Others) Audiobook Narrators and Producers group for almost 8 years. Recently, I have pulled back a lot from responding in this group because it looks like so many people don’t do any research before dashing off their basic question and only want to be validated in their approach. I repeatedly see questions that are answered in the group FAQ, in the ACX Help Center, and/or on NarratorsRoadmap.com.
I’d much rather help someone who has made some effort, done their research, has a more informed and thoughtful question, and shows a sincere desire to become a great narrator. They say things like:
* I followed your advice, but this is where I got stuck.
* Can you clarify what you meant about this topic?
Instead of gratitude for the assistance received, I see a steady stream of complaints from newcomers about the “snark” from longtime group members and our “vitriolic”, “toxic” comments. People say they are afraid to even ask a question because they don’t want a “mean” answer. Veterans are constantly told we should be more supportive.
No other competitive, artistic field is as supportive as audiobook narrators are to each other! The fact that so many well-established narrators spend our precious spare time trying to help newbies for FREE shows that we want you to succeed.
Why do you insist we reply to you in a way that makes you feel good about yourself? That sense of entitlement stops many veteran narrators from participating.
Why do you expect us to be warm and soothing in our responses, especially when we see bad advice being handed out and adopted?
We despair when newbies authoritatively advise each other; it’s like “the blind leading the blind”. If a veteran’s answer seems harsh, it’s because we’re jumping in for the umpteenth time — maybe even today — to save the blind from going in the alley and being beaten up at the end. Sometimes niceties get dropped for a very good reason.
We know what casting people expect. We know what listeners expect. We know you won’t get jobs from publishers or good reviews by implementing the bad habits and practices we’re trying to stop.
No one gave most of us any shortcuts. We paid for classes, read everything we could find, attended conferences which usually involved travel expenses, and took many other actions for years, all to improve as a narrator.
We learned from our own and others’ mistakes and now strive to save newbies from breaking with industry standards and heading into the wilderness. Unfortunately, we might guide 1 person down the safe path of best practices while 20 others run to the “do whatever you want” camp.
It’s not my job to offer info, advice, and encouragement to people on the trail. It’s my CHOICE.
If my advice is not respected and appreciated, I’ll choose to do other things with my time.
Before complaining about the icy tone of a response, just think how it would be if every veteran in the group felt as I do and simply left all the newbies to fend for themselves.
Rather than moving forward in your career as a narrator, you might just find yourself sitting out in the cold.
Ann Richardson, Narrator says
Excellent article, Karen. I have been a member of both ACX FaceBook groups for years, however I unfollowed them both for the very reasons you cite. It’s too frustrating to offer sound guidance based on years of experience and success, only to be dismissed flippantly when it’s not what they want to hear. My philosophy has changed from trying to be benevolent in public posts, to waiting for the serious/earnest ones to seek me out. I really enjoy helping others learn and grow, and especially avoid the mistakes I’ve made, but not when I’m shouting into the wind.
Karen Commins says
Hi, Ann! Thanks for the affirmative comment.
I’ve noticed many experienced narrators like you are being less active in or completely leaving these groups.
The earnest/serious ones also seek me out. I don’t have the time or energy to help everyone who contacts me, especially since I’m not holding paid consultations right now.
I have no remorse about the messages I don’t answer. If people are determined enough to learn and improve, they will find a way to pay a coach to guide them!
Thanks again for sharing your perspective.
Bravo, Karen! I left that group for the same reason: infuriated by the lack of respect given to those who are generously and sincerely trying to help. It’s hard not to be frustrated when people expect spoon-feeding, especially with little to no investment in research, education, or practice.
I so appreciate your constant, reliable information and advice!
Karen Commins says
Hi, Rosemary! I’d noticed you hadn’t commented but didn’t realize you had also left that group.
As I said in the article, I’m less active in that group these days. I’d much rather write something here or on NarratorsRoadmap.com anyway!
Thanks for stopping by my blog!
J.M. Lacey says
Appreciate the reminders, Karen. It takes a lot of effort, energy and time to write and offer free professional advice, and I notice it often goes unappreciated. I also realize (especially being in the communications business!) that one’s attitude can affect their growth and careers and ultimately, relationships. If people can’t accept criticism, humbly realize others might be right, and be willing to adjust and listen to the experts, then those are the ones no one will want to work with. Please keep up the great work, Karen. Not everyone is snarky!
Karen Commins says
Hi, J. M.! Thanks for the nice note.
I wasn’t really fishing for praise, but I do appreciate your kind words.
A big part of my life’s purpose is to be helpful to others. I’ll just be offering more info on my sites and less on Facebook!
Karen, wonderful article. I appreciate what you’ve said. It’s hard for people to understand that narrating audiobooks is much more than “reading out loud”. I’m often shocked by some of the questions from newbies about whether or not to include Table of contents, Dedications, etc. This suggests to me that they’ve never heard an audiobook. As I’ve heard it said, if a poor/inexperienced narrator is the first narrator a person new to audiobooks hears, it may leave a bad taste in their mouth. Audiobooks need to be a great resource for listeners, not something to bash.
I wish newbies would do what I was told to do…lurk and listen for a LOOOONG time. These FB sites are chock FULL of incredible knowledge including the FAQs. One could learn a lot with the search function.
Ultimately spending money is the way to make money. Free advice can get you better focused but it’s gonna to take a commitment of time and money AND practice to be a pro.
Karen Commins says
Hi, Blair! Thanks for the spot-on comments!
I’ve been shocked by some of the questions, too. I appreciate your excellent point that people would know some of these things if they LISTENED to audiobooks before starting out!
It’s not just the listeners who suffer. Authors with bad narrator experiences are unwilling to put more books into audio.
I’ve gotten a lot of responses to this post from frustrated pro narrators on other channels. We can’t guide everybody, and many people are tired of trying to do so.
You took a thoughtful approach that is continuing to serve you well. Carry on!
Meghan Kelly says
Amen Karen! You absolutely nailed it with this article! The entitlement of the newcomers is unreal at times. The things we offer/share are not appreciated I’d say 90% of the time but rather complained about. I also 100% agree with your ‘always looking for shortcuts’ thought. I more and more think…”Ok then, shoot yourself in the foot”…and I hate that I’m thinking that way as I’ve always been a helper. Anyway, thank you for this and everything you do. I appreciate you!!
Francesca Amari, Cabaret Singer, Audiobook Director says
This is spot on, Karen. Thank you for saying what needs to be said so articulately. It is what so many of us feel in the industry and in these groups. You are a true resource and offer a wealth of wisdom and knowledge in our industry. Thank you.
Andi Arndt says
Karen, this is spot-on. Thank you for saying what so many of us have felt.
Jennifer Pickens says
As a new narrator, it’s very frustrating to see. Before I even got any coaching, I was able to learn SO much from the facebook groups as well as narrator blogs, podcasts, youtube channels, etc. I have noticed fewer voices of experience answering questions and participating in discussions, most likely for all the reasons you state. I’m a member of some other (non-narrator) groups where people are coddled, but the tradeoff is that the really useful information is not shared. People are allowed to carry on in ignorance, and it’s decidedly unhelpful. It’s unfortunate, but I completely understand needing to set boundaries around when and where you are willing to share. I can’t really thank you and all the other narrators that share their hard earned knowledge with us enough.
Heather Henderson says
My response is: yep.
Thanks for writing this.
Paul Heitsch says
This is just one more reason why I love karen Commins.
Bless you and everyone like you.
Petrea Burchard says
Thank you, Karen. I’m still a member of those pages, but I skim and lurk and don’t comment much anymore. I’ve been at this just over 3 years and still think of myself as a newbie. I’m grateful to the friend who suggested I narrate audiobooks, because she knew me well, knew my skills and my training AND my passions. She also recommended I study the business, read everything I could find, get coaching, google google google learn learn learn, use the search function, and THEN maybe ask “dumb” questions.
I think the pandemic, has brought a lot of people to audiobook narration because they think it’s a way to work at home and make a fast buck (ha!). Those who don’t find a passion for the work will not succeed. It’s too hard to do if you don’t love it. They’ll soon fall away and try something else. Those who do have that passion will stay, not in spite of the learning they must do, but because of it.
Beautiful article Karen! I have had the exact same response to these sort of groups. As someone who deals with social anxiety, it can be extremely scary to even try to respond to these newbie questions, and once you get bit on the nose for it once, it feels even more difficult to try again. I have found a lot of the toxicity to be congregated on those “public” narration groups, some of the private ones for students receiving coaching have been much warmer. Perhaps because they have already made the decision to invest in the craft.
Lianne Walker says
Hi Karen, thanks for posting this article.
Knowing what little I do of you, from listening to you speak and the wonderful site you’ve created, you can tell that all your advice comes from a good place.
I don’t take part in the groups for this very reason. I prefer to listen and learn in places where there is collective support.
Thank you for all you do.
TW Smith says
You are amazingly helpful!
Steve Bremner says
This is such a great post.
I came here after seeing you post it in the ACX Indie narrators group. I shared this post with my editor as we feel the same way about self-publishing in general with the horrible “coddling advice” given out freely by people who speak from theory and not from experience or who become a writing guru 4 weeks after releasing their first book.
Thanks for posting.
Michael Butler Murray says
Karen, you are a treasure. Seriously! This article is yet one more example of how fortunate we narrators are that you take the time to share you expertise. And the Narrators’ Roadmap? That is about the best resource I’ve ever encountered for any industry. Thank you so much!!
Isobel Starling says
What a timely article Karen. I’ve seen the same thing that’s happening in the narrator group happen in writers groups too. Since the pandemic there’s been an influx of newbies who are offering ‘publisher services’, ‘book promo services’ or writing their first book because they now have the time. The newbies post questions and want all of the answers to things that long-term writers slaved to learn. I’ve dealt with too many who expect the short cuts, and get mad If I tell them the harsh realities of publishing because it wrecks their buzz.
The pandemic has made millions seek new ways to earn a living doing jobs that can be done at home. I’ve seen in FB groups that there are lots of new ‘Author PA’s’, cover designers, proof readers, editors, promotion companies, and narrators coming into the industry who have little/no experience who hope they’ll make an easy buck.
Everyone has to start somewhere, but as you rightly said in your article, those who have been in the business a long time have done the research, got the appropriate training and invested in their careers.
Publishing isn’t a get rich-quick-scheme for most who enter it, and those ‘author gurus’ who say it is are liars.
I offer advice to help newbies by choice so they don’t make the mistakes I did. Some people are lovely and willing to learn, other just expect years of knowledge and training to be provided to them without them lifting a finger.
I appreciate your insights Karen, and am glad I’m not alone with my frustrations.
Karen Commins says
This is Karen. Thanks to all of you for your warm and thoughtful comments! This article generated the most feedback of anything I’ve written. I’ve read all of your messages and apologize for not responding individually to all of you.
After someone in the Facebook group commented that veterans respond aggressively and almost violently, Paul Heitsch explained the root cause of such strong reactions. Paul gave me permission to re-publish his remarks below.
The stuff you think is unnecessary doesn’t come from a vacuum. The verbal fists get clenched, and then thrown, aggressively, by people who are frustrated and angry with the sloppiness, and laziness, and willful ignorance (because there are plenty of resources – including pro narrators willing to donate their time and expertise – readily available that it cannot be anything but willful), that permeates -so- many discussions here about best practices. We’re all, presumably, functional adults, and it is perfectly reasonable to expect better from each other.
If I volunteer to give advice (not to mention the time it takes to give it) that I’ve acquired from years of work, and hundreds of titles (most for publishers, under union contracts), many thousands of dollars spent attending conferences, getting coaching, investing in equipment and structural improvements, only to have some tyro take it upon himself to contradict me, I am (and here I’m paraphrasing the wonderful Ms. Commins) under absolutely no obligation what the fuck so ever to be kind or supportive or even patient. In fact, I actually feel it is incumbent on me to uphold the professional standards, that I know for a fact have accounted for most of whatever success I’ve enjoyed so far, by disincentivizing the urge to contradict me as quickly and aggressively and efficiently as humanly possible.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. There are no minor leagues in audiobooks. There is no beginners’ bracket, and – pay close attention here, because this is key – no pricing structure that charges more or less for an audiobook based on how experienced the narrator is. Every audiobook that gets produced, whether through ACX or Findaway Voices, or Harper Audio or Hachette or PRH or RB, goes on the same store shelf, and sells for the same price. And there are statistically significant data that indicate that when poor quality audiobooks go on that shelf, they lower the perceived value of, literally, every other audiobook.
I make my entire living from narrating audiobooks. So, like it or not, I have real skin in the game when it comes to educating people about how best to achieve a high standard of technical and performance quality in their audiobooks.
Given all this, I’m sure anyone can understand why, when my good faith efforts to provide that education are rebuffed by the above-mentioned tyros, I might get a little chippy.
LEONOR A WOODWORTH says
Thank you Karen. Your articles and NarratorsRoadmap are proof of your compassion and passion for this industry and your peers. I always know that when you either write an article or add to NarratorsRoadmap you do so with purpose. Another excellent article.
Karen Commins says
I didn’t mention in this article how annoying it is to spend my time responding to a question, only to have the poster delete the thread because they didn’t like the answers they received.
These groups are valuable because as the discussions help everyone learn and grow. When someone deletes their thread, they deprive everyone else in the group from increasingly their knowledge.
Please don’t delete your posts!
Wayne Farrell says
A great article, mentioning several reasons I left all the narration groups on Facebook.
It got to a point where I was torn between wanting to give back to the wonderful narrators who helped me when I was starting out, and leaving folks to fend for themselves as my narration schedule became full time.
The turning point for me was watching a group of newbies tear into a highly competent and respected narrator. A A group that was simply too inexperienced to appreciate the advice that was being given.
I know the majority of those learning are respectful, but the balance was tipping over the past few years, so I went into ghost mode, shut my booth door and haven’t logged back in since.
Hats off to you Karen, and the likes of Jeffrey Kafer, Johnny Heller and other stellar narrators who have endless patience for newcomers and give so much back. You shame me with your kindness but I gave up on advising people long ago.
Karen Commins says
Hi, Wayne! It’s wonderful to see you again!
It’s a shame that newcomers’ confrontational attitudes are prevalent in an increasing number of FB posts. They drive away experienced people like you who have valuable information and expertise to share.
You were creating explainer videos with a plan to develop a website for them. Your videos were very well done, and I encourage you to create more.
If you no longer have the time or desire to make a site, perhaps you could continue making videos as your schedule permits. I would love to share the ones you did and any new ones on NarratorsRoadmap.com, so I hope you’ll send me some links!
Thanks for dropping by the blog and for your kind words.