This article appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of Writers’ Journal.
If a website is an online brochure and a blog is an online newspaper, a podcast is an online radio program. It can be a valuable tool for generating interest in you and your book. A well-rounded Internet marketing platform should include at least one audio recording. It could be a recording of you during an interview, or reading an excerpt from your work. Like many activities on the Internet, podcasting can become addictive. You might find yourself recording a whole host of things for electronic distribution.
What is a podcast?
If you’re wondering what a podcast is, the word is yet one more conjoined Internet term—“iPod” + “broadcast” = “podcast.” Podcasts are digital audio files released episodically for people to download through web syndication. (Vodcast is a video broadcast. We tech people do love our portmanteaus.)
The difference between a podcast and just putting a bunch of audio files up on the web or listening in on a streaming Internet radio program is the syndication process. People who listen to podcasts have podcatchers installed on their home computers. Products like iTunes, Juice, or Winamp can be set up to subscribe to podcasts and will automatically go out and download the latest recording.
Podcasting is a lot like blogging in how it’s syndicated and in the frequency with which you should put up new content. The type of content can also be very similar—I met a podcaster at a convention who insisted that if you weren’t using a blog along with your podcasts, you weren’t podcasting correctly.
The thing that podcasting does for you that blogging doesn’t is give you a human voice.
Any marketing person will tell you that the best way for a person to remember you is an in-person meeting—after that, video, audio, photo, and finally text. So if you’re trying to build a following, an audio recording tends to generate a stronger tie with the people you’re trying to reach than text alone.
A wide variety of people tune in to podcasts. Podcasts are listened to during commutes and in place of the radio at offices. They liven up work-outs at the gym, long road-trips, bike-rides, walks, or jogs. Podcasts can be played on computers, iPods and MP3 players, most mobile phones, or burned to CDs.
How do you do it?
Like writing an article, blog, or novel, the first thing you do is plan what your podcast will be about. This is a lot like selecting a topic to blog about. It needs to be something that you have a lot to say about, something that you enjoy talking about, and if it’s supposed to help promote you or your book, it should be something that your potential customers—er, readers—will be interested in listening to. These podcasts might be poems, short stories, chapter-by-chapter readings of your novel, how-to tips, or interviews. Do not assume that you can read other people’s work. Copyright to audio recordings of published material belongs to the author or publisher.
Also, like blogging, you have the option of taking on a co-host or two. These people could either join you for a talk-show-like adventure, or could do related casts all on their own.
Since it’s audio, you can include music, just make sure you have the rights to use whatever you decide to include. On that note, a podcast could, and probably should, include a theme song to open and close the program. If you have nothing in the way of musical talent, there are some great rights-free clips available for download. A quick search for “public domain music” or “royalty free music” should yield some useful results. The only stipulation is that you properly credit the composer. I’m very fond of Kevin MacLeod’s incompetech (incompetech.com/static/music). If you wanted something original composed for you, I’m sure he’d be happy to give you a quote.
You can also include sound effects to help bring your words to life, so long as they’re done well. Clown horns are great if you’re going for comedy, but even these get annoying after a while. All of the novel podcasters I spoke with recorded their first attempts with character voices and sound effects. Their second recordings did not include these. The reason being that the time to produce enhanced versions increased exponentially from straight reads, and there was no noticeable return on that extra investment of time.
The next thing is to pick a target length for your episodes. Between fifteen minutes and an hour is a decent length of time. You don’t want the cast to be so long people can’t download it, or can’t listen to it in one sitting. You also don’t want it so short they wonder why they bother. You don’t have to religiously stick to your time limit. For example, if you’re doing a chapter-by-chapter syndication of your novel, you might choose to go by chapter, not time.
How often you choose to put out a new episode is up to you, but I feel that frequency of podcasts follows the same rules as blog posts: As often as you think you can commit to doing regularly and faithfully. The shorter the podcast, the more frequent you can be without over-loading your audience.
You’re going to need a computer. Thankfully, these days, that’s not an elitist piece of equipment. Anything purchased since 2005 should have what you need on board. Checking on some of this stuff might require crawling under your desk with a flashlight to look at the back of your computer. (While you’re down there, it won’t hurt to vacuum the dust off of your system.) Here’s a laundry-list:
- 512 MB of RAM or more
- 2GB+ free hard drive space
- A sound card with “mic” in and “headphones” out jacks
You’re also going to want a high-speed Internet connection—cable, Fios, etc. Podcasting means uploading very large files to the Internet. A dial-up connection will send you to the liquor cabinet in a bad way and will make your podcasting venture a short-lived one.
Inexpensive microphones and headphones are perfectly acceptable. No need to break the bank here. My personal preference for recording is a headset that combines the headphones and microphone. The benefit to the headset is that you can adjust the distance of the mic from your mouth and it stays there—no cramped necks or strange positions necessary. My $10 Labtec makes great recordings.
You’re going to need some recording and editing software to make this work. Audacity is a free product that runs on both Mac and PC and allows you to do those two things. Remember to save the completed file out in an MP3 format. While Audacity will play back your podcast, you’ll probably want the latest version of Windows Media Player or iTunes so you can screen your program as your audience will hear it.
The last bit of software you might want is some sort of program to upload your MP3s to the Internet. Some of the distribution resources, which I’ll mention later, will have built-in methods of doing this, but if they don’t you’ll want a program like CoreFTP or SmartFTP. (FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol.)
You’re all set to start recording.
Choose a place that’s quiet with as little white noise as possible. Your home office may seem quiet to you, but that window-unit AC that you don’t notice anymore will play havoc with your recording. Your computer’s fan is loud enough.
It’s also a good idea to write an outline or script for your show before you begin recording. For novices in particular, it’ll help cut down on the “ums,” “ahs,” and dead space in the recordings that you’ll have to try to edit out later. Your outline will help you write up your show notes as well. Show notes are an important piece of your podcast since they will be what initially attracts listeners to you, but more on that later. Use whatever format you’re comfortable working from.
You may find that you have to adjust your writing a bit to accommodate the episodic format of serial podcasting. For instance, you might have to repeat a number of details from episode to episode or re-introduce minor characters so that the listener doesn’t get lost or forget what’s going on. Subtle is difficult to pull off when a month or more can pass between chapters.
Now you’re ready to start recording. Since this isn’t a live performance, you have the option of recording the whole thing all at once, or doing it in segments and splicing them together with your editing software. Doing it all at once may sound easier, but it takes a lot of experience and planning and you may have to live with some mistakes in the finished product. Doing it in segments will give you a more polished product, but it will take more time in post production to put the podcast together.
To make the most of your podcasts, be sure to mention your name and web address at both the beginning and end of each podcast. Approach every episode as if the listener was hearing you for the very first time. You can build audio branding with your theme song, also to be included at the beginning and end of each recording.
Keep in mind that once you’ve built a following, you can also sell advertising time to sponsors. If your intent is to head in that direction, you may want to prepare your audience by setting aside time within your program for that purpose from the very start. Take that opportunity to plug your own book or speaking services. Keep in mind that this audio cast will be around for a while, so advertising anything timely will turn into a waste of air-time once the event is over.
One more thing to think about is the ID3 tags. If you’ve ever looked at a list of .mp3s on your iPod or through any other directory listing, this is the title, artist, album, genre information. You may have even noticed this information scrolling across your CD or digital music player. When you’re saving out your .mp3, you can enter that information as an ID3 tag. These tags make sure that no matter where the listener picked up your cast, they’ll know what it is and where it came from without having to open the file. It’s a good idea to include your domain name in this information.
Now that you have a finished .mp3, you’re ready to take over the world! Ok, maybe just hit the Internet surf. At the minimum, you’re going to need a blog as a home base for your podcast. Blogs are a better choice for this than web pages because of their built-in syndication and RSS feeds. For more information on choosing and registering a domain name, dig out your back issues of Writers’ Journal for my columns on websites and blogs, or visit my website.
Setting up Syndication
RSS stands for really simple syndication. There are two types of RSS feeds and you’re going to want to use both so hang on and I’ll explain what each do for you.
The RSS that comes with your blogging software is usually set up to distribute text over the Internet. This is where your show notes come in. When you post each episode to your blog, you’ll include your show notes as well as a link to the .mp3. Those show notes will be distributed over the Internet and attempt to draw in new listeners. Those people may subscribe to that RSS feed to get instant email notification any time a new show is put up.
The other RSS you’re going to have to set up yourself, though more and more blogging platforms are building in features for podcasters. Thankfully, Google’s Feedburner is free and just the thing you need. Look for all the radio buttons labeled, “Are you a podcaster?” and check them. Liberation Syndication is also worth looking into. Audio recordings require special indexing and handling that text does not.
In addition to your own little home base, there are places you can upload your files and tap into other people’s distribution. iTunes, Podcast Alley, Podio Books, Audible, and Free Podcast Novel are some places you can upload your recordings and tap into someone else’s distribution, just remember that you still need a home base of your own in order to fully capitalize on the marketing potential of your casts.
Another way to get the word out is to create a 30 second promo and ask established podcasters to play it for you. Podcasting is still a relatively small group and most of them know each other. They regularly trade promos with each other. The experts agree that your promo should be short (under a minute), catchy, and state the name of your book and the url in the beginning. Make sure your blog has the link to your latest podcast prominently displayed and easy to find contact information. Failure on those two points was the top two complaints of established podcasters who would play promos.
Take your outline and craft a nice, exciting summary of your podcast. This will be posted to your blog (be sure to follow all of the great posting tips from my previous articles on this subject) You’ll want captivating titles, bullet lists of the main points, popular keywords, and relevant “more information” links, but most important is a link to the MP3!
Podcasting can be an effective way to supplement or round out your web presence. It also gives you yet one more way to engage your audience and create connections with your potential readers. Have fun and happy recording!
Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on Internet marketing. Her Internet marketing workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, is available on her website at www.AngelaRender.com.