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

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!

Audiobook Month and More!

Eek. It really has been far too long since I last posted. Mostly for good reason. I’ve been very busy with audiobooks these past few months. In fact I’m in the middle of juggling three and possibly a fourth audiobook project, although two are almost ready for retail.

Alas, I did not make it to APAC this year, but that was a very slim possibility. I will say I feel pretty good about being able to attend APAC next year. Which will be in Chicago, another place I’ve never been to, and will give me the opportunity to meet up with an author friend of mine. Bonus!

I’ve also been very busy with video game work. I’ve recorded more voices for Infinifactory, a game by Zachtronics. I voiced four characters and they are all quite different. I also got to voice one of two playable characters for a couple of other titles. One was for Heroes of Newerth in which I played Riptide. The second is for a zombie DLC which is still awaiting release.

They were a lot of fun. I got to channel my inner badass as well as practice my exertions. Exertions, for those not involved in video games, are the grunts, heavy breathing and death cries that you usually hear in games.

Alas, these past few months has left me little time to market. So no Dragon Age: Inquisition yet! The good news is that with all this video game work I have a lot of new samples to add to my demo, which is exciting. I feel like I now have a pretty good range with alien military leaders, fighters, hysterical women, snooty women, villainesses and a whole range of exertion noises to really take my demo and marketing materials to the next level.

Finally, before I forget, June is audiobook month. So in honour of audiobook month, here’s a sample from Aranya by Marc Secchia.

One Month In…

I thought I’d do an update after my first month of marketing. Well, the truth is the first couple of weeks of the month I was doing really well with my marketing goals. Then around mid January, I wasn’t able to meet nearly as many of my goals. What happened? Two things actually. First I got a puppy which has taken a lot more of my time and brain power. I have puppy-parent-brain. The second thing is that I got very busy with audiobooks.

I’m getting read to record back-to-back audiobooks that will keep me busy for the new few months, as well as a few possible other VO projects. So clearly for the new couple of months, I need to adjust my goals to fit my new schedule. Usually when an audiobook comes up, I am very busy with it, so this time I’ll need to make some time for marketing that I have to treat as hallowed.

I did not get two new clients, although I do have at least one who sounds very interested. It usually takes several interactions with a client before they remember you and think to hire you, so this doesn’t surprise me. I did just book a nice job based on some marketing from a few months back, so that tells me that this does work.

Alas, no Dragon Age: Inquisition reward for me. Yet. That’s okay. I’m still poring through Dragon Age: Origins. I did treat myself to a book I’d been wanting to get, because I did a lot of marketing this month, and I’m rewarding the effort.

I emailed 24 new prospects. I followed up with 65 other prospects. Follow up has always been my big hang up, so this is a big deal for me. I added 130 new names to my mailing list. I have my elevator pitch in order, and I bought new business cards which I’ve been needing to do ever since I redesigned the site in November. And I’ve been blogging on here. So all in all not too bad.

Next time I’m going to focus more on contacting new prospects and following up, since I’ve got plenty of new names to contact. I also want to create at least one youtube video, since that makes a great piece of advertising.

Here’s to another month of marketing madness!

Preparing for an Audiobook Audition

This past weekend I auditioned for an audiobook on ACX only to discover the author was taking her favourite auditions and posting them on her Facebook page for fans to vote on. She took it down later that day but I was not happy about the situation.

I’d heard of this sort of thing happening. I know some narrators who even include verbiage specifically asking that their auditions remain private.

I could go on about how this might actually be breaking the terms of the ACX contract. How SAG-AFTRA has specifically deemed auditions as private, not public performances. Or how some narrators use a pseudonym and this is a violation of privacy. Instead I thought I would talk about the audition prep I normally go through for a book.

when I find a book I might be suited for, the first thing I do (if it is royalty share) is check the sales ranking and how long the book has been out. If it seems as though I can make my money back on the project, I will take a closer look at the book.

Is the cover professionally done, or does it look cheaply slapped together? I personally try not to judge a book by its cover, but a cover can be indicative of the quality of the writing and how much work the author is willing to put into promoting it. I check to see what the reviews have to say. Sometimes I will even check what kind of promoting the author has done already.

Finally, I spend a few minutes reading the preview pages on Amazon. This will tell me if I like the writing and if I really do think I’m a good fit for the book. It also might give me some insight into characters that can’t be found in the audition script.

Assuming all of that checks out, I will then download the audition script and read it through aloud. Again, I’m checking to see if this is a good fit for my voice. What can I bring to the performance? If there’s pronunciation I have to research, I’ll go ahead do that before recording.

And that’s about it. Then I record the audition. I don’t worry too much about characterisation unless the author has given specific notes about it, or if I already have a clear image of the character. Mostly my performance is broad strokes. I haven’t read the whole book. I may not even fully understand what is going on in the scene. All I can do is analyse the text and make the best choices based on what’s in front of me. To me an audition is 90% about my voice. If my voice doesn’t sound right, the author will know right away and discard it. If I can get past those first few seconds, I can showcase my range.

Once the audition is recorded, I listen through for mistakes and record pick-ups if needed. I then finish cleaning up the audio and I master it so the author knows what to expect of my finished sound. Next I upload to ACX and write a quick cover letter. It takes me about 45 minutes to do this one audition.

So as you can see, despite the work involved the audition is still very rough. I’ve never read the book. I can’t gauge how characters should speak. All I’m doing is making educated guesses. Which brings me back to those (thankfully) rare authors who see no problem in publicly displaying auditions. An audition is just that: an audition. Not a finished performance. It’s a job interview. It’s not meant for the public domain, and when an author places it in the public domain, that narrator’s name and reputation is suddenly being judged by one Unfinished performance.

Not cool.


Found this clip of Benedict Cumberbatch who narrated a project on penguins only to realise he had been mispronouncing it. Yes! I’m not the only one! This is just hilarious to me as there are certainly words I’ve learned I’ve mispronounced all my life such as “crescendo” In my defence, it’s one of those words you usually never hear spoken out loud.

Let Go

One week into the new marketing campaign and it’s going really well. I’ve already got one video game company who is very interested in using me. Ironically, I’d contacted them previously and the email address hadn’t worked. I guess this is where persistence pays off. I did really well getting most of my tasks completed over the first few days, although less so the last couple of days due to errands. So clearly I need to work on my home/work priorities a bit more.

I confess also that I played hookey on Monday and went indoor skydiving. It was a Christmas present from my husband. I was totally nervous about this new adventure. I wasn’t afraid I would get hurt or anything like that. I’ve been parasailing, hot air ballooning and scuba diving before, so it’s not too adventurous for me. Mostly, I worried about my body’s tendency to fight for control (which it does when I scuba dive). I hated the idea of being watched while my body is flailing about trying to get stable.

So how’d it turn out? Great! I was too busy focusing on the instructor to worry about anybody else, and rather than fight for control, I just let myself ride the wind (blasting in at 93mph!) until the instructor told me to make adjustments. Ultimately, I let myself relax. To think I stressed so much about it beforehand!

I think learning to relax and focus on the job at hand is a skill we all have to learn, especially as performers. Going on stage scares the bageebus out of most people. Theoretically, it scares me too. Before I get up on stage I worry about flubbing a line or missing a cue. But when I’m up there, I don’t have the time to think about that. I don’t even think about the audience, although I might be somewhat aware of whether or not we got the laugh we intended. On stage, I let go of those worries. I ride the wave, stay in the moment and go with the flow of the performance.

Those not in voice over might find this strange, but there is plenty of nerves with speaking into a mic. And you can hear it too. I don’t know about other VO peeps, but my nerves are exacerbated when I don’t have someone there directing me. I start over-analysing every nuance of every word I speak. Perhaps I just don’t like wasting other people’s time but I absolutely perform better with an audience. When it just me and the mic, it’s only my time I’m wasting.

Lately though, I’m changing. I’m starting to go with the flow more, ride that gust of wind, be more intuitive, especially with auditions. Chances are, 90% of what they’re looking for is whether my voice sounds right for the job. So why worry so much? Over-analysing. Recording take after take. Is your tenth take really going to be that much better?

I’ve heard from a friend who studied with Marice Tobias that she recommends not recording with cans and I think I might start trying that. It would take some getting used to, but maybe, just maybe, if I can get past the over-analysing, I can let go, stay in the moment where the performance exists and ride the wind. It’s worth a shot, anyway!

A New Year, A New Marketing Plan

marketing plan
My schedule has been fairly light lately with the holidays, so it’s been a good time to think about what I want to accomplish in the coming year, and how I plan to go about doing that. This past year has been fantastic. I started the year hoping to start working in audiobooks, and now have narrated eight of them. I picked up work for some big name clients such as Philips and Electrolux. I also got to do a bunch of fun video games. But with all that I’ve done, there’s still so much more that I would like to be doing, and on the top of that list is marketing.

I am not great with marketing. I hate selling things to people, and I hate people selling things to me. Perhaps that’s why I suck at marketing. I’m very good at doing the research. Finding the right companies and making contact. I have a pretty good response rate. But staying in contact? Not so much.

I’ve been thinking hard about what my problem is, and there’s a few things going on here. First, I honestly have been busy with work. I did eight audiobooks, and they all take a lot of time. Pretty much from March to October (which was my last audiobook) I did very little marketing because I was so busy with the work. So obviously I need to work on scheduling some marketing time, while juggling work and auditions. The other thing that’s holding me back is the selling. While I usually ask if it’s okay to touch base every now and again, I always feel as though I’m being pushy. The trouble is it can take several attempts to get your name in front of a client before they know who you are and will book you. Which means it requires a certain amount of pushiness. But how much? If I contact you in a month? Is that too long? Three months? six months? That’s all the things I need to figure out, besides also figuring out what types of marketing works well for me.

To get a better handle on the marketing thing I took advice from narrator Karen Commins and checked out the book Get Clients Now! By C.J. Hayden. I’m like what I’ve read so far. It’s told me basically what I’ve been already sensing. That my problem isn’t so much finding potential clients as following up with them.

Get Clients Now talks about a 28-day program in which you complete marketing actions on a daily and/or weekly basis. I’ll be honest, if I get caught up with an audiobook, I’m not sure how much marketing I will get to. Nevertheless I have begun completing my GCN action worksheet in earnest.

My goal: to get a meagre two new clients during those 28 days. It’s pretty small, but I think manageable. My reward: Dragon Age Inquisition, which I’ve been holding off from buying while I re-play Dragon Age: Origins. I also like the idea that Hayden suggests rewarding effort. So even if I don’t get those two clients, I’ll still reward myself with something, and, most importantly, be able to learn and refine my marketing plan.

As for the rest of my business plan for the year: Revamp my narration demo, to include all the new work I’ve accrued. Get some more coaching, particularly in video games, since I’d like to do a lot more of that. Sort out some of the boring paperwork side, so I’m less rushed around tax-time. Attend a VO conference. Make a trip out to New York for APAC. That last one is more hope, than part of the plan, but we’ll see how things are going in the first quarter.

What does your business plan for the year include?

Seasons Greetings

Sorry for not posting in a while. Was out of town for a bit, and since I’ve been back, I’ve been working on various small projects, including a couple of upcoming video games. I’m also working on a new marketing plan for the new year, which I will probably discuss in a later blog post. But in the meantime, here’s a little something to get you in the holiday spirit!