Quick Update

Gosh where has the last month gone? I can’t believe we’re almost halfway through the year. Yikes. Everything is blooming in Seattle, and it even got to the mid 80s the other day. I actually had to turn on the AC for my booth! It’s been a busy month too.  I had two new audiobooks come out: Gray Man Rising by PE Padilla and the third book in the First Ordinance series, BlackWing by Connie Suttle.

I also recorded two new audiobooks: Pirate Bound by Carysa Locke and I’m just finishing up the fourth book in the First Ordinance series SpellBreaker, both of those should be available around June.

With all that going on, I did still manage to take some time out to go to Emerald City Comicon where I was lucky enough to get a pro pass this year. I attended several VO panels, including the always entertaining Nolan North. I had hoped to meet some authors at the convention and maybe build some business relationships, but there weren’t as many independent authors there as I would have liked, although I did get intel on some new game and publishing ventures that I’ll be following up on.

All of these audiobooks this past month has meant I haven’t been too great with the marketing, although I have started to approach a overseas few elearning companies. I’ve gotten some good responses, so the seeds are still getting sown, just not as quickly as I’d like, and alas, the next month looks to be just as crazy. Which isn’t so bad….

Luck Follows Preparation

maui
I’ve been away from the booth for a couple of weeks re-charging my batteries in Maui. Hawaii is a second home for me. After spending four years living there (and starting my voice over career there) I never really got it out of my system. So of course, when I’m looking for a place to slow down it’s my first choice for a vacation.

Yes indeed, even a freelancer can and should take a vacation. As a European I find the American attitude to vacations strange. Most of my American friends haven’t taken a vacation in years, which blows my mind. Vacations are proven to help you mentally and emotionally, it makes you more open-minded and independent. So yes, even though I run my own business, it’s important for me to unplug. I admit, I didn’t get to unplug as much as I’d wanted to. I needed to stay available because of an upcoming conference that needed arranging, and as it turned out, I had other personal reasons that meant I couldn’t turn off my email and Facebook completely. But it was still nice not to have to be available.

So what did I do on vacation? I read a lot and watched whales. One day we went paddling and had three humpback whales wander close to our kayak. It was a truly memorable experience, but one, I admit, that has happened to us before. I got to thinking about that. Were we lucky to have had whales appear by our kayak on multiple occasions? Yes. But was it pure luck that got us there? Not precisely.

One of the books I read on the plane had a line that has stuck with me: Luck follows preparation. That is pretty much how it was for us. It’s difficult to go seeking an encounter with a humpback whale, and frankly dangerous. But if you prepare; if you keep putting yourself out there, in the water, with an open mind and your eyes and ears open, ready to see what can happen you’ve got a better shot at seeing whales. In the same way, it’s very rare to get plucked out of nowhere to voice a role for a major game or audiobook. However, if you keep preparing, training, meeting people, putting yourself out there, it can happen.

Suffice it to say we were very reluctant to go home. But go home we did, and I’m back in the booth. One piece of good news I had when I got home was that I had received my Audible Approved status. It’s a seal of approval ACX awards based on your audio samples, how many titles you’ve done and the overall quality of your work. I don’t know at this time how that translates as far as getting work, but it does hopefully offer some reassurance to authors seeking out narrators to collaborate with.
And on that note, I shall say mahalo for reading this and aloha nui loa, until next time!

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Take Your Business Seriously, Because No One Else Will

Okay, I’m in-between projects right now, so I finally have a chance to play catch up. This has included getting rid of pesky unwanted pop-up ads that kept appearing on my site. My apologies to anyone who had to deal with that. It turns out it was a piece of code in a plugin I was using. Needless to say, I disabled the plugin, but it took me two hours to go through the code and research before I finally figured it out. I was getting ready to hire someone to remove it, because really it does come across as unprofessional. Thankfully I realised what the problem was and now it’s gone. Yay!

An interesting thing happened a few weeks ago. I was talking to an author about narrating an audiobook. The audiobook was being crowd-funded, and she needed a sample for the Kickstarter page before the book went up. I went to my usual forums to ask what a good price would be. I already figured as a courtesy I would charge a fee, but deduct it from the full price of the audiobook. It seemed prudent to charge something because this wasn’t a pre-existing client, and who knows what might happen.

The responses shocked me. Some were supportive but I found there were far too many narrators arguing to work for free. Some of the things being said were “you don’t charge for auditions, why would you charge for this?” Well, that’s true. But this isn’t an audition. The person already wants to hire me, and besides, this is going into a public space. An audition requires very little preparation from me, but this needs to more or less be a retail-quality sample.

It was interesting to see the divide in comments. Those who, like me, are voice actors (not just narrators) saw it as quite reasonable to charge something. Those who were only narrators thought I should do it for free. It became plainly obvious that because audiobook narrators on ACX are so used to doing the first 15 minutes sample on-spec, they didn’t see any problem providing a 1-2 minute sample for this author to use for free, before the book was recorded.

This attitude is something I find worrisome. Between the first 15 minute (which I have no problem with in general) and royalty share, the attitude is prevailing that working for free is okay. It’s not. If you don’t value your work, why should anyone else? Moreover, I have bills to pay. It didn’t help that that week happened to be the same week my dog broke his front canine tooth, which is going to cost nearly $1000 to extract. Of course I’m not going to work for free for a job that may or may not happen. This is a business.

It should also be noted that there was at least one author on this forum who suggested that if I really felt passionate about the project, I shouldn’t charge anything for the sample. To that I say again, I do not feel so passionate about someone else’s work, that I am willing to work for free. To be honest, I don’t have room in my life to be passionate about every author’s work that comes my way. When we talk passion I think of my passion towards my family. Towards animals. Towards travel. Those are the things I’m passionate about, and I need to be paid to fuel my passions.

This isn’t to mean that I don’t enjoy an author’s work, or that I won’t do a good job narrating the book. It doesn’t mean that I’m not excited to narrating this book. But in the end, it’s a job, and it should be treated as such.

On an interesting note, I was recently going through my list of audiobook publishers I had compiled a year ago, only to find that I’m already on the books of one of them (Deyan Audio) and was approached earlier this month to be on the books of another major audiobook publisher!

Loneliness and the Voice Actor

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A few months back I was talking to someone who was interested in getting in to voice acting. She asked me an interesting question that I hadn’t really given much thought to: Do you ever get lonely?

The truth is, I don’t. Partly because I had already been working from home as a writer for several years before I began focusing full-time on voice acting. Even before that, my previous two jobs had me working alone quite a bit. My husband is also at home, so a conversation is only a few feet away if I need it.

As much as I enjoy being around other voice actors and going to an outside studio, I actually talk to a lot of voice actors every day on the various forums I frequent. Some of them I’ll even get to meet in person soon. How cool is that?! Not to mention, I have fellow VO I occasionally get coffee with, voice over meetups I sometimes go to, and most recently, I started going to an improv meetup. Add to that, my editing and proofing team for my audiobooks, and I feel as though I have plenty of co-workers to commiserate/share good news with.

So going back to the question, no I don’t ever get lonely, not really. I’m sure everybody does sometimes, and I certainly have those moments, but none of that is related to my job. Having said that, you do have to be a certain kind of crazy to be willing to shut yourself in a space the size of a closet for 2-4 hours a day. It’s not for everyone. It’s why many voice actors steer away from long form narration. For me, however, this works. I’m happy doing it. But I also have a family, neighbours, friends and co-workers who help keep me, if not sane, at least lucid.

In other news, book two in The First Ordinance series by Connie Suttle is going to be heading to Audible in the next couple of weeks, and I’m hoping to get started on book three shortly!

Happy New Year!

goals
I think I can still technically say Happy New Year. We’re only halfway through January! I got awfully busy towards the end of the year, finishing up sequels to both the Demon of Darkling Reach series (which is now out) and The First Ordinance series. After that, all my good intentions for the holidays went by the wayside, although I did manage to not check for auditions once during all my time off. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been wrestling with taxes and focussing on the year ahead.

Some of the things I discovered while doing the taxes, was that I can make a full-time living doing this. Or I did last year, anyway. With that in mind, my plan is to expand on that, and diversify, diversify, diversify.

The large majority of my work came from audiobooks. Like a good 80-something percent. So naturally I want to work on that. Do more video games. I’d like to start going to some of the video game developer meetups here in Seattle, for a start. But I also was to do more corporate work. I did a bunch of corporate narration last year, but most of it were from clients coming to me. I didn’t take the time to research and seek out clients. I hear that English Neutral voice is still popular, so I really need to start working on that area of my career.

I’m also looking at ways to diversify within audiobooks. I do the bulk of my work through ACX, and although that has become more my seeking out great books rather than auditioning for what’s available, I still need to branch out. Last year I was hired by one non-ACX publisher, and placed on the books of another major audiobook publisher. So for now, I’m going to look at expanding on that. One of the ways I want to do that is to (finally) go to APAC. I’ve talked about going to this audiobook publishers conference for a while, but I’m finally committing. I even joined the APA. I’m looking forward to meeting both fellow narrators and publishers, and just learning more about this industry. Oh yes. And I want to get more coaching. After listening to almost 20 hours of Kate Mulgrew’s gorgeous narration of N0S4A2 all I know is want to get more coaching so I can be that phenomenal.

There are other goals I’m working towards. A video game demo. Even a commercial demo, because really I ought to have one. Not to mention doing stuff that scares me. For instance, this weekend I plan to do an improv class. Terrifying. At least for me! I haven’t done improv in a long time, mostly because my last experience was not a great one. But improv is great for voice over and even better for the soul, so here goes nothing. But for the record, I’d rather go indoor skydiving!

That’s about all that’s been going on here. But Be sure to check out both The White Queen by PJ Fox and Finder by Connie Suttle.

100% Genuine Snake Oil

Snake-oil
I mentioned in my previous post that I’ve joined a Seattle VO meetup group. This has put me into contact with a lot of brand new VO talent looking to get coaching and break into the business. It’s a wonderful little group, all willing to share information. “Mr. LA Coach is in town next weekend for a workshop at XYZ Studios.” “Ms NY coach will be doing private sessions and you can even record your demo if you have a few thousand dollars laying around.” Okay, so maybe this kind of information isn’t helpful. If anything, I find it downright disturbing because you suddenly become aware of the sheer number of people who will happily take your money and leave you with the promise of a career.

Just in my few years training in VO I’ve had a coach contact me advertising his latest class with a reminder that he’s getting ready to help cast a major project so maybe if I sign up for the course, I can get hired too. I had another VO talent who I had contacted in regards to how she handled her British and American demos, who bombards me on a weekly basis with email about this course and that course that she’s selling. Even coaches who are supposedly beloved by professionals for taking them to “the next level” don’t seem above coaching beginners and producing their demos. I even saw a VO talent, with only two years in the business, teaching classes online, charging for basic information that is readily available online for free.

This isn’t to say that all coaches are like this. If you attend a Bob Bergen class for instance, he won’t even let you take another class for two years. Personally, I still remember working with Mary-McDonald Lewis, as we wrapped up the intro to voice over class she was teaching. She urged all of us in the class to continue studying with different coaches and not even think of making a demo for two years. Is that two years a hard and fast rule? No. Not necessarily. But she’s right that we shouldn’t make a demo until we’re absolutely ready. This business is harsh. You don’t get a second chance to make that first impression, and you have to be able to compete with the pros in LA who have tons of experience.

So how do we get that training? Well, for starters, by being discerning. Research, research, research. Lately, it seems, a lot of LA actors are discovering that Seattle is near enough away to come here for the weekend and teach a class. This is great news if that person is a working voice talent. But if that person has a small handful of video games under his belt and is more famous for his on camera work, maybe that isn’t the best way to spend $200. Ask around. Really ask around. Private message people. Nobody wants to openly bad mouth folks in this business, but they’ll be a bit more open about their experiences with certain coaches if they know it’s not available for the world to see.

But remember, it’s not just about coaching. We learn in all kinds of different ways. Some of those ways include practising with other voice talent so you coach each other. I actually hope we get to do more of this at our Seattle meetup group. If you don’t know any talent nearby, go to Edge Studios and record some of the practice scripts and put them up for evaluation. Also, go to voice bank and listen to demos from the pros. Record yourself reading copy, and listen critically. Compare yourself to the pros, and try to get a sense of what they are doing that you’re not doing. Voice Bank’s Voice Registry also has a great weekly workout session, which is a relatively cheap $84. The point is, coaching is great, if you can find a good coach you trust, who will bring the best out of you, but it takes more than money to get a voice over career started, and you may regret that four thousand dollars you spent on a demo when you consider that the average non-union voice talent earns about $4500 a year.

In other news, Intertwine, the time travel romance I recorded at the beginning of the year, hit number 11 on Audible (may have even gone higher than that, I only just discovered the stats) and was last seen planted between two Diana Gabaldon titles. I’m pretty chuffed, I must say! In the meantime, The Sea Queen by Jovee Winters is getting ready to be released on Audible, and I’m ging to be starting recording on book two of The Black Prince triology.

Tending to My Seedlings

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It’s been a while since I last posted. In that time I recorded a new audiobook: The Sea Queen by Jovee Winters, which will hopefully be released some time in November or Early December. I’m also prepping a new audiobook. Both of these were seeds I planted earlier by going out and seeking authors I wanted to work with. The response so far to my seed planting has been fantastic. These are the only two book deals I’ve “closed” so far, but it’s been fun tending my little seedlings. There are still lots of shoots that could bloom into flowers. It’s possible I might actually be beginning to understand marketing!

Yes, it’s only taken me nearly a year, but I’m finally making more time for marketing. There are a lot of royalty share books on ACX that you would never make your money back on. Finding paying gigs on ACX can be difficult. Which is why I started focusing on planting seeds. I don’t want ACX to control my career. It’s a wonderful site, but it’s too easy to become lax and just wait for auditions to come in. I’m thrilled to have recently finished a multi-cast recording with a local publisher. My first non-ACX audiobook project. It is a collection of Norse poetry titled The Poems of the Elder Edda, which was a fun, challenging read. It was nice to collaborate with others, but boy those Norse pronunciations were a challenge!

In the meantime both Compendium and The Demon of Darkling Reach came out. And I recently joined the Seattle VO meetup group, which will get me out of my blue box from time to time. How exciting!

A Whiff of Strike in the Air

I was going to talk more about audiobooks today, but since there is talk of a SAG-AFTRA strike regarding interactive (ie video game) contracts, I thought this would be worth discussing. The actor Wil Wheaton gives a good explanation on why he voted to strike which is worth reading at least to understand the situation more fully.

The big argument everyone brings up is that it is due to residuals. Unlike many other forms of acting, video games don’t come with residuals. So that AAA title you bought with a massive cast of actors that allows you to immerse yourself in a whole ‘nother world? Yeah, those actors only get paid for the sessions.

I’m not SAG-AFTRA, although I fully intend to join. I think the union is a good thing. With rates going down the toilet, the union is more important than ever. I also think the union can be more than a little out of touch. For instance, their view that non-union talent can’t perform as well as union is utter nonsense. And heaven forbid you choose to go Fi-Core and play both sides!

As a voice actor who has done more than a few games, I would love to get residuals. But most of the titles I work on are indie titles, and there is absolutely no money to pay actors. So the real question is should the companies producing AAA titles pay residuals? Yes. They should. The fact is the video game market is growing, not shrinking. As technology continues to advance, with devices like the Occulus Rift and virtual reality technology it’s only going to grow. So yes, of course the AAA title companies can afford it. What’s more, it’s interesting how these companies who have increasingly turned to Hollywood celebrities to voice games clais they are too poor for residuals. I find it difficult to believe that an actor like Kiefer Sutherland got paid scale to lend his voice to Metal Gear.

But as Wil Wheaton points out, it’s not just about rates. One of the other terms SAG-AFTRA claim has been rejected is for shorter voice sessions. Currently 4-6 hour sessions are not uncommon for video games, though thankfully not so much in the indie world. Four to six hours doesn’t sound that long, but when you’re screaming, whispering, making death cries, yelling and breathing hard, it is taxing on the voice. It strains the vocal cords, and very often your voice is unusable the next day. You can’t audition for stuff, you certainly can’t work another job. This one for me is a biggie. When I first heard that sessions were getting longer in LA I couldn’t believe it. I’ve done the shouty, death yell sessions, and I couldn’t imagine sustaining that for four much less six hours at a time, yet this is what major game companies are supposedly rejecting.

Honestly looking at the verbiage of the SAG-AFTRA letter that went out, I think both sides are gearing up for an ugly battle. Or as someone described it, a bitter divorce, with a whole lot of he-said/she-said. I’ll be interested to see what happens next.

In other news, I did an interview with author P.J. Fox. Our new audiobook The Demon of Darkling Reach should hopefully come out next week! Additionally, my latest audiobook, Compendium was also released this week. I’m very proud of this book. It was a fun book to read, and hopefully listeners will enjoy it.

Until next time!

You Get What You Pay For

Hello! I’m back. I’m feeling refreshed. Mostly. It wasn’t quite the Staycation I let on. We went camping up in the San Juan Islands where I was forced to disconnect entirely. Seriously, we were closer to Canadian cell towers than U.S. Ones. This was good for me. I came home feeling far less guilty about not checking mail. Inevitably, I missed out on an audition from my agent while I was gone, but there’s always the next audition.

Since I’ve been back I finished my last audiobook project, The Demon of Darkling Reach, which should be coming out in a couple of weeks. I went to the Seattle Public Library sale and stocked up on fun books to read. 32 books, including some rare finds, for $50! And now I’m just twiddling my thumbs waiting for the next gig. No. Not really. But I do admit to that familiar anxiety rising: “Wait! I don’t have another project lined up already?” That’s when desperation kicks in. I’ve had to fight that a lot over the years. Taking jobs that I know aren’t right for me, or don’t pay enough, because I’m impatient. “ Are my rates too high? Am I scaring people off?”

I won’t lie. I’ve been told often enough by authors that they can’t afford my rates. To be blunt, they would much rather I work for free. And who wouldn’t take free over paying out a couple of grand? If you can attract a great narrator with clean audio to your project for free, that’s great, but most likely that narrator will want to get paid. Sure there are plenty of people who will work for free to build their resume and I certainly can’t compete with that, but is it really worth it? Let’s talk value.

What do you get from the narrator that charges $200-$400 per finished hour? Well, for starters, you get experience. I’ve recorded 16 audiobooks. I guarantee you I’m more experienced than that person offering to work for free. I’ve had training. I started as a stage actor, and then a voice actor, and transitioned into audiobook narration. I have trained with Pat Fraley who is one of the most well-known audiobook coaches in the business.

You also get quality. I have a dedicated booth which you can see in the image above. I own studio quality gear that I have put together over the years. Not only do you get that, but you also get professional editing and proofing. I hire professionals to do this for me because while yes, I could do this stuff myself, it takes me longer and I will inevitably make more mistakes than a dedicated editor and proofer.

Because I only take paid work, I am able to invest in the productions I work on. Whether that is gear, editors, or training to make me a better narrator. It’s my cost of doing business, but it’s also what sets me apart from those working for free. So, the next time you’re considering creating an audiobook for free, don’t think about the costs, consider the value. Because when those reviews come in complaining about the poor audio quality or crappy editing, those are going to stick around for a long time.

Coming Up for Air

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Well this wraps up another busy stint of audiobook narrating in which I got no actual marketing done. I’ve had a tight schedule filled with back-to-back audiobook projects, in which I was either narrating several projects at the same time, or editing/proofing a project while narrating a different book. Not something I usually like to do as I normally hire out this type of work, but that
s just how it all worked out.

I’ll be honest, being “on” all the time: auditioning, recording, editing, and always being available to respond to requests both from clients I’m working with and potential clients has left me WIPED OUT. Not to mention in my “free” time I’ve been chasing down several authors regarding approvals and offers.

So I need space from the recording for a bit. I had been telling myself “okay I’ve just got to get to the end of the year, and then we can go to Hawaii and relax properly.” Except I forgot that aside from a couple of weekends away, I hadn’t taken a chunk of time off since last November and if I had to wait until winter, I was not going to be much fun to be around. So I’m going into Staycation mode. The trouble is, is it even possible to take a staycation when you run your own business? It’s certainly going to be a challenge to not constantly check my messages for auditions and job offers. But that’s what I’m going to try to do. Starting today I’m going “on vacation.” I had a long weekend, which is new for me. This week I get to goof around with my dog and husband. Guilt-free? Probably not. But it’ll have to do.

In the meantime, in other news, here’s an interview I did a while back for Lisa M Lilly. I actually know Lisa from my writing days, and was thrilled when she asked me to narrate book two in her Awakening series, The Unbelievers. It was scary doing this book, I must say. She’s my friend. I don’t want to disappoint her! Hopefully I didn’t. What do you think?

Also, Aranya the audiobook I narrated for Marc Secchia just received a Bragg award. Awesome! Also, Compendium by Alia Luria won the Silver Medallion award from Readers Favourites. The audiobook version of Compendium will be coming out in just a few short weeks. I’m extremely proud to be a part of both of these book projects and was so excited to narrate them. I’m glad to see them get the recognition they deserve.

See you in a week!