As mentioned in the interview with Cara Santa Maria, for some people it is more difficult to describe what they do than for others. Kawehi and Jesse Epstein? Musicians. Derek Brad? Photographer. Easy. One of the people who doesn’t have it that easy is Veronica Belmont. The reason: She has already done so many different things on so many different platforms. To this interviewer she is ‘Veronica from Sword & Laser – one half of a podcasting duo’. But of course that description is missing out on her activities as a producer or writer, or her work for TV or on YouTube. She is an independent content creator. On Twitter she simply is @Veronica (to 1.7 million followers). It’s Veronica Belmont…
► Veronica, did you know that you are a new media personality?
So I’ve heard. At least that is a phrase or a title that I’ve seen people use to describe me or what I do.
► But is it a description you can identify with?
Well, I have a very difficult time explaining what I do for a living. If that is what people want to use to describe what I’m doing, it works for me. It does explain part of what I do – I do work in new media after all. I mean, it feels kind of yucky if I use this phrase to describe myself, but it is not inaccurate. People who do what I do wear a lot of different hats, so putting us into one category can be problematic.
► When you have to fill out a form that has an ‘occupation’ field, though, what do you put down?
I don’t really have one go-to title for that. I typically go with the most mainstream sounding job that I can come up with at that moment. (laughs)
► Isn’t it interesting that not just technology is developing so rapidly but also our ways of using technology, so that today we have people in jobs that we don’t have the appropriate language for?
Oh, absolutely. One of the things I do, of course, is podcasting. In that case, we do have that word, but a lot of people simply don’t know what a podcaster is – even today.
Science fiction can give us the language that is necessary to open up the discussion about certain ideas.
► I seem to remember a quote – it might have been by Cory Doctorow – that this is one of the things science fiction can do: It can give us the terminology for new concepts and ideas, which enables us start real conversations about these concepts. Do you agree?
Yes, I do agree. Science fiction can give us the language that is necessary to open up the discussion about certain ideas. For example, if you have no word for ‘beaming’, it becomes really difficult to talk about that idea. Or if a science fiction author introduces something like a neuro implant, suddenly more people might talk about what this neuro implant could be, how it could work and how it could benefit us.
► So we need a science fiction author to write a story about someone like Veronica Belmont, to give us a proper job title for people like you?
Hah, that would be great. I have a lot of author friends, and of course a lot of them write science fiction. So maybe we need to task one of them with that. (laughs)
► Let’s talk about Sword & Laser, because it gives us the opportunity to talk about different aspects of web-related projects. When you and Tom Merritt started S&L, you already had podcasting experience. How did that influence the expectation you had for this new podcast?
We kind of just did it for ourselves in the beginning. Tom and I were both at CNET at the time, but I already knew that I would be leaving there shortly. We both enjoyed Buzz Out Loud, the podcast we were doing together over at CNET, so we decided that we should do a new and different kind of podcast after that – something that would marry both of our interests. Tom is a big sci-fi fan. I’m a big fantasy fan. And we wanted to learn more about those two genres. So we decided to do Sword & Laser. Tom came up with the name, after a lengthy process of trying to figure out what we should call it. But then we basically just did it as a hobby that we wanted to do together, simply because we enjoyed the form of podcasting and enjoyed working together. Looking back, I don’t think either one of us set out to do this new podcast with sort of professional expectations just because we had previously done professional podcasting.
► See, you hear this kind of ‘we just started it for fun’ a lot, but I have a hard time believing that two professionals, like yourself and Tom, start something like this without certain professional aspirations or professional ambitions.
Well, Buzz Out Loud had a lot of success, so maybe, in the back of our minds, we were hoping that we could replicate something like that. Especially since Sword & Laser is so niche. Maybe there are more shows like it now, but at the time there weren’t a ton of science fiction and fantasy-themed shows specifically about books or book-themed shows specifically about sci-fi and fantasy. Sure, there were shows about things like Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek or Star Wars, but there was nothing in terms of a show that talked about books the way we intended it to be done. So maybe we were thinking this could be successful because we were doing something new and unique. At the same time, knowing that we would be very niche also meant we knew that this concept would make the potential audience even smaller. Being realistic people, I don’t think we had any grandiose plans for a big, popular show. It has certainly grown over the last couple of years, but it is still a small show in the grand scheme of all the podcast shows that are out there today. Where you could be right is that we wanted to create a solid show and not something that feels like it is falling apart at every corner.
► Are you happy with the size of the podcast today?
We are very happy with the community that we have build around it. And we are very happy with the prestige that we have achieved within this community. That’s probably more what we are proud about than sheer numbers.
► Even if numbers aren’t your main priority, do you sometimes look at your own – quite substantial – 1.7 million Twitter followers and wonder why not more of that audience translates into podcast listeners or why not more of them join you on the Sword & Laser account?
Well, I already know that not everyone who is subscribed to the show is also following us on the Sword & Laser Twitter. In general, not everyone who listens to podcasts uses Twitter. And not everyone wants to follow all the shows they listen to. I certainly don’t follow every podcast that I listen to. It’s all very relative. We have almost 20,000 followers on GoodReads, for example. That’s more than our regular podcast listenership. It very much depends on how people like to communicate with their shows and how they want to experience the content that we are producing. Which is one of the reasons why it is so important to offer people different ways to connect with you.
Also, to come back to the original question, I was on the ‘suggested users’ list very early on in Twitter’s history, so I personally gained a large number of followers that way. And of course there are a lot of people who follow me because of the work I do in tech news. Naturally, not all of them are massively into sci-fi or fantasy and not all are big readers. That’s why I don’t really compare my number of followers with the number of podcast subscribers or my account with the Sword & Laser account.