Narrator: Lee Ann Howlett

Posted December 30, 2014 by Paul (Audiobook Reviewer) in Interview / 28 Comments

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Voice Range: mid to low range
Accents: General US, southern US, midwestern US.
Genres: I’ve recorded across a number of genres.
Fluent Languages: English




Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in an Air Force family so I was used to constantly moving around. Books were a constant in my life and I grew to love them from an early age. I guess it’s not really a surprise that I became a librarian and worked for over 30 years as a university medical librarian until I retired in 2010.Thank you for having me on your site to talk about my work!

How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?

Around the beginning of 2007, a woman I worked with told me about LibriVox.org — a site for downloading and listening to books that are in the public domain. LibriVox works on an all-volunteer basis including the people who record the books. I began narrating in March of 2007 and I’ve never looked back. After I retired as a librarian, I looked into narrating professionally and signed up with Iambik Audio. I also record for Audible/ACX and Audio Books by Mike Vendetti.

What do you do when you are not narrating?

Read. (Big surprise!) I also love movies, going to estate sales with friends and traveling. And, yes, (gasp!) I like to knit!

Many audiobook narrators do other voice over work, where else could we hear your work? Do you find there to any big hurdles to jump when going from audiobooks to something else or vise versa?

Audiobook narration has been the only voice over work I’ve done.

Do you have the luxury of picking and choosing the projects that you work on or do you take as many as you have time for?

That has varied for me. It can be feast or famine. Sometimes I’ve had projects lined up 4-5 at a time and other times I’m constantly auditioning. The summer tends to be a slower time although there are always terrific titles in the public domain which can be recorded at any time.

For those of us that are unfamiliar with your work. How would you describe your narration style and voice? What would the one audiobook you would suggest for people to listen to your best work?

My voice is low for a woman and I have a slight hint of a U.S. southern accent that I have to watch! However, the southern background (my parents were both from the south) can be to my advantage. One of the books I’m still proudest of was my very first professional recording, “One Vacant Chair” by Joe Coomer. The book was set in Texas and I’ve had many people tell me that I was spot on with the accents. I did live in Texas for three years while growing up and also have family there so that probably helped.

As a narrator, do you get compensated in a set amount or do you also receive royalties from the individual sales? Do you like one more than the other?

I think most narrators prefer to be paid PFH (per finished hour) of work. However, that’s not always possible with so much competition from more experienced narrators, so if I can land a title with a stipend (a partial upfront PFH payment) that includes royalty shares, that works for me, too.

What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?

Overcoming shyness in order to give a performance. I’ve always been a terrible ham with my friends and family but not publicly. Putting myself ‘out there’ for others to like/dislike/judge/love/hate, etc., was a very big step for me. Everyone goes through this in any kind of business where your ‘product’ goes to the public where people have every right to their opinions.As for your second question, this may sound odd but I think that being able to listen to my narration without cringing at the sound of my own voice. While actually narrating, even when it was as a volunteer, I didn’t feel shy during the process but listening to myself on playback while editing was awful. Overcoming that self-consciousness didn’t really take that long in retrospect but it still seemed like a big step. Receiving my first ‘fan’ email from a listener for a book that required some very emotional scenes and reading about how moved they were by my recording was nice.

Do you have a list of your own favorite narrators, who inspires you? Do you have a list of favorite audiobook that you have listened to?

Oh, boy, where do I start? Right now I’m listening to the first of the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” narrated by the wonderful Simon Vance. I had watched the Swedish film version of the trilogy and really enjoyed it. I also like Katherine Kellgren, Davina Porter, Dick Hill, Pearl Hewitt and many others. I’ve also enjoyed some of the books read by celebrities when they’ve recorded their memoirs. It’s not always a good idea even when the person is an actor but I thought Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, and Mindy Kaling were great at telling their stories.In all honesty, I wish I had MORE time to listen to audiobooks. It’s a problem that I’ve discovered, to my relief, is common among narrators. You’re so busy prepping, recording and/or producing and narrating your own work that you don’t have as much time to listen for your own pleasure.

Do you ever get specific notes or ideas from the writer about how something should be read? What is a helpful note, and what is, shall we say, less helpful?

Yes, I sometimes do and they can be quite helpful. I had one author work with me at the very beginning of a book on how she wanted a particular character to sound and, luckily, we were both on the same track. However, with any creative endeavor, once you’ve been selected as narrator, you want to be allowed to do your job. No one wants to be micromanaged or should I say ‘micro-directed?’ I always want to have a good working relationship with the author since it’s their ‘baby’ that is being produced so, naturally, I want to please them.

Do you have an initial process or routine by which you get to know the book you’re going to be reading? Do you mark them up, for example?

The first thing I do is read the entire book. This is mostly for the story and characters. I mark any words I need to check for pronunciation. I generally already have an idea of the characters in my mind after the first read-through.

How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?

I look for clues from the text first. Often there may be some physical description as to age, accent, etc. Sometimes a character may even remind me of someone I know or have known and I work with that. It’s an organic process for me. I go with what I’m hearing in my head as I read.

Is your studio in your home? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? Do you have something that you would consider unique in your setup? What is it?

Yes, I have a home studio. It’s a small converted walk-in closet on the second floor of my house. I was so lucky to have this closet available. It’s actually ‘within’ the structure of the house so that none of the walls of the closet are up against an outside wall of the house. This really helps with sound issues. I use some foam along with sound-muffling moving blankets I ordered online. My mic is also in a small foam lined 3-sided box that I constructed myself. It’s definitely nice to be able to record from home. I don’t live in a city like New York or Los Angeles where you at least have the option of renting studio time.

What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?

Well, it can get pretty ‘blue’ in there when things aren’t going well. There are days when my mouth simply does not want to cooperate with the text in front of me. A ‘fluff’ here and there is expected but things can become ‘very serious’ if I’m having a bad day.

How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?

Usually 2-3 hours at a time with some short resting periods. Some books are ‘easier’ reads than others and that can certainly lengthen the amount of time spent recording.

What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?

I’ve come to like mysteries, including cozy mysteries. I also really like non-fiction which I’ve had a chance to record in the past year. My favorite is probably literary fiction and classics. The issues in these books tend to be timeless.

What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?

That’s a tough one. I’ve liked playing characters like middle-aged sleuth Minnie Markwood in “The Red Shoelace Killer” but I also enjoyed giving a ‘slacker’ voice to Thor in Eirik Gumeny’s comic sci/fi book “Exponential Apocalypse.” As for the most grief, that would be a Scottish male character in the book “One Vacant Chair.” As I mentioned earlier, that was my first professional recording and I just wanted to give a ‘light’ touch of an accent to the character since almost everyone else in the book had Texas accents.

How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?

I don’t. I simply take a breath, give myself a little breather, and go on. You want that emotion to be expressed in your narration but, of course, you don’t want to have a laughing fit or a crying jag. It’s a matter of tone.

Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Have your script pre-read, marked and ready to begin. In my case, I also have room temperature water with concentrated lemon, Entertainer’s Secret Throat Spray and pectin lollipops at the ready in my studio. These treat various problems such as dry mouth, mouth ticks, too much saliva, etc. Take very short breaks frequently and relax. I find that this makes for a better recording experience. The better the recording experience, the easier the editing experience because I make fewer mistakes.

Do you have a preference for reading fiction or nonfiction for pleasure? And is what you read for pleasure what you’d prefer to read for audiobooks?

I’ve always loved reading both but I have to admit that most of my pleasure reading is nonfiction. I’m not sure that I would necessarily be the best narrator for some of the books I read for pleasure. But there are others that I would LOVE to have the opportunity to record.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?

Start by volunteering for a site such as LibriVox.org or reading for an organization in your community. There are usually voice coaches in most cities but with the Internet you now have the opportunity to take a lesson via Skype or some other means with a coach located almost anywhere. I wouldn’t lay out a lot of money for equipment at the start. You do need the basics — a computer, a microphone, recording software and somewhere as quiet as possible to record. However, you want to work on becoming the best narrator you can be. You can upgrade the equipment as you gain more experience and improve.

What has been your favorite project and why?

I’m actually not sure I have a favorite. Because I do like nonfiction, I particularly enjoyed recording “Ted and Ann: The Mystery of a Missing Child and Her Neighbor Ted Bundy” by Rebecca Morris and “Marilyn Monroe: My Little Secret” by Tony Jerris. I had a great working relationship with both authors and had the pleasure of reading two books that I would have read, anyway. As for why, I guess it’s because I find human behavior fascinating.

Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?

Yes, I do, and not necessarily because I enjoy it. I still read a great deal in print, too, and I’ve found that I don’t experience any more or less pleasure or retention whether I’ve read or listened. When I was recording more for LibriVox, there were so many listeners who wrote in and told us that they had never read a particular classic because it seemed so difficult but found that listening (often while reading along with the text) made a world of difference.

Are you working on any special projects?

Actually, I just finished one. I, like many people, loved the PBS Masterpiece Classic series “Mr. Selfridge.” Since there was so much information on Harry Selfridge in the public domain, I decided to research the newspaper articles, magazines and trade publications that wrote about Selfridge during his life. This took a great deal of time just searching and reading the articles to decide which ones I would use. Then came the recording and editing. I’m pleased with the collection, though. I gave it the title “Selected Articles on the Life and Career of Harry Gordon Selfridge” and it’s for sale now on Audible. Now I’m back to auditioning and going ahead with plans to record a public domain book that was a bestseller when it was published.

How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?

Both. You can’t get around the technical side which does have a learning curve. I consider that science. What you hear when you listen though varies from person to person. That’s where tweaking your recording to get a particular sound is an art. It takes time, patience, and can really benefit from outside advice from a VO tech professional.

I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?

I like the term narrator although I don’t mind being called a voice over artist. Since I only narrate books, the term narrator is a better description for me. For others who also voice commercials, video games, etc., I can see why they would prefer a term that encompasses more of what they do.

Do I narrate audiobooks for the money?

No, I don’t. Of course, I expect to be paid — this is a business — but I don’t know anyone who thinks they’ll become rich narrating audiobooks. There are some narrators at the top of the hill who do quite well but even they would argue it’s not the way to riches and fame. You have to genuinely love the process of storytelling and want to share that with others.

Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?

Yes, I have. Not everyone is going to like my voice. Sometimes listeners don’t like the book, either, or I have reviews where
the listener liked my narration but not the book. I take these in stride just as I do positive reviews.

About Lee Ann Howlett

Read the ABR Narrator Interview

I grew up in an Air Force family so I was used to constantly moving around. Books were a constant in my life and I grew to love them from an early age. I guess it’s not really a surprise that I became a librarian and worked for over 30 years as a university medical librarian until I retired in 2010.Thank you for having me on your site to talk about my work!

About Paul (Audiobook Reviewer)

Paul is a quiet man who shares his passion of books through reviews assisting others select books through honest and professional reviews. Having built a team of professional reviewers, Audiobookreviewer (ABR) is the result of his passion of reading/listening of books. His family consists of a wife, 2 cats, and 2 African Grey parrots (https://www.facebook.com/tuckertheafricangrey). More frequently than not, you will see Paul plugged into the audio of his technology listening to books while riding his bike 100+ miles, tending to a huge fruit and vegetable garden, growing bonsai trees and operating his own largest online bonsai magazine (http://ofbonsai.org).

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28 responses to “Narrator: Lee Ann Howlett

  1. nrlymrtl
    Twitter:

    Iambik Audio has put out some awesome books. I have really enjoyed the Gemma Files audiobooks. And thank you very much for volunteering at Librivox. I love browsing their catalog for older science fiction and fantasy. I too have listened to the Millennium Trilogy narrated by Simon Vance – very intense books!

  2. George (Lee Ann's husband)

    Clarification of my earlier remark: my wife has a mellifluous voice even when she nags, which is almost never.

  3. Bec

    I have a great appreciation of medical librarians, I really do, many of us have had our academic paths smoothed by our librarians!
    Although I’ve tried hard to get back in to classics, these days I prefer mysteries, cosies, detectives, anything set in Florida (who knows why?) so, that’s what I listen to, blow academia!!
    What is your favourite mystery writer Lee Ann?

  4. Bec

    I just discovered that Lee Ann! I can’t find any audio of Marlin, Darlin’ on Audible, so will look for the kindle, thanks for the recommendation. I remember now, My Florida book passion began years ago with Doc Ford books

    • Actually, Bec, I’m in discussions with Margaret to record “Marlin, Darlin.'” At this point none of her books are on audio but she’s just about ready to take the plunge. 🙂

  5. It’s funny you’d mention voicing a Scottish male… I’ll have to go see if I can hear a sample. I love to listen to Scottish voices and I want to hear how you did it… You’ve narrated LOTS… I’ve never listened to one of your books but would love to. Thanks for the giveaway!

    • Hi Bewitching,

      This was for a character in the book “One Vacant Chair” and I kept it very light. 🙂 Thanks for commenting and good luck in the drawing!

      Lee Ann

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