Friday, February 08, 2008

Let's Hear It For Podcasts

Last night I was a guest on Political Pistachio, an internet radio show hosted by my friend Douglas V. Gibbs. I basically blabbed for 90 minutes about publishing---the standard 90 minutes that I regurgitate during most of my speeches for newbie writers. You've heard me preach about this stuff before.

If you're still interested, you can listen to the show by following the link below. There are some tech probs in the beginning, so fast forward a few minutes.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/politicalpistachio/2008/02/08/Political-Pistachio-Conservative-Politics

When it was over, I was surprised how easy it was to do. It was so simple, it forced me to seriously consider jumping into the podcasting arena. With minimal effort, I could create audio segments to supplement this blog.

BlogTalkRadio.com allows a person to host a radio show, complete with guests and listeners calling in, all for free. It then archives the show, and creates an RSS feed so blog readers and iTunes users can subscribe and download it.

Naturally, my radio show would be the audio conterpart to A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, and it would involve me interviewing many of my writing peers to get their views on marketing, self-promotion, etc.

But before I jump into the arena, I'd like feedback. Tell me:

1. Would you be interested in my gabbing for an hour about this business on a twice-a-month basis, assuming I had cool professional guests with interesting things to say?

2. Who are some guests you'd like to hear?

3. How would you listen to this podcast? Would you be more likely to tune in live on your computer at BlogTalkRadio.com, or follow the link to the achived show at your convenience, or actually use the RSS feed and hook up your iPod for listening at your convenience?

I've been wanting to try out podcasting for a while, but didn't want to bother learning the technology. Now that the technology exists, I think this could be an interesting way to broaden my audience while also providing a service to new writers and to the authors I'd be interviewing.

Lots of writers blog. Not many of them podcast. Now that we all have our websites and blogs and MySpace pages, maybe this is the next big thing.

Your thoughts?

31 comments:

slpenney said...

There already are some (a handful) of writing shows on iTunes. I find it incredibly annoying when there is lots of sound effects interjected with comments that have little or no value.

Personally, my favorite type of 'cast is a dialogue between peers that has a mix of granular and high-level concepts. Manager-Tools does an excellent job of this.

spyscribbler said...

Podcasts are cool, but I don't listen to them. It's just that ... it takes time to listen to them, a ton of time.

In a blog, you can skim past parts that aren't what you need, and read the parts you're interested in. And you can skim it first to see what the whole article is about.

For me, podcasts are just too slow.

Angie said...

I clicked over to say just what spyscribbler already said. I am happy to skim blogs (thank you, by the way, for offering full feed blog posts. Otherwise I probably wouldn't read the whole post), but I just can't see myself spending more than five minutes listening to a podcast about writing. I definitely wouldn't listen to one that was more or less a marketing tool for other writers. Not that there's anything wrong with it--just wouldn't interest me.

There may be a good reason that writers haven't jumped on the podcasting bandwagon. Your content would have to be pretty special to get regular listeners.

I do think you offer some very valuable insights and tips here on your blog. I'd say your energy would be better spent writing a "Newbie's Guide to Publishing" book than in podcasting.

My 2 cents!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Joe, Brett Battles and I have been podcasting our show, Battles and Browne Talk Writing, for awhile now. We do our show over Skype, which makes it sound like we're in the room together when we're actually about 90 miles apart.

A podcast is a simple thing to record, but the real bitch is editing the thing. You've got to be very patient to edit audio and it can sometimes take hours to do a single episode.

That said, I encourage you and everyone else to do a podcast. I listen to them regularly -- radio without commercials -- and enjoy them quite a bit.

wishihadmoretime said...

Thanks for the offer, but I agree with spyscribbler and angie. I used to have hours and hours of cool podcasts on my ipod--readings and writer interviews and NPR shows about writing and so on. Eventually I deleted them all because I wasn't listening. A few minutes reading a blog every few days I can do, no more than that.

Kerryn Angell said...

I would be interested in the podcast. I already listen to podcast such as I Should Be Writing, Will Write for Wine and Whispers at the Edge.

I think an hour might be a little too long. 20 to 40 minutes I think is the ideal length, depending on content. If you have guests and interviews then I would expect them to be longer.

angie said...

Rob is right - the sound edits are a real time suck. I do a phone interview crime fic. podcast over at http://inforquestioning.com/ and the sound edits take up hours. Okay, I'm a bit of a perfectionist, but do you really want to hear 50 "ums" "ahs" "ands" & "you knows" in the space of a 20 to 30 minute show? Believe me, it gets painful.

But, podcasting is a growing community and it can be a lot of fun (I wouldn't do it if I didn't dig it). I think the idea of a 5 min. down 'n dirty writing tips show would be ideal for both you and the peeps who'd want to hear it. If you haven't already, check out Grammar Girl's podcast. She's got a huge following and actually got a book deal because of her podcast. So, y'know, think about it before you make the commitment.

spyscribbler said...

Ooh ... now I would probably listen to a JA Konrath Down 'n Dirty five minute or less podcast. That's a cool idea!

r2 said...

I think it's a great idea. I would keep them to about 15 minutes or so.

JA Konrath said...

Hmm. Not the comments I was expecting. Perhaps a blog audience and a podcast audience are two different demographics.

Here are some of my thoughts on why it's a smart idea:

1. Podcast RSS feeds are automatically offered by iTunes for iPod users. There are over 110 million iPod users, and podcasts are free. More and more iPodders are downloading them.

2. I've never met an author who refused an interview. On the contrary--they get excited enough about it that they mention the interview on their website, blog, and newsletter, and link to it. The authors I interview have fans. Those fans will listen to their favorite authors speak. Those fans will then be exposed to me.

3. People who Google these authors will find these interviews, and discover me as a result. If I interview one bestselling author a month, at the end of the year I can reach millions of people I wouldn't have otherwise reached. And the cost to me is an hour of my time doing the interview, and half an hour of prep work.

4. I was one of the first authors to steadily blog. Makes sense that I'd embrace new technology and communication formats.

5. Wouldn't writers want to hear what bestselling authors do to promote their books? What their tips, tricks, and secrets are?

Or perhaps I'm deluding myself...

Joni said...

FWIW, I tend to agree with the majority here. Keep in mind that writers -- and readers -- are READERS first. Most of the people I know who listen to podcasts of various sorts aren't. They're LISTENERS (because of their interests, lifestyle, tastes.) They don't do books much.

I'm sure there would be interest, and maybe get a few non-readers turned on to your books, but whether it would be worth the trouble & time for your writing career is a whole 'nother question.

Jeremy James said...

I'm a writer, and I do a podcast, and I can tell you that a half hour of prep time is nowhere near enough for an hour of recording. Editing is a real time suck. It's more like a 2:1 or 3:1 editing to recording ratio (if you give a crap about quality).

Now, if you can get someone else to take care of the editing, then it doesn't matter.

I say, do it. Mainly for selfish reasons. I would enjoy hearing the interviews.

Rob in Denver said...

Good stuff here...

Just gonna play Devil's Advocate with your "5 reasons why it's a smart idea":

1. 110 million iPod users. Nice numbers. How many listen to podcasts (of which there seem to be at least half that many)? Just about everyone I know has an iPod. A very small number of those people actually listen to podcasts. How long are you willing to wait to build your audience to make the time spent worthwhile? How will you measure the podcast's impact on your book sales? Can you?

2. How certain are you readers will download a podcast just to hear their favorite authors? If you're talking about marketing and promotion secrets and tips all the time, why would a fan (who isn't a writer) care?

3. An hour and a half a month, eh? You're having trouble keeping up with e-mail from your fans. Posts to the Newbies Guide have slowed to a trickle. Now, you're gonna find time to start and grow a monthly Web radio show?

As others have mentioned, it's probably gonna take longer than the half-hour of prep and one hour of "air" time.

4. You embraced blogging at a different time of your career lifecycle. Jack #5 drops this year. People are telling you it's head-and-shoulders your best book.

You should be leveraging the hard work that got you here instead of using your time and effort for something that the odds say won't work (I seem to recall a few blog posts somewhere about how radio interviews are a waste of time).

5. I thought this was about you doing something for fans --- both yours and your guests'.

I don't mean to bust your balls. I think it's an idea worth exploring, and it's clear you've given it thought (as you you usually do).

Personally, podcasts don't interest me because they're just one more thing to keep me from my writing and reading... and I neither need nor want something else to keep me from those other more important things.

On the other hand, the people I know who do like podcasts seem to adore them. Like Rob Browne said, it's talk radio without commercials... and that's really appealing.

I say you try it if you do the following:

1. Find a way to measure the effectiveness. If you're not driving book sales --- either your own or your guests' --- then maybe it's not worth it.

2. Treat it like any new business venture and give yourself a time frame to make it work. If you don't have X number of subscribers by such and such date, then close it.

3. Focus the show's niche. In point three you said it's for the fans. In point five you said it's for writers. Which is it?

When you developed the idea for the Jack series, you got fairly specific about the market and audience. The development of Newbie's Guide was more organic, but you still had a specific hook. It seems you're not sure what your podcast's hook is yet.

If you just wanna do it for fun, that's one thing. But it's apparent your goals are much more than that. So that means you should approach it the way you do your other marketing efforts. If doing podcasts doesn't add up, then you have your answer.

Then again, if your guts are telling you to go forward... then tell the naysayers to pound sand. :-)

JA Konrath said...

Keep in mind that writers -- and readers -- are READERS first. Most of the people I know who listen to podcasts of various sorts aren't. They're LISTENERS

That's fine. My books are all available on audio.

Editing is a real time suck.

Which is why I won't do any editing. You don't edit live radio, so I see no reason why I sould edit a podcast interview.

Will there be bad guests and boring parts? Not if I do my job as host right...

A very small number of those people actually listen to podcasts.

Now. Remember when it was possible to have a computer but no Internet access? New technology takes time to become adopted by the majority. A podcast is free information and entertainment. If a blog is an online newspaper article, a podcast is an online radio program. It will become more popular, not less.

How long are you willing to wait to build your audience to make the time spent worthwhile?

I believe this will be a minimal time investment. And technically, I'm still waiting for my audience to build based on things I did three years ago.

How will you measure the podcast's impact on your book sales? Can you?

Nope. Promotion is cumulative. Only through direct sales, like a book signing, can you measure impact. All this other stuff is speculative.

How certain are you readers will download a podcast just to hear their favorite authors?

Based on the number of video, text, and audio downloads I've tracked on my website, surfers are looking for free downloadable content.

Who's your favorite author? Have you visited her homepage? Would you listen to an interview with her? What if you didn't have to listen to it on your computer, but could download it to your iPod to listen to it in the car, or on a plane, or while jogging or working out?

I would.

Posts to the Newbies Guide have slowed to a trickle. Now, you're gonna find time to start and grow a monthly Web radio show?

I'm on a deadline this month, so I'm writing a lot. In March things will be back to normal.

I seem to recall a few blog posts somewhere about how radio interviews are a waste of time.

Hiring a publicist and actively pursuing radio interviews can be a waste of time and money, NPR notwithstanding. If I discover people aren't tuning in, I can quit. But I don't see spending a lot of time on this.

I thought this was about you doing something for fans.

Absolutely. People want information and entertainment. This provides both for free. But it also spreads brand awareness and name-recognition.

Find a way to measure the effectiveness.

I'm sure there are ways to track subscribers and listeners.

If you don't have X number of subscribers by such and such date, then close it.

Here's the thing about content: it's eternal. I get hits from blog posts from years ago. The bigger the web footprint, the more people that will discover you.

Some movies flop at the box office, and become huge hits on DVD or on TV reruns. Once the content is created, it will be around for people to discover, indefinitely.

So it stands to reason that the more content you make available, the better chance of it getting discovered.

Because of this, a podcat that may have a small audience still has the potential to find fans years later. Like roadside billboards from 20 years ago that still draw people to Tommy Bartlett's water show.

In point three you said it's for the fans. In point five you said it's for writers. Which is it?

Asking a writer questyions about marketing is a sure way to have them discuss what their books are about. Writers will tune in for the content, fans will tune in to hear their favorite authors talk.

Or not. I won't know until I try.

It seems you're not sure what your podcast's hook is yet.

I have access to a lot of bigshot authors. While my focus is on book marketing and self-promotion, my platform is that I'll be able to attract some guests that people will be interested in hearing.

Again, this is still in the "thinking about it" stage, but I'm not really seeing any cons here, despite the comments so far.

Just Sayin' said...

>>but I'm not really seeing any cons here<<

That's because you don't want to see them.

;-)

spamalope01 said...

Joe, i'm going to make this brief, but if i don't make sense, i'm sorry....i'm housesitting for myh parents and just finished the first draft for my second book and i'm celebrating by drinking some really good single malt.

i think the podcast idea is a great one. i think an hour is a good time, nothing pisses me off more than podcasts that only last 10 minutes. reason being, i download (usually thru iTunes) and listen on my commute to and from work. so i have time. i agree with the no sound effects suggestions.

as for guests, i think you're dead on with getting peers (and if you can, agents and industry people) to talk about marketing (which is something that I personally never thought of before reading your blog) is a superb idea.

please do this. 2x a month is fine, but if you start doing it, try like hell to find that extra hour to record....i had subscribed to one writing podcast and it was a weekly thing. 8 episodes in, the dude stops and i got one maybe once every 3 months. it sucked balls.

so yeah, please do this. your blog is indespensible, the podcast would be the perfect ice cream to go on top.

cbahm said...

I love the podcasting idea and hope you do experiment with it. I listen to several writing podcasts when I'm shopping, on my way to work, waiting at the doctor's office, doing housework, etc. They fill small pockets of time in a useful and entertaining way.

My favorites are the ones in the 15-30 minute range. I agree that an hour is too long; those are the podcasts that linger the longest on my iPod, unheard -- just because I'm less likely to find a whole hour free. (And I'm less likely to tune back in to listen later, for some reason.)

My only beef with some of the writing podcasts is how some edit for maximum audio compression (smaller file size = faster downloads) and everyone ends up sounding HORRIBLE. (Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's "Writers on Writing" is by far the worst audio quality I've heard; if it weren't for her interesting guests, I wouldn't tune in at all. Sounds like she's talking through a blanket sometimes. And there's often a difference in volume and audio quality between her and her guests.)

My suggestion: If you do end up with an interview you just don't want to end within your show's time frame, it would be better to break it up into 2-3 podcasts rather than torturing the listeners like this.

As for contents: I suggest focusing on the needs of the writer listeners more than the needs of the reader listeners. I think writers would be a smaller but more intensely interested audience. But writers are going to want to pimp their books, so you'd have to have a balance.

Podcasts I suggest checking out are:

I Should be Writing

Writers on Writing

Odyssey SF/F Writing Workshop Podcasts

New Yorker: Fiction (scroll down to "podcasts" section)

The Dean Koontz Podcast

Behind the Black Mask: Mystery Writers Revealed

Barnes & Noble's Meet the Writers Podcast

Authors on Tour - Live! (more for readers than writers)

Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

There are others, of course, that just feature readings of short fiction without much (or any) commentary. But that's a different type of show!

Maria said...

Nope, don't particularly like podcasts. I do listen to fiction podcast (clonepod, escapepod) on rare occasions when I plan to travel in the car (download and take with me). I have listened to a total of one author interview on podcast.

I don't know the stats, but I know that www.FantasyBookSpot.com does both written interviews and has tried podcasts. I'm guessing from observation, but I think the written interviews and online chats are a much larger feature/audience.

That's not to say that you wouldn't reach a different audience and you do have audio books so it might be a good fit. I know from the FBS guys that it is a lot of work (you can listen to a few and the first couple were...noisy and needed work.) But to do it for a long period of time on a regular basis? Lot of work. Not sure of the return.

MikeH said...

Joe,

Longtime lurker here, but podcasting seems a bit like Marmite (or Slim Jims for you folk in the US) -- you either love 'em or hate 'em -- so I thought I'd cash in my two pence.

Personally, I had a friend with a really informative and funny blog. He discovered podcasting well over a year ago and now he mostly does podcasts and only an occasinal text-post; I have never listened to a single one. I simply haven't got the time.

On the other hand, I would be tempted to download and listen to yours (at least the first one) as I know you are an informative and funny guy and it might be something usefull -- maybe that could be one of your goals, to convert people like me.

JA Konrath said...

This is interesting.

Let's assume that podcast listeners and blgo readers are two different demographics, sort of like soccer fans and soap opera fans. Maybe there's some crossover, but not much.

A soccer fan would not want their televised game to be pre-empted by a soap opera special. And a soap fan wouldn't want their lead characters to suddenly start playing a full length soccer game.

Disdain for a form of entertainment doesn't mean that form of entertainment has no value.

The conclusion I'm coming to is that podcasting might not reach blog readers. But isn't that a good thing? Isn't that reaching a new demographic? While it might not be your cup of tea, I'm pretty sure this demographic does exist, and trying to tap it sounds like smart business.

Mystery Robin said...

Yes, yes, yes to podcasts! I'm always looking for more writing podcasts!

John said...

Joe,

The podcasts have promise but I agree with cbahm: you need to carefully find your niche and grow it from there. Don't just jump into it and see what happens. In your shoes, I'd also consider mapping out the first half-dozen or so shows just to be sure you have enough material to make it sustainable. Not that this'd be a problem for you. Joe Konrath, opinionated? Nah...

I'd certainly tune in, at least at first, to see how it goes. And to echo slpenny, do avoid sound effects. Think PBS, not Fox News. Content, not style.

One last thought: lose the Chicago accent. It makes you sound like you're from Chicago. That you perhaps live in Chicago. That you might even be *proud* to live in Chicago.

And nobody wants that.

So cultivate a more upscale accent if you want to attract listeners, such as the accent I grew up with. You've seen "Good Will Hunting," right?

I'm sure you'll let us know how this goes. Looking forward to hearing those dulcet tones in my iPod...

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Joe, I don't listen to podcasts---yet. I don't even own an ipod. However, I'm sure I'll get one at some point. And I think your podcast idea is a good one.

I was surprised the first time I heard Dean Koontz speak. I had just read his book, "Mr. Murder," and expected him to sound like the main character in that book. (The way the character sounded in my head, that is). But, still, I enjoyed hearing him.

Robert Gregory Browne sounded pretty much the way I thought he would. I enjoyed hearing him read his short stories on his site.

One last thought: lose the Chicago accent.

You have a Chicago accent? Great. I have a Texas accent. I enjoy hearing people just the way they really talk.

Anyway, give it a shot. A lot of people thought MySpace was a dumb idea that would never catch on.

As I'm sure you know, Joe, it can be lonely when you're out there on the cutting edge. Go for it.

Robert Burton Robinson

Mary said...

I like the sound of this! I’d probably listen on my iPod while driving or doing housework.

Nick Kelly said...

1. Yes....very interested.
2. New writers as well as veterans to provide a contrast of experiences in getting published, and a perspective into how things have changed.
3. If I'm online, I'll listen live, otherwise I'm in the car enough to slap 'em on the iPod.

good looking out as always, Joe!

Conda said...

Joe, this post and the comments are all fascinating. And I vote go for the podcasts, big time. And I also don't have an iPod, yet.

But I'm not the 'Net generation. What I've noticed is not only do they embrace any new technology and use it obsessively, but they expect it to be readily and easily available. Or else you're just not a viable anything. And I want that generation to find my writing and read it!

Picks By Pat said...

I'd like to throw my lot in with the pro-podcast bunch! I am always looking for something to listen to while at work.

Usually, I download an archive to listen to later (I save 'em too). That makes them easier to send to people I know via email, if I like the podcast a lot.

I would love to hear you interview some agents and publishers (Bleak House Books does a lot with podcasts...might be a good one to start with.)

And perhaps one of us could interview you...hmmm, that could be very interesting. I'm going to get a list of questions written down.

Pat

pam said...

Joe,

A couple of thoughts here...first, I hate podcasts. Hate them, and will probably never listen to yours. No offense. I hate them for the same reason a few others have mentioned, I just don't have the patience for them. They're too slow and I'm a fast reader, so I can skip ahead to the good parts in a post, whereas in a podcast, I'm stuck.

So, am I saying don't do them? No. Not at all. I think you've hit on a good point by mentioning that you may pick up new listeners, people who love podcasts.

I will add though that you might want to consider having a long podcast, then also having shorter snippets available with topics covered in each. So, the long one, then little bits of it....one that talks about plotting, the authors's new book, etc. So, the impatient types like me can click on whatever part of the podcast is appealing without having to listen to the whole thing. I will listen to short ones. Rob Gregory Browne does these and I've listened to his every now and again because it's just a few minutes.

But here's what I really think you should do, in addition or instead of.

Video podcasts. I first stumbled onto these on women's fiction writer Debbie Macombers site, and was fascinated. Debbie does promotion better than almost any author I've seen, she is very cutting edge...which you wouldn't expect from a grandmother!

Her video podcasts are brilliant though. Each is short, maybe a minute or two long, and one series is book discussion questions, and the other is visuals of her home town which served as the inspiration for her most popular series, Cedar Cove.

Joe, I could so easily see you having a ball with video casts. Your personality would shine, and you could interview authors as well! Check out Debbie's site, www.debbiemacomber.com

and keep it in mind. I would love to see any videos you might put up!

Pam

B.J. Hobbs said...

Joe, I think it is a great idea. I was in your class at Cape Fear, and I think your ideas are great but your personality adds so much to them. This doesn't come across in a blog. I've seen some video podcasts and the jumpy picture bothers me. I'd rather just listen. I am sure you would have some great interviews, probably more appealing to writers than generally to readers.

Good luck!

Kimi said...

I think you should definately podcast if you think you have things to say and are interested in it.

You are absolutely right about it helping expand your readership and your traffic.

Everyone who said the editing is the worst is pretty accurate. I run a podcast for writers/readers of urban fantasy and by far the worst of it is my inability to feel ok about putting up a podcast I haven't edited the ums and ahs out of. This may simply be because I don't have enough experience in speaking without doing so but I don't want to put it up if it doesn't sound at least a little professional.

Editing is easy but time consuming. Audacity and Soundbooth are two good PC audio editing tools. Garage Band for Mac.

I say do it if you are interested in getting more traffic. It's the newest thing in publication (see Scott Sigler and JC Hutchins)

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