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indie podcasts

March is #trypod Month!

Followers of this website know that I like throwing the occasional blog post into the podcast mix and it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I also have some topics in mind that I want to talk about, but today is not that day. Today is a toddler yelling in the background a pile of audio to edit kind of a day. I am so excited about all the stuff coming up on the show…great contributors, awesome segments, and some cool new stuff. But it doesn’t lend itself to a lot of blogging time.

Instead, I’m here to talk #trypod month. This is an initiative put together by a bunch of the big podcast hosts to reach the 80%. As in the 80% of people who don’t listen to podcasts. The best way to reach them is through the 20%, that is you out there who do listen to podcasts. You are the best ambassadors to tell your friends and your community why they should listen and show them how to do it. You know it’s free an easy…they don’t.

To inspire you, I’m doing my roundup of the 5 podcasts I’m talking about this month. These are the ones I’ll be sharing with my peeps, and in the interest of staying away from self-promotion, they are not my shows. (Although, of course, you’re welcome to share those, too.)

The History Chicks. Days when these ladies release a new episode are my favorite days. The History Chicks is historical girl talk. Every episode they pick a woman in history, everyone from Queen Nzinga to Marie Antoinette to Hattie McDaniel (first African-American to win an Oscar.) The two hosts research the women separately (their research is excellent,) and then come together to tell the story. They’ve been doing it for years and their back catalog is phenomenal.

How to Be a Girl. This is one of my favorite parenting podcasts. It’s on break right now so it’s a great time to get caught up. Independent producer Marlo Mack tells you what it’s like to single parent her transgender daughter. What I love about this is that she’s not perfect, she’s a mom like any of us just trying to figure out how in the world to navigate this. She is on a journey and you get to go with her and you’ll be surprised how ordinary her parenting journey is. How to Be a Girl is part of a podcast collective called The Heard, be sure to also check out First Day Back.

XX Will Travel. In my 20s, I was a traveler. I worked in summer camps across the U.S., spent six months in New Zealand, and spent most of those years having a quasi-nomadic existence where I would work like a grown-up for awhile and take off. When I discovered this show I thought it would be more nostalgia for me than anything else…obviously life is much different now…but these ladies do an awesome job of speaking to a traveler wherever you are on the journey. Whether you are about to take that big round-the-word trip or you just need to plan your next girls’ weekend or road trip, these ladies will help you get there, and I love the women solo traveler angle they bring to it.

Art Curious. I slept through art history in college (the room was warm,) but I do love good storytelling and that’s what Art Curious is. The host tells the stories behind great artists and works of art, and like all good storytelling it’s a little history, a little mystery, and a little ridiculous. You don’t have to be someone who spends every weekend in a museum to appreciate this show.

German Genealogy Girl. I wasn’t going to recommend any brand-new shows…I’ve been burned by that before and she’s literally one episode in. But I am also one-quarter German, love genealogy, and have struggled with the research on this part of my family so I’m super excited that this exists and want to give her a boost.

Five shows that are subscribed to in my phone. And all hosted by women, who get neither the press nor the respect in this space. What are you listening to? What are you sharing? Tell us, and use the hashtag #trypod in social media all month long.

Happy sharing!

Kris

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Mini-Blog #1: Podcasting

The Mini-Blog feature is one I’m launching this summer while the rest of No Extra Words is on a reduced schedule: bite-sized blog posts that answer some of the questions I’m asked a lot while giving you lots of links. Look for them select Sundays in July and August.

The whole idea of podcasts feels daunting, but in simple terms it’s just audio done in episodes. You don’t have to know what technical stuff is working in the background, but you do need an app to listen. Many people use iTunes (on your iPhone, that’s the default Podcast app,) but you can also find podcasts using Google Play Music, Spotify, or a number of “podcatcher apps,” like Overcast, Podcast Addict, or Stitcher. Check your app store and try one. From a podcast app, you can search for podcasts, listen to select episodes of podcasts, or just hit subscribe and your app will automatically populate with episodes of shows you like (the quickest and easiest way to make sure you get all those new episodes right away.)

One awesome thing about podcasts is that anyone can produce one. Honestly. Anyone. Okay, there’s a little more technical setup than writing a blog, but not much. You don’t have to know exactly how the tech works, and if you want to keep it simple, your costs can be quite low (I started No Extra Words with a $10 mic, a $5/mo. podcast hosting plan, and a free website. I have since upgraded to an $80 mic.) As with anything out there, though, there’s a lot of advice and a lot of it’s bad.The good news is that some of my favorite podcasters have made a Podcasting 101 course and it’s free!

I am often asked what my favorite podcasts are, and the truth is that the answer has changed a lot since I started listening to podcasts in 2008. I have been really into indie podcasts and fewer NPR shows lately. I love The History Chicks, a great take on women in history, She Podcasts, which is about podcasting and so much more, and I recently discovered Write Now with Sarah Werner, which I’m really enjoying. I also recommend The Wisest, which is the coolest interview show out there IMHO and although she hasn’t come out with a new episode in a long time, First Day Back has to be one of my favorite podcasts ever. (Note: I’m giving you iTunes links for these show because that’s where most people listen. If you don’t listen in iTunes, don’t worry…you can search for any of these shows in a podcast app of your choice.) The great news is that if you don’t like what I like, there are thousands of podcasts out there waiting for you, and all for free. I started podcasting because I love podcasts and I’m happy to say a year into the podcasting scene, I still do.

Happy listening,

Kris

The Old Craft v. Business Conversation

I have so much to say today that I’m about to get super ranty.

First, I’m currently on my second listen of the new episode of She Podcasts. This is a podcast aimed at women podcasters, but the conversation they have is very on point for self-published writers and indie content creators of all stripes. One of the hosts got started talking about whether is okay that professional podcasters (the NPR types) get all the attention and space. The question is if what they are doing is different than what we as indie producers are doing. Listen here, to get right to the conversation I’m referring to, start at right about the 60 minute mark and listen to the last 10 minutes. I think this is a really important conversation to have. In the world of traditional and self publishing, is it a competition or separate space?

Then I found this delightful post saying that only 40 of Amazon’s self-published authors are “successful.” Yes, you read that right. And since Amazon’s Kindle store is the biggest self-publishing e-book platform, well, you can see where I’m going with this.

The commenters on this and other blogs on the issue immediately pointed out a flaw in the number: success here is defined as selling a million e-books in five years and that’s a pretty high bar to clear. Plenty of traditionally published authors aren’t doing nearly that, especially in the world of literary fiction where books come out slower and tend to not sell as well. But it’s still not a fun statistic to read. Maybe it isn’t really possible to make a living as an author. I’ve asked before on this blog if you really have to give up your day job to be a writer, and it frustrates me is that no one tells the truth about this. When you say you are writing a novel, all the people in your life assume that you will quit your day job when it is published and if not you have failed. Well, you and everyone else, it turns out. Or everyone else minus forty.

So all this was swirling in my head as I sat down to record an upcoming episode of the podcast…and then I sank into it with delight. Such great stuff is coming, such powerful storytelling, and I was thinking about how much more there is to this telling of story than words on a page. Words on a page are important…wouldn’t be who and what I am without them…but they aren’t story. Story is everywhere, and story needs to be celebrated.

Early in my librarian career I heard a very well-meaning instructor on early literacy tell a roomful of children’s librarians that “we need to teach children that stories come from books.” I think I may have actually snorted. Stories don’t come from books. Now, few people love books more than I do. I’m kind of a book hoarder and as I’ve said before I sort of want to be Meg Ryan with my own bookstore. But stories come from books?! That’s like saying Grandma’s chicken soup comes from the big pot with the crack on its lid.

Stories are everywhere. They are all around us, all the time. A friend of mine has a toddler, great kid, just starting to talk, but oh, man can he tell stories. You can’t understand them, they are in his own language, but they are stories to be sure.

I’m not a football fan, but I do live in the Seattle area, and the Seattle area has a well-known athlete who participates in that sport I don’t like so much. He’s known for his reticence to speak out loud. You may remember him. At a press conference. Saying enough not to get fined. And while he got widely criticized for that, I find myself admiring him. In a world of over-sharing, taking a stand to not say everything that comes into your head seems somehow brave.

What does he have to do with all this? Well, today he announced his retirement. With no words at all. In one image he told his story his way. Now me, I use words to share my message and if you’ve been reading this blog long you know that I really kind of suck at pictures. But it’s always nice to remember that there is a world of stories going on that have nothing to do with words on a page.

That’s the business we are in. The capturing stories business. And yeah, who publishes them and how they get to those who consume them is a very important conversation to have and we should keep having it, but I guess for me today ends as it so often does: with the reminder that the most important thing I do is focus on my content: what I am writing, recording, creating. Because if it isn’t the very best I have in me how it gets to you isn’t going to matter one bit. So back to my recording studio I go.

Happy writing,

Kris

 

Growing an Audience OR The Tale of the Tiny Numbers

Writers are a weird breed. We really want readers. We dream about readers. We are always trying to figure out how to get published and get readers. But we don’t want, you know, people to actually read our stuff. Not critical people, anyway.

When I launched the podcast, I remember saying to a friend that I didn’t care if it was just me in my basement reading stories to two listeners. I wasn’t going to obsess about stats or reviews, just treat it like the labor of love it is and as long as I am growing as a reader and as a writer I would feel good about the project. I think at that time I believed it.

Know the thing about stats? They’re addicting. It’s really easy to watch those little graphs. I think bloggers do this to. Who is reading? Who is linking? How many? How often?

No Extra Words is a tiny little endeavor. Yes, we have grown, and I am so grateful to all the authors who have entrusted me with their work and to newpages.com for the free classified ad that helped get the word out. But we remain a tiny fish in a giant ocean. I’m going to be real about the numbers here because I think we need to tell the truth about indie publishing and how hard it really is to grow an audience.

To date, the 11 episodes published have been listened to a total of 871 times, for an average of just under 80 listens per episode. Episode 4 has the most listens at 155 and the most recently released Episode 11 currently has the least listens at 30, although it was released about 30 hours ago so its stats are still rising quite quickly.  These are pretty small numbers. If your book sold 871 copies you’d be crushed, and when you average it out to 80 per episode, that becomes even more disheartening.

But.

If 80 people showed up to hear you at a reading, you’d be elated. 80 people is more than a lot of college lit courses. If I ever invited all 80 of those people to a party, they wouldn’t fit in my house.

Since July 4, at least one person has listened to at least one episode every day. Every day. The show touches someone every day. And, in the last 30 hours, 30 people have listened to the latest episode. That’s either because they were subscribed and were waiting for it or because they saw it posted somewhere and thought, huh, I’ll try that. Either way, there are 30 of them, and growing.

I think a lot of writers approach publishing, be it on their blog, in a book, or yes, via podcast, by thinking about the numbers they might rack up. How can I sell the *most* books? How can I reach the *biggest* audience? And when you don’t, it becomes hard to keep going. But what about those 30 people? What about the 80 per episode? The one who left a review? The one who tweeted thanks? We are continually being discovered. Someone listened to episode 2 today. That person is a new listener.

You have to start somewhere. Yes, as a writer I want those numbers to grow. But you have to grow *from* someplace. So instead of choosing to be sad about small numbers, today I’m choosing to remember each of those numbers is a person and be grateful for all the individuals out there who so far have pressed “play.”

Happy listening,

Kris

Indie Authors: Why Librarians Hate You Even Though They Don’t Know You

I posted this tweet this morning and it got some attention, so I wanted to expand on it a little bit here.

Challenge: Love to support indie and self published writers, but I still get most of my books from the library. What to do?

So here’s what was going on there: Was scrolling through my Twitter feed, saw a book referenced, probably a re-tweet from the author. Doesn’t matter what book, it happens all the time, but I did what I do when a book sounds interesting, which is hop onto my library’s website to put it on hold.

A little about me: I was a professional librarian for 10 years: 6 years in public libraries large and small and 4 years in an elementary/middle school library. I am on a hiatus from working as a librarian right now while I’m home with my toddler, but I am a certified librarian with a Master’s degree in library science (yup, that’s a thing) and will always think of myself as a librarian. These days, though, I place my holds and use the library like any other patron.

When the book wasn’t in my library’s catalog, I headed over to Worldcat.org, which is a global library catalog to see what libraries do have it. By this time, I suspected that like a lot of self-published books it is not widely available in libraries and I was right: it is owned by two public libraries, neither of them in my state, probably near where the author lives (kudos to that author for getting the books into their local library.)

I now have three options: I can ask my library to interlibrary loan it (one of the library’s most underrated services: your library can get you just about anything you want if you are willing to wait for it, it is often free, just ask), I can buy it (which is why it appeared on my Twitter feed in the first place, I get that), or I can forget the whole thing.

Truth? I’m probably going with option 3. I read a LOT, there are a lot of books out there, and I get most of mine from the library because I have neither the budget nor the shelf space to buy everything I read. I usually have more books than time, so I’m probably going to forget this book entirely and move on. Which is kind of a shame. But here’s my big secret: I’ve actually come a long way.

Confession time: I have a librarian’s automatic prejudice against self-published books.

…and odds are, your librarian does, too.

I know. It’s not fair. Why are they judging your book before they even see it? Why does Big Publishing get the automatic in just because they are Big Publishing?

Answer: way too many bad self-published books out there.

This is getting long, I know, but let me digress for a minute and talk about my life as a podcaster. When I started podcasting, I loved podcasts. That’s why I wanted to get into it. What I did not realize until I really started interacting with podcasters and getting involved in the community is that I was automatically biased against indie podcasters. Sounds weird, right? I mean, podcasting is this alternative media that most people don’t know about anyway, so how could there be indie podcasters? Isn’t everybody an indie podcaster? Nope. Turns out there are a whole lot of people that aren’t produced by NPR or a “mainstream” media company or promoted by a big podcasting network. Remember how “Serial” was such a big deal and everybody was saying, look, we found this podcasting thing that no one had heard of before and it’s really great, look we are so different? Nothing wrong with “Serial,” but it is an NPR product. Mainstream media.

So I dove headfirst into indie podcasts and found some great ones. If you’re interested, you should check some out. I’ll list a few of my faves on the bottom of this post. But, like indie anything, there are also some really bad ones. Really bad. Like can’t talk near the mic, rambling endlessly, not edited, don’t go near it kind of bad. Because it’s 2015 and anybody can be a producer of anything. Which is great. Unless you are terrible.

The following situation has happened to every single librarian: You’re hard at work, trying to do, you know, your job, and this thing lands on your desk. A large manila envelope that you didn’t ask for from an author you’ve never heard of complete with a long letter (they are always long.) The cover art looks like it was done by one of your students (and not even the best artist), the blurb is off, the whole thing looks like it was bound in the bindery you have for student work, and you don’t have time to deal with it. So it gets dumped in the book sale box or the teacher free stuff box or wherever you put stuff you want to make go away. And, if no one claims it from there, it gets dumped in the recycle bin.

Librarian secret: librarians are not sentimental about books as objects. Readers are. Writers are. Librarians know books get wet, get left under the cat’s litter box (true story,) fall apart, get lost, are bad and no one reads them, or get outdated and have to be thrown away. Did you know that you can’t recycle a book with its hard cover on? They get ripped off.

So when someone, even your best friend (or your best friend’s dad, true story) tells you they are going to self-publish something, you wince because you think of those really bad books.

I know what you’re thinking: I didn’t even read it. And I ask you: why would I? If that author didn’t spend the money on decent cover art or a good quality binding, I bet cash money they didn’t spend it on an editor either. Face facts, guys, we DO judge books by their covers.

Remember those great indie podcasts I was talking about? (That list is coming, I promise.) There are awesome self-published books out there, too. I know this. I’ve seen them. I’ve read them. Because I realized I was being stupid and prejudiced. But I also don’t read, or certainly don’t buy, self-published books on spec. They have to be recommended by a source I trust. I’m wary.

There are three big things standing in the way of your book breaking into the library once you get beyond the bad cover/bad writing/bad binding issue (get an editor, get a graphic designer, know who is doing your binding, do your homework, people!) And I’m just talking about physical books right now. E-books are a whole different entity and while the number checked out from libraries is growing exponentially, the library is not going to carry your self-published e-book. It just isn’t. Their e-books are bought in packages from the publishers, it’s a terrible deal for them, and that’s how it goes. If you can figure out a system for mass checkout of a massive number of e-books by libraries for a reasonable price, get that patent right now because every library would buy it but it isn’t an option. Physical books, however, still account for a huge portion of book sales and libraries and schools still account for a huge portion of that, so it is worth paying attention to your physical book, especially in children’s markets. So here are those three things:

  1. It is more expensive and more time-consuming for libraries to stock self-published books. Books from Big Publishing come with computer records all ready for library catalogs. Sometimes they even come shelf-ready, with the bar codes and stuff already on them. For self-published titles, those things have to be created and/or prepared by hand.
  2. Self-published books are overwhelmingly paperback. That’s fine for fiction, but paperback nonfiction or children’s picture or early reader books just don’t stand up in a library collection. They aren’t worth the trouble. I actually had a selector once spend the money to have paperback children’s books rebound by a book binder because she believed in that book’s potential (local author with a great and original subject.) The binding cost about $14 per book. Just the binding. Of an 8 book series she wanted to stock at 8 of our system’s libraries. It’s going to be hard to convince libraries to spend that. Also, small city libraries with just a branch or two may buy one copy of something, but most libraries won’t. It isn’t worth the money to put into it if you only have one copy.
  3. It is really hard to get your self-published book reviewed in a reputable source. I’m not talking about goodreads or your Amazon reviews or even your blurbs by well-known authors. I’m talking about what reviewer in a publication or on a website your librarian has heard of is reviewing your title? Know how a lot of librarians select? They go through the review journals and just start circling. Again, time is a factor here. They aren’t going to seek you out.

Now for the end of this blog post, the place where I give all the answers. The truth? I don’t have answers. That’s why my tweet was phrased as a question. I know there’s an issue. I’m a huge supporter of libraries and they are still a way a lot of readers find books, but as the publishing landscape changes there’s this whole sector of books not being included. Some of that is the market at work, and until the percentage of indie stuff out there that is really bad starts to decrease a little bit a lot of good stuff is going to continue to get passed over. But ignoring the whole sector of the market can’t be the answer.

I have a question for you, oh readers of this long blog post: Do you care? Does your book appearing in libraries make a difference to you? Do you think you reach more readers that way? Do you think the same barriers are in place for bookstores, either indie or chain? What are your marketing priorities? Honestly, as someone not right now working in the library, I really want to know.

Oh, yes, and before I go, that short list of indie podcasts I promised. These are some of my faves that I think my readers and listeners might like:

  1. The Slumberland podcast. This is seriously my favorite thing I have found in the last week. I’m rationing this out because they don’t come out that often and I don’t want to run out. I can’t find a website, but search it in iTunes or your favorite podscast app, it’s there. A sound technician is sent to collect an oral history on a fictional island in the Great Lakes region. It’s a unique kind of storytelling and it is fantastic.
  2. Songs Inside: Songs for the Second Sex. Beautiful spoken word stories. You have to hear the episode about the woman going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, I think it’s episode 2? Wonderful production quality and just good storytelling.
  3. Brain Burps About Books. This is a MUST listen for authors about marketing yourself and building your platform, a fantastic resource for any author. She’s a professional author herself and has been podcasting a long time.
  4. Regular readers and listeners have heard me rave about The Catapult Podcast before, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them: bringing real NYC author readings right to you, wherever you are, and showcasing the best in new writing.
  5. UPDATE! I knew as soon as I posted this I would stumble across something amazing, and I did. If you are a mom, a woman, a fan of NPR-style podcast documentaries, or really a person who likes conversation, you have to check out First Day Back, the podcast about a freelance filmmaker mom’s return to work after becoming an “accidental stay-at-home-mom.”

Please tell me what you think of all this! I’m still trying to answer all these questions and would love your feedback!

Happy reading and happy listening,

Kris

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