By Johnny Heller

Dec. 28, 2017


Simon Vance woke up at his usual hour and padded to the kitchen to prepare some tea.  While it brewed he continued his normal morning routine. First, he touched his toes twice – or more accurately – he pointed in the direction of his toes while saying “OOF” as he bent at the waist.  Having stretched, it was time for his morning run.  Simon’s morning runs used to be far more difficult back in the days when he laced up his Nikes and ran 5 miles. Now he found it far easier – in lieu of actually doing any real exercise- to read aloud from an issue of Runners World for a good 20 minutes.

Then he sat in his favorite chair and perused the latest Audiofile Magazine to see how many new Earphone Awards he had amassed during his “run”.  This was followed by a quick call to Scott Brick’s voice mail where he left his usual message:
“Hallo Scott! Just letting you know I got 8 more awards this morning! I did look – quite diligently – for awards for you but came up empty! Sorry old man. Perhaps next week will be your week!”

Then he smiled, sipped his tea and spent a good deal of time wondering if he could win an Audie if he just made mouth noises into a microphone for a few hours. He thought it likely but couldn’t think of a category to enter the work.  Eventually, he turned to his latest audiobook gig and grimaced when he realized that it was chock full of words that he was not familiar with.
“Oh well,” thought Simon. “I could do the research and look the damn things up. Or I could hire the job out. Or I could do the simple thing I suppose and just make the pronunciations up as a I go and let everyone else wonder if they’ve been wrong all this time.  Surely they’ll believe my pronunciation is correct – else what’s the point of being English?”

He opted for the latter method and set to work in his studio built entirely of sound-suppressing Audie Awards and SOVAS trophies.

“All in a day!” thought Simon as he finished up 10 chapters in 30 minutes and looked forward to spending the rest of the afternoon playing his guitar and making fun of Jeffrey Kafer on Facebook.

Later he and his lovely wife Cynthia enjoyed a vegan meal of tofu, quinoa, black beans and UPS packaging foam followed by a box of red wine.

“It’s good to be the King,” said Simon as they both feigned interest in The Crown on Netflix. “It is” agreed Cynthia and they both drifted off to a happy sleep.



As it’s the end of a year, we tend to like to look back and ponder and to look forward and wonder so I’m gonna do that.  In no order, here are some of my thoughts:


Despite my warnings – both in person and in print – people I know are still behaving like idiots on Facebook in the following ways: (Understand that not all these apply to everyone and these are only my opinions. I may be wrong. I’m not of course. But allowing for the possibility makes me seem open-minded!)

  1. You are Denigrating Art.
    You are making fun of the writing in the book you are narrating. You don’t think much of your authors style. His/her grammar is poor. Bad sentence construction…so on. You post about it.  You grab a poorly written sentence and proceed to make fun of the author.  The Author!

    It’s possible, I suppose, that the author may not have heard of Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or of the Star Wars films – but it’s doubtful. I bet he/she can access your posts or knows someone who knows someone who will tell him/her about your funny posts at their expense.

    I wonder how they will feel when the narrator of their work is busy demeaning them on social media.  Elated? Nope. I’m gonna go with “Hurt” and “Pissed.”
    Is it a royalty share project? Great! – you’ve just succeeded in selling zero copies of the book, destroying your credibility in promoting future sales and torpedoed your partnership.

    I wonder if the author you’ve denigrated has any other friends who might be authors and who might have – before they found out what a dolt you are – hired you to do some of their work.  Kiss that goodbye.
    And don’t think that there aren’t narrators who will happily inform an author about your posts so that they will get hired instead of you.

    Let’s say it’s a job for a publisher. You think Karen Dziekonski of Penguin Random House is going to hire you again after the author complains to her about you being a total tool?  Nope.
    On the plus side, you will never ever have to worry about how to spell “Dzeikonski.” Not ever.

  2. You are Posting on Everything.

  Please Shut up.  Post interesting stuff. Say interesting things. Funny things. Things from the heart. No one cares about your last bowel movement or your take on pomegranate seeds as a fashion accessory. (Those two things might be related to each other and therefore potentially interesting and may be okay to post about – so a bad example but you get the idea).
Beware of coming across as the expert on every damn thing anyone says. You aren’t. No one is.  Recognize that there are very few absolutes in the world or be prepared to be an object of scorn.  I can’t tell you how many posts I have read from would be “audiobook experts” telling people to do things that suck on many levels.
That’s multi-level sucking we’re talking about.

If something works for you – great! It doesn’t mean that it’s the only “right” way. My colleagues Sean Allen Pratt, Paul Alan Ruben, Robin Alan Miles and Karen Alan White all have different ways to coach and to get an actor to the same place – to tell the story.   Different methods work for different actors. It’s the result we seek.
If you truly know a thing – or a few things – great. Share that and be “the guy” to get that info from.  Don’t be the know-it-all on all things. It’s too hard and you become too irritating.

(It’s entirely possible that I am being exactly that guy with this blog! But I’m generally fairly good natured so I hope you will allow me to continue.)

  1. You are Hijacking Threads.
    Much like the point above – shut up! If Peter Berkrot posts that he just got a wonderful opportunity to direct a show on Broadway, don’t post about how you directed the kindergarten Christmas show in 1981.  Just let Peter have the moment.  We all know what I’m talking about. “Congratulations!” goes much further in cementing your rep as a decent human than “good for you…but guess what I did!”  Sometimes it isn’t about you.
  2. You Are Bragging Too Much

Everyone wants you to be successful. But if you are successful and someone else is struggling – for whatever reason – you are going to look bad. People won’t say it. But they will think it.
I get Private Messages all the time asking me – “what about so-and-so? Do you believe they’re doing all that work? Making all that money…?”  Nope. I don’t.
When I get a title, I sometimes post about it because I am excited about the opportunity. Usually I post it on my actor/fan page because that’s where it belongs. I post about my workshops because I want you to come to them, but I don’t post every single job I get or every speech I make or every student I work with.  Here’s why.

It would make me look like a braggart

It would make me irritating (and I already have a leg up in that area!)
It might make my friends who don’t have lots of work feel badly.
It might cost me more work.

As we have learned, authors, publishers and casting directors are on social media. If they read that Melissa Moran is booked through May 2018, guess who isn’t likely to get called by them until June 2018?  Are you really that booked that you can’t take a job from Debra Deyan?  If Chrissy Farrell of Hachette wants you for a project but reads about how booked you are, she will call someone else.
All because you bragged.
Understand – certain milestones in your career, awards and praise and big steps, should be posted and celebrated.  No question at all.
But use some common sense. If all your posts are about some other insignificant thing you did that you still want to brag about, people will just stop reading your posts.

This social media thing is extremely important. You must learn to use it to your best advantage.  It can help you and it can kill you.


When you get a swell review from Audiofile or Booklist or Library Journal or an industry blogger, that’s great.  Really wonderful. But it’s still one opinion.  It merits a post on social media and will meet with general approval from all.  It’s also a good idea to let your author and/or publisher know about the positive review. It shows them that they were wise to hire you and that you are actively promoting their book to your fan base.
When you get a great review on Audible from a listener, that’s nice. When you get a crap review from a listener on Audible, that’s not nice –  but neither really matter.
No awards, reviews or opinions matter in your career unless they are unanimous or educational in some way.  If everyone says that you are awful, it may be that you are awful. If everyone says you are wonderful, it may be that you are wonderful.  If there’s a fair mix of them but many say that you speak too fast, it may be of value to consider your pace in your work.
People posting actual comments on Audible are people. They aren’t directors, actors or dramaturges. Their opinion is as valuable as you choose to allow it to be. I think you should be more concerned with carrying at least 3 stars per performance (with more than a handful of responses to consider) than what the individual comments are.
The real thing that determines your success as a narrator is getting the next job.


  1. Be Proactive in your VO business.

Waiting for the phone to ring or the email to come in is reactive.  Go get work. If you don’t understand that concept, consider contacting and/or following the actors who are getting work. Surely, they are doing some thing right. And, amazingly, voice over actors are happy to help for the most part.

  1. Pay for Knowledge.

People frequently want to “pick my brain” over coffee.  What I know and coach and share with those who seek my counsel is worth more than a cup of coffee and I have generally been too nice to say so.  So please don’t put me or other coaches in an uncomfortable situation. Get the coaching you want and need and understand that the coach is offering a professional service.
I hope you know what I mean.

  1. Be Helpful, Be Available, Be Part of the Community.

The actors you befriend at APAC and at workshops and at mixers are worth staying in touch with. It builds the community and supports a professional environment and makes everything wonderful and gratifying. We work in a solitary profession, but we are ridiculously social and fun to hang with and that needs to never end!
And I have gotten many jobs via references from fellow actors – both in narrating and coaching. We have created a strong network that is giving and nurturing and talented beyond belief.  Be a part of that collective zeitgeist.  (that may not be right word, but I rarely get a chance to use “zeitgeist” in a sentence so…)


  1. Be Better.

I want to be a better narrator.

I want to be a better coach and mentor.

I want to be as important to the community I serve as it is to me.

  1. Write More

I am working on a How To book for narrators – a humorous yet useful guidebook with             specific advice, quotes from the great coaches and actors I know and tales from the studio.
I am working on a YA story.

I want to put my travel photos and captions into book form and sell it to compete with Jeffrey Kafer’s tee shirts.

I want to do this blog more regularly.

  1. Podcast
    I’ve been asked to podcast often, so I’ve decided that I am going to consider the idea with my partners – Jo Anna Perrin and Steven Jay Cohen.
  2. Publishing
    We (the triumvirate mentioned above) have plans to consider buying some rights, hiring some narrators and doing things that will bring in enough loot to keep us in Ramen for some time to come.
  3. More Workshops
    We will certainly do the Johnny Heller Splendiferous Narrator Workshop May 29th.
    We will do the Rhode Island – New England Splendiferous Narrator Relaxathon in October – and Bill Lord had better be there!

I will be in San Francisco in August for Elaine Clark.

I will be at MAVO2018 in early November with Val Kelly.

I will be back in the UK for the VO Network sometime this year.

And more? Yes! Here’s the deal, if you want me to come to your town and do a workshop, let me know. Send me a message. I am trying to put together something in Arizona this year because Al Kessel asked me.  In general, if we can get 10 or more narrator/attendees together, it might be doable. The more attendees, the more likely and feasible it is. And if there are enough interested actors, I might be able to drag in Sean Allen Pratt or Steven Jay Cohen or Scott Brick or Carol Monda or other fine ladies or gents. I went all over in 2017 and am happy to go all over again in 2018.

  1. Continue to Resist Fascism and Oppression
    I won’t get too political here and now. You all know how I feel. I will continue to do what I can to fight for human rights, environmental rights and just the right thing.

(I cannot point out everyone that had an impact on my world this year, so I will just toss out a few names of note. If you aren’t mentioned, it’s not that I don’t love you – I just can’t mention everyone as I want to watch TV soon.)

Jo Anna Perrin – The reason I get up in the morning.  Literally. She pushes me out of bed to go walk the dogs.  We are one.

Joel Leslie Froomkin & Richard Julian Najuch – what a wonderful couple! Both amazingly talented and funny and a delight to be with. Plus, Joel helped me get a booking by doing some South African accent work with me!

Sean Allen Pratt – absurdly tall and in need of a haircut, Sean and I worked together a lot this year and I can safely say that he is absurdly tall and in need of a haircut.   He really is a gentle giant and would be a much closer friend were it not   for the fact that I don’t like him.

Steven Jay Cohen – my partner, my friend, my confidant.  I know few better people.  You should all just accept that he is a freaking saint.

J. Rodney Turner, Bill Lord, Patty Gibbons …all my students who are so much more now – my friends!  I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have you all in my life.

Scott Brick – I know everyone thinks he is a great narrator, but I wouldn’t know about that.  I just like to drink bourbon with him.

Simon Vance & Jeffrey Kafer – this blog would be nothing without these two letting me make fun of them regularly.  Simon is an amazing talent. And Jeffrey sells tee shirts.   (see what I did there?)  Both are dear friends –  and no BS here – Kafer is an excellent business advisor.

Peter Berkrot – another favorite For the Hell of It foil.  A sweet man and a huge talent. I know this because he just messaged it to me.

Rachael Naylor and the VO Network – they brought me to the UK and treated me royally.  Just wonderful.

Paris – A Paris apartment wedding gift from Simon Prebble (who isn’t on Facebook and won’t ever see this) made our visit possible and changed my worldview.  It was the best time Jo Anna and I have ever had and my sister in law Martha Chapman made a lovely book of my posts for Christmas.

Nick Salamone – One of my favorite human beans.

Gerald Griffith and VO Atlanta – I won’t be there this year, but I love this guy and I love VO Atlanta – a fantastic mix of the best of the VO world.

Paul Alan Ruben – This guy is a passionate artist, a loyal friend and he is so much weirder and wilder than any of you could imagine!


The Johnny Heller Splendiferous Workshop Attendees (and all the attendees from all my workshops) I cannot thank you enough for making these events so remarkable.  From Denver to Toronto to London to LA to Tampa to Rhode Island to NYC, you actors have brought me great joy and helped to increase my passion for the industry.

And to all my friends and colleagues who helped to make this intolerable year (and of course I mean politically) bearable by being a part of my world, I thank you and I treasure you and I look forward to better and brighter futures for us all.

And I know I should have mentioned more people but it’s impossible to do a full list – which is kinda nice.  Happy New Year to All and I wish you a very wonderful 2018!


Comments (3)

  • Ann Richardson Reply

    Johnny, great blog, as usual.
    I am impressed with your list of 2018 goals! I hope to meet up with you in August in the bay area.
    Thanks for your generosity and humor.

    December 28, 2017 at 6:52 pm
  • Carol Reply


    Here’s to yet another heavenly issue of For The Hell Of It. Thank you for your wise counsel and silly funning.
    You’ve made my years fuller, my days brighter and my love for this community deeper. 2018 already shines with the promise of your splendifitude.

    Thank you for all you do and are.

    ps: so excited about your plans and plottings with SJC and Japes, etc.

    December 28, 2017 at 7:15 pm
  • Cindy Piller Reply

    Great reminders for us all! Thank you. If you do a workshop in Arizona, let me know. It’s close enough to Colorado. If the timing works, I’ll do it.

    December 29, 2017 at 1:29 pm

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