Jerks, A Text Message, & Hairy Lollipops in Voice Over

Brian Wiggins

Jerks, A Text Message, & Hairy Lollipops: How I Intentionally Stumbled into Growing My VO Business

The easiest thing I ever did to grow my voice over business was to nurture my current clients. The second easiest thing was to send a text message. The first has kept my voice over income steady, and even grown it a bit. The second nearly doubled my voice over income with one text message.

Keeping Clients Happy

One of my very first audiobook projects was Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall, the first novel in her Frith Chronicles series.  It was one of the first higher-paying projects I had the courage to audition for, and as it was a fantasy book, I had the opportunity to really cut loose on some character voices, something I (and I’m sure many people who get involved in voice over) love doing.

But! I had unknowingly mispronounced the main character’s name.

I ultimately landed the gig, but I can’t help but think where I would be now had Shami gone with the other voice actor who she shortlisted. 

Fast forward three years: I’ve been the narrator for all five books and a collection of short stories in that series, am in production for book six, am the narrator for her sci-fi series, and have started narrating her husband’s LitRPG books.  Needless to say, the Stovalls keep me busy.

I can’t say for sure, but had I simply narrated the first book and turned it in, and didn’t do anything else, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the other series. And authors change narrators within a series all the time, so there’s no guarantee that I would have been kept on after the first book. (After listening to those recordings…well, let’s just say it’s nice to be able to hear my progress.)

Whenever I get a new voice over project, if I’m allowed to share it (i.e. there’s not a NDA or it’s not an internal-only project), I do. I’ll tweet about it, I’ll post on Instagram, I’ll send a text message to my friends/family,  I’ll grab video clips of me narrating in the booth, I’ll share bloopers. (All with the client’s permission, of course.) 

In Shami’s case, we actually put on a virtual audiobook release party during the 2020 lockdown when Coliseum Arcanist launched after being stuck in ACX approval h**l for almost three months. I even put together some video vignettes about the production process and shared them everywhere I could. (I have a background in video production.) I’ll admit, this was going above and beyond, but as she’s been one of my best clients, I figured this was paying back the opportunities.

I also keep her, and any other clients, in the loop regarding the project’s progress.  Audiobooks take days, if not weeks, to record, and that can be a long time for radio silence.  Enough to maybe get an author’s anxiety engine running. There are too many horror stories about authors and voice actors both being on the hairy end of the bad deal lollipop, so their fears aren’t unfounded.

I look at it like this: when I’m dealing directly with an author, this is someone who’s likely putting their book out into the world without the support of a major publishing house, and yet they are paying me to speak their words and give their characters a voice. They are taking a chance that could cost them a couple thousand dollars in the end.

I know I need to be more than the guy who talks to himself in a small room. I need to be communicative with my clients so that they are assured their money is well-spent and they are not being ripped off. How’s the project going? When will I wrap up? How do you pronounce this character’s name? Did you have any voice traits in mind for a specific character?

It also costs me so very little in time and effort to say nice things on social media, and if it helps elevate the book’s profile even a little, gets one person to buy it, or just makes them feel good, why not do it? A rising tide floats all ships.

I strongly believe that this approach has kept several of my clients coming back over the years.

Text to success

In December 2019, I saw an Instagram post by GaryVee. He was telling a young entrepreneur to text everyone in his phone the following message: “I’m just starting this new business. Do you know of anyone who could use this service?” Gary emphasized that it wasn’t, “Do you have a need for my services”, it was, “Do you know anyone?”

It seemed simple enough, so I took a chance on this tactic. I waited until my first demo was done being produced (shameless plug: recorded it live at Edge Studio with Kevin Schormann on the board and James Andrews directing). Then I pulled the trigger and sent a text message to just about every person in my contacts on my phone that I had a number for: “I’m just getting started in voice over. Do you know anyone who might need that service?”

The majority of the texts went ignored. A few wrote back the cursory, “Sure, I’ll keep an eye out.” But one, an acquaintance from a previous job, Neen James, wrote me back. Yes, she did think she knew someone from when she narrated her own audiobook, “Attention Pays”, and would connect us.

Lo and behold, she connected me with the casting director at RecordedBooks.com, and even more amazingly, he and I had gone to middle school together many, many moons ago. I was even at his bar mitzvah. We hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in almost 30 years.

RecordedBooks projects, for the record, are nice paying gigs. They are a professional production house and pay their narrators accordingly. Between the Per Finished Hour rate, the lengths of the projects, and the consistency of the work, my annual voice over income from audiobooks nearly doubled.  And “making it” as a professional voice over, as in being able to pay the bills, was really within reach now after this connection.

All from one text message. (Thanks, Neen!)

Now, a quick caveat: none of this would have been possible if I was a jerk. My current clients wouldn’t be happy to work with me, regardless of my skill level, and the people I texted wouldn’t have given me the time of day if they didn’t like me just a little bit.

In other words: don’t be a jerk.

Also, these tactics wouldn’t have worked if I didn’t have the skills and knowledge to be a professional voice over actor, regardless of any “talent” I may have had. If I had continued on my original path of blindly groping about, hoping to stumble into opportunities and success (i.e. if I didn’t get proper training), these tactics would have fallen flat.