Working with Podcasts to Promote Your Book

In this episode, we talk with John King, host of the popular creative writing podcast, “The Drunken Odyssey.” John and I discuss how he selects his guests, what he looks for in a book to feature on his show, and what authors should know about how podcasts are produced.

TRANSCRIPT:

Mike Onorato:
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the All Things Book Marketing Podcast. I’m your host. Mike Onorat0. Hope everyone is healthy and well and staying home listening to podcasts like this. Joining us today is John King. The host of the creative writing podcast, the Drunken Odyssey. His podcast has been featured on best-of lists by Book Riot and The Millions. He holds an MFA in fiction writing from New York University and a doctorate in English from Purdue University, go boilermakers.

Mike Onorato:
His novel Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame came out in 2019. His shorter work appears in the anthologies, 15 Views of Orlando, other Orlandos, and Condoms and Hot Tubs Don’t Mix. As well as in journals, such as a Gargoyle, the Newer York, and Painted Bride quarterly. John lives in a secret location in the lesser Orlando area. John, welcome.

John King:
Thank you so much, Mike. It’s a pleasure to talk to you.

Mike Onorato:
I have to say, I love the title of your podcast because I think it’s applicable to the last seven weeks it feels like of quarantine.

John King:
Well, you know how to make God laugh, right?

Mike Onorato:
Right. So John, tell us about your podcast.

John King:
Well, we’re coming up on in two months it’ll be eight years that I’ve been attacking the ether. So it’s an eclectic creative writing podcast that focuses mostly on contemporary literature, novels, short stories, memoir, poetry. I have had one playwright on, but it also covers other forms of writing as well. To give you some idea the first year I covered Miami Book Fair International I spoke to three writers. Martyn Amos, Irvine Welsh of Trainspotting fame, and the photographer Bunny Yeager. So that’s like the perfect Drunken Odyssey trifecta.

Mike Onorato:
Right. Right. And you know, I’ve been privileged enough to be on your podcast and you know, it was interesting for me to hear the sort of journey that you go through when you’re picking books, picking authors. Would you mind telling some of our, or telling me some of the criteria that you look for when you are choosing a guest, what sort of things are turn-ons versus turnoffs?

John King:
Well, I made a decision long ago that I don’t want to talk to anyone who doesn’t want to talk to me. So when I started, I was chasing authors and soliciting and trying to get these bookings by reaching out. Sometimes that worked and sometimes that didn’t, but I need a show every week. So there’s only so much energy I could put into that. Partly it’s just, what do I find interesting? And I think that does change over time. I get a little jaded, but you know, I want to look at work that’s literary, for the most part. And yet if it’s too polite or I don’t know, to middle of the road literary, I’m also slightly bored by that a lot of the time.

John King:
So partly if the book is really strange and literary, I’m like, “Oh, good.” Like, “Is it going to stay strange throughout the whole thing?” But that’s where I start to get excited is if it’s a little weird and I can’t quite predict how it’s going to turn out. So for me, that’s the sweet spot is just how strange the book is but for me, it really is about the book almost more than the guest. They’re interrelated I hope, but if I don’t love the book, then there isn’t a show.

Mike Onorato:
What I think is so interesting is that you actually read the book and I don’t mean that to sound funny even though it-

John King:
I take that radical step. Yeah.

Mike Onorato:
Yeah, but It’s so true. So, for our purposes and me as a book publicist, for example, that requires sending you the book, well, sending you a pitch, then sending you the book and then giving you time to read said book. And I’m sure that this is not your only endeavor. You’re living life and you’re doing 100 other thousand things as well. So one of the things I think is really interesting, again, is that you take the time to dive into the work itself and it needs to stand on its own.

John King:
Yeah. And for a publicist, this is a double-edged sword. Like if you get on the show, a lot of love is going to be poured on that book, but it could be a long shot to getting on the show and it under the best of circumstances requires patients on all parties’ behalf.

Mike Onorato:
John, you know, talk about, so for example, if I was to send you something today how long until you’ve gone through it, comb through it, decided, “Okay, going to do a show, schedule the interview.” Then the interview is edited and then it airs.

John King:
It can be a couple of weeks to a couple of months. So for example, there are writers with books coming out this summer and so I think those publishers are a little bit surprised when I want to get those interviews done as soon as possible. But I do edit my shows so that both me and my guest sound like we’re at our smartest.

Mike Onorato:
Thank you for that by [crosstalk 00:05:57].

John King:
I am very smart. You’re quite welcome. Oh, you are a pleasure, Mike to have on the show.

Mike Onorato:
Oh, thank you.

John King:
But I want to sound like I’m at my smartest, which basically just means taking out all the dumb parts of the things that I say. I am smart, but I’m not necessarily the wittiest, quickest person out there. So I do tend to prioritize interviews I can do in-person, which can really complicate the whole schedule. Of course, that’s not that big of an issue now.

Mike Onorato:
Right.

John King:
I think we’re going to try one socially distanced interview in-person in the next few weeks. But yeah, for me, that’s a big experiment to see if I can do it in such a way where I’m going to feel safe and the guest will feel safe. And if we don’t feel perfect about it, then we’ll just go to Zoom. So in other words, there are all kinds of factors that go into how much time is needed but if we put in the time it takes to read the book, I mean, it could be six months sometimes. This is why when people want me to drop a show when the book is coming out, the more time you give me the better.

Mike Onorato:
It’s such an interesting-

John King:
I try and accommodate people when they want that to happen, but I need … The show has the maneuverability of a battleship, you know?

Mike Onorato:
Yeah.

John King:
So it’s like, “Okay, and now turn right now.” I’m like, “Well, no, that’s not a thing this thing can do.”

Mike Onorato:
Well, again, it’s so interesting because I think it’s a last step in the process and I think a lot of authors and a lot of folks think it’s you just read a press release, you read a short pitch or maybe even catalog description of a book, but no, in order to really get into the nuance of it, in order to really draw out some really interesting stories, you need to spend time with that work. And again, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not as if you’re just sitting around waiting for books to be sent to your attention to read.

John King:
Yeah, no, that’s not been the case for years and years now. So yeah, I need that time and I think the basis of the show … I mean, partly it’s me being social with the guest and just trying to figure out, “Okay, what does this crazy writing life look like over where you are?” That’s part of the show is just sharing notes like that but this is my continuing MFA program where I read work and then I think I can figure out how the work may be got written, or some of the things that would drive an author to explore their imagination in specific ways.

John King:
So I have these theories that I get the writer to talk about and some writers are like, “Wow, I didn’t know I was doing that. But yeah, no, I’m totally doing that. Look at that.” And on occasion I’m wrong, but, for me, the thing that took so long to write, usually that’s the thing that I definitely need some serious time with.

Mike Onorato:
You know, in all the years you’ve been doing this, has there ever been a time when you were surprised, shocked either at the scope of the interview or if you began going down one road and all of a sudden you ended at a different one?

John King:
Well, early on I figured out … And by early on, I mean, before I even started the podcast. So I’m influenced by Mark Marin’s WTF podcast. And if you listen to his show, if people have something to pitch it really doesn’t get pitched on his show even though they might talk about it that’s something that happens as a by-product of the conversation. So, in my case, I knew that I really wanted to do a long-form show, and I’ve had guests who sometimes aren’t sure they want to be on my show, or aren’t fully prepared, or are nervous. A lot of writers are nervous. And after 20 minutes, they forget about all that and we’re just talking.

John King:
So there’s a magic shift that happens a lot of times. So yeah, that thing that you’re talking about, that’s what I count on, actually. That’s the life of the show is when we’re talking about things that I couldn’t have predicted based on coming up with a couple of notes before the interview starts and that really comes from listening, you know? And sometimes I disagree with a writer about generalizations I might make about their work and it’s not that I’m telling them they’re wrong. You know? I’m suggesting, I think they might be wrong, but let’s talk about it. Let’s figure it out.

Mike Onorato:
You mentioned during our conversation on your podcast that you receive a lot of pitches from us publicists and without getting myself into trouble, can you tell us what grabs your attention in a pitch? And maybe the way to ask that question is what doesn’t? What will immediately get sent to the delete box?

John King:
Well, this is a subject line from, I think last week, Meet Glenn, Bestselling Author and Your Next Great Guest. Okay. You tell me, Mike, what’s wrong with that subject?

Mike Onorato:
Well, is there an hour to kill? We can go through each thing.

John King:
Now, for a certain media outlet that may be the perfectly appropriate subject line. Do you know? There’s content that needs to get filled. That’s not really the way my show works. So demonstrating familiarity with my show is the first thing, and if you know my show, then you know, okay, you have to pitch the book, not the author. If I love the book, I can usually get the author to have a great conversation even if the author is shy but there’s no chance … If I don’t love the book, I then I don’t want the book sent to my house. That’s the first thing.

John King:
So it turns out this is a romance author and it’s not impossible that I won’t have a romance author on. I have had a romance author on. I’ve already got one in the pipeline that I need to consider. So yeah, I’m not that big on romance so it’s not likely I’m going to have two romance writers in the pipeline. That’s just not something that’s likely to happen.

Mike Onorato:
You know-

John King:
So also, there are publicists who I have relationships with because we’ve not angered each other in the past and just having a professional relationship over some time there are publicists at Norton who’s maybe the top literary publisher in the country. So when they send me a pitch, it’s like I’m already 70% interested just because it’s from them and I’ve had a lot of good experiences with them. They tend to write me back when I write them and I feel like I can operate efficiently in dealing with them. So that’s another big thing is just if you don’t have a relationship with me or the show that’s something that can be built, but if you act like there’s nothing to be built, then yeah it’s never going to get started.

Mike Onorato:
Well, it’s so interesting because I’m reading so many things now and not just about dealing with media as a publicist, but just in the business world and everything I’ve been reading is saying the importance of checking in with people when you don’t need something and just being human first. How are you? How is your family? You know? And so it’s hard for publicists. I know I’ve been in those shoes as it were, but it’s an important thing to remember that we’re all humans and people first and especially the part about writing back in a timely way. Those are all just seemingly basic things but as we know, not always done. Right?

John King:
Well, I’m sure I’ve neglected emails where if it comes in at the wrong time, I miss I and I’ve got a terrible backlog of emails. So it is important to try and be human, I mess up sometimes. That is definitely a thing that happens, right? This is not my day job so on top of the probably 50 hours a week I work at the day job this is another 10 to 20 hours on top of that. So, for me, the important thing is … And I also want my show to be inclusive. As inclusive as it can be. So if it’s an author with a first book or an author with a very small press, that’s not disqualifying to me. If I’ve never heard of you, that’s not disqualifying to me. So in some ways, I’m rooting for every book, but in terms of humanizing the relationship for me. If the book is something that might be possible, or if it’s simply not completely inappropriate, I will sometimes respond back to the publicist saying, “Look, this really won’t work from my show, but this is … Like I’m kind of literary host so this is more along the lines of the pitches I’m likely to accept.”

John King:
And I would say half the publicist disappear, but occasionally a publicist goes, “Okay.” And then starts responding to the things I actually said. So that’s the relationship-building I’m talking about is just keeping the conversation going by addressing what I need in order to promote a book and an author.

Mike Onorato:
You’re listening to John King, who’s the host of the creative writing podcast, The Drunken Odyssey. John, what is the biggest misconception when it comes to podcasts? So what don’t authors realize about them? A lot of our audience is comprised of authors and we try and educate them on what podcasts are in terms of timing and duration and all of that, but what are some of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to podcasts?

John King:
Well, I’ve seen certain DIY lists that, you know? How to promote your book through podcasts and different things, and I think a lot of those lists make it sound like an easy thing to accomplish. “Oh, just go on a podcast.” And with over 850,000 active podcasts going on, those are just titles, not episodes, just titles it might seem like it should be easy to get on a podcast and that’s not necessarily so for all the reasons we’ve talked about, where I’ve got a long pipeline of reading and it’s unwieldy, and it has to be the right fit for my show. Sometimes that comes down to if your book seems wonderful, but too similar to a book I’m discussing in two weeks, right? Maybe I put you in the pipeline, but it’s not going to be on my show soon. So I mean, there’s … Kind of the way when short story writers or poets and their workout and their work gets rejected, it’s not necessarily because the publisher didn’t like the work. There are so many reasons why rejection happens.

Mike Onorato:
It’s true. It’s true. You know, it’s interesting too, because I think a lot of times it’s timing. A lot of times it’s just there are … To a point, there are factors that aren’t there aren’t as cut and dry as, “Well, they’re passing because of this.” And having that data is what’s so important for us when we’re talking to our authors to say, “They’re passing because of the subject matter or the timing.” So they’re aware and we, as a team, are aware and then can pivot and try a different approach, you know? But it’s a staggering number, 850,000 podcasts. That is, it’s unbelievable.

John King:
Yeah. And I think another thing is I think people think podcasts are more visible than they necessarily are. You know, if you’re on WTF with Marc Marin. Yeah. A lot of people will hear that. My show, it’s more niche broadcasting. So the numbers of my listeners, it’s on the modest side, but these are passionate literary readers and writers. So if you’re a writer and you get on WTF, I’m not sure you’re going to get the same love for the writing that you’re going to get on my show.

Mike Onorato:
As an author yourself, what is one thing you wish you knew then that now when it comes to promoting your book?

John King:
Well, I wish I had striven to create a budget for marketing myself. Partly, so many things happen in my life and I went with a shotgun deadline for my book because it had been delayed by two or more years. So I was getting at the point with my publisher where I’m like, “Well if we delay it anymore, I’m not sure it’s ever coming out. There have been too many delays.” But I think if I had done more research about what marketing could have done and so there it’s a case where I feel like I know a lot about podcasts and marketing, but what I really wish I knew about was marketing and marketing, just the part that I didn’t know and I was probably intimidated about where do I even start with that? This is why my conversation with you meant a lot to me on the show.

Mike Onorato:
Well, thank you. Yeah, you mentioned 850,000 podcasts out there. There are several thousand books published a day, right? You think about the traditional publishing road and now the self-publishing, the hybrids. So how do you get attention for a book? And there are a lot of good books that aren’t receiving the attention they deserve. There are a lot of really good writers and authors who aren’t getting the attention they deserve, you know? So we do podcasts like this, both you and I, and at very different ends of the spectrum, but in an attempt to sort of educate everybody out there about the process. People would say, “Oh, just write a book.” And they think of it as you’re going to Pendant Publishing with Elaine Benes as your editor, and it’s a unique road to navigate, I guess, is the way to put it and I think these kinds of things can help demystify that process, right?

John King:
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I do like to talk about the publishing side as well, you know? There are all these different milestones, which is why writing a book or writing a novel. I don’t consider it to be important. That’s not an accomplishment. Anyone could be writing a novel. Paris Hilton’s dog has written a novel. Completing a novel, okay, that’s a milestone and then publishing the novel, that’s a milestone. Then I guess having the book stay alive in the marketplace, that’s another milestone even further, you know?

Mike Onorato:
Yeah. It’s hard, you know? It’s hard for a lot of authors that we talk with who are trying to make the decision right now about, do they move forward with the publication of their book with the global pandemic? Do they pause? Do they junk it entirely and revisit it next year? And there’s no answer, you know? And I think that’s the biggest challenge is we don’t know, okay, come September 1, we’re back to somewhat normalcy and publish then. In all the years I’ve been in publishing, going on 20 almost there has never been a time like this, where it’s just been this open-ended unknown. And I think for a lot of authors and for a lot of publishers, and for a lot of podcast hosts like you, those are murky waters to swim through.

John King:
Absolutely. Yeah. And I’m curious to see how this is all going to play out in the next few months, in particular. People have been doing online book promotion and online book launches, and I suspect we’re nearing the point where there’s going to be just a sense of weariness and exhaustion because this actually … It’s better than nothing, but now it’s creating so many events. “I’m doing the Zoom thing, come on everybody.” I’m like, “Oh God, I just want to sleep. I need sleep.”

John King:
And I’ve done one of those things myself for a literary event where we made it virtual and put it online. It’s better than nothing to be sure and in some ways, it’s great but with everybody taking the initiative I just wonder if we’re going to wear out our ability to concentrate on the virtual or if it’s going to be even more hectic than it was before the COVID-19 situation.

Mike Onorato:
Yeah. And monetizing book sales, right? So if there’s a Zoom event, you don’t want people necessarily listening to the author, getting really engaged, and then having to leave Zoom to go to Amazon or some other retailer or e-tailer to buy the book. So that’s the other challenge. I’m talking with some of our traditionally published authors about is just the experience on a Zoom event or any sort of virtual event. It’s you don’t want to lose the person when they leave Zoom or Skype or whatever platform it is to go by the book and then say, “Ah, you know what? I can’t find it. I’m done.” Then you’ve lost them and that’s an opportunity that’s wasted.

John King:
Well, the good news with my book is it’s hard to confuse with other books, but yeah.

Mike Onorato:
So tell us about your book, John. This is an opportunity for you to promote your book to our millions of listeners and potential book buyers.

John King:
Well, Guy Psycho And The Ziggurat of Shame is about an alcoholic lounge singer who has to reenact the Epic of Gilgamesh inside a mountain in Tennessee. That’s the elevator pitch.

Mike Onorato:
As-

John King:
I’ve never heard of an elevator pitch actually happening, but yeah, that’s the elevator pitch.

Mike Onorato:
Well, of course, I mean, that’s what I got from the title. So I …

John King:
Well, it began as this post-modern prank I was playing in my fiction with music being name-dropped in my stories. So Guy Psycho was one of these. This kind of American punk singer and then I ended up writing a short story about him in which he had transformed into a lounge singer and the sort of … I just kept imagining all these different adventure titles with his name in it. Why an alcoholic lounge singer should be taking over the Indiana Jones role? I don’t know, but I have, I don’t know, 30, 40 different titles for books. And when I got into NYU’s creative writing program, I had been working on a book for maybe 15 years and it occurred to me, “That’s not really the thing I can workshop in the appropriate spirit of a workshop.” I don’t think you need that chapter. Well, that was a year of my life. Where the hell were you in 1998? Like, “Okay. That’s not a fair thing to tell your colleague.” So I took one of the titles and decided, “Yeah, be generative, write a new book.”

Mike Onorato:
And here you are.

John King:
So yeah, managed to put together this wild book influenced by Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll, probably 200 other things. Frank Sinatra, obviously. A little bit of Dean Martin

Mike Onorato:
It sounds good, John. I may have to go pick one up. You know, I have time. I have time now. I’m not out running around doing things and when we were chatting you and I, on your podcast, we were talking about your experience as an author, and did your podcast hosting experience and working with as many authors, and publishers, and publicists as you have Did that sort of influence your writing or did that influence the book in any way?

John King:
Well, I think the book was mostly done by 2012, which was about when I started the podcast so not really. I do think that one of the things that the podcast has helped with is to keep myself mentally awake as a writer and be alert to a lot more possibilities. So I’m still learning as a writer and life, the 40 to 50 hours a week I’m working, that part of life, I think it would sort of drive down my sense of creativity and my sense of what I’m able to do as a storyteller. And I think the podcast does help me get into the sandbox and mess around in ways that just keep me more active than I would be, I think. I really do learn from every guest.

Mike Onorato:
Interesting. How do you think COVID-19 will impact the future of publishing?

John King:
Well, I think it has everything to do with just the visibility of books. Hopefully, in this time people are reading more. I don’t have any data on that, but the sense that I have is that before this, everyone wanted to be reading more. Not everyone. Everyone I know wanted to be reading more and so hopefully this has given people a chance to read more. But in terms of getting to know new writers and also I think it probably … I don’t know. I know I’ve lived in places that didn’t necessarily have a big writing community. When I moved to Orlando, I didn’t expect there to be the sort of rich writing community that there is, but I know normally if we didn’t have to worry about getting sick when we’d go outside, right? There’s a couple of events every week and I really just had to say no to a lot of things. And I wonder if people who are looking for a more literary activity than is happening in their hometown, maybe the online thing can produce more opportunities for them.

Mike Onorato:
I wonder if-

John King:
That’s my hope.

Mike Onorato:
Yeah. I wonder if we’ll see a book boom, right? And in nine months or so we’ll just see so many books coming out by people who had time to write and decided, “You know what? I’m not commuting. I’m not having to go to work.” If they are unfortunately or laid off, I wonder if there’s going to just be a rush on published books in a couple of months if and when normalcy returns and whatever normalcy it looks like at that point.

John King:
Maybe. I mean, there’s this push-pull between, “Okay. If I write it has to be serious because we’re living in serious times.” Or, “Whatever I write has to be entertaining because everybody’s so overwhelmed with anxiety that I need to take people’s minds off of things.” Then there is, “There’s so much pressure because I have time to write and it’s so important that I don’t know what to write that I am just terrified of even sitting down and looking at the paper.”

Mike Onorato:
It’s true.

John King:
So it could go in any direction really. I will say on the days when I don’t have to go anywhere, when I have enough groceries to get through the day there can be a really wonderful calm that comes from just having enough time to spend inhabiting one’s own mind that can be really, really important for a writer.

Mike Onorato:
For sure. Well, John, this has been great. I thank you so much for your time. I encourage everybody to go check out The Drunken Odyssey and, John, I wish you health and wellness, and I hope to see and hear from you again. And when your next book comes out, not if, but when I hope you’ll keep us in mind. I hope we can work together at some point.

John King:
Sounds like a plan and same to you, Mike. Same to you.

Mike Onorato:
Great. Well, thank you. This has been another episode of The All Things Book Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Onorato. Bye for now.

Speaker 1:
Thank you for listening to this edition of the Smith Publicity All Things Book Marketing Podcast. To reach us and learn about our many book marketing services visit www.smithpublicity.com or send us an email to info@smithpublicity.com.