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.
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.
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 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?
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.