Can Podcasts be Real Novels?

September 23, 2010

A friend and I had a… how to put this… a disagreement about this very question the other day. He was of the opinion that since “Anyone with a mike can make a podcast,” they don’t count as “real” novels.

Naturally, this begs the question: what is a “real” novel? Is it a physical, bound book that has gone through the traditional publishing route?  Or, in the year 2010, can it mean something more?

The main issue that some people seem to have with podcast novels is that they are basically audio versions of Print on Demand. You don’t need an editor. You don’t need an agent. It’s true that, if you have a mike, you can put out a podcast and no one will stop you. Give my friend a point on that one. I could podcast The Super-Shiny Sword of S’therizyn’o-Dar: A Clichéd Fantasy by Arvik, and voila: a podcasted novel that would have died in excrutiating pain had I sent it out the traditional route.

Just one thing: people aren’t stupid.

Listeners can differentiate between what they like, and what they don’t. You see this in print novels too. Every year, countless first novels quietly slip beneath the waves without leaving so much as an oil slick on the surface. For whatever reason, they couldn’t capture an audience. I would imagine the same thing happens with novels of the podcast variety. If your novel isn’t very good, people aren’t going to read it, and they aren’t going to listen to it.

So think of some of the better-known podcasts out there. Tee Morris’s Morevi. JC Hutchins’ Seventh Son series. Chris Lester’s Metamor City. Philippa Ballantine’s Weather Child and Chasing the Bard. There are more, from the likes of Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, et. al, but for the sake of brevity, you get the point. These novels have attracted wide audiences. Yes, this is partly because of marketing and the viral nature of the podosphere. However, the fact that they are able to maintain those audiences tells me that there’s something of merit here. You can get people to listen to you once. The trick is getting them to come back.

Even more telling is the fact that several of these podcast novels have gone on to find homes with traditional publishers, and are now available in print (and not just POD, either). So are they real novels now, even though they started out as podcasts? Were they not real novels before?

They were always novels. Perhaps in a different format than we’re used to, but novels nevertheless. Yes, you can be seduced by the sound effects and voice actors. If you listen while running, the flow of endorphins may also have something to do with it. Yes, there are some podcast novels that I couldn’t finish, and some with poorer writing. That doesn’t detract from the good ones. There are bad print novels. That doesn’t mean all print novels are bad.

The thing is, we don’t really need to be up in arms over print vs. podcast, traditional vs. viral, old vs. new. The podcast novel is a new form of storytelling, no better or worse than the printed books we’ve had for centuries.  

See, form and content are closely related. I’m currently reading the print version of a podcast novel… and it reads differently than it sounds. If you’re writing a novel specifically for podcast, it may not translate to print as well. Different medium, different way to tell a story.

I don’t think the print novel will ever really die out. Not when too many people (myself included) love holding a physical book in their hands. However, if we have another way to tell our stories, why not use it? Podcasts aren’t an “instead of.” They’re an “as well as.”

And if it means more writers have a chance to get their words out, that’s fine by me.



One comment

  1. My loose definition of a novel is a lengthy story that takes several hours if not days to read or listen to. That said there are plenty of great stories out there and there are plenty of rotten ones. At least the ones that went through editing and publishing process have had someone read them and like them before inflicting them on the world. Those who use vanity presses must be able to compete.

    A good story will always be a good story, no matter how it is presented to the world.

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