ACX audiobooks: They're your words
ACX is a great service. It matches up actors and writers to produce audiobooks together. Its best feature for indies like me is that it allows royalty share; the actor can agree to share 50% of the royalties for the audiobook instead of an up-front per-hour payment. ACX handles the split for you.
Here's how ACX works:
When you find the actor you want and s/he submits an audition you like, you send him/her an offer with deadlines for when you want the first 15 minutes and when you want the entire audiobook finished. The offer is accepted, and you wait for the first 15. When you get that, you're supposed to give feedback to the actor if you're not quite happy--wrong tone, character voice needs to be higher, pronunciation of a name is off (though I try to give those right off the bat), and so on--or tell the actor everything's awesome and he can get on to the rest of the audiobook. When the final audiobook is submitted, the same thing is supposed to happen. Some actors will even send you unofficial off-ACX chunks so you can give feedback as needed, or they'll at least ask questions.
The voice actor I approached for "The Mage's Toy" will go unnamed. He has a great voice and his samples showed great talent. I thought he would be perfect for it, I approached him, he submitted an audition. I gave him some feedback on it--not so serious, it's a light-hearted romp, here are the correct pronunciations--and offered him the production contract. He accepted. I was really excited.
A few weeks later (weeks in which I had not heard from him, which was totally fine and expected), I realized the front of the story is really info-dumpy. I wrote and asked him if he'd started yet, and if not to hold off, please, so I could make some quick revisions--less than a day's work. I got back a snippy reply that HE'D ALREADY RECORDED THE ENTIRE THING, that he had other projects to get to, and that I shouldn't submit projects to ACX unless they were finished. It was finished, it just could have been a little better. I was willing to live with what I'd done; I'm not George Lucas, generally speaking. I made that clear, and said carry on, sorry for the trouble.
That he'd recorded the whole thing should have been my warning.
Last night (a few weeks after that conversation) I got the first 15, and the tone had not changed in the least; he hadn't taken my audition feedback into consideration at all. It was really serious, really REALLY serious. If you've read The Mage's Toy, you know it's nonsense for the most part. Yes, the heroine is escaping a near-rape at the beginning, but from there on out it's very fun and light and hopefully sexy. And he'd put the entire thing in the can, with no further feedback from me and ignoring the feedback I'd already given; if that were the tone he maintained throughout, and I can only assume it was, he'd have to re-record the entire thing.
At first I felt really bad about it. He'd done all the work already, for free even. I should just accept it, sigh that it wasn't the way I wanted it, and move on to the next project. I was afraid he'd be angry, and basically I'm a coward. Then one of my twitter friends said, these are your words.
As the night wore on, I kept thinking about that: they're my words. I deserve to have them at least close to the way they were intended. So I wrote a respectful note back saying that I appreciated his work, his voice was great, and the tone was wrong. It was far too serious.
He sent back a really angry letter, said he'd done all this work for free and obviously he wasn't the right guy for the project (he was right on that point apparently). And then he quit. "Lesson learned." Yeah, he learned a lesson but it wasn't the right one. The lesson wasn't "Don't work on royalty share," the lesson was "Don't record the whole damn thing without giving the author a chance for feedback."
They're my words. I don't have the right to nitpick an actor to death, especially on royalty share, but I do have the right to give reasonable feedback and at least have it discussed if not respected. I'm glad now he quit; he didn't respect me enough to work with me as a team. (And now I get to revise the beginning a little.)
The whole experience made me so grateful for Nicole Quinn, the actress who recorded Dalston Junction, that I sent her a thank-you note. I'm currently working with another actress on "The Amber Cross," and so far she's been just as professional. In fact, she sent me a snippet to get my opinion on character voices and tone last week--just as she should, if she wanted to avoid having to record the entire novella over again. If "The Amber Cross" turns out as well as I think it's going to (and I think it's going to be terrific), I'm going to offer the same actress "The Mage's Toy."
Actor and writer are a professional team. Each has the right to expect the other to behave like it. If you're going to take your book to ACX, make sure you give respectful, appropriate feedback--and then make sure your actor's listening. It'll save you both time.