To Podiobook, or Not to Podiobook?

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I first came to know about Starla while listening to Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker on my iPod.  With absolutely spot on reading, Starla made listening to Emperor’s Edge, an already top notch story, a delight to listen too.  I decided to follow her on Twitter and then I looked her up online.  I learned that this woman not only does superb voice acting, but she’s also written and podcasted her own Parsec nominated novel.  Imagine how pleased I was when she agreed to visit my site to tell us about podcasting.  Thanks Starla, for stopping by!

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When I was first asked to write this guest post, I looked at the broad scope of the topic and had a brief fit of panic. Where do I start? After taking a deep breath, I decided “the beginning” was as good a place as any.

If you aren’t familiar with podcasting, think of it as on-demand radio. There are podcasts out there for every interest, be it Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom, quilting, astronomy… you name it, it’s probably there.  There’s another type of podcast out there too, the podcast audiobook. This is what I’m going to speak to specifically today.

“A podcast audiobook?” you ask. Yes. Otherwise known as the “podiobook”, these are (generally) free episodic releases of written works. They run the gamut from full-blown, full-cast productions complete with music, sound effects and character voices to simple, author-narrated short stories. They began appearing in 2005 with folks like Tee Morris and Scott Sigler among the first wave of these content producers. If you’re curious about these beginnings, I’d suggest this article.

Currently, podiobooks.com has 595 podiobooks available for download. All free, with the option to donate to the writers. That’s to say nothing of how many other authors and anthologies have works available in their own feeds.

The main question you might ask is “why?”. Why would a writer give away their work for free? Is it worth it?

Within the podiobooks community, that is the million-dollar question. Truthfully, I don’t think anyone knows the answer. Every individual measures success differently and takes away different experiences. Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, J.C. Hutchins, Philippa Ballantine, and Tee Morris (to name a few), have found their way to traditional publishing through this avenue. Many, many others… not so much. All I can tell you for sure is what my experience was and continues to be.

I started out in 2007 with a half-baked idea for my first National Novel Writing Month. A year later, I had a complete, albeit still half-baked, novel and was thinking about sending queries and riding the maddening traditional publishing merry-go-round.  A friend of mine discovered my little word habit, and pointed me to a podiobook he had produced the audio for: Mur Lafferty’s “Playing for Keeps”. It’s one of my all-time favorites to this day and was the major reason I decided to podcast “The Dreamer’s Thread”.

It snowballed from there. Before long I was buying audio equipment and obsessively scouring other podcasts for any voices I might be able to recruit for my own book. That’s right. First time out of the gate and I decided to go big with a full cast production. Essentially, I listened to other podiobooks and tried to match voices to my characters, and then sent out polite, self-deprecating, pleading emails in hopes that I’d get at least a few positive responses. To my shock, I received a slew of yeses, and only a single, solitary no. My excitement knew no bounds.

From there it was a whirlwind of sending out scripts, picking just the right music, recording the main narration, uploading files to my producer (Jamie Jordan, the saint he is), sending little reminders to stray actors, scrutinizing every episode for errors, and trying to be as vocal as I knew how to be on social media and my blog. In short, I had no idea what I was doing, but it was crazy fun!

My reward for all the hours of hard work and promotion? Well, I wouldn’t call it “book sales”, but I wouldn’t trade what I have gotten for anything (well, maybe a super-star literary agent and a six-figure contract, but that’s a big maybe). Not only was “The Dreamer’s Thread” a double-nominee and finalist for the 2010 Parsec Awards, but I have become a part of a community that is ASTOUNDINGLY supportive and helpful, made INCREDIBLE friends, grown and matured as a writer by LEAPS AND BOUNDS, been approached to write short pieces for several other projects, and even found employment doing audiobook narration for REAL MONEY.  Before my podiobook experience, I had no idea I had talent as a narrator. It turns out, people actually like listening to me read. Who knew? For me, all of these positives would outweigh by ten times what I had to put into it. You might then ask what that entailed…

It would be hard for me to put a price tag on my podiobook. I had a lot of help. Jamie did all the production work for free, the music I used was free (though the hours I spent looking for it were mind-numbing), everyone who voiced a character donated their time, and hosting the podcast on podiobooks.com is free (but I also pay for a personal feed). I invested in a fairly decent microphone and mixing board, but I do all of my recording in GarageBand, which is included on every Mac. However, not everyone can (or should) narrate their own work. This is where people like the guys I work for at DarkFire Productions come in.

One of the books I’ve narrated for DarkFire, “The Emperor’s Edge”, has done fairly well. If you’d like to see how the author, Lindsay Buroker, feels about her podiobooking experience, check out her post here  from when that podcast was about mid-way through it’s serialization. She can more definitively explain the monetary side of podcasting, for those curious about what it might cost to hire the whole thing out.

I completely agree with Lindsay’s assessment that podiobooking isn’t for everyone. Personally, I love it. It has enriched my life in more ways than I can count and I cannot say often enough how amazing the contributors and fans are in that community. If it’s something you’d like to get into, or even if you just want free audio fiction for your ears, podiobooks.com is a great starting point. Join us!

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Starla Huchton is an author, narrator, and freelance graphic designer, focusing mainly on book cover creation. Her first novel, The Dreamer’s Thread, is a full cast podcast audiobook and garnered a double-nomination and was a finalist for the 2010 Parsec Awards. Her short fiction has appeared in the Erotica a la Carte and Tales from the Archives podcasts, as well as the Farrago Anthology. When she is not stretching herself between 50 different creative projects, she is mom to three and wife to a Naval officer. You can find her on Twitter (@riznphnx), Facebook, Podiobooks.com, Designed By Starla, or her author site .