By Steve Libbey
Books are the primary means of conveying words to a reader. They’re compact chunks of time, easily accessible no matter where you are. They remember where you left off and what you already read (and might need to reread). They are companions that connect us to the rest of our world during our quiet, solitary hours.
In this context, a podcast seems garish. You want your readers to have an intimate, one-on-one with your story, not to be barked at by a speaker. Besides, if they listen to a story, won’t that eliminate a book sale?
Indeed, no! The podcast is the newest and most powerful tool you have at your disposal to promote your stories—and make no mistake, the onus is on you to handle promotion. No one else will do the work for you … at first.
In case you haven’t encountered them yet, a podcast is an audio file that can be played on a listener’s computer or MP3 player, such as an iPod, from whence the name sprung. The content can be anything: a story, interview, commentary or music … consider it publicly generated radio broadcasting. The means of transmission is the download of the audio file. MP3s are the most common format, and therefore preferable.
Podcasts have injected themselves into our routines where radio used to be: in the car, at the desk, while you exercise or cook dinner. This is a time where you have a captive audience who welcomes the story you have to tell at their behest.
A podcast is not a permanent document like a book, because (odds are) it won’t be revisited. It cannot replace a book for convenience or immersion, therefore your listener doesn’t think of the podcast experience as an equal replacement for reading a book. Your listener may not purchase the particular book or story that they just experienced, but you have—if you wrote an engaging story—made it to their mental list of authors they enjoy.
Never, never underestimate the importance of that mental list.
You may have a thousand books in cardboard boxes moldering away in your basement that you would love to sell, but they are not your true product.
You are a brand. My brand is “Steve Libbey.” Another brand you might be familiar with is “Stephen King.” For marketing reasons, he launched a second brand, “Richard Bachman,” to write books different from “Stephen King’s” books. This is very common. Less common is to have pseudonym-penned books reappear as the more famous brand.
Your brand is an indicator of quality and theme. Stephen King’s brand indicates mainstream horror. I write speculative fiction, both sci-fi and fantasy, with some fringe stuff thrown in. My readers are coming to expect a certain kind of story and approach from me.
Podcasting my work allows them to experience my brand of storytelling without taking a financial risk. If they enjoy the podcast novel series I am writing with author Mercedes Lackey (it can be found at www.secretworldchronicle.com) then they are far more likely to try one of my upcoming books. Thanks to just a few months of the Secret World podcast, I can be assured of at least four hundred of my own books sold to fans.
And these people recommend works they enjoy to friends who share their taste in literature. Think of how often you have recommended a book to a friend, or vice versa. Now compare the impact of that recommendation to the impact of a magazine ad for a book.
In the 21st century, there is a fantastic new maxim for generating book sales. It is “give content away to sell content.” For those stuck in the last century’s business models, it comes across as counterintuitive. But for the new writer, it is your best weapon in the fight for sales. Podcasting is a quick and easy way to start giving away to sell more.
Steve Libbey is a Portland-based author. He has published short fiction and nonfiction for the last couple decades. His collaboration with Mercedes Lackey, The Secret World Chronicle, can be heard at www.secretworldchronicle.com. The first book of his Aqua Pura Trilogy, The Bloodbaths, is forthcoming.