Imagine logging in to to upload your latest podcast episode, glancing at the ‘stats’ graph as you always do, only this time you see a massive, crazy spike in downloads. The kind of spike you’ve been chasing the whole time it’s been you, alone in your room, talking into a mic and obsessing about volume levels and noise-gates, and plosive consonants.
That was my experience recently.
Where Did They Come From?
The first thing I did, of course, was fire up Google Analytics, but even better, I ran a search for news stories on the StoryADay podcast.
This is what I found:
And not only was my podcast mentioned, it was the first one mentioned, right above a podcast hosted by Roxane Gay.
Yeah…that Roxane Gay.
How I Made It Happen
I wish I could tell you that I had some secret strategy for sending out press releases, or schmoozing editors.
But the reality is that I did this the un-sexy, old-fashioned way. I committed to doing the podcast, and then I kept turning up with the best material I could produce.
Step 1: Commit
iTunes is awash with fabulous podcast ideas, that have gorgeous logos and totally sound like something I would love to listen to.
Click on those links, however, and you’ll often find three or fewer episodes (sometimes none), and that the most recent of them is from 2014.
It’s easy to start a podcast. It’s quite another thing to have a mission that keeps both you and your listeners coming back.
Step 2: Keep It Simple
Turning up consistently is hard, especially if you have declared that you’re going to produce a full radio play each week, complete with professional cast, foley artists and original background music.
Until you get into the groove of doing your podcast, decide on the minimum you can commit to producing each week and still feel good about yourself?
One way to figure this out is to ask yourself what you enjoy listening to, then emulate that.
(Yes, that means ‘copy’, or alternatively ‘steal’)
My favorite writing podcast when I started out was Writing Excuses. I loved that it was 15 minutes of focused writing talk, no fluff. Fifteen minutes seemed about right to me, so that’s always been my target for my episodes.
Then do whatever it takes to get an episode out consistently.
I wasn’t always great about this at first, but my best periods have been ones where I’ve stuck to a schedule. For a long time that was ‘every other week’. Now I’m moving to a weekly schedule, because I’m comfortable enough with the process to be able to do some of it on automatic-pilot, leaving me free to concentrate on producing great content.
If this means using a service like Anchor.fm to get started, great! Use that.
If it means doing it in one-take, and never editing out flubs, great! Do that.
If it means getting together with your friends and recording four episodes in one sitting…guess what? Do that!
Step 3: Serve Your Audience
When Lin-Manuel Miranda started sharing his ‘Good Morning/Good Night’ tweets (now available in an illustrated, hardback collection), he was writing the daily pep talks for himself: telling himself what he needed to hear.
My podcasts are usually based around writing tips I’ve discovered or learned for myself in the past week or two, along with the pep talk I need to hear. But always with the idea that, if I need to hear this, I bet there’s someone else out there who does, too.
Sometimes episodes are based on questions I’ve received or conversations I’ve had in my writing community. I focus on sharing my best ideas for solving the problem of one writer in my audience (sometimes a person with a name and a face I can picture).
I sell courses and coaching programs and ebooks and articles, but I never hold back from giving away my best information in my podcast, for free. I am on a mission to help people get in touch with their creative side, and to write more stories. I believe the world needs more stories, and it needs more storytellers. I don’t believe my generosity has ever convinced someone not to buy a product or hire me to write an article. Quite the reverse, in fact.
So I give away my best information in service of my community.
I turn up, week after week, to do so.
Sometimes we get so hung up on tactics (Should I upgrade my mic? Should I try to get that big-name celeb on my podcast? Should I start running ads?) that it’s easy to forget why we’re podcasting at all.
I kept turning up. I kept serving my audience, with a genuine desire to help them.
Sometimes I forgot to produce the episode properly. Sometimes I record it in less-than-perfect settings with the crappy mic on my earbuds. But always, I focus on loving my listeners and caring about the things that matter to them.
And it turned out that, in response, listeners would fall in love with my podcast.
And want to share it.
And some of them write for Bustle.com.
So yes, by all means, throw all the tactics at your podcast. Guest on other shows. Highlight other people’s content. Run ads if it makes you happy.
But the most powerful strategy remains: turn up consistently and be generous in service of your listeners.
Help your listeners get where they want to be.
Then come back and do it all again, next week.