Image: Matthew Loffhagen
I’ve muffled enough chuckles on dull commutes and been distracted into wandering the wrong way down enough streets to safely say that I am a podcast addict. If you too are a regular listener, you’ve no doubt noticed that not only do podcasts make ideal travelling companions for fans; they also make highly effective indirect marketing tools for creators.
If you’re an author thinking of starting one for this purpose, you’ll no doubt want to hit the ground running and build your listenership right from episode one. Unless you have the improvisational chops of podcast-extraordinaire Dan Harmon, the key to this is proper research and planning before you even touch a microphone.
Consider this your ‘starter pack’ of tips and ideas on how to get the process underway.
The golden rule
Do not treat a podcast like a sales pitch. Yes, your goal is to promote yourself as an author, but people aren’t going to hit that ‘subscribe’ button for an hour-long advert each week. Remember: this is about indirect marketing. If you can provide unique, engaging content, listeners will invest in you, and then in your work, without needing to be pushed.Author podcasts are a form of indirect marketing – don't push too hard. Click To Tweet
The appropriate places to self-promote within the podcast are the introduction at the top of each episode and the sign-out at the end. The sign-out, or ‘outro’, is where most podcasters also mention whatever product they might be selling and where it can be bought. You can also include links in each episode description.
Identify your podcast
Now that sales pitches have been ruled out, you need to decide what the content of your podcast will actually be. There are two things that usually draw me to a particular podcast:
- I already know the podcaster presenting it, and/or
- the content is something I can’t get anywhere else.
If you’re a relatively unknown or new author, the latter point is going to be the thing that gets you noticed. If you’ve already built up a dedicated following of readers and have a strong web presence, then this might help you work out the direction of your tone and content. Try and answer these key questions to help you decide:
- What does your audience like about you?
- What does your audience get from you that they don’t get anywhere else?
- What are your audience’s interests?
- What knowledge/insight can you offer your audience about you or your writing?
If you’re a genre writer, you might also want to consider dedicating your podcast to your chosen genre. Clearly, if you’re a horror writer, for instance, it’s likely that the cross-section of your readers who also listen to podcasts will be interested in podcasts about horror fiction and media. This will also ensure that you attract the right demographic of potential new readers with similar interests.
Be as original as possible
Once you’ve identified your podcast’s theme and what your unique content will be, it’s a smart idea to check out what’s already out there first before you start picking fonts for the iTunes logo. If someone has already had an idea for a podcast that’s similar to yours, then you may have to go back to the drawing board.
Obviously, it’s hard to be completely original these days, and if your theme is quite broad then it’s more than likely that there will be lots of existing podcasts serving it. Currently, the iTunes Literature podcast chart is dominated by horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to scrap your not-so-unique podcast idea for an in-depth analysis on horror, sci-fi, and fantasy books completely. My advice would be to listen to some of the existing competition and ask yourself, ‘Is there a niche within this theme that I could still fill?’ or ‘Can I do the same thing better?’
Don’t go it alone
It’s common to feel vulnerable about your voice. Many people claim to hate the sound of their own voice, and others find public speaking a sweat-inducing experience. You may be tempted to combat nervousness by scripting your episodes, but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re a hotshot at reading an autocue. The best podcasts sound naturally conversational; a stilted, scripted voice will get in the way of this.Scripts make for stilted conversation. A co-host is a better way to create podcast gold.Click To Tweet
Unless you decide to go down the audiobook route, the easiest way to get some natural conversation flowing is to avoid flying solo. Try and find a co-host with who you have real chemistry and the resulting repartee could be audio gold. The bickering co-hosts of BBC 5live’s film review show, for example, have this dynamic down to such a fine art that the show is affectionately referred to by its large, international, unusually loyal audience as ‘Wittertainment’.
Without a doubt, the podcasts that have lost my attention the quickest have been ones with flat energy between the hosts.
Choose a format … and stick to it
While I advise against anything too prescriptive, keeping notes in front of you to ensure discussion doesn’t become too tangential is a good idea. Another good idea is to settle on a format to give structure to your content. This consistency will not only help you stay on track, but help build a familiar brand for your listeners. The four formats that most podcasts use are:
- talk shows,
- knowledge sharing,
- reviews, or
- serialized audiobooks.
Let’s say that you’re sticking within a general literary theme. If you choose a talk show format, you could invite fellow authors, industry experts, or enthusiasts to come in for a chat. If they are more established than you, then you also have the chance to tap into a new, larger audience. If they have a podcast of their own, you could return the favor, too. One of my favourite film review shows, ‘How Did This Get Made?’, has its three regular hosts joined by a guest for nearly every episode, and I only discovered their podcast in the first place because one of the hosts had previously guested on another podcast. As ‘How Did This Get Made?’ has grown in popularity, some of their recent (and bravest) guests have even been involved in the very films they tear apart on the show each week.
As an author, the serialized audiobook format could be the most useful to you as a self-promotional tool. It’s also one of the most popular formats for podcasts in the literature category, with recent hit, ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno’ (titillating for all the wrong reasons) currently reaching a staggering audience of 8 million – a figure given by their own humble admission in a recent episode. Reading extracts from your latest book could be a great way to subtly sell it by giving your audience something for free – like a free sample platter at a supermarket. Certainly, ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno’ is a glowing example of how a podcast alone can draw the widest possible audience to a debut, self-published book.
If you’re really feeling bold, you could also try a segmented format incorporating two or three of these styles, like a variety show. The aforementioned ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno’ seamlessly combines the serialized audiobook and review formats with sentence-by-sentence intervals for its three hosts to discuss, ponder, and giggle their way through each chapter. The Gilmore Girls review show, ‘Gilmore Guys’ (see what they did there?) spices up its overarching format with several smaller segments scattered throughout each episode to great effect. Each segment even has its own jingle – some of which are performed live to varying degrees of quality by the hosts. All part of the charm, of course.
Give it all or nothing
Even if you don’t quite reach the dizzying heights of 8 million listeners a week, a core audience of a few thousand or even hundred could be incredibly effective, especially if, say, you’ve got something like a big book launch to announce.
Thorough planning and research will help you early on to find your niche, establish a consistent format that your listeners will become familiar with, and – most importantly – build a brand they’ll happily embrace. My parting cautionary advice is: don’t do it unless you actually enjoy it. If you sound like you don’t want to be talking, your audience will quickly decide that they don’t want to listen.
Are there any beginner’s tips that you think I missed? Do you have any podcast recommendations that are perfect for authors, or do you just want to say hello to Jason Isaacs? Let me know in the comments. And for more on producing great online content, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of ’14 Vital Questions That Will Improve Your Blog Post’,