The emergence of author podcasts as a viable and entertaining marketing tool is apparent in the success of three such efforts originating from literary Web sites on the West Coast: Brad Listi’s the Nervous Breakdown, Tom Lutz’s Los Angeles Review of Books, and Tyson Cornell’s company Rare Bird Lit. The three are using podcasts as a way to build readership and bring attention to their sites.

Listi started the Nervous Breakdown nearly six years ago. “In the last two years I’ve noticed a discernable shift in interest from New York City publishers when it comes to the Web, so it was time for me to start producing podcasts,” Listi said. He began four months ago and now has 35 shows posted on Listi, a self-described radio aficionado, conducts the interviews. “I started with the idea for the listener to connect personally with the author, so my interviews focus more on the lives of the writers than their work,” said Listi. “They humanize the authors and add another dimension to the podcasts.” Listi produces two podcasts a week and receives regular queries from publishers about having their authors included.

Tom Lutz, founder and editor of the online Los Angeles Review of Books,, launched his podcast segments last week by interviewing Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, the authors of The Chairs Are Where the People Go. Simon Reynolds followed, and future guests will include Art Spiegelman, Monique Truong, and Jonathan Penner. “I’d love to be doing one show a week,” Lutz said, “but right now it looks like twice a month. We’ll be working with local authors as well as those coming through town on book tours.” Lutz will do a fair number of the interviews, but he will alternate with other hosts such as Comedy Central’s Andy Zax. LARB was launched in April 2011 and has seen tremendous growth in this short time. “Our best month brought in 100,000 hits,” said Lutz, who added that in some months international readers make up 30% of its readership.

Like Listi, Lutz records his podcasts in a home studio. “There was enough interest in podcasts to at least get them started on the Web site,” Lutz said. “One of the most obvious markets for them is the commuter market, whether it’s people riding on subways or driving in their cars. I hope to develop something that’s built not simply as a traditional interview, but also a little bit of fun. Some of our shows will have musical interludes, too.”

What sets Rare Bird Lit’s podcast program apart from the others is that the interviews are live and formatted like book clubs. “They’re unique because the listeners feel like they’re in the living room with the author, and since they’re live we can have people call in,” said Rare Bird founder Tyson Cornell, who launched the program last summer and simply records the shows over the phone.

“An author’s first instinct is to talk about the book,” says Cornell, “but I coach them to go the other way and let readers get hooked on them first, which leads to readership. I see the book as the product and the author as the brand, and podcasts are an ideal way to build that brand.” Rare Bird,, has now produced more than 120 podcasts, with each client author creating several over four to six weeks in order to keep readers interested in a new book. The MP3 files of the shows are e-mailed to bookstores to post on their Web sites or social networking pages.

Cornell looks at his podcasts as “audio versions of what blogs are supposed to be. All pretenses are down. If the dog barks or the doorbell rings, we keep going and don’t edit those distractions out of the show when we archive it on Rare Bird’s Web site.”

Listi believes podcast are a great way for authors to connect directly with readers: “[Authors] are interesting and down to earth, and this is what I want to bring to our listeners.”