Submitted by Karna Small Bodman
We are delighted to welcome author and screenwriter Tori Telfer as our guest blogger. Tori graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northwestern University, received numerous writing awards and penned pieces for The Atlantic (online), Rolling Stone (online), Smithsonian (online) along with Vulture, Salon Vice, Longreads, Racked, Jezebel, The Hairpin and the Awl. She also wrote, produced and directed screenplays.
Here is Tori’s story about how she created a new marketing project for her books centered on tales about “certain kinds of females.”
What Hosting a podcast Taught Me About Writing Books
In 2018, I found myself caught in a lull between my first book, LADY KILLERS, a nonfiction book of historical female serial killers, which came out in the fall of 2017, and the rest of my life. I was pretty sure I was going to write more books, but I wasn’t quite ready to pitch my next one, and in the meantime, what was I supposed to do with my newly acquired readers? I felt an immense (though self-imposed) pressure to be producing something other than the freelance writing and editing that, unromantically, paid my rent.
Slowly at first, and then with a sort of maniacal energy, I decided to launch a podcast. True crime podcasts were—are—having a moment, but most of them were focused on crimes committed by men. I didn’t know anything about mics or audio engineering, but what I did have was a long list of weird, fascinating female criminals whose stories hadn’t really been told yet. I launched my podcast, CRIMINAL BROADS in the summer of 2018, and now, over a year later, I can say that it’s been both a grueling frustration and a career-boosting success. It’s led to other podcasting opportunities, to advertising dollars (slowly but surely), and it’s even boosted sales of my book in retrospect. It’s also been so much unpaid work that I don’t even want to think about it! But these days, as I’m finally about to turn in my second book, I’m thinking back on my work as a podcaster and noticing how it’s helped me as a writer, too.
The value of attention
A professional podcaster once told me that people absorb more information through their eyes than through their ears—in other words, a book’s sentences may be long, winding, and full of one-sided em-dashes, but when you write the script for a podcast, you’ve gotta be, well, short. Crisp. Clean.
Since my work focuses on real historical events, it is incredibly tempting for me to fill my pages with detail after detail after detail. See, first she went to Location A, where she talked to Officer B about getting Paperwork C, but that was all a lie, as we find out when she went to Location D with Paperwork C and told Officer E that Officer B had sent her… But the world of podcasting has taught me the cold, useful truth that no one cares about the exhaustive detail as much as I do. There are only so many names, dates, and cold hard facts that a listener can take before turning a podcast off, and while a reader can take a few more of them, they too will eventually reach a point where they fling your book across the room, screaming, “I didn’t sign up for history class!” Podcasting has helped me remember that—and it’s a lesson I apply as often as my naturally long-winded self can. (Whew.)
The value of expertise
The world of podcasting is thrillingly open. Anyone, anywhere, can start a podcast. That being said, listeners can get burned out on podcast overload. They want to feel like they can trust you. Why should they listen to you when they can listen to…well, anyone else?
I’ve found that hosting a podcast after writing a book has given me an increasing sense of authority in my work, and to be honest, it’s made me look like more of an expert in the true crime marketplace. I’m far from a professional criminologist or psychologist, but at the very least, I can confidently say that I’ve done in-depth research on at least sixty-five female criminals from the 1200s until today. Without the podcast, that number would be much smaller. Now, I can say things to listeners like, “Look, if you want to hear more about this subject, I wrote a book about it”—or to readers, “If you want to hear more, I wrote a podcast about it.” Turns out podcasts are a helpful way to establish yourself as a slightly louder voice in a very crowded field.
The value of DIY publicity
If you’re feeling burned out and exhausted, you might not want to hear this, but…well…the more projects you have going, the more those projects can cross-pollinate each other. I launched Criminal Broads as a hail Mary attempt to get the readers of my first book to stick around long enough to buy my second book. But what actually happened is that people found my podcast first (what did they Google to find it? “16th century poisoner girl really bad not friendly”??)—and then, if they liked the podcast, they often went back and bought my first book. From now on, every project I do is an opportunity to advertise both future projects and those I’ve already completed. The podcast has worth in and of itself, but in terms of selling books, it’s proven a valuable amuse-bouche of sorts, so that the next time I find myself in between-book limbo, I can say, “Did you like that? Unfortunately I will not be able to produce another one for the next three years, but in the meantime? Have a podcast.”
Tori told me that she is working on a new book, CONFIDANT WOMEN. She’s not certain of the pub date, though she confessed she’s been working overtime since “it’s due in a month!” I can’t wait to read it. Thanks, Tori, for being our guest blogger.
Now a question for our readers here — do you watch podcasts? What are some of your favorites? Leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you.
. . . Karna Small Bodman