What does the wave of podcast conventions mean for audio fiction?

We’re hip-deep in the winter convention season! I’ve recently returned from the podcast track at the Austin Film Festival, Vancouver is gearing up to have their first festival in a few days, and several cities are gearing up for their own podcast festivals like Portland, Chicago, and DC. PodCon is in a few months and I don’t know about you, but I’m counting down to when I can see all my podcast friends again. A bunch of audio fiction creators — Gabriel Urbina, Sarah Shachat, Jeff Van Dreason, Alexander Danner, and Meghan Fitzmartin were on a panel at Rhode Island Comic Con about audio fiction storytelling!

I think we’re all seeing the sudden rise of podcast-focused conventions and festivals in the past couple of years (like many conventions, some which are successful and some that aren’t). It’s hard to keep track of which ones to go to sometimes, and with the similarly rising costs, it’s hard for independent creators, often the ones with the most need to go to these events, find it hard to be able to go to any.

Even more than that, as audio fiction creators, it can be hard to justify going to any one convention if it doesn’t have anything directly related to that work, work that is very different in conception and execution than even other scripted nonfiction podcasts. A panel on sound design might be helpful, or a panel on handling finances or budgeting, but it can feel isolating or dispiriting when no other panelist or attendee is right there with you. I’ve lost count of how many stories I’ve heard from podcasters going to conventions and festivals and getting brushed off by fellow attendees and garnering confused looks from panelists when they said they create fiction podcasts.

But if we take a step back and look at the big picture of growth — a panel here, a podcast track there, a rallying cry somewhere  — at the way that a ton of big money spenders are making audio fiction, and at the increase in adaptations being pulled from audio fiction, I think we’re seeing all the pieces falling into place for fiction in podcasting to start being taken as a far more serious endeavor than it has been. I don’t think, however, that independent creators can just wait for the rest of the world to catch up with them, because they then run the risk of being subsumed.

What does that mean?

Show up. If you can go to a single relevant panel, or a talk, or even a local podcast meet-up, and just talk honestly about yourself and your work, that’s changing people’s minds. If you get invited to talk, remember Amanda McLoughlin’s video; get yourself paid. For every naysayer, there will be someone at least curious about what your work entails, and that might mean a new listener. As we see audio fiction panels pop up within larger events, like a comic con, or an entire track dedicated to scripted fiction podcasting, like at the Austin Film Festival, we’ll see more creators, more listeners, and more industry support.

Don’t forget that there are other types of events that are helpful to audio fiction–panels on sound design or recording, conversations that include people from fiction-producing companies, workshops on creating great audio storytelling even if they aren’t thinking of fiction. Be open-minded and broad about what is a tool in your creative arsenal; just because it’s fiction, doesn’t mean the business part of podcasting doesn’t exist anymore.

Podcasting’s reach is still very much based on word of mouth and trust. People trust their favorite podcasters, so if they recommend a show in their end credits or on a panel, listeners are more likely to check it out. People trust their close friends, so send them a link to something you think they’ll love and say so. Use grassroots style campaigns to everyone’s advantage, and stay positive.

What conventions or festival are you looking forward to? What sorts of panels or events would be useful to you as a creator or aspiring podcaster? Conventions and the like are often fairly exclusive to indie podcasters, who are not exactly raking in the dough, nor accessible for marginalized persons who may face a variety of barriers beyond financial ones. What sorts of local events could you help foster, or go to? How could you help be a voice for the people who could not go the event you’re at?

This essay was originally published in Audio Dramatic Issue #19, November 5th, 2018.