2016 was a very good year. Of course, saying that something is good, or great, or even super-fantastical is clearly a subjective statement. So, you might ask, “Hey! What made this past year so darn good for you?” Well, thank you for asking.
Let’s first acknowledge that we all define success in different ways. Some folks have a financial benchmark they want to hit. Some simply count the “atta boys” they’ve received during the year. For others, it’s a measure of fame or social status, which these days could be determined by how many “Likes” they got on Facebook. Dear God.
By anyone’s standards, I’ve enjoyed some measure of success in the audiobook, eLearning, corporate narration, and commercial VO genres; however, I haven’t experienced wild success in any one genre. This made me think that maybe I’d be better off focusing solely on the one thing I enjoy doing more than anything else…audiobooks. After all, for me there is no greater pleasure than telling a story well enough that it touches a listener’s heart, causes them to ponder life or relationships, or even makes them uncomfortable because I’ve been able to bring some painful or awkward truth to the surface. So, I assessed the value of trying to achieve success in several genres all at the same time.
Think about it. Marketing requires focus and I was marketing to four different groups of voice seekers simultaneously. Holy hell, that’s time consuming and it was nearly impossible to do all of it well. It was like my talent was buckshot that I was firing out of a 12-gauge shotgun while hoping one of those little pellets would find its mark. I came to realize I wasn’t a very good shot. In other words, I finally figured out that it’s more productive to focus solely on what I love to do and do well. So, in 2016, I committed myself to honing my craft by training with the best audiobook coaches I could find.
I participated in several Audio Publishers Association webinars: Speaking of Genre, Booths in Space - Narrating Sci-Fi & Fantasy with Robert Fass and Scott Brick; Speaking of Genre, Get a Clue - Narrating Detective Stories and Police Procedurals with Robert Fass; and Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About How To Play Someone Not Just Like You with Vikas Adam, Robin Miles, Jorge Reyes, and Tavia Gilbert. If you’re not already a member of the APA, these webinars alone are worth the dues paid.
I worked with Sean Allen Pratt. He's an excellent coach who not only helped me dig deep into the spine of a story and focus on the author's truth, but also helped with with the social media side of the business too. If you get a chance to work with the "Ginger Ninja" it's time well spent. He has a workshop in Oklahoma City later this month and will be doing a workshop with Johnny Heller out in the Midwest later this year.
In April, I went to Johnny Heller’s Level Two Master Class Workshop in Washington, D.C. It was attended by many folks whom I admire as narrators and aspire to be as good as; folks like Bob Souer, Christopher Walker, and Anne Flosnick – who may still be recovering from injuries suffered by a mic boom hitting her squarely in the middle of the forehead and dropping her to the floor. Anne apparently has some sort of narrator superpower as she got right back up (albeit a bit dazed and confused) and read for us beautifully. She’s an amazing woman who probably wears a shirt with a big “S” underneath her sensible British outerwear.
Johnny, as always, was incredibly generous with his knowledge and, while you may find it difficult to believe, dropped that serious persona of his and made us all laugh while we learned. If you haven’t already and are given the chance, go to one of Johnny’s workshops. No matter what level you currently perform at, you will learn something worth the price of admission.
Johnny also spent that weekend with Joya and me down at the lake. It turns out he’s a fine and very polite houseguest who swore he enjoyed the rib-eye and the bourbon…and he made his bed. What more can you ask of a guest?
In May, I traveled to Chicago for the Audio Publishers Association Conference (APAC). APAC is a great place to reconnect with old friends, make new acquaintances, and introduce yourself to publishers with the hopes of getting hired. I did all of that and attended some excellent APA performance and business-track workshops. The day before APAC, I also went to The Johnny Heller 2nd Annual Splendiferous Workshop at Chicago’s East/West University. (Hmmm...there appears to be a trend developing here.)
Here’s the deal. Johnny put some of the best narrators and coaches in the country together all in the same room. We’re talking about PJ Ochlan, Amy Rubinate, Scott Brick, Paul Alan Ruben, Simon Vance, Andi Arndt, Jeff Kafer, Hillary Huber, and Tavia Gilbert. You’ve probably heard of these folks. I suspect that some narrators not in attendance may have been hoping for a nuclear holocaust in Chicago hoping to further their career through disaster and attrition. But, the folks in the room were inspired and enabled to simply become better actors and storytellers. We all learned a lot.
Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but in October I attended The New England Audiobook Narrator Retreat (aka Johnny Heller's Splendiferous Relax-a-thon) in Providence, RI. What a magical weekend. There were many excellent sessions and with only 30 attendees there was also an abundance of one-on-one time with Debra Deyan, Carol Monda, Tom Dheere, Peter Berkrot, Michelle Cobb, and Steven Jay Cohen, each of whom are among the industry’s most sought after narrators and coaches. Steven co-produced the event with Johnny and JoAnna Perrin and they put on an amazing conference that provided more transfer of knowledge than I have ever experienced.
It was here that I had a personal epiphany. It was like everything I knew about the industry were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that appeared to all be in the right places, but a few were misplaced. The Splendiferous sessions in RI helped me see that and then figure out how to put them all back in the right places. I came away with focus and with an understanding of the business and my place within it that I had not quite understood before. Simply put…clarity.
I suppose that could happen to anyone, anywhere, at any conference, at any given moment. But, it happened for me here. After several years of recording titles for ACX and Listen2aBook, these experiences changed the way I approach a manuscript. The way I read. The way I perform. I wish I could tell you exactly what it was that changed me. I honestly don’t know, but whatever happened here set me up for success.
Ahhh…but how do we measure success? Since I narrated my first audiobook in 2013, Scifi Motherlode by Robert Jeschonek, my goal has been to narrate for “the Big-5” publishing companies. I’m happy to say that I begin narrating my first book for Tantor Media in January 2017. By any measure, I consider that a first step to success.
There’s still a lot of hard work ahead if I hope to earn more titles in the future and I continue to train with Johnny Heller, Carol Monda, and Steven Jay Cohen. Each of them have become more than valued coaches and mentors. They (and the lovely Jo Anna Perrin) have also become my best friends and I owe much of the success on my journey to their friendship, guidance, advice, and love.