Here’s a tip for non-actors:
If you’ve got a friend who is in the performing arts and you know they’re going to an audition…don’t ask them about how it went afterwards. Especially, a week or so later, do NOT say “By the way, how did that audition turn out last week?”
Because – and you must trust me on this – if you heard about the audition? You would have heard about the resulting booking, had it occurred. Actors don’t keep their light under a bushel. They set their bushels on fire and dance around yelling “Look at my flaming bushel!!”
When nothing happens, we shut up about it. When something happens…we think that folks on freakin’ Mars should be made aware.
So, now that the old clock on the wall is telling me that my time here on the West Coast is drawing to a close, it has come time for me to report, before I hit the road back to snowy Chicago next week, how things have progressed out here.
And as you’ve likely guessed by now, had I landed a TV or film role, you would have heard about it the moment it happened. I would have gleefully posted about it here on this page and asked you to marvel at my blazing red bushel long before now. (Phrasing?)
But the deconstruction of that part of the business- the film and TV side- will have to wait for the next posting, however. In this one, I would like to deal with the one, great, positive professional accomplishment I was able to make while out here in L.A. and that is:
A bit of history: As people who follow this blog religiously (yes, both of you) know: I began recording audiobooks full-time back in March.
Since then, both here and back home in Chicago over the summer, I managed to complete over forty books, most of which were Royalty Share contracts. Felt pretty good about how that worked out, too.
Since arriving back in Los Angeles in August, however, and setting up my own blanket-fort studio, I’ve since laid down an additional seventy books and, apparently, I am showing no signs of stopping.
I have at least three producers who automatically book me whenever they have a new project and one of them is actually paying me by the hour for a series of public domain books that I’ve been recording and loading up for the past month or so. (If you’ve been waiting your whole life to hear me read Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” out loud to you…your long wait is finally over.)
So let me get out my calculator…let’s see….that’s about…a hundred and fifteen audiobooks since March. Over 4,500 in total book sales (which is about double what I’d been hoping for). The result? I’m also making twice what I had budgeted to make through Royalty Share at ACX while I was out here.
The problem? It still isn’t quite enough to keep my head above water. I check my sales on ACX every morning and either celebrate or shake my fist at the sky, but the combination of the inconsistency and the lack of a single, truly high-volume selling book has meant that I rely more and more on the hourly work.
And that, my friends, is brutal.
Seriously, whenever anyone asks me how to get started in the audiobook business, the first thing I say to them is: “Try this: Get a flashlight, a stopwatch and a novel. Take all three and go lock yourself in a closet. Start the stopwatch and start reading the book out loud to yourself. If you can make it to a half an hour without wanting to fashion a rope out of your clothes and hang yourself…you’re in the club.”
Because no kidding- it is really, really tough work. When I’m getting an hourly fee, I do my level best to stay in the Fort as long as possible but, no matter the financial reward…I find it virtually impossible to turn out more than two hours of finished product in a single day.
Sounds crazy, right? Two hours a day of work? How hard can it be? Well…if your job was to be tortured on the rack or to listen to Donald Trump speak in public without cessation…two hours can seem like an eternity, actually.
I’ll be in Ft. Raphael, reading and reading and talking and talking and think “Well, that has to be at least a half an hour.” And then I look at the clock, see that I’ve been talking for about ten minutes…and life loses all meaning.
Then there are the times when your mouth just decides to quit on you. That’s fun. You’re going along, cruising through the story, bringing the text magically to life…and then suddenly you start sounding like Truman Capote after a stroke. And no matter what you do to will yourself into speaking clearly…your mouth has just checked out and taken your tongue with it. Nothing to do but take a break and find your bearings.
By the way, that’s not to mention the time you need to put in after the recording itself. The editing, processing and digital upload of the finished files. That can sometimes take almost as long as the recording itself (especially if I’m not at my sparkling, letter-perfect best while in the booth).
And then there’s the music that I add to the introduction, the conclusion and the retail sample. (To be clear, you do not have to include music in the finished product, but I always do it because my clients seem to appreciate it and I think that it helps with book sales. Plus I can’t help myself.)
So….two hours a day? Believe it or not: That’s a full day’s work in the audiobook world.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If there has been one big disappointment in my work recording books, it has been the failure of my theory that the more books I completed, the bigger my sales would be- overall- as a direct result.
The theory was: If one book sold at the rate of x, then four books would sell at the rate of 4x. And if that was true, then forty books would naturally sell at 40x and…riches would naturally follow.
Turns out, not so much. Because, sometimes…one book doesn’t sell doodley squat. And the one after that will sell fifty copies. The next? Nothing. Then…BOOM! Three hundred copies. It is impossible to predict what one or another book will do, sales-wise, once it is released.
And it had almost nothing to do with quality. Some of the best stuff I recorded sold just north of bupkis and some of the others….some honest to goodness digital horse manure…sold hundreds of copies. I actually pitied some of the people who were subjected to some of these recordings and truly wish I could arrange to refund their money. (Though I will, naturally, be holding on to my cut.)
But at the end of the day, this has become my new full-time occupation. (Though the downside of that will also be discussed in the next posting.) I’m proud to say that there have only been two days- only two– since I arrived in L.A. that I haven’t had a recording of some kind or other that I needed to work on.
That’s almost every day. For five months. Could be worse.
However, as my father would be the first to point out: That is all work I could have done back in Chicago. I certainly didn’t need to drive out here and build Ft. Raphael to record all those books. I could have done them all back at…um…at….damn. I really need to name my home studio, don’t I?
Still, I cannot say that if I had stayed in Chicago whether or not any of this would have occurred. If the books that finally got me the hourly gig (projects which are currently paying my bills) would ever have occurred. If the audiobook producers now showing interest in my work would have been less impressed with only fifty or sixty completed projects compared to the 100+ that I currently have on my resume.
Who knows? All I know for sure is that I’ve got a huge catalog of titles now that will be generating (to lesser and greater degrees, of course) royalties for me for the next seven years.
And, of course, I’ve got one additional future occupation all lined up:
Going back to Chicago and teaching a class on how other actors can learn how to do this sort of thing for themselves.
Here’s to the New Year, eh?