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The Writer’s Guide to Being a Great Podcast Guest

More writers than ever are appearing on or even hosting podcasts related to their writing. Host of the "Creative Nonfiction Podcast" Brendan O'Meara shares how to make it an enjoyable and successful experience.

Listen. We all acknowledge the requisite tools a writer needs: pens/pencils, a computer, notebooks, journals, coffee, tea, self-loathing. But there’s something else you desperately need: a good microphone.

You might not produce your own podcast. Nor should you feel you have to because they’re all the rage. But, odds are, as a writer looking to sell books and promote how you go about the work, you will no doubt be a guest on several podcasts, and nothing takes a listener out of the experience than bad audio.

Podcasting Tips | Brendan O'Meara

Brad Listi, host of “Otherppl,” says as much: “It’s probably to your advantage to have a microphone so that you can present yourself more professionally. A mic will deliver a more radio-quality experience and will impact how many people stay with the conversation and how it ages as it continues to exist online.”

Some people might argue if the content of the conversation is good enough, then the audio won’t matter. I don’t care if you’re George Saunders. If your audio isn’t at least mildly polished, I’m moving on.

As your podcast dad, I’m going to give you some tips so you sound really good. And when you sound really good, your insights and brilliance shine through, not your ponytail scratching on your earbuds mic.

What follows will be a list of best practices (and some gear) that’ll make you sound as warm as possible in your home studio.

So, turn off those email notifications, put your phone on airplane mode, and switch off the air conditioner; you’re going to be on a podcast.

Much Ado About Microphones

People fret about tech, and there’s good reason: It can be intimidating.

Do you use your laptop microphone? (Please don’t.) Or do you drop $399 for a top-of-the-line Shure SM7B? (Well, look at you!) If you’re a writer whose only goal is to be a great podcast guest, then something in the ballpark of $70–$100 is perfect.

The Audio-Technica AT2005USB is $79. You can’t beat that. Also, be sure to wear headphones.

Mic Awareness

No matter the microphone, we need to talk about how you talk.

Don’t: Eat on mic (ew), drink on mic, laugh like a hyena on mic (Turn away, friend).

“If you eat anything on the microphone and I hear it in my headset, I’m probably going to hang up,” Listi said. “Nobody needs to hear that?”

Keep your distance and watch your “plosives” or “p-pops,” which are hard “P” sounds that blow out or “clip” the audio. Get a pop filter or a foam cover for your mic to cut down on “hot” sound. Create some distance between your mouth and the mic. Four to five inches away from the mic is good.

Shrink and Soften the Room

So, you have a decent microphone. Now what? Shrink and soften the room.

There’s no better time to put a little chair in your bedroom closet and set up shop. Not only are the textiles going to absorb the ambient echo in the room, but also the small size of the room will create a warmer tone than if you’re recording in an open-air office. I’ve had conversations with people who have decent microphones, and it still sounds like they’re talking in a shipping container.

Soften surfaces. Record in a carpeted room with curtains. I have dozens of foam panels on my walls, cheap rugs on the floor and I hang moving blankets behind me to create more of a “booth.”

Why go to all this trouble? If the audio is warm, the listener won’t be distracted. They might even start to like you. And people who like you will likely buy your book, subscribe to your newsletter, or send you incredible Twitter GIFs.

When Ira Glass of “This American Life” had to quarantine during the pandemic, he literally set up shop in his apartment closet. If Glass can, what excuse do you have? Stay with us …

How to Be a Good Hang

Now that your tech is spot-on, what can you do to be a good guest? A good hang? Someone the listener would love to grab a beer with or a coffee with?

Research the shows you want to be on. And by research, don’t merely read the descriptions; listen to the show! What is the host most interested in talking about? What’s the tone of the show? Is it loose? Is it buttoned up? How does the host interview? Are they long winded blowhards, or do they quickly ask questions to give you, the guest, more airtime?

Joanna Penn has hosted “The Creative Penn Podcast” since 2009 (!) and she says, “If someone comes on my podcast and they have absolutely no clue what the audience is or who I am, then it comes over to my audience and they look like a jerk. If someone doesn’t research me, that annoys me.”

Michael La Ronn of AuthorLevelUp.com and frequent podcast guest advises you to help the host out: “Minimize the interviewer’s effort as much as possible. They’re probably interviewing people every week and may not have adequate prep time for your chat. I send them a media kit, which provides high- and low-resolution copies of my author headshot, a concise introduction to me, and high-resolution images of some of my most popular book covers. It saves the interviewer time.”

Save everyone a lot of time by listening to a few episodes to get a sense of the show. “WTF”’s Marc Maron is different than “Design Matters’” Debbie Millman.

And Have Fun …

Be a human!

“Don’t be a robot,” Penn says. “Share some personal stories, even if they’re not in your book.”

I like to tell guests the experience is two writers talking shop over a coffee or, preferably, a Kraken Stash IPA at Hop Valley. Sure, we’ll talk about your work in great detail, but if I can shine the light on your brilliance, your sense of humor, your bright light, then people will be more willing to buy your book and be a true fan.

We can dig into the nuances of writing and structure, but if I can unpack the debilitating self-doubt you felt around word 44,000, the people in the audience will think, “Oh, I don’t feel so alone.”

When the sound is dialed in, when you’ve turned off your computer notifications, put your cell phone in airplane mode, and secured your internet connection (La Ronn had an electrician install Ethernet ports to cut down on lag!) it might allow for something special to happen, like when Listi says, “a bridging of the divide between my consciousness and the consciousness of whoever’s talking. It works on me in the same way that a good book works on me, in that it creates a kind of mind meld and alleviates loneliness.”

Being on podcasts also is about being part of a larger community, one where we eschew our petty jealousies and resentments and competitive natures to sit with the sound of a writer making work. And that’s what we want, and so much of it depends on how a guest comes across as part of the overall package, which includes the sound.

If we spend that hour with you and love you on a podcast, then we’ll spend the next 10 hours reading your book and be starving for the next one.

[This article previously appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.]

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