Writing And Producing Audio Drama And Podcast Fiction With Sarah Werner

The opportunities for creation and marketing in audio format continue to expand and the lines are blurring between audiobooks, podcasts and other forms of audio storytelling. In this episode, Sarah Werner talks about writing for audio first and the challenges of full-cast audio drama and podcast fiction.

In the intro, problems with publishing distribution and supply chain for print books [Kris Rusch]; Reader Reach [Written Word Media]; Do authors need to advertise? [6 Figure Authors]; AI-narrated audio and NFTs from virtual Digital Book World sessions; AI 2041: 10 Visions for our Future by Kai-fu Lee and Chen Qiufan; all the future creativity episodes; The Relaxed Author out now; and my pics from the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean @jfpennauthor.

audio for authors

Today’s show is sponsored by Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies. Do you want to create, publish and market your audiobooks? Are you ready to use podcasting to grow your author brand and reach more readers with your books? It’s still early days for audio and opportunities are expanding all the time. This book will help you get started — or expand your audio reach. Available on all the usual platforms in all the usual formats (and yes, I narrated the audiobook!)

Sarah Rhea Werner is a writer, professional speaker, and executive producer of Girl In Space, a multiple award-winning sci-fi mystery podcast, as well as the host of the Write Now podcast, and executive producer of fantasy audio drama Omen.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.

Show Notes

  • Switching from blogging to podcasting
  • How writing for audio differs from writing a book
  • Do different kinds of novels work better as audio drama?
  • Is having a narrator an option for audio drama?
  • Options for monetizing a podcast or audio drama
  • On the potential for using AI voices for audio drama
  • Finding actors, sound effects and music, as well as important copyright issues
  • Marketing tips for podcasts and audio drama

You can find Sarah Werner at SarahWerner.com and on Twitter @SarahRheaWerner or check out her Write Now Podcast.

Transcript of Interview with Sarah Werner

Joanna: Sarah Rhea Werner is a writer, professional speaker, and executive producer of Girl In Space, a multiple award-winning sci-fi mystery podcast, as well as the host of the Write Now podcast, and executive producer of fantasy audio drama Omen. Welcome, Sarah.

Sarah: Hi. Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.

Joanna: It’s so interesting to talk to you today.

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing for audio?

Sarah: I feel like I fell into it, like I’ve fallen into so many other things in my writing career. I started out as just a novelist, a writer, a blogger, and never really published anything, never really did anything with what I was writing for myself.

I decided I wanted to start a blog that would help other writers. This was back in 2013, 2014. And so, I started this blog, and it was not getting any traction.

At the time, I was working for a marketing company, a digital marketing company. A good friend there said, ‘Why don’t you start podcasting?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know. That sounds really intimidating. And it has a lot of dials and levers and stuff, and something I’m not really prepared for.’

But eventually, I ended up experimenting with auto and I changed my blog into a nonfiction podcast called ‘Write Now.’

I just really loved both the experience of speaking into a microphone. It felt so much more authentic, despite being a writer and despite identifying as a writer, it just felt better to speak than it did to write this blog.

It also saw a lot more traction than my blog. I think that was partly due to the time, with there being a very saturated blog market, and back in 2014, 2015, not a ton of podcasts.

So, then, after the success of the ‘Write Now’ podcast, and given how much I enjoyed doing it, I was like, ‘Oh, man, what if I spoke a fictional story into my microphone? Oh, wait, maybe I should script it.‘ And so, I started just writing for audio, and turned some ideas that I had had floating around for a novel into the ‘Girl In Space’ podcast.

I started it as an experiment, just to see if it would be fun, if it would be viable. And when I launched the first episode, fortunately, it took off, and I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m going to write some more of these episodes.’ And so really, I stumbled and flailed my way into it, and realized that I just really enjoyed it.

Joanna: I like that you said you were intimidated, and then you gave it a try, and you enjoyed it. I feel like so many of the things, especially in this new world, with this tech, and you have to master a little bit of tech, but the main thing is, ‘Oh, I’m scared of it. And then I try it. And then I enjoy it.’ And you don’t know unless you try, do you?

Sarah: Absolutely. Oh, that’s so, so true.

Joanna: Have you gone on with your writing in book format, or are you really concentrating on the audio now?

Sarah: Oh, what a beautiful question. I think about this a lot.

Writing is not a monolith. Writing is not just one thing to everybody. I think about my writing for audio, which really scratches an itch, because I love writing dialogue. It’s largely dialogue, and then sound effects and descriptions that really don’t end up coming out of the microphone. So really, what you’re writing is dialogue, and I love writing dialogue.

I was thinking the other day, like, ‘Oh is this it? Is this where my path is leading? Have I gone down a path where I’ve excluded all other possibilities?’ And I was like, ‘Well, of course, not. I could still write a novel. It’s always been my dream to write a novel.’

Growing up, I read book after book after book, like I think many writers today read as children. And I wasn’t allowed to watch TV growing up. And so, it was just, books were everything to me.

And while audio felt very accessible, there are really no gatekeepers, and you can write and publish and do the whole thing yourself, writing a book is still very intimidating to me.

It’s funny because I’ve also ghostwritten many books, and I can write for other people very easily. But writing a novel for myself, there’s just something there that’s still very intimidating, like, ‘Oh, how dare I place myself among the ranks of all of these other beloved novelists that I grew up venerating?’ So it’s kind of a tricky question for me. I would love to write a novel. But I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m ready.

Joanna: It’s so interesting, though, because, so, you say you identify as a writer. And of course, you’ve done ghostwriting things, but you are writing, for audio.

Sarah: I am.

Joanna: I’m writing before I’m creating audio. I just recorded a solo episode on London for my Books and Travel show. I wrote the whole thing. And then I performed it.

I feel like people object to the word ‘writer’ when it comes to audio, but everything is writing first, right?

Sarah: It is. TV is writing first. Movies, that’s writing first. Everything is writing first.

Joanna: What you’ve done for ‘Girl In Space,’ obviously, you mentioned it’s dialogue, versus writing a novel and then adapting it for audio, because they’re two very different things, I think.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. Very, very different. And in all of this, I’ve just sort of learned as I’ve gone.

It’s really interesting writing for audio. Again, like you said, that dialogue is a really heavy piece. But when you’re writing for audio, there are three things to consider. There’s the dialogue, there is the sound effects/music, and that can be anything from a hand knocking on a door, that being a sound effect, to ambient music in the background. And there’s also the unspoken cues for your actors. And it’s so different.

You’re writing using different puzzle pieces than you are when you’re writing for a novel. For a novel, you’re thinking about is my prose is coming across beautifully. My voice as a writer is coming out through the narrator or through whoever is the main point of view in the story.

Whereas, I feel like when you’re writing for audio, you’re really giving that over to your actors, for them to insert their own voice later.

It was so interesting, giving my script over to other actors for the first time and hearing my dialogue come out of their mouths. I actually worked with them to revise a lot of the script, because I liked their own spin, I liked their own voice. And so, I took my voice out of it even more with my other actors, like, ‘Oh, yeah, this character wouldn’t say it this way, they would say it this way.’

So, it was really kind of a more collaborative process, too, and more of a slow burn sort of edit. We were changing the script up until recording. There’s just so much going on there that I wouldn’t have known ahead of time, that I learned while doing it.

And really, what helped me there was being willing to be flexible, and not being too precious with my own work.

Joanna: It’s so interesting. I really want people to get the point that this is not a book that a narrator has read, as in an audiobook. This is an audio drama, which, as you say, is more like a script. I’ve got so many questions.

Did you use scriptwriting software, like Final Draft, or what technical format did you use?

Sarah: First, I started off using just Google Docs, because I didn’t know any better. Again, when I say I stumbled into this, I mean in the most clumsy way. So, I started with Google Docs. And I was like, ‘Well, this looks like I think a script should look like.’

As I moved on, and as I started working more seriously with my actors and taking the project more seriously, treating it less like an experiment and more like an actual living project, I started researching, like, ‘Okay, how do people write scripts? What does the formatting look like?’

So I gave myself a little crash course. And I started using Celtx which is a free screenwriting program, very similar to Final Draft. That’s what I ended up using at the end of season one of ‘Girl In Space.’ I was writing in what I felt like was a real format.

But it’s interesting. To keep the door open for everybody who might be interested in doing this, you can start off however it works best for you, and you can learn as you go. You don’t need all of these things in the way to start.

You don’t need to master some kind of technical program before you start writing. You can just write with what you have and where you are.

Joanna: Scrivener has a screenplay template as well. When I was writing some screenplays, I wrote in Scrivener and then exported it to Final Draft. So people can use that as well. But it’s a good recommendation to have a free one. That’s excellent. Final Draft is not free.

Sarah: It is not free. I found that out later.

Joanna: Yeah, it can be difficult. So, okay, so that’s one thing.

Then you said ‘dialogue.’ Obviously, this is audio, so dialogue is a voice that is spoken out loud. It can be a character thinking to themself, rather than just two or three, or however many characters talking together. I feel like that’s a difference too.

Dialogue can still be internal thoughts, right?

Sarah: It is, absolutely. My character in ‘Girl In Space,’ she’s carrying around a recorder, and she’s ostensibly talking to her father, who we find out later has passed away, but this is the way that she stays connected with him.

I was really thinking how do I get some of this stuff across? How do I know that my character is looking into a stereo microscope? And to take that question a step back, is it even important that the audience knows that she’s looking into a stereo microscope?

So you really have to decide, what is so important that I cannot leave it out, that I must find a way to work into the dialogue here? And, for me, I don’t know if I would do it the same way again. I don’t know if I would do it, and have the narrator say, ‘Well, okay, here, I’ve got my stereo microscope, and now I’m looking into it.’

Because there’s also what is the audience willing to put up with? What sounds realistic? How far is the audience willing to suspend their disbelief? Obviously, they realize they’re listening to an audio-only story. But at what point are you taking them out of that story by over-explaining things?

It’s really become a balancing act of what do you need to explain? What can you convey with sound effects? And then, if you do want to convey things, how can you do it in the most natural-sounding way? Can you have other people comment in interesting ways, like, ‘Wow, that’s a really big gun?’

Obviously, not that trite, but how can you convey things in a way that doesn’t make it too obvious or too staged-sounding?

The other thing that I’ve noticed is, there’s a real cool thing you can do when writing for audio, that I was not even thinking about when I was writing novels, and that is how characters interact with each other, and how they constantly interrupt each other and how sometimes, different characters, especially if you have an ensemble cast, will have two or three conversational threads going at a time instead of just one.

It ends up being a lot less of a tennis match, like it would be in a novel, where this person says a complete thought, often an entire paragraph, and then knocks the ball back over to the next character, who says their next complete thought.

In audio, I found that it sounds a lot more realistic to have people trail off, to have people constantly interrupting each other. And that can also be a great way to convey character, if somebody is constantly interrupting someone else, that says a lot about who they are and what they think of themselves as a character. And so, that’s been fun to play around with as well.

Joanna: I’ve given up completely on screenwriting because it is a completely different industry. It’s a job, basically. Screenwriting is a job. And you can’t do it on your own.

Whereas I feel like audio drama, you can, as you say, you can write your own script, you can find actors, you can put it together, you can get it out there, so it is a much more independent type of creative thing.

If someone wants to adapt a novel, are there particular types of novels that are going to work better?

Or do you have to assess your work and check that it’s got X amount of dialogue? How difficult it’s going to be?

Sarah: That is such an excellent question. I love this question. And I’m going to have a very disappointing answer. I going to be ‘it kind of depends.’

What you’re going to be looking for when you’re looking to adapt a work is how will this work in audio format? And to understand your answer to that question, even to answer that question, you have to understand, why did I write this as a book first? What makes it work as a book?

Does my character have a lot of rich inner life going on? Is this book 90% my character thinking and looking around at things? Does it have a lot of dialogue that could come out in an audio story? How much do I want to come out in audio?

And what can I do in audio that I was limited and doing in my novel? What are the possibilities here? And how can that enrich and serve the story?

There are definitely stories, I think, that work really well in audio, and there are definitely stories that work better as novels. I had been struggling to think about how to adapt a novel that I have in my drawer here, that has never seen the light of day, into an audio drama now that I’m more familiar with the medium.

And it’s like, ‘Oh, this maybe isn’t a good fit. There’s a lot of sort of internal thought. There’s a lot of really juicy visuals, that normal people won’t narrate in their day-to-day dialogue.’ It is possible to have a narrator if you’re interested in doing that. It’s possible to say, like, ‘Oh, and then Dorothy walked down the street and the rain was beautiful, and that’s really terrible.’

So it’s possible to have a narrator, but I haven’t seen a lot of really engaging audio dramas with narrators. Again, rules are meant to be broken, and you should definitely break that rule if you can do it and you can do it well.

Joanna: I agree with you. I think this is where the lines are blurred now, between an audiobook that someone can put out on a podcast feed in chapters, which was how I first listened to audio… Well, I say ‘first,’ I mean, when digital audio…Podiobooks, which is gone now, and I got I them, I think it’s in Scribl or something.

I used to listen to authors reading out their own books chapter by chapter. Scott Sigler is a good one.

Sarah: Yes.

Joanna: I found Scott Sigler because of his audio. But that is still an audiobook, narrated chapter by chapter, whereas what you’re talking about is a performance by actors of a drama that is probably closer to a screenplay than a novel.

And obviously, nonfiction can be the same. Malcolm Gladwell’s recent ‘Bomber Mafia,‘ designed for audio, and then put out in a book.

Have you seen any other interesting blurring of the line between books and podcasts, and audio products?

Sarah: I have, and it’s really interesting that you asked that. I see a lot of, especially on Reddit, where people are having discussions about ‘Oh, is this project actually an audiobook? Or is it an audio drama?’ There’s a lot of blurring of the lines there.

And there’s also people who want to very strictly label things and say, ‘No, it’s not an audio drama unless you have different voices for each character, unless you have music and sound effects in the background…’ They start listing out all these criteria to separate the two.

I don’t know if this is something that you or your audience is familiar with. There’s a lot of what’s called ‘actual play’ podcasts, which are essentially D&D games.

There’s actual play podcasts, which are a group, a D&D group that comes together, and each person has their own character, and then later, the producer of the show will add in music and sound effects. There’s even a question as to whether that counts as an audio drama or not, because it’s unscripted.

I don’t know how I feel about the labels, I think they can be helpful, if people are necessarily looking for something. Like, ‘I’m definitely looking for an actual play podcast. Or ‘I’m definitely looking for a scripted fiction experience.’ Or, ‘I’m definitely looking for an audiobook.’ But I question sometimes the importance or the necessity of those labels, as storytelling in audio becomes more and more ubiquitous.

Joanna: I agree with you in one way, in that the labels are difficult. But what the labels do help is consumers and paying for things. So, right now, I can get podcast fiction for free on podcast platforms. I have to pay, or I have a monthly subscription, to an audiobook platform.

You sell an audiobook, but a podcast is free, and it’s monetized in other ways.

How do you manage the money side of an audio drama? And what are the options for monetization if it’s not a direct sale?

Sarah: This is so weird to talk about, because we start getting into ‘Who deserves to be paid for their storytelling?’ and ‘Who’s releasing this for free, and why, and how?’ and, ‘How did this all come about?’

Basically, there’s a lot of different ways that you can monetize a podcast. One of those being, of course, the most obvious, which is advertising. A lot of shows have ads. They have, if it comes before the show, it’s called pre-roll, if it’s in the middle of the show, it’s called mid-roll. And then there’s also ads that roll at the very end. You might have heard these in different podcasts. It’s a very popular method.

Often, advertising opportunities aren’t available to podcasts until they grow to a certain size.

Another is to rely on donations, which is what I do. I rely on a third-party platform called Patreon, which you may have heard of, where people can donate either per month or per episode, however they feel is a good amount of money.

[I also use Patreon. I do a monthly Q&A and you get $ off my books and courses at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn]

It’s very unreliable, especially if you are trying to work that into a business plan. You don’t know when people will come and go. You’re not guaranteed a certain amount of money. There’s no contract involved. And so, that is another way to make money.

Then you also mentioned indirect ways of making money. And this is often what I recommend people do when they are first starting out to make money, is use your podcast as a business card. Use your podcast as a way to advertise something else that you’re doing that makes money.

For the ‘Write Now’ podcast, I drive people to my newsletter, which then I use to sell things. I drive people to my podcasting course, which helps me bring in passive income.

With ‘Girl In Space,’ which is my fictional show, it was a little different. I’m not really using that to sell anything, but I did end up selling the intellectual property itself after the show took off. And that’s another avenue, is your podcast could turn into a book deal, a movie deal, a TV deal. It could be adapted for other things, people might want to buy the rights for it.

Those are the three biggest ways, is advertising, donations, and then using the intellectual property in some way, either to indirectly make sales, or to…well, I guess that counts as four ways. It’s not three ways.

The fourth way is actually selling the intellectual property and making money that way. So, those are the four that I’ve experimented with. There might be more. Obviously, if you’re working with a service like Spotify, or I know Apple does subscriptions now, you might make money subscription-wise through that.

Joanna: I think it’s much harder to monetize a fiction podcast than it is a nonfiction show, because there are so many more people making money in a niche. I have advertising, I have a Patreon, I do affiliate stuff. And there are people who want to reach a particular audience who they know will pay.

Whereas the problem with a fiction audience is they’re not necessarily going to pay, or even if they are going to buy something, it’s usually not very expensive, like another $5 book or something.

So it is, that is interesting in itself. I did want to just come back on the IP, the intellectual property. You mentioned there selling the IP.

Do you mean licensing it, so, you’ve signed a license to someone and they might be able to use it in other ways? Or did you actually sell the copyright to someone else?

Sarah: Initially, I had optioned out. Listeners are probably familiar with what optioning means. I’d optioned out ‘Girl In Space’ for specifically TV and film, and then I got to keep my own rights for books and the podcast, and a couple other things.

But all of that is, that’s all a possibility, is you could sell the entire thing and wash your hands of it and say, ‘Okay, that’s yours now. I’m going to go make something else.’ Or you can also option it, see if it gets made, and all of that kind of stuff. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Joanna: Ye, I think that’s good. I always get very particular about the word selling versus licensing, because we all make money out of licensing our rights. And yes, you can do work for hire or you can sell your project.

That would be another thing, actually, writing for hire. I know quite a lot of people now who write for hire as audio drama, writers, and they don’t own any of that IP. That’s work for hire. So the copyright is owned by the company that pays them.

I think there are all kinds of options, but I guess what we’re saying is don’t start a podcast expecting to get a TV show from it.

Sarah: Exactly. I’ve noticed that a lot of TV shows are being made from podcasts, but having that expectation going in, I think you’ll just end up feeling a lot of resentment.

Joanna: Yes. And also, they are starting…they are generally made from these bigger brands, so, I think Amazon just bought Wondery.

Sarah: Yes, they did.

Joanna: Yes. So that is, again, it’s an IP play. It’s about, ‘Here are some popular shows that we can potentially turn into other media.’

Turning things into other media is the key, right, for all of us?

Sarah: It is. Yes.

Joanna: I want to come back on the actors. So, how did you find actors? And do you pay them?

What are the terms for working with actors?

Sarah: This is a little embarrassing. when I started out, again, I cannot stress enough how much I did not know what I was doing.

All of the actors in Season One, or at least Part One of Season One of ‘Girl In Space,’ are me, my mother-in-law, and my brother-in-law’s roommates. Those are my actors.

And then I had a co-worker, from the marketing company that I used to work for, and that was my cast. And they were very accommodating. They were very sweet.

Later on, as I learned more about the industry, and as I made more connections within the industry, and I started adding new roles, those were actual actors. I did send out casting calls, and set up a contract that said, ‘Okay, this is how you’re going to get paid. This is how much I’m going to pay you. This is how this whole thing is going to work.’

I am a huge advocate of paying your actors, but also, I realized if you’re a college student who’s starting an audio drama, and you can’t even afford to buy food, ‘Oh, how am I going to pay an actor $300 for this role?’

So, initially, what I was also doing was trading. One of my actors has their own audio drama, and so I voiced a role on that audio drama in exchange for this person voicing a role on my show, and that exchange worked out very nicely.

I also did some marketing consulting for some people, just because I have a background in marketing. There’s different ways that you can work things out. If you’re a composer, you can compose music for their show in exchange for them acting.

I don’t know if this is a thing in the UK, but here in the States, we have the Screen Actors Guild, SAG-AFTRA. There’s a lot of discussion going on right now, especially in the indie space, where, ‘Oh, my gosh, we cannot afford to pay these union rates.’ And so, ‘Who is acting in our show? Who’s available to act in our show? What are we going to do moving forward?’

That’s just a discussion that’s happening right now, too, is how long will this remain a possibility for people to create indie shows with a very shoestring budget?

Joanna: This brings me on to the question about AI voices because they are getting better and better. We acknowledge the wonderful job that actors do, and audiobook narrators do, and voice actors and all of that. And that it is a professional skill, absolutely, and they should be paid.

On the other hand, as you say, there is lots of potential in the AI voice space, which is being already used a lot in the gaming industry, to generate voices for characters and all this kind of thing. So, is there a way that we could use a bit of both, to spread the budget?

What do you think about this very emotional issue of AI voices?

Sarah: This is really interesting, because I was approached by a company who essentially wants to use my voice as an AI voice. I still haven’t responded to that request, because I just don’t know how I feel about it.

Am I putting myself out of work by making my voice available? Or am I enabling people to create with a shoestring budget? It’s so touchy.

I think a lot of it comes down to what do you need out of the performance? If it’s a narrator, if it is a background voice, I can see that being used. But if you need a really heart-wrenching, emotional performance I think you’re going to want to go with an actor.

Knowing that from the start of your project, I think, is going to be really tricky is, like, ‘Where do I want this character to go? How do I want this character to grow? And what is that going to look like when it’s conveyed through purely voice?’

For me, I think it’s difficult to think that far ahead, because I’m very much a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person, and I’m not sure that, like, ‘Oh, this person is going to have an emotional breakdown in Season Two, and I need you to prepare for that, and I need to cast accordingly.’

So, I feel like I’ve given you a very, very non-answer, but I don’t know if there is necessarily an answer right now. I think it’s something that we’re going to have to feel out and experiment with, and really decide individually what’s right for our show. I know there are also some ethical questions about, ‘Are we putting actors out of work? Or are we opening up doors for people with smaller budgets?’ And the answer is yes, to all of that, I think.

Joanna: I think this hybrid idea is far more likely. We all have secondary characters and small parts and stuff like that, that presumably could be done by smaller voices. Or, what you were talking about, I’ve been looking into voice licensing.

For example, Samuel L. Jackson is a voice on Alexa. And there’s no way he just gave his voice to Amazon. He’s licensed his voice to be used as an Alexa voice. And that’s what I see.

What I would say to the company that’s emailed you is, I would say, ‘Show me the contract.’ Because what we will be doing, and I’ve had companies too, is it’s voice licensing in the same way that you license your IP to be used in another product. It’s licensing your voice to be used in future productions that you want to keep control of.

So I think these are going to be opportunities, and the biggest voice actors will be able to license their voices and make money while they sleep. It’s the ultimate kind of passive income for a voice brand.

Sarah: It is. And there’s something beautiful about that. We have this technology. Let’s use it. Let’s see what it can do.

Joanna: Absolutely.

You mentioned there, you had two extremes for actors, which was your mates and your family, and then the Screen Actors Guild. Surely there’s somewhere in between where people can find voice actors.

Is it just a case of networking within the fiction, audio drama podcasting space?

Sarah: It is. I found mine on Twitter. I know that there are websites like Backstage, where you can kind of put out casting calls, and you won’t necessarily get the most famous voice actor, but you might find someone who fits your show really well.

Mine ended up being later on, a lot of networking. I’m part of the podcasting community, especially the audio drama community now, and so I kind of know who to ask, ‘Hey, can you share this casting call with the voice actors you work with?’ and word just gets around. But again, there are more formal avenues for doing that, like backstage.com and some other places.

Joanna: And then, another really important point, sound effects and music.

Sarah: Ooh, yes.

Joanna: If people don’t know, these things are also copyright, generally.

Sarah: They are, yes.

Joanna: Yes. So you can’t just go, ‘Oh, yeah, I really like that song by Taylor Swift,’ or whatever, ‘so I’m going to stick it in my podcast.’

What are your recommendations around sound effects and music, and making sure they’re royalty-free or Creative Commons and stuff like that?

Sarah: I always tell people to be very, very careful, and very respectful when you are using any kind of sound that you don’t make yourself. I usually advise people if you’re able to, if you have a small Zoom recorder, or if you have a portable recorder, to try making your own. It’s very hard to get a very clean recording, but it’s also kind of fun to learn and experiment with.

However, if it’s not possible for you to make your own background sounds or sound effects, please, again, be very, very careful. I use a website called freesound.org. And you can filter on that website. You can search and filter for sound effects.

So if I’m looking for feet walking on gravel, you can find things that are Creative Commons 0. You can find things that are Creative Commons Attribution, which means that you need to reference and source those in the credits of your show, and provide links as necessary in your show notes.

There’s a huge wild world there. As you’re searching for sound effects, if that’s something that you’re doing, please be very, very careful about the licensing. I don’t want you to get into trouble. There are also sound effect libraries that you can purchase. And again, you’re licensing those from different corporations, and A Sound Effect is a great place to start. They have some great libraries.

And then, as far as music goes, again, yes, please do not use a Taylor Swift song unless you are Taylor Swift or you have a contract with her personally. It can be really difficult to find music that is what we call ‘podsafe.’

There’s a website called Incompetech that’s done by Kevin MacLeod. You can hear Kevin MacLeod’s music in so many podcasts, because he creates Podsafe music that is a Creative Commons 0 license. So I would definitely encourage you to start there.

There are also possibilities for working with a composer. My partner, Tim, for his audio drama, ‘Omen,’ just looked on Twitter and said, ‘Hey, are there any composers who would like to get paid money to make music for my show?’ He had a few people say, ‘I’d love to do that.’ He worked out contracts with them, and they composed the intro song, the outro song, and then some transitional music for between scenes. And he really enjoyed that.

It really is kind of cool to have music that is specifically written for your show, that exactly is tailored to the tone, and the mood that you want to set with your show. The only thing with that is it does get a little expensive, because you are paying another artist for their time to create something for you.

Joanna: It’s funny you mentioned Incompetech, because this show uses one of Kevin’s pieces, which I got from Incompetech, and credit him on the show notes page. And also, for my ‘Books and Travel’ show, I licensed it from AudioJungle, which you can license up to a certain number of downloads per episode, or total number of downloads or something. So I bought a really massive license.

I also wanted to mention OpenCulture.com and places like the British Library, and they release sound effects and libraries of all kinds of things, video and audio, and images and things for people to use, so that would be another thing.

Sarah: Absolutely. And WNYC, here in the States, is a New York public radio station, and they also have a large library of royalty-free songs that you can use.

Joanna: Yes. So, emphasis on the royalty-free or the Creative Commons, and look at those licenses. Super important.

But I do want to ask you about marketing, because what’s so funny is you mentioned 2013, your blog wasn’t getting any traction, but you were able to get traction on your podcast because the market wasn’t so full. And of course, we’re now a few years ahead of that.

There are a lot more podcasts out there. This show, part of its success is that I started it in 2009. So if you’re around longer, it’s easier to get traction. That is a tip. Just stick around long enough, and everyone else will fade away.

Sarah: Absolutely, it really is. Yes.

Joanna: On the marketing, for audio dramas like that, and I’m particularly interested in what Facebook is doing with podcasts.

If people do write an audio drama, or they set up a podcast, what are the best ways to market them?

Sarah: This is one of my favorite things to talk about. I take just a full-spectrum approach to marketing. And that includes asking yourself a lot of questions about why you’re doing this in the first place, and what you want to achieve with your show.

We really start by identifying, number one, what do you want out of this experience? Because how you market it will determine what you get out of that.

If you want to build a huge fan base, if you want people making fan art about your show, if you want people writing fanfiction, then you’re going to do one thing, whereas if you want to create your show and make money and eventually license it to someone else to be adapted into something else, you’re going to do things slightly different.

Understanding why are you doing this and what you want out of the experience is going to be your very first step.

Your second step is going to be understanding who is this for? Who is the audience that is going to really, really love my work? We talk about audience demographics, based on gender, location, age. There’s all those sort of ready-made marketing demographics.

I encourage people to also think about where are the people who are going to be listening to your show? What else do they enjoy? What other spaces are they in?

I found that that can be a lot more valuable than identifying the gender or the age of a potential listener. It tells you more about them. What are their other interests? So the ‘Write Now’ podcast obviously is going to appeal to writers and book lovers. ‘Girl In Space’ is going to appeal to people who really perhaps enjoyed the Mass Effect video games, or they love science fiction.

There are ways to identify common interests, and then those are the spaces that you’re going to become a part of those communities online.

There’s also the question of budget. And if you want to do it all for free, so, with what’s called organic reach, then you’re going to do things a little bit differently than if you have a budget for an ad spend.

I did both of my shows…I have not done any ad spend, I’ve done it just all organically, and so that’s what I kind of prefer to talk about, especially since the podcasters I work with, they’re already struggling to pay their actors, and they don’t really have hundreds of dollars for a Google ad spend.

After we’ve identified why we’re doing this, what we want to get out of it, and who our audience is, we need to identify where our audience is online. I’ve noticed a lot of, specifically audio drama audiences, right now, and this is going to become outdated probably with even a year, or even six months, is Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. There’s also a huge fan base for audio dramas on Reddit, if you’re a part of that community.

But really, it comes down to not simply using a social media platform to shout about your show, but it’s using those platforms to build and become a part of a community. Because marketing, at least the way that I’ve done marketing in the past, has been very community-based, where you become a part of a community, and whether that community is other creators, or whether that community is fans of your show, or whether there’s a little crossover of both, is going to determine how you talk about your show and where you talk about it.

Social media-wise, I call it the 80/20 approach. Eighty percent of the time, you should be engaging with your community, providing value, providing whatever it is the tone of your show is. So, if you have an educational show, share resources, share interviews, promote other shows that are like yours.

Yes, it’s not a dangerous thing to do that, yes, we can all get along in a big happy space. I’m very much an advocate that. There’s not a lot of competition that I’d want to encourage.

And then, understanding where people are congregating about sort of the fan side. Often, they’re two very different audiences, and this is something that a lot of independent creators don’t realize is, ‘Oh, am I marketing to other creators? Am I building community with other creators? Or am I marketing to people who are going to potentially listen to my show?’

I feel like there’s this 10-hour talk I could give about marketing. But the 80/20 rule is basically 80% of the time provide value, 20% of the time, you can talk about your own show. You can promote your own work and say, ‘Hey, listen to my show.’

But really, the majority of what you should be doing in any sort of online community is giving, instead of what I call taking, which is advertising your show. Again, that’s just me. That’s the parameters that I’ve set for myself and that I advise for other people. But there are, of course, a million different ways to market and advertise your show online.

Joanna: It’s very similar to book marketing. Everything you said is what I would say about being an author. And this show is entirely organic. I’ve never done any paid advertising for this podcast.

Again, we talked about longevity, the longer you’re around, the more things spread by word-of-mouth, and that is gold.

Sarah: Yes.

Joanna: Thank you to everyone listening who spreads the word. But also, I would say, audio marketing, going on podcasts. You’re here, you’re talking about shows. And some people are going to come over and check out your podcasts because you’re right now talking to audio people, people who listen.

I feel like that’s the other thing people forget is if your product is in audio, then do audio marketing. That’s probably an important thing.

Sarah: Oh, it absolutely is. And especially, that reminds me, too, another way that’s a great way to promote your show is to do promo swaps with other shows. So, if there’s another indie show that has a similar audience to you, you can send each other a thirty-second clip, or some kind of little ad to play, and share in each other’s audiences that way, and that’s a great way to grow your show.

Joanna: Absolutely.

Where can people find you and your podcast, and everything you do online?

Sarah: People can find me out at sarahwerner.com. There are links there to the ‘Write Now’ podcast, to ‘Girl In Space,’ which is my fictional podcast, and also my newsletter and all sorts of free ebooks and stuff that are just kind of available for download. So, check those out.

I do have a ‘Write Now’ podcast episode with Joanna Penn, which was the highlight of my early podcasting career, so thank you for that.

Joanna: I was going to say, it’s quite old now, isn’t it?

Sarah: It is. Thank you for being a guest years ago. I appreciate you so much. And I want to say thank you to you and to your listeners for listening to me ramble about podcasting and writing today.

Joanna: Oh, well, thanks so much for your time, Sarah. That was great.

Sarah: Thank you.

The post Writing And Producing Audio Drama And Podcast Fiction With Sarah Werner first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • September 19, 2021