Podcasting Considerations for Authors
In a writer’s community, an author asked about podcasting to supplement and support her novel writing, particularly in terms of earning money. All I did was shake my head.
I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone who has a genuine interest in podcasting. However, I have to wonder what could be gained by doing so for a fiction writer.
So let’s look at how to determine if podcasting is a path for you as an author, regardless of what type of writing you self-publish.
As with any self-publishing adventure, I have to ask what is your purpose—your why—for podcasting. Here are some possibilities:
- Promote your books.
- Build your audience and fan base.
- Provide a forum to answer fan questions.
- Offer more information on your topics or stories.
- Make money??? (By the end of the article, you’ll see why I added question marks to that option.)
While all of those sound like valid goals for doing a podcast, there is one important issue that could make all of the above goals impossible to achieve: Driving traffic to your podcast is a marketing feat in itself.
True, podcasts are very popular because people can listen to them while they’re doing other things such as driving, working out, doing housework, etc. But they have to know that your podcast exists. That’s where the challenge is.
Plus, if your intent is to promote your books, will fans be interested in your podcast after they read them? Realize that listeners will be constantly looking for fresh content from you.
Honestly, podcasts are more suited for news type shows. According to rankings from Stitcher—an app that gives users access to over 65,000+ podcasts—25 percent of the Top 100 shows in 2017 were about news and politics, with the remaining 75 percent being about society and culture, business, comedy, technology, science and medicine, and sports. So you really have to question whether your audience would even be interested in a show about your books and writing. This requires knowing your audience in terms of the content they want and how they wish to consume it.
Pocasting vs Writing
Podcasting is a very different skill from writing. Podcasting is performance! Your content must be suitable for reading aloud. So it’s more akin to scriptwriting. And in terms of content, it would not be an audio edition of your book. That's a completely different audio experience and project.
"But can't I just talk?" Sure, you can do an unscripted podcast. And sometimes that helps you seem more authentic. However, remember that unscripted does not mean unplanned. You need to have an agenda so you don't go off on a babbling tangent that will irritate your audience.
There are a number of podcasting platforms that offer their podcast hosting services for low cost, maybe even free or with a free trial. Note that many platforms may have a completely free version for personal use. However, if you’re using it to promote your books and your business, they will probably steer you into one of their paid programs. Also note that these hosting platforms may not offer tools to help you record and edit your audio files. You’ll have to do that on your own before you start working with them.
The technology to create podcasts can also be costly. Sure, you can just record a raw MP3 file with either your computer or smartphone. But how will you edit it? Some of the editing programs can get pricey. To save on costs, some podcasters turn to free and/or open-source editing programs such as Audacity. Actually, I’ve really been impressed with Audacity. However, the learning curve is super steep!
And the use of a good quality microphone is usually required to get the best audio experience for listeners. These can be less than $100 up to hundreds of dollars.
But the bigger costs of podcasting are in time and talent. For example, I’ve spent at least a couple hours editing raw audio files from interviews to create one 30-minute podcast, on top of the actual recording time of maybe up to an hour. And I had to take hours to learn how to use it all. It can be a time sink.
Do You Have Enough Content for a Podcast?
Even though most authors are a fountain of creativity, it can be a stretch to create content for a podcast. Most podcasts run up to 30 minutes, some way longer. That’s a lot of spoken content that needs to be scripted, or at least planned if unscripted.
Now imagine doing that at least once a week or so. That could eat up as much as 10 hours or more (sometimes way more!) a month. Those are hours you could have spent writing more books.
Can You Make Money from Podcasting?
For me, this is probably the biggest deterrent to me investing more heavily in podcasting. In my opinion, making money with podcasting is tougher than blogs or self published books.
First off, if you dream of putting your podcast content on iTunes—the dominant player in podcasting—you will not be paid for listens that you get there. You must offer your podcast for free in order for it to be available on iTunes. So that’s why many podcasters solicit sponsorships from advertisers, and why you might hear something to the effect at the beginning, middle, or end of the show, “We’d like to thank such-and-such for their support of this podcast. Visit their website (buy their stuff, etc.).”
In case you’re curious, Apple does not charge to add your podcast to the iTunes library, although they do have a review process before making it available to listeners. Also, your podcast has to be hosted and created somewhere else. For example, I used Podbean to host my podcast which offers integration with iTunes. And because I was doing this for business, there was a fee to host it there. And, as noted earlier, I had to create my audio content even before I uploaded it to Podbean.
Aside from sponsorships, podcasters can solicit “tip jar” type donations through some non-iTunes podcast providers. My experience with donation monetization methods has been dismal. Usually, people will consume content and leave, probably popping over to the next free podcast.
Still, other podcasters pursue a “premium content” monetization strategy where they will charge a subscription fee. This, too, is extremely challenging, especially in light of all the free podcast content that’s available on iTunes and elsewhere on the web. Plus, you’ll need some type of podcast hosting platform to handle payments and deliver the podcast to your paid subscriber listeners. More money going in the wrong direction!
Some non-iTunes podcast providers may offer advertising revenue sharing programs for podcasters. But the challenge of driving traffic to your podcast still is in your court. See each individual program's terms of service for details.
In all honesty, your podcast may not be a moneymaker. But it could help you make money by using it as a PR and marketing tool. Understand what you want to accomplish from this effort, and whether that's even possible given the nature of your content and your audience.
Are You Going to Have Podcast Guests?
Having guests join you on a podcast can be an entertaining and informative addition to your show. But with that addition comes more administrative and technical issues. How will you recruit guests? Will you have to pay them to participate, either in real dollars or promotional consideration? How will you record the audio conversation?
I’ve found that the biggest challenge with having guests is technical. Recording a conversation requires a service that can record all participants live. I’ve used conference calling and online webinar services. Usually, there’s a cost to use these services, although there may be some free or free trial offerings online to consider. And there always seems to be some technical difficulties getting everyone connected and recording. So practice is required for using these services.
I’d recommend only doing podcasts with guests after you’ve become comfortable with podcasting and the technology.
What to Expect When You Launch a Podcast
During the first few months (or more) of doing your podcast, it will be lonely! Unless you are super aggressive with promoting your show, either on social media or by buying advertising, your level of listens will be low. Because the podcast platforms we’ve talked about have no obligation to promote your show other than listing it in their directories, this will require more proactive promotion on your part.
With typically low numbers of listens or downloads in the early going, it’s easy to give up. I did! As my paid client work increased, I let the podcasting efforts slide. There just wasn’t enough there to make it worth my while. Like me, this is where many podcasters give up totally. It can be just too hard to produce and promote with very little to show for it.
As with all content and marketing, podcasting is a long-term investment in your writing and self-publishing business. But you have to be very clear about what you hope to accomplish with your podcast.
For me, I resurrected my efforts as a podcasting author to provide another way for my readers to consume my content as the use of audio and voice-controlled technologies continues to grow, especially Amazon Alexa, smartphone integrations in cars, and audiobooks.
Podcasting: Yes or No for You?
Now that you have an idea of what your investment in podcasting could be, is it for you? Or would you be better off building your author platform and income through other channels . . . maybe even just by writing more books?
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