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The Story behind the Smart Author Podcast

By Mark Coker

The idea for the podcast came to me about four years before I launched this.  Ideas are nothing new to me.  They assault my imagination like the whispering voices of a mad man.  I've learned to control these gremlins by forcing them to simmer and stew in the back of my mind.  Most fade over time, but the voices of the special ones grow louder. 

This podcast is one of those ideas that wouldn't go away.

Back in June, 2015, podcaster Ani Alexander interviewed me for an episode about Smashwords that aired the following month.  We did the interview over Skype with her in Armenia or Bulgaria and me in Los Gatos.  At the end of the interview, we chatted about podcasting.  I confided I was considering doing my own but hadn't yet decided.  She encouraged me to jump in, and she shared links to an educational how-to guide that would later prove quite useful.  At the time, I was too busy with Smashwords and my crazy travel schedule to give the thought of the project much attention.

By the early summer of 2016, those uppity gremlins had grown louder.  I started reflecting on the dozens (hundreds?) of workshops I had presented around the world over the prior eight years.  I love meeting writers at these events and I've always enjoyed presenting my various workshops about ebook publishing best practices.  It's especially touching when I meet some of the same authors years later who tell me how I helped them realize their dream.  There's no greater satisfaction than that. 

I figured that all told, the combined audiences of these talks might have amounted to maybe 3,000 people.  That's a lot, but given there were so many writers who'd never have a chance to attend one of these workshops, I started wondering if I could record my material in audio form to share it with a broader audience.  Yet most of my in-person talks were done with PowerPoints, so I wasn't sure if they could work in audio.  But there had been several times when I showed up with my PowerPoint at a conference and there was no projector.  For those presentations I just talked them.  To my surprise, some of those talks worked better without slides.  I started doing more talks without PowerPoints.  The opportunity to do an audio-only podcast started to feel viable.

Over these years I presented several half-day and full-day e-publishing seminars at conferences and for writers groups.  If I could talk six or seven hours straight live at a conference, maybe I could carve out a day or two from my schedule to record six or seven podcast episodes?  The podcast idea started to sound more plausible.

In July of 2016, the voices in my head were screaming at me to stop thinking about it and just do it.  So I bit the bullet, pulled out the old resources Ani had emailed me, and spent the $200 or so for equipment I needed.  When the shiny microphone arrived, the project started to seem real. 

But I quickly learned that producing a podcast isn't as easy as talking into a microphone.  I had to learn the recording software, and how to position the microphone.  And I had to learn how to listen to myself talk, which I found jarring.   Okay, I thought to myself, this isn't going to take a day or two.  It might take a week.  Silly me! 

I also faced some unusual challenges.  I record from my home office where I contend with a crowing rooster in the backyard and two needy felines who purr loudly, snore loudly, barf loudly and insist upon fighting one another for precious real estate which in their minds are the spots closest to my lap or head.  The mic picked up everything.  Not to mention it's a bit distracting when your cat walks over your notes as you're recording.

By September of 2016, after laboring on this thing for three months, I had little to show for it.  I had licensed the theme music (yay!) and that was about it.  I recorded a rough trailer that held promise but needed to be re-recorded.  At this rate it was going to take me years to develop anything worthwhile.  I realized I needed more time and more focus.  With my other duties at Smashwords beckoning, I put the project aside until my schedule lightened up. 

Yet every day I wasn't working on it I found myself tormented by the lonely microphone hovering sadly in the air beside me from its telescoping shock mount arm.  Every day it was a reminder that this project I wanted to finish was going neglected.

In February 2017, another podcaster asked to interview me over Skype.  It was Tim Lewis of the Start Self-Publishing Podcast.  He's based out of the London area.  At the end of the interview, we had a long chat about podcasting, which I prompted.  I confided that I was working on one but it was taking longer than I expected.  Tim shared a lot of encouraging words and urged me to just do it.

By August 2017 I was ready to jump back in.  My travel schedule was light and with most of the Northern Hemisphere on summer vacation I could finally carve out more time.  Between August and September I managed to record the trailer and the first eight episodes, and by early October they were edited.   As I write this now, mere days before we launch the podcast in late October '17, I'd love to tweak the episodes more but at this point it's time to bite the bullet and set these gremlins free.

You might wonder, does the world really need another podcast focused on self-publishing?  It's a fair question. I think the answer is YES!

There are dozens of really great podcasts out there touching on various aspects of the same subjects I cover.  Yet I think Smart Author is needed.  It will help you get more out of what's already out there.

When I look at how the self-publishing industry has evolved since my founding of Smashwords in 2007 and our launch in 2008,  I think for first-time and intermediate authors, the options today feel 100 times more confusing than they felt to new authors a decade ago. 

It's a great time to be an author.  It's always a tough time.

There's too much information out there.  Too many options.  For new authors just getting started, I'm sure they feel like I feel when I go the grocery store to buy laundry detergent and I'm faced with 50 undifferentiated brands and hundreds of iterative offshoots of those brands.  It's paralyzing.  It's like having 200 ebook experts giving you 200 slightly different pieces of advice. How does anyone chose a path forward without feeling like you're playing Russian Roulette with your book's future?

At many of the conferences I go to, I'll attend sessions presented by well-intentioned experts who assume that because self-publishing has been around for decades that eveyone in the audience is ready to hear their spin on some advanced topic.  Yet these speakers end up talking right over the heads of most authors who don't yet understand the foundational basics. 

And then there are the speakers who pay to speak.  They have something to sell.  They have a vested interest in making self-publishing feel more complicated and more scary than it really is.  Don't let anyone dissuade you from pursuing your dreams.

I think one of the reasons the talks Smashwords presents at conferences are so well-received (Jim Azevedo, the marketing director here at Smashwords, is also a frequent speaker) is that our talks aren't sales pitches.  We don't pay to speak.  We're there to teach best practices.  We're there to show just just how fast, free and simple ebook publishing can be. 

If we're selling anything, it's best practices.  Best practices are what separate the amateurs from the professionals.  I figure if we can empower writers to think and act like professional publishers, they'll eventually find their own way to Smashwords if they want to reach their full potential.  In the meantime, what we share will help them become more successful today even if they're not yet working with us.  That makes us happy.

In all my presentations at conferences, I've always gone out of my way to make sure my audience is provided the foundational building blocks first.  As Smashwords employees can attest, one of my favorite words is "context."  I always assume my audience is super-intelligent, but I also assume that although they're an expert in some other career or occupation, they're at the conference to learn to grow their knowledge in publishing, whether they're a newbie, an intermediate or already an expert. 

Foundational knowledge gives context to everything else.  It helps everything else become brighter, easier and more meaningful.  It helps authors sprint in the direction of their dreams without distraction.

Foundational knowledge is built incrementally over the course of many layers, starting with the very basics and building higher to advanced topics.  If you skip any step, it undermines your ability to achieve your full potential.  Without the foundational knowledge, these new authors can fall victim to scams, or they may make poor decisions that derail an otherwise promising career.

Foundational doesn't mean novice.  Foundation means solid, reliable, and weigh-bearing.  Is what you build your career upon.

My vision for the Smart Author Podcast is to have it serve as a masterclass.  You'll learn the basics, but you'll also learn advanced best practices that most authors aren't yet implementing.  It's an e-publishing intensive that will help elevate writers of any experience level.  I'll try to empower every aspiring author, every bestselling author and every expert with the knowledge they need to publish smarter, better and with greater success. 

I focus on evergreen best practices.  These are the universal basics that will be just as important 10 years from now as they are today.   You won't find whiz-bang fads or gimmicks.  You won't find short cuts.  You won't find annoying ads or sales pitches.  I'll focus 100% on no-nonsense knowledge and advice.  If you're a writer with the interest and passion to soak up as much knowledge as possible, the Smart Author Podcast will prepare you to gain more from all the other podcasts and experts out there who are sharing great material too.  But if you listen only to this podcast and never another, I'll set you on the right path.  I'll give you the tools and knowledge.  You're the craftsperson.  You're the one who will build immaculate cathedrals with your words that only you can imagine.

The Smart Author Podcast won't go on forever.  Over the course of the next five weeks we'll release eight episodes, followed by more in December.  So after this first eight, maybe I'll do another 10 or so.  I don't know yet.  I have a core 12 or so already planned, and many others in the squabling gremlin stage.  To a great extent where I go next will depend on you. If you think I've ommitted important pieces of your foundation, let me know.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for your support.  Visit the official Smart Author Podcast page at Facebook and tell me what you want next, especially if you don't see it covered by the upcoming episodes listed here.



Co-producers:  Many creatures contributed to the audio soup that is the Smart Author Podcast.  Let's start with the furballs.  My cats Dizzy and Tucker insisted upon attending nearly every recording session.  If I locked them out of the room, they'd paw at the door and meow, all of which was picked up by the microphone.  I untimately reached a detente of sorts with the cats. I let them join me for each recording session.  I wait until they're asleep and allow their fury bodies to absorb echos in my makeshift studio (this is how I rationalized it, at least).  Ebooks are of little interest to cats, other than that ebooks tend to make their humans sit still for hours on end, thereby exposing warm laps for extended periods of time.  Are books a conspiracy perpetuated by cats?  Hmm..   Now the humans.  My wife Lesleyann makes a cameo with a creaking door at one point in the first eight episodes, and she deserves a production credit for putting up with the many hours I was lost to this project, the many months I talked about how I wanted to do it before I did it, and the many days where she volunteered to banish herself to her parent's house (thank you Joe and Maris) so she could avoid making additional appearances with the inevitable sounds one makes when you walk around the house.  Now the feathered fowl.  Romeo, my rooster was uncooperative on all counts.  He crows all hours of the day and night, so the best I could do was surround the windows with sound proofing foam.  If you listen carefully, you might catch the sound of Romeo, announcing how handsome he is and how he has the most beautiful wives.  That about sums up the vocabulary of a rooster's crow.

Artwork - A big thanks to Derek Murphy of CreativINDIE.  He designed the cover images for the show and templates from which I produced the custom graphics for each episode.  He gave me a lot of design options to choose from, and I probably chose the plainest of the bunch because I wanted to keep it super simple.  Derek is also the genius designer who turned the Indie Author Manifesto into an Infographic.  Keep an eye on Derek.  He's an indie author, an indie author advocate, and a super entrepreneurial uber creative artist and marketer who's making his mark on the indie author movement.  And to top it off he's a nice guy.  Thanks Derek!

Soundtrack - I licensed three bits of music, two of which I've used so far.  Each is a variation of the same theme which the artist, Valkristo, calls "Passion Exposion."  I used one for the introduction (called "Intro" in podcast speak) and the other for the ending (the "outtro").  I wanted something inspirational, epic and soaring.  When I first played it to Jim our marketing director and my wife Lesleyann, they both thought it was a bit over-the-top dramatic for my personality.  I think they laughed.  Hillariously.  At me.  I laughed too because people who know me sometime's think I can be frustratingly even keel.   But I like it.  I think what indie authors create is VERY dramatic so it fits.  I'm here to help unleash that potential.  At many times during the fits and starts of production, and at times when I questioned whether I should even continue this crazy production or shelve it altogether, this music got me rocking and made me want to keep going.  Here, without the modifications I imposed during the editing and post-production of the podcast, are the bits for our theme music in all their glory.  Enjoy.

All music licenced and provided by Valkristo/

Intro:  Passion Explosion 30 (Determined Big Strings Cinematic Epic) by Valkristo

Outro:  Passion Explosion 70 (Determined Big Strings Cinematic Epic) by Valkristo

I haven't used this piece yet, but you'll probably hear it make an appearance in the outro of a future episode:
Passion Explosion 45 by Valkristo