Tips & Tricks for Fiction Podcasters

This article was created in the interest of supporting fiction podcast creators and producers, inspired by the work of Michelle Nickolaisen at Self-Taught & Solo, a resources website for solo and self-taught fiction podcasters (with a ton of handy tools for podcasters of all kinds, actually!). These are a few tips and tricks that I’ve seen in action or heard from creators that have given success in some fashion to a podcast, with a focus on topics I think aren’t talked about enough in public resource spaces.

Community-Oriented Casting Calls: Casting calls are a staple of multi-voice audio fiction. When designing them, creators need to keep in mind that this is a call to a community to join the project; you’re essentially pitching your project to a big, somewhat nebulous audience (rather than pitching to one reporter, one outlet, or one particular network). That means:

  1. Always make sure the audition deadline and whether this is a paid project is somewhere visible. Include an estimated time commitment for each role (not just the recording time, but any meetings, table reads, or extra recordings or retakes you may require them to do).
  2. Have a specific format for people to follow when submitting (whether it’s what to include in the email or how to title the audition reel).
  3. Always tell actors to include their pronouns in their audition submission email.
  4. Encourage marginalized groups to apply specifically in the introduction, especially QTPOC (queer and trans people of color). For example, specifically state at the top “POC and LGBTQ+ actors especially encouraged to audition”.
  5. Consider writing some characters to be specifically marginalized folks, open those roles only to people who belong to those communities, and then make sure to give the actors input on how to portray these characters if it’s an identity from outside your experience. This, along with #3, are a tangible, actionable ways to create a safe and welcoming space for often silenced people. Don’t do it for the diversity points, but do it because it will give your world a fuller, more realistic, more complex feeling for listeners, and give some people representation they have not had before. (The default is white and straight—there’s no use beating around that bush. Fight against it, and write against the default. Never forget to listen to critique with grace and learn from it for the future.)
  6. Consider planning in a callback, especially if you have more than one potential option for a role. If you do, be specific about it in the instructions.

Callbacks: Callbacks are kind of like “round two” of an interview. You might sit down to talk with actors about their vision for the character, or have them read a different set of lines that are more crucial than the ones in the open casting call, or ask for two actors to sit down together with you and do a table read so you can check on their energy and chemistry. They’re not final decisions, but they’re very important to actors, so be gentle and be clear about what callbacks mean for them!

Table Reads: A table read is when actors, writers, and directors get together to read through the script out loud; this helps actors get to know characters, directors to give actors notes on performance, and writers to identify any lines of dialogue that sound unnatural or unfit for the character. They’re crucial to having a good flow, but complicated to handle if you’re casting remotely. Remote casters should try to get actors together on a conference call to do a digital table read if possible. If your actors are all in wildly varying time zones, break the script into scenes that certain actors share and do several smaller table reads so that actors can practice with each other and learn how to the other people portray their characters in scene (this will help with their delivery). If push comes to shove, writers and directors should try to schedule one-on-one table reads with every actor so that they can be directed using knowledge from the other table reads.

Beta Recording: One of the ideas Amanda McLoughlin highlights in her More Pre-Pro, Less Problems article is the concept of creating a pilot that you then send to beta listeners. I’d recommend creating a beta pilot of the first episode, or the first couple, to send to some trusted people for feedback as well before you and your actors jump into recording everything. Do it after the table read, build it into the time commitment, and make sure you have an idea of what kind of constructive feedback you’re looking for to send to your beta listeners.

Press Releases: Getting the word out about your podcast is a tricky business, especially in indie podcasting. Create a press release–that’s a document that announces your debut which contains all the necessary information in short form (blurb, creator’s name, contact info, date of release, artwork, links)–and send to the press. Find reporters or outlets that may be interested in hearing about your work. They may not review you, but you’re putting yourself on their radar. Keep that title and e-mail subject line catchy, and remember people may only see the first five or so words in their email inbox.

Social Media Calendar: Social media is a necessary, but evil beast. Choose which platforms work best for you (Twitter and Instagram both have enormous audio fiction followings) and create a calendar to follow to promote your show, talk about what you’re listening to, post episode updates, and so on. It’ll make handling the social media monster a bit easier, and be a relief for your workflow.

Online Community Engagement: Make sure you’re doing more on your social media than just talking about your show! Interact with other podcasts; give other podcasts a listen and talk about what you love about them. Find some useful hashtags to follow and join in on (like #AudioDramaSunday/#AudioFictionSunday or #audiofictionlove), and use them responsibly. Don’t just drop your iTunes link in the replies unless you are specifically asked to do that, because it’s annoying. Don’t just put podcast handles in a giant list when you want to recommend them; people will just mute it if they’re on the list and others will just scroll right on by. If you want to recommend a podcast or a creator, explain why! Wax poetic about their work. It’ll get people more engaged.

This modified article was originally published in Audio Dramatic #28, April 15, 2019.