Podcasting for Writers

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odcasting can seem a mite intimidating. Pod... cast? When I first heard the word I imagined something either sort of hard-shelled and outer-spacey or maybe sitting at the edge of a pond, tiddlywinking peas.

A "podcast" is just an on-line audio (and, less commonly, video) file. It could be of a deeply probing interview; a bunch of kids singing "Kumbaya"; or, say, you reading from your novel. It could be a single file
your reading on March 17, 2013, or, say, a radio show-style series of interviews with fellow horror novelists, one posted each Saturday upon the toll of midnight. It's a wild bouquet of possibilities.

The technology for listening to these files in any kind of practical way was not widely available until just a few years ago when Apple's iPod hit the stores. As for recording and editing recordings, that had long been the province of what seemed an esoteric fraternity: those guys with huge earphones clapped around their skulls who spend their days locked into in sound-proof rooms, fiddling with dials and switches, and all the while (one imagines), hanging out with famous interviewees or, maybe guitarists in mutton chops and leather vests. As for reading a novel aloud for a casette or CD? Wasn't that the province of professional actors and voiceover artists? Well, the gates have been flung open as the technology for both listening to and making podcasts is now accessible, both economically and practically, to almost anyone with an Internet connection.

I am not a super-techie person; I'm a literary writer. So how did I end up podcasting, offering a workshop on podcasting, and now turning that into this ebook?

Without intending to, I dove headfirst into podcasting in 2009. All I wanted to do was make available on-line a recording of my lecture at the Library of Congress about the original archival research behind my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. The novel is closely based on such a strange story—a half-American toddler made heir presumptive to the throne of Mexico—and one lost in archives and so obscured behind a mist of prejudice and more than 150 years of misunderstandings, that I feared many people, including professional historians, would have a hard time taking the story seriously. But hey, a lecture on my original archival research at the Library of Congress! The head of the Hispanic Division herself there asking questions! Wouldn't that get people's beanies twirling!

I did it again with my lecture about the Mexican prince's Washingtonian roots at the Historical Society of Washington DC.

And then a little while later, when I was on a panel on "The Writing Life" at the Artlantic Festival conference at the Writer's Center near Washington DC, I thought, shoot, why not record this, too? I brought along my digital recorder and of course, first asked the other writers, the moderator, the organizers, do you mind? Unanimous delight.

Shortly thereafter, when I was invited to give a talk, "Twelve Tips to Help You Hang in There and Finish Your Novel" for the Writer's Center's Leesburg First Friday series in Virginia, same thing: I brought a recorder. No problem. I added that podcast to my writing workshop page, thinking it might prove helpful to my students— and anyone else who surfed on in.

Then it occurred to me that I could make yet another podcast by simply reading an excerpt from my travel memoir of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, Miraculous Air. I already had a video trailer and a webpage for that book; wouldn't a podcast be a fun way to help promote it? Bingo, in a matter of a couple of weeks, one of the podcasts had 50 downloads and the other—I'm still not sure why, though I suspect some mentions on a listserv— over 1,500 downloads.

Over the next several months, I continued making more podcasts, learning to edit (roughly), to splice in clips of music and sounds, and figuring out how to deal with this eye-crossing thing called RSS feed. On my main website, www.cmmayo.com, I created a podcast page for Miraculous Air; another for the Spanish version of my novel, El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano; and yet another for my collection of 24 Mexican writers on Mexico, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. So up until this point, podcasting was all about promoting my books, my writing workshops, and—I realize now—the urgent task of learning how to think about and handle digital multimedia as a writer.

In the fall of 2011, I had an epiphany.

But first a little background. After writing Miraculous Air, a memoir of my travels through Baja California's remote desert oases and valleys, interspersed with research and interviews—all a joy for me to do—I wanted to write another, this one about Far West Texas. But I knew, alas, that no matter how good it is, as any literary agent will tell you, selling a travel memoir to a commercial publisher may not be trying squeeze blood out of a turnip, but it's darned close. (If you've been to a writers conference or read some "how to" books on publishing nonfiction, they'll tell you to first whip up a book proposal. That's a good approach for most commercial nonfiction, but not literary travel memoir.)

I really really really wanted to write about Far West Texas, however, so I pondered and pondered, how to build some serious interest in it before bringing the manuscript to my agent? Of course, because I'd done it for Miraculous Air by placing articles in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and various literary magazines, that did occur to me. But today, as a strategy for making the book salable, this only goes so far… and not necessarily very.

What could attract readers to my website, to my work, to sign up for my newsletter as I was writing the book? Podcasts!

I would be interviewing people anyway, so why not share some of those recordings en route? Rather than flesh out the idea out on paper, I sat down at my laptop and, in a single Saturday, made a website. I called it Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project 2012-2013: Exploring Marfa, Texas & Environs in 24 Podcasts.

It was a watershed moment for me as a writer. You see, I'd grown up in a world without the Internet: athough I was early to start using e-mail in the mid-1990s and to make my webpage, in 1999, these things came along more than a decade after I'd finished college. My concept of what it meant to be a writer was straight out of the 19th century: Dickens, Flaubert, Wharton and, continuing the tradition into the 20th , Fitzgerald, Flannery O'Connor. You wrote, maybe with a wordprocessor, OK, but you didn't mess around with PR; your publisher took care of that, right? (This ignores Walt Whitman's spectacularly shameless hucksterism, but never mind.) Having a webpage was kind of… um… narcissistic? And anyway, how to design one? Technically it was challenging and a whole new profession of people was charging thousands of dollars to design them and, in my opinion, for writers, generally not very well. Author websites were (and many still are) confusing to navigate, fussy, ugly, and aesthetically incongruent with the writer's work itself. Anyway, you wouldn't guess it today when it seems every writer has a website, blog, facebook page, tweet feed, and opt-in newsletter, but back then, a lot of writers, especially the older and more literary ones, pinched their noses at anything digital.

Would Wharton have a website? Would Dickens blog? Would Flaubert tweet? Flash forward to 2012: Like, duh. A writer is a storyteller. A printed book—letters and images on paper, cut and sewn and bound between covers— is just one technology, a wonderful and enduring one, I grant you, but the printed book stands alongside ebooks, and now that we can, by our little lonesome selves, make podcasts, we can go, to steal the words of Captain Kirk, where no writer has gone before.

It is truly awesome that, whether rich or struggling, famous or new, we writers can project our voices instantly all over the world, and available to listeners at any time.

But you don't have to be Captain Kirk. If I can podcast, so can you. This ebook contains everything I have learned in making more than 30 podcasts of various kinds over the past three years, molded into an "easy peasy" 10 steps, along with some fancy schmancy.

By "easy peasy" I mean, my great grandma could do this and with the change from her grocery shopping. If she were alive. Alas, she was born before the dawn of the 20th century. But you get what I mean. As for money, assuming you already have a laptop and access to the Internet, we're talking pennies, or even free.

Fancy schmancy might mean just a little souped up (Great Grandma would want to put on her glasses and have a cup of coffee first) or it might involve substantially more time and/or more effort and/or more than the change from grocery shopping.

OK, maybe shoe shopping. Maybe even... Italian shoe shopping.

In this ebook I treat podcasting as primarily audio. That's all going to change, no doubt, and as it does we podcasters can surf that wave… where it takes us. More video? Poetry-reciting holograms? Well, nifty thing that, with podcasting, we're up on the surf board, not hanging back on the asphalt of the parking lot. Or imagining that it's all about tiddlywinking peas.


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