I did it! A year’s worth of study with the Ginger Yoda of Nonfiction Narration, Sean Pratt, with a snazzy certificate to show off to all who venture into my studio space or click around on Facebook. Let’s face it, though… it’s about far more than the certificate, as shiny as it is. This is all about learning and growing as a narrator, both behind the microphone and away from the studio.
It’s been a little more than eighteen months since I left the world of higher education to fully devote my time to audiobook narration. And, within a few months, I realized that I needed more guidance as both a narrator and as a small business owner. Among my first priorities was setting up a consulting session with Jeffrey Kafer, who runs audiobookmentor.com and is one of the best in the business when it comes to, well, the audiobook business. Out of that consulting session came a whole lot of valuable advice about the nuts and bolts of narration, including the absolute necessity of finding and working with a coach.
Here’s the not-so-secret secret: anyone who tells you that they don’t need to work with a coach to improve their craft is either lying or grossly misinformed. Consider individuals in a variety of careers, and the need for constant learning and guidance. Plenty of professionals engage in continuing education, mentorship, or additional certification to improve or add to their skillsets. Athletes work with trainers on a regular basis to maintain their level of performance. Audiobook narration is no different, especially for someone like me with minimal theatre or acting experience. Finding and working with a coach is an absolute must if you want to learn and grow in this field.
Want to be a professional? Act like a professional, and find a coach.
Luckily, there are a lot of different people out there who have experience with the industry paired with the temperament and skills necessary to give guidance and constructive feedback to narrators at all levels. There are also people who lack the credentials and expertise but who are happy to take your money to tell you what you want to hear. Make sure that you research any narration coach and get referrals before committing to a session or course. Talk to people and check websites, titles narrated, and resumes. Ask for names of other students to see what they say about their experiences. Get as much information as you can before you make a decision about the next step in your narration career.
One of the main reasons I sought Sean as a coach was his reputation as a narrator and a coach. With nearly 1,000 audiobooks to his name (at the time of this blog post!) he’s clearly got the time in the booth and behind the mic. Audies and Earphone Awards aren’t too shabby, and he’s got more than a few of those to his name. There’s even a featured article in the December issue of Audiofile. A chorus of happy and successful students are another great indicator of a coach worth considering. For someone like me who can’t get to New York or Los Angeles for an in-person training, the ability to do sessions via Skype is a necessity, and plenty of coaches offer that as an option.
What’s most important, even with all of those other factors to be considered, is the fit between student and coach. How do the personalities match up? Can you work with this person? Do you feel comfortable receiving guidance and instruction from this person? Do your communication styles mesh? Do you share the same expectations for your coaching sessions? And… how do you figure all that out with a relative stranger?
The short answer is to interview your potential coach. This was pretty easy with Sean, as we spoke before our first official coaching session to address those issues. When I went to APAC (the Audiobook Publishers Association Conference) last May, I had only a few goals: meet new people, learn about the industry, and talk with prospective coaches. You can learn a lot in a short informal conversation, and even more if you attend panels and workshops. From that week, I came up with a list of six or seven additional coaches, based upon my areas of growth and our interactions. I also talked to people and said that I was looking for potential coaches. Those conversations turned into additional introductions, and I’d have a few more names to add to my list. When you’re looking for a coach, see what books they’ve done, and ask about others who have worked with them. You’re investing time and money into this partnership, so do your research!
Now, I’ve finished my yearlong study with Sean, and I’ve earned my certificate. My narrator business sense has improved alongside my narration skills, and I’ve got a “marathon” mindset when it comes to a career in audiobooks. That doesn’t mean that I’m done with coaching, though. This is an exercise in continuous growth and improvement. I’ll work on my own for a while, then schedule some coaching time to work on another aspect of audiobook narration. Maybe it’s character development or accents, or maybe it’s a general study of fiction narration. The important part is that I plan to work with someone on a regular basis as a component of my professional development plan. It’s just smart business, y’know?
At the end of the year, many small business owners put together their wish lists and budgets for the coming year. Those lists could include new equipment, travel to conferences, software upgrades, or memberships to professional organizations. Add professional development activities to that budget, and put “work with an audiobook coach” on that list, especially if you’re in the beginnings of your career like I am. Find the right coach, put that session on your schedule, and be prepared to work. You won’t regret it.