“Producing doesn’t stop at the sound quality. Make sure you create a brand for yourself so it’s recognizable. Try to use the same fonts and colors in your marketing and create a media kit for yourself with stats and information about the show.”
As part of my series of interviews about “5 things you need to know to create a “binge-able” podcast”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Grunenwald and Adam Sockel from the Professional Book Nerds podcast. Each week, they interview authors and provide book recommendations based on trending topics, new releases, holidays and more. They’re proud book nerds who work for Rakuten OverDrive.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about why or how you got started as a podcaster?
Adam: We both work at Rakuten OverDrive, promoting literacy and reading with libraries and schools around the globe. Our office is full of librarians, teachers and just general lovers of reading. This means that at any given time, when you walk around the campus, you’re assured to hear conversations about the latest titles being read. It’s honestly like working in a massive book club.
One day, Jill came up to me and said, “We should record these conversations and make a podcast.” It made perfect sense. Thanks to our relationships with publishers and our connections with thousands of libraries and millions of readers, we felt confident we’d be able to bring frequent guests on. Also, given how many readers we work with, we knew we’d never run out of topics.
Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started podcasting?
Jill: We formed a partnership with our local library system to interview authors when they come through for their book tours. It benefits the authors, as they are always trying to get greater value during these visits. The library does an incredible job bringing in big names and their main branch has an auditorium that seats 500 people.
Usually, we do our interviews prior to the events, but occasionally these authors prefer someone on stage asking them questions as opposed to being up there alone. The library asked if we’d be interested in “hosting” these events and so we of course said yes. We’ve been fortunate to interview people like Harlan Coben, Jodi Picoult and Lee Child in front of packed houses, but the craziest event was with Alan Cumming.
We’re both huge fans of Alan’s work and his writing and so we freaked out just a little bit. Before the show we were in the green room as he was signing all the books for attendees and we were just standing quietly in the corner. Normally, this is a time for us to form a rapport with the guests, but he was so busy that we didn’t want to interrupt. He finally looked at us being peak awkward and asked, “Do you have any questions or anything? Or you good in the corner?” We both laughed and said we didn’t want to be a distraction.
The event went great and we ended it with Alan taking a selfie of the three of us and our 500 new friends in the background. It’s our favorite photo ever.
Can you share a story about the biggest or funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Adam: We had a phone interview scheduled with an absolutely massive literary figure whose name shall remain unspoken because this is still to traumatic. We had a small window of time to speak with him and he was to call into our studio with a private number. His publicist didn’t give him the direct extension and so he got the receptionist (our studio is in our office). He said who he was calling for but omitted his name.
The phone we use showed that we were unavailable (because we set it up that way for this call) and so she sent him directly to the voicemail. He left us a message but didn’t leave his number for obvious reasons. His schedule is such that we haven’t had a chance to reconnect yet. We can laugh now, but in the moment, it was crushing.
The lesson? Make sure every potential touchpoint knows about an interview and always show yourself as available until the moment you’re on a call!
How long have you been podcasting and how many shows have you aired?
Jill: It will be four years this November and as of the end of June we’ll have 350 episodes.
What are the main takeaways or lessons you want your listeners to walk away with?
Jill: That reading is awesome! But also, we hope to help listeners discover books and authors they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. We work hard to make sure we’re bringing on authors from diverse cultural, social, and sexual backgrounds including not just bestsellers and big names, but also debut authors with important messages.
Adam: These conversations with authors mean so much to us and we appreciate them taking a moment to create a connection with us and our listeners. I hope people walk away not just with a book recommendation, but a better understanding of how stories can come from anywhere. Also, that libraries are amazing.
Can you share with our readers the five things you need to know to create an extremely successful podcast?
Podcaster Influencers, Jill Grunenwald and Adam Sockel of the Professional Book Nerds Podcast shares the best ways to:
Adam: Getting Great Guests: Use the connections you have and don’t be afraid to ask! When we first started, we had no business asking for big names, but we did anyway because the worst they could say was no. Through our company, we have contacts at every major publishing house and so we would research books coming out and who is doing publicity at the time and then email their publicists. Also, it’s important to use the assets you have available for promotion. Rakuten OverDrive has a large social following and newsletter list, so we made sure the podcast is linked often in those channels. The potential reach numbers got the publishers attention and we started getting pitched bigger names.
Jill: Increasing Listeners: Use social media! Anytime we interview an author we not only promote it, but we make sure to ask the publisher and the authors themselves to share it with their followers as well. Also, anytime we mention an author on an episode, we tag them to promote their books. This lets them discover us and share with their audiences. We also make sure to engage often with listeners on social media and answering book recommendation emails.
Jill: Professional Producing: Adam and I do all of our own research and editing, and this was a learning curve, admittedly. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you have a quiet space to record with some soundproofing, so the noise doesn’t bounce off the walls. Mics and headphones can be expensive but there are some extremely high-quality apps that you can use for recording that cost less then $10. Test out the space you plan to record on with the people you’re recording with by doing a few minutes of audio and then listen back to it to make sure it’s clear.
Producing doesn’t stop at the sound quality. Make sure you create a brand for yourself so it’s recognizable. Try to use the same fonts and colors in your marketing and create a media kit for yourself with stats and information about the show.
Adam: Encouraging Engagement: This is something I think we do fairly well. On social, we often ask very simple questions like, “What are you currently reading?” or, “What’s been your favorite book so far this year?” These take two seconds to send out, but they let people share their thoughts. We also will create recommended book lists using these and mention them on our show. We also ask our listeners if they have questions they’d like to ask upcoming authors and guests. If you’re able to build a community, engaging with them will only help it grow.
Jill: Monetizing: When you’ve grown an audience, look at the demographics of your followers on social media and send out a survey to ask questions about your listeners. This information will be vital to understanding who your listeners are and what interests them. Use that information to do research into finding appropriate sponsors. It takes a fair amount of leg work, but it pays off. Also, listen to other podcasts that are like yours and pay attention to who is sponsoring those and reach out to them. Knowing who your community is will help you better understand what ads will be right for them.
From your vantage point what are some of the reasons why a person should consider creating a podcast series?
Adam: Podcasts are wonderful because they let everyone have a voice. If you’re passionate about something, it’s a way to share your passion and connect with other people who may feel similar. It’s also a great way to get your expertise out in the world. Not every podcast can become LORE or Serial, but it can help you craft a voice and sharpen your verbal communication.
I feel we are lightyears ahead of where we were when we started in terms of interviewing skills and this has helped me think more critically about how I approach every conversation in my life.
Nowadays it seems as if everyone is trying to jump on the podcast bandwagon. Are there people to whom you would advise to avoid podcasting and instead focus on another medium?
Adam: I would say people who are shy conversationally. There is a difference between being a great communicator verbally and through the written word. Podcasting involves a fair amount of adlib and improv and you need to be able to comfortably “Yes, And”. This is something you can get better at as you go, of course, but if you find yourself not wanting to go in depth while discussing topics verbally, it might not be the best avenue for you.
Jill: Also, people who don’t like planning what they’re going to say ahead of time. This is important in the beginning, especially. Marc Maron can go into an interview with no previous knowledge or prep about a guest, but we are not all Marc Maron. If you don’t want to do prep work and think podcasting can just be a long-winded rant, you’ll likely find people turned off by that.
How has your position as a podcast host and a person of high authority, impacted your business, sales, and/or increased your opportunities? Can you share a story with us?
Adam: Our podcast is a part of our business and it’s greatly strengthened our partner relations with publishers and provided more content for our library partners. We had the idea a while back to make every author interview available to libraries for free in their digital collections. This means library users can “borrow” the episode and the library gets credit for the circulation and it introduces new people to the podcast.
What makes your podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes your podcast unique from the others in your category? What do you think is special about you as a host, your guests, or the content itself?
Adam: The authors we bring on each week are what makes it binge-able. They’re storytellers at heart and the way they convey these stories will likely make you think about the stories in your own life. Our biggest episodes tend to be our preview of the biggest books that will be released in the next month. A lot of book podcasts review books but not as many preview them, and this gets our listeners excited about being the first to discover a new, buzzy book.
Jill: At the end of the day, people can tell that we are extremely passionate about books and reading and I think that comes through in our interactions with each other and our guests. Also, we’ve been told our intro music is extremely catchy.
Where can our readers find you on Social Media?
Is there a specific high-value guest (obviously still living) that you would love to interview on your show, and why? He or she might just see this when we tag them!