Until now, podcasting has been a technology publishers have used primarily to promote authors and books, but that may be changing as more publishers are tuning in to podcasts to find new talent.
Scott Sigler turned to the airwaves in 2005 after his first manuscript brought him a flurry of rejection notes. He taught himself the technical aspects of podcasting production and distribution and, from his San Francisco home, started reading excerpts from his first novel, Earthcore.
After Earthcore, which was broadcast over a series of 45-minute “episodes,” found an audience, Sigler applied the same process with his next iPod novel, Ancestor. The thriller, about a group of scientists who create a horrific beast while trying to sequence the human genome, aired on, among other sites, Sigler’s Web page, iTunes and the podcasting-dedicated Podshow.com; it drew 30,000 listeners regularly. Ancestor was published in print format in April by indie Dragon Moon Press, and has sold about 5,000 copies, according to Sigler. Those numbers helped Sigler land a three-book deal with Crown, and his forthcoming novel, the April 2008 Infested, is planned as one of the imprint’s big spring books with a potential first printing of 100,000. The novel has also been added to the RH Films production slate.
Sigler’s path from struggling writer to podcast star to recipient of a lavish book deal is not all that unique these days. Henry Holt recently signed an Arizona-based technical writer known to her listening public as Grammar Girl. Holt president and publisher John Sterling contacted Grammar Girl, whose real name is Mignon Fogarty, after reading about her and her dedicated fans in a Wall Street Journal article. (Fogarty’s book on grammar, tentatively titled Grammar Girl’s Guide to Better Writing, is scheduled for spring 2008. Holt’s audiobook partner Audio Renaissance has released a pre-pub audio version of the title.) And in addition to Sigler, Crown has signed Lars Brownworth, a Long Island, N.Y., history teacher who gained minor celebrity from his podcast lectures on Byzantine history.
Byrd Leavell of the Waxman Literary Agency, who represents Sigler, said he is looking at popular podcasting sites to find potential clients. When asked if he thought podcasting could be the next blogging—that is, the next Web-friendly way writers can rise from obscurity to land book deals—Leavell said he thinks the connection, while a bit premature, can certainly be drawn.
Kristin Kiser, editorial director at Crown, said that podcasts garner more dedicated fans than blogging. And even better, because podcasts must be downloaded, you can quantify a podcaster’s audience more concretely than a blogger’s. Noting that podcasters like Sigler have a “fanatical following,” Kiser, like Leavell, said the serialized nature of podcasts, which requires listeners to return to the story week after week, as with a favorite TV show, means that popular podcasters develop a fan base more likely to follow them into print.
Of course many a popular blogger has turned into a pricey but unsuccessful author. No one knows this better than Sterling. “It’s too early to say anything about the lesson of podcasters who write books,” he said, when asked what he thought of the comparison to blogging. Having had a firsthand disappointment with a high-profile blogger—in March 2007 Picador published Jeremy Blachman’s much hyped novel Anonymous Lawyer, named after his high-profile blog, to less than stellar numbers—Sterling knows it’s too early to crown podcasting authors the next big thing. For Kiser it’s now about watching and waiting. “We’re in the nascent stages of it. We’ve been seeing projects from agents; the next step is for us to be more aware of podcasting successes early on.”