Since I gave up pursuing the traditional route to get my novel published and turned instead to self-publishing, I’ve become a big fan of podcasts focusing on writing, publishing and marketing for Indie authors. So much so, that there is hardly any time left to listen to my library of digital books on Audible.
Given the surging popularity of podcasts, it’s not surprising to hear so many writers jumping onto this audio-show bandwagon, though let’s face it, some ought to jump right off again.
A little high fidelity truth needs to be stated: some authors simply don’t have the voice or personality for the job. Others struggle to communicate successfully with their podcast guests. The best podcasters ask questions that engage and draw out their subjects; the wannabes ask questions like the dying HAL computer back in 2001. There is no understanding when and how to probe further. Consequently, their shows are as colorless as those Q&A-type written interviews you still come across occasionally in bland publications.
So for writers new to the world of podcasts looking to get value for time spent listening, here are my top five picks in ascending order, along with praise, criticisms and unsolicited feedback for the excellent podcasters who make their efforts available to us all for free. You can find these shows on Apple’s iTunes and on Stitcher.
# 5 The Tim Ferriss Show
Tim Ferris is the author of The 4-Hour Workweek and several other best sellers. His podcast is often listed as Number 1 on iTunes, and his episodes have been downloaded over 100 million times!
He has a smooth, seductive podcast voice, is articulate and informative in his own right, and asks super smart questions of his guests while engaging intimately with them “to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can experiment with in your own life.”
So why isn’t he #1 on this list?
Well, he doesn’t primarily focus on authors and writing like the rest of the Top 5. Rather, he interviews a colorful swath of people ranging from chess masters and film stars, to entrepreneurs and fitness gurus, as well as successful authors.
On the other hand, a good number of his guests have also written books, and Tim, being an author himself, usually spends time probing into why and how they went about writing their books. So while he would vie for #1 on any general podcast list, that’s not the case for this particular blog.
I don’t have anything critical to say about the actual interviews Tim carries out, only praise. In fact, I suggest you listen to him last. He is so good at what he does, he sets a standard no one else comes close to achieving.
However, he certainly could do with rethinking his ad presentations. These are relatively long, identical spiels delivered before and after each interview.
With the same ads repeated for weeks at a time, and then often periodically over several years, he really needs to change them more often because they quickly become BORING. And while you’re at it, Tim, think about altering the second ad at the end of the podcast if you really expect regular fans not to tune out.
Make these changes, and it might stop listeners like me who record the program from fast forwarding through the beginning, then ending the podcast the instant the interview is over.
#4 Authority Self-Publishing Show
“Authority” here is not being abused. Steve Scott, who partners with Barrie Davenport to produce the show, is author of dozens of successful self-help books under several pen names. Co-host Barrie has 11 self-published books on personal growth under her belt.
They follow the successful formula of interviewing authors and experts in the industry, so there is always something to learn.
They haven’t put out a podcast since mid-January, as I write, perhaps because Steve is a new Dad. Still, with 84 podcasts already produced, presumably normal weekly service will be resumed soon, and besides, there is plenty of useful listening available in the archives until they do.
I think Steve would be the first to admit he is happier writing than doing podcasts. He usually speaks too rapidly, so needs to pause, take a breath at times, and slowdown.
It would also be nice if he could raise a laugh occasionally to alleviate his seriousness. That might also help foster a better podcast chemistry with his partner because something is missing between them right now.
As for Barrie, she has a fine podcast voice and natural pacing, so no fault-finding there.
However, she open’s the show with a quote that aims to highlight the topic to be discussed. Yet she rarely takes the trouble to find out who the person is she’s quoting. In the age of Google and Wikipedia, Barrie, I do have to call you out on this!
#3 The Creative Penn
Joanna Penn (“That’s Penn with a double n!”) is a one-woman industry of outstanding creative ability and business energy. As well as successfully publishing both non-fiction and fiction—a New York Times best-selling thriller author, no less—she’s produced writing and publishing courses, educational videos, and tours the world as a public speaker. Marvelous!
To add a personal touch, she starts her weekly podcast with what she’s been up to work-wise, as well as commenting on recent industry happenings. Then she conducts an interview with an author or industry expect.
She asks searching questions, is always quick to add her own take on things, and is full of energy and enthusiasm. You’ll never waste your time listening to one of her shows—except when the quality of some of her guests’ audio turns out to be atrociously poor. Jo would do better to postpone such interviews until her subjects upgrade their Internet connections or bought decent mics.
As for areas to improve on. It would be great, Jo, if you were to cut down on the number of times you laugh after saying anything remotely out of the ordinary. When you give three or four of these quirky laughs in quick succession, it becomes irritating and distracting—like talking with someone who has a nervous twitch. Doubtlessly, some listeners will find it endearing. I don’t.
And while you are at it, please cut out the cooing. You do this when you feel the need to agree with someone delivering a monologue, but it gets in the way of listening. We don’t need background bird noises because you are good at chiming in at the appropriate time. Study the master, Tim Ferris: he doesn’t utter a sound when someone is speaking—unless he has something worth saying.
#2 The Self-Publishing Formula Podcast
This is produced by Mr. Facebook Ads and best-selling author Mark Dawson, and his newbie author partner James Blatch.
Mark writes the successful John Milton thriller series. Like Penn with a double n, he is an authorpreneur par excellence. He’s produced a much-praised course in using Facebook ads to boost book sales and build up an email list of subscribers, and a new Self-Publishing 101 course.
His partner James Blatch has a background in journalism and radio. He rivals Tim Ferriss for having an outstanding podcast delivery: forceful and clear without being aggressive.
This makes up for partner Mark’s somewhat hurried and less sonorous speaking voice. But then, like Steve Scott at #4, I suspect Mark is more at home writing and thinking up new business opportunities. He could improve matters if he were to reproduce his Facebook video ad voice, which is fine.
James has made the exceptionally brave decision to publish the first draft of his first novel on line, along with his notes and editor’s notes, so that listeners can learn from them. That requires balls, given the oft-quoted dictum attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Like most other podcasts, guests are interviewed—fortunately, mostly by James, who is better suited to the task.
Until recently, the Self-Publishing Formula had the best intro music by far, but for some unfathomable reason it’s been changed. To further the irony, the music wasn’t/isn’t used to introduce the show! Instead, James’ voice will suddenly bark at the listener from the beginning.
Return to the previous music and play it at the beginning, guys, not just between segments!
#1 The Self-Publishing Podcast
Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt and David Wright are the threesome who puts this show on every week. Straight off, I should warn you that this is a “bloke’s program,” with regular cursing and dick jokes sprinkled among the bantering.
If you were lucky enough to listen to Car Talk once broadcast weekly on National Public Radio, well, The Self-Publishing Podcast is Car Talk for Indie writers with juvenile cursing and sex jokes.
The three authors have a fabulous chemistry bubbling up between them, and even when disagreeing with each other over some aspect of writing, marketing or just living, and then cursing each other out, they do so without ever getting uptight. Remarkable.
The first half hour is spent giving and taking, and the next 30 minutes devoted to interviewing a guest or focussing on some aspect of indie business they expound on. This makes for a show that is usually entertaining, fun and informative, and I look forward to listening every week.
So it’s for this rare combination of humor, information and rare unguarded genuineness that The Self-Publishing Podcast gets my No. 1 vote.
Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Do you agree or disagree with my choices, praises and criticism? Which favorite Indie podcasts of yours have I missed out—probably intentionally? I’m all ears, as Dumbo is reputed to have trumpeted.
And if you’d like to stay in touch, have a question to ask, or would care to hear about what I’m reading, writing and doing in Japan, subscribe to my monthly JohnBoydJapanWriter Newsletter. In return, I will send you a dark and mysterious short story titled The Ritual that can be read in 20 minutes but will take much longer to forget.
I'm the author of two suspense crime thrillers set in Japan: The Girl Who Danced Her Tears Away, and Killing Time in Tokyo, . More details here.