How to Write a Podcast That Sells: 7 Tips from Podcast Pros
Podcasts have seen an enormous surge in popularity in the last five years. That's not news. What's really interesting is how many fiction podcasts have sold to Hollywood studios and are now on the way to becoming major TV shows:
- Amazon developed Lore
- Demi Moore is starring in an adaptation of Dirty Diana
- FX is developing the wildly popular Lovecraftian podcast, Welcome to Night Vale
- Netflix's Limetown stars Jessica Biel (which was so well-written, Biel thought it was based on a true story)
Hollywood has noticed the storytelling power and growing audience of well-written fiction podcasts. So it's no surprise that screenwriters are jumping into the podcast pool. But if you want to sell your podcast to Hollywood, you have to learn how to write a fiction podcast script that sells.
Join the expert panel of podcasters, writers, and judges of the Screencraft Podcast Writing Competition, as they discuss the changing landscape of podcast writing, how to write a fiction podcast, and what it takes to sell your podcast in Hollywood. If you don't have time to watch the full live stream, here are seven key takeaways from this panel of podcast pros on how to write a podcast that sells.
How to write a podcast that sells panelists
- STEPHEN PERLSTEIN, Vice President of Podcasts, Studio 71
- DAVID DEVRIES, Director of Development, Studio 71
- ZACK AKERS, Podcast Creator & Writer (Limetown, 36 Questions, The Wilderness)
- ERIN KYAN, Writer and Creator, Love and Luck Podcast
Ensure the idea is sustainable [32:00]
Like a TV show, the fundamental idea behind a podcast needs to be sustainable over a long period of time. During the discussion, Stephen Perlstein recalled a story of would-be podcasters coming up with an idea to cover an entire TV show in a weekly podcast. While the idea is fun, it’s nearly impossible to sustain due to the amount of work it requires.
Erin Kyan points out, "You need to keep in mind what resources you actually have access to. Think about what’s possible. There’s no need to write an amazing script if there’s no way to produce that script." [4:10] Instead, make sure that your idea can generate content week to week while keeping the workload relatively low to avoid burnout. If you want a podcast that sells you need to offer a property that can stretch out for years to come, evolving and developing as it goes.
Don’t feel restricted by genre [33:00]
While most podcasts tend to stay in the crime or sci-fi genres, Erin Kyan was quick to point out that an intrepid podcast writer should not feel restricted by these preconceptions. "There is absolutely a market for any genre you can think of." Podcast popularity is still in its infancy so there’s still plenty of room to reinvent in genres as yet untouched. Likewise, the trend towards true crime that came in the wake of Serial could just as easily switch to romance, documentary, or period dramas.[bctt tweet="It all comes down to quality. It doesn’t matter what genre or what the story is. Find the thing you’re passionate about and willing to devote a lot of your life to. — Zack Akers" username="screencrafting"]
It’s not often that a writer gets to play in a newly popular medium. Make the most of the opportunity by innovating in the field, surprising those you want to impress, and engaging audiences hungry for fresh content.
Podcasters have to network to make (and sell) a podcast [50:00]
In a similar piece of wisdom, Erin also pointed out the benefits of networking. If you’re not an all-rounder and require the help of audio engineers or voice actors, then networking is almost a necessity to produce your podcast. However, that doesn’t mean you have to have awkward drinks and forced conversation. “It’s just meeting people and making friends,” explains Erin. Take the business out of the equation and networking becomes enjoyable.
As a general rule networking is a requirement of the writing industry, but that doesn’t mean it has to be miserable. Come to a potential networking opportunity with an eye towards how you can help others. Not only will it make you feel better, but you’ll make more friends in the process.
Solve the problem of clarity [24:00]
In a conversation on the craft of making a podcast, Zack Akers cut to the core of sound design and writing by simply stating “solve the problem of clarity.” In a purely audio format, sometimes it’s difficult to fully relay the crucial exposition of what is happening in the story. Some podcasts use a documentary narrator to give context, others use sound design, some simply use dialogue to portray what’s happening.
Erin Kyan also went on to say that some of the best podcasts didn't necessarily have the slickest audio. "Your production value is not as important as you think it is. Some of my favorite shows are very scrappy shows." In the end, it doesn’t particularly matter which method you choose as long as it works. Read through your podcast script one more time and imagine just listening to it. Are there any points where the action of the story isn’t clear? Then solve the problem of clarity.
Pitch your podcast wherever you can [47:00]
Unless you’re planning to independently produce your podcast you need someone to help fund the project. Luckily, you've got a lot of options here. You can try and pitch to an audio drama studio, a radio station, an interested investor, or even your friends and family. In the young space of podcasting getting creative with who you pitch to is key. While pitching to a big fish like Spotify sounds great, do your research about smaller production studios and see if they’re accepting pitches for new shows.
David Devries noted how entering podcast writing competitions can increase the visibility of your podcast. "A really good way to get yourself noticed and read is through online competitions. You want to get as many people to see your work as possible." Alternatively, if you live in the UK or Oceania, you may be able to pitch a public body for an arts grant. Check with your local councils or broadcasting bodies to see if they are offering any opportunities for new and exciting shows to fund.
Ready to sell your podcast? Enter the ScreenCraft Podcast Writing Competition to get your show in front of judges who know podcasts.
Focus on the podcast, not any adaptations [26:00]
While it’s certainly true that there are many writers looking to write a podcast as a different way into the traditional TV and film industry of Hollywood, David Devries is quick to point out that this isn’t a healthy creative mindset. "Oftentimes I end up seeing a handful of people saying 'Here’s a TV script, here’s a movie script, and it works as a podcast.' Not all stories can be told on just an audio level."
Focusing on an adaptation of a podcast you haven’t yet produced is foolish as it’ll compromise the quality of the podcast itself. Before getting carried away with replicating the success of a podcast like Lore, focus on making your podcast as good as it possibly can be.
Spoil your story [56:00]
It’s episode 6 of your mystery podcast. As the killer is revealed you unveil a crazy twist that completely upends everything the listener thought they knew about the characters. Understandably, your natural instinct would be to keep this massive spoiler a secret so the surprise has maximum effect. But Stephen Perlstein offers a different perspective.[bctt tweet="Get the best thing out there. Spoil it for me." — Stephen Perlstein username="screencrafting"]
Don't hide your spoilers. Broadcast it as wide as you can. If you want your podcast to get attention then don’t hide your narrative hooks, show the best stuff up front to hook listeners and potential buyers in. How do you think The Sixth Sense gained so much traction when it first released?
How to write a podcast that sells
Writing a podcast that sells is all about creating something you're passionate about. Build on a sustainable idea, find other passionate creators that can participate and enhance your project, and build a cult following of die-hard fans. If you can manage to do all that, all you have to do is get the word out by submitting to podcast writing competitions and contests. And who knows, maybe Hollywood will come knocking.
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