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Podcast Audio Dramas: What Fiction Authors Need to Consider

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Could narrative podcasts be the next big thing for authors?

Could narrative podcasts be the next big thing for authors?

Could Podcast Dramas Be the Next Big Thing?

A reader recently asked me what podcast audio dramas (comparable to radio dramas) could mean for fiction authors. Have you heard of podcast audio dramas (sometimes referred to as narrative podcasts)?

Podcasts aren’t all just news and talk. Podcast audio dramas are growing in popularity and are very similar to what people had before television: Radio shows featuring drama, soap operas, comedies, adventures, and science fiction. Instead of being on broadcast radio, they are now on the likes of iTunes. With the rise of audio devices and smart speakers in our homes and cars, an old entertainment option is experiencing a resurgence.

These podcasts represent an opportunity for self-published fiction authors. However, here’s what you need to know about creating them to avoid creating more drama for your life and work!

(Note: traditionally published authors will need to contact their publishers about rights and limitations before creating podcasts or audiobooks based on published works.)

The Performance Factor

Today’s podcast audio dramas are serialized and continuing stories, just as their radio forbears and television shows. The story and its presentation of it must be gripping enough to encourage listeners to subscribe to the show and anxiously await the next episode. It can’t be a dry reading of text!

The author/podcast host himself must be good at the storytelling art, or be willing to hire someone who is. Alternatively, it could be a dramatic performance of a story. This would be more akin to scriptwriting and may require additional vocal performers.

So authors need to assess their own vocal talents to determine if they are capable of performing in their fiction genre. If additional performance talent is needed, that could up the cost in both time and money. Coordinating recording for multiple vocal actors or narrators can lengthen the time and complicate the logistics to produce each episode. Editing recordings with multiple voices and tracks can also be challenging and is usually beyond the capabilities of beginning podcasters, requiring the hiring of a good audio editor. All of this means more money to produce.

Podcast Audio Drama or Audiobook?

Is a podcast audio drama the same as an audiobook? No, and self-published fiction book authors should give serious consideration to creating an audiobook over a fiction podcast for several reasons.

Again, the following discussion applies only to self-published authors. Traditionally published authors will need to work with their publishers on any works based on published books.

Getting Paid

Although there can be podcasts that cost money, many are free. If you want to charge for your podcast audio drama, you need to choose a podcast host platform that allows for payments.

But you have to remember that many people are used to listening to free podcasts. So your fiction podcast could be passed over in favor of other free shows. Doing an audiobook, for which you will definitely get paid, might be the better option.

Authors may reason that doing the podcast for free could help build fans who would then be interested in buying the audiobook, or even the print or eBook edition. While there may be some validity to that, if listeners have heard the book all the way through, it’s a spoiler, making it less likely they’ll buy.

Use a podcast to promote! Give them a sample, but not the whole thing.

Story Fuel?

Another reason why an audiobook should be considered over a podcast is the future continuity of the story. An audiobook has a definite beginning and end, even if there will be more books in a series (which would each have a beginning and end). Audiences for radio and television shows have expectations for continuity for a long period of time, often measured in years.

A prime example would be the soap opera, The Guiding Light, noted as the longest-running drama broadcast. It started on radio in 1937 and continued there until 1956. In 1952, it started on television and ran until 2009. That’s over 70 years! While most dramas and sitcoms don’t run that long (if they get 3 to 5 years or seasons, it’s a miracle), does your fiction have enough story and appeal to fuel years’ worth of episodes?

Add to that the necessity to broadcast a podcast audio drama on a regular basis, typically weekly. Weekly podcasting, even for news and information, is challenging enough! Either you need to be very adept at churning out the next stage of the story every few days, or you have to have several months' worth of episodes ready to broadcast in advance of launching.

Are You Able to Switch From Novel Writing to Scriptwriting?

Fiction writing and scriptwriting are two very different skills, even though both are storytellers. Podcast audio dramas require more of the scriptwriting art, requiring the writer to move the story along primarily with dialogue unless there’s a narrator character to fill in the gaps. This could be difficult for novel authors who are used to setting the scene and the action with description.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 05, 2018:

Linda, I didn't think of this either until one of my loyal HP readers questioned it on another post. Love the learning we get here! Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 04, 2018:

I love the fact that you write about topics that I've never thought of before. A podcast audio drama sounds very interesting, though I appreciate the potential difficulties in its creation that you've described.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 02, 2018:

Liz, radio shows could certainly make a comeback in this new era of audio content. We still have the same interest in stories as we always have. It's just now we have more ways and devices to listen.

Thanks so much for stopping by and have a terrific weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 02, 2018:

Pamela, when I was on outside sales, I put in a lot of drive time, too. So audio books and programs were a godsend!

True, there are some authors/presenters which just can't deliver on a vocal level. I'd usually prefer to hear the author since I think sometimes narrators are too perfect and detached. But, as you note, some are great and others just aren't.

Thanks so much for chiming in and have a lovely, relaxing Labor Day Weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 02, 2018:

Flourish, thank goodness we had electric lamps! :-D

I go back and forth about the "Midwestern accent" issue. Even though I'm in the heart of the Midwest, there are accent variations even within 100 miles. You can usually tell a Wisconsinite from us Chicago folks. And, yes, we all sound "normal."

Unless it's difficult to understand, I think the regional variations add to the work, not detract from it. I just listened to an audio book read by a perfect narrator with almost no regional tones. Read well, but it seemed very detached. Honestly, in this case, I would have preferred to hear the authors since the book described many of their personal experiences.

For regions that have extremely distinct accents, it might be worth it for authors to get some beta readers/listeners to test some recordings and get feedback.

Thanks for bringing up this important issue! Have a relaxing Labor Day Weekend!

Liz Westwood from UK on September 02, 2018:

It's good to see that the old radio dramas are still going, adapted to a new form of technology.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 02, 2018:

Mary, I so agree that there are a lot of outlets for writers to share their talents with the world. They just have to be open to the possibilities and be willing to learn some new aspects of their craft, along with the technology.

I remember listening to audio books and programs when I was a kid, too. It really is a different experience that visually reading a book. And each format brings different benefits to readers. Luckily, we live in a time when we can have them all!

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing! Have a lovely day!

Liz Westwood from UK on September 01, 2018:

It is really interesting to see that the radio dramas of years ago could be coming back again as podcasts.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 01, 2018:

This is an interesting article, although I would not make a podcast. I enjoy reading books and frequently relax and do just that.

However, I used to get audio books from the library when I was making a 700 mile round trip by myself. I would get several because some of the voices and the way they talked just did not hold my attention or was just to bland. So, I think your remark about the voice was right on.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 31, 2018:

While I wasn't burning any kerosene lamps at night like Bill, I do recall listening to Garrison Keillor on the radio. I liked both the question and answer. You know, Trump's recent slamming of Sessions' accent and the way he talks (like he has marbles in his mouth?) makes me wonder if authors need to have an accent free Midwestern speech pattern like newscasters to be on any audio platforms. We may each believe we sound fine, but others might find our accent strong or distracting.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 31, 2018:

Like Bill, I grew up listening to the radio. I remembered as a child sitting around the radio with my siblings in our pajamas ready to listen to “Children’s Hour”. These days, while driving, my husband and I still enjoy listening to the radio. I like listening to podcasts but not dramas. I can do audio books. There are so many options now for writers that there is a channel for whatever one is good at.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 31, 2018:

Bill, everything old is new again at some point. And these dramas are certainly proof. While I don't remember listening to radio shows, I know my parents did.

Hope you have a relaxing, labor-less Labor Day Weekend!

P.S. You're not that old. :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 31, 2018:

I gotta tell ya, it bothers me somewhat that I remember being a very little kid and listening to the old radio broadcasts. And right after that we would make a phone call if the party line wasn't being used...all sitting by the light of a kerosene lamp. My God I'm old!!!!!

But I do think it's cool that the podcasts are harking back to the old days of radio. It's the kind of nostalgia that warms the cockles of my heart. :)

Have a great weekend!