I was happy to have Katie Davis, John Sellers and Matthew Winner as podcasters on the latest Children's Literary Salon panel. This event is hosted by Betsy Bird, Youth Materials Specialist at BookOps. Katie Davis is a children's and teen author as well as the host of the podcast "Brain Burps About Books." John Sellers works for Publisher's Weekly, and he hosts the "PW Kids Cast." Matthew Winner is a school librarian, one of the 2013 Library Journal Movers and Shakers, and he hosts the "Let's Get Busy" podcast. The event was held in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, aka the "library with the lions."
Bird started the event by playing a two-minute sample of each podcast. I was struck by the variety among the audio and visual broadcasts.
PW Kids Cast
First up was Sellers' "PW Kids Cast." He interviewed an author, who spoke about the process of writing. She is also an editor, so she talked about the experience of working with editors of her books. She prefers covers on teen books that do not show the characters' faces so that that aspect is left to the readers' imaginations. There was no visual element to this podcast.
Let's Get Busy
Second was Winner's "Let's Get Busy" podcast. It was another author interview. The author commented that he or she liked to write in a vacuum -- an environment completely free from distractions. There was music in the background, which I found a bit distracting. Winner and the author also discussed kickball adventures that they had in their childhoods.
Brain Burps About Books
Third was Davis' "Brain Burps About Books" podcast. I found this podcast to be very creative. It had very interesting visuals. It showed David describing the podcast and talking about why she entered the business and why she likes it. She had thought bubbles coming from her head with humorous commentary. The bubbles also had informative web sites.
Bird then commenced the panel discussion with the podcasters. They all came from out of town. Sellers is from New Haven, CT. Winner came from Maryland, and Davis lives in Westchester County.
Bird asked the panelists how they came to be involved with children's literature and podcasting.
Winner loves the exchange of ideas about books, and he is passionate about literature. He was networking at a conference and talking about how much he would like to produce a podcast. His colleague asked him why he had not started. He could not think of a good reason to delay any further, so he started "Let's Get Busy."
Davis is a children's author. She missed her friends, who are scattered across the country. She was a guest on a podcast, and there were five authors to be interviewed. Each interview was a half-hour long, and she was the last. She actually had to be on the phone for two hours prior to her interview. She thought that she could do this way better, and it turned out to be a great way to talk with her friends, and she loves talking.
Sellers was invited by his company, Publisher's Weekly (PW), to do a podcast. He agreed, even though he had never heard a podcast. Now, "PW Kids Cast" produces three episodes monthly.
Bird mentioned that PW is the only professional journal that she knows of that does podcasts.
Sellers agreed and mentioned that PW has other podcasts, including one on comics.
Bird asked Davis and Winner how often they produced episodes on their podcasts.
They both produce one episode per week.
Bird tried to produce a podcast herself, a while back, but she was struck by how much work was involved, such as editing. For her, blogging takes much less time. She asked the panelists to describe how they found time to podcast.
How to Produce a Podcast
Podcasting was first started in 2004, and it started to become more prevalent in 2007, according to Wikipedia.
Davis has the process down to an art by now. She is very organized, and she lines up the interviews well in advance. However, the challenges that she has faced include authors cancelling their interviews and technical problems. She is able to wing it. She knows what her audience likes. She is also able to turn other events, such as a lunch-and-learn into a podcast by recording it.
Bird asked the podcasters whether they spend more time on writing or podcasting.
Davis has a clean podcast, and she admonishes guests not to swear on the cast ahead of time.
Winner does not edit his podcasts much. He considers the podcast a love letter to the kid lit world. He loves his work. His podcasts are 45 minutes in length. He records the introduction. He knows the work of the authors that he interviews so intimately that it is a pleasure for him to get the "story behind the story." He is engaged with these conversations for himself, and he hopes that people will want to listen in.
Bird asked if they get solicitations from people who want to be on the podcast, and if so, how they deal with those.
Winner mentioned that some people tell him that they would love to be on his podcast. He thanks them and asks them to send him their books, but he does not make promises.
Bird asked Sellers if PW controls what he can ask the authors.
Sellers said that PW does not. He wants to conduct the interview as he sees fit. He interviews authors whose books he does not like, just as PW reviews all books. He has never said no to an author the PW wanted him to interview.
Davis has published books in the traditional way as well as self-published books. If the book in question is not one that she likes or wants to promote, she says that she is busy or that it is not a good fit for the podcast. However, she may interview authors about the publishing process or other aspects of their work.
Bird asked who the listeners are for these podcasts.
Winner uses twitter and Facebook to promote his podcasts. Many of his audience members are teacher librarians. He thinks that it is neat that some authors he interviews for his podcast end up at his friends' schools. When that happens, he can give the interviews advice, such as to ask about the banjo, etc.
Sellers is not exactly sure who the audience of his podcast are, but he would assume that they mirror PW's general audience, which consists of booksellers and librarians.
Davis says that when authors engage in social media, their statistics increase. Her audience consists of writers, teachers and librarians.
Podcasts That Podcasters Like
Bird asked the podcasters which podcasts they listen to.
The first podcast that Bird remembers regarding literature was called "Book." It went on for two or three years. It was a Canadian podcast, and it operated in fits and starts. It ended somewhere around 2010.
Winner appreciates that podcasts are archived on the web. His new listeners can also listen to older episodes.
Davis thinks that podcasting is good platform building. Children's literature is a tough business. Some authors do not have a web site, and some do not participate in social media. It seems like a no-brainer for authors to promote themselves via the Internet. One lady who auditioned for "Brain Burps About Books" got a deal with a publisher; she was able to utilize her podcasting experience in order to further her career.
Video and Audio in a Podcast?
Bird mentioned that podcasting is a different sort of technology. Nowadays, there are Google hangouts. She wanted to know if the podcasters had any interest in other formats.
Winner said that Google hangouts have both audio and video components. He considers himself to be more of a purist. He enjoys podcasting. He utilized Skype, and he tells his listeners when the podcasts will be solely audio and no video. This creates a more relaxed atmosphere in which the authors he interviews are less nervous. The advantage of video is that viewers can pay attention to nonverbal cues. However, in Google hangouts in which the video quality is not sharp, viewers will tune out.
Bird asked the panelists if being able to see the person creates a better rapport.
Winner believes that it completely depends on the individual being interviewed. He asks the person if they want to include video. Some like video, but video makes some people nervous.
Davis prefers to use video since she can see when her interviewee is still talking, and then she can avoid interrupting him or her.
Sellers mentioned that PW has discussed using more video in the podcasts, but he opined that listening to himself is punishment enough.
Davis believes the video allows the interviewees to do a show-and-tell. During one of her interviews, the interviewee's cat walked right in front of the camera. It took a minute before the person realized the problem and was able to move the cat.
One of the panelists believes that simply watching people talk is very boring.
Bird mentioned that audio podcasts are convenient to listen to when walking to the subway, and when people are on the go.
What's Next for the Podcasters
Bird asked what the podcasters would like to do that they have not done before.
Winner would like to be interviewed for a podcast.
Sellers would like to write a children's book. He is now reviewing cook books for adults, and one of the perks is that he gets many free cook books.
Bird asked the panelists to describe their current projects.
Davis would like to have more time in the day. She is creating support materials for authors to help them market and promote their teen books.
Bird opened up the floor for audience questions.
The audience member mentioned that some of the podcasts are not edited. He or she asked the panelists to describe their most awkward moments while recording.
Sellers stated that he inadvertently spoke at lightning speed during his first episode, so he had to re-record the questions later. It was difficult for him to figure out how to frame questions about a book to a person who did not write the book (eg, Leminy Snicket books).
Davis recalled an occasion when she asked someone a question, spaced out and completely forgot what she had asked. The interviewee stopped talking, and she had to scramble to resume the conversation. One time, she interviewed Tomie De Paola, who had no idea that she is also an author.
Winner has had some technical issues in the process of recording podcasts. During one episode, Skype was being upgraded so none of the audio was recorded. He had to re-do the entire conversation. He pays vigilant attention to the quality of his audio because he does not want any listeners to tune out or to not be able to hear the conversation clearly.
Another person asked the podcasters to describe the length of their episodes.
Sellers records for 15 minutes. The time length was arbitrarily set, but it seems to work.
Winner aims to record for 30 to 45 minutes, but the episodes often end up being longer.
Davis records for an hour, because Terry Gross of NPR does that. When she attempted shorter podcasts, people complained that they were not long enough.
I asked if the panelists had produced podcasts other than author interviews.
Winner said that he was recording the Kid Lit Salon to turn into a podcast. He talks to people who are not authors, including gamers.
Davis interviews anyone who fits under the umbrella of children's publishing. She has interviewed people who are involved with Internet marketing. She interviewed someone from Book Baby, which helps authors publish books. She interviewed someone from Amazon, and someone who described the process of paper-making. However, she mostly interviews authors.
Sellers sticks with author interviews for "PW Kids Cast."
Another audience member asked the podcasters to talk about technology problems that hinder podcasts.
Winner mentioned that all technology is fallible.
Bird asked the panelists how they choose their microphones.
Winner asks his interviewees to use ear buds. He mentioned that bandwidth can be expensive, but iTunes distributes it for free.
Sellers said that technology can always be unpredictable. Sometimes the Internet connection is not working or the author fails to show up.
Bird asked the podcasters if they feel that they are mastering technology.
Davis opined that technology is one of the reasons that she listens to the "Podcast Answer Man." She started listening in 2010. It helps podcasts tremendously to have good quality sound. If the sound is not good, people will not listen. She has had people approach her at conferences who say that they know her voice and they feel as if they know her.
Thanks to the panelists and Betsy Bird for creating a very fun Kid Lit Salon.