This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss when it is beneficial for authors to host a podcast and the differences between a fiction and non-fiction audience.


Crys: Hello, and welcome to The Author Life Podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my co-host J Thorn.

J: Hello, Crys.

Crys: How’s it going?

J: Oh, it’s good. We’re batching, so there’s no updates.

Crys: The main update is that the technology in J’s computer are not agreeing, and so it has twice randomly decided he’s not allowed to talk anymore and he’s had to leave and come back to the app.

J: I’m clearly saying something offensive to my laptop.

Crys: It’s like, no, you’re not allowed to have a voice anymore.

Okay. Speaking of technology and talking, our question this week is how can authors use podcasting more effectively? And it’s not like you know anything about this.

J: Or you, for that matter.

Crys: I only have two podcasts, sir.

J: Yeah, this is a great question. There’s a number of different ways we can take it. I don’t know, I feel like we can frame it for fiction versus nonfiction. That kind of feels like the place to start, maybe. What do you think?

Crys: Yeah, that sounds good because I think it’s very easy to figure out how to use podcasting for nonfiction.

J: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I think that’s the low hanging fruit. If you have any kind of side hustle, if you have any kind of industry related services that you do, if you’re an editor, a graphic designer, a formatter, if you are creating any type of service or productized service or content of any kind in the industry, then a nonfiction podcast is a no brainer. It doesn’t mean a podcast is right for everyone, but if podcasting is right for you and you offer some of those services, I think 10 out of 10 times it’s the right move.

We kinda had this conversation internally with three story method editors, and I really encourage all of them to have a podcast. Because what the podcast does for nonfiction is it allows you to niche down, you can get very specific on your specialty. And at least at first, I think that’s how you build authority and you attract clients, is you specify in a particular thing that you do. And it doesn’t have to be unique, like you’re never going to find something that only you do. It’s okay, there are many editors, but if you can create a podcast that focuses on the particular kind of thing that you’re specializing in, I think that’s your best bet.

This isn’t like a major revelation or anything, but a nonfiction podcast, what it allows you to do is be in someone’s ear all the time. And I would argue that’s different than video. I know that YouTube is a major part of a lot of independent businesses, and I recognize that I’m leaving money on the table by not being there, but it’s not my native format. I’ve reconciled that. I’m just not as comfortable there as I am behind a microphone, and I think that’s important to recognize as well.

But the reason I bring that up is people will listen to podcasts while they’re doing a number of other things, whereas video demands a hundred percent of your attention. So I feel like it’s no surprise that audio continues to grow at the pace that it does, whether it’s audio books or podcasts or social audio. It’s just something people can do while they’re doing other things. You can’t do that when you’re reading and you can’t do that when you’re watching video.

Crys: I agree. I remember like my college addiction to YouTube because it was new and it was like the only kind of like thing. But then once smartphones came out, we could carry the internet in our pocket very easily. Ever since I’ve discovered podcasts, I’m like, if I’m driving, if I’m biking, when I walk my kid to and from school, I can listen to podcasts, whereas I would not be able to safely watch a YouTube video.

J: Good point. Yeah, if someone said I have a nonfiction book or if I have a business, I would be like, you need to be podcasting. If it suits you, it’s not right for everyone, but if it fits your personality you should absolutely do it. And it’s not the technical hurdle that it used to be. It’s pretty simple now. You can get a simple plug and play USB microphone and you can get a podcast hosting service for free if you really just want to test it out. And it’s as simple as clicking record and hitting publish, like it’s technically not that complicated.

So I would say for nonfiction, you should definitely consider it if you have any sort of related business.

Crys:  Now for the fiction folks, how can they use it?

J: That’s a bit trickier, right? Yeah, this is a tough one. I really enjoy creating podcasts for fiction, but it’s hard. I don’t want to make a blanket statement and say the podcasting doesn’t work for fiction writers because that’s not true. I just think it’s harder to find your way there. Like it’s harder to figure out what you should be doing.

I’ll tell you an assumption I made that was a false assumption. A few years ago I started a podcast called Dark Arts Theater, and the idea was I was going to feature two of my favorite things that I know for a lot of people are like peanut butter and chocolate, which was like horror movies and heavy metal. I was like, I’ll just mix those two because they go together quite naturally. And I know there are a lot of fans of heavy metal who like horror and vice versa. And I think what I discovered is that just because someone listens to heavy metal or watches horror movies, doesn’t mean they read books and it doesn’t mean they listen to podcasts.

And I think that’s an assumption that we make that is not necessarily true. So if you’re writing romance and your readers love your books, I don’t think you can assume that they’re just gonna start listening to a podcast. It’s a completely different experience. And you can’t just make that assumption that’s gonna be the case.

You can’t make the assumption the other way either. So like you can’t start a fiction podcast and then assume you can bundle those as a book and people will read it. It doesn’t go that way either. So I don’t know if there’s some black magic or some voodoo involved, like I don’t know what the combination is. Like I know there are people who do it, I think the examples are fewer and far between.

So I think for fiction, it would be a thing that you really have to enjoy doing. Like it’s something you would have to enjoy no matter what, whether you had an audience or not. And the reason I say that is, because I would say this for nonfiction too, you almost have to commit to a year at a minimum. Like you almost have to podcast on a regular basis for an entire year before you see any sign of interest, like before you make any decisions. Anything less than a year, it is just not enough time.

Podcasting, like publishing, is a long tail game. You can’t write a blog post for three months and then decide it’s not working for you. Like it’s the same with podcasting, you gotta commit for a long period of time because the growth isn’t linear either. Like it’ll just, it’ll flatline and all of a sudden it’ll spike, and then there’s a new flat line, and a lot of it’s random.

Crys: Yeah, and this is just my brain and what I see, there’s probably 15 other ways of doing a fiction podcast. But the three that I see as the most accessible to most of us are either a review podcast, Will and my name is Blanking on his husband’s name’s, Big Gay Podcast.

J: Yeah, which I don’t think they’re doing that anymore, are they?

Crys: I don’t know. I’m terribly behind on my podcast. I have no idea who’s doing what currently, other than us.

In some ways, Christine Dayle and JP Rindfleisch’s Serial Fiction Show crosses that, in that not all of the work is their own. So maybe there’s four actually.

So you have the review podcast, the Big Gay Podcast. You have the story podcast, whether that is full on audio production, like Welcome to Nightvale, or you are turning your book into a podcast, a la Stephanie Bond, and using that as a way to promote back to the existing work. Or you have the anthology podcast where you as a host are bringing other people on to feature your work. Anything that isn’t you actually telling your own story, those are ways for you to reach a cold to warm audience and get name recognition for yourself and occasionally put your books out there.

Okay. The other one, maybe I came up with five, I don’t know. There’s another version of podcast, which is like the intense, super fans, newsletter version, where you are just talking, you’re using it like social media, where you’re giving updates about yourself and your writing to the people who are your super fans and really care. I really don’t know a ton of people doing that. Lesbians Who Write is one of the ones that come to mind, but they cross the line between are they for writers or are they for readers? They have a mismatch of purpose. And most of these require a lot of your creative energy.

J: Yeah, this might give folks some idea. The interview format’s a pretty standard podcasting format, whether you’re talking about fiction or nonfiction. So if you were doing fiction and you want to interview other authors in your genre as a way to cross promote and reach new readers, which would be a great idea. Like I’ll give you some sense, like for the Writer’s Inc, I’m gonna say takes me about 10 to 12 hours per episode of work. And that includes reading the book of the guests, that includes arranging the interview, recording the interview, editing it, preparing for it, post production. Then it involves another round of recording with JD and Zach, post production on that, scheduling. Like the whole thing is easily 10 to 12 hours per episode and we do a weekly episode.

I think you just have to realize that’s what it takes. And I don’t necessarily, I don’t cut corners, but I’m also not like super obsessive about it.

Crys: If you were just starting out, that would take you at least double, so it would take you at least 20 hours if you were just starting out and you didn’t have how many years of podcasting under your belt.

J: Yeah, exactly. It’s really a commitment. And that’s why I said you have to really think hard about it because you think about are you willing to do that for a year? That’s just one example. Can you commit to that for a year? And if you say that’s really gonna cut into my writing, that’s a very legitimate concern. And that’s something you need to consider. And if it is gonna cut too far into your writing or your marketing, then maybe you shouldn’t.

There’s a lot of things we can do, it doesn’t mean we should do them. And just because they’re working for someone, doesn’t mean they’re gonna work for everyone. There’s a big caveat, there’s a big asterisk next to this entire conversation. But you’re right, and even I’m sure you have hours into each episode for Write Away and for this. All the organizing, the brainstorming, coming up with the topics, scheduling post production, all of that, like that’s all time that has to come from somewhere.

Crys: Indeed. Indeed. If I were to make a recommendation to most people, like if they were really excited and they really wanted to start a podcast for fiction, for it to either be a story you’ve already written because one thing I think that authors could do if they’re not ready to pay for audio, like an audio narrator, is they could record their first book on their own with all of the mistakes and unprofessionalities. That’s far more acceptable on a podcast than it is for a purchased audio book. So you could do your first book or whatever, you could do it for your entire series and have it at a delay. And it’s just you have it free out there on podcast for those who want to dedicate the time to it. If you do that kind of model, then you’re looking at more of a web tunes, making money off of merchandising model than you are off of the text or the audio.

And if you don’t want to do that, one of the most easily accessible ones would be your top weekly reads, like whether it’s like a kind of a review. And only do positive reviews, this is my personal opinion, you as an author publicly if you are trying to promote your work, talk about the books that you can positively review. I’m not saying you have to give positive reviews to books you don’t like, absolutely not. You just don’t ever mention them. Because once you become an author, it’s a different circumstance than when you were a reader.

So as an author, if you’re just talking about personal taste, if you want to talk about like social issues about the book, that’s a whole other kind of review. And I think that there is a place for authors to have that, but that’s like my rambly opinion about what are author places in reviews.

And then the third one, which is the slightly more time intensive one, would be to do the interview with those other authors in your genre. And with those, you have to be very careful because when we authors get together, we really like to talk shop. But if you are talking readers, you need to think, what do the readers want to know about? Not what do the authors want to know about.

J: Yes, I’ll add one more thing here that I thought of, which is podcasting is different than publishing in that if you try it and you don’t like, it goes away. If you stop producing your podcast and you delete it, it disappears from iTunes, it’s not like you have to live with it the same way you do that paperback that you published in 2012.

Crys: Yes. Very true.

J: Yeah.

Crys: All right. My question for our listeners today is: if you started a podcast, what would it be? I’d love to know.

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