Scott Sigler Talks About Social Media, Podcast Books And The Future Of Publishing

Aug 22nd, 2008 | By | Category: Audio Podcasting, Featured Story, Making Money with Podcasts, Podcasting

Pioneering Podcast Novelist Scott SiglerScott Sigler, one of the first authors to publish his fiction exclusively as a serialized podcast, has more recently been one of the first podcasting authors to land a (paper) book publishing contract. His book Infected was released in the US in April, and was published in July in the UK.

In this exclusive interview, Scott talks about his experiences and shares his views on podcasting, social media and the future of book publishing.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: Lately, it seems like you’re all over the place. I heard you on National Public Radio, and saw you profiled in The Washington Post. Do you want to trumpet what it is you’ve done that gets you all this notoriety, if not infamy?

Scott Sigler: Sure, I give away my fiction novels as free podcasts, as serialized audio books, and that has resulted in enough listeners to get me a publishing deal with Crown Books. And Crown just released the hardcover of INFECTED, which is the first book in their five-book deal, and it just came out April 1st. And their media people have done a great job of pushing the podcast-to-print story, which has resulted in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, NPR– even got reviewed in Entertainment Weekly. So it’s just crazy.

On Pioneering the Podcast Novel

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: That’s exciting and fun, too, for your fans. You have an incredible, very active, very devoted fan base, and you’ve successfully pioneered the use of podcasting and new media to promote your work.

As far as I know, you were really the first author to start to really actively promote new work as downloadable, serialized podcasts. Was there anyone podcasting their books before you did?

Scott Sigler: There were three people who kind of came up with it at the same time. We didn’t know each other then, but we’re pretty good friends now, and that’s Tee Morris, who did a book called Morevi, Mark Jeffrey who did a book called The Pocket and the Pendant, and myself when I put out a book called EarthCore. And Morevi and The Pocket and the Pendant were already in print.

The unique angle for me was that the only place you could get the story was in the podcast. You could not peek at the end, you couldn’t get it, you just had to wait every week. And that got kind of a kind of core audience rolling along with it. And then I rolled into the next book, which was Ancestor, and then Infected, and then a couple more after that.

And it’s just- it’s really been growing since then. So that’s become the default model for me, to give it away as a podcast first and then to follow up with a print book.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: So you had enough of a dedicated fan following that Crown Books took notice of you. Was it a coincidence that the book came out on April Fool’s Day, or was that a special contrivance?

Scott Sigler: Well, I put out a book previously with a small indie press — the book was called Ancestor– put that out last year on April 1st. We picked April 1st because it was a good marketing day. If you asked anybody, “When’s St. Paddy’s Day, when’s Memorial Day?” you don’t really know, you have to look on a calendar. But for like, “When’s- what’s April 1st?” everybody knows it’s April Fools. So it sort of sticks in the head.

What we were trying to do was get people to go buy the book Ancestor all at the same time on Amazon.com, to kind of “game the charts” there. And we didn’t know that it was going to do as well as it did. It hit number seven overall on Amazon which really– that’s what showed the power of the social media community, that you could get a significant number of people to act at the same time, in a very coordinated, concerted effort.

And that’s what Crown saw: this small, independent book with no advertising, no publicity, no media coverage of any kind, zero dollars in marketing, hit number seven on Amazon, which is something that they can’t do 99% of the time. So that’s why they wound up signing me to the bigger deal, and from then on I just- we’ve kept April 1st. That’s the day my books are always going to come out, on April 1st, because now the fan base, “the junkies,” identify with that and it’s like a national holiday now.

Using Social Media To Build an Audience, and To Create and Promote Books

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: There was a lot of excitement, not just through your website but also through Twitter and other social media. You use a lot of different online media to mobilize people, and even to create characters for your books by soliciting input. Tell me about all the different social networking pieces that you use and how they fit together.

Scott Sigler: Well the biggest pieces are probably the social networking platforms; MySpace, Facebook and Bebo are the ones that I use, and Bebo should become more significant as my books start to be released in Europe in a couple of months. But right now it’s primarily Facebook and MySpace.

I do several promotional videos around the book, like book trailers, and those are up on the pages and so are the audio trailers for my books. So as soon as people stumble onto my page, they’re getting exposed to what the podcast sounds like, getting exposed to the story, they’ll see the video, and it makes it really easy for them to communicate and interact with me. All my handles [usernames] for all my social media stuff are up on my website. People can just reach out to me anytime they want, also via email and via other instant messaging.

What I’ve found is that this is not something that most authors do. People will read the work or find out about the work, be curious enough to ask the reader a question, even if it’s just “are you really out there listening?” And I reply to absolutely everything. Everything gets responded to; every instant message, every email, every tweet, everything. And that, combined with the social networking sites, makes such a strong connection with the readers. They really feel like someone actually took five minutes just to reply to them, and even if they only email once, it’s totally locking in fans for life.

It’s a really phenomenal thing. I think it’s just that in most of our entertainment culture, a fan can reach out to the stars of a TV show, or directors or authors, but they’re never going to get a reply back. But in our social media world, you can get a reply back. And when you get that reply, it means a lot.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: Well not only that, but you’ve actually actively solicited the participation and the input of the people who listen to you and read your books. We wrote an article at one time about “Scott Sigler wants to kill you.” It was amazing to see how people responded to that. Can you talk a little about that particular project?

Scott Sigler: Yes, it’s kind of a twofold thing; primarily it’s trying to keep track of my fans and be able to motivate them to go do whatever I need them to do. We have– ScottSigler.com is a full-blown social media site. There’s a wiki where the fans are listening. All the information on the characters in all the books? I don’t do anything with that. There’s chat rooms, there’s forums, and that’s where people really communicate a lot, and people who are signed up there and have their profile filled out are eligible to get killed in one of the books.

So when it’s time for another corpse to show up in a book, I’ll go into the website, find a profile of somebody who’s been having fun and being active in the community, and just put him in the book. We recently checked with Crown’s, my publisher’s, legal department, and we can keep using those names, because people have “opted in” on the site. So therefore, once you are picked as a corpse in a story, it’s going to go into print, and the fan’s name is going to be forever immortalized as yet another body in the long body count that is my books. So there’s that part of things, getting people to participate and spread the news, be on the site.

The other part is, when I first podcast these books, they are [only] about 90% finished; but for that last 10%, I tend to get a lot of feedback from the fans. I’ll find that certain characters were way more popular than I thought they would be. I have a huge amount of fact-checking that goes on among my podcast listeners. I put out the podcast episode, and then I’ve got cops, firemen, military people, doctors, scientists. All these people will start emailing me about anything I got wrong.

It winds up letting me kind of market-test the book in a way, see what plot points and characters are really resonating, and maybe blow them up a little bit more. And it also helps me get a lot of my facts straight. I write hard science thrillers. There’s only so much that I can actually know, because my primary focus is the story, and then that gets out to fans who really know all this stuff. They correct me when I’m wrong.

Drawing on the Skills of 30,000 Experts

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: Unlike Michael Crichton, you don’t spend the first third of the book trying to really tell me about virus theory and things like that; for which I really I say thank you.

Scott Sigler: Yes, I’m very much into the science side of things and all my plots are heavily grounded in science. And the basic concept of a Sigler book is, when you read it, you could say to yourself, “I could see this happening.” You know it’s fiction, but you could see– it’s not like a ghost story or vampires or werewolves where it’s more supernatural.

But at the same time I’m not a professional scientist. I don’t bury myself in the journals and I don’t profess to know all these things. So the science functions for the story and provides the foundation and makes it more realistic, and then I tap on a lot of fans to go out for the more hardcore science stuff.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: Do you have a formal science background, or is it just a lifelong passion? How do you marry your fiction with your fact in your books?

Scott Sigler: Well it’s more of a lifelong passion. I almost went into Biology. But I’ve taken English at Washington State where I was [inaudible]. So I went into Journalism instead. So really it’s mostly been that I watch all the science shows, I read a lot of science magazines. Most of the time that just gives me ideas for stories. I’ll see something on genetics, and in my imagination I’ll combine that with something on evolutionary theory, and something on population behavior, and how all three of these things could go together. I’m like, “ooh, that would be really cool.” So I kind of take the popular science stuff that’s out there that you’ve probably already heard of, put it together in a unique way. Then I’ll go back and I’ll fact-check everything with actual scientists who will either tell me that would work, or that it’s crazy, you’re going to have to change that.

“I wouldn’t have a publishing deal if it wasn’t for podcasting.”

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: So tell me about the podcasting angle of this. Has podcasting, do you think, enabled you to do things that you otherwise might not have been able to do?

Scott Sigler: Yes, absolutely. I mean, (a) for all of the fact-checking information, that I said earlier, there’s no way I could have 30,000 people checking my story for me, to make sure there’s no errors. That’s the first thing.

And (b) the second thing is, I wouldn’t have a publishing deal if it wasn’t for podcasting.

I was doing this for 12 years before I started podcasting. I had well over 100 rejections. Because my stuff’s a combination of suspense, thriller, horror and hard science fiction, none of the publishers would touch it. They didn’t know what shelf to put it on, what category to put it in. That was the line I kept getting, they didn’t know how to sell it.

So when I started podcasting, it built up an audience; it also showed that audience would actually go out and buy print books. That enabled me to get to the point I’m at now, which is being a “majorly featured” hardcover, at the front of bookstores and all this crazy stuff, in airports even. It wouldn’t have happened without podcasting.

On The Future of Publishing

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: How do you see podcasting as one of a lot of media fitting into publishing overall, book publishing in particular?

Scott Sigler: Well, I think book publishing is heading for a very serious change. You go back to the heyday of publishing which was maybe 20, 25 years ago, when you had three channels on TV, four if you count PBS; you had no Internet, you had no videogames. All of these new entertainment options are being put in front of the customer. That’s why readership could be down: there’s just better options available for some people. So publishing needs to learn how to compete with that…. well, maybe not compete with it, but somehow merge with it and embrace it.

So a lot of what’s coming is the kind of things like I and the other podcast novelists are doing, or the people over at Podiobooks.com are doing, which is just give it away. Give the audience a chance to get to know you as a content creator, and as a performer, and know whether they like your stories. Then, once the audience develops that relationship and that affinity for you, then they’ll go out and buy your books, knowing that it’s going to be money well spent. They know what they’re going to get. So you’re allowing people to try it before you buy it.

And the other thing that’s really going to come into play heavily is story extensions and expansions. You’ve got your core story, which will be in the hardcover book. You’ll probably be having to give that away as a podcast, just to compete. But then there’s a lot of other things you can do. You can do the “back story” of your characters. You can do all kinds of background information. You can combine the extra podcast content with wiki content, with links to websites. The book sort of becomes the “gem in the tiara of entertainment,” if you will, instead of just the whole crown all by itself.

Defining Success: “You don’t even need a print book at all”

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: That was kind of going to be my next question. Do you think that publication of an actual paper book is the be-all, end-all piece, or could you define fiction podcasting success without an actual printed book?

Scott Sigler: Yes, you can definitely be successful at it without a printed book.

Here’s an example: Right now I’m hosted on PodShow, and PodShow is generating some advertising revenue for me. So for 2007, I made more in advertising revenue. And I think it’s somewhere like 90% of the advances that are paid to authors, those authors usually never earn out the advance. You’ve got to keep in mind that the vast majority of books published don’t sell for crap. So somebody might get a $5000 advance, which is great. But that’s the only money they’re going to see from the book for five or six years, until the publisher makes that back.

So right off the bat, the advertising revenue that PodShow is bringing me is more financially lucrative than a print deal for 90% of the people writing a book. That’s the hard reality of what’s going on. So the potential to make it the focal point– and if you measure your success in dollars, then yes, definitely there.

And a lot of people who don’t have the book deal aren’t necessarily pursuing it, either, because their enjoyment is creating the book and interacting with the audience. And as podcasting becomes more of a supporting mechanism for videogames, for movies, for TV shows, when you’re doing original stories in there, then yes, that can be the whole thing. You don’t even need a print book at all.

But I don’t really see it as one or the other. I see writers going forward with the idea that it’s the author’s job to put the content out in as many forms as possible– print book, e-book, podcast, even putting the text on the blog, into email, whatever the customer wants– then let the customer come find you and get it that way.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: So do you think your experience, which really by all accounts is extraordinary, is that something that you think others can repeat?

Scott Sigler: Oh yes, I think I’m just the tip of the iceberg. The success I’ve had has been a combination of right place, right time, a combination of really strong storytelling and being a good writer, and having a marketing background.

A lot of what I’ve done has just been instinctively knowing how to capitalize on things to get more ears listening to my podcast, knowing that it’s a numbers game. The more people I get to come listen, who listen for free, a certain percentage of them I’m going to lock in as fans; so it’s just a matter of getting it out in front of as many people as possible.

But now we’re starting to institutionalize the processes a little bit. When I started out, there was no Podiobooks.com. Now, somebody can put their book on Podiobooks.com, and potentially have 40,000 listeners the next day. So it’s a whole different ballgame that’s going on. So, absolutely, other people are going to be able to repeat the success I’ve had.

I think the next “big thing” to come out of podcasting will probably be some 18 or 19-year-old author, because they will have grown up with social media. They’re so intuitively connected to social media, that when the audience, who’s primarily of that age group, finds out that one of their own is doing something like this, I think that person is going to have huge success.

So I’ll probably be– I’ll be dwarfed in a couple of years, I’m guessing, but for right now– I’m the fair-haired child now but it won’t last, somebody else will do it.

Elisabeth: And then you’ll be the venerated father of the medium.

Scott Sigler: Yes!

Encouragement and Advice For Writers and Podcasters

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: So what’s your routine for writing? Do you make yourself sit down every day in the midst of book tours? How do you knock out a book in just four months?

Scott Sigler: I don’t know yet because I’ve never done it. It usually takes me two years to write a book. So I’m a bit under the gun now. My wife and I have, we’ve gotten together and worked out a schedule, a plan. I’ll be writing five or six hours a day, every day, for the next 2 months to get through the first draft. And hopefully that’ll go okay. It remains to be seen. And yes, but it’s just right now it’s a combination of factory line, assembly line, this has to get done, and trying to combine that with making cool stuff that my fans, some expected and some things they won’t expect so they’re surprised.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: What would advice or encouragement would you give to aspiring writers and podcasters?

Scott Sigler: Well, for writers the main thing is the story is the boss, and [your] two bosses are the story and the fan base. So lose your ego and make sure you’ve rewritten the book a few times. There’s a few people who are podcasting first draft stuff. For some formats that works out okay, but I think for most people, you’ve got to make sure the book is good.

I get a lot of emails from people asking, like, “I’m halfway through my book, should I start podcasting?” No, finish your book, revise your book, get it edited. Come to the market with the best product that you can bring to bear. And then when you do publish it, make sure you consistently put the whole book out. Work with the people at Podiobooks.com. They have a full FAQ on what you need to do to put out a fiction novel. They’re awesome, they’ll take care of everything you need, and that’s all totally free.

And in general for podcasting, oddly enough, [my advice is] consistency. The more frequent– if you podcast every week, then at the end of three years, if you’ve done it every week, you’re going to have a sizable audience. The people who lose audience podcast once, skip a month, come back, podcast two more times.

The audience depends on your consistency, just like they watch their weekly shows on TV or they get their daily newspaper. The quality of content is entirely subjective. There are shows I listen to that I think are just horrible, but that have huge audiences. There are shows I listen to that are phenomenal, and no one’s listening to them. It’s all up to the marketplace. Just put out what you want to put out and just do it consistently.

Siglermania, Big Boy Numbers, and Some Final Words

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: I want to hear a rundown of all the stuff that’s going on for you now and all the stuff that’s coming up next. If you look at ScottSigler.com, there are several different serialized books that you’re juggling episodes of. There’s the new hardcover book– and a book tour. You’ve got a blog on AMC writing about scary movies.

So run down the brag list of what you have going on right now.

Scott Sigler: Well the primary thing is Infected coming out in hardcover as a featured title. So that came out April 1st.

We’re also giving Infected away as a free podcast, the whole thing, unabridged, at ScottSigler.com. And we’re five episodes in [in mid-April 2008] and that’ll continue for about another two or three months, depending on how long it lasts.

We just did a book tour to support Infected, which took me to Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and then finishing up in Houston. And Houston, by the way, was a location selected, voted on, by the fans at ScottSigler.com, and we had 75 people there.

Elisabeth: And you had a guy that came all the way from Minnesota to Texas.

Scott Sigler: He flew in, he flew in from Minnesota.

Elisabeth: Which is, it’s a hell of a long trip for a book-signing.

Scott Sigler: Yes, it was pretty crazy. He flew in, and a lot of people drove four and five hours to come to that Houston thing, which was very humbling. So the book tour was a huge thing. We averaged 50 people a bookstore.

We sold an average of 45 books which, from what my publisher tells me, is “big boy numbers,” that’s really strong. For even an established author that’s really strong. For somebody new like me it’s ridiculous. And that’s from the involvement and support from all from the community.

So we’re finished up with that now and then we’re also in the middle of a book called Nocturnal, which is the next book that I’ll have out with Crown on April 1st, 2010. So giving that away as a podcast.

We’re blogging at AMCTV.com. There’s a couple of different blogs going on at ScottSigler.com, including Sigler Science, which is wherever anything pops up that even remotely reflects anything I’ve written about, I take full responsibility for it. I claim everyone in science is ripping me off and I put it on the blog. So that’s a lot of fun. There’s all those things, and then potentially working on a videogame deal to write for somebody else’s videogame, hopefully in the next year. We’ll see how that turns out soon.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: And isn’t there also a movie?

Scott Sigler: Oh, yeah, and Infected has also been optioned by Rogue Pictures, who are the makers of Shaun of the Dead and Doomsday, and they’re actively trying to get that turned into a movie right now. So that’s about a 50/50 shot, which is really strong. When your book is optioned for a movie, to have a 50/50 shot is about as good as it gets. So there’s all that.

And then right now, I have four months to write the sequel to Infected, on top of doing all that other stuff. And the sequel is called Contagious.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: Any other parting words that I need to tack in here?

Scott Sigler: Just that Infected is available in hardcover. It’s in pretty much every bookstore in America now, and in the U.K.; including England, Australia, New Zealand. It’s coming out in Russia, Bulgaria and Japan and Denmark by the end of the year.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: Shall we lobby Crown to send you on a book tour in Europe and Australia?

Scott Sigler: Yes, that’s what I’m working on right now, is trying to figure out how to [convince] my publisher to send me to Europe to support the book.

Elisabeth McLaury Lewin: Thank you very much, Scott.

Scott Sigler: Thank you.

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4 Responses to “Scott Sigler Talks About Social Media, Podcast Books And The Future Of Publishing”

  1. Mikel O.D. says:

    Great inspiring interview from an awsome guy.

  2. Basil Sands says:

    Excellent interview Scott! Great to witness the new revolution in storytelling.

    I’ll be joining you soon. ;-)

  3. Pjotr NL says:

    Great interview. I loved it. especially the fact that Nocturnal will be in print in 2010

  4. [...] taken from Podcasting News interview with Scott that seems to have happened some time ago, but only now has been [...]

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