Shouldn't You Be Podcasting?
by Amy Chavez

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Don't know what podcasting is? Well, you should, because "podcast" was designated "word of the year" for 2005 by the editors at the New Oxford American Dictionary. Podcasting allows anyone to make their own radio program and post it to the internet for all to hear.

The word podcast is a combination of "iPod" and "broadcast" but you do not actually need an iPod or an mp3 player to hear podcasts; you can listen to them straight from your computer. If you do have an iPod or other form of mp3 player, download the broadcasts to that device and listen to them whenever and wherever you want. Even future episodes can be heard without ever having to go to back to the site and download the latest episode. Through what's called an RSS feed, you can subscribe to the podcast and receive downloads to your computer/mp3 player automatically. And the podcasts are free! Podcasting is the next big thing, and it's already huge: over 19,000 individual podcasts are broadcast by anyone from news organizations to writers like yourself. Writers broadcasting? You bet.

Podcasting differs from regular radio broadcasting in that it is largely spun by amateurs. This is what gives podcasts their homegrown feel that has made the genre so popular. Furthermore, most podcasts are genre or theme-specific, allowing people to listen to only the content they want to listen to. For writers, podcasting offers another medium for exposing our writing as well as another way of promoting our work. Here's how.

Some podcasts are more like audio forms of blogs. Mur Lafferty's "I Should Be Writing" (http://isbw.murlafferty.com/) is a diary-inspired podcast about the day to day drudges of writing. Mur discusses topics central to the writing life such as finding time to write, procrastination, and rejection letters. "My podcast keeps me honest. I open the podcast with what's new in my writing life: word count, submissions, rejections, etc. and this taking stock every week -- in front of thousands -- makes me work harder."

Other podcasts are interactive. Will Brown is a self-proscribed 'wannabe poet.' "I have used podcasting as a way to share my poetry and to gain inspiration for poetry," says Will. He holds a monthly poetry challenge called "Second Sunday" where his listeners submit audio poems on that month's theme. He enjoys the global audience he can reach. "For the first time a poet living on a farm in Nebraska can share their spoken words with someone in Japan."

While these are two examples of writer-specific podcasts, others make genre-specific podcasts. Do you like science fiction? Escape Pod is a science fiction podcast magazine by Steve Eley's (http://www.escapepod.org) Dragon Page Cover to Cover (http://www.dragonpage.com) features author interviews every week.

Some writers have used podcasting to launch audio versions of their books. Cory Doctorow uses podcasting as a venue for his short fiction. His story "Shadow of the Mothaship," initially published in Amazing Stories magazine, is offered as a podcast in three parts. Science fiction writer James Patrick Kelley, two time winner of the Hugo award, has a podcast called "Free Reads-James Patrick Kelley reads himself," where he is currently offering his book "Men are Trouble" via his podcast as chapter downloads once a week.

Innovative writers such as Matthew Wayne Selznick published his novel "Brave Men Run" in print, e-book and podcast forms simultaneously. Recently, he added an audio CD edition. His site https://www.mattselznick.com/scribtotum/brave-men-run/ offers a newsletter, a link to buy the print book on Amazon.com and a link to buy the e-book. "Approximately two to four percent of podcast listeners have purchased the book in either e-book, paperback, or the recently added MP3 audio CD format," he says. He also listed his book with Podiobooks (http://podiobooks.com/), which offers serialized audio books. Podiobooks has completed books as well as those in progress which can be downloaded as they are finished. You can even decide when you want the new chapters downloaded.

Podcast Journalism

Podcast journalism developed naturally as journalists saw opportunities to use podcasting as another medium for their content. Newspapers are also on the podcasting bandwagon: CNN and the San Francisco Chronicle have their own podcasts, as does NPR. Some journalists and newspaper columnists have their own podcasts such as Curt Brandao who writes "Digital Slob" for Universal Press Syndicate. Curt says of his own show Digital Slob Pod (http://digitalslobpod.blogspot.com/), "I'm surprised how much working in both mediums feeds the creative process. Sometimes, while writing, I come up with an idea that really only works in an audio format, and I'll save it for the podcast. Other times, I say something spontaneously on the podcast than I can then fully develop in my 600-word print feature. So doing both a podcast and a column really helps eradicate writer's block."

If you are already a print journalist, podcasting gives you an opportunity to increase your audience. The number of newspaper readers is falling every year and with the younger generation more likely to turn to the internet for news and information, by combining print articles with a podcast, you can generate a much broader reader/listener base.

I chose yet another take on podcast journalism when I started my "Animal Tales: Live interviews with animals" podcast (http://www.podnova.com/channel/18809/). Rather than making a podcast based on my newspaper articles, I wrote articles based on my podcast. I write a separate article for each podcast, giving a slightly different spin for the print version.

The Power of Podcasting

I was introduced to podcasting about a year ago, when a friend asked me to co-host a podcast on life in Japan. What surprised me most about podcasting was how fast we could create a listener base. After one year and 52 shows, our podcast, "Planet Japan" has over 3,000 regular listeners per week. It took me 9 years to build up that many subscribers for my weekly email newsletter based on my newspaper column. Another important difference between podcasting and any other medium, including print or online, is that podcasting appeals to the younger generation. By having a newspaper column and a podcast, I can increase my audience by pulling from the older newspaper reading generation with my column and the younger tech savvy generation with a podcast.

Podcasting exposes you to more people, which means more chances for self-promotion, cross-promotion and more opportunities for income. You may find that broadcasting leads to new talents and thus new opportunities. I was surprised to be approached by a publishing company to do audio books because the publisher like my voice. Podcasting creates new opportunities for both podcasters and listeners alike.

How to Make your own Podcast

So, why aren't you podcasting yet? Here are the basics to get you started.

  1. Decide what your show will be about, choose a format and decide if you want to do it yourself or have a co-host.

  2. You'll need a computer/laptop and a microphone. The headset you use for Skype is fine to start with.

  3. You will need some software for recording your shows on to your computer such as Audacity, a free program (http://sourceforge.net/projects/audacity/) that allows you to record and edit your audio tracks on your computer.

  4. If you're podcasting with more than one person, and thus using more than one microphone, you will need a mixer, but even a cheap simple one will do. Start out slowly and increase your equipment and costs only after you know what you need.

  5. After you've edited your podcast, you'll need to upload it to your website.

  6. Most podcasters prefer to have a blog that also meshes with their website where their files are uploaded to. Try http://www.blogspot.com or any other blog hosting service that offers free accounts.

  7. If you want to syndicate your podcast so people can subscribe through an RSS feed and receive the shows automatically, you'll need to use what is called a "feed." Try Feedburner (http://www.feedburner.com)

  8. Once you have a feed, submit it to Podcast Directories such as Podcastalley, Podcast Pickle and iTunes to get subscribers.

Create a Pilot Program

When I started my second podcast "Animal Tales: Live interviews with animals," I started with a pilot program for the first episode. Knowing I would not have a lot of time to put into the podcast at first, I started out slowly, committing to just one episode per month. I recently re-launched the program after redesigning the podcast according to feedback gained from the first few shows. I've added a co-host, interviews with animal trainers, film-makers etc and am doing a podcast once every two weeks now. By designating a pilot program from the beginning, you give yourself a chance to work out the rough spots as well as to decide if you have the time and energy to continue on a regular basis.

Remember, podcasting is all about exposure. It's a great way to get your name out there and to promote your other writing endeavors whatever they may be. Think of it as a way of branding yourself. "To me, the act of writing isn't complete until people have experienced the work, and it isn't a success until someone other than me recommends the work to others," says Matthew Selznick. "Authors and publishers need to recognize what's important about their work is the work, not its existence on paper bound and glued between cardboard. The more opportunities people have to experience a work, the greater the opportunities for compensation."

So start podcasting now, because the next next big thing is already here: video casting.

Helpful Sites:

Podcast directories
http://www.podcastalley.com/
http://www.podcastpickle.com/
http://sourceforge.net/projects/audacity/

Podcasting News
http://www.podcastingnews.com/ >

Podcast hosting services
http://www.libsyn.com/
http://www.hipcast.com/#

Paula Berinstein's The Writing Show
http://www.writingshow.com
Highlights books and interviews authors

Copyright © 2006 Amy Chavez
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Amy Chavez is a columnist for The Japan Times. She is the author of Guidebook to Japan, what the other guidebooks won't tell you and hosts two podcasts: Planet Japan and Animal Tales: Live interviews with animals. Visit her online at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amy-Chavez/177802342261206

 

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