When Angela Ledgerwood launched Lit Up, her popular podcast about books, writers, and all things literary, she already had a lot going for her. She had experience interviewing celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile figures for print through her day-job as a magazine writer, and she even had some broadcasting experience as a guest on the magazine’s radio show. But the better she became at conducting interviews, the more she came to regret how much of the texture and nuance of the recorded conversations was lost in print. She decided to take advantage of the magazine’s studio space in order to record her own podcast. By leveraging her background in books, as well as her contacts in writing and publishing, she found quick success.
Since she first launched Lit Up in 2015, much has changed. Podcasting has become enormously popular—not to mention increasingly professionalized and competitive—and Ledgerwood has kept pace by refining the voice of her show, continuing to book amazing guests, and paying close attention to what her listeners want to hear. Here, she shares 10 DIY tips for launching your own podcast (even if you don’t have access to a recording studio — which, surprisingly, can be more of a pro than a con!).
1Find Your Niche
Ledgerwood’s instinct when she launched Lit Up was that podcasts are a place for niche ideas and thoughts. She credits that instinct with helping her find an audience right away. When launching a podcast, Ledgerwood says that unless you are already an established public personality, being a generalist is not advisable. She encourages beginners to embrace subculture, which helps to connect with a dedicated audience. To keep her podcast on track, she gears each episode toward answering the same question for her listeners: Is the book good?
2Create A Distinct Brand
Ledgerwood says that while branding has never been her forté, she did make a personal commitment when launching the podcast to ensure quality: She would never book an author for the show unless she had personally read and loved their book. Other small touches, like labeling each episode as a “chapter,” and beginning each episode with same opening line—“I’m Angela Ledgerwood, and this is Lit Up, a podcast about books, writers, life, and love, and all things literary”—reinforce the show’s theme so that a first-time listener knows exactly what they are getting.
When Ledgerwood launched Lit Up, she followed a bit of advice she’d received from her former editor at the magazine: reach for the stars (literally). “Ask for the best people first, instead of going for the people that you think you can get,” she says. By heeding this advice, Ledgerwood booked high-profile guests for the first episodes of the show, leveraging those guests’ followings to garner outsized attention for the fledgling podcast. Plus, establishing a track record of booking big talent early on will only help you to get more dream guests later on.
4Consistency Is Key
Decide on an episode schedule that works for you, and stick to it. When Ledgerwood launched Lit Up, she posted one episode per week, every Tuesday, for almost two years—with occasional breaks. “For me, in the beginning, it was really important to be on a schedule. I thought, we’re introducing this show; how annoying is it [as a listener] when you’re ready for your show, and you can’t wait, and it’s not there?” Ultimately, the weekly schedule became too grueling—especially because Ledgerwood has always held another full-time job in addition to the podcast—so she is revising the show’s schedule when the podcast relaunches this spring. The new show schedule will comprise a 12-week series; one episode will go up every week at the same time for 12 weeks, followed by a scheduled break.
5Generate Word Of Mouth
Once you’ve launched your podcast, don’t be shy! Ledgerwood and her former co-host emailed everyone they knew in the book world when they first launched Lit Up to ensure that their first episodes would find listeners. Ledgerwood also encouraged her interview subjects to share their episode with their networks, which exponentially expanded the show’s reach. She also created dedicated social media accounts for Lit Up across multiple platforms. In addition to being a great publicity tool for the show, the social media accounts became an important way to communicate directly with listeners about future guests and episode schedules, and to share behind-the-scenes photos.
6Invest In High-Quality Sound Equipment
Though Ledgerwood had the great advantage of professional studio space when she first launched the podcast, she has since become more independent and adventurous. She recently purchased her own sound equipment from a hi-fi DJ equipment store, including a two-channel microphone, and she says that the show’s audio quality is better than ever. Now, she has the freedom to record wherever she wants, which has allowed her to record guests from hotel rooms while they are on tour, or anywhere she can find a quiet room.
7Listen To Your Listeners
Though podcasts lack the immediate feedback channel that other mediums have, it’s still important to engage with your audience and to seek their feedback. Listeners provide feedback by reviewing the show and engaging through social media, and some of that feedback can be quite constructive. “The number one thing for me was sound quality,” says Ledgerwood. Fans of the podcast told her that when listening to episodes while traveling by subway or plane, they’d often have trouble hearing the podcast through the ambient noise around them. “You want to have a range of volumes so people can really turn it up if they need to.”
8Be Prepared, But Also Be Present
Ledgerwood prepares for Lit Up by carefully reading the book of the author she is interviewing. While reading, she takes note of what stands out to her and what questions the book elicits. She also learns as much as she can about the guest’s biography, which includes reading previous interviews they have given. This has the added benefit of helping Ledgerwood discover what her subjects are commonly asked so that she can cover new ground. “I do find that you want to be a little unexpected,” she says, in order to make the interview memorable. Ledgerwood cautions that once the interview begins, all of that preparation should become secondary. “Prepare a lot, work out what you love and the big issues that you want to talk about, and then just listen.”
Projecting confidence isn’t only important to your listeners, it’s also important to your podcast guests. “If you look at it from [the guest’s] perspective, they want to walk into a room where the person who is interviewing them is in control and calm.” Ledgerwood has learned to take more authority in her interviews and to be less self-deprecating, though she notes that confidence is built through experience, over time.
Despite how intimidating podcasting can seem in the beginning, Ledgerwood highlights how easy and fun it is. She says that if you are a total beginner, you can start by recording practice episodes with a friend. Smartphones, laptops, and freely available software all allow for fairly high quality sound recording, so there’s no need for expensive sound equipment to get started. She also notes that the process of uploading a new podcast to a podcast player is a short and straightforward. Says Ledgerwood, “It’s a bummer when we don’t do things because we think there are all these obstacles or barriers in the way. Podcasting is one arena where there are so few barriers.”