We had the good fortune of connecting with Pearl Hewitt and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Pearl, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
Audiobooks have developed over many years to become essential and educational tools in some peoples lives but also a great source of entertainment in others. They currently have a huge social impact across all walks of life. An audiobook, for those who don’t know, is a recording of a narrator reading a book word for word from beginning to end. They were initially invented to provide a ‘talking books’ service to visually impaired people almost 100 years ago but in the beginning they were very expensive to produce and were not readily available to the general public. Over the years they became more widely available as technology moved forward and books on tape were being produced. Some were available in libraries and people who weren’t sight-impaired began to listen using tape machines at home or in their cars while commuting. Things progressed even further so that audiobooks became available on CDs too although they were still expensive to buy compared to a hard copy of a book. In recent years there has been a huge boom in the audiobook industry, technology has progressed into the digital age and so have audiobooks. Nowadays, with cell phones, a huge percentage of the population holds an audio player in their hands that can store hundreds of audiobooks. Cell phones and mp3 players have allowed the business of audiobooks to impact SO many people across our communities. Not only are they more widely available to reading-impaired people with vision problems or those who have a learning disability such as dyslexia but they are available to schools, and language learning facilities as educational tools. Children and adults alike who struggle with reading comprehension issues can read along while listening to a professional narrator and in the process, enhance and improve their readings skills. Research has proven that listening to a book is not cheating. The same part of the brain that processes the written word from the page does the same from listening and in today’s frantic and busy world many people, who don’t have time to sit down and read a book, now listen to books from their phones while multitasking: driving, housework, working out, gardening, running, walking…pretty much anything; some use audiobooks to help calm the mind to sleep at night; students use audiobooks as educational and learning tools or those who speak English as a second language will also listen.
It delights me to learn that THE oldest form of entertainment, storytelling, is now having a revival in the form of spoken word entertainment via audiobooks and podcasting. In our current times many people are enjoying being immersed in a good story being told by a great storyteller.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Here in the United States I’m set apart from other narrators because I’m originally from England and still speak with my native British accent with no hint of American. That’s my brand. The fictional stories I narrate are usually based in the British Isles and the nonfiction texts I get to work on, such as biographies or history or self help books usually have a British basis to them.
The book I’m most proud of to date is The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. It was a difficult read due to the Yorkshire accent written out on the page in dialect but it was a joy to work on and I think that joy shines through. The ratings and reviews on Amazon/Audible are wonderful and speak volumes about the reception the book has had with listeners. I actually received a Voice Arts Award nomination for that book in 2017 and still very proud of that achievement every day.
Becoming a successful narrator has not exactly been a smooth or easy road. It’s been hard work, indeed. Anyone taking on the challenge of self-employment knows that there’s a lot more to the job than just ‘doing your job’. You have to become a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ such as managing lead-generation, marketing, accounting, tax-prep, audio engineering, and much more. There is so much ‘behind the scenes’ stuff to learn to run a business successfully on top of the coaching and training needed to hone the craft of acting, narrating and storytelling. That process took at least five years. Every bit of that training was necessary and even now, the learning never stops. I still attend multiple workshops and conferences every year keeping up to date with new technology, narration techniques and business knowhow. Over the years I nearly gave up multiple times because I wasn’t seeing a return on my investment of time or money. My family are my biggest fans and they kept pushing me forward. Patience, accumulated knowledge and experience eventually paid off. Over time, I realized that five years is an acceptable and normal time span for any entrepreneur (and especially an actor/narrator) to start seeing earnings and profits in their business. That was certainly true for me.
As well as narrating for American publishers I work directly with independent authors wanting to publish their books in audiobook format. As an audiobook producer I can guide authors through the process to build a product that is retail-ready to be sold on multiple platforms including Amazon, Audible, iTunes and also available in libraries. Production is a relatively slow process taking many studio hours of prep-reading, recording, editing, proofing and mastering the audio to create a professional quality product. Some books take longer than others to produce depending on their content matter. There could be a lot of research needed for pronunciations of foreign names or words in a non fiction or maybe preparation is needed to develop the performance of character voices in a fictional work.
As a narrator I am blessed with the acting skills to perform multiple character voices from children to old men and everything in between with varying accents from around the world. The best part about narration fiction is that I get to perform all the characters in the story. I love that part of my job. I’ve received reviews that mention my storytelling ‘bringing the authors words to life’ and engaging listeners enough to create a ‘movie in their minds’. This delights me. If my storytelling can transport a listener to another world so they actually forget about my voice speaking the words and become engrossed in the story then I’ve done my job well. It makes me very happy.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As I’m from England we’ve had many family and friends from the UK come visit us over the years. Our must-visit tourist spots in the Houston area are of course Johnson Space Center, Brazos Bend State Park, Kemah Boardwalk, Battleship Texas and the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, Galveston Naval Museum, the 1877 Elissa and Texas Seaport Museum as well as the shopping and beaches of the Galveston shoreline all the way down to San Luis Pass. We also enjoy the varied, fascinating venues in the Houston Museum District as well as Houston Zoo. I live in southeast Houston in the Clearlake/League City area so we tend to eat and hang out there where you’ll find some great spots to eat and drink: T-Bone Toms (Kemah) for good food and outside entertainment and also enjoy the almost British pub-like atmosphere of Boondoggles on NASA Parkway. We like foods of all kinds and you’ll find a huge variety in our area: Good ol’ Texas BBQ, Mexican, Sushi, Phò, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mediterranean, you name it, you’ll find it here.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I really would love to give a shoutout to my family for believing in me and encouraging me to continue even when things were moving slowly and I felt like success was never going to be possible. I also want to thank the audiobook narrator community as a whole. It’s a wonderful network of likeminded actors who all focus their talents on performing audiobooks. We meet at workshops and social events across the country (when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic) but collaborate and help each other online all the time. I’ve never met such a wonderful group of people in my life. There are a few in the Houston area too. Voice actors Jim Conlan, Kevin Charles Minatrea and Amy Warner are some local narrating talent who have been of great support over the years. We cheer each other on and support each other’s successes.
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