Podcasting is one of the hottest marketing techniques for authors right now. 90% of USA Today Bestselling Authors have a Podcast Presence. In this article, you will learn how to start your own podcast and how to leverage your podcast to help you hit a bestseller list.
Why is podcasting is so hot right now for authors?
- Podcast numbers for 2020 are at an all-time high despite a temporary dip due to the coronavirus.
- Podcasting is not a fad. It is older than Facebook.
- Authors have been using podcasting to get onto bestseller lists for over a decade.
- Podcast listening is replacing blog reading for many readers.
- Podcasts have little competition during many times of the day (car, gym, walking the dog, etc.)
- Recording equipment is affordable and accessible which makes it easy to produce high-quality audio. For around $1,200, you can purchase the same gear that top podcasters use. For a couple hundred dollars, you can purchase equipment that is almost as good as the professional-level equipment.
- Hosting a podcast is a lot of work and costs money. Because of this, podcast directories are not over crowded with millions of other authors who podcast. There is room for you.
How do I start a podcast?
Step 1: Listen to Lots of Podcasts
The only way to excel at podcasting is to become familiar with it. Start listening to lots of podcasts.
Listen to at least 100 complete episodes from at least 20 different podcasters in 5 different podcast categories. If you are looking for a good place to find a new podcast to listen to, I encourage you to check out podchaser.com. Podchaser is a searchable database of all podcasts. Listeners and podcasters use it to find, organize, and research shows and genres.
Step 2: Pick an Audience, Niche, and Name
Begin by choosing an uncomfortably focused niche. After you have filled that niche and produced content specifically geared to that audience, you can gradually broaden your focus. For example, Novel Marketing began as a marketing podcast for traditionally published novelists. As we’ve continued to produce content, we’ve broadened our focus to include nonfiction and indie authors.
Focus intensely on delivering content to one specific audience so that everyone in your target will say, “Yes! Finally a podcast for me!” Podcasters who focus will grow much faster than podcasters with a less specific focus.
Pick a name for your show with an available “.com” web address. Use InstantDomainSearch.com to see what is available. Consumers and web users are trained to remember a web address as “.com.” While you can use “.net” or many other domain extensions, listeners will always type “.com” first. Using another extension makes it slightly more difficult for listeners to find you. Sometimes that degree of difficulty is too much and listeners will abandon their search.
Step 3: Choose a Show Format
The format of your show includes your topic and and how you talk about it. The more podcasts you listen to, the more formats you will encounter. You are not locked into a single format. In fact, I encourage you to experiment with different formats from time to time until you find the best fit for you and your audience.
Here are some common show formats for authors:
Conducting interviews is the default format for many podcasters. Since your guests help promote your show through their platform and social media channels, this format makes a lot of sense for authors.
Examples of Interview Format:
Short News Briefing
There is a massive demand for 4-10 minute podcasts. It is much easier for listeners to squeeze in a short podcast than it is to finish an hour-long show. If you want to start a short-format podcast, one of the easiest ways to package your content is to summarize current news headlines as they relate to your topic
Examples of News Briefing Format:
Like the short news briefing format, the News Analysis format addresses current headlines, but it also provides additional commentary. This format is suited for nonfiction authors with an area of expertise in a certain field.
Examples of News Analysis Format:
The Novel Marketing episodes where my voice is the only one you hear is an example of the solo training format. It’s almost like a mini course. These episodes are a lot of work to produce, but they have great staying power. With content that lasts beyond the week’s headlines, listeners will still be downloading this episode a year from now.
Creating an audio drama or fiction podcast is a solid strategy for some authors. This can be as simple as reading a chapter or scene from your book for each episode.
Examples of Fiction Format:
Genre Review Podcast
There is a lot of room in this category for new podcasts. The hosts review books in a certain genre and also interview authors in that genre.
Examples of Genre Review Format:
Quick Tip Podcast
The Quick Tip format is typically short and scripted. Each episode covers one specific topic in 5 to 10 minutes.
Examples of Quick Tip Format:
Magazine Style Podcast
Elements from that relic of the past–the magazine–are combined in this format. In addition to the above formats, the Magazine Style show includes elements like mailbag, listener questions, and various interviews.
Examples of Magazine Style Format:
Step 4: Setup Your Show Branding
There are five elements of branding you’ll need for your show.
1. Album Art (Required)
Every podcast needs album art. Most podcast directories won’t accept your submission without it. Apple Podcasts (the biggest directory) requires your art to be at least 1400 x 1400 pixels and no more than 3000 x 3000 pixels.
Quick Album Art Tips:
- Keep the design simple. The graphic most users see will be literally as small as your thumbnail.
- When in doubt, use your photo. People return to podcasts because they feel a personal connection with the host. Your photo solidifies that connection.
- Hire a professional to design it for you. For album art, I recommend Fiverr (affiliate link). Graphic design requires a specific skill. Chances are, if you’re not a trained designer, your graphic will reveal that fact.
- To educate yourself and aid your designer in the creation process, read this article by BuzzSprout: How to Design Stunning Podcast Cover Art That Stands Out in Apple Podcasts.
2. Intro (Recommended)
The first 30 seconds of an episode are like the first page of a novel. You must hook the listener and get their attention if you want them to keep listening. Your intro should quickly tell people who the podcast is for and why they should listen. Keep it short. You don’t want an intro that will irritate people who listen to 14 episodes in one day.
For the Novel Marketing podcast, here’s how I introduce the show:
“Author Media presents Novel Marketing, the longest-running book marketing podcast in the world. This is the show for writers who want to build their platform, sell more books, and change the world with writing worth talking about.”
That takes about 15 seconds to read. I spend the next 15 seconds of the episode talking about the specifics. I outline what we’ll cover and why you should care. For example, from the episode linked to this article I said this:
“Podcasting is one of the hottest marketing techniques for authors right now. 90% of USA Today Bestselling Authors have a Podcast Presence. In this episode you will learn how to start your own podcast and use it to help you hit a bestseller list yourself.”
The first thirty seconds of your show are critical for convincing someone to listen for the next 30 minutes. If you don’t give them a reason to continue listening, they won’t.
Common Intro Mistakes:
- Rambling. Plan or script what you want to say.
- Double introducing the guest. You can introduce your guest in your prerecorded intro segment or during your recorded interview portion, but don’t do both.
- Overly long intro. Listeners tend to skip long intros with that “advance 30 seconds” button in the podcast player. Long intros can also become irritating to your regular listeners.
- Not explaining the “why” of the episode. You must always articulate why your audience should care about the topic of a particular episode.
3. Intro Music (Optional)
Intro music isn’t a necessity. In fact, the Novel Marketing podcast had no music for several years. But after talking with my listeners, I have learned that they prefer intro music.
In your search for music, I recommend PremiumBeat.com for intro and outro music. There are many music stores that will sell intro music, but most of them are vague about whether it’s permissible to use their music in a podcast intro or not. The PremiumBeat license explicitly states that your are permitted to use their clips as a podcast intro.
In fact, our new intro is a Premium Beat intro. I searched by instrument (you can also search by mood, genre, style etc.) to get one that sounded similar to our previous intro.
4. Intro Voice Over (Optional)
For voice over talent, I recommend Fiverr (affiliate link). You don’t need a voice over person to do an intro for you, but it might give your podcast a nice sizzle. Choose someone whose voice sounds different than yours. For example, on my podcast, Christian Publishing Show, a female with a British accent introduces the show.
5. Outro (Optional)
The outro is how you close your show. Some shows have a fancy outro. For the Christian Publishing Show, the outro includes music and a voice over talent.
For the Novel Marketing podcast I close with a simple, “You have been listening to Thomas Umstattd Jr. on the Novel Marketing podcast. To find the show notes for this episode or to get new episodes delivered to your phone automatically, visit NovelMarketing.com. Thank you for listening!”
Step 5: Gear Up
The days of making a successful podcast with your phone are over. Even podcast guests are expected to have good audio. You need to invest in quality podcasting gear if you want to build an audience.
Buy a Dynamic Microphone
If you are just getting started, the go-to microphone is the Samson Q2U (affiliate link). It costs less than $100, has amazing sound, and background noise rejection. Plus, you can directly plug it in to your computer via USB or into your mixer via XLR.
I have a Podcast Gear Guide at AuthorMedia.com/gear. In the guide, I’ve listed the necessary and recommended equipment for various budgets and for different setups, like interviews or solo recording. I try to use or experience every piece of gear I recommend. I’d be embarrassed to admit how much money I’ve spent buying gear just to test it and see if it’s worth recommending.
Avoid Condenser Microphones (Like the Blue Yeti)
The Blue Yeti and Blue Snowball are terrible microphones for podcasters. They are condenser microphones and they are so sensitive that they pick up a ton of room noise. In the real world of airplanes, kids in the other room, or patrons in a coffee shop, these microphones give terrible real-world audio. After podcasters realize these microphones produce terrible real-world audio, they start spending money on more gear to make them sound less terrible. Avoid this money trap by purchasing a better microphone from the start.
Another downside of condenser microphones is that they are terribly fragile. Two of my guests have Blue Snowball mics that have broken right before an interview. Too many authors use condenser microphones and their recordings–and listeners–suffer.
Condenser microphones are for musicians who record in sound treated studios. As a podcaster, don’t take microphone advice from musicians or from people who get advice from musicians. Musicians need different tools to solve different problems.
The one advantage of the Blue Yeti is that its users, who’ve tried so hard to make good audio, end up with great sound technician training. If you can learn how to sound good on a Yeti, you can sound good on anything.
Get your microphone advice from people with a background in radio. In radio, we use dynamic microphones because they give better real-world sound. They reject background noise. I record with kids in my house, and you would never know it because I use a dynamic microphone.
Buy Over-the-Ear Headphones
When you record, you want to hear your own voice so you can ensure everything sounds good (no static, no barking dogs, etc.). If you are interviewing a guest, you want to hear the guest without any of their audio leaking into your microphone. If their audio is picked up by your microphone, your podcast listeners will hear an echo.
Purchase wired, over-the-ear headphones. These isolate the audio around your ears allowing you to hear everything clearly at once. I recommend several headphones in the Gear Guide, but the go-to starter set is the Samson SR350. It is usually less than $20 on Amazon. For that price, it’s a solid studio monitor headphone.
Get a Mic Arm
One of the best ways to get better sound is to get closer to your microphone. Use a microphone arm to get as close as possible to your mic. Microphone arms are available for $10 or $20 on Amazon, and I have several recommendations in the Gear Guide.
Step 6: Setup Podcast Hosting
Your podcast host is where you will upload and store all your episodes. It stands between you and your listeners to deliver your audio file from your mic to their earbuds. Once it is set up, it will automatically distribute each of your new episodes to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
My Host Recommendations
If you have a WordPress website, I use and recommend Blubrry (affiliate link). Thier PowerPress plugin allows your podcast to be 100% integrated into your website and blog. While Blubrry’s stats are a bit weak (there is no weekly downloads chart for example), they make up for it with the power of their WordPress plugin. You can get Blubrry free for one month if you use coupon code “novelmarketing” when you sign up.
If you don’t use WordPress, I recommend BuzzSprout. They have some of the prettiest podcast pages and beautiful stats pages. While I don’t use BuzzSprout, I have been very impressed with their platform. BuzzSprout also has some of the best podcast tutorials in the industry. They also offer a free option!
Hosts to Avoid:
- Anchor (Doesn’t have IAB valid stats, and is targeted at unpopular hobbyists)
- Libsyn (They used to be the king but then they got lazy. They have a dated web player, ugly podcast pages, out of date interface, boardroom drama, and slow improvement over time.)
- SoundCloud (Not designed with podcasts in mind and difficult to get into the various podcast directories like Apple Podcasts and Spotify)
Primary Podcast Directories
As you set up your hosting, you will be simultaneously submitting your podcast to various podcast directories. Your podcast hosting service will walk you through this process. You will need to upload at least one episode to your host before you can submit your podcast to most of the directories. I recommend you record a “trailer” episode and an episode 1 and no more. You want to grow your podcast based on listener feedback, so create your next episodes after you’ve heard back from listeners.
Three podcast directories make up 90% or more of downloads for most podcasts, which is to say, the majority of people listen via one of the following directories:
Secondary Podcast Directories
To make your content available to the other 10%, you’ll want to submit your podcast to the following directories as well:
The foundation of your podcast is now set up. So far, the steps we have covered are things you usually only have to do once. The next steps we’ll cover must be done for every episode.
Step 7: Record an Episode
How to Record Yourself
There are many ways to record yourself. I record directly into my editing software (Hindenburg Journalist Pro) or into my Rodecaster Pro Mixer.
Record a Remote Interview
For interviews, I recommend starting with Zencastr which is free. They loosened restrictions on their free version during the pandemic which makes it a solid option for recording interviews.
I personally use Squadcast which is $20 per month. It is more reliable, a bit easier to use than Zencastr, and superior in some technical ways.
Both of these tools record you and your guest locally which gives you both an “in studio” sound.
If you use Zoom or Skype, your guest will sound “out of studio” with compressed internet quality audio. This is not the best option, but it will be better than recording a telephone interview. Telephone interviews are technically challenging to record and they sound terrible.
Step 8: Edit the Episode
For editing, I recommend Hindenburg Journalist. It is designed specifically for podcasters. Hindenburg is super easy to use, and you’ll pay a one-time cost of $99. Avoid software like Garageband or Audacity which are made for musicians. They are overly complicated and cumbersome. Many podcasters have quit podcasting altogether out of frustration with these free editing apps.
As a general rule, if a musician recommends something, don’t buy that thing for podcasting. Recording music is more complicated than recording a conversation. The equipment and software needed for music will be complicated overkill for podcasting.
While editing your podcast, you will add your intro and outro music, set the levels, and cut out any “ums,” “uhs,” or other irrelevant audio. It’s similar to editing a book. Once you are finished, export your episode as an MP3 file. Hindenburg makes this very fast and easy.
Another interesting tool is Descript.com. It allows you to edit a podcast the way you edit a word document. So far, it does not have the option to export to Hindenburg.
Step 9: Upload Your MP3 & Publish Your Show Notes
Upload your MP3 from step 7 to the podcast host you setup in step 6.
Once the podcast is uploaded and published, the podcast apps and directories will update with your new episode over the next 24 hours. This is not an instant process like uploading a video to YouTube.
For each episode, you should create a page of show notes. For Novel Marketing, our show notes are full blog versions of the podcast content. You don’t have to create an entire blog post, but it is a good idea to have at least a short description of the show and hyperlinks to the websites you referenced in the episode.
Step 10: Promote Your Podcast
Congratulations! You now have a podcast live on the internet. The next step is to get people to listen to it!
Here are some quick promotion strategies:
- Announce the podcast to your email list.
- Invite and interview guests who will promote the podcast.
- Do a Facebook Live announcing your new podcast.
- Partner with others to promote your podcast. Christian Publishing Show is cross posted to the Steve Laube Agency blog every week. Both of my podcasts are cross posted to the Christian Writers Institute website each week.
- Be a guest on other podcasts. To find out how, take my course, How to Get Booked as a Podcast Guest
Podcast guesting provides the following benefits:
- It’s a high-credibility way to reach new audiences.
- You get the advantages of a podcast presence without the work of starting your own.
- You’ll have access to influencers you couldn’t reach any other way
You don’t need to hire a PR firm for $3,000 to schedule your podcast interviews. You just need to know the secrets of pitching podcasts yourself. Once you start nailing interviews, podcasters will start reaching out to invite you on their shows.
With this course, you will learn how to become a sought-after podcast guest who has access to thought leaders and readers alike.
If you are ready to procure the attention your book deserves, this course is for you.
Get personalized interactive training and encouragement from me and a small group of other masterminds. Once you join a Novel Marketing Mastermind Group, you get access to the Mastermind Slack Channel and the monthly mastermind video hangout.
Explore ancient civilizations from a Christian worldview in the historical fantasy TimeDrifter Series. Appropriate for readers of all ages.
You can become a Novel Marketing Patron here.
If you can’t afford to become a patron, but still want to help the show, you can! Just share this episode with one person you know who is thinking about starting a podcast.