First Draft with Sarah Enni, a weekly long-form interview program “committed to educating and inspiring writers, readers, and creatives across every medium,” is making its mark on the ever-burgeoning podcast landscape. The program has seen significant growth over the past two years, featuring bestselling authors John Green, Jason Reynolds, and Angie Thomas among its guests, and it was recently named one of Apple Podcast’s Top 25 Podcasts for Book Lovers. And this month the show has reached a major milestone: one million total downloads.

“In each episode, I talk to a writer about their formative years, how they came to express themselves creatively through writing, and track the progress of their career to their current project,” said host Sarah Enni, an author (Tell Me Everything, Scholastic, 2019) and journalist. “It’s conversational and intimate—as I like to tell the authors before we start recording, tangents are welcome—but also constructive. We talk about the craft of writing, finding balance in a creative life, what structural, emotional, or mental challenges they’ve had to overcome and how they managed it, and offer tons of practical tips,” she added. Enni noted that a key focus as she creates the program is “providing listeners with context and insight they can take into their own writing.”

Enni launched First Draft in 2014 during a particularly low point in her life. “I was frustrated with my journalism day job, my contemporary YA novel had gone to acquisitions and not sold, and my marriage was falling apart,” she recalled. She found solace in podcasts, citing interview shows like Fresh Air (with host Terry Gross) and WTF with Marc Maron as especially helpful in getting her through that difficult period. When the end of her marriage ultimately precipitated a temporary move from Washington, D.C. to Seattle, she hatched a plan. Enni wondered if she could make a podcast of her own. “I decided to take advantage of the road trip by reaching out to every author I knew—and many I didn’t—to see if they’d sit down and talk to me for a podcast,” she said. “I was hoping to be inspired, and to learn enough about audio to get qualified for an NPR gig. I bought a mic, got familiar with GarageBand and Libsyn, and hit the road. Two months, 40 interviews, and 6,600 miles later I arrived at my mom’s house in Seattle. The road trip was over, but the podcast journey was just beginning.”

With a background in traditional print journalism, Enni was already familiar with recording interviews in the field. She adapted her skill set and her equipment—which had to be light and portable—to meet her road-trip challenge. The show grew organically and still maintains a mostly DIY style, though Enni began working with a producer in 2018. That shift enabled her to release a new episode each week (on Thursdays). The pandemic introduced some new wrinkles to the production logistics, but First Draft has thrived.

“Until March 2020, I conducted every interview in person, while traveling or when authors would swing through Los Angeles [where Enni now lives] for book tours and events,” she said. “Now, I meet with authors over Zoom and we each record our side of the conversation. The rest of the process has stayed the same—I listen back to the interview and make notes for my producer. They make edits, upload the final episode, and I release it.”

To date, listeners have access to more than 330 episodes of First Draft. “I put a lot of time and care into preparing for interviews and, luckily, interviewees have been willing to connect me with their other author friends,” Enni said. “I’ve been able to speak with some of the biggest authors in the world and that, paired with a consistent release schedule, helped build the audience.”

The program’s biggest growth spurt came last year. “Starting to do remote interviews in March 2020 was a significant departure,” Enni noted. “Though I missed the IRL connection, remote interviews meant I was able to talk to authors from all over the world.” Another key expansion for the First Draft universe in 2020 was the release of a miniseries called Track Changes, which Enni describes as “a narrative nonfiction show that leads listeners step-by-step through the traditional publication process. The listener response to that mini-series was huge,” she said.

Enni points out that First Draft has evolved to become more professional in both sound and schedule since its 2014 debut and she intends to continue an upward trajectory—with a little help from listeners. This past September she launched a Patreon campaign. “I was hesitant about starting a Patreon because I know writers aren’t millionaires,” Enni said. But she knew she needed to ask her community for support so that First Draft can continue at its weekly pace, and that a second season of Track Changes can become a reality. “I was overwhelmed by the response,” she said. “Initially, my goal was 50 patrons by the end of the year. But more than 100 people signed up in the first two weeks.” Because of the Patreon, Enni noted, “there’s a community of listeners drawn together by the show, encouraging each other and sharing information. The goal of the show has changed: when I started it, I was desperately seeking inspiration to keep myself going. Now, I’m dedicated to sharing information with other writers, especially ones who may not have access to conferences, classes, or other writers in their communities.”

When she’s not behind the mic, Enni continues to make her own writing a priority “because it’s my first love,” she said. She recently finished another contemporary YA novel and “I’d love to write a book based on all the knowledge I’ve gained from guests over the last seven years,” she added. But she’s also “setting some big goals for First Draft in 2022. I’ll be shooting for some dream guests, and hopefully planning out season 2 of Track Changes. And I’m open to any unexpected, wonderful opportunities that might come my way.”