An Interview with Podcast Novel Superstar Scott Sigler

Scott SiglerNew authors have always faced the challenge of getting past the book publishing gatekeepers – agents and acquistion editors.  Scott Sigler found a new way into the castle.  Scott’s work revolves around modern science’s dichotomy of simultaneously producing good and evil.  It has been described as a “steel-tipped boot on your throat, speed-metal fiction.”

Snubbed by publishers for years, Scott turned the traditional book publishing model on its head when he released EarthCore as the world’s first “podcast-only” novel.  Scott recorded EarthCore in 2005 in 22 episodes (roughly 45 minutes each) that subscribers downloaded.  He picked up 10,000 subscribers along the way.  His next podcast novel, Ancestor, drew 30,000 listeners and saw 700,000 episodes downloaded by fans. In combination with Scott’s other two podcast novels, Infection and The Rookie, his fans have downloaded over 3 million episodes of his fiction.

Ancestor bookcoverScott’s innovative use of technology puts him at the forefront of modern-day publishing.  He has been covered in the Washington Post, BusinessWeek, CNet, The Book Standard and the nationally syndicated radio show The Dragon Page.  He is a Michigan native, and lives in San Francisco with his wife Jody and their two dogs, Mookie and Emma.

We recently asked Scott about his experience with the podcast novel and the world of traditional book publishing.

FPP:  What gave you the idea to do EarthCore as a podcast novel initially?

Scott:  I discovered podcasting in February 2005. I immediately started looking for podcast novels, because the technology reminded me of radio plays of the 40s and 50s – serialized audio fiction. When I couldn’t find any novels, I realized it was because no one had done it yet. EARTHCORE was set to be published in 2002 by AOL/TimeWarner, but they scrapped the imprint a month or so before my book was printed. So I had a finished novel, edited by a major publishing house, just sitting there – I learned how to podcast and got the thing up as fast as I could, knowing there would be benefit to first-mover status.

FPP:  What were some of the logistical difficulties you had to overcome in recording and distributing the episodes?

Scott:  I knew nothing about recording, blogging, RSS, XML, etc. I had to figure it all out and figure it out fast.

FPP:  What is the process you go through in creating each episode?

Scott:  The novels are finished before I begin. I create a new episode from a template that already includes intros and outros. I record, stopping and going back when I screw something up. That way when I record the final word, I’m done with the spoken part. I then add sound effects and make sure I didn’t miss anything. Each character gets his or her own recording track, so I can run EQ separately for each. Then I rip down the MP3, post it with Podshow’s system, get the link, then post it into my WordPress blog.

Podshow’s system doesn’t do all the unique things I need for a podcast novel, so I use a WordPress blog and link to the Podshow files.

FPP:  Are there any limitations that podcasting a novel forces on you as an author?  Is there any challenge switching between writing mode and podcasting mode?

Scott:  It’s the same thing, and two completely different things. The story is where it’s at. The story doesn’t change. If you don’t have a great story, don’t even bother. The podcasting challenges are acting it out, and making sure it’s riveting to the audience. Don’t phone in the performance, strong acting with passion and energy is key – if you don’t care about the audio, why would your fans?

FPP:  How would you characterize your listening audience? Are there any differences between those who listen vs. those who read the book?

Scott:  My Junkies are the best audience on the planet, for any kind of entertainment, anywhere. They are rabid fans. They are my friends. My reading audience also likes my stuff, likes it a lot, but there is a significant connection between me and the listening audience. To my print readers, there is the story. To my podcast listeners, there is the story, then there is the author, and they get to know both very well.

FPP:  Were print publishers tracking your podcast downloads before you contacted them or was that something you had to make them aware of as you marketed your work?

Scott:  Print publishers don’t get this at all. I mean, AT ALL. This is all a mystery to them. Dragon Moon Press is a small publisher that completely understands. Crown Publishing is a major publisher, and what they understand is that I have rabid fans and I can hit Top-10 on Amazon selling an indie book with zero advertising, zero promotional support and zero media support.

Crown is smart enough to know they don’t need to understand every last nuance, they just need to know something works.

FPP:  Do you think the availability of podcasts has a positive, negative or neutral impact on sales of the print version of your books? Why?

Scott:  Positive, positive, positive. It’s free exposure and advertsing. Some people listen and still buy print. Some people listen and buy the book for people they know who like print. Some people listen and don’t buy, but they send a link to dozens of friends, and the process repeats itself. If you can try my fiction for free, wherever you like, whenever you like, and you’re deciding between my book and one that makes you go to the bookstore and shell out $24.95 just to give it a shot, which are you going to choose? I’m grabbing mental marketshare like there is no tomorrow. The podcast exposes me to thousands of people, where if I’m just on a bookshelf between KING and KOONTZ, I can’t possibly compete.

FPP:  Is there anything you would change about the way you did your earlier podcasts?

Scott:  Not really. Everything I do now I learned from those endeavors.

FPP:  Will you continue using podcasts as a way to connect with your audience for your future titles?

Scott:  I will always podcast. Crown is behind this 100%. I wouldn’t be anywhere without the Junkies, and I will continue to provide them high-grade stories as long as I live. Even after that, because I want to have a story “in the can” that people can listen to after I die. Just to fuck with their heads a little bit more.

FPP:  Do you see more authors using podcasts as a way to get the attention of publishers?

Scott:  I would say wait to see how INFECTED sells on April 1, 2008 If it’s a hit, if it charts in the New York Times Bestseller list, then the model is forever proven.

FPP:   Looking back  on your own experience, what advice would you give them?

Scott:  Use examples of people who have used podcasting to sell books. At the end of the day, publishers spend a load of money to produce, distribute and market books. If you can prove to them that you have an existing audience, they are more likely to take a chance on you.

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