Sunday, July 13, 2008

Podcasts

Dear Rejecter,

I know you've posted before your feelings about publishing on demand novels. What is your feeling about novels that the author has decided to self-publish in audio form as a series of podcasts? I'm referring to works available at www.podiobooks.com and author Web sites. A few authors (Scott Sigler and J.C. Hutchins, to name two) have landed publishing deals for their books after they gave them away as free podcasts. In your opinion, does podcasting a work before getting a publisher help or hurt the author's chances of getting published in print? Would you or your boss consider taking on a work with such a history?

Hmm. You know, I've never listened to a podcast. Just never been my thing. My boss has listened to them, when her authors were interviewed and turned it into a podcast, but those were books she already bought.

While I can't directly answer your question with a yes/no, I will say that having your book online is not a writing credential, and that those guys who got deals are probably extreme exceptions to the rules. That and that they also have really good voices and maybe some background in voicework, choral, or radio.

However, it wouldn't HURT your chances of getting into print (though be careful after you sign the contract, because the contract will include audio rights).

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was wondering this myself. Several POD authors have been picked up by major houses/agents lately after ranking high on Amazon, and many of them use free e-book giveaways and podcasting as promo tools.

Seems like an OK thing to do while waiting for agents to get back to you--and if you get high enough sales on Amazon, the agents will come to you.

Anonymous said...

The contract didn't include audio rights for Sigler and Hutchins, so I guess it can be negotiated.

You're right with the most of your answer though. They landed book deals because they're well versed in audio production and had a good book to go with it. Not to mention massive listener numbers.

Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

I'm one of those authors who has been traditionally published after releasing my book in a number of new media formats, including free podcast and DRM-free ebook. I was the first to have a simultaneous initial release of a book in podcast, e-book, and pod paperback editions back in November of 2005.

On July 13, 2008, "Brave Men Run" was released by Swarm Press. On that day, it reached #53 on the Amazon.com bestseller list, #3 in Action Adventure, and #25 in Literature and Fiction.

Without the audience and buzz created by podcasting my novel, I would not have been published by Swarm (or approached, unsolicited, by St. Martins Press last year.) I certainly would not have been able to achieve such high numbers and visibility right out the gate.

My deal with Swarm does not include audio rights, and the podcast edition of the book will always be free. It's my best marketing tool, after all, having brought me thousands of fans from all over the world.

I want to clarify that Scott Sigler, J.C. Hutchins, and myself are all entirely self-taught when it comes to voicework, audio production, and new media. A background in these things is not necessary, and "amateur" status should not be considered a barrier for authors interested in creating a podcast edition of their novel.

What is absolutely essential to our success? Writing books people think are good is number one. Number two is the willingness to work hard to connect to our audience.

Happy to discuss my experience in podcasting more -- feel free to contact me at http://www.mattselznick.com

Basil Sands said...

While my novels have yet to be sold I have found that podcasting has done a miracle in recognition. Being a thriller writer in a far away place like my home in Alaska was a source of concern for me. The vast majority of published Alaskan writers seem to be literary types or Alaskan history writers (Sue Henry and Dana Stabenow being wonderful exceptions). While many people write about Alaska, few of them are from here. Therefore I thought it unlikely I would get much of an audience.

Then along came podcasting. Within less than a year of recording the first episode of my action/thriller novels gained an international listening audience of thousands with virtually no marketing other than putting a link out there on a handful of key sites and on iTunes. And that's an audience that will eventually, just as Matthew Selznick points out, drive sales once the manuscripts get picked up...which should be any day now...God willing.

Regardless, I'm going to studio on my fourth podcast novel and will keep them coming until that big pay day hits.

Podcasting is one of the many avenues a writer can take if you have the time and a modicum of talent...oh yeah...and a good microphone.

Basil Sands
www.basilsands.com

Who Dares, Wins

E G. Talbot said...

Obviously, the writing has to be awfully good for a first-time wrter to be published. But that said, imagine a publisher is choosing between two unpublished authors whose work. I guess the question about whether podcasting helps or hurts comes down to this. Would publishers prefer someone who has demonstrated a willingness to promote himself/herself heavily, who has a built in loyal audience, and who can probably sell 4 or even 5 figures of copies in the first week without any promotional expenses? Or would they consider someone with no following but with no audio versions of the work out there to weigh more heavily?

I suspect there is a perception that podcasting a novel somehow makes it less valuable, and sometimes perception makes reality. But I find it hard to believe that a publisher doing an objective evaluation of the pros and cons from a profit standpoint would choose the non-podcast author.

The Rejecter said...

Matt, Basil,

This is your final and only warning. Do not link to your blogs in comments. I will delete further posts if they have your URL at the bottom of them.

Basil Sands said...

Warning received and heeded... thanks

Basil

Nathan Lowell said...

Thank you for the question, Rejecter, and the opportunity to respond to it.

The original letter had this interesting question:

"[D]oes podcasting a work before getting a publisher help or hurt the author's chances of getting published in print?"

In my experience having or not having a podcast isn't the issue. There are a lot of really poor podcast novels. Some have low production values. Some have poor writing. Some have both. With apologies to Willy the Shake -- "To 'cast or not to 'cast? That's not the question."

The important issue is developing an audience and not so you can hold up a collection of digits to some prospective publisher or agent. While that may be marginally interesting, my sense is that most print publishers don't see 10,000 subscribers or 100,000 downloads as significant because they're "free." It's amusing but not real in the world of paper publication where "real money" is on the table.

I my experience as a writer, I've found that having an audience helps develop the author. It's sure helped me and I think that becoming a more skilled author might make a bigger difference to publication success than bringing 10,000 fans to the party.

Podcasting does have some advantages for establishing said audience.

- It's a relatively low-threshold model for getting a work out there.

- The "serialized audio rights" don't seem to be much in demand for publication contracts so using them to develop a following doesn't compete with more valuable rights like "first print" or "e-book" or even "audio book."

- There is not a huge amount of competition in the space yet and a massive demand for new works.

- The cost of the equipment can be very small and the learning curve for podcast production isn't all that high. (I recorded my first novel using a $20 headset on a cheap MP3 player using my car as studio.)

The real investment comes in developing the story, learning the craft of story telling, and in developing an audience.

I believe that what I've learned from publishing five podcast novels -- and the connections that I've formed with my audience because of those podcasts -- will help me get published in print as well, not because I have an audience already, not because publishers are trolling the podosphere for new works, and not because of the success of other podcast-to-print authors somehow paving the way.

It'll help me get published simply because it's made me a better writer.

Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

I was very careful not to link to my blog, Rejecter. I included my URL, but not a link. However, your comment page does say that html tags like the "a" (the hyperlink tag) are okay, so that creates a little confusion. If you have it posted somewhere that you don't want links in your blog, I apologize for missing that.

That behind us, I'm looking forward to your take on what I wrote in my original comment.

Best,

Matt

Anonymous said...

OK, it's time to get something out in the open.

I've noticed that all the pod-caster novelists and POD-ers have this obsession with Amazon rankings, which I can understand. That's why they all encourage people to buy the book on opening day, so it skyrockets the rankings to the top 10, if even for 1/10 of a second, but still, from then on in the promo materials you can say, "the top 10 Amazon hit..."

But does this really work? Do publishers care about gimmicky marketing tactics like this? Can you show me a case where it backfired?

I have to admit that this approach looks more respectable than begging for some 'agent' who may or may not even respond to you to take 15% of whatever you may or may not make. Seems like the new breed of action adventure authors (and it does seems to be mostly in those genres), are eschewing agents altogether, or at least until the asgents solicit them.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, there might be something to having a pristine, virgin property, i.e. something that has never, ever been glimpsed before its official release date.

I do see the value in that, but I think for new action-thriller authors, the POD/free-ebook/podcasting/blogging-your-way-to-the-Amazon-top-10-model-until-NY-comes-to-you model seems to be superior.

Thoughts?

The Rejecter said...

Anon 9:23,

Your post was so relevant I answered it in another blog post.

Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

Anonymous asked, "But does this really work? Do publishers care about gimmicky marketing tactics like this? Can you show me a case where it backfired?"

Sure it works -- Scott Sigler made an Amazon "run" with his small press (Dragon Moon) book "Ancestor" and got the attention of Crown, who gave him a three book deal. "Infected" came out in hardcover this past April, and has been optioned for film.

As an author who uses podcasting to market myself and my works, I'm very familiar with the community of podcasting authors. I don't think we're "obsessed" with the Amazon charts, per se. The three campaigns to rush the Amazon charts on a particular day (Sigler, Harwood, myself) so far have been effective marketing exercises.

Why do we target Amazon? Because it's easier to coordinate a nation-wide campaign asking people to buy from the largest book retailer web-site than it is to ask people to travel to their local book store, which may or may not have the book. Also, success metrics are in near-real time, so one can report back to the fans almost immediately, creating a real excitement.

But it's not always Amazon that brings attention. Matt Wallace, an author whose work has mostly appeared on the podcast Variant Frequencies, had a short story optioned by the same folks who made Sean of the Dead -- and he got the screenwriting gig as well.

Another example: Tracy Hickman, the popular fantasy author, podcast his out of print work "The Immortals." The book was reissued last December on the strength of the response to the podcast.

I've yet to hear of a situation where an Amazon campaign, or podcasting fiction, has backfired. What this comes down to is authors showing publishers that they are committed to marketing their books. What publisher wouldn't want that?

A different Anonymous said, "On the other hand, there might be something to having a pristine, virgin property, i.e. something that has never, ever been glimpsed before its official release date."

If I were a publisher and I had two very good manuscripts in front of me and one carried with it thousands of enthusiastic fans of a podcast edition and the other didn't... I'd go with the one that was podcast.

Publishing is about making money from the distribution of content. If an author can show they bring an audience ready-made for that content to be distributed to, that's of value to the publisher.

I will say, though, that being signed to a big New York publisher isn't the be-all and end-all for a writer these days... any more than being signed to a major record label is for a musician. In this age where artists and consumers can communicate (and do business) directly, traditional publishing -- like traditional record companies -- is becoming an option, not a necessity.

Basil Sands said...

One of the wonderful benefits of podcasting your novel is the audience interaction. People can send you feed back, as to storyline, plot sensibility, and flow and you can fix problems on the fly and greatly improve your writing prior to submitting to a publisher. Once a person has a great story, as approved and accepted by an objective audience, it will probably be a good sellable book.

It's like a massive writers workshop group where people you don't know can give a thumbs-up/thumbs-down for your work.

I did that with my first novel, Karl's Last Flight, and by the time it was done it was fairly decent. By the time my second, 65 Below, came out on Podiobooks.com it was considerably better, and so on.

Heck...I even got voice coaching on my UK accents from several Brits who listened to the stories.

All in all...it's really fun stuff you can do without getting a disease or breaking any bones.

Anonymous said...

maththew,

Thank you for the reply (this is the anon to whom you responded, and to whom Rejecter created the next thread from--thanks, Rejecter!). Interesting points, to be sure.

Also, I see that your Amazon rank is quite impressive (at least at the moment) heheh.

It does seem unproductive to just wait around for agents to respond while your manuscript languishes on your computer hard drive, when you can get a small/POD press to make it available on Amazon, and then the pormotional activities are up to you. For those authors who have the marketing savvy and the time to pursue this, I think it can work, as it has for you. And in the meantime, traditional agents/pubs can still be approached, although how to mention your Amazon activities is a matter of concern.

So I'm definitely considering it for my thriller. I even have a home studio left over from my music days that I could use to do the audio book...

Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

Anonymous said, "And in the meantime, traditional agents/pubs can still be approached, although how to mention your Amazon activities is a matter of concern."

I don't understand why it would be a concern. :-) Here's how I would mention it:

"By the way, I have a track record of working my tail to the bone to generate attention, buzz, and sales for my work, as evidenced by the campaign I organized and executed on July 13, 2008, when I asked my fans to push my book to the edge of the top fifty on Amazon.com. I'm not going to leave all the work to you or expect a publisher to dump a bunch of money on marketing, because I know they probably won't. I recognize it's largely up to the author, and I'm ready and willing to get to work."

I'm no agent, but I can't imagine any agent be anything but ecstatic about that kind of commitment.

Am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Definitely, that is a good spin.

I will look into some small houses and see what they have to offer--any suggestions? DOes it even matter?

Anonymous said...

By the way, I have a track record of working my tail to the bone to generate attention, buzz, and sales for my work, as evidenced by the campaign I organized and executed on July 13, 2008, when I asked my fans to push my book to the edge of the top fifty on Amazon.com.

I have to say that I've received notes like these from authors before (either through email, message boards or on Facebook), and they always turn me off. It's not enough that I buy their book--I'm being asked to buy their book on a certain day to make the author look good on Amazon for 24 hours or whatever. There's something a bit icky about it, in my opinion. (And by the way, I work in advertising, so I'm more accepting of marketing and promotion than a lot of people, I would imagine. Or maybe I'm more cynical. Hmmm.)

Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

Anonymous said: "It's not enough that I buy their book--I'm being asked to buy their book on a certain day to make the author look good on Amazon for 24 hours or whatever. There's something a bit icky about it, in my opinion."

I can appreciate that if you're coming from traditional media and traditional marketing.

The "amazon rush" campaign I ran, and the one I participated in as a consumer, were more about community, and an opportunity for grateful, very eager fans to give something back to an author.

What I've learned is that fans are very committed to the success of authors they like, and love to be able to say "I was there" when it comes to events like this.

This might be one of the hallmarks of neo-patronage: the author has a relationship with the audience, usually on a one-to-one level. It's personal, for everyone.

DBR said...

A little late discovering this post so apologies but having produced/directed over 450 audio books and executive produced more, I thought I'd throw my thoughts in.

Self-podcasting your book could be wonderful in all the ways mentioned above (as well as being a great editing tool) but there are several things to watch out for.

1) As others have said, a badly written book is a badly written book in any media.

2)A badly read/performed book can make a well written book sound really, really bad. Worse, it can make it sound BORING.

You could actually put off not only a potential audience but potential publishers who you manage to bring to your site.

If you're not a capable actor then maybe even find a friend who you know is a good performer and have them read it for you direct it yourself. If you're going to do it yourself make sure you at least have someone listening as you go and making sure your read gives the same atmosphere or experience as you intend your book to give.

The audience will forgive a non-professional read for a good story but if you put them to sleep they won't know it was good!

I have directed many published authors reading their own work and only one that I can think of worked because he was a brilliant performer. The others mostly sold their first audio books to the level that was expected from print sales but none of their consequent books - people knew how bad they were by then!

I'm not saying don't do it - I'm just suggesting you don't underestimate the medium ^_^

Happy podcasting.