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Nothing lasts forever. 
The most unforeseen circumstances will swamp you 
and baffle the wisest calculations. 
Only vitality and plenty of it helps you. 


Washington Roebling's name may not be familiar to you. He's not in the voice-over industry. In fact, he has nothing to do with voice-over or entertainment. However, I recently read about him and his monumental accomplishment, and his quote applies to anyone pursuing a big dream, including a career in voice-over.

You see, Washington Roebling was an engineer -- not just any engineer, but the chief engineer behind the famous Brooklyn Bridge. I recently read David McCullough's fascinating and extremely well-researched novel The Great Bridge, which describes the people, risks, relationships, political environment, and long processes involved to build that bridge. It's the sort of sweeping, satisfying book that I would love to narrate, but these historical books are usually about men and therefore narrated by men in the audiobook. But I digress ...

Part of the story that is so remarkable is that Roebling fell seriously ill and wasn't even on-site during much of the construction, yet he pressed on until the Brooklyn Bridge was completed and his dream realized. With his wife's admirable and steadfast assistance, Roebling wrote such an incredible collection of notes and designs that his assistant engineers were able to complete the work to his specifications without his supervision.

The on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vitality as physical or mental vigor especially when highly developed. I can't agree too much with Roebling's assessment that vitality is necessary to accomplish anything of importance, especially a voice-over career.  However, I would also add time to the equation. 

Many people jump into voiceovers with the expectation that a lucrative and easy career awaits them. Unlike an engineer, they don't study the landscape or make calculations about the best way to proceed. They may give up before achieving the level of success that they seek. 

I have often heard that entertainers and sports stars who are considered to be an overnight success usually have been working diligently and learning their profession for 10 years or more. This passage in John Maxwell's book Put Your Dreams to the Test: 10 Questions that Will Help You See It and Seize It better explains that theory: 

Author and speaker Jim Rohn points out, "The twin killers of success
are impatience and greed." I believe they are often the killers of dreams as well.
Most people want results that are quick and dramatic.
However, the reality is that most dreams are achieved very slowly, 
and the results come about unspectacularly. 
If you have achieved any major goals in your life, then you already know that 
 realizing goals can be less thrilling than imagining them. 
That's why you need to learn to take satisfaction in the journey 
and find fulfillment in the small steps along the way.

Drew and I visited New York City for the July 4th holiday, and we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Although I've seen it many times, I could only fully appreciate its immense size, strength, and beauty while actually standing on it. 

Karen Commins at Brooklyn Bridge 7-4-09.jpg
Karen Commins walks across the Brooklyn Bridge 7/4/09

The construction process took 14 years, which was 2-3 times longer and at a far greater cost than the original estimate. Had Roebling not maintained his vitality and persevered through unimaginable obstacles over long stretches of time, this masterpiece of American architecture would not be standing.

I thought again about the time and energy needed to complete a dream while we watched Macy's July 4th fireworks on the Hudson River. We were treated to a spectacular 30-minute show, but the tremendous planning and coordination, including the actual fireworks manufacture and testing, must have started as soon as the festivities were finished last year, or perhaps even earlier. I created a short video of some highlights from the fireworks and added music from my royalty-free library. I am posting the video here for your viewing pleasure.

Time and vitality have been necessary ingredients in my voice-over business since its inception. Like anyone, I have had and continue to have personal challenges, like the losses of my dad in 2003 and my mother just 2 months ago in May. In the past couple of weeks, Drew and I were shocked to learn that his position as a lead software engineer has been eliminated after 12 years of employment with his company, so we unexpectedly are starting a new chapter of our lives. 

I don't bring up my personal obstacles to gain your sympathy but to point out that vitality is needed to sustain the momentum in my voice-over career while time marches on. You may have noticed that even my blog entries lately required an unusual amount of time and energy to complete. Many days, I have to judge my progress on my voice-over dreams based on incremental forward movement. However, like Roebling and his bridge, I continue to focus on my vision of success, counting my blessings and victories as I go along. 

What kind of correlation do you notice between time and energy in pursuing your voice-over goals? I'd love to hear from you with comments on the blog!

Reading for success

If you don't like to read, voice-over is not the field for you.

In addition to reading, interpreting and performing others' scripts for pay, I am convinced that the most passionate and successful voice talent seem to have an inherent love of reading. For instance, my friend Bob Souer finds and reads all sorts of interesting things on-line, which he shares with us on his blog. I recently had a discussion with another friend Dave Courvoisier about the merits and pleasures of the Amazon Kindle wireless reading device.

I plan to buy a Kindle for pleasure reading, but I may also use it in the recording booth to perform some auditions and possibly longer material. Since I have remote control of Pro Tools through my handy TranzPort, I'm really thinking of setting up a second computer monitor in the booth.....but I digress.

Any reader of my blog would know that I love words and language. I frequently refer to books that I am reading or have read since they help shape my perspective as a person and voice talent.
"Whatever you want to do or be in life,
you will find the blueprint for success
by carefully reading..."

I have loved books since childhood. I can remember my mother taking me to the library so I could check out armfuls of books. At that time, I could read 50 books in the summer. I still frequently utilize my library card although my time for reading is more limited. These days, I might read 50 books in a year, and I am in the midst of several books at any given time.
A new audiobook project and new office furniture have kept me from writing a blog update in the past couple of weeks. Just after posting the last entry, though, Drew and I went on a fabulous Alaskan cruise which left from San Francisco. The scenery in Alaska truly is amazing -- one snow-covered mountain peak after another. It's hard to believe magnificent pristine environments like those we saw still exist when all of the land in Atlanta seems over-developed and commercialized.

Mountain Reflection.jpg

We've been on 9 cruises and already have the 10th one scheduled. While on our trip, I was thinking about the overwhelming choices offered by the abundant number of cruise lines. How would a person actually pick the ship and itinerary?

Like those who think all voice-over artists are the same, much about each ship and cruise seems the same. However, the cruise lines distinguish themselves and gain repeat customers through their competitive advantages and marketing strategies. Every business owner, including voice-over actors, would do well to set sail with this philosophy in mind.

A while back, I read a book by Larry Steinmetz and William Brooks titled How to Sell at Margins Higher Than Your Competitors: Winning Every Sale at Full Price, Rate, or Fee. The authors suggest that your competitive advantage boils down to one or a combination of these 5 fundamental attributes:

  • price

  • quality

  • service

  • advertising/promotion/salesmanship

  • delivery

  • Happy new year! I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season and are enjoying this day. Each New Year's Day, I strive to engage in activities that I want to occur all through the year. Symbolically and realistically, I can start the new year by focusing attention on things that matter to me. For instance, I went to the gym first thing this morning, and now I'm writing a blog entry before recording a script.

    In mid- to late December, Drew and I took a holiday trip, which may provide musings for future blog entries. During the trip and in recent days, I have been catching up on some reading for pleasure. While I encouraged you on this day one year ago to look forward, today I want to tell you about a commercial script that was written almost 30 years ago.

    The commercial in question wasn't mine, but rather one for Michael Palin, member of the hilarious Monty Python team, fantastic travel writer and charming TV documentary host. As a longtime fan of Monty Python and avid journal writer, I was excited to start reading Palin's Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years. In numerous entries, he has mentioned various voice-over roles. Palin does not indicate whether the commercial discussed in his entry transcribed below was for voice-over or on-camera work, but I certainly admire his refusal to perform it.
    Atlanta has been in a severe drought, and, and long last, we finally have some rain. With nothing planned for today, the temptation is great on this cool and drizzly day to read a book and take a nap.

    Even when I'm not working on voice-over projects, though, I am still working. I have written many times on this blog about the importance of marketing your services. Marketing activities should be planned and consistent so that you can move forward in your voice-over business. You don't want to think in terms of one event, like a mailing; you want to think in terms of a system.

    However, I frequently receive questions and read forum posts from voice talent who find the marketing process to be very daunting and mysterious. They don't know how to set goals and create a system of marketing tasks designed to reach those goals. The object of marketing is to get the same people to hear about you over and over so that they feel comfortable with you and hopefully compelled to do business with you.

    I have some suggestions to help you create your marketing plan.

    When I hear the same thing in quick succession from 2 or more people who aren't related to each other and have no vested interest in the comments, I feel the Universe is giving me a sign to pay attention! 

    Such was the case this week with the classic motivational book As A Man Thinketh by James Allen, originally published in 1902. I don't remember, but I think this work was referenced in The Secret. Since I am vitally interested in the power of our thoughts and words to create our reality, I recently downloaded the free audiobook of this work available from 

    I began listening to it on 13 July. Ten minutes after I started listening, I decided I had heard enough. The audiobook narrator included at least 3 stumbled words, several lipsmacks and an uninteresting method of delivery. With the availability of low-cost and free audio editing software, I am incredulous that someone would choose to leave the stumbles and extraneous noises in an audiobook, even one offered for free. An audiobook is a thing of permanence. I would like to think that people would seek out my audiobooks 100 years from now, just as I was seeking out Allen's book. 

    I was showing my new business cards to a friend of mine this afternoon. She said she had a book that she wanted me to see. She and I have had many great discussions about the extreme power of our thoughts, and the book was on that subject. Which book do you think she recommended? Yep, that's right -- As A Man Thinketh by James Allen. Although I had abandoned the free audiobook, the Universe was telling me to give the book another try! I told my friend that I would get the book tonight. 

    However, I wasn't the only person who made a special trip to the book store. The store was crowded with people waiting for midnight, when the last Harry Potter book goes on sale. Someone who has been living under a rock or totally new to the country might think that tonight was Halloween, given the number of young people dressed in costume at the mall. Of course, they were flocking to the book store. They were not looking for a title associated with the Law of Attraction to help them live their lives to the best potential. No, all of those young people and their parents were at the book store to buy the final installment about the boy who lived

    I am not still at the store, waiting to get my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I will, however, buy the audiobook version consisting of 17 CDs sometime over the weekend. (I doubt that I will be wearing a costume when I buy it, though!) I encourage anyone interested in performing audiobooks to listen to Jim Dale's masterful narration of any book in this series. You can download the previous 6 books and thousands of other audiobooks on iTunes. I would imagine that this final book will be loaded on ITunes in the near future. 

    Also note the high level of production quality in one of these books. The series is so popular that the audiobook is published simultaneously with the hardback edition. Jim Dale didn't even have the opportunity to read the entire book before entering the recording studio. He read the book in segments of 100 pages. For a fascinating article about Jim Dale and his role as narrator of the Harry Potter series, you will want to read this feature story published 17 July in the New York Times.

    Success leaves tracks,

    and you can gain valuable insight about the preparations for audiobook narration, as well as the production, by paying attention to Dale's comments.

    I was talking with a friend today. This friend Don has advanced degrees in multiple disciplines, yet he continues to attend grad school to earn more degrees. Barbara Sher, author of the life-changing book I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, would say my friend is a scanner because he has varied interests and doesn't settle on one thing for too long. I also would say that Don doesn't want to commit to one thing. I'm convinced that he attends grad school so that he can postpone the inevitable time when he must finally make a choice of how he wants his life to proceed.

    Today's conversation got around to my voice-over business. As I talked about recent successes and my plans for the future, Don said, as he has said more than once over the years, "maybe I should look into doing voice-overs." I tell anyone who asks me that they should explore any serious interest in voice-over work, sheep herding, Italian cooking or whatever. You don't want to get to the end of your life and wonder "how would my life have been if I had done that?".

    As I have done in previous conversations, I recommended that Don start by reading books on my recommended list of voice-over books and taking some classes.

    He asked how I would feel if he took a voice-over class and hit it big. Don is not someone in the incredible ** 81% ** of the Gen Y crowd (18-25 year-olds) who seems to expect fame and wealth as their birthright. Quite simply, Don is yet another person who thinks that making money in voice-over is an easy thing that can be done by anyone. Since he had a few spare hours in his schedule, Don was ready to sign up for the fortune and glory awaiting him as a voice-over actor.

    I don't think he will actually follow through with any action. After all, he is the same person who could never be bothered to even listen to my demos.

    Our discussion today reminded me how Don acted when I created my first demo. When you decide to go after your goals, your friends and family will change their attitudes about you. In many cases, that change won't be a positive one.

    I know I promised another article that was inspired from my recent trip, but I had to pass on something I just read that will help you move forward in your voice-over career. It's a new year, and many people have spent part of the day setting goals and reflecting on events of the past year. Every New Year's Eve, I write in a special journal about my plans and hopes for the coming year. I have goals for all areas of my life, especially in my voice-over profession.

    However, I have learned that I don't want to spend too much time looking back over the past year. It's easy to fall in the trap of forgetting my many accomplishments for the year. My mind instead wants to dwell on things that didn't happen the way I envisioned or at all. I want to stay focused on my current plans and keep marching ahead!

    I just read Wayne Dyer's new book Being In Balance: 9 Principles for Creating Habits to Match Your Desires. He makes a strong point in chapter six that made me realize yet again the detrimental effect one's thoughts can have on one's voice-over career.

    Dyer and others have said You become what you think about all day long. He writes:

    Thinking that the past is responsible for your continuing insufficiency is a major source of resistance. You've probably been taught that if you don't pay attention to the mistakes of the past, you're bound to repeat them. Here's my take on that advice: Keeping your thoughts on the mistakes of the past guarantees that you'll continue manifesting them in the present!...
    Refuse to think about what's failed to materialize unless you're hoping for more of the same....
    Be grateful for all that failed to show up. Then shift from resistance to the direction of manifesting your desires, and rebalance your thinking so that it matches up with those desires.

    Maybe you:

  • didn't land an agent last year
  • didn't book the amount of work you wanted to last year
  • didn't get your web site on-line last year
  • didn't connect with any new clients last year
  • didn't attend any networking events last year
  • didn't install or upgrade your studio last year
  • didn't take any classes last year
  • didn't send out any marketing materials last year
  • didn't read any blogs last year (except this one!)
  • didn't perform any auditions last year
  • Right. I could continue on with a long list of things that maybe you didn't do, but that would be negative thinking. Why don't you write down a list of everything -- big and small -- that you DID to move forward on your voice-over goals? When I look at my list, I feel fantastic! I see that I took advantage of unexpected opportunities, and I have momentum carrying me into the coming year.

    I re-write my goals and plans on an on-going basis. Magical things happen when you write down your goals....but that's another subject for another day.

    I wanted to write today to encourage you to start your new year by looking forward in your voice-over career, not back. Looking back tends to crystallize your thinking and can cause you to get stuck. It's a new year, so it's time to move ahead! Decide what you want, and then decide that you have the power to attain it. Once you start thinking those types of thoughts, you will start taking the actions necessary to make your dreams a reality.

    Drew and I have been on vacation for almost 3 weeks on a wonderful Greek Islands cruise. During the trip, we visited Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Paris. If you're interested, you can look at our awesome photo album/scrapbook that we created with Drew's amazing pictures at Shutterfly, the best company for photo processing and related products that you can imagine.

    Even though I was on a fabulous vacation, I never stopped thinking of ways to progress my voice-over business. I have some stories to relate at another time. Today, though, I wanted to tell you about something that was awaiting me in the mail upon my arrival home: my copy of Pat Fraley's new book: The Gypsy's Guide to The Business of Voice-Over.

    I have taken classes with Pat and his business partner Hillary Huber, and I think I have a copy of everything he has published. Since I don't live in LA, I take every opportunity to drink at the well of this master's fountain of knowledge. I find the real value of this latest book to be in the CD that accompanies it. Pat and Hillary entertain and inform you on the CD just as if you were sitting in one of their voice-over classes. They cover the text in the book so that you can hear the material while commuting to your next voice-over gig.

    Among other material covered, our delightful teachers succinctly differentiate the key concepts of brandingand style, and they play some excellent demos to illustrate their points. However, guest interviews on the CD with Kristine Oller and D. B. Cooper provide key information not included in the book. Kristine Oller's comments about focus are something that every voice artist should hear and act upon.

    Sometimes, we don't know what to do. Sometimes, we know what to do but don't do it. By repeatedly listening to Pat and Hillary and their guests on the The Gypsy's Guide to The Business of Voice-Over, I have a feeling that it will be easier for me to do all the right things to improve my voice-over business in the future.

    In my opening paragraph, I linked to our Shutterfly vacation photobook. As promotion is one thing discussed rather heavily in Pat's book, I realized I could mention that I have successfully used Shutterfly products in promoting my voice-over business. Like favorite teachers Pat and Hillary, I can't say enough good things about that company! They have a tremendous array of products, great prices and exceptionally fast delivery. If you can put a photo on something, you can also put your logo on it! Just think of the possibilities for personal branding and promotion!

    -----Forwarded Message-----
    From: The Universe
    Sent: Sep 20, 2006 3:21 AM
    Subject: TUT... A Note from the Universe

    If it were fun and easy, would you do it?

    If the pay was out of this world; more than you could ever spend?

    If signing your autograph and being adored by fans never got old, and you truly relished retelling your story again and again?

    Brilliant, Karen, because all of the above can be imagined whenever you visualize.

    You are just ace -
    The Universe

    Mike Dooley is the creative genius behind these weekday e-mails signed from The Universe. Many times, I receive a message that is uncannily on target with things that are occurring in my life. I especially wanted to talk about the importance of yesterday's message because I think many people don't understand the importance of visualizing their success prior to its appearance.

    Athletes who win the big championship game will tell you that they have scored the winning points a thousand times in their minds before ever playing the game. Musicians know that to play beautifully on stage, they must first consistently create strong mental pictures of themselves walking confidently before an adoring crowd. The value of visualization is true for voice-over artists or anything else that you want to achieve in your life.

    If you don't know what you want, how do you expect to attain it?

    When people ask me about starting a career in voice-over, I usually recommend that they first read a book about the voice-over industry. A book is a small investment of time, money and energy to see whether a voice-over career is the right choice for you. I have quite a few books and audio programs. You can never learn too much, and every author has different experiences and viewpoints to relate.

    Since I haven't found time to re-create the static page on the new site with my recommended reading list, I've created an Amazon list that features my favorite voice-over books. I even included a few items towards the bottom of the list that I don't own but will probably add to my library.

    Do you find this list and format helpful? I'd love to have your feedback before I make any changes to my site to add a permanent link or create more lists for marketing books, etc.

    edited 3/31/13 to update link

    Yesterday, Drew and I, along with a couple hundred other people, went to an all-day Internet marketing seminar at a major Atlanta hotel convention center. We both are researching some new business ventures, but we were primarily interested in learning about driving traffic to our existing web sites. If someone is offering a free teleconference, webinar or seminar on a topic in which I'm interested, I take advantage of every opportunity to learn something new. Even one bit of useful information can give me a competitive advantage.

    The company sponsoring yesterday's event is in the business of selling web sites to people who want to sell products. The marketing principles for a web site promoting a service like voice-over acting and a product line are the same. As with brick and mortar companies, my on-line presence is an extension of my off-line business. I heard some very useful information about improving my search engine rankings and some clever marketing techniques that made the day worthwhile.

    Of course, spending a rare weekday with Drew was the best part! :) A nice lunch at the hotel was included in this slick presentation; after all, you needed to keep your strength up if you were going to be able to sign your name on your check or credit card slip when you made your major purchase later in the day.

    I was reading the tremendous ongoing discussion about non-union voice-over rates on the VOX Daily blog. Many people rightly pointed out in their comments that the rates are too low. However, some talent questioned how they could ask for higher rates without having their clients go ballistic and/or running for the hills.

    I would like to address this question by stating that you have to develop a prosperity mindset. Nothing is more powerful on this planet than the words that you think and speak. (You would think, of all people, someone in the voice-over industry would be aware of this important Universal rule! smile) To change anything you dislike in your life, including the rates you are currently charging your clients, you must first change the thoughts that you think.

    As I was on my way to the airport on Friday the 5th, I read an e-mail message on my PDA announcing a new marketing book. Since I am an avid student of marketing, I probably would have ordered the book anyway, but the contest to promote the launch of the book made the immediacy of the purchase all the more compelling. The author was attempting to reach #1 status on Amazon by midnight, Friday.

    The book is Book Yourself Solid : The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling by Michael Port. You could enter the contest without buying a book. I was intrigued to learn that he was giving away $50,000 in prizes to promote it! Even though I don't normally order things from my PDA, I decided to join the contest and buy the book that moment.

    I just learned that I actually won something in the contest!

    The Internet Power Pack
    Offered by Max Steingart of

    A Completely Different, Proven Approach to Prospecting and Recruiting that Allows You To Create An Unlimited Pool of Prospects, Any Time, Any Place, Anywhere, Literally on Demand, Completely Devoid of Fear of Rejection, Heartbreak or Failure. This enormous package includes 8 CDs, book and ebook!

    Gaining qualified prospects and keeping my database up-to-date is a perpetual challenge, so maybe the Universe thought this is something I could use. I am thrilled to have won this prize!

    I also think I'm going to benefit greatly from reading Port's book. I especially liked these lines from the prize winner's page:

    Whether or not you won one of the prizes from the jackpot worth over $50,000 donated to this fun and playful sweepstake, you are a winner... because you stand in the service of others as you stand in the service of your destiny....Just between you and me, Book Yourself Solid is truly a love story disguised as a business book. A love story between you and all the inspiring clients you will choose to book right away.

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