There are millions of book titles published each year, and much of this is due to the ease of self-publishing. The sheer volume makes it harder than ever to be noticed as an author. I thought podcasting might be a way to get my personality out there in a way that engaged potential readers. As I consider disbanding the podcast Shadows on the Sound, I've thought a lot about what I've learned, both positive and negative.
Anyone with a laptop can have a podcast. Setting up with iTunes is very simple. Don't stop researching there. Read their best practices section, join podcast groups on Facebook, and don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. It's critical that you choose a name that is eye catching and gives insight into your topic choices (oops). Tags and descriptors will determine whether or not people find your show. Take the time to listen to the shows that already exist in your genre to make sure you're not trying to fill a niche that's already at capacity.
Consider Your Content
As an author, it's very temping to develop a podcast centered around writing. Don't do it unless you have something unique to offer. Very unique. Because there are a billion writing podcasts out there already that are phenomenal. We decided to focus on mythology's influence on popular culture. I enjoyed the topics and we had some wonderful guests. Towards the end, I know I struggled balancing health, work, book stuff, and the podcast. It showed. I didn't feel prepared and spoke less. Knowing your subject matter is important, but so is preparing for each individual show.
Research Audio Hosting Sites
I went with the first site I stumbled on despite urging from a fellow podcaster to go with a different site. See my earlier comment about joining Facebook podcast groups and asking a lot of questions. Some sites offer advertising in addition to hosting. Any ounce of advertising helps.
There are a lot of low cost ways to record a podcast. We used Google Hangouts on Air to record our podcasts. It's simple to set up the recording to feed automatically to a YouTube channel. I locked the recording to private and then used programs that came with my laptop to strip the audio from the video, then fed that file to Audacity--a free audio editing software you can download. It made editing simple.
You will have to spend money, but spend it on the following things: a decent microphone, internet speed, and hosting sites. I used a Blue Snowball microphone and liked it. I've also heard good things about the Yeti. Unfortunately, I didn't figure out some quirks until the last few episodes. I had to throw away one episode because I didn't realize the headphones I used also had a microphone built in that banged against the zipper on my jacket. I spent several other episodes clueless that Google Hangouts wasn't registering my very nice microphone and defaulting to my laptop. I also learned to coach other participants to use headphones because audio loop is highly distracting and not something you can edit out.
We tried reading from a script and it sounded very unnatural. We tried free flow and the conversation went off the rails. A good middle ground for us: a set agenda with bullet points so that one of us could steer us back on track if we went down a rabbit hole. In all cases I had to do some considerable editing. The occasional "um" or pause is natural, but there were times I had to take out a lot of content to save an episode for a general audience. If you're trying to build a brand and someone goes on a political tirade, it's wise to consider what you publish.
Ask your friends, acquaintances (if they know about the topic), and people you consider famous. You'll be surprised at who says yes. Besides, the worst they can say is no. Another opinion offers diversity and can make the topic more interesting.
Market, Market, Market
This is where I feel we fell flat. Working full time, pushing myself to get multiple books out per year, marketing my books, managing social media, and spending multiple hours per week recording and editing podcasts leaves zero time to market. There just aren't enough hours in the day to do it justice without throwing money at the problem. A friend has done a wonderful job on our Facebook page, but without advertising, tweets, and posts to drive listeners to our page, we peaked at 21 followers. My author page has nearly 700. I know I could have done better, but I ran out of steam. I didn't have the energy to spend on advertising, and grew frustrated over time.
Shows like Serial (which I LOVE--If you haven't heard it, check it out) have raised the bar for podcast professionalism. It is more difficult to be noticed and gain traction with a home grown show, but it's possible. Network and research prior to posting your first episode. Advertising is a must.
We learned as we went, but if I had to do it all again, this is not the approach I would take. I'm considering coordinating with some writer friends and starting a Youtube station based on Google Hangouts that have live participation. This time I am going to research and try to be realistic about the time I have to dedicate to a new project. What's tough is a topic choice. I'd love to have a show that focuses on writing challenges, such as representing more diversity and writing with a social conscience, but I'm not convinced these topics would resonate with readers. I'm at a bit of a loss. For now.
Do you listen to many podcasts? Which are your favorites? Is there a topic you'd like to listen to but haven't found yet?