Writing And Producing Audio Drama With Joanne Phillips

What’s the difference between an audio book and an audio drama? What are the steps to write a script and produce it? Joanne Phillips gives her tips.

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Joanne Phillips is the author of 14 books, including romantic comedy, literary fiction, mysteries, and self-help books. She’s also the scriptwriter, showrunner, and executive producer for GravyTree Media, specializing in audio drama, with Everyone’s Happy out now.

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

  • What an audio drama is compared to an audiobook or podcast
  • The process of writing and adapting an audio drama
  • How to cast voice actors
  • Details on creating the raw audio, editing, and adding sound effects
  • Time and cost commitment of creating an audio drama
  • Incorporating AI tools into the audio production
  • Marketing tips for fiction audio

You can find Joanne at GravyTreeMedia.com

Transcript of Interview with Joanne Phillips

Joanna: Joanne Phillips is the author of 14 books, including romantic comedy, literary fiction, mysteries, and self-help books. She’s also the scriptwriter, showrunner, and executive producer for GravyTree Media, specializing in audio drama, with Everyone’s Happy out now. So welcome to the show, Jo.

Joanne: Hi, Jo. It’s great to be here.

Joanna: I’m excited to talk to you about this topic because it’s so interesting. But first up—

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.

Joanne: So I’ve always written and made up stories, like most writers, really. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing and creating narratives. I think it’s how I make sense of the world. It’s how I escaped, that sounds terrible?!

Joanna: No, not at all.

Joanne: It’s how I kept myself company, I think, as a child.

So, then my first novel took about six years to finish. I got a bit quicker as time went on. Then I began publishing chapters of it on a blog back in, I think, about 2011. Then some people seemed to like it, which was nice.

Early in 2012, after I got my first Kindle and read about self-publishing in the writers magazines that I used to buy, I decided to take the plunge. That first book was called Can’t Live Without, that was a rom com. It did quite well back then because that was when you could get a massive boost after going free for just a few days. Remember those days? So I just carried on self-publishing, and that’s how I got into it.

Joanna: You talk there about the writing side and a bit about self-publishing, but you must have been interested in audio as well. So how did that come about? And did you do that for a job or something?

Joanne: No, no, I just really, really had an interest in it. I love audio drama. I always listened to it, but I never considered that I could write it.

I think I did, back in my 30s, I did have a stab at writing a script for a competition. It didn’t get anywhere, and it wasn’t very good. So it wasn’t really on my radar at the time, it was only very recently that I considered that I might be able to have a go at that. I just thought of myself more as a writer of books for a long, long time.

Joanna: Well, that’s encouraging. Let’s just be clear about some definitions.

What is audio drama versus an audiobook or a podcast?

Joanne: It’s interesting, isn’t it?

To me, an audiobook is when a book is just read out loud by an actor or a voiceover artist or the author, and that’s it. Sometimes there are effects or music added, but you can tell it’s a book.

So say—and I’ve been thinking about this, about how to describe it, because it is a distinction that’s quite difficult to make—so say it might sound like this, “Jane walked off the elevator and saw Martin’s dead body on the floor.” I mean, it would sound better than that if somebody professional was actually doing it, but you can tell that it’s a book. 

In an audio drama or fiction podcast—because they’re the same thing, it’s just different terms for the same thing—is where there are actors. I mean, sometimes only one actor, to be fair, or two, or sometimes, like in mine, I think I ended up with nine and some more walk on parts, which was far too many to start off with, but we’ll come to that.

And there’s a script, and you can hear the action unfolding with dialogue and sound effects. So for example, in my example I just made there with Jane and Martin, you’d hear the elevator stop, and the doors opening, and Jane’s footsteps. You might hear her cry out and maybe say something like, “Oh, no, Martin’s been shot!” I mean, not that, but something like that.

Joanna: She might just say, “Oh, no, Martin!” and then we might hear footsteps running over something.

Joanne: You’ve got it completely.

It’s more similar to TV and film, but without the pictures, except you see the pictures in your head because your brain creates them from what you’re hearing.

Because I always say, I mean, I’ve got this little kind of motto now, which is, the pictures in your head are better than TV.

I think that with really, really good audio drama because you’ve got the actors who are bringing the script to life, and you’ve got the sound effects, and you create it in your mind. Whereas with TV and film, somebody else is making that for you to sit passively and look at, and it’s somebody else’s idea of what it looks like, whereas our imaginations are amazing.

So with audio drama, and like I say, I’ve been a fan of audio drama for years, and I’ve listened to some really great audio drama from BBC and other producers like QCode and Gimlet in the early days. Oh, it’s amazing. It’s such an amazing immersive experience.

Whereas audiobooks, although they are brilliant, there’s a remove. So there’s you, There’s the story, and there’s somebody reading the story to you. So it’s more like being read to, whereas with audio drama, you’re there experiencing it. I think that’s the main difference for me.

Joanna: Absolutely. It’s funny, I have listened to some audio dramas, and not that many fiction audiobooks. I mainly listen to nonfiction audiobooks.

It’s funny with the audio dramas, sometimes they have really famous actors. It’s like I almost don’t want them to be famous when I hear their voice because I associate that voice with what they played on TV. So I almost like it when the actors are more unknown, or they’re more of a voice actor than a visual actor. You know what I mean? It kind of puts something in your head otherwise.

Joanne: Yeah. I know exactly what you mean. I think it can really help a production, you know, get some ears on it if you have a famous actor.

But yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it, because you will picture that that character in your head. If you recognize the voice, you immediately picture that person or the last character that you saw them play in a TV program, but if it’s an unknown, you won’t do that.

Joanna: It’s really interesting. So then tell us—

Why did you decide to get into audio drama? And tell us about Everyone’s Happy.

Joanne: Well, okay, Everyone’s Happy. It’s a dystopian sci-fi, and it is set about 50 years into the future, I would say.

We’re controlled by the happiness program, which is a government-mandated system where all our negative emotions are eliminated. The protagonist is a teenager called Parker, and she lives in a dome-covered city and is struggling with her emotions, which of course, she shouldn’t be.

She has a set of these old-school tapes that her grandma left her, and it sets her off on a journey to discover the truth.

So there are themes of climate change, the nanny state, and really, whether we should all be medicated into happiness, and what the consequences of that would be. So that’s Everyone’s Happy in a nutshell, really.

And the reason I got into it, like I was saying a bit earlier, that I love audio drama, I’ve been listening to it for over 30 years.

I had the idea for Everyone’s Happy a while ago, I struggled with mental health myself, I have bipolar disorder, and I was just really fascinated with this idea that we could be medicated into everything being fine and what that might be like. You know, as a writer, yourself, you know how you kind of like to take these ideas to the limit and think where it would go. 

At first, I thought this would be a YA book, but I don’t write YA. I know I write in lots of different genres, but I didn’t feel that I could do this. Then how I got into audio drama, it was kind of a longer process. My partner that I’m with, we’ve been together a couple of years now, he works in TV. He’s a sound recordist. It didn’t become immediately obvious that he’d be useful—that sounds so mercenary.

Joanna: I respect that!

Joanne: But yeah, we obviously both have an interest in sound and audio. I began to think, oh, maybe podcasting, something like that could help. First, I thought he could help me do a podcast, but I didn’t immediately think of fiction.

Then serendipitously, I saw an advert last year for a course on writing fiction podcasts with Helen Cross, who was written lots for Radio 4. So I took the course, it was brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough. She runs them throughout the year. 

By the time I started it in September last year, I had already decided that I was going to produce this audio drama myself because I’m just indie through and through.

So I just started it. I just threw myself into it headfirst. I don’t know where I’ve quite got the energy from, but I just did it, as you do.

Joanna: So did you write it as a book first and then adapt it, or did you write this as audio? Because of course, like you said, you have to put in sound effects and you write it in a different format, more like a script or a screenplay, rather than a book format.

How did you go about writing it and adapting it?

Joanne: I didn’t write it as a book first. I have thought about maybe writing it as a book one day, but it would be a big thing to do. I’ve never written a sci-fi book.

This just was a script straight off. I’ll kind of break down the process, and I made lots and lots of mistakes in this process, which was is great because that means I’ve learned from them and other people can, too.

First off, you need the script.

Like I said, I did this course, and Helen was a brilliant teacher. One thing you need to understand, I think, if you’re going to jump into writing an audio drama as a writer, is that writing a script for audio is very different than writing for TV or writing a novel.

You really have to think about dialogue, and about how people speak, and making the sound very natural. I thought, yeah, I’m good at that, and I read my work out loud when I edit it, so it’s easy, but hearing actors read your lines is completely different.

Joanna: I mean, it’s kind of cringy, isn’t it?

Joanne: Well, it is if it’s not good dialogue, but it’s great if it is good dialogue.

One thing, I’m going off the topic here now, but one thing I did do—because I directed it too, and I’ve never directed anything before, obviously—but I found that when we went into the recording studio, one thing you really have to make sure is that each character has their own voice, and that’s not just an accent.

You’ve got to make sure that when you’re writing it, they speak in their voice and not yours, as the writer. So you’ve got to think about the language that that character uses and not make them all sound the same.

So one thing I did when we started on the recording day, was I said to each individual actor, I said, read it, and if you feel that your character wouldn’t say it exactly like that, if you feel that they would say it slightly differently, if you want to change your word here and there, as long as it doesn’t affect the story, then then go with that. Or say to me, I don’t think that Ben, say, or grandma would do it like this.

In fact, the actor who played grandma, she did come to me and say, in some of the scenes, you’ve got her saying, my dear, in some of them you’ve got her just saying dear, in some of the scenes you’ve got a saying this, and is it okay, if I just do it like this?

And I was like, yeah, I don’t really care. Just do it however you want, as long as it sounds right. I really liked that. It felt like a collaboration. So there were other times too when I felt that the actors really felt quite free to interpret it how they wanted to. The good thing is, is that that made it sound realistic. They didn’t have to be glued to what was written on the page, they could just say it.

Joanna: That’s super useful.

How did you find actors?

Joanne: Yeah, well, that’s the next thing. After you’ve done the script, you need to cast your actors. So I found mine on Backstage. I did a casting call. So I researched how to do a casting call just by looking at loads and loads of other ones. I also found some from a local acting school because I thought it’d be nice to have a mix of professional actors and amateur actors.

The lead actor that I have who plays Parker,  I didn’t open cast her, I just hunted her down. I chose her. I listened to loads and loads of people on the websites that had different voice actors and then approached her and asked her if she’d do it because I needed somebody who I felt was really, really right for that role. But everyone else auditioned for the roles via casting calls. 

The mix of voices is so important.

I needed Parker’s family to sound like they fitted together. When you have people of a similar age, as well, the listener has to be able to distinguish them from each other by ear. It’s a difficult thing.

You have to have them sounding right together and sounding like they fit, but at the same time when you’re listening to audio drama, they can’t all sound the same. Most of the characters are in the north of England, but I also needed them to sound different. So that was a tricky one.

I also wanted to be really inclusive and diverse, I made a point of this in the casting call, but it’s also hard to show this in audio drama because it’s not a visual thing.

Joanna: Also, age is really interesting because I didn’t really understand how much age is in a voice.

But even someone in their early 20s versus early 30s can sound different, let alone someone in their early 20s versus in their 70s, for example. So there’s so many variables with voices.

I did want to ask on this in terms of paying actors because, I mean, you mentioned there was a lead character, so that character would get the most audio time, but some people might only play a bit part. So what can people expect in terms of paying? I mean, you don’t have to tell us exactly if you don’t want to, but is it by the minute? Or—

How are actors paid for this work?

Joanne: So we paid everybody. I was very, very upfront about the fact that we’re a small indie startup.

The lead character did get paid the most because she did the most work. I negotiated that with her upfront. Then everyone else had a flat fee, which was based upon how much time they basically had.

I kind of worked it out like how much time they would have to do in terms of work so how much recording time. It wasn’t kind of a wildly difference. So say, there was like the lead character, and then say, maybe five secondary characters, and then some smaller characters.

So, I mean, there weren’t huge sums, but because I was open about it to start off with, the people who put themselves forward, I assumed that they were happy with those fees.

Then the other thing that I offered, which I think if you’re gonna go into this as a small production company who can’t offer big fees to actors, what I added on was the IMDb listing. So that obviously helps because that goes towards their credits, and if you’re an actor who wants to get a spotlight listing, then having that credit really helps.

Joanna: Interesting. So you can list on IMDb if you do an audio drama? Because you can’t if you just have a podcast, right?

Joanne: I don’t know, actually. But I know that for an audio drama, you can now, and it’s a lot of work. So I committed to doing that for everybody.

Also, I will make sure that I gave them all a really good quality voice reel that they could use. So I’m going to do everything I can to make it a success if I possibly can, which in the future will hopefully help them get extra work.

We feel like a family now. It’s really, really nice. There was a virtual launch party, and it was just so nice to see everyone again. Yeah, it’s just really, really lovely. They’ve been very, very supportive. I feel that they’re proud. I feel that they’re proud to be part of it. So that’s a really nice thing.

Joanna: It is a brilliant creative project, but let’s carry on with the difficulties.

So you’ve got these actors, you’ve got a script, and then you did mention a studio. Now I didn’t expect you to be bringing people into a studio, I thought everyone would just record their bits away from each other and send them in.

Explain the process of actually creating the raw audio.

Joanne: Yeah, so we were really, really lucky to have a studio fairly locally. It was Orchard Studios, it’s just up the road.

We did actually two days there, two separate days, because we couldn’t get all of the actors in on the same day who live fairly locally, which was just as well actually, because we did one full day and we did about 50 scenes in that day, and then we did another 50 scenes the second day, and it was exhausting for everyone. So yeah, that was amazing. 

As I said, my partner is a sound recordist, so he was there to set everything up. He’s got all the equipment and all the professional microphones. It was really, really lovely. I think the actors got a real vibe out of being able to record in the same space because they can read the lines, but they can bounce off each other in that scene.

Although from an editing point of view, I have to say, and me and Mick, that’s my partner, we discussed this at length beforehand, he had this imaginary thing where we would have everyone in a separate room and record them. And I was like, well, that’s never going to happen, is it, because we don’t have that kind of studio setup.

The recordings that we did remotely on Riverside have made it easier for me to edit the dialogue.

Whereas the recordings that we did everyone in the same room have been harder to record the dialogue because you do get microphone bleed, kind of.

What we had to do is we had to get everyone to leave a bit of a gap in between them speaking, because obviously they can react, but in a sense, they can’t because if they ran over each other’s words, I can’t get my scissors in there to cut.

Joanna: Which is why recording it remotely, as you say, is much easier.

Again, there are pros and cons with every creative decision, which I think is really useful.

Okay, so now we’ve got some raw audio, and again, you mentioned your partner is very good at sound, so let’s assume it’s quite good quality audio. What happens next? Because this is—

The bit that I think is kind of crazy is the editing for this.

Joanne: Yeah, I had a massive learning curve and a little break down. No, mainly just learning curve.

So I then edited the dialogue, basically, in Audacity, which is free. I had to learn how to do that. Yeah, I mean, we had, oh my goodness—so picture this in your head. So for some of the scenes, I’ve got recordings that happened on one day, mixed in with recordings that happened on another day because some of the actors couldn’t be there at on the same day.

Then I’ve also got recordings that were done remotely because the main character, Parker, there’s kind of like a voiceover because there’s thoughts in her head that we recorded separately. Then there’s also a couple of walk on roles that I had dialed in from other people. So there’s a lot of different things to kind of pull together.

So what I did was I sat down, and I have all these things—oh, and of course, there’s pickups because there would be things that didn’t go right on that first read through that I’d have to get them to do again.

So I pull all this into Audacity, and then I have my script on a different screen, and then basically just start to listen to it, and then cut it, and work through the script, bring it all together

What I found fascinating though, Jo, was that, as a writer, I actually did a little bit of editing of the dialogue in the script, in that sense of I moved stuff around and cut bits out, you know, even at that stage.

I thought it would all be done by then, I was relieved. I thought, right, the script is finished, I can’t do a thing to it now. It’s done, it’s recorded, it’s finished. No more messing about with this flipping script.

But in fact, even at that point, I was thinking, oh, now I wonder if she doesn’t say that then, but says that a bit further on? Or oh, no, I don’t think that works there, that’s a bit long, that scene there, I’m gonna cut that. So I was still editing this even at this point. So I think even though a lot of people might say, well, the writer’s job is done here, send this dialogue off to be edited by someone else, I think it’s quite good for the writer to learn how to do this part because I did a lot there at that stage.

Joanna: Yeah, I agree with you. I mean, when I record my own audiobooks, I often republish another version afterwards, even if it’s just small bits and bobs, because I always find something when it’s the actual making of the product that I need to fix.

But just on that, because I can visualize it because I do sound obviously. So you have a big screen, and you’ve got all these different sound wav files on the screen, and you’re kind of dragging them around and cutting them. What about the sound effects? Because they have to go in there too. So tell us—

Where do you get your sound effects from?

Because I imagine they’re royalty-free. And then how are you bringing those in as well?

Joanne: Well, I don’t do that part. So I originally thought that I was going to do that, but then I realized that that would be a no. I thought if I did that, it just wouldn’t really sound as good. I think eventually maybe I would like to be able to learn that, but I found a fantastic sound designer called Zoran Nikolayevich, pronounce his name right I hope, and he’s in Serbia.

So what I do is as soon as I’ve cut the dialog, I then save each person as a separate file, and then I send it to him.

I do is a really, really detailed production script at that point where I go through it, and at each place where it needs sound, I will say, I want this here, these people walking, or this bit.

I will make really, really detailed notes about how I want it to sound, and then I send it to him, and then he will put sound effects in each scene and send it back. Then I might say, I want that a little bit later or that’s not quite right, can you do a little bit more like this? Then he’ll send it back. So we work together on that until it’s done.

Joanna: Where did you find him?

Joanne: On Fiverr.

Joanna: On Fiverr, fantastic.

Joanne: I know, I’m so lucky.

Joanna: I mean—

You just searched for a sound designer?

Joanne: Oh, it was hard, Jo. Oh my goodness, there’s not many on there. Yes, and interestingly, he mainly was doing just like editing people’s podcasts, mainly normal podcasts, what I call topic-based podcasts.

Joanna: Like this one with no sound effects.

Joanne: Exactly, but he has a background in Serbian radio drama. So by going through, I would say maybe 30 different profiles, I eventually found him by looking at all the other stuff that he has done in the past.

Joanna: Okay, wow. Okay, so you send everything off to him, he does his thing, it comes back to you. What next?

Joanne: Then I record the little bit that goes at the beginning. Although, actually, the intro comes after the first scene because I really, really want to mimic TV series. I want to mimic that the Netflix series feel where you have a little intro scene, then the opening credits come in, then it carries onto the rest. So I sent him the opening credits, the finishing credits, he packages it all up, puts the transitions in.

Now, I was absolutely fascinated by what a difference that makes. So the transitions are the little bits in between the scenes. It could just be a bit of music, it could just be like a sound, just like the sound of air or something. He does this magic with it that makes it sound amazing. Then he sends it back.

Then of course, then it’s the uploading it. I’m using Acast, I ended up using Acast mainly because it’s free, and I really, really need to keep my costs down. That’s it, I think.

Joanna: So in terms of the time for this project, because as we record this, the first couple of episodes—

Joanne: Yeah, the first two are out.

Joanna: By the time this goes out, then maybe—how many episodes are there?

Joanne: Eight. I think by the time this goes out, there will be four. I think we’ll be halfway through.

Joanna: Right. So that’s Everyone’s Happy, which you should be able to find on any podcast app.

Joanne: Available everywhere you get your podcasts.

Joanna: Yeah, wherever you’re listening to this.

How much time did this project take you?

Joanne: All my time!

Joanna: But was it like three years? Was it—

Joanne: No, no, it’s been a year. I would say probably maybe six months of early developing, where you’re kind of thinking about it, making little notes while you’re doing everything else, then pretty much full on.

It’s my day job that earns me money, I do indexing, I work as the back of the book indexer freelancer. The rest of my time, which is pretty much all of my time for the last year, has been focused on this.

Joanna: Right, and you mentioned you had to keep your costs down.

So this is another question because, I mean, I love this as a creative project. It’s something that I’ve tiptoed towards several times and backed away from. I have adapted a number of my books into screenplays.

In terms of budgets, doing an audio drama is much more expensive than doing an indie audiobook, but it is equally not as expensive as trying to do a TV show or a film.

In a way it’s much more accessible.

Like you said, the sound effects, you can achieve the sound effects very cheaply for what takes a lot more to develop on visually. So I think it’s really interesting. You’ve mentioned the time— Can you give us any indication of cost?

Or is it that you bootstrapped, and it was mainly the time cost involved?

Joanne: I can give you an indication of costs because I did a Kickstarter, and I think I set the goal for the Kickstarter at about £1600.

The reason for that target was because I thought that’s what I could achieve because obviously on Kickstarter, it’s an all or nothing deal. I barely made it, to be honest, because I haven’t really got that much reach.

My friends and family really, really helped. I would probably say it’s cost three times that. That’s included, obviously, actors fees, sound design costs. That’s probably included paying for the website, all the other little extra things.

Joanna: So let’s say between $8000 – $10,000 US dollars, without including your time or your partner’s time.

Joanne: Oh, yeah. Flipping heck, if you added in Mick’s cost, which he charges. He gave his time for free.

Well, I mean, you don’t need to have a professional TV sound recordist though at the studio. You could have could have done it all on Riverside or something else.

Joanna: Well, let’s talk about that because the big question that I think comes up for people now is, maybe we could use some human actors and also some AI voices or AI effects.

Obviously, I narrate my audiobooks, you’re supporting actors, we want there to be a vibrant community of human actors. But also, let’s talk about AI.

What are your thoughts on using AI tools and voices for at least part of the production process?

Joanne: Well, I did use some AI. I mean, there’s some in-show artwork that I’ll be using for promotion, some posters that are seen inside the dome.

So I thought it would be cool to have those posters made real, and I used DALL-E to design the original face for that, so I’ve made the posters on that.

The voice actually that announces the episodes at the beginning is AI-generated from play.ht, I think it is. There’s another AI voiced character in a later episode, I think it’s a guard, I think that comes in maybe episode six. I just couldn’t find anybody to do the walk-on part. It’s only like two lines, and the poor actors, I’d already got them to voice so many extra walk-on parts.

That’s the other thing, another little bit of advice —

Don’t write too many extra walk-on parts because they’re the ones that you’ll find yourself not being able to get anyone to voice.

So when I went into Descript, and I just used their text-to-voice to just get that voice, and it’s fine. I think it works okay. I’ve used Chat-GPT to help with descriptions and marketing ideas.

I’m hoping to delve a bit deeper into how AI can help with the production process when I’ve got a bit more time. Because I’m really, really frazzled and tired, and doing this alone is exhausting. So, obviously, I want, as I’ve demonstrated, I’ve given jobs to nine actors, and I think I had three extras as well.

Joanna: And your sound guy.

Joanne: Yes, of course. And yeah, obviously, I’m going to I’m going to carry on doing that. I have lots of other ones in development. But I do also think that there’s a place for AI tools to help where they’re appropriate.

Joanna: Also, I feel that if you bring down the cost of production in general, then there will be more content. That should also bring more work to humans who are doing acting jobs.

It’s unlikely people are gonna do like a 100% AI production, but it may be as you said, there might be some main characters that are human, and then other voices that are AI, or effects. So that’s how we want people to think about it.

Also, there’s some great tools, some mastering tools. I mean, you’ve got your partner who does the sound and that designer, but like I’ve used Hindenburg for my audiobooks, which is fantastic mastering.

And I use Auphonic for my podcast audio mastering. So these are both AI mastering tools. I used to pay a human to master my audio, and now it’s just kind of a one-click. For people listening, I’ll put links to all of these tools in the show notes because I think people will find that interesting.

So I want to come back on a couple of things. First of all, so you’re using Acast. It’s out there now, it is a podcast, it is free. People can go listen to that.

What the hell is your business model?

Joanne: Oh, my goodness, people have been asking me this all year now. Yeah, what is the business model?

Well, there isn’t any direct money making off it, obviously, at the moment. I have got a Patreon page for trickle-in money, as I like to call it, if there are fans one day, and that has got a lot of cool extra stuff on there. I have a long-term goal, everybody has a long term goal.

My long-term goal is to keep creating content, to keep creating great IP, and one day sell something to Netflix or Amazon Prime and have it made into a TV show.

There, I’ve said it.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. So you’re seeing it as almost like a billboard for your creative work.

Joanne: Yeah, yeah, I think so. Yeah.

Meanwhile, just focus on making great audio dramas that people love listening to. The thing is, I love doing this. I really, really have enjoyed it.

I mean, it’s funny, really, isn’t it, because it’s been stressful, and it’s been on the edge of your seat terrifying sometimes. There was one moment when I sent the script to the actors and I was nearly sick. I really was. It was awful, actually.

Joanna: Why was that? Was that fear of them hating it?

Joanne: Yes, it was. I felt so exposed. It was the first time I’d sent it to anyone, first time I’d shown it to anyone, my first ever script.

And I thought, what if it’s absolutely rubbish? That was awful.

Then obviously, when I uploaded the first episode and that went out, I was also so, but that wasn’t quite so bad. But —

Those are the moments when you feel alive, aren’t they? You have to push yourself to do this stuff.

I love this, and I really am quite proud of what I’ve made.

Joanna: That’s great. So I think, yeah, understanding that this is a labor of love at the moment, but you have these bigger plans.

Also, I mean, I do think that turning that into a book, then that is a way to use that IP in other ways. I mean, I presume you can license things.

So this would be another question, which is, if someone listening is like, oh my goodness, that sounds like way too much work, but I would like to license my book or write a script and license a script without doing the production—

Do you have any tips if people just want to license to other audio drama places?

Joanne: I don’t know, really. I mean, I’m not licensing it. I’m not 100% sure how that works. I do see platforms like Fable and Folly, and Rusty Quill, and even Realm absorbing other podcasts, and that’s interesting. I know that they only take on podcasts that already have a good listenership. So I don’t really know how they work.

My production company that I set up, GravyTrain media, I will be looking to buy other IP, as in buy scripts and produce them. So that is something that I’m going to be interested in doing next year.

Joanna: That is interesting. So let’s also just talk a bit about marketing because, like you said, it’s an audio podcast, and having podcast fiction on all the platforms, I mean, it has to be discovered in some way.

Hopefully, some people will go over and have a listen from this show. But—

How are you marketing it?

Joanne: Yeah, I don’t know that I am yet. I’ve been so focused on making the audio drama and getting it out that I’m only just now thinking seriously about marketing.

I’ve always had the idea that as soon as all eight episodes are out, I’ll switch into a different gear. I was thinking about finding a TikToker who would like to talk about it, because as I said, the main character is a teenager. So I was thinking, you know, trying to think of the target market.

Although I don’t really know that audio drama is a thing for teenagers, that teenagers have discovered yet. So that might not be the target audience. I really, really need to give some thought to that. And maybe I’ll try and look at some paid advertising. 

I’ll tell you what I do think though, Jo, I keep coming back to this question. I am an avid audio drama listener, so how do I find new ones to listen to? I think the answer is I just look at my Spotify app or Apple podcasts, and I just see what comes up. So how do I get mine on those ‘also listen to’ lists?

Joanna: Do you search on those apps?

Joanne: Sometimes. I don’t know, I don’t really think I do. I’m very passive, and that’s not good. I run out regularly because I listen all the time. I mean, I don’t know how I find time to listen because I’m always working.

So that makes it sound like I’m not working, but I work from home, I always have one earpod in, and then when that one runs out, I put the other one in and charge of that one up. So I just kind of like run out of things to listen to. Then I get my app, and I look and scroll down, and it tends to come up with ‘because you enjoyed this one.’

Joanna: Well, then, okay, I’m gonna give you a tip around this, and everyone listening, which is —

If you have an audio product, market it with audio.

So I mean, TikTok is a video platform. But audio, essentially what you’re doing here, hopefully some people are gonna go from here into listening to that audio drama.

But also, there are tons and tons of fiction podcasts, and many of them allow either for free, or you can pay, to have an audio bumper or an ad, but essentially a little clip, like a 90-second teaser, almost.

So if you have fiction audio, then be on fiction audio shows, essentially.

The other thing you could do, for example, is write a spin-off short story and get that in audio because there’s tons and tons of fiction audio podcasts that have short stories.

Then use your main character or one of the spin off characters, and then at the end be like your call to action is you can listen to the whole story here. So there are loads of things you could do with fiction audio, in particular, that will advertise this.

Those are just some things to think about. The thing is, the only way those algorithms work is, the same as Amazon, same as anything, they’re not going to serve up product that is not already moving. So you have to get it moving somehow. So that would be some of my recommendations anyway.

Joanne: Thank you. That’s really great.

Joanna: So just circling back on the Kickstarter, you did say that you didn’t have many people, but you did make it. I was a backer.

Joanne: Thank you so much.

Joanna: I know how big a deal it is. So any other lessons from Kickstarter? Since I know the audio only is very hard to do. Most people do audio as a sort of second tier against a print book at the moment.

Any lessons from the Kickstarter?

Joanne: I don’t know whether I got my page looking exactly right. I think I would spend a little bit more time. I mean, yours was amazing, yours looked really good. I think you structured it just right. Yours got picked up as a—do they call it featured or?

Joanna: Books we love. But that was an algorithm thing based on the velocity of funding.

Joanne: Was it? Okay. So I think I would just pay a little bit more attention perhaps next time, if I do it again, to other ones that people have done and make sure that I break down within the body of the description what the tiers are.

I kind of relied on the fact that people would go and look at the tiers, and didn’t maybe break them down as obviously in the actual body text. But that’s a small thing, really.

I’m happy with the rewards that I offered. Although, it has been difficult to fulfill the early access one, which was a bit of a rookie error in that I didn’t realize that it was going to take me so long to produce it.

I imagined that I would have kind of all eight episodes up and running before I was ready to launch so that I could give everybody those as early access. And as it’s happened, everyone’s just going to get early access to each episode a couple of days before.

So there’s just kind of little things to maybe think through. I think just when you start a Kickstarter, the very nature of it is that it’s before you’ve done it. So you can’t really know. It’s an unknown.

Joanna: Will you use Kickstarter again for the next one?

Because you mentioned that you do have plans for more.

Joanne: Yeah. Oh, yeah, there’s definitely going to be a season two and a season three. I definitely know how season three is going to end, but haven’t thought beyond that yet.

I would do crowdfunding again. I’m not sure if I would use Kickstarter because I found the all or nothing so stressful, and I’ve seen other platforms now. But then again, you have to push yourself. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Joanna: Well, one of the benefits once you start using a platform is the people who funded your last one, you can essentially tell them you’ve got a new one.

So it’s kind of built-in marketing for your next Kickstarter. So as we record this, I’ve just put my page up for my next one, Writing the Shadow, and I will shortly be telling everyone who funded the last one about it and hopefully bringing some people over.

I kind of see it as a separate ecosystem that we’re almost building for the future for that. So I think that’s quite interesting.

So just one more question. You’ve obviously got these books in all these different genres, but now you’ve got the audio dramas.

How do you see your plans ahead? Will you split your time between writing books and doing audio drama?

Joanne: Yeah, that’s a really, really good question. I actually joked to my boyfriend the other day that I might write a novel next as a rest, which shows how incredibly crazy it’s all been.

I don’t know, I haven’t really missed writing books. I think it’s been about a year since I wrote, maybe a year and a half, since I wrote a normal novel. But I will, though, because I’m interested to see how writing the script and editing the dialogue and all of that that I’ve talked about might have changed my writing. So I am quite keen to get back to it. 

I don’t know how I’m going to split my time. I’ll have to figure it out because right now, I seem to be struggling to split my time between working, sleeping, and being a functioning person. I need to reread your book on productivity.

Joanna: I was gonna say The Healthy Writer would be the one.

Joanne: The Healthy Writer is the one, isn’t it? That’s the one I need right now. Yeah, definitely. Both of those. I think I’ll just listen to them. I’m not sure I have time to sit down and read

Joanna: It’s a good point. No, that’s brilliant. And of course, you mentioned your mental health earlier on in the process. I would urge you, and obviously everyone listening, that’s really important, and you can’t spin off into difficult times with mental health because of a creative project. I mean, yet you will sometimes, but let’s try not to do that.

Joanne: Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s interesting, actually, as a person who has great bursts of creativity, followed by perhaps lows that follow that. Yeah, I should say that you must look after yourself. I should look after myself more.

Joanna: You have to be gentle with yourself there.

I think it’s understanding these seasons of creativity as well.

Like you said, as we record this, it’s just going out, you’re kind of finishing the production. Then maybe just take a rest. I mean, what I like about these things is that people will be listening to this interview in years to come. Maybe you’ll have done some marketing by then, or maybe not, who knows.

Joanne: I will. I will do marketing. I’m gonna take up your ideas. They are great.

Joanna: I do love evergreen audio!

I mean, people find this show and they listen to years back in the backlist. So I think that’s sort of encouraging you to think longer-term about the IP. I think that’s great. So—

Where can people find you and everything you do online?

Joanne: Yeah, well, I think the best place to go to is to GravyTreeMedia.com because there’s everything about the podcast there. If you just look for Everyone’s Happy wherever you get your podcasts, then you’ll find it.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Jo. That was great.

Joanne: Thanks for having me.

The post Writing And Producing Audio Drama With Joanne Phillips first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • September 13, 2023