Photo by Isaiah Rustad

An End to Gatekeepers in Audio Fiction

Only you, the creator, gets to decide what is or isn’t audio fiction. There is no collective hive-mind, authority or “well meaning professional” that gets this honour. And yet, so many people have come forward with stories of how they were told that their piece of fiction did not “qualify.”

Here is the Twitter rant that birthed this article. And a giant shout to the munificent James Cridland from PodNews for encouraging me to write the unabridged version.

I am done being silent as recognized people in our industry practice gate keeping under the guise of “being helpful”. If you, the artist, create in audio with kindness, you are welcome here. Full stop.

We have allowed a vocal few to shun so many nascent creators into silence or embarrassed reluctance to participate in meetups or cons. All from simply using a form of storytelling that someone didn’t find appropriate or having the gall to declare their live play a piece of audio fiction.

This is bullshit. If it’s audio and it’s fictional, then it is audio fiction. And you have just as much right to feel pride in what you have created as any other audio creator.

The final straw for me was when I saw it harming creators at PodCon2. Beautiful and talented artists were uncertain if they qualified to attend an audio drama event. Or they were afraid to pitch their show because it might not qualify as a piece of audio fiction.

This is a growing problem for our industry. It has permeated so many levels of our creator communities and individual psyches.

I’ve seen it in reviewer policies, award show criteria and who gets invited to events.

I don’t want to make anyone feel attacked, but our community is threatened. If we don’t address this now, this will tear us apart. This is the moment when we can retain the acceptance and freedom that enabled so many of us to get started in this medium.

The next wave of creators deserve the mandate to push and transform this medium. To feel excluded because of some ridiculous notion of “purity of form” is beyond ridiculous and dangerous.

Let’s overlook the insanity and toxicity that risks everything we hold dear for a moment. Let’s just examine the practice of policing what qualifies as an audio drama. Not one gate keeper I have met can provide a definition that doesn’t contradict some show they adore or have promoted. It’s insane and it basically comes down to “I’ll know it when I see it.”

One thing we can agree on, I hope, is that this gate keeping is causing immense harm to creators who deserve a chance to create their art and in their voice.

So, what can we do about this?

To start, I’d like to see us switch to using audio fiction instead of audio drama as a descriptor for what we do. There are too many opportunities for people to insert judgement into what qualifies as an audio drama. Audio fiction is much more straight forward and far less discriminatory.

If it’s fictional and we listen to it, then it is audio fiction.

Maybe we don’t like some forms of audio fiction. Cool. Maybe we only review select types of audio fiction. Also cool. But let’s be careful to not refer to the things we don’t like as not being audio fiction. This applies as much to me as it does to anyone reading this. We all require a moment to step back and look at what we say, write and promote to ensure we aren’t unknowingly complicit.

And as always, it comes down to the golden rule.

Let’s treat the people creating things, whether we like the work or not, with the kindness and respect they deserve. And let’s give them the damn title. They have just as much right to be here as we do. Perhaps even more so.

Oh. And I love you. Yes you. Don’t stop creating. And don’t allow anyone to tell you that your work “doesn’t qualify.” Your voice matters.


Sean Howard is the co-creator with Eli McIlveen of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and the GM behind The End of Time and Other Bothers. He can be reached via Twitter or email.