Ann Richardson

Homework Before Narrating: Pre-reading and Prepping the Book

Herbie ate my book-prep notes.

I finish narrating, turn off my “RECORDING” sign, and step out of the booth for the day. Time to make dinner, feed the dogs, and relax a little. The operable word here is “little”. After tending to family and animal obligations, I sit down to enjoy some TV with my husband, pull my laptop onto my lap, and open the pdf for my next project.  Yes, I’m only 1/3 of the way through narrating my current book, but if I wait until I’m finished to begin prepping the next book, my schedule will be impacted and I’ll be punishing myself to meet deadlines.

I’ve been asked many times if I read the book before I begin narrating.  Resoundingly, yes, and the rest of this blog focuses on the pitfalls of not doing so, plus what “prepping” a book entails.

OH SHIT. A RABBIT HOLE.

Say I have a non-fiction book on high density animal operations.  This is a high-level book with many technical, medical, and latin words describing zoonotic infections, infections with AMR bacteria, and respiratory disorders.

I don’t pre-read and prep… I haven’t even made it through the introduction and am now stopping mid-sentence, going online to research pronunciations. I go to YouTube to find examples of lectures on this topic in order to hear the word spoken. You know what happens then? YouTube suggests another video for me to watch. And oh, looky!  A cute kitten video!  Aawwwwwww, puppies!  Oh, I should really check my email while I’m at it. Rats, did I forget to pay off my credit card?  Hey, what’s going on in that FaceBook group? I’d better chime in and add my two cents to that flaming thread on outsourcing. What was I doing in the first place? I really ought to get back to narrating… wait…. How do I pronounce that word again?  Shit. Back to YouTube….   This is known as “falling down a rabbit hole”, and is one of the biggest productivity killers I’ve faced. I have a precious recording window of quiet time during the day; I cannot afford to spend half of my time in the booth falling down rabbit holes. I need to look up all of these words BEFORE I begin narration so that I can perform the audiobook smoothly, maintaining pacing, energy level, and vocal quality throughout. Interruptions damage this consistency.

OH CRAP. A SURPRISE ACCENT.

A fictional romance comes into my queue.  I figure, “I don’t need to pre-read this book; I’ve already narrated three books in this series, I know the characters pretty well, and I really don’t have time to spend on it. I’m just gonna get in there and do it.

You know what happens then? I narrate happily away and learn that the female protagonist has a new boyfriend, and cool, everything seems to be going well. Yay for her. Until the second half of the book, when the author reveals that this boyfriend has a strong Irish brogue. Crappola. The time it will take to go back and re-record all of the dialog involving this Irish fellow, giving him his accent, is going to blow my schedule out of the water. Not to mention hampering the aforementioned consistency of energy, pacing, and vocal quality.

Not prepping a fiction book is detrimental in other ways, as well. Authors will sprinkle clues and background throughout that define and refine a character. You may learn that your heroine’s little sister has a lisp. But without pre-reading and absorbing the other characteristics that flesh out their personalities, the narrator cannot climb into that character’s skin and perform AS the character. Maybe you assume “lisp” means shy or reticent to speak up, when in reality, the little sister loves the limelight and is a child prodigy who discusses Einstein’s theories with anyone who will listen. In a recent coaching session, I asked a beginning narrator how he arrived at his decision to voice a character the way he did. He replied “I pictured her as an actress in one of those old-timey movies. You know, a real grande dame.” We then explored the pitfalls of playing a stereotype, rather than inhabiting the character’s true self. Without pre-reading, a narrator misses out on the hints embedded throughout the book that help form the character.

WHAT SKILLS ARE NEEDED TO BECOME A BOOK-PREPPER?

If you are interested in becoming a part of the thriving audiobook industry, but not as a narrator, maybe becoming a professional book-prepper is for you!  Here is what a prepper is expected to do:

-Research pronunciations of all unfamiliar words and proper nouns and acronyms (are they spelled out or if they form something pronounceable, is it commonly spoken as a word?  Example: “ARF” is known as “arf” but the acronym stands for “Animal Rescue Foundation”).  My blog “How Do Narrators Know How to Pronounce Stuff?” would be a great help to read before you start.

-Give not only a synopsis of the book, but of each chapter.

-Give character breakdown, including physical attributes, significant events about their past that contribute to characterization (example: she grew up in South Carolina, has a heavy accent, and was kicked in the head by a mule and has a perpetual stutter. Or, he was in the military for most of his life and his speech patterns are stilted and formal.) I recently asked my prepper to give me suggestions of movie characters he thought might be similar to those in my book.  He made several helpful suggestions such as “his personality is similar to ‘Chunk’ in The Goonies. This is applicable mainly to fiction, but depending on the nature of the non-fiction book, it may occasionally pertain.

Be able to create a spreadsheet and populate it with words, their phonetic spelling, and a link to a site where the pronunciation is audible

Be able to write coherently enough to compile a character list, including any history or attribute that would contribute to knowing how a character would speak (accents, posture, tics, or the way they speak or interact with others… is she always rushed? Is he a surfer-dude? Does the father work 18 hours a day and come home exhausted?)

Be able to write a clear, concise, brief synopsis of each chapter and/or the whole book.

Be technically capable of email correspondence and file sharing.

Be reliable and don’t miss deadlines!

Book preppers charge between $25 and $45 per hour. It is important that they be thorough, but also fast. Of course, each book is different, and non-fiction technical books will obviously be more labor-intensive, as will books with lots of foreign phrases and words.  I narrated a 10.5 hour audiobook that took the prepper 12 hours to prep. It was a simple historical romance, so it did not require the heavy lifting of foreign words or technical jargon. A narrator or publisher who depends on prepping services must be able to afford them, and falling down rabbit holes and charging for that time is not a tenable business practice.

Once you’re adept at these aspects, join audiobook social media groups and learn all you can about the industry. If someone posts inquires about needing a prepper, you could respond with your credentials/availability/rate, and whatever you’d like them to know.

In conclusion, hiring a book prepper is not “cheating”, rather it’s another avenue for doing due diligence and delivering an informed performance.  If you’re considering becoming a book prepper, you’re welcome to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to chat with you.  ann@annrichardson.com

 

Narrators – Would You Want to Work With You?

Narrators – Would You Want to Work With You?

Oregon Trail wagon wheel ruts, Rock Creek Station, Nebraska (photo credit Linda Dahlberg)

The career advice that has helped me the most…

When I began pursuing audiobook narration, I was no stranger to the ways of being an independent contractor (freelancer).  I had just come off of a four-year stint as an after-market sales person in the automotive industry. I like to think of it this way:  I did the impossible, I sold things to car dealers. It entailed traveling over 500 miles per week in the San Francisco bay area, visiting some very upscale, high-line dealerships, as well as some tiny used car lots in some very sketchy corners of places like Oakland and Richmond. Once I acclimated to the environment and learned how to “speak the language” I was able to move past my trepidation of doing my job in a male-dominated industry, and to serve my clients with efficiency and competency with a caring, personal touch. If my client asked me a question and I didn’t know the answer, I figured it out quickly and helped them solve their issue. I made it my goal to know every dealership personally, including the departments with which I interfaced. I knew the rates my company charged them on which products, I knew the intricacies of their insurance policies, I knew the demographics of their clientele, and I knew each dealer principal, general manager, finance manager, detail department head and service department manager by name (as well as many receptionists and janitors). I visited close to 100 dealerships a month. I knew how to hustle, and I grew a thick skin. I also learned to treat my career with much respect, and not settle for mediocrity. If I needed an answer, I went to the best possible sources to discover it. If I wanted to present a product to a dealer, I learned not to begin with anyone less than the ultimate decision maker. I did not trust leaving my materials or messages with subordinate employees to pass along to the owner. I did not trust second-hand answers, and I did not make excuses for not delivering what was needed or expected.

How does this translate to audiobook narration? It’s all about integrity and developing good habits. If you treat your narration career as if you are the best of the best and adhere to a few simple principles, you will go far. We all have what I like to call “wheel ruts”. (Did you know that the Oregon Trail’s wagon wheel ruts are still visible in at least nine places in the US?)

Practice makes Permanent, not Perfect (only perfect practice makes perfect)

If you audition on a casting site, and you are not ready to deliver an awesome product on time (i.e. recorded on good equipment, edited and mastered up to industry standard, performed to your best ability for which you’ve been trained) you are forming those wheel ruts. You make excuses like “I wasn’t happy with my audition because my new mic had not been delivered yet” or “I think there was some background noise in my audition because my two toddlers were wrestling with the dog” and you submit it anyway just to see what happens, then you’re etching those ruts deeper. You’re allowing yourself to turn in sub-standard work and it becomes easier each time you do it.

Or you don’t take the time to make an excellent demo to post on your website or profile on the casting sites. You instead post a sample you thought turned out “pretty well”, or you even sink to the level of posting or submitting a commercial demo.  Nothing screams “I’m unprepared, I’m a newbie, I haven’t taken the time or care to do it right and I won’t when it comes time to voice your book, either” like poor presentation of your skills. And those wheel ruts get cut deeper.

Say you post a question in social media group, and you begin with the phrase: “I did a search of the group but didn’t find anything, maybe it was because the UPS man delivered my new hula hoop and I got distracted, so anyway…” and you query something for which you haven’t even tried to research or figure out on your own. You’re not only digging those wheel ruts deeper, but you’re now broadcasting to peers and potential clients that you don’t care enough to put in the time and effort to figure it out on your own.

Set high standards for yourself and stick to them!

This is manifested in the following ways:

Don’t audition if you don’t have the proper equipment, recording environment, performance skills, or ability to deliver on-time.  I know it’s hard to restrain yourself when you find a project that you feel would be perfect for you, but if you want to avoid digging wheel ruts in the wrong direction, you’ll hold yourself back until you’ve made sure you’re able to deliver the best you are capable of. I recently saw a quote somewhere that said “You wouldn’t criticize a flower bud for not emerging fully bloomed” and this is salient here. No one expects you to be stellar right off the starting line. But if you know your efforts are half-baked and you’re turning out a product that you know you can do better, then don’t do it!  Wait and work toward achieving the best you can, and THEN submit it.

Don’t trust your career to social media. Be aware that if you want your career to skyrocket to success, you have to feed it only the best things. Seek out professional coaching if you have a performance question or issue. Contact the organization you’re having trouble with (for example a question on a casting site, or professional association) before you take it to Facebook and complain to the group. Hire a professional engineer/editor when you have technical issues. By posting your question on social media, you have no control over who is responding.  John Doe may respond with astounding authority, and you feel your question is unequivocally answered, but if you do a quick search on him on Audible, you discover he’s narrated three 45-minute cookbooks. Not exactly the top-of-the-line advice you need.

Ask yourself: Would you want to work with you?

When performing, communicating with clients, or posting on social media, are you living up to excellent standards?  Or do you find yourself continually making excuses as to why something you’re doing is not up to par? Do you regularly miss deadlines? Or are you conducting yourself in a professional manner that encourages repeat business? This entails learning and practicing thoughtful responses, posts and emails. You should conduct your business as if it’s the white-glove service those ritzy hotels provide. These are good wagon ruts to form and stay in.

You’re only human; you have to start somewhere and you will make mistakes. But if you strive to be the best, continually reassess your actions and reactions, and seek out the very best when you need an answer or advice, then your trajectory cannot help but shoot skyward. Perfect practice makes perfect.

 

Curious About Becoming A Narrator? Learn To Fish…

Putting in the time...

“Can I take you to coffee and pick your brain?” NO. READ THIS BLOG.

I began my narration career in 2008. That’s when the economy tanked and my job evaporated. I was lucky enough to have a husband with a stable job, and I now had the chance to finally figure out what I “wanted to be when I grew up”.

Having an unfinished degree in broadcast journalism, I decided to investigate if some aspect of that focus could work for me at this stage of my life. I attended a community education class about voiceovers and began voraciously researching the field. I read all the articles and columns I could find about it, listened to podcasts, took coaching and business mentoring in the voice over area, and was eventually directed to Recording For the Blind and Dyslexic, to volunteer narrating, in order to get a feel for audiobook narration. I was smitten. I knew it was what I wanted to pursue, and so I continued to volunteer recording for RFB&D (which is now known as “Learning Ally”).I joined the Audio Publishers Association and as many voiceover/narration/audiobook groups on social media that I could find.

It was a hell of a lot of work.

Good thing I’m a hard worker.

Now if you’re reading this, it means you must have some interest in checking out the field of audiobook narration; maybe you’re a friend from a former part of my life. The reason I’ve directed you to read this blog post is because people come to me more often than you’d think, wanting to pick my brain over coffee. Repeatedly, I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time crafting lengthy emails to friends who ask me about getting into narration, only to never hear from them again. So I finally decided to blog about it and simply invite inquisitive people to read it.

But why do I balk at being asked out to coffee for a brain-picking session? You’re asking for me to freely give the information I worked so very hard to learn and stay abreast of, for the price of a cup of coffee. My time is valuable, as is yours, no doubt. If I’m out having coffee, that means I’m NOT in the booth recording, or performing a myriad of functions that keeps my business running. I worked very hard to find out if this occupation would be viable, interesting, and something I could continue into my retirement years. You can do this too. If it’s important to you, you SHOULD do the footwork yourself. This is the best way to learn, and the lessons will stick far better than simply hearing about my experiences. Remember that old Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

An excellent starting point is to watch this video by acclaimed narrator, Sean Pratt.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPzPi-_0Xi8
He has narrated close to one thousand audiobooks, and is a narration coach. His advice is excellent.
Here are some additional helpful links to get you started:
www.audiobookmentor.com
https://www.deyaninstitute.com
https://patfraley.com
https://johnnyheller.com/
www.audiopub.org.

And if, after checking out these resources, you still want to spend time with me picking my brain about audiobook narration, my rate is $100 for a one-hour session. This is a very reasonable rate, and I will share with you what I have learned through my years of experience and hard work, plus answer your questions to the best of my ability.

ETHICS & ETIQUETTE: Common Sense Business Practices for Narrators

ETHICS &ETIQUETTE: COMMON SENSE BUSINESS PRACTICES FOR NARRATORS

I debated whether or not to write this blog, because it could so easily take on a condescending flavor. I want to stress that I am not being judgmental when I share these points, and that I am the first one to admit that I am NOT PERFECT. However, I have been in this industry since 2008, and can safely say that if one makes the effort to take the following information into consideration, the professional pathway will be smoother.
I should mention that I am an active member of WoVO (World-Voices Organization), and in fact served on the Executive Board for three years. The reason this is pertinent is that a guiding pillar of WoVO is to help those new to the voiceover industry gain access to information that will help them learn and grow and achieve their goals in a manner that elevates the industry. I passionately embrace this philosophy. Many times I have shared the information written in this blog, both on social media, as well as in direct mentoring situations, one bit at a time. I figured it was time to consolidate it and put it in one location. So without further delay, I’ll launch into it…


ETHICS & ETIQUETTE

-Don't trash talk anyone! How you use your words shows others who you really are. Mentioning others’strengths and fine qualities is much more beneficial for everyone within earshot than sharing an embarrassing story or spreading gossip about someone’s shortcomings. This especially includes never posting about another narrator's poor reviews, whether they're merited or not. How would you like it if someone publicly called out your performance in a less-than-flattering light?

-Don't take credit for others’ work. Remember to mention/thank engineers, proofers, publishers, narrators, in public statements such as acceptance speeches or tweets or social media posts. Along this same vein, remember it’s not all about you. Engage others in a discussion about what they’re doing, what they’re interested in, or how they’ve handled something. You can even try to conduct an entire conversation without using the pronouns “I” or “me”.

-Try to have decorum/good etiquette at workshops and conferences (i.e. don't interrupt conversations rudely, don't shove your business card/demo CD/swag into others’ hands unsolicited, and in certain situations such as APAC, don't discuss rates with your competitors.)

-Don’t abuse others’ good nature by expecting them to spoon-feed you your career. Do your homework. Google is very easy to use, and in social media it’s expected that you use the “SEARCH” function in groups before posting your questions there. There is a wealth of information to be found. Do your own due diligence. THEN you can come back to your favorite social media group and post your specific question. **NOTE** PLEASE READ AND CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ADVICE CAREFULLY: When you have a question, consider who may be answering it. If posted on social media, you have the strong probability that everyone from non-narrators, to brand-new narrators, to hobbyists will enthusiastically and authoritatively give you their opinion. If you place value on your career and care about the audiobook industry, seek out those with lots of experience and a successful track record, and ask them your question (after you’ve researched it, of course). You will receive sound advice backed by a history of experience and knowledge. Got a problem with your recording chain, or the technical aspects of recording? Hire a professional engineer!

-Don't out someone's pseudonym. How someone chooses to record is their business, and is often a very personal decision. By sharing their identity, you may harm their potential to get hired to narrate some material. A pseudonym can be a means of protecting family and friends from embarrassment or hurtful situations.

-Always remember that as narrators, we have a collective reputation. Numerous times authors have shared with me their horror stories of narrators who act in a less than professional manner. This is especially pertinent in the indie writing sphere. Many narrators take a personal interest in encouraging authors to include audiobooks in their plans when they release their books. If an author has a bad experience with the process, it’s more probable that they will not attempt an audiobook in the future.

-Communication is paramount. Don’t assume your indie author knows how the process works, and be prepared to explain things that seem obvious and simple to you. Not everyone shares your level of experience. Helping someone learn a new skill or process promotes goodwill and excitement for a repeat experience!

SOUND BUSINESS PRACTICES

The following points are geared more toward conducting your narration business:

-Don't lower your rates too badly. Obviously no one has the right to dictate what you charge your clients, but please remember that you are a professional, and as such, your peers would appreciate it if you charged accordingly.

-Perform each narration project as if you expect it to win an Audie. Don't do shabby work because "it's just a royalty share project" It all counts!

-Always obtain permission from the publisher before contacting an author

-Always obtain permission before mentioning your project on social media

-Respond to correspondence timely, invoice promptly, and pay your bills just as promptly.

-Follow directions! Read all instructions completely before beginning recording (example, record at 44.1, 16 bits, and follow file naming conventions, upload instructions, spacing at head and tale of files, etc.)

-Don't miss deadlines: Seriously assess whether or not you can meet a deadline before accepting the book, and be attentive to your calendar so that you don’t forget about deadlines, or end up so short of time that the quality of your work is compromised in your rush to meet deadlines.

-Make sure your narration demo is representative of your capabilities/skillset. You don’t want to “bait and switch” by having a stellar demo and then not be able to deliver an equivalent level of quality from your home studio.

-Don’t party hard before an in-studio session, so that your voice and body cannot record at their best

-Audition ONLY for those projects which you are certain you can perform. I will expand on this to include that you MUST turn down a book you’ve been offered, if it is not a good fit. For example, pass it up if it is written from a man’s perspective and you are a woman (or vice versa) or if it’s heavily accented in a language you cannot affect.

-Pre-read, especially fiction.

-Research words in the manuscript or hire someone to do it for you. Remember that thing about using Google? Do that.

-Be accountable. So you've missed a deadline. Remember you’re a professional and you’re working with professionals and they probably don’t want to know about your infant’s blowout diaper, or the dog who ate your power cord, or or or or…. Just apologize, and get it right, and do your best to not let it happen again. Publishers will understand if you become ill, or if important life events get in the way. However, if you find you are always missing deadlines and making apologies, maybe it’s time to reexamine your methods and commitment. Working with you should be a relief for a client, not a trial. I recently heard a publisher say “Given the opportunity to replace a narrator who misses deadlines, we will.”

​I would enjoy hearing others' ideas of etiquette and ethics in the audiobook industry...