The essential, and obvious, equipment for any writer includes a pen, a notebook, and of course a computer. But for all three of my novels, I’ve also always had a radio-style condenser microphone and a digital recorder nearby. You see, podcasting has been an important part of my writing journey, and I suspect always will be.
In 2005, “podcasting” was the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year. What is a podcast? In general terms, it’s just audio or video content found on the Internet, often available episodically via subscription. As I strolled around the extraordinary landscape at The Banff Centre last weekend in between sharp gasps at the majestic beauty of it all, I listened to the New York Times Book Review podcast, the Guardian Books podcast, and the NPR Books podcasts. I’ve been hooked on podcasts since early 2006. It’s how I stay abreast of book news in the world.
In early 2007 I decided I would podcast my first novel, The Best Laid Plans, chapter by chapter and make it available for free on iTunes and my blog, www.terryfallis.com. (Think of it as the serialized audio version of my novel, recorded and produced in my third floor library at home.) I know what you’re thinking. On the milder side: “Why would you do that? Why would you give away your entire novel for free?” In the extreme: “You are a complete *nutbar.” (*Feel free to insert the epithet of your choice.)
Well, after a year of trying, I still hadn’t found a publisher or an agent for my manuscript. So I thought as a precursor to self-publishing it, I’d attempt to build an audience for it by giving the audio version away for free. My theory was that if listeners enjoyed the novel they might just want to buy a copy of the printed version. And that’s what I did. I would read a chapter of my manuscript into my digital recorder, bring the audio file into my computer, slap some music on the front and back to up the production value, edit out all of my heavy breathing, occasional coughs, and other vocal spasms, and upload it to the Internet where it would go to iTunes and my own blog.
I didn’t know it then, but in early 2007, no one in Canada had podcast an entire novel and given it away for free. Ignorance is bliss. So this was a grand experiment in the emerging world of social media. After the first two chapters were uploaded, I started to receive emails and comments on the blog. What a thrill. I thought that only Canadians – and maybe not even Canadians – might be interested in listening to a satirical novel about Canadian politics, but I was hearing from listeners in other parts of the world, from England to Spain, China to Australia.
I’ll never forget an email I received late one Sunday evening, about 90 minutes after uploading Chapter 9, from a listener who was stuck in a traffic jam in Shanghai. There I was in downtown Toronto on a Sunday night, and on the other side of the world, someone had already downloaded and listened to the chapter while stuck in a traffic jam. You can imagine my surprise as I read this email, sitting in the same chair I’d been in an hour and a half earlier when I’d uploaded the chapter.
I received many positive comments on the podcast along with a few complaints about having to wait a week before the next chapter would appear. (I didn’t mind those.) This encouraging feedback gave me the resolve to carry on and self-publish the novel in print form. Since then, that first novel, and my subsequent two, have found a home at McClelland & Stewart. I often wonder what would have happened had the podcast not been greeted so warmly. Perhaps I would never have self-published that first novel. As it turned out, McClelland & Stewart allowed me to podcast my next two novels in the same way, so all three are available on iTunes or my blog. Yes, still for free. I truly believe we’ve sold more books because of the podcast audience that still grows daily.
While at Banff, I worked on mapping out my fourth novel, rubbernecking out the window at the glorious views. I felt inspired to write. That’s what this place does to me. About a year and a half from now (fingers crossed), when the final manuscript has been approved and enters the publication queue, you can bet I’ll be warming up my vocal chords and preparing to podcast my new novel. It’s a novel way, no pun intended, to build an audience and sell books. And for me, it’s been habit-forming.
I’m indebted to The Banff Centre for their generosity and hospitality while I was there. It is a truly inspirational place. I hope to return… often.