► After iPublish went under, did you instantly get your rights to Earthcore back?
No. It took three years to get the rights fully rescinded back to me. My agent at the time, Joshua Bilmes at the Jabberwocky Agency, did a great job with that. Since they scrapped the imprint, there was no one left to talk to, so he had to work his way through Time Warner. I’m sure you can imagine what a complicated process that was. The waiting time was devastating. For five or six years, my main drive in life had been to work towards getting published. And even before that it had been my goal in life since sixth grade. And I had it! I had it in my hands. We were five months away from publication. Had it been one more month, the books would have been printed, and they would have gone and put the book out anyway, to make up for their investment. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, it completely went away. And it did so at a time when very few books were being bought and there was also a glut of great books on the market. Publishers could really pick and choose.
► Did you have to regroup mentally?
Absolutely. It had taken so long to get Earthcore picked up, because it was such a crazy genre mix. The setback was devastating, and it took a while for me to look myself in the eyes and say, “We did this once. Now we’ll start from scratch and do it all over again.”
► Which you did in a way that was anything but obvious: the podcasting approach. We’re talking 2005 here. Podcasting wasn’t widely known yet. Do you remember how you first learned of the concept?
I happened to be doing marketing for a company that did these talk radio programmes for Fortune 500 companies. Recording was a big part of what they did. As the marketing guy, I was always looking for ways to make the company more successful, and one day an engineer brought me an article on this thing called podcasting. At that time, the company was still sending out cassettes and CDs of the programmes. Then I did this giant analysis on how podcasting is going to be this big thing, drawing the parallels between transistor radios and FM radios on the one and podcasting and the iPod on the other hand. And the company’s reply? “Oh, that’s nice, but that’s just a distribution mechanism that’s not going to go anywhere.” Thanks to my research, though, it clicked for me that this could be a way I could sell my books. Maybe there weren’t a lot of people listening to podcasts yet, but there also wasn’t a lot of content to compete against. ESPN wasn’t there. NPR wasn’t there. TV shows weren’t there. At that point, there were no radio stations putting out podcasts. Which meant that the people who did know about podcasting were looking for something to listen to. Unlike today, back then people would try anything. Including giving a guy a shot who was podcasting his own novels.
► The advantage of the early adopter. Or the early content creator in a new field…
Exactly. Overall it was an advantage, because, while the audience wasn’t as big as it is now, if you did anything unique or did it really well, word-of-mouth spread really quickly within the existing community. And I was the only guy doing a ‘live read’ of his novel, meaning after episode one you had to wait for episode two – the entire book wasn’t available anywhere. You couldn’t buy the book at the time. You couldn’t get the whole audiobook. People listened like they were watching a TV show. And they told their friends about it, like they would with a TV show they liked.
► A case of the right idea at the right time. Would you say it is still the right idea for a new author at this point, to get their career off the ground?
Most likely not. And I’m not saying this because I don’t want the competition. Podcasting a book is an enormous amount of work. Way more work than writing a novel just to put it out as an ebook, because you’re going to have to do that anyway. But on top of that you now also have the work with the podcast. Plus, these days the competition is ridiculous. Are you going to listen to three Nerdist shows and Joe Rogan and Adam Carolla and NPR and all the podcasts about your favourite TV shows or are you going to listen to some unknown author? It’s a lot harder and a lot less likely for someone unknown – as I was back then – to get people to listen to them now. The bottom line is that it is a lot of work with not a huge rate of success.
People will identify with someone telling them a story they wrote – always have, always will.
► Plus, you would have to have this natural ability to read your own material well. Which is an advantage you happen to have and which, I believe, most writers don’t have.
Well, there are two answers to this. Yes, you might not be the best voice actor in the world. And yes, reading might not come naturally to you. But people will identify with someone telling them a story they wrote – always have, always will. If you are reading somebody else’s work and you are a crappy voice actor, they are just not going to listen. If you’re reading your own work and you’re a terrible voice actor, that’s fine. Your listeners might tease you lovingly. I still get some jibes from time to time. But as an author who is aspiring to greatness and who is trying to fulfil a dream of becoming a novelist or a storyteller, sharing your story, you will encounter so much goodwill from strangers. If you are a decent or really good voice actor on top of that, it’s a bonus. It’s not a prerequisite. At the end of the day, people will always compare your voice acting to Kathy Bates, and you’re always going to lose that. It’s a battle you can’t win, so don’t bother fighting it.
So, yeah, people can do it the way I’m doing it. But there is a whole different way of doing it now that didn’t exist when I started. And that, obviously, is the ebook market. I don’t recommend for people to go into podcasting their books, unless they really just want to read out loud to people. I’m not saying it is not a possibility. But it is so much work to record your audiobook and then put it out as a weekly podcast. The ebook is at the same time less work and promises more success. People like J.A. Konrath and Hugh Howey and others have proven that. And the last part is that there are now millions of people who are gobbling up ebooks and who don’t care that your book isn’t published by Penguin or Random House. Readers see that your book gets recommended to them by Amazon. They see the cover and decided to try out your book. They download a sample, read 50 pages and to them you’re on the exact same level as Stephen King or Anne Rice or Dean Koontz. That wasn’t an option for me in 2005. Obviously, the formula I’m going by is still there, it’s still doable, but right now, I think the better choice is ebooks, not audiobooks.