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Podcasting for Writers


Podcasting is an awesome way to:
  • Establish an audience (if you don’t have one) or
  • Expand your audience (if you do)
  • Build your reputation as a writer
  • Generate interest and buzz in your work (which then...)
  • Supports and enhances your book sales

So Here’s Dreamhand’s Guide to Releasing Your Book or Story as a Serialized Audiobook Podcast

Here’s what I hope to cover in a few posts:
  • Submitting to Podcast Sites
  • Estimating the Duration & Production Time of Your Podcast
  • Finding Voice Talent
  • Finding Producers
  • Cross-Promotion and Bumpers
  • Delivering Your Podcast
  • Promoting Your Podcast

First, some initial thoughts...

If you produce and distribute a podcast, it’s going to be for free. You can try charging for it but – to my knowledge – no one’s done it successfully. The sheer tidal wave of free content out there will undermine your attempts (why pay for yours when there are thousands out there for free?).

Once you become a household name, you might try it and JD Sawyer is actually working to build an association of new media creators (check his blog post here) but we aren’t there yet.

Audio books, on the other hand are a whole different matter. Audible.com is the lion in that jungle. But you can’t list your audiobook on Audible until you have “at least five audio programs that will appeal to a wide audience” (from their website). Which puts you back to square one... building your audience.


You CAN, however, submit your short stories for production/publication through several podcasting companies who will actually PAY cash money for your story. These podcasters include:

Escape Pod (scifi stories)
PodCastle (fantasy stories)
Pseudopod (horror stories)
The Drabblecast (speculative fiction)
Cast of Wonders (UK podcast for YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy)

You can also post your work on podiobooks.com where 75% of all fan donations go directly to the author.

By the way... all these sites are an AWESOME resource of "what works in podiobooks" in terms of reading, structure, and production values. If you're considering podcasting your book or story (or even if you just want a really cool audio experience), I highly recommend checking them out (and I'll reference more in future posts).
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Estimating the Duration and Production Time of Your Material

If you want to podcast your material yourself, then the first step is to figure out how many episodes you’re looking at. If you’ve written a short story, you might be able to do it in a single podcast. A novella can be podcast in 3 to 5 episodes, and full-fledged books can take up to 20 or more episodes, depending on length.

Most podcasts are from 20-60 minutes in length. You really don’t want to go any longer than an hour if you can possibly avoid it... your file sizes are larger, downloads take longer and eats up the bandwidth you receive from the service hosting your podcast. Exceed that bandwidth and you’re looking at either extra costs or interrupted downloads.

To determine how long your podcast will be, take the text you have and format it in your favorite word processing software to the following:

  • Font: Courier New 12pt
  • Spacing: double-spaced
  • Margins: Top - .75", bottom - .75", left - 1.5", right - 1.5"

With that formatting in place, you can estimate 1 page = 1 minute of reading. Add 5 to 15 minutes for intro and outro and any advertising or promotional bumpers you may be including and you have a pretty good estimate of how long your podcast will be.

Actual production time is a little harder to gauge but, in my experience, you need to plan 15 to 30 minutes of production time for each minute of finished podcast. So a 30-minute episode will likely take you 450 to 900 minutes (roughly 8 to 15 hours) to record and edit to its final distributable format. Yeah, I know... that’s a lot of time. Things tend to move quicker as you get into the groove of it, but those numbers are pretty accurate.


Finding Voice Talent

Unless you’re a strong vocal performer with a pleasing voice, you’ll want to find someone to record your story for you. Where do you find these talented individuals and how much will they cost? Well, that’s the beauty of the podcasting community... the artists that do it are in it for the joy of making good podcasts. If you approach them with a cool story and a plan that ensures their work will be heard, many will do it for free.

A solo-read of a story — where the whole story is read by a single voice performer — is fairly common and works very well with a good reader. I actually recommend that for your first foray into this realm.

However, you can add an enormous amount of appeal PLUS get more people talking up and marketing your podcast if you have different readers perform the different parts in your story. Check out Tee Morris’s MOREVI Remastered Series or JD Sawyers’ Down From Ten for two sterling examples of what I’m talking about. Yes, this is a lot more work, but the end result (if done well) will have a dramatic impact on the success of your podcast.

Regardless, whether you’re doing a solo-read or having multiple cast members, cast your story in advance. Have multiple contingencies, as your first choices may not be available. Listen to podcasts, like The DrabbleCast, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, or Podcastle. Check out what’s up on podiobooks.com and see who’s doing the readings there. Note the names of the readers you like and do a search on facebook and google. You’ll find ‘em... they aren’t in the business of being inaccessible.

Another way to get in touch with other podcasters and vocal talent is to check out any fantasy cons are happening in your area. Check the guests and the presentation schedule... many podcasters have found conventions are a great way to connect with their audiences, so you can often find them there. World Fantasy Con and Balticon are two that draw a LOT of podcasters and there are several convention listings online (like at LOCUS online)

When you DO get around to contacting them, whether it’s face-to-face or via email, it’s important you have your ducks in a row and can present an articulate and viable plan for production and distribution. These talented folks don’t mind working for free but only on projects that have a good chance of actually making it to the podosphere.


Making Your Pitch to the Talent

Here are some strategies to help you when you ask voice actors to work on your project...

If you have commitments from other known or quasi-known voice talent, mention them. If not, mention the ones you‘re planning on contacting. It not only demonstrates forethought and planning, but you’ll also convey the caliber of voice talent you’re going for.

If you have any sponsors of the podcast or people you’ve arranged link or bumper exchanges with, mention them. It shows you’ve done some work preparing for the marketing of your podcast.

If you have anything out there on the interwebs that they can look at (other published work, interviews, podcasts, anything), include links to that content. Let them see that you have other work in play and are committed to creating more. If you DON'T have anything out there, don't even bring it up.

Include a BRIEF (one paragraph, no more) synopsis of the story and a BRIEF (one paragraph, no more) description of the character(s) you’re hoping they’ll play. If you can, send a SHORT (1-3 page) segment of the story that includes that character. If it’s a solo read, then the character is the “narrator” but the same content applies.

Lastly, tell them WHY you’re approaching them for this role. Explain how you heard them in “X” podcast or “Y” audiobook and what it was about their voice and performance that appealed to you. This demonstrates your commitment and your ability to identify talent and articulate what you like about it. You’re a writer... it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with the words.

Here are the five possible outcomes and how to deal with them:

  • If they ask how much you’re paying, thank them profusely for their time and wish them every success. They’re professional Voice Talent and you can’t afford it.
  • If they refuse, thank them profusely for their time and wish them every success
  • If they refuse but refer you to someone who may be interested, thank them profusely for their time, wish them every success, and contact that individual IMMEDIATELY, leading off with “[John Smith] suggested I contact you regarding a project I’m developing...”
  • If they ask for more information or a production schedule, make sure you have that stuff on hand and send it to them immediately.
  • If they agree, send them more information and the production schedule immediately.

Lastly, remember most of these people – while being extremely good and professional at what they do – do this for fun. Which means they have families, day jobs and probably a few projects in the hopper already. They're usually very approachable, but be respectful of their time and listen to their responses carefully. They may really want to do your project, but they just aren’t available in the time frame you’re asking. The podcast community is very close-knit and they communicate with each other regularly. Be gracious and appreciative and word will get around. Getting grumpy or demanding will get you blackballed before you can blink an eye.
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Are you aware of any difference in the 'market' between solo-reads and cast reads? Also, what is your personal estimation of future growth for the fiction podosphere?


Multi-cast, Full-Cast, and Solo-Read... and Growth

Awesome questions, Sparkie... thank you!

Because of the greater simplicity in production, both free podiobooks (books serialized as episodic podcasts) and their more expensive siblings on Audible.com are predominantly solo-reads. Of all the books on podiobooks.com only three come up in a “full cast” search. I have nothing but my own perceptions to back this up, but the vast majority of fiction podcasts I’ve accessed have been solo-reads and I’m betting it’s because they’re simpler and cheaper to produce.

However, when someone DOES take the time and effort to produce a multi-cast production, it tends to get more attention. The first podcast I heard that effectively incorporated the full-cast experience was The Leviathan Chronicles. Then there was J. Daniel Sawyer’s Down from Ten and Tee Morris’s Morevi Remastered (referenced earlier) and Phillipa Ballantine’s Chasing the Bard.

It bears mentioning that solo-reads and multi-cast productions still fall fairly squarely in the “audiobook” camp, while a full-cast production walks a fine line. Many of these productions are actually audio dramas produced form scripts written expressly for production instead of books that are adapted. There are commercial production companies like L.A. TheaterWorks that specialize in full cast productions of stage plays. When my wife and I were running a non-profit audio theater company, ALL our work was full-cast goodness and that garnered the productions a lot of attention. There’s also Pendant Productions and Decoder Ring Theaterwho do a LOT of Full Cast productions.

But again, these really cross the line from “book” to “script” so I’m not going to reference them further for this particular thread. They’re remarkable productions, but fall a little bit outside the purview of most of the Mythic Scribes’s community.

As for the market... the demand for audio fiction (in all its forms) has continued to rise since the dawn of the new millennium. Audible.com reported annual revenue $34 million in ’04, $64 million in ’05, and $82 million in 2006 (from a publishtrends.com article in 2007). There’s a great PDF available from 2008 (so it’s a bit dated... find it here) that shows both a steady rise in podcast downloads but, more interestingly only narrow margin of separation between demographic indicators (age, income, etc). This says to me that the demographic of people consuming podcasts spans conventional lines and reaches a much broader audience.

A more recent (2010) study carried out by Edison Research and Arbitron had some very interesting stats (you can read the whole report here)

  • Awareness of podcasting has doubled since 2006
  • 70 million Americans have listened to a podcast
  • 47% of podcast listeners are women
  • Ages range pretty evenly between 12 and 55+
  • iTunes and Social Networks are the predominant source for finding new podcasts

I want to qualify those stats by acknowledging that they include ALL podcasts, not just audiobooks and podiobooks. However, with the wide-spread adoption of the iPod and iPad as well as the growing trend of mobile devices towards becoming media consumption devices, there’s every indication that not only is podcasting here to stay, but its legitimacy and influence on a wide range of media industries (including print publication) will only grow in the future.

[EDIT: A quick addition... J. Daniel Sawyer wrote an excellent letter to the Parsec Awards committee regarding the distinction between full-cast audio drama and podiobooks that utilize a full cast for their production. You can read it here)
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Nicely organized and informative. Though I only had time to skim right now, I'll no doubt be returning for a more complete read. This sort of thing is right up my alley and I'll definitely be trying it, seeing as I love acting and know quite a few good actors. I can probably get them to work for free.. ;)
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Thanks, Telcontar... hope it smooths the way for you.

Your connections with the local theater scene will help out enormously. If you can find local talent, you'll be in great shape because you'll be able to actually be there for the recordings.

Most podcasters these days send the "script" to the actors who then record their tracks on their system and send the audio files back to the podcaster. Having directed audio productions in the past, I can tell that you'll save yourself a lot of grief (and lengthy re-takes) by being there during the recording to answer pronunciation questions, tweak the reading of a line or passage, etc. (I'll talk about this more in the upcoming production posts).

Also... um... *cough* I'm an actor with my own audio set up, so... um... if you need any supplemental vocal tracks laid down... ;)


I don't want to be a pest, but I have another question.

I looked at some submission guidelines at the sites you listed (some great stories there, by the way), and it seems they're primarily interested in works that have been published before, but will look at and record unpublished stuff if it's good enough. Some of my stuff doesn't sound too good when read aloud, but I can't really tweak it. Any advice for someone who wants to write for a podcast? I doubt they want something written like a radio play, but are there some things a writer can do to make his work suitable for the medium?


Not at all, Sparkie... that's a great question, but one I'm not sure I can answer.

The Escape Artists productions (EscapePod, PseudoPod, and Podcastle) ARE geared towards previously printed or produced work, which makes sense from their standpoint... it's a proven piece of literature that also sounds good in the intro ("this story was previously published in [all these awesome sources which aligns US to THEM in the audience's ear/mind]". It's solid PR and inclines the listener to take the upcoming piece more seriously.

But - as you observed - they DO take first-time work as well. I'm curious about your work, now... what leads you to the observation that your work doesn't sound good when read aloud? Are you using a lot of creative POV techniques? Sometimes having an actor (vocal or otherwise) take a swing at your work can reveal some intriguing inflections to your written words.

Regardless, I'm inclined to agree with you that they don't necessarily want writers submitting radio play scripts (although the Drabblecast is pretty wide open in the content they deliver. They might actually go for it).

As for writers tweaking their work for the medium... While I'm sure the editors at these production companies are mindful of the readability of a piece, their primary concern is a good story. If it's good enough, then the challenges in producing it might actually be an asset for you.

The first step I'd recommend is find a performer to read the work out loud for/with you. Buy a community theater actor a cup of coffee and you own them for an hour (trust me) and you can get a good feel for how your work will sound (as opposed to read).

Something to keep in mind when reviewing your work for suitability as an audio read is pacing and rhythm of dialog versus description. When reading a book, long passages of description can be taxing for a reader and the same is doubly true in audio. If stuff is happening and the plot is rolling along, then fabulous, but if you see 3 or 4 paragraphs of description in your work, you might trim that down. Peppering those sections with relevant or meaningful dialog will help break up the rhythm of that section and make it audibly more interesting.

It would be fairly easy to really slant your work towards an audio production... shifting your emphasis from description to dialog and keeping the descriptions to a minimum, etc... but I don't know how well that would be received. It might actually be awesome, a fresh perspective for the editors. OR it might turn them off, being less literary than they're accustomed to.

If you DO attempt some dramatic tweaks, one of the key elements to keep in mind is to engage the imagination of the reader/listener. Giving exhaustive descriptions gets tedious fast. If you give your audience juuuust enough to suggest an image or sequence, then you invite them to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. THAT, my friend, is the real power of the audio medium. It's not a "passive" medium, like television or film, but rather a cooperative engagement between writer and listener to co-create something. If you leverage that in your stories, I'd imagine they would translate to audio very gracefully.


Producing Your Podcast: Finding a Producer and Working with Long Distance Talent

Here's where we get down to the nitty gritty. You have two options... do it yourself or find someone to help you. This post will deal only with finding producers and dealing with long-distance talent. We'll dig in to equipment, software, and working with local talent in the next post.

Finding producers is trickier than finding voice actors for two reasons:
  • Production is more than just the recording. It’s the mastering of the vocal tracks, editing out the flubs and fumbles and modifying/cleaning the vocal tracks so they sound great. It’s a bigger time commitment.
  • Production also requires an ear for what sounds good and what sounds better.

If you’re not comfortable making that commitment yourself, then you’re going to need to dig a little more. Of course a solo-read makes things a lot easier... there’s only one track and one voice to edit so there’s less work to be done.

Your best bet is to find a message board or online community. LinkedIn has a Podcast Producers Group and there are many other groups to explore (Blubrry, Podcast Pickle, and PodcastAlley.com to name a few off the top of my head). Put the word out, make inquiries... again, this community is very welcoming of newbies who are interested in sincerely adding to the quality and content of the podosphere.

But if you want to take the reigns of the project, it's immanently do-able! Your needs will really depend on the talent you've lined up.

If you've found a vocal actor(s) who's done podcasts before, chances are they have their own microphone. They'll record the vocal tracks for you and send them to you so you can work with them. That's a huge load of your mind (and your budget) but there are some things you need to do in advance.

  • Write out a pronunciation guide for every name in your story. A name like "Rhys" can be pronounced several ways... never assume the way you hear it in your head is the way your talent will pronounce it.
  • Write a brief overview of the emotional progression for each important scene. Include any delivery suggestions that might not be obvious from the text, like "Rhys is really angry here, but he's trying to be civil so he's gritting his teeth." ANYTHING that you hear very clearly in your head when you read it that's really important to you should go in these notes.
  • Plan a couple of phone calls to rehearse key scenes or just discuss general tone and delivery. You're the director, here, and it's your job to give your talent just enough guidance to give you the read that you want AND back-off enough to let the talent be talented and work their craft for you. It's a fine line... you'll get it.
  • If your talent is willing and has a phone headset, you could actually be on the phone with them as they're recording so you can hear what you're getting. While this might be a pain for the entire project, it's a good for (A) critical scenes, and (B) if the first take that you received wasn't what you were looking for.

VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure your talent is recording in what's known as a "Lossless format" like WAV (for PC users) or AIFF for Mac users. This is critical... if you use MP3s for your initial raw recordings, you'll lose a lot of the vocal nuance from the recording. You want to have as much of that as possible when you start mixing things into their final form. You'll want to work in this format until you're ready to output. Even though you'll be outputting to MP3 for your podcast, you want the master to be lossless because someday it might become an actual audiobook on CD or DVD and you'll want that higher quality production for those formats (think ahead and think big).

Plan your recording sessions and production schedule around the chapters of your book. Don't send your talent your book and say "Go." This will overwhelm them and make it very hard for you to plan your production schedule.

Work in roughly 30-page chunks formatted as described in a previous post. That's roughly an hour of recording time for your talent and an hour of review time for you as you listen to it. One session like that every 3 or 4 days is very do-able but ask your talent what they prefer. If they're gung-ho and ready to rock, than rework the schedule to a chunk every day or every other day. If they're too busy, then spread it out more.

You will find that, in spite of rehearsals and descriptions and guidance, sometimes the read for a section just doesn't work. In these cases you must be VERY specific about what didn't work and give clear direction on what you'd like in the retake. Send the talent the specific passage you want them re-record along with your notes. A phone call will likely help. This WILL happen so don't get freaked out or grumpy.

By the same token, be careful of being too picky. The long-distance format is great but it doesn't lend itself to micro-direction. Decide what's really important and let the rest go. This won't be your last podcast and you can fix a lot in post-production.

Lastly, once the talent has finished recording the book or story, it is VITAL that you:
  • Thank them for their work and tell them why you're pleased with what they've accomplished on your behalf.
  • Contact them at LEAST weekly, updating them on production progress and when this thing is going to hit the web. This is important because they may be doing some promotional work for another project or being interviewed and they can help plug your podcast. Plus, they're actors... they WANT to hear their voice (trust me. I'm an actor. We're shallow that way).
  • Do everything in your power to honor the gift they've given you. Put their bio and links on your web site. Talk them up to anyone who will listen. Make sure the value they receive from working with you goes beyond just the simple pleasure of acting. Do this and you will find your NEXT podcast easier to cast. Don't do it and you're cutting your own throat.

NEXT: Local Talent, Recording Sessions, Mics and Software
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I'll keep you in mind, Dreamhand! A recording setup is something I'll have to find locally as well...

The more I think of this, the more fun it sounds. It could be great for a local acting community as well - acting and directing opportunities that will be enjoyed by more than the usual locals.

Of course, it'll be even more fun when I'm ready to start shooting the video trailer for my first book...


I know this thread has gone dark, but there's a good reason for that... I STARTED A PODCAST! I figured the best way to illustrate what I'm advocating would be to actually do it.

You can read the announcement on the MythicScribes Notice Board, but I wanted to affirm that there's much more to say on this subject. I'll be resuming posts in a week or so once the dust settles from launching the podcast.

Thanks for your patience and support, everyone!

Leif GS Notae

Closed Account
Awesome, that sounds like fun. Good idea would be to have transcripts handy for people who want them and maybe do video as well (visual aids help). Can't wait to hear more!


You guys are awesome... I appreciate the support.

I'm going to continue this in the main Podcast thread under "Notice Board" so we don't highjack this thread ('casue I DO have more to share about podcasting). ;)


I do listen to PodCastle, EscapePod, and Pseudopod, while I'm working. I try to get a story from each of them in, either new or old. Most of the stories I have listened to have been really good, and have inspired me to work hard on my stuff, and hopefully I can be there some day. I also listen to I Should Be Writing Podcast, I've gathered some useful advice from there.