Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Podcast spotlight: Astrid Edwards on The Garret

Established in 2016, The Garret is an Australian podcast ‘celebrating the best writers writing today’ across a variety of genres. Each episode features interviews with writers on the craft of writing: from getting started through to polishing and marketing your work. ‘We avoid focusing on specific books to ensure that our interviews are evergreen, meaning they will be as relevant to an emerging writer in 2020 as they are today,’ says executive producer Astrid Edwards. She spoke to Books+Publishing for the first instalment of our ‘podcast spotlight’ series focusing on literary and bookish podcasts.

For new or uninitiated listeners, describe your podcast in under 50 words.

The Garret is a podcast by writers, for writers, about writing. Each week, we release a new interview with a prominent writer who has reached the top of their field. We also release bonus interviews with leading industry figures including publishers, editors and book reviewers.

What makes your podcast unique?

We collaborate with established literary organisations. We have partnerships with the State Library of Victoria, the Australian Society of Authors, Writers Victoria and Swinburne University.

We publish transcripts and show notes alongside every episode. We do this for two reasons. Firstly, our audience loves the written word. We track the page hits on each transcript and, while this is not an exact science, we estimate that for every two listens through the Apple Podcasts platform another one person reads our interviews. I am on the board of Writers Victoria and am committed to making sure The Garret is accessible.

We insist on radio-quality audio. We would rather miss an opportunity to record an interview than record one with poor sound quality. Our audience’s time is valuable, and we aren’t going to waste it with something that doesn’t sound as good as it would on commercial radio.

When and how did you get started?

I teach professional writing at RMIT University and Nic [Brasch, the podcast’s host] teaches at Swinburne University. Over happy hour at the Moat (the brilliant literary café below the Wheeler Centre), we lamented the paucity of audio teaching resources on contemporary Australian writers. We eventually had that conversation so many times that we decided to create them ourselves.

We had the original idea in late 2015, although it took a year and a lot of mistakes before we launched in November 2016. We remain profoundly grateful for the writers who joined us in our first season. John Marsden, Kerry Greenwood, Andrew Rule, Toni Jordan, Graeme Simsion, Alec Patric, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, you have our thanks.

We then released three seasons in 2017, although we found ourselves overwhelmed with approaches from writers. So, in January 2018 we moved to a weekly release schedule … and we still find ourselves with interviews recorded three months in advance!

Where and how is your podcast recorded/produced?

We record at the State Library of Victoria. This lets us control the sound quality, which is important to us. It is also a venue that writers love to attend.

There are three of us present for every episode: our host, our audio technician and myself. Every episode is recorded, edited, transcribed and released. As producer, I have final say on everything that goes public.

What audience of listeners do you reach?

We are a niche podcast, determined to provide quality content for our audience: emerging writers. But our content is also a natural fit for writing teachers and students and, in 2018, we are partnering with the Copyright Agency’s Reading Australia to develop teaching notes for our interviews with writers who appear on Australian secondary school curricula. And of course, we attract fans of individual writers as well.

What have been your most popular guests or episodes?

The interviews with Hannah Kent, Tom Keneally and Christos Tsiolkas have been ratings standouts, as was the discussion between Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff on their writing partnership. I’m also impressed with the way our 2017 Miles Franklin shortlist episode—where we interviewed all five shortlisted authors and published the episode within 24 hours—continues to attract downloads.

Listen to an excerpt of Hannah Kent discussing her writing routine, and how to get a head start as a writer.

What recent trends have you noticed in podcasting?

Podcasting is a new industry (if no longer a new technology), and a dynamic and collegiate network is emerging in Australia. The first national podcast awards were held in 2017 (The Garret was shortlisted in the Arts category), and they will be held again in 2018. The ABC is also driving OzPod, a national annual podcast conference.

More people are discovering the joy of podcasts as listeners, and a surprising number of people are starting their own. Both trends are great for the industry. Although I do worry some people don’t understand the effort and commitment required to create a viable podcast … it’s easy to start one, after all, but hard to keep going. There are quite a few podcasts that peter out after a few episodes.

I suspect that is because there are two unresolved questions in podcasting: discoverability and monetisation. Or in other words, how do you find and grow your audience? And how to you finance the creation of great content?

But as I said before, the industry is dynamic. I was thrilled to see Kill Your Darlings announce they will critique podcasts in 2018. Talking about podcasts—in the way we talk abut books or movies—is one step towards maturing the industry.

Where do you see podcasts as a format going in the future?

I’m involved with four other podcasts at media production company Bad Producer Productions, all of which take different approaches to creating content and engaging their audience. The format—or rather, industry—is wide open. There is no limit to where podcasts can go, and already there are some stunning examples of innovation in the industry.

Take Tony Martin’s Childproof, for example. Tony wrote a TV sitcom about people who are child-free by choice, which was rejected for being too niche. So he—and some of Melbourne’s best actors and comedians—performed it live at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival and released it as a podcast, which debuted at number two on the Australian iTunes charts and stayed at or near the top spot in the Comedy category for its entire season. Now imagine if he had turned that into a book, and not a podcast?

Do you run ads, or otherwise have any other form of funding?

We received a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts in 2017, as well as specific funding for educational notes from the Copyright Agency (via Reading Australia).

We have never run ads in any form on the podcast or website. We have ambitious plans, and we are considering advertising, but only if—and when—we find the right partner (and it may be that we never do). We have no intention of diminishing the experience of our audience.

What plans do you have for your podcast going forward?

We are expanding. In 2018, we have started reviewing new Australian fiction and nonfiction, and we are partnering with Writers Victoria to run writing masterclasses. We’ve also expanded our partnership with the State Library of Victoria to deliver a series of live podcasts called ‘The Garret LIVE at the Library’.

One of our (many) goals is to interview all the winners of the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the Stella Prize. With more than 40 interviews already released (and at least 80 by the end of 2018), we like to think we have made a dent in what is an impressively long list of great Australian writing talent.

What other bookish podcasts do you listen to, Australian or otherwise?

I dip in and out of lots of podcasts, as I enjoy the freedom to learn about anything and everything. I always feel vindicated when I come across a bookish interview in a non-book related podcast. The interview with Gretchen Rubin on The Tim Ferriss Show (definitely not your normal bookish podcast) on the power of young adult literature is a standout.

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Category: Features