Curious Rat



1 Year of COVERED — What I’ve Learned in Podcasting

This article originally appeared on Medium on October 15, 2015.

One year ago, I started this thing. I did it in part because I wasn’t satisfied with the other things that were out there. Some were recorded book club meetings, others talked to authors about their books, but not their processes, and other others talked to those authors about their processes, but not their books.

I wanted a little from each column and I figured I’d take the age old advice found in that mangled Ghandi quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Okay. I did. This is my change. I hope you like it.

But I didn’t set out to change the world. I didn’t even set out to change podcasting. I just wanted to give other aspiring writers like me another way to learn from the people whose pictures grace the backs of books. And on a selfish note, I did it so I could learn as I honed my craft, to bring myself a little closer to seeing my own novels on a shelf one day.

So, what have I learned over the course of this year? Quite a bit.

1. Care Begets Care

A few years ago, I wrote a piece on “the state of podcasting”. It wasn’t exactly widely embraced. Some people read it and understood where I was coming from. Others, well, did not. It was more a commentary on the state of tech podcasting, which I had been heavily invested in, but now, save for one show, I no longer bother with.

At the time, I’d said this:

I’m astounded at the number of so-called “professional” podcasts that leave the audio issues and “Are you there?”-s in the final recordings. Do we need to hear 15 seconds of dead air because Skype crapped out? Is every last word on a particular topic valuable, or can some of it be trimmed to tighten up a show?

Harsh, but it’s why I take extra care with my show. It’s MY name up there. “COVERED with Harry C. Marks.” That means something to me, so when I’m done recording an episode, I give it the time I believe it needs.

Again, because people love to cherry pick their outrage, I’ll say it once more: THIS IS WHAT WORKS FOR ME. MY SHOW. YOU MAY FEEL DIFFERENTLY FOR YOUR SHOW BASED ON YOUR IDEA OF WHAT YOU WANT YOUR SHOW TO BE OR THE TIME YOU ARE ABLE TO DEVOTE TO ITS PRODUCTION. THAT IS COOL. YOU DO YOU.

Each episode takes roughly an hour to record and that’s for two reasons.

  1. My time is valuable and I don’t want to edit two hours of rambling. That’s time away from my family, writing, eating, etc..
  2. My guests’ time is valuable and I don’t want to keep them from writing, marketing, their families, eating, basic hygiene, etc…

Also, having a set length of time to record allows me to prioritize which questions I want answered during the call.

Once the conversation is over and I’m left with my self-doubt, I begin to edit, which can take anywhere from 2–3 hours. Here’s what I pull out:

  • Dead air
  • Audio hiccups
  • Irrelevant conversation
  • A question/answer that doesn’t fit the theme of the conversation
  • “Umm”s and “You know”s

Not everyone will do the last one, but when I hear them on any other show, it’s all I can hear for the duration. If it bothers me, I know it’ll bother someone else, so I try to remove as many filler words as possible. I can’t always get them all, but I do my best and I think it helps.

Does COVERED sound like an NPR show? I don’t think so, but that’s what some people think of when you talk to them about heavy editing. “Oh, you’re trying to make it sound like radio,” they say.

Maybe. Radio has been around for a long time and we’re seeing its effects in podcasts like Serial and The Allusionist. One thing is certain: listeners have told me they love the show, its pace, and how clean it is. That makes my doing it worthwhile. They appreciate the effort that goes into each episode — the preparation, the combination of pre-written questions and organic conversation, and the post-production. They care because I care.

2. Don’t Sweat the Kit

If you want to start a podcast, you do not need a $250 mic and all the other doodads other seasoned podcasters might have. I started this show with a $50 Blue Snowball and a $6 pop filter. My equipment now is a little better, but not much.

I edit in GarageBand. If you don’t have a Mac or you want to try something else, Audacity works fine. You can even record a show with an iPhone headset and a voice recorder app.

Anyone who tries to tell you podcasting “costs $100 to get into, even as a hobby, even for beginners. The end,” is someone from whom you should run away. Far, far away.

Instead, read this.

3. It’s an Interview, Not a Monologue

I mean, sometimes it’s a monologue, but when I have a guest on, that’s their time to shine. I brought them on so I and my audience could listen to their experiences and expertise. It would be rude of me to hog the conversation and even ruder to expect my audience to listen to it, so I cut myself heavily out of each episode.

I’m there to pull information from my guest I think would be worthwhile to listeners. Ask a question, get an answer. Rinse, repeat. I’m not there to share war stories or drone on about my kid or my own writing (though it does come up on occasion). I’m there to listen and learn and I like to think with each episode I learn to listen a little better.

4. Don’t Just Read What You Know

I read a lot of literary fiction (because I write it), as well as mysteries, classics, graphic novels, and non-fiction. I don’t read a lot of romance. In fact, I hadn’t read any romance prior to my interview with Megan Erickson. Then I read more in preparation for my interview with Brighton Walsh and I’m once again diving into the romance pool to get myself ready for my talk with Ginger Scott.

Had I not recorded those shows, I never would have read their books. I don’t have anything against romance, I’m just not a fan of the genre. It doesn’t tickle my wicket, so I read other things instead. However, I’m glad I read their books because they taught me quite a bit. Pacing, the different ways a sex scene can be written, how to make the reader root for a character right away — all either taught or reinforced and demonstrated wonderfully in books I otherwise never would have picked up due to their genre.

A good writer writes what they know. A great one writes what they research.

5. Some Stats

I have recorded: * 15 episodes (one was the book club syllabus, which I don’t really count) * 13 guests * 9 women, 4 men, meaning 69% of my guests were female

I didn’t go into this show with an agenda. I didn’t set out to prove anything. I simply wanted to talk to other writers about their writing and it just so happened most of my guests were women.

That’s awesome! Publishing and the media surrounding it often skew toward the white male author. If my little show can give writers who would normally go ignored by the industry a little boost, then I’m super happy. I’m always thrilled when a listener tells me they went out and bought a copy of a guest’s book based on one of my interviews.

But I’d like to expand those numbers. I admit my stats also skew white. I’d love to talk to authors of other races, sexual and gender orientations, and walks of life. Everyone has a story. I want to hear them all and I want my audience to hear them all, too. I’m going to do my best to broaden this show’s horizons going forward. I can do better.

6. A Well-Seasoned Show

Remember when I said:

Is it just me, or does seeing “Episode 537” in a podcast’s title bother anyone else? Why not give up the numbering convention entirely or adopt a “season” naming structure for episodes?

Man, I was angry back then, wasn’t I? Yeesh. That guy needs a swift kick in the feel-bads post haste.

However, angry me was onto something. Serial wrapped up one season and is working on the next, and with this post and my latest episode marking the one year anniversary of the show, I figured now would be as good a time as any to draw the line at the end of the first season and the start of COVERED: Season 2: The COVERING.

Julie Wilson will be the last interview of season 1. Ginger Scott will mark the start of season 2. You will never hear me introduce the show with, “Welcome to episode 647 of COVERED.” It’s overwhelming. If I’m a listener just coming into the show, I’m thinking, “Yikes, I’ve got 646 episodes to catch up on!” I feel like breaking the show up into seasons makes the idea of a large number of episodes more palatable.

What’s Next?

Hopefully, a lot. I’ve recently upgraded my recording equipment to a Blue Yeti on a Rode PSA 1 swivel mount. Just sitting behind it makes me feel like a real-life radio host. It’s kind of surreal.

And as you can see, COVERED has a new home. We’ve flown the coop over at Fiat Lux and now we’re on our own. Don’t worry, nothing happened between Ben and I. Long story short, Ben’s working on some projects of his own that are not podcast-related and he figured it was time to let the network go. I want to thank Ben and Lorenzo for working with me get COVERED off the ground, for giving it its first home and really helping me grow the show into what it’s become.

And special thanks to Lorenzo Guddemi at Nacht Sound for the amazing work he puts into getting each episode ready for production. I record and edit, but the show sounds as good as it does because of Lorenzo. If you’re looking for that added oomph for your own podcast, check him out.

Oh, and before I forget, let me thank EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. MY. GUESTS. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even be here. Same goes for the listeners, and the Twitter followers and — oh, sorry, the orchestra is playing me off. AND THANKS TO MY MOM AND DAD, MY DOG SKITTLES, MY TAILOR, THE LADY WHO SELLS ME MY MORNING COFFEE…

As for the future of COVERED? I’d like to do more book club episodes. I’d like to talk to a more diverse group of authors as I mentioned above. I’d also love to do a roundtable panel with several authors at once, maybe at a convention where I could make a live show out of it. With video!(?)

I’ll probably never have the subscriber numbers some other shows have. I’ll never be a part of an exclusive sponsorship network, or even a podcast network (again). That’s totally fine. I have several hundred dedicated listeners eager to hear an author they might not have heard of before talk about their book and if that results in a few more sales for them, then I’ve done my job.

I’d love it if my Patreon page saw some love. Hosting isn’t cheap, especially when combined with the cost of the books I buy for each episode when an ARC cannot be provided. Even a dollar a month from a few listeners would go a long way.

Also, I’d really appreciate more reviews in iTunes. Finding a podcast in iTunes is like looking for a diamond in a room full of rock salt and the more reviews we get, the better chance we have of getting discovered by new listeners.

So, thanks for listening! I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard and if you haven’t…well…I’m sorry I failed you. I’ll try to do better. If you do enjoy the show, tell your friends, tell iTunes, tell your grandma — your grandma is totally into podcasts, right? Of course she is. Your grandma is awesome. And remember, don’t judge a book till it’s COVERED.