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 .