Podcasting for the Indie Author: Guest Post By W Brondt Kammfer

There’s a lot of interest in podcasting at the moment. Authors such as Scott Sigler and Nathan Lowell attribute at least part of their success to the large, passionate audiences they built through their regular podcasts.

However, most writers don’t have a clue about what podcasting entails, or how they could explore it further. I’m certainly in that camp, so I thought it would be a good idea to invite someone along who knows a lot more about it to give us the basics.

W. Brondt Kammfer is a fantasy author who has his own regular podcast. Here’s what he has to say about podcasting.

***

First of all, thanks to David for hosting this brief discussion on podcasting. I aim to talk about two subjects here: the first half will deal with the ins and outs of setting up a podcast; the second will focus on why anyone would go through such trouble.

Getting Started

There are a host of websites out there that will tell you all you need to know about setting up a podcast. I know, because I read through countless of them. Far from trying to sift through all that here or adding to the general mayhem, I want to make a list of everything I have found to be essential, which I would recommend to anyone thinking of starting a podcast. These come from trial and error, mostly, as I learnt progressively over my first few episodes.

First, the hardware. You need a proper condenser microphone and a good set of headphones. These two are absolutely essential. I was fortunate enough to have a good pair of Fender headphones that I use with my bass amp, but I learnt the hard way with the microphone.

Don’t use one of those headsets for talking on Skype. Even a good quality one is not suitable for podcasting because it picks up too much ambient noise. There are good condenser mics on the market that aren’t too expensive.

I use a Samson Go (pictured), which is tiny but provides excellent sound quality, and only cost me $30 on EBay.

Additional hardware I’d recommend getting is some sort of mini sound booth to help break echoes as you record. These can run up to the thousands of dollars, but you can build something serviceable out of a small cardboard box, some acoustic foam, and a pair of scissors.

You wouldn’t think it makes much of a difference, but if you listen to my first six podcasts and the ones following, you will notice a sharp increase in sound quality.

You will also note the pop filter in the picture, and this is essential if you, like me, really explode your plosives.

Regarding software, I have GarageBand on my computer, and this is a serviceable program for podcast recording. Another good program to use, that’s free for PC and Mac owners alike, is Audacity, which I have just recently started using because it has a de-hiss function which GB sadly lacks.

You should also download the Levelator to even out the audio. This is absolutely essential (and you can hear why by comparing my early episode with the later ones), and if you skip this step be prepared for some pretty inconsistent audio.

All of those things, I would say, are essential, and together a simple setup like I’ve described should run you between $50 and $100. I had a lot of problems in my early episodes with sound quality because I was reluctant to invest, and that is understandable.

If you are experimenting to see if this something you can and want to do, play around with what you’ve got. But as soon as you commit to the podcast long term, you need to take the steps to make your podcast sound professional.

Sounds just like indie publishing, doesn’t it?

Why podcast?

Which brings us to the real question: why bother with a podcast after all? Well, this depends on your goals. Like any form of promotion, you have to figure out what you want to achieve, but unlike running an add or doing a guest post, this is something you commit to for the long haul–just like your blog. In which case you are likely to find that you will be able to integrate your podcast with the content already on your site.

Some options for podcasting include producing an audiobook, conducting interviews, giving writing advice, and having roundtable discussions. There are plenty of people out there doing each of these, many of them meeting with success, but each of these options implies a different goal and has a different audience in mind.

We need to think about this from our potential readers’ perspectives. The purpose of any promotion–blog, advertising, or podcast–is to invite readers to check out your books. You want something that will lure readers to your podcast and from there to your books. If you’re a non-fiction writer, this is easy enough, as you simply podcast about the topic of your book.

But for us fiction writers, the question is a bit more difficult to answer. I found my own answer by deciding focus on the genre I write: fantasy. It is a genre that gets very little credit from critics and academics, and being an academic myself, I thought there was a chance to justify fantasy a bit.

The podcast should appeal to more hardcore fantasy types, which is just the sort of reader I am hoping to attract. And, if I knew more writers personally (I’m a terrible introvert), I would have attempted to make a bit of a roundtable of this, as multiple perspectives are always great to listen to.

Failing this approach, the next best thing, in my opinion, is to create an audiobook. After all, you are giving your potential reader what they want, right? Access to your stuff.

However, here you need to be extra careful, because you are once again competing with professionals. A podcast like mine is clearly an amateur job and doesn’t claim to be anything more.

An audiobook, though, must be treated with the same care as producing your physical book because you are competing with professional readings of all the bestselling novels out there.

In my case, as a real do-it-yourself person, I found that my reading voice was simply horrible, and so abandoned all plans to produce an audiobook because I sounded singularly unimpressed with my own work. And that is something you’ll need to consider. If you cannot bring to life your work in a way that appeals to potential customers, you will have failed.

Committing to a podcast is an enormous undertaking, which can be as disheartening as putting your books out on the market. But as with all things related to going indie, you have to be prepared for a slow build.

I’m still mired in anonymity, but I find that more and more people are reaching my podcast through Google searches. It’s not quite “Build it and they will come,” but if you are building the right sort of structure, folks will find the doors eventually.

***

DAVE: First of all, thank you for coming along to talk about podcasting. I really knew very little about the practical side of it. That was very useful.

BRONDT: You’re welcome. It’s something I knew next to nothing about as well. I think I had listened to all of five podcast episodes before I decided to try this thing.

DAVE: But it’s not really something you can just jump into, like blogging. It needs a little more preparation, research, and planning, right?

BRONDT: Absolutely. I did a ton of research, and there is so much information out there that you can literally drown yourself in it and never get anywhere. Eventually, you just have to pick a point at which you feel ready to dive in and start recording. For me, I kept learning new stuff every episode, and am still learning, but not quite at the same rate as early on.

DAVE: It also seems like something you would have to enjoy in and of itself, rather than as a means to an end, i.e. to purely sell more books.

BRONDT: Yeah, it can become a real schlep otherwise. It is time-consuming. But while using the podcast to sell more books has to be a goal, it cannot be the only one, nor even, I would think, the primary one. It is–at least in my case–a bit of a hobby, and should be treated as such. Also, you have to keep in mind listener’s expectations, so you can’t just do it haphazardly.

DAVE: How do you go about promoting your podcast?

BRONDT: I announce new episodes on Twitter, as well as post regular links to my archives there. I’ve posted on the Kindle forums a few times. I have an author friend who has a nice big link to the podcast up on her site. I’m actually rather terrible at promotion all round, so I’m kind of shooting in the dark. Seems to me, though, that most people get to the podcast through Google searches, as I talk about things that few others on the web seem to.

DAVE: The huge success of people like Nathan Lowell and Scott Sigler has opened people’s eyes to the audience-building possibilities. Could you explain a little about Podiobooks?

BRONDT: Podiobooks are essentially audiobooks that are released free under a creative commons license. I’m not too familiar with Scott Sigler’s work, but Nathan Lowell’s podiobooks are recordings of him reading his texts. As I understand it, he built a massive following this way before even publishing the first, but he also began recording in something like 2006. It is would be a long and slow process to build up that kind of audience, I would think.

DAVE: Would you have any particular advice on people who wanted to go down the Podiobooks route? Have you considered that yourself?

BRONDT: The biggest piece of advice I have–and the reason why I thought about it and then rejected doing a podiobook–is that you need to have a good reading voice. If you don’t, get someone else to record. Simply put, your podiobook is even more of an advertisement for your book than a podcast like mine. I have a terrible reading voice–very monotonous–and I come across as very disinterested in my own work. Obviously, that is not a good image to project. So, if you don’t have a good, expressive reading voice (which is often different from your normal talking voice), then I would definitely advise getting a friend or paying a voice actor to read for you.

DAVE: Of course, you are more than just a podcaster, and you have written several books now. In fact, I believe you released the latest this week – congratulations. Would you like to tell us a little about the series?

BRONDT: Sure. It is a series of standalone fantasy novels inspired by various plays of Shakespeare (except the prequel, which is inspired by the Biblical Exodus). The books follow a chronological progression, but can be read in any order. The latest one just released, The Pride of Blood and Empire, is based on Henry V. I also use a lot of real-world history to flesh out my stories, and Pride draws heavily from the events surrounding England in 1066 and not a little from Arthurian myth too. Books one and two are inspired by Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale respectively. In a sentence, the overall premise would be that the gods fight their wars through men, and those same men believe themselves to be autonomous kings and queens but are nothing but pawns on an elaborate chessboard.

DAVE: Heh. That reminds me of something Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Jailbird. You know those toy steering wheels that kids have in the back so they can pretend they’re driving? Vonnegut said the President should have one of those attached to the podium on Inauguration Day to remind him that all he can do is pretend to steer. Do you think the control we think we have over our lives is something of an illusion?

BRONDT: Wow! How about ending on a philosophical question! Um, I think that, yes, to a degree that control is just an illusion, but I’d be hard pressed to say to what degree and what or who the real controller is. I do think, though, that nothing we do is ever done in isolation, even if it seems to be so. There are always factors leading to every action. If we are talking about God or fate of some sort, I believe in both also, though again I believe their control over us only extends to certain degrees. I think that personal responsibility is something lacking in Western culture these days, so while I write stories about men being manipulated by gods, I tend to distinguish the good from the bad guys by the level of personal responsibility they accept.

DAVE: I think that’s as good a place to end as any. Thanks to Brondt for taking the time to chat and to provide all this useful info. You can check out his podcast here, and his books here. If you have any questions for him on podcasting, his books, or fantasy in general, hit the comments.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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30 Responses to Podcasting for the Indie Author: Guest Post By W Brondt Kammfer

  1. I love this interview! Brondt, the photos are wonderful (especially the cardboard box — what a blast) and your work sounds so interesting. Thanks to both of you for putting it together. I’ve never listened to a podcast, but I’m going to check out the link in Dave’s last post and see if I can do it. Can I listen if I don’t have iTunes or anything special, just a Hewlett Packard laptop?

    Like

    • Brondt says:

      Yeah, the podcast streams straight from my website as well as from iTunes. Most people running a podcast will give you the option to do both. Thanks.

      Like

  2. Some podcasts are downloadable files that you listen to in iTunes or whatever your normal music player is.

    Some play right in your internet browser.

    Either way, you don’t need any fancy computer or software to listen to one.

    Like

  3. josephine wade says:

    That was a very good and informative interview. I had always wondered what was involved in podiocasting. I love the sound room (box). I think I need to check out some of those books too.
    Thanks Dave for the interview.

    Like

  4. josephine wade says:

    Brondt,
    I meant to ask — I homeschool and your books look like the kind of books homeschoolers eat up (huge history, historical novel, and fantasy market for anyone interested), but before I recommended your books wanted to make sure of content — what age group would you recommend — would the same readers of Tolkien and Sutcliff be interested in your books or are your books harder core?

    Thanks.

    Like

    • Brondt says:

      Josephine, I’d say they are on the level of Tolkien’s. Aside from a few “bastards” in each volume, the language is clean and there is no explicit sex (just hinted at once or twice). Violence is relatively low-key as well as the stories are about characterization rather than action.

      As for the content, while the books are inspired by history, they are not set in our universe. However, I think if you know the history of the past, you’ll definitely be able to pick out the parallels. The key thing to the series is the Shakespearean connection, as the plays serve as the foundation for the novels. Thanks.

      Like

  5. Martin Lake says:

    This was fascinating, Brondt. I love how you went about the process. In fact it sounded rather like one of your characters taking responsibility for their own adventure. The pictures were a great help – they made me realise it’s not something I would want to do, I’ll stick to my blog. I appreciated your thoughts on your blog as well.

    Thanks Dave, another great sign-post for the journey.

    Like

    • Brondt says:

      Martin, thanks, and you’re right that this is something you need to be able to take full responsibility for. I wrote another guest post elsewhere on a related subject, and there I said that I had started the podcast because I hated writing blog posts. Long and short is that I still write at least two blog posts for every podcast episode. It’s not a way to replace one thing with another. It’s simply another method of getting your voice out there to be heard, found, and hopefully books sold.

      Like

  6. Pingback: The Pride of Blood and Empire Blog Tour « Gods and Men

  7. Pretty good summary of the process!

    I’ll re-inforce what Brondt has said.

    – it’s a long term process and a big commitment.
    – you need to give it “professional level” attention.
    – a pair of good “cans” (ear covering headphones) is a must

    The mic advice is good but there are a couple of schools of thought on it. Every mic registers every voice differently. Getting one that works with your voice is very hard. The condenser mic’s are *very* responsive but a dynamic mic might be a better choice. The condenser will pick up your stomach rumbling. A dynamic mic needs you to talk to it like you mean it or it won’t register. Depending on your environment, you might want to keep that sensitivity issue in mind.

    Another suggestion that *I* make a lot is avoid recording on your computer. The computer itself makes noise and many of the sound cards pick up noise from powersupplies, hard drives, and other internal components that just adds crap to your signal. I *highly* recommend using something like the Zoom H1 to record on. It comes with a very good microphone built in and it can create an excellent source file for your project. It’s about $100US

    There are a lot of good resources out there including the Podiobooks Community site at http://community.podiobooks.com and we’re always happy to help people join the familiy.

    For me, podcasting is the foundation of my audience building activity and it’s been wonderfully successful. I’m blessed with some great fans.

    How successful?

    Eight novels in podcast form since 2007. Over 20,000 listeners and 3.5 million downloads.

    When Ridan started publishing my books, one of the things they liked about me was that I had a solid audience behind me already. When my books started to get released in text formats in 2010, the fan response kick started my sales and that’s helped with each subsequent release. The fourth book is due out this month but the three titles that are out so far have sold nearly 50,000 units in total — and not at 99-cents either. (My self pubbed novella *is* at 99 cents but that’s just a ‘throw-away’ to keep people interested between larger releases. It’s sold about 800 units in the week or so it’s been out, so it’s doing ok…even though I didn’t podcast it first.)

    Yeah. It’s a lot of work (over 60 episodes and 70+ hours of finished audio). It took a while to get it rolling. On the other hand, considering that many authors spend five years or more just writing the first book and trying to get an agent, I’m doing pretty well.

    Lately I started a daily podcast myself — in addition to the podiobooks work — that’s basically me talking about stuff on my morning walk. I figured a few hard core fans would listen but the audience is over a hundred now and growing. It’s literally me talking about whatever I’m thinking about on my morning walk. I talk about my writing, publishing, teaching, education, and the glamorous (and not so glamorous) life of an author.

    I only really started it because my doctor said I had to get more exercise or die. It’s turned into a handy motivational tool to keep me going out every morning knowing that there’s a few hundred people who are waiting for the file…

    Go figure.

    Great blog, David, and great post, Brondt.

    Like

    • And you record it when you are out walking? How does that work?

      Thanks for those extra tips Nathan, I love hearing your story. I really must check out your stuff on Podiobooks.

      Like

      • Every morning I go out for a two mile walk around my neighborhood. I start with a Twitpic of the sunrise (same spot everyday) and then walk for a mile while I listen to podcasts or just think. Second mile, I use my bluetooth headset to record a rather low-fidelity podcast on my blackberry while I walk the second mile. When I get home, I run it thru audacity to level and normalize it, tag it in KID3, and upload to my own server space.

        You can find it at http://nathanlowell.org/tommw

        (TOMMW is “talking on my morning walk”)

        Like

      • How cool.

        Although, slightly different from my teenage dream of a Parisian garret, a bottle of absinthe, and a tempestuous but ultimately fulfilling relationship with a can-can girl.

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      • Just listening now. You are an EARLY riser.

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    • Brondt says:

      Thanks for the added input, Nathan. If I were to begin again with what I know now, I would try a few different things. I had a lot of trouble with recording on my computer until I built the sound box. That totally eliminated all sound but what was directly in front of the mic. I don’t sit right next to my mac anyway, but I’m within two yards of it. I’m still learning and playing around with things, and eventually I want to get another mic or two to experiment with that as well.

      Like

      • If your sound path is clean in the computer, that’s good. All my machines had cheap soundcards in them and would not give me a clean signal.

        My current set up is a Rode NT1A mic, running into a Prosonus Tube Pre, and recording on an old Zoom H4 (before the H4Ns came out).

        I also built a “studio” in my house to record in, since I do it a lot. Not exactly professional grade but it’s a heck of a lot better than what I had before.

        The sound box is a great idea and I know a lot of people who use one like that.

        Like

      • Using books as the wall is a great idea. Love it.

        I wonder if you ever get any funny looks on your morning walks from people who think you are talking to yourself.

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      • I think people are so used to folks walking along and talking on cell phones (which is what it looks like), they don’t pay any attention.

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  8. How perfect! I was just over on Nathan Bransford’s forum last week trying to pick people’s brains about podcasting, but no one there had ever tried it. This was such a helpful post.

    Like

  9. Hey Brondt,

    I have a question. What podcasts do you listen to? Any you would recommend for us?

    Dave

    Like

    • Brondt says:

      Let’s see. I listen to Joanna Penn’s interviews at the Creative Penn podcast. Also, I listen to the Tolkien Professor. His is the closest thing I’ve found to my own (he’s a tenured prof, but I forget where, and not a writer), but I discovered his just after I began my own. Still, for Tolkien fans out there, he is phenomenal. I’ve listened off and on at Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing, especially when they interview an author I am interested in. Apart from that, it’s usually a matter of me listening to a podcast here or there from all over the place. What I can say is that I don’t listen to fiction podcasts, be it short-story magazine programmes or novels. I’ve tried, but I simply prefer to read it myself and put my own emotions into it.

      Like

  10. A great blogpost and a fantastic set of comments to over-read. I shall certainly try listening the to podcasts. Thanks to everyone.

    Like

  11. Pingback: Sunday Roundup: Blog Anniversary, New Releases, and a Link Party | David Gaughran

  12. FreeFrenchandHaitianCreolePress says:

    Thanks for this post. I will use some of the techniques presented and shared herein.

    Like

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