So You Want To Write For The Podcast

06 Feb So You Want To Write For The Podcast

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Good afternoon Sleepless! Welcome back to the new, twice-weekly-scheduled 2018 return of the NoSleep Blogcast. Going forward, we’ll be publishing two blog entries per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays (circumstances allowing) so be sure to check back on those days for the hottest NoSleep Podcast content direct into your eyeballs.

It’s an exciting, if bittersweet, time at the NSP HQ right now. Our intrepid tourers; David C, David A, Erika, Nichole, Jessica and Brandon are packing up their things, ready to leave us. The first tour date is on February 20th at the Aladdin Theater in Portland, so they gotta get ready, get their practising on, rehearse the scripts, and fine tune their scariest voices to give you NO SLEEP. So we’ll be bidding them farewell on this weekend’s show.

But who’s hosting in David’s stead, you ask? Well. I can’t divulge that yet, but let’s just say it’s someone who’s sure to give you many a sleepless night. I’m personally very excited to begin working with this person to produce a handful of home shows you’re never gonna forget. It’s up to us to keep things running smoothly while David and co are on tour, and aside from the occasional fire, flood and kaiju attack, I reckon we’re gonna do okay! My trusty butler Theobold has my back too, so I can’t see anything going wrong.

But moving on, there’s a serious topic I’d like y’all to sit down and discuss with me, and that topic is stories on the podcast.

As you know, a horror storytelling podcast would be nothing without its stories, and thus we accept submissions from any author who wants to try and scare us and our listeners. Since we’ve opened our public submissions page, we’ve discovered a whole bunch of fantastic authors who’ve made their debuts on the podcast, and it’s been super rewarding.

But! I’d like share some of my thoughts on things people should look out for and pay attention to if they wanna submit to our show! We get a lot of stories that we simply can’t consider for production, and a lot of the reasons why could be avoided, so hopefully this helps! A lot of it can be found on our submissions guidelines already, but I want to talk about some things that Gabby and I have noticed tend to get overlooked or misunderstood.

Firstly, this is an audio fiction podcast in which we do audio productions. This is a really, really important thing to consider when you’re submitting to us. It’s not a recorded reading; we act out our stories, put music to them, and include wonderful soundscapes created by our talented producers Jeff, Jesse, Phil and David. This means a few things.

Your story needs to have scope for interesting audio. If it’s just a person recounting a tale with no scope for sound effects, it’s likely not going to get accepted even if it’s a wonderful story. It needs to be something that takes advantage of the full scope of what we do. You don’t have to have dialogue, but it’s worth considering. A recent story, Dogs in the Drywall, had just one speaking role, but it worked wonderfully because the author had compensated for that by including some excellent soundscapes. We want the audio to tell the story, and that involves more than just someone talking. Go back through your story and ask yourself if it’s tailored to an audio production. If not, do some tweaking; chances are it can be! But it’s important to consider all this.

Since we’re an audio podcast, we have no accompanying images. This isn’t an issue for prose stories, but we get quite a few scripts that rely on visual cues. We simply cannot produce these. There’s no way to convey a lot of visual things in audio-only, and it’s your job as a writer to work it so this is possible. If you have things like descriptions of camera pans, descriptions of scenes that aren’t conveyed via dialogue or SFX etc, it’s not going to work. It’s really super imperative that you consider all this when you’re sending us something. Scripts previously written for TV or film can’t work for us. You have to adapt them for audio. If you’re not familiar with how we do the show, I highly recommend listening to a bunch of episodes before you submit to us. It’ll give you a great idea of what we do and how we do it.

On the subject of dialogue, the dialogue in your stories is going to be super emphasized when it’s recorded by a cast. This means it’s really important that the dialogue sounds believable and works when spoken aloud, as that’s exactly what’s going to happen. If you struggle with dialogue, try reading your dialogue aloud to yourself and acting it out. Is it how people talk? Would you believe it if you overheard it as a conversation? Spend some time reading and listening to stories which are dialogue-heavy and try and deconstruct them. Why/how do they work, how do people talk to one another and how does this differ from monologue, etc. We have a lot of dialogue-heavy stories on the show, so you can find everything you need on the podcast!

Third person stories. If you’re familiar with the show, you’ll know that we rarely produce these. Most third person stories simply don’t work that well in audio. While we will very occasionally make an exception, the story really does have to be exceptional and extremely well-suited to audio. If you want the best shot at getting on the podcast, a first person story or a script is your best bet. It really is incredibly rare that we’ll select a third person story.

We also don’t really accept second person stories. Second person just doesn’t really work in audio at all, and almost all the examples of second person we’ve ever produced aren’t really second person, but instead take the forms of things like letters to another named character etc. Your true second person story is almost certainly not going to be the exception, and while you might be sure it’ll work on the show, I can basically guarantee that we won’t agree. While we love originality and stories that come out of left field, we do stick to certain formulas, because they work. If you want your work to be on the show, the best thing you can do is try and follow our restrictions. You don’t need to try and reinvent the wheel, just write a fantastic, creepy horror story. People enjoy that about our show. They don’t really want experimental, wildly unique stories that turn what we do on its head. They want excellent genre horror, and so do we.

Moving on from the audio side, another really important thing is that you proofread your work before sending it to us. Pretty much every device has some form of spellcheck, so there’s no excuse for words like haeveere or blegraghrao or whatever to make their way into your submission. We’ll totally overlook the occasional mistake or typo, especially something spellcheck wouldn’t pick up on, we’re not going to be two harsh about it (see what I did there) but it’s honestly pretty disheartening when we get a submission that clearly hasn’t been proofread or spellchecked in any way whatsoever. You gotta take pride in your work, and respect the people you’re submitting to, it’s really important!

Speaking of taking pride in your work, we like it when authors display some confidence in what they’re sending us. There’s nothing more off putting than receiving an email that says ‘it’s not my best work’ or ‘I don’t think it’s a great story’. Our immediate question then is why are you sending it to us if you don’t think it’s good enough? You have to believe it’s worth submitting if you’re going to submit it. A lot of authors, especially new authors, struggle with confidence issues and I feel you, I’ve been there, and still am there on occasion, but you have to learn to have faith in yourself. If you’re really, genuinely unsure then submit it and let us decide if it’s good enough or not. Don’t begin by telling us it isn’t, it just looks like you don’t care, which I’m sure isn’t true!

On that subject, something new writers need to realize is that you don’t have to submit everything you write for publication. The first story you’ve ever completed is almost certainly not going to be good enough for publication yet, and that applies to almost every author out there. None of us had success with the first thing we did. We simply didn’t have the context or scope to fully understand and polish our work at that point. I’d always strongly advise people to complete at least a few stories before they start submitting to any commercial outlet. Even if you do end up deciding that your first story is publication-worthy, it’s handy to be sure, so don’t rush into it. This is more for you than for us; pinning all your hopes on the first thing you’ve ever done is almost always going to lead to disappointment, and you deserve better than to be put off because you’ve jumped the gun.

It’s possible to be overconfident too. The most common example we see of this is people second-guessing our submissions guidelines. If your email says something like ‘I know it’s not the kind of story you really do’ or ‘it doesn’t meet your submissions guidelines in X way’ then we are going to groan and likely reject it. I feel like we offer a very fair, wide scope when it comes to producing all sorts of different horror, so if you know your work falls outside of even that, it’s just not right for us. Our submissions guidelines exist for a reason, and you’re almost certainly not going to be the exception we break the rules for, because we have a formula that works really well. If you’re unfamiliar with what we do, then read the submissions guidelines thoroughly and listen to some free episodes of the podcast. But honestly, we’re not going to produce your 1,500 word sci-fi buddy comedy without horror elements. We’re really not, even if it’s amazingly good. That’s just not what we do. Sorry.

Another thing that seems to cause confusion is the word count. You’ll occasionally hear stories on the show that come in at under 2,500 words, but the submissions guidelines say 2,500? So which is it? Answer: The submissions guidelines are always right. We don’t get all our stories from submissions; we also work directly with certain authors, or find stories ourselves. Occasionally we need shorter stories to fill a slot, and we can usually source those ourselves. It’s not often we need a story of that length, so if we opened the submissions to shorter stories, we’d get a huge influx of them, which would make finding stories of the length we need even harder. While our show always fills a certain running time, more stories within that running time equals a lot more work, particularly for Gabby and I, Brandon and Phil/Jeff/Jesse/David, so we try to go with longer stories wherever possible. That said, if you’re a regular author on the show who’s in direct contact with us, you are welcome to occasionally send in shorter stories, I’d just recommend that you contact Gabby or I about them directly instead of sending them in via submissions, so we can let you know if/when we need it. For everyone else, please stick to 2,500+ words. Thanks!

Then there are other things like the format you submit in. We ask for .doc files or similar editable file types. This isn’t a preference, it’s absolutely mandatory. There isn’t a single story in the history of the show that we haven’t had to edit textually for audio production, because every single script or story needs to be marked up for the voice actors, their roles highlighted etc. If you send us in a non-editable PDF file, we simply can’t do that. Then we have to spend extra time sourcing a second version of the file after selecting it, and it’s just too time-consuming. Anything we can’t edit out the gate will be immediately rejected because we simply can’t work with it. You’ve all been great with not sending in PDFs after we emphasized it in the submissions guidelines, but always worth reminding new folk.

We also have a lot of stories to read. We get multiple submissions every single day, seven days a week. Sometimes it might take us well over a month to read your story. We’ve recently updated the submissions guidelines to ask people not to chase up stories, as we simply can’t manage to keep up with everything if the inbox gets flooded with queries. If you haven’t heard back from us and you want to do something else with your story in terms of publication or audio, that’s absolutely fine. We won’t reject a story because you’ve done something with it in the interim. We don’t ask for prior exclusivity, just a 3 month audio exclusivity starting from the date we accept a story. Anything you want to do with your work while you’re waiting to hear back from us is all good, and won’t affect anything. We reply to every single story submission, with the exception of those that don’t meet our submissions guidelines, and it’s up to you to make sure they do. In the past we’ve tried to communicate with literally everyone who submits even if they don’t meet the guidelines, but it’s just not possible these days with the amount of submissions we get. If your story meets the guidelines you will hear back from us eventually though, I promise, even if it’s a rejection.

On that subject, we’d also really appreciate it if authors would restrict correspondence with us about their work to our work emails. Our social medias are our personal accounts, and for example contacting us in the middle of the night via Twitter DMs can be tough to keep up with and a little awkward. Unless Gabby or I already have a relationship with you where we communicate on other platforms, it’s much easier for us to keep track of things if you contact us via email.

I know this is all very super serious and might come across as grouchy, but ultimately I want everyone to have a good shot at appearing on the show. We absolutely love hearing from new authors, and there’s nothing more rewarding to us than giving someone their commercial writing debut. Every week we discover fantastic new authors who we go on to have wonderful long-term relationships with, and following our submissions guidelines and understanding what we’re looking for is a big step towards achieving that. Editors don’t want to reject stories or tell you that you’re doing it wrong. It’s exciting for us whenever we get to say yes. Following this advice will make that all the more likely.

I hope this helps for anyone who’s either looking to submit, or who’s been rejected in the past. We’re always happy to hear from people whose stories we’ve previously turned down; send in something new and we’ll give it a fair shot. We do ask that you don’t resubmit previously rejected stories unless we specifically ask you to though, in which case we’d have contacted you about workshopping the story anyway. We have a fantastic story coming up that initially wasn’t right for the show and the author worked with us to make it ideal. We do offer a bit of leeway when it comes to that; we’re not going to reject a great story just cos there’s something not quite right with it.

Nothing makes me happier than being able to say yes, I’d love to run this story on the show. Being able to discover and showcase new horror talent is a big reason I took this job. Horror stories, and the authors behind them, are the linchpin of our podcast. Without you all, we wouldn’t have a show for our fantastic actors, producers and musician to work on, so we’re infinitely grateful to all the wonderful writers who work with us. And we’d really love to add you to our ranks! So take the plunge, read up on what we’re after, familiarize yourself with the show, and send something in. Our inbox awaits.

Remember: Our submissions guidelines can always be found here.