Showing posts with label podcasting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label podcasting. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 3

6 Inspirational and Informative Writing Podcasts

6 Inspirational and Informative Writing Podcasts

I love podcasts! Especially writing podcasts. I first started listening to them because I wanted to make the most of my time.

Because of podcasts, instead of just doing mindless housework I could (for example) dust and learn about how to be a better writer! And what used to be a mind-numbingly boring walk to the store turned into an educational foray into the finer points of publishing.

Basically, podcasts enable me to resurrect dead time. (Sounds deliciously gruesome, doesn't it!)

If you don’t listen to podcasts and suspect those who do are slightly—or perhaps more than slightly!—odd, I think the best way to explain them is by saying they're a bit like radio—if you could determine the content and then listen to the programs on the phone/computer/overlord device you carry with you everywhere.

If you're still on the fence, here's another incentive: podcasts are free! Download a few episodes and see if you like them. If you don't, fine! There's no commitment. If you do, subscribe to the podcast and your app will automatically download new ones as they become available.

To take advantage of this bounty, you will need to download some sort of podcast app. I use the one that came with my phone, helpfully named, "Podcasts." I'm sure there are better options out there! One app I've heard consistently good things about—in fact, because of the research I did for this article I've decided to try it out—is Overcast for iOS (that's NOT an affiliate link). If you're part of the android ecosystem, here's an article for you: 10 best podcast apps for Android.

Okay! You've downloaded your app of choice and are ready to get started. Or perhaps you've been listening to podcasts since they came out. Either way, here are ...

Six writing podcasts I listen to and have found enormously helpful:

1. Writing Excuses

From the website: “If you’re serious about letting Writing Excuses help you become a better writer, listen to one episode, and then stop listening, and start writing. Do the homework! Use the writing prompt.”

I love this podcast because of the back and forth discussion between the writers as well as the many interesting—and occasionally provocative!—points of view discussed. This podcast is educational in a multitude of ways, from going over the finer points of the craft of writing to getting a feel for the larger issues that affect the community.

2. Story Grid Podcast

From the website: “Join Shawn Coyne, author of Story Grid and a top editor for 25+ years, and Tim Grahl, struggling writer, as they discuss the ins and outs of what makes a story great.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to sit in on a discussion between a senior editor, one who has seen it all, as he shows a newbie the ropes. Excellent podcast.

3. The Creative Penn Podcast with Joanna Penn

From the website: "Podcast episodes will be posted every Monday and will cover interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship."
Joanna's podcast is inspirational and informative. Through her website and podcast, she has been a wonderful inspiration to me over the years.

4. Authority Self-Publishing

From the website: "Steve Scott is an Amazon bestselling author with over 60 self-published books on habits, productivity, and entrepreneurship. He’s built a consistent six-figure income as an author and now teaches other authors how to create a sustainable business around their books with his course called Authority Pub Academy."

5. The Writership Podcast

From the website: The Writership Podcast, a show focused on helping indie authors master self-editing skills. Come aboard and get ready to find the treasure in your manuscript with hosts Leslie Watts and Clark Chamberlain.

6. Kobo Writing Life Podcast

From the website: “Our main focus is on the craft & business of writing, providing valuable writing & publishing insights from some of the brightest minds in our industry.”

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I'm recommending Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King. From the blurb: "Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories."

By the way, if you listen to a writing podcast that has helped improve your writing please let me know in a comment.

Monday, September 5

Make Your First Podcast: Frequency & Length

Once you’ve decided whether your podcast will be in an interview or topic format, the next question is: How frequently should you publish?

How Frequently Should I Publish My Podcast?

My take: It depends on what you want out of your podcast.

If you already have a blog and you currently only publish about once a week then maybe start with once a week or once every two weeks. Do whatever you’re comfortable with.

On the other hand, if you’re comfortable posting, say, five times a week on your blog then you might want to consider trying for twice, perhaps even three times, a week.

The rule of thumb seems to be: post as often as you plausibly can. Why? Because (In my experience as an avid podcast listener) the more frequently you publish the more listeners you will attract and retain.

Keep in mind, though, that a podcast—while it will suck up an inordinate amount of your precious time—will (usually) take quite a few months (or even years!) to start earning enough money to pay for the time you’ve invested.

But podcasting can be quite lucrative (I’ll look at this in another post).

So: Here are a few possibilities:

1. Once a day

Not many podcasters publish seven days a week. Actually, I know of only one, the EOFire podcast. John Lee Dumas is very successful, but doing seven podcasts a week is grooling. Granted, he doesn’t tape one a day, he does 14+1 every second Tuesday. He tapes from early in the morning to around six at night. That’s a long day.

2. Five days a week (Monday to Friday)

This is slightly more common. News podcasts are often only published Monday to Friday (or at least that’s true for Canadian news podcasts!). None of the podcasts I listen to (I listen to around 35 or 40) are five days a week but they do exist. Honestly, it seems to me that this would be pretty much the same amount of work as publishing seven days a week.

3. Three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)

This would be much less work than the grueling seven-day schedule, and yet your listeners would regularly receive your podcasts and not have much of a chance to forget about you.

4. Two days a week (Monday, Thursday)

At the moment I only blog two days a week—Monday and Thursday—but am planning on moving to Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Two doesn’t feel as though it’s enough. Of course, that’s a blog not a podcast. And a lot depends on how long your podcast is going to be (more on this in a moment).

5. One day a week (Monday)

The advantage of publishing one podcast a week is that you could even record four podcasts in one day, even if each is an hour long. Then you’re done for the month!

A disadvantage of publishing only one a week is that folks have short memories. If your listeners are like me and listen to a lot of podcasts—and so need a lot of content—then a once-a-week podcast is fine, but I wouldn’t recommend going below this. Publish any less frequently and it’s possible folks will start to forget about you.

6. Once every two weeks or once a month

If you’re serious about podcasting, about growing an audience, about creating another income stream, then—and this is only my opinion—you might not want to publish any less frequently than once a week.

That said, if podcasting is something you would love to do, then do it! Even if you can only publish once a month, don’t let that hold you back. If podcasting is your passion, then that will come through and you’ll find an audience.

Also if you have some sort of hook, you can also get away with publishing less frequently. For instance, if you are well known in your niche—a well known blogger or YouTuber—then you can probably get away with publishing podcasting content less frequently.

How Long Should My Podcast Be?

Of course, this is completely up to you, the creator. But the length of your podcast will likely depend, at least in part, on the kind of content you are producing. For instance, many short podcasts (five minutes or less) give one tip. I listen to one podcast—60 Second Science—that, despite the name—lasts for about two minutes. The podcaster talks about one science fact and restricts himself (or herself) to the most important aspects of the subject under discussion. It’s a good podcast.

On the other end of the spectrum is Dan Harlin’s Hardcore History. The very first Hardcore History podcast I listened to was over three hours long! I think it’s a safe bet Dan Harlin is never going to do one a day!

MacBreak Weekly is another podcast—a video podcast—that routinely goes over two hours. I love it and I’m not the only one, it’s very popular.

In my opinion you can make any length podcast work, from two minutes all the way to three plus hours, and obviously the length is going to have a bearing on how often you can podcast. Anything over, say, 30 minutes and I would imagine publishing once a day—or even five times a week—would be exhausting! Especially if you don’t have a co-host and must do everything yourself.

Are you thinking of starting a podcast? I'd love to hear from you. What kind of challenges are you facing? What do you consider your biggest obstacles?

Have you podcasted? I'd love to hear about your experiences! What worked for you, what didn't. Please share!

Talk to you again Thursday. Until then, good writing!

Thursday, September 1

Make Your First Podcast: Interview or Topic Based?

This is a question I’ve agonized over. That I’m still agonizing over!

I want to create a podcast, but what kind of podcast should it be? Should I have a co-host? If I do it by myself, should I do interviews with different writers/publishers or do something focused on a topic?

I’m going to examine these questions in more detail in a moment, but first I would like to acknowledge my debt to John Lee Dumas and his (free) Podcasting course.[1]

John’s podcast doesn’t have to do with writing or publishing but he has a successful daily podcast that I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago and which has become one of my favorites.

What I’m going to talk with you about today is inspired by his lesson #9: “Interview vs Topic, Frequency and Length.” I couldn’t find a direct link to his podcasting course, but if you head over to and look for “Free Podcast Course with John Lee Dumas” you’ll find it. Okay, on with the post!

Interview vs Topic Based

I listen to a lot of podcasts. It’s my primary form of entertainment these days (I finally cut-the-cord on the TV) and I’d say that about 30% of the podcasts I listen use an interview format, 30% have a topic based format and the rest are a mix. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, Let's look at the pros and cons of each:

1. Interview Based

As I’ve mentioned, even though it’s not about writing, one of the podcasts I like listening to is John’s Fire Nation podcast. Why? In every podcast he interviews entrepreneurs and asks each of them the same series of questions. For example:

What is your worst entrepreneurial moment?
You’ve had a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments, what is one of your greatest?
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

And so on.

The answers are always different, usually interesting and often helpful. His is one of the most effective podcasts using the interview format I’ve listened to.

Advantages to using the interview format

i. Provide value to your audience

The aim of any podcast, or any blog post, is to provide value to your audience. Each person you interview will have achieved some sort of success and will likely have knowledge you lack. Not only will your audience learn something new and of value, but you might too.

ii. Grow your audience

Your guests will likely have an audience of their own, one they will share their interview with. This helps your podcast acquire new listeners.

Disadvantages of using the interview format

i. Tricky finding guests

In the beginning it can be difficult to find people to interview. No one will have heard of your podcast so you can’t wow them with the number of your listeners.

ii. Scheduling

Even if you are able to get guests for all your podcasts, you’ll have to schedule them. That can be a nightmare.

iii. Repetitive

Asking the same sort of questions every episode might get repetitive for some listeners.

2. Topic Based

The other option is to do a topic based podcast. For me, the epitome of a topic based podcast is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. And it works for him. In a big way. Dan Carlin's podcast was the first time I listened to a three hour podcast and enjoyed every minute of it.

Advantages of a topic based podcast

i. You can talk about what you like

You get to set your own agenda since you provide your own content. You can talk about whatever you want. And you don’t have to schedule interviews!

ii. The podcast will be your baby

When you do a topic based podcast, you know that folks are listening to the podcast because of you, your ideas.

iii. Independance

You don’t have to rely on anyone showing up for an interview!

Disadvantages of a topic based podcast

i. You are responsible for all the content

YOU need to curate whatever content you use in your podcast.

ii. You are responsible for being entertaining

YOU need to be interesting. Entertaining.

iii. You alone are responsible for growing your podcast

YOU are responsible for promotion and content. For growing your podcast.

iv. Your podcast will be limited by your own knowledge

Since you’re the only one providing content to the podcast there is the danger of it getting repetitive. Whatever you discuss will, necessarily, be limited by YOUR knowledge of the topic. In an interview you have the advantage of being able to draw from the perspectives, the knowledge, of your guests, but when it’s just you and a topic you are drawing from your own reservoirs every single podcast.

That’s it for today! Next time I’ll discuss your podcasting schedule. How frequently should you release your podcasts? How long should they be?

Until then, good writing!

Thursday, August 25

Make Your First Podcast: Hosting

Podcast Hosting. Even just the phrase sends a chill down my spine.

After you record your podcast you need to upload it to a server where folks can access it over the internet. But where? There are so many choices.

If you have a hosting package with a place like Squarespace or Bluehost you could simply upload the file to your hosting package and make it public. Doing this is—and I really want to stress this—NOT a good idea.

If your podcast catches on right away (say it's plugged on a couple of popular blogs), or if you have one especially popular episode, your website will be hammered and—if your luck is anything like mine—it will crash. If that happens, at minimum, you've given a lot of people, a bad experience. On top of that, depending on your hosting package, you might have to pay extra for the excess traffic.

I don't podcast, but I've read quite a few articles and watched more YouTube videos on the subject than I care to admit. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that it will involve you in the least headache in the long run if, from the beginning, you host your website and your podcast separately. And, as podcasts soar in popularity there are more and more hosting choices.

So, let's look at a couple of hosting solutions you might want to consider:

1. Libsyn (Liberated Syndication)

Libsyn is the original podcasting solution and is widely trusted.

"In October 2004, detailed how-to podcast articles had begun to appear online, and a month later, Liberated Syndication (Libsyn) launched the first Podcast Service Provider, offering storage, bandwidth, and RSS creation tools. "Podcasting" was first defined in Wikipedia. In November 2004, podcasting networks started to appear on the scene with podcasters affiliating with one another," (History of Podcasting)

An introductory package starts at $5 a month. To see all Libsyn's hosting packages, click here.

Many podcasters use Libsyn. I'll talk about the pros and cons of using Libsyn in a moment. First let's look at ...

2. Amazon Web Services: S3

With Amazon S3, you pay for only what you use. But what does this mean? Let's look at some figures:

Let's say that an average podcast is about 50 megabytes. Let's say (we've got to be optimistic, right?) you have 50 podcast episodes stored on Amazon S3 and that you publish four podcasts a month. How many downloads could you expect? Here's what the folks over at School of Podcasting have to say:

"According to Rob Walch VP of Podcaster Relations at (the largest podcast media hosting company) in September of 2013 a podcast episode that has been live approximately 30 days averages 141 downloads. If you have over 3400 downloads you are in the top 10%. If you have over 9000 downloads you are in the top 5%. Lastly, if you have over 50,000 downloads per episode (again after having it live for 30 days) you are in the top 1% (this would be the Marc Maron, Adam Corrola, Jay Mohr, etc)," How Many Podcasts Do Podcasters Average?

So let's say that you have 150 downloads a month. Now let's calculate the cost:

First, let's use the Amazon Web Services Calculator to figure out how much Amazon would charge you for simply storing your podcasts through S3.

Storage: 50 mb per file * 50 podcasts = 2,500 mbs = 2.5 gigabytes = about 5 cents.

So ... that's not an issue! Now let's look at how much Amazon would charge us for bandwidth:

150 downloads per month * 50 megabytes per file = 7,500 megabytes = 7.5 gigabytes -> Costs about 60 cents.

That's for one file, but (in our example) you have 50. Now, I would imagine that new files would get the most downloads, but let's just say that ALL 50 files on your account get 150 downloads per month. So that makes it 7.5 gigs * 50 which comes to 375 gigs which would kick up your bill to $32.40! But, for giggles, let's say that all your podcast episodes got 3400 downloads in a month (in this case your podcast would be in the top 10% of podcasts). In this case your bill would soar to $1,808!

Which is one reason why folks with popular podcasts seek out hosting solutions like Libsyn. Libsyn charges you according to how much you upload, not according to how much bandwidth your podcast uses. If all you want to do is upload four 50 mb podcasts a month then you'd be fine with their $15 a month plan. $15 versus $1,808! That's quite the difference.

My Opinion: The Best Choice For A Beginner

I think that if you are already hosting your website through Amazon Web Services it makes sense to start off using S3. Unless you already have a large following, in the beginning you are NOT going to come anywhere near to getting 150 downloads a month. And, even if you do, that's going to cost you all of 60 cents! As you start to upload more podcasts and things begin to get pricier, you would probably want to switch to another solution.

If, however, you don't host your blog on Amazon and you don't mind paying $5 a month, signing up with a host such as Libsyn is a no-brainer. Libsyn is trusted and, while many folks with popular podcasts use other hosting solutions, I think it's probably the best choice for the beginner podcaster (by the way, I don't have any sort of affiliate relationship with Libsyn).

Steer Clear of Free Hosting Solutions

One thing folks should be wary of are free hosting solutions. If you upload your podcasts to one of these and the service goes out of business, your files will disappear. Also, they may insert their advertising into your podcast. I think it's important to have total control over your intellectual property.

(You may think it's odd me saying this about free hosting because I have my blog on Blogger. That's fair. A couple of things. First, I'm in the process of transferring my blog onto my own blogging platform. Second, the process has been so incredibly painful that I feel I must try and warn readers not to make the same mistakes I have!)


Here are some links I've found to tutorials about podcasting in general, but they do also talk about hosting and the pros and cons of various hosting solutions:

How to Start a Podcast - A Step-By-Step Podcasting Tutorial (YouTube series. Excellent.)
The Definitive Guide to Setting Up and Marketing a Podcast to Help Grow Your Blog
Learn How To Podcast
How to Start a Podcast: Pat’s Complete Step-By-Step Podcasting Tutorial

Monday, August 22

Make Your First Podcast: Intro and Outro

This post continues my series on how to start a podcast. Last time (Make Your First Podcast On Your iPad) we talked about what software you might want to use. Today we're going to look at something almost as important as software: the podcast format, specifically the intro and outro.

Podcast Format: Intro Text

Every podcast I've listened to has an intro and outro. Here—thanks to Albert Costill and his article The Definitive Guide to Podcast Intros—are the common elements of an intro:

  • Podcast name *
  • Episode number
  • Episode title *
  • Music/sound effects
  • Domain name
  • Your name and (if applicable) the names of your co-hosts. *
  • Subject of podcast: The idea here is to let your listeners know in one or two sentences what this episode is about.
  • Sponsors: If you have sponsors, this is often a good place to mention them.
  • Warning: Give your listeners a warning if the episode is going to be not safe for work.
Every podcast intro won't contain all these elements! I've marked (*) the ones every podcast I've listened to has (your mileage may vary).

Here's what this might sound like:
Hello and welcome! You're listening to my podcast, [Podcast Name], episode [Episode Number].

Today we're talking about [Subject of Podcast], so let's get started!

[Intro music for 2 or 3 seconds.]

Hello everyone. My name is [Your Name]. If this is your first time listening, it's good to have you with us. For everyone else, welcome back!

[Podcast Name] is produced every month and show notes can be found over at [Domain Name], forward slash podcasts, forward slash [Episode Name and/or Number]. If you enjoy listening to [Podcast Name] please consider subscribing so you don't miss an episode. You can also find me, [Twitter Name], over on Twitter/Facebook/etc.

Now, on with the show!
After that, launch into the podcast proper.

Outro Text

The outro is even simpler. From my own listening experience, here are some common elements of outros:

  • Podcast name *
  • Ask to rate the episode on iTunes
  • Plug a sponsor
  • Tell listeners other places they can connect with you (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, your website, etc.)
  • Tell listeners what the next episode is going to be about.
  • Ask listeners to comment and submit their own answers/opinions/observations for a question you answered in the podcast.
  • Give listeners a challenge to complete.
  • Tell listeners where they can download the show notes. *
  • Thank listeners for listening. *
  • Tell your listeners when the next podcast will be released. (e.g., I'll chat with you in a few days time.)

Here's what this might sound like:
You've been listening to [Podcast Name]. If you'd like to comment on any of today's topics or subscribe to the series, find us at [Domain Name], forward slash podcast. Tweet us at [Twitter Name]. Find us at forward slash [Facebook Name] or search [Podcast Name] on iTunes.

Thanks for listening to [Podcast Name]. If you like what you hear I would love it, if you have a moment, to head over to iTunes and give us a review or a rating. It really does help other folks find the podcast. Thanks for listening, chat with you again in [a few days/a week/etc.].
Well, that's it for today! Thanks for reading. This coming Thursday I'll blog about what options exist for the beginning podcaster in terms of hosting a podcast. Yes, this part can be pricy, but I've discovered a few options that—in the beginning at least—are either free or cost very little money, and by "very little" I mean one or two cents a month.

Stay tuned and good writing!

Other articles you might be interested in:

Write Now: 4 Tips For Growing A Readership
How To Record An Audiobook At Home
Aaron Sorkin On How To Write A Gripping Monologue

Thursday, July 14

How to write a blog post

How to write a blog post

I’ve been away from blogging for a while so I sat down and, feeling rusty, thought about the characteristics of a good blog post. What do I look for as a reader? In the past, what advice has worked for me?

Of course, everyone’s different. The advice that works for me may not work for you; different strokes and all that. My hope is only that what I’ve written will help you discover something useful.

Perhaps you’ve heard this advice before:

First, tell the reader what you are going to say.
Second, say it.
Third, tell the reader what you said.

Simple, yes, but it can help one craft short, clear and engaging pieces of prose.

Part One: Tell the reader what you’re going to say

When I write, the first thing that comes to me is usually the post’s title. At the moment, a post about podcasting is rattling around my head, begging to be written. I’m going to call it something like:  Why Every Blogger Should Have a Podcast. One thing I love about the title is that it contains the subject of the post.

In this imaginary blog post I’d probably say something like this in the first paragraph:
I think every blogger should also be a podcaster because having a podcast can, first, introduce one’s work to more readers, second, introduce one’s work to different readers and, perhaps most importantly, earn money.  Maybe, in the beginning, it would only earn enough to cover the cost of the podcast, but plenty of podcasters who stuck with it earn their livings from podcasting.
There we have a statement of the subject of the post and, what’s more, the hook is clear: Podcasting can help you put your work in front of more readers and earn you some money while you’re at it.

Part Two: Say it

In some sense -- even though this is where the bulk of the work is done -- this is the easiest bit. You know what you want to say; now all you have to do is say it.

In my example, I have three points:

Every blogger should be a podcaster because …
A. It can introduce your work to more people, (expand your audience)
B. It can introduce your work to different kinds of people, (expand into a different audience)
C. It can help you become profitable.

All I have to do is expand these points. I could give examples from my own experience, talk about the experiences of others, talk a bit about strategies (successful and otherwise) others have used, and so on.

Part Three: Summarize

Summaries can feel stilted. After all, you’ve told people what you were going to tell them, and then you told them … do you really need to tell them (again!) what you just told them?

The short answer: No. Especially if the post is short, an explicit summary can be redundant.

In a longer post try making the summary short and breezy. A conclusion that focuses on one strong point – or an action item – can help bring the entire article into focus.

A Tip: Be Informal

Imagine you’re chatting with someone over a cup of joe at your favorite watering hole. If you wouldn’t use formal phrases like, “In relation to …” or “please be advised that …” in conversation then don’t use them in the article. That’s what seems to work for me, at least.

Two More Tips

Future me: A few years have passed since I wrote this blog post, and I want to leave two more pieces of advice: pay attention to what interests you and be honest. 

1. Pay attention. If you're just starting out and you're not sure what to blog about, write about anything. BUT as you're writing pay attention to what interests you. What catches your attention? What do you like thinking about? What blog posts are you especially proud of? If you do this not only will your blog evolve to be about an area that interests you, but you will also discover something about yourself.

2. Be honest. First of all be honest with yourself about what you enjoy writing about, about what catches your attention, about what sparks your interest. When you have downtime what do you enjoy reading? What do you enjoy writing? Also, be honest with your readers. You don't have to give your readers ALL your opinions, but never lie. Never publish a sentence that you don't believe just because it's convenient or because it may well be the best sentence you've ever written! As Stephen King has said so many times, we must sacrifice our darlings.

An Apology

You have my deepest apologies for letting this blog lay inactive so long. There's a story behind it (isn't there always?). For now let me just say: Life happened. Life happened in the same way it happens to a melon when dropped off the 52nd story of a skyscraper.  That’s an exaggeration, of course! I’m fine now, duct tape does wonders. 

My new blogging schedule: I will post something every Monday and Thursday.

Are there any topics that especially interest you? If so, let me know! Leave a comment or drop me a note on Twitter (@woodwardkaren). 

Talk to you Thursday, and good writing!

Where you can find me on the web:
Twitter: @WoodwardKaren
Pinterest: @karenjwoodward

Thursday, February 7

Tags, Traits And Tells (Podcast)

Tags, Traits And Tells (Podcast)

Okay folks, I've taken the plunge and put together a podcast!

Please keep in mind this is my FIRST podcast. One's first time doing anything is not going to be anywhere close to polished so please keep that in mind. Also, although I'm getting a proper mic on the weekend, today I made due with the built-in mic on my iPad.

As you can see, I've embedded the sound file at the top of this post. If it doesn't show up for you, please let me know.

For those of you who would much rather read than listen, I've included a written transcript here of what I talked about.

Jim Butcher On Story Craft

Jim Butcher, in his Story Craft blog post writes that stories are about characters attempting to attain goals. The problems, the setbacks, a character encounters makes him or her struggle and creates tension.

But, ultimately, whether we'll be interested in a particular story depends on whether we find the character's interesting.

So, what makes a character interesting?

What makes a character interesting?

I imagine different writers would answer this in different ways. My goal as a story teller is to tell an entertaining story so I seek out the advice of authors who have created stories which have entertained me. Authors like Jim Butcher.

Mr. Butcher has a list of characteristics that make a character interesting--and I want to talk about them all one day soon--but for now the one that interests me is "verisimilitude", verisimilitude being "the quality of appearing to be true or real". A character that has verisimilitude will "have the appearance of being real". In other words, they will act and react believably in whatever world you've set up.

What makes a character act believably?

I think consistency is a big part of believability. (It can be that a character consistently seems to behave randomly). A part of consistency is just something simple like don't give a character blond hair in one scene and red hair in another, at least without some sort of explanation.

There are two parts to creating believable characters:

a) Being clear about what your character is like, their traits, quirks and mannerisms.

If this isn't clear then it will be impossible to predict their behavior.

b) Assigning different characteristics to each character.

These characteristics should be markedly different so that it's easy to tell characters apart. Also, if, say, "grey eyes" are being used as a tag for one character then try to avoid using that as a tag for another character.

Tags, Traits and Tells

Tags, traits and tells are concepts writers can use to help create interesting, unique, characters.

The first time I came across the concept of tags and traits was courtesy of Jim Butcher so he's the one I quote from, below, although writers such as Dwight V. Swain have talked about the concept as well.


Tags are physical characteristics that define individual characters and differentiate them from the rest.

Here's what Jim Butcher wrote about them in his LiveJournal blog:
TAGS are words you hang upon your character when you describe them. When you're putting things together, for each character, pick a word or two or three to use in describing them. Then, every so often, hit on one of those words in reference to them, and avoid using them elsewhere when possible. By doing this, you'll be creating a psychological link between those words and that strong entry image of your character.

For example; Thomas Raith's tag words are pale, beautiful, dark hair, grey eyes. I use them when I introduce him for the first time in each book, and then whenever he shows up on stage again, I remind the reader of who he is by using one or more of those words. (Characters)

An example of a tag is blond hair, a peg leg, or stunning beauty. Tags are physical characteristics that can help differentiate one character from another. Since tags differentiate one character from another they need to be unique to each character.


There are a couple of different ways of thinking about traits. Jim Butcher views traits as "decorations hung onto the character for the reader's benefit."

For instance, Harry Dresden's black duster, his staff, his blasting rod and his pentacle amulet are traits. Bob's traits are the skull, how his eyes light up, his intelligence, and so on.

That's one way of thinking of traits. Here's another:

Traits as dispositions

A trait is a disposition. Examples: Being ambitious, or anxious, or bossy.

On this view--and this is how I look at it--there are tags, traits and tells, a tell being how a trait/disposition is manifested.

For instance, if a character is anxious she might bite her lower lip, jump at small sounds and gnaw her fingernails.

I call how traits manifest--nail biting and the like--tells because a tell means "to make known; reveal." It reveals a character's traits/dispositions.

To sum up, we have tags--physical characteristics like blond hair and freckles that don't have anything to do with the character's psychological makeup. Then we have character traits which are internal dispositions (e.g., anxiety) and tells (e.g., nail biting) which are how a character's traits manifest.

The importance of being different

Tags, traits and tells should be unique to a character since one reason for coming up with these markers is to quickly differentiate one character from another.

For instance, let's say we have a character, Pam. Pam has blond hair, a voluptous figure and loves mathematics. Although she fits the stereotype of the blond bombshell she is smarter than just about everyone else.

Pam's tags:
- blond
- voluptuous

Pam's traits:
- brilliant
- outgoing

Pam's tells:
- Can do math problems in her head quicker than a calculator.
- A favorite lecturer at the university.
- Chairs a number of committies.

When a character is introduced also introduce their tags, traits and tells. Repeat each two or three times to fix them in the readers mind.

For instance, the way technology malfunctions around Jim Butcher's character Harry Dresden is a manifestation of the trait of being a wizard/magic user. The blue beetle, Harry's low tech car, is perfect for Harry because of this trait even though the car is falling apart.Harry's icebox--he doesn't have an electric fridge--is, again, a concession to his shorting out anyting technological within arms reach.

You see how tells can help not only define a character but can suggest plot elements.

Other articles you might like:

- Podcasting
- Good Writing: Using The Senses
- Dwight V Swain On How To Write A Novel

Photo credit: "Untitled" by thejbird under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, February 6



While I've waited for my arm to heal I've been preparing my first podcast.

I know I've blogged about podcasting in the past so this post is more about my experience over the past few days than it is about podcasting in general.

Podcasting Programs

Audacity & GarageBand

Generally, the programs I see recommended most often are Audacity for the PC and GarageBand for the Mac (although you can get Audacity for the Mac as well). These programs are both free and the initial learning curve isn't brutal.

Final Cut

Final Cut Pro is a bit pricey but if you already have it, or you don't mind spending a few hundred dollars, Final Cut is a great program for Podcasting.

Final Cut is both easy to use and powerful. I should note that so far all my attempts have been very basic. The most I've needed to do was splice out failed attempts to communicate in anything vaguely resembling English, and slap a filter on the audio to enhance audio captured by the default, built-in, microphone. (And, yes, I squandered a good hour applying effect after effect and laughing like a demented hyena. My favorite, completely absurd, filter was the Robot.)

The iPad and Final Cut

When I first bought my iPad 2 I had dreams of using it to take footage and importing that footage into a program like Adobe Premiere (on the PC) and editing it.

Yeah, that didn't happen. There was no straightforward way to get the video off my iPad and into Premiere. I was reduced to editing each sequence in my iPad until it was under a minute in length and then mailing it to myself. After that I'd save the clip to disk and then import it into my project.

Not simple. Not easy. Not fun.

With Final Cut, though ... wow! I can import video directly from my iPad into the program in one seamless step. And it doesn't crash as much as Premiere did.

Sorry, I know this is starting to sound like a commercial for the Mac. My apologies, it's just that I've been in geek heaven over the past couple of days playing with Final Cut.

My Podcasting Plans

Enough about video and audio editing! This is a writing blog.

My tentative plan is to take some of my favorite older posts, update them and make a podcast based on that material. I don't know how many I'll do, but I want to try doing at least five and see how they turn out. At the very least it will be an interesting experience and I'm sure I'll learn much.

Another idea I had was that I could do short interviews with other artists. And next year I would like to, if possible, narrate my book Until Death. But that's for the future. Hopefully I'll get my first podcast up this week.
Have you ever created a podcast or narrated one of your stories? If not, why not? If yes, how'd it go? Can you give us any advice? :-)

 Other articles you might like:

- Good Writing: Using The Senses
- Dwight V Swain On How To Write A Novel
- Michael Hauge On How To Summarize Your Novel

Photo credit: "Starry Starry Winter's Night" by jumpinjimmyjava under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, May 1

Mur Lafferty: How to Podcast

Here are some terrific tips how-to tips on podcasting from Mur Lafferty, a finalist for the John W. Campbell award for best new writer.
Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster, creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and the Angry Robot Books podcast.

She is the editor of Escape Pod, the premier SF podcast magazine. She has written for the gaming magazine Knights of the Dinner Table, Games Quarterly, Suicide Girls, and Anime Insider. She is also the editor of the new Worldbuilder project for Angry Robot Books.

Called the "podcast SF doyenne" by Cory Doctorow, Lafferty has been bringing award-winning commentary and SF to the podcasting sphere since 2004.

Based in Durham, NC, She enjoys running, kung fu (Northern Shaolin five animals style), Skyrim, tabletop games, and the Durham Bulls.
- Writertopia, Profile of Mur Lafferty
Without further ado, here are Mur Lafferty's tips, taken from Jim C. Hines's interview with the author:

 6) You run or work with several different podcasting sites (Escape Pod, I Should Be Writing, Princess Scientist’s Book Club, and the Angry Robot Books Podcast), and have podcast at least one of your novels as well. What is it that draws you to podcasting?

I was drawn to podcasting in the beginning, 2004, when it was a new medium - that excited me. I wanted to play with all the new ways of storytelling. I didn’t need NPR to publish essays, I didn’t need the BBC or a US radio station to do an audio drama, and I didn’t need a publisher to make an audiobook. I was able to build an audience for my work well before I got a book deal. Podcasting has been instrumental for building my career, when I never expected it to.

7) For anyone who might want to get into podcasting, what resources would you recommend, and what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about doing a successful podcast?

Microphone: Start small. A  $20 mic from the store will do just fine.

Software: Windows - Audacity is free. Mac - Garageband is free. (Aside - Audacity is also available for the Mac, but crashed a lot for me, so I got Amadeus Pro, which is quite affordable and much like a stable Audacity.)

Host: - The first podcast host, designed to handle the greater demands of large audio and video files.

Other resources: Tricks of the Podcasting Masters, by Lafferty/Walch (Come on, I had to!), Podcasting for Dummies, by Morris/Terra

Advice: Interact with your listeners. Give them a place to contact/follow you and respond to them; when your voice is in peoples’ ears, it creates an intimacy not found in providing text.
-- Cambell Interview: MurLafferty

Thanks to a friend who, very kindly, sent me a link to Mur Lafferty's interview.

Related Articles:
Joanna Pen: How to Podcast
Podcasting on the iPad
How to record an audiobook at home

Campbell Interview: Mur Lafferty
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists
  Jim C. Hines

Photo credit: Podible Paradise

"Mur Lafferty: How to Podcast," copyright© 2012 by Karen Woodward.

Wednesday, August 10

Joanna Pen: How to Podcast

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn has written two excellent articles on podcasting (see below), and who better to do so than a lady who has created over 100 podcasts. Here are her stats:
there are around 2500 downloads per month of new and old episodes. 60% of the listeners are in the US, with 15% in China and 14% in UK and the rest spread between Australia, Germany, Canada and some other countries.
Joanna's tips:
Just start, even if you don’t know what you are doing. My first interview was with 4 Ingredients author Rachael Bermingham who is HUGE in Australia, self, published and has sold millions of books now. I did it on the landline phone, I held a recorder next to it. I edited in Audacity and loaded the file to my very new and pretty ugly blog (which has since been redesigned). I didn’t know about mics, or Skype or Pamela/ecamm or hosting or anything. Things have changed and here’s how I do it now.

Fear and nerves will always be there. Just do it anyway. I am still nervous before phoning anyone. I have to force myself every time. My heart races, my mouth is dry and I go to the bathroom three times before starting. I also do public speaking and its the same thing with that. But we need to get our ‘breadcrumbs’ of content out there, so it has to be done.

I credit the podcast with the growing success of The Creative Penn because of my ability to network and offer something that many blogs don’t offer i.e. multi-media interviews. I get requests all the time and other people promote the blog because of it. All the people I interview link back to their show so the incoming links have helped my SEO ranking. I have connected with you as listeners – you have heard my voice and laugh and mannerisms and annoying tics for years now. I know some of you have bought my books for which I am very grateful. I am also personally fulfilled by being useful and I feel this is useful to people, so I love to do it. I love to get emails from people who have found the information helpful.

You can learn from everybody. Podcasting is a great way to learn about writing, publishing and book marketing. It’s also an amazing way to network. The people I have had on the podcast I have connected with and got to know more. There is a widening circle of mutual support. I also firmly believe in no snobbery – you can learn from everyone. It doesn’t matter what they have written or done, you can’t underestimate anyone’s experience. You also never know where they will end up.

The quotations in my blog post are from Joanna's article: What I Have Learned In The Last 2 Years: 100th Podcast Celebration
Joanna has written a not-to-be-missed article on podcasting, How To Create A Podcast, for anyone who has ever enterained the notion.
Joanaa's YouTube feed is here.
I can't remember where I got the link to Joanna Penn's article, but since they write so many great blog posts let me just give a plug to The Passive Voice blog and The Book Designer.

Tuesday, July 12

Mike Bennett: One Among the Sleepless

Careful, this podcast is addictive. I was going to listen to just one episode, to get the gist. Then I was sucked in by Mike Bennett's marvelous voice and prose and, before I knew what had happened, found myself listening to episode number four.

I've been interested in podcasting lately and have thought about using the medium to record a short story and wanted to get a feeling for what sort of podcasts were out there so I stopped by After listening to Mike's podcasts ... well, he is definitely a tough act to follow.

"One Among The Sleepless" is a contemporary fiction novel set in Brighton, England about sex, death and noisy neighbors: a thriller with a rich vein of dark humor that flows from both the narrative and the dialogue of the characters. It's a largely character-driven story; the people and their various shifting relationships compel the plot forward through sometimes subtle, sometimes brutal plot twists towards the final, nail-gnawing climax.

Mike Bennett has other podcasts up on his site, and even a few videos.

Mike Bennett
One Among The Sleepless

Sunday, June 12

Podcasting on the iPad

After writing my last post, How to record an audiobook at home, I came across a link to Steven Lewis's Taleist blog, a blog I'm now subscribing to, and read his terrific post 5 ways to stuff up your author podcast.

In his article Steven Lewis recommends a program called Hindenburg. I went over to to take a look at what Hindenburg can do. It looks impressive but costs $66.50. For what the program does I'm sure that's cheap but right now I don't have $66.50 to spare. Then I noticed they have a version out for the iPhone called the Hindenburg Field Recorder.

Now, I don't have an iPhone but I do have an iPad (which I think is completely awesome and that I am in love with) so I went to have a look. The app seemed great but cost $29.99. That's more in the ballpark of what I can afford but I didn't want to pay $30 for a program that I hadn't taken for a trial run. Enter the Hindenburg Field Recorder Lite. It has all the functionality of the Hindenburg Field Recorder but is free. Yay! Free is good.

I downloaded the app and started playing with it. My first impression is that it was very easy to use and extremely fun. I'm not sure what the quality of the sound would be like but I think it would be exciting to take my iPad out into the city and do interviews, sort of podcasting on the go.

I'm not sure if I ever will do a podcast, but it has been fun learning more about them, and I've discovered a great blog in the process!

Oh, before I close this post, I would like to share a link to Steven Lewis's podcast of his interview with Karen McQuestion. Karen was (at least this is my understanding) the first indie author most folks heard about who made a good living off self-publishing her books. It is a great interview and Karen gives many tips to new writers concerning marketing and promotion. Also, it is interesting to compare the quality of Steve Lewis's audio (I'm assuming he has set up a home studio) and Karen McQuestion's (I'm assuming she hasn't).