Monday, June 4, 2012

The Pink Chair: Ways to "Back Burner" Yourself as a Narrator

You're good, in fact you may be very good; but for some reason the number of calls for work has been dropping. Chances are, it's because, really and truly, you aren't right for the books that we have on hand. Gone are the days when we had shelves of books to mete out to narrators who needed work. Gone are the days of indiscriminately or blindly casting a book. The fall-out has simply been too expensive. But you're looking at the catalog and saying, "I would be perfect for that book! What aren't I getting the call?" Here may be a few reasons as to why:

You are not paying attention: Every week, I get e-mails from narrators who recommend themselves for a list of books and, every week I send out explanations as to why they are not getting the call: because the book already as an narrator attached, or; they really, truly are not right for the book. Admittedly, on the company's web-site, the narrator may be listed as "To Be Announced;" but the company's priority is to list the book first and the narrator later. If it's a series, chances are the narrator who read the previous titles, will read the next one. Also, reading the book's description, though sometime seemingly vague, will let you know if you are the right voice for the African-American Kentuckian vampire slayer who has fallen in love with the Amish boy. Or not. Chances are, if you're an older British male narrator, not. Still, the self-recommended requests roll in and the hit rate is proportionately small and now you think, "They never call me." It should be noted that, the highest rate of success for a narrator who wants to narrate a particular book is the narrator who asks for that particular book; not a scatter shot selection.

You don't do your homework: Turnaround times between the publishing houses' editorial staffs and the audiobook publishers is often very tight. Whenever possible, we will send out a preliminary so that the narrator can get an idea of the language and style of the book before the final arrives. If, on our end, skimming the book, we think that it needs to have research done, we send it out for research; but it is up to the narrator to let us know if there is a list of terms that we may have overlooked but that s/he needs to have looked-up before s/he will or can begin narrating the book. If the narrator waits until the last minute though, s/he has just caused production delay$ :-(
Also, there are still narrators out there who don't pre-read their scripts and who think they are getting away with it. You're not. Our casting director himself has been a narrator for at least three decades; I've been critically listening to them for at least two; and we have an insanely deep and experienced proofing department. We know.

You are careless in your reading: You're counting on that same insanely deep and experienced proofing department to catch all your misreads and mispronunciations. Or maybe other companies don't have as careful a proofing department so you think that a verbatim read doesn't matter. But it does, now more than ever as new technologies are being developed that bear a more unforgiving light on mis-reads and mis-pronunciations; and too there is as an ever more discerning ear amongst the public. The more time the proofing and post-engineering departments have to spend on your work, the more expensive you become. All of the sudden, you find yourself narrating fewer new titles, and mostly just series to which you've been attached.

You can't or won't upgrade your home studio: As the famous American, Johnny Heller once said [something to the effect of], "The home narrating trend has made all us narrators suspect engineers." True! And yet, we have a studio director and engineers standing by to help you, at no charge. Grover Gardner has handed out a home narrator's set-up guide for years to all and sundry. And I've personally witnessed engineers go to lengths way above and beyond the call of duty to help home narrators out. And yet, there are narrators who have remained stubborn, insisting that whatever is good enough for [insert another audiobook publisher's name here], should be good enough for us. Um, no. Again, new technologies are emerging that require better overall sound quality than even five years ago. The days of thinking that car noise will mask the flaws of an inferior recording or, that the post-engineers have a magic "de-crapping" plug-in are simply... wrong.  Later, in The Pink Chair series, we will talk a little about post-processing, so if you've got you're hackles up about what "they did to my recording," relax, we'll get to it.

You are late: Deadlines are very serious business nowadays, whether it is for a simultaneous release or a backlist. For every day that a recording is late for a simultaneous release, the best "Golden Hour" monies are lost. In the publishing world, new releases are published on Tuesdays. Everybody wants the new title on the date of release. By next Tuesday, consumers want the new New Releases, so for every day beyond the date of release of the print book that the audio edition is not available, the demand decreases and perforce revenue. For both simultaneous releases and backlists, there are promotions put in place: Sometime it's a matter of placing a title in a catalog (which is the product of hundreds of man-hours), sometimes it's about library pre-orders and, sometime it's a cross-promotion with If the book is late, if all or most of your books are late, you are causing the audiobook publisher massive headaches and costing them beaucoup dollars.

You don't deliver and you don't communicate: There have been a couple of narrators who have gone A.W.O.L. We send them a book. We hear nothing. We send e-mails expressing concern. Nothing. We make phone calls, only to be screened by voice-mail, and still nothing. Clearly, you have a lot of things going on in your life and you've made some choices - prioritized things as it were and, somehow, we have come out on the short end of the stick. Um, not great, but it is the not-telling-us -about-it that will piss us off more than anything else. And before you know it, you're not hearing from us anymore either. And when you decide that you want to re-start the relationship, it's pretty damaged. Sour milk doesn't get fresh after cooling.

You have too much drama going in your life: I'm not taking about actors who take on roles - that's par for the course. What I am talking about are the narrator's whose personal and emotional lives have manifested themselves into a state of constant crises and upheavals. The narrator can't help it, s/he brings the drama into the booth and everybody is put through an emotional wringer. Or, even worse, the narrator needs to take some time to go take care of business. It becomes a very hit-or-miss proposition as to whether the narrator will be in any shape to actually work. Yes, I know, shit happens, but when you become a magnet for trouble, we'll give you wide berth. Helpful hint for other audiobook professionals who have a Drama King/Queen in their midst: Never ever ask how they are doing. They will tell you :-/

You don't take care of yourself: As a narrator, your voice is your most important asset. If you are chronically ill with colds, allergies, laryngitis, strep throat, throat cancer, etc. you're going to get iced. It makes sense, yes? And yet, the are an unusual number of narrators who try and get away with it.

You don't follow instructions: This, oddly enough, comes from mostly veteran narrators who have been doing things a certain way for so long, they don't know any other way. You would think that they would have learned that to be flexible and capacious was the key to the social Darwinism in play in the audiobook industry; but they remain stubborn in their ways. One of the more blatant examples of this would be contacting the author directly even when we've told you not to! There are many situations now in which narrator-author contact needs to be pre-approved. When the author, agent and/or the publisher asks that contact with the author be limited, or prohibited, it is not cool to take to take it upon yourself to contact the author anyway, relying on your charm and experience. This backfires more often than you would think and really smacks just short of hubris and a lack of respect for the studio director. (See The Pink Chair; Contacting the Author.)

You took bad advice: You were doing great, but now you've attended some sort of workshop and you think you've made huge strides forward in your style; but something's gone awry. This is usually a voice-over workshop as opposed to a narrator workshop; and we can only hope that you will "Stop it" because now you've gone back to square one and think it's all abut your voice and how nice it sounds. It's a very narcissistic sound, superficial and slick; and great for telling me about the Memorial Day car sales being extended an extra week-end; but not so great for telling stories.

You have hidden costs: You told us you have a home studio; but not really. FYI: Having access to a studio is not the same as having a home studio. Accounting gets hit with unexpected invoices from studios, outside engineers etc. and the cost of hiring you just went through the roof. Or maybe you were happy to get work from us and "forgot" to tell us you were AFTRA-SAG and you need to be paid through TEAM. There have been narrators who have given themselves a raise by bumping up the numbers on their invoices without having discussed this first with the studio director. Um, you really need to tell us how much you really cost. When the production costs double, treble or even quadruple because of hidden costs, we feel conned. Get me once, shame on you. And there it ends.

You backed us into a corner: You're attached to a series. You think that you can't possibly be replaced. You demand more money. You're effectively blackmailing us. Guess what? No one is indispensable (See The Pink Chair: Changing Horses Mid-Stream.) Another neat maneuver is to ask for advances on your next book, holding up corrections on the current book until the advance comes in. Just to let you know, there is a point at which a company will cut their losses and say "Later, alligator!" If you think Advance Extortion is very clever and that you might like to try it, please be aware that our company no longer makes advances because some narrators abused the policy and ruined it for everyone.

You are an asshole: Yep, no one likes working with you. Maybe you're a male chauvinist pig. Maybe you're a boor. Maybe you're just downright mean. Whatever contact you have with anybody in the company, it seems to always result in walls being thrown up in your face and feelings of animosity. Chances are, you'll be hired to work at home or remotely, but everyone is glad to have as little contact with you as possible. Why do they call you at all? Because, for right now, they have to; but don't think that they aren't looking for alternatives.

Social Faux Pas: Maybe you said something incredibly inappropriate that was overheard at The Audies or in an interview;  or maybe you posted something on Facebook that was downright mean; or maybe you over estimated your sobriety and propositioned the wrong person at a mixer. It's funny how when you slam somebody's religion, politics, sexual orientation or generosity or; pawed at somebody's significant other without pawee's consent, how that can come back to haunt you :-/

So how do you know if you've really been "back burnered" or if things are a bit slow? Ask. I don't know how honest other audiobook publishers are; but I'll tell you because very simply, I don't believe in killing with kindness and I think people are much less sensitive to the truth than we give them credit for. Please don't get me wrong. We're not looking for ways to "back-burner" our narrators - in fact, far from it. We try to be understanding and work through whatever it is that may be an issue. I like to consider many narrators as my friends. And maybe that's my problem as I expect them to behave in kind and, when they don't, my feelings are hurt. Whatever, I know that the audiobook publishers aren't perfect friends either.

If you're a narrator and there are reasons you would back-burner an audiobook company, please feel free to comment below or; you can e-mail me at I will treat all e-mails confidentially and reply to them in a future Pink Chair post as anonymously delivered unless you tell me otherwise. If you are not a narrator, you can still leave comments and/or e-mail me :-)


  1. Thank you for writing this! Very valuable information. As a fledgling narrator who is really just starting to find my way in the business information like this is invaluable. I try not to pester you guys too much, but I do comb the catalog for items that appear unassigned and i do ask about things that I feel like I can handle. You are always very succinct and gracious in your replies, but I apologize if I have wasted your time by asking. It's a fine line. I need/want work but I don't want to alienate myself by being difficult to work with. I would never dream of being inapporpriate to anyone helping me sound great and working hard on the books I am fortune enough to narrate. I consider it a priveledge to work with you and your team at Blackstone.

    PS....about those unassigned books......

    1. No, silly girl, this isn't about annoying me or any need to apologize on your part! It's about a narrator's perception of not being called for books and wondering why! In the section, "You're Not Paying Attention" it's really about vetting the titles as to what may be truly appropriate and then playing the percentages. The narrator who simply asks to be considered for any books that don't have a narrator assigned to them hasn't really distinguished themselves from general consideration and is, in effect, no better off than before they sent the e-mail. The narrator who asks for as particular title, who distinguishes him- or herself from the pack, is more likely to get that title. NO,it's not a guarantee; but it does improve the odds.

  2. You make the sordid world of the audiobook narrator fascinating. I would totally watch this TV show, although living it must not always be fun.

    One thing I can say for Blackstone, is I rarely if ever encounter a flawed narration. I don't always love them, but poor pronunciation or strange inflections rarely come.

    Of course, there was once that time where Stefan Rudnicki laughed that missed the editing process. :?

    1. AAAARGH! OK, which book was it? We will fix it.

  3. Thanks for sharing this invaluable info, Tanya. We all need to be reminded of how our ignorance can cause problems! (Hey, I only rocked the boat that ONE time by contacting that author!!)
    p.s. is there a way I can get your posts emailed to me? I can't seem to find that.

    1. LOL, you were NOT the narrator I had in mind when I wrote that section, "You don't follow instructions!" but I do find it kinda funny how the responses, especially from the looks of things in my e-mail, seemed to have hit nerve with many narrators!

      Anyway, I'l see what I can do about e-mail subscriptions. It's a common feature with many wordpress blogs; but I'll have do a little digging this week-end to see what's available for blogger :-)

  4. Wow. What an insightful collection of do's and don'ts. Nicely done. Thanks for sharing your perspectives on the "back burner" issue. Will be visiting your blog more often.