Right, I've now spent a year and a half collecting all of the audio fiction debuts for my monthly release lists, and so I've seen a hell of a lot of show launches.
Some of them are done well. Some of them are done badly. Some of them I barely noticed. So I'd like to offer you a few suggestions on things you might want to consider if you're launching a new fiction podcast. You don't have to do all (and I admit there's plenty here that I didn't do), but it's probably helpful to do some.
I'll try and do this in a sensible chronological order, with any single item before anything it's dependent on, but feel free to jump around based on your own production requirements. I'm only going to briefly touch on some items. This isn't a "how to make an audio drama" post.
Decide whether it's going to be a solo show, or if you're going to do a team. You can make a show entirely on your own if you like, or you can build a cast of 100s (probably at different costs). If it's just you, no need to worry about getting people in. If you want a team, you need something you can tell them about.
If you're recruiting a team of writers, you either know what you're doing a lot more than I am, or you're potentially working with existing contacts. At that level, you just need a brief you can all work to.
Output - brief
If you're writing it yourself, I recommend getting a decent amount of the script completed before you talk to anyone about joining you in any non-writing tasks. Get feedback, but start building the idea of what you want in your head. And you're going to need something people can audition against. This might be an entire first season, or half a dozen episodes. Up to you.
Output - script
At this point, I recommend you find a title and stick with it. If you've written several episodes worth of script, you've hopefully come up with some ideas for what you might call it. There's a few hints I can offer on titles.
Let's pretend we're making a new show, and we're going to call it "The Cat Detective". First, we google it. We discover that there is no podcast called The Cat Detective, so we're safe from direct conflicts. The show can be uniquely identified. However, there is a show called "The Lost Cat". We're probably safe there, but it's worth considering if your own title is in a crowded field. For a specific example, last year had the following shows:
Compare those with "If you're listening, it's too late", another show about cryptids. That one stands out a little more, even if it doesn't immediately shout Cryptid at you.
As well as the specific case of how close your title is to other titles of similar shows, you might want to consider how original it is in general. Some words are frequently used in audio fiction titles. Maybe you want to avoid some of these to sound a bit different.
To give you a flavour of that, the most used (>4) words in 2019 show titles were:
18 - Podcast
16 - Tales
9 - Radio
8 - Adventures
8 - Stories
7 - Chronicles
7 - Audio
7 - Story
7 - Night
6 - Horror
6 - Heroes
6 - Space
6 - Drama
6 - Dark
6 - City
5 - Mysteries
5 - Project
5 - Fiction
5 - House
5 - Old
Decide whether you want to use one of those, and if you are, make sure you've got a good reason.
Additionally, I recommend you make sure your title isn't obscene, (unless you're making a porno). You might want to search it in Urban Dictionary or similar.
Output - title
With your show's title, you can now start thinking about how you use it. You're likely to want a website, and you're definitely going to want to use social media.
Decide the precise wording of your title, and use it the exact same way everywhere.
Let's take our example show, The Cat Detective. I can potentially write this in a lot of different ways, depending on what prefixes and suffixes I want to give it. It can stretch from short to long, by eliminating or adding any of the words in brackets below:
(The) Cat Detective (Audio Drama) (Podcast)
What are people going to think if they see in one location "Cat Detective Podcast" and somewhere else "The Cat Detective Audio Drama". Are those the same show? Pick one way of writing the title, and always use that version. This includes on any cover art. Don't take a word off because it spoils the aesthetic. It's confusing.
Similarly, work out how you shorten your title for eg social media usernames. Twitter, Facebook etc can only allow you a limited number of characters. This is also true of places like Discord or Reddit. So find a shortened version you're happy with, and use the same everywhere. For this example, that might be "CatDetectPod".
One important facet of this shortening is how it can be read in all lower case etc. Our CatDetectPod is okay, and so is catdetectpod, but we (might) all remember #susanalbumparty. Make sure you don't have that problem. Pick any hashtags that you want your fans to use, and get them seeded early.
Output - title usage rules
You've got a title, time to start using it.
This is possibly one of the simplest steps to do, so I suggest do it first as an easy motivational win. Find out all of the social media you want to be on, and register with either your title or shortened title. I primarily use Twitter, so I don't know how useful Facebook or Instagram are - feel free to add in the comments.
Discord is good as a method of chatting with your fans, and it might be wise to grab hold of the subreddit with your show's title. That way you can control the space in future. But you should be on as many social media platforms as you find useful. If Facebook takes half your time, and gives you nothing back, drop it. Don't be on everything for no reason.
Decide what your brand is going to be, and stick with it. You want people to follow your account, not be put off by a lot of irrelevant (to them) natter. Branding is important, so keep it strong, but also keep it professional. If you want an edgy image, know where the edge is. Decide whether you want to maintain your fourth wall in the social media, or out of it. What you might want to do is have a main feed that contains all your meta information, and have a second one for fun, that might, for example, pretend to be the in-universe feed of our cat detective.
The first thing people should see on your social media profile, either through a pinned post or profile bio, is a neat package of all the important information. Don't make them hunt for web links, RSS feeds, podcast links or support options. After that, you want more than just your general "new episode" posts. Can you find things that relate to your show? For instance, The Cat Detective might want cats in hats. Engage with the community more generally as well - make friends.
And finally, try to mostly work in the existing ecosystem, rather than build your own from scratch. Know what people are looking for, and give them that. Hashtag your pod title early, so you can drive how it should be written, but also use the existing tags to help promote.
Eg on Twitter, I use:
Output - Social media accounts, with a pinned post including all the useful info
Get a website. This should always be the first place you send your audience, and is the most front-facing element of your marketing. Free options are available, but it's important because you can control it in a way you can't control social media.
I've seen a lot of shows use Carrd, which is basic but probably good enough to make a start with if you don't want to spend on extra websites etc.
This stage and the "Make your show" section go hand in hand - as you build more parts of the show, you can slowly fill it in. But when your show is completed, you want to have on your website the following items:
Cast - who's in the show - link out to their social media/websites.
Crew - who made the show - link out to their social media/websites.
A description of the show - see "Show description".
Links - every possible place people can listen to your show. Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts as a bare minimum. Importantly, include a direct link to your RSS feed - this will let anyone copy and paste it into their podcatcher if needed.
RSS feed - this is so important I'm saying it twice.
Embeds - let people play the show on your website. It's so much easier to get listens if they can just click a button, rather than need to open an app. Also, set it up so that they can embed your episode in their own website - all the better for listens.
Consider accessibility. Test your website in one of the Accessibility checker web services, eg WebAIM.
Art - the main square album cover, but also different aspect ratios that can be used in different ways, eg portrait or landscape. Then consider character portraits, or desktop wallpapers (dependent on budget - as patreon exclusives?).
Transcripts - written versions of the show, so that people who have difficulty hearing can read along as needed. Recommended to be html versions on the website, useful for SEO, and eliminates the need for a PDF etc reader on mobile.
Output - Website
Make your show
Yep, sorry, no suggestions for this bit - it's not what this post is about, and will depend on what sort of show you're making. Let's pretend you are now magically holding six episodes of excellent drama.
But helpfully, you can post audition information and other requirements to your social media now, as well as reaching out to other people in the same space.
You've made your show. You want to tell people about it. Can you do that effectively? There are several things to think about when you're describing it.
What's its style? Is it a single narrator storytelling show, or a full cast? Is it a reading of a story or book, or is it a dramatisation of a script?
What's its genre? Is it a horror, a comedy, a romance?
What's the plot? Is someone trying to escape something, or get to somewhere?
Who are the characters? Is there more than one Cat?
Who is it for? 18+ or children? Are their any particular demographic aspects that may be of interest to specific audiences, eg does it involve BAME/POC, or LGBTQ+?
Specifically for RPGs, you're likely to also want to include some additional details here. What system is the game in? Are you using a pre-made campaign, or is it all homebrew?
Having thought about all this, you want to be able to describe your show in a few different ways:
Elevator pitch - a one sentence that gives a quick teaser.
A [CHARACTER] does [PLOT] in this [GENRE] [STYLE]. Made by [DEMOGRAPHIC].
Eg "A plucky street cat solves crimes in a comedy noir audio drama."
A [SYSTEM] actual play in which [CHARACTERS/PLAYERS] adventure/explore/investigate/other a [PLOT] in a [GENRE] world. Made by [DEMOGRAPHIC].
Eg "A D&D 5E actual play in which a plucky band of misfits try to stop the rise of the brain spiders in a fantasy world gone mad. Made by arachnophobes."
Synopsis - one paragraph that is both informative and interesting, that you'll include in your RSS feed "description" field. Too many are just "A [game system] actual play", or "Stories by [Author Name]". Give us a reason to care. Give us world details, or character conflict.
A silly example: "Meowlowe is a tough tomcat, who solves crimes by night and finds a comfy place to sleep during the day. Follow him as he's pulled into Fluffington Village's seedy underbelly of catfights, territory disputes and box occupation scuffles. And listen as he reveals that belly to the light of justice (and pets). A full cast adventure drama for children."
It can be helpful to also include your elevator pitch at the start of that synopsis, so that people can easily cut a short section out for a quick description.
Blurb - a more lengthy description that might go into a press release. Think the back of books. This can include other podcasts the creators have worked on, or other creative things you've done. Other options may also include having other shows to compare it to. This can be other podcasts if you're marketing to the "in-group", or other media if you're reaching outside the audio world.
For example, The Cat Detective could be Black Jack Justice crossed with Lackadaisy.
Launching the trailer and announcing a release date
A trailer will give you something to put on all of your social media prior to launch, as well as giving you a file with which you can test your RSS feed.
It seems easiest to make this after you have a few episodes complete, so that you can make it as a "best bits" trailer, featuring a range of actors, and potentially including a line from each player if you're making an actual play show. You can bookend it with the descriptions you're written earlier, as well as attach it to the show art. Think of it as a mini-episode - what arc does it have? (Also, if you want it included in Audio Drama Debut, you want it to be somewhere between one and three minutes long).
When you have your trailer, have your entire staff, and someone who has had no involvement in the production of it to have a listen to it. Preferably in a couple of different ways - headphones, speaker, phone, maybe in a car? - to check the volume levels and make sure everything can be heard, and there aren't any painful volume spikes. If you're going to include ads in episodes, make sure they're at a commensurate level. If you are on a platform that uses dynamic ad insertion I'm afraid you may have no control over this.
At this point, you really want to be able to give a release date with the trailer, and even include it if you can. And then you need to hit that release date, and any schedule (weekly, monthly etc) that've you've set. This is why you make a few episodes - have a buffer, or complete the show before you announce a release date.
When you launch the trailer, make sure the RSS feed is available. You want people to listen to your trailer, and then immediately subscribe ahead of release.
Also, send me your trailer for consideration for inclusion in Audio Drama Debut when you're ready to release the first episode. (No promises, as I like to maintain a variety of types and genres, but I'll see what space I've got.)
Output - Trailer
Preparing episodes for launch
Make sure your episode names make sense, and can allow people to listen in the right order, if they find them after more than one episode is out. It's also helpful to consider filenames here, because if people want to look at your files on a computer or similar, rather than in a podcatcher, you want them to order themselves as easily as possible. As a vague standard, I'd suggest something of the format:
Series Name - Series Number - Episode Number - Episode Title eg:
Note, if you want to include mid-episode files, eg minisodes, you can use a letter suffix to avoid screwing up the sequencing. But at the very least, include numbers that a person can understand.
If you're doing something with a non-chronological sequence, make sure it's still obvious what the listening sequence should be. You can do this with RSS dating/timing, but I recommend you use a prefix, eg Ep1 - Tape 7, Ep2 - Tape 3 etc. One of the worst things that can happen is if you build a really clever non-chronological show, and then people listen to it incorrectly, utterly spoiling the effect.
Output - Episode numbering scheme
By now, you've got a great description for the podcast in general, but what about individual episodes? Even if it's just a sentence or two, make each one unique. Tell us what we can look forward to.
Releasing the show
You can either release the entire show at once, to allow binge listening, or release it on a schedule. I would personally recommend a schedule, because that allows you to build a community over time, rather than potentially being a flash in the pan. But that will depend on your particular show. If it's heavily arc-based, with a lot of intricacies that interweave over six episodes, you might want to encourage deep dives.
If you don't release the entire season in one go though, it's worth thinking about releasing enough to get people hooked. A single 20 minute episode might be sufficient (maybe you could do two?), but a single four minute episode is less likely to hang about. Release a good chunk.
Conversely, don't overdo it. A recent Actual Play had a five hour first episode. That is too much to ask of a new listener, and they're less likely to give it a chance. Chop your session into hour chunks, and end each one on a cliffhanger.
Think about how the show can be listened to. Sure, a lot of people use apps, but a lot of people don't. They might want to stream the show from a website, or download it to put it on an mp3 player. Give people as many options as possible. Eg, see the Audio Drama Debut page. I've got a direct link to the RSS feed, a link to every podcast app website I could find, a direct link to the mp3 file, and an embedded player. It is very easy to listen.
Telling the world in general about it
(Don't post there as a separate post - it's bad etiquette.)
Tell me at: Audio Drama Debut's Twitter.
Release on all of your social media. Get your cast and crew to re-share it, with their own happy comments. Put up snippets of theme music, episodes and art.
Submit to all the podcast directories.
You're also likely to want to talk to some specific people about your show. There are a lot of critics, audio fiction databases and promotion mechanisms that can help you get the word out. I've assembled a big list of critics and databases, and you might want to consider approaching some of them.
Note - many of them will have particular methods they want you to use to contact them. Follow those requirements. I recommend you ping out all the information you think they will need in the form of a press release. This should include all of your description, art, a trailer, and possibly a sneak peek of a few future episodes. This can also potentially help you get some friendly PR ahead of release.
Another option is to consider "swapping" with other shows. You might want to swap promos, so that you each play the other's, or perhaps just have a shoutout. The trick is to find people with whom it's a relatively equal exchange, so you can share audiences fairly well (as if you're a new show, you may not be able to get the attention of much larger shows).
I'd suggest pinging out DMs to people who share a similar genre to you, and are likely to have similar sizes of audience. That means you want shows of comparable age, or preferably slightly older, so audiences always run downhill (and then pass the favour on for the next show, a little smaller than you).
I have monthly lists of new shows that come out. What you could consider doing then is looking at shows that came out when you did, and shows in the previous month and searching that page for other shows that match your genre. You can then just DM them on twitter etc and potentially offer an equal exchange. And then be open to enquiries that come from the month after yours.
And every time you post somewhere about your podcast, give us a package, not just a link. Include your elevator pitch or your description, and make it relevant to where you're posting. Include the cover art, as this can often be more grabbing than text, and can help people remember.
That's the more general "social" approach, but think about people you have personal connections with. Can you reach out to them directly, to ask them to have a listen and maybe share? (Make it as easy as possible for them to listen.)
You can also approach podcast platforms for promotion directly. For example, Apple have a request form to try and get their attention via promotional feature requests. I'm sure they get a lot, but might not hurt. (Worth noting that this can rely fairly heavily on prior networking).
And that's it. Now go make your show.
(With thanks to various contributors from r/AudioDrama for their additions.)