Ed Parrot: How I do it!

Edward G. Talbot is the collaboration of two authors, Ed Parrot and Jason Derrig. Jason and Ed met in 1988 at a cross country running race. We won’t tell you here how it turned out, but Jason is far more likely to recount the results of that day than Ed. They discovered a lot of common interests, including sports, politics, and thriller novels. They also share the ability to talk for hours on end about absolutely nothing, a trait not fully appreciated by either man’s wife.

After spending (many) years completing their first novel, New World Orders, in early 2008 they decided to podcast it after failing to find a publisher or agent for it. The positive response motivated them to release a podcast collection of short stories, and to complete a second novel late in 2009. They are currently shopping that novel and working on several other projects, including likely ebooks and podcasts later in 2010.

This response to “How I do it” was written by the Ed Parrot half of the duo, and he can be found on twitter at @egtalbot

General Writing Questions

1. Before you begin writing, do you script out the general outline of plot and characters, or do you let these situations evolve as you write?
That’s a good question. Mostly I let it evolve, but I do usually start with some sort of outline. The outline is usually just a few one line bullet points, though. I add to it as I go, because a lot of times when I’m writing I will think of things that I want/need to happen later on and I don’t want to lose the idea. Interestingly, I am currently working on what I expect will be a 30,000 word novella and after writing two short chapters, I suddenly came up with a lot of the details about where it will go, so I started writing an outline. I now have about 4000 word outline for the 30,000 word novella. I’ll be interested to see how well it works.

2. I’ve heard repetitively that writers should deal with writing as any other job. Do you have a scheduled or structured writing routine? Please detail.
Well, I don’t consider writing a for-profit venture at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I want to sell my work, and I have some plans to make that happen. But I’m a realist – the odds are against making a living from it, even if I were willing to give up sleep, exercise, my fairly high-powered job, or spending time with my family. Which I am not. That leaves me roughly 1-3 hours a day for writing, recording, marketing, etc. I can write 1000 words an hour generally, so if I write an hour every other day, that’s almost two rough draft novels a year. I mostly allocate that time in the mornings, though I occasionally will write from 8-9PM. I don’t force myself to write very often, but once or twice a year I pick a month where I write at least 30,000 words and generally I will write at least 600 words on all but one or two days of that month. Otherwise, I just sort of go with it when it comes to writing.

3. What is your writing environment like? (cats, music, computer etc.) How has this evolved/changed?
I do most of my writing sitting at my computer in my office (I work on the computer from the house for my day job). I almost never play music when I’m writing, although it doesn’t seem to affect me one way or the other when I do. I have two other places where I write. One is lying in bed before I go to sleep. I sometimes take out a notebook and write for 20-45 minutes before going to sleep. I find this can be good if I am struggling to make the time earlier, it can help break blocks. The other place I write is on airplanes. I used to travel half a dozen times a year, but now it’s more like once or twice. I usually can write very effectively for about two hours on a plane.

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself? (no intention of sharing with a large audience)
Hmm, I have written two poems and one prose poem that I haven’t shared. The two poems basically just aren’t very good, so that’s the reason I haven’t shared them. The prose poem I shared with one family member and I do think it is good, but it also is recent and about a death in the family. I will share it at some point, but it doesn’t feel right at the moment. Aside from that, I like to share everything.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing?
Social media has played a big role in corresponding with fans and fellow writers. Last year, podcaster James Melzer started a 1K a day writing challenge on Twitter for one month, and I jumped on it with him. It’s safe to say that I would not have written 37,000 words during the month without social media. I am not the most prolific of tweeters or facebook enthusiasts, but I do especially enjoy the interaction on Twitter.

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Win? What are your machine’s specs?
Heh, I am a windows programmer for my day job, so I used Windows. I have an early 2009 Dell laptop, nothing special, but it’s more than enough to do recording and editing.

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)
My current studio is basically the same as what I started with in terms of equipment. Now, before I started, I experimented with just a USB condenser microphone, but I could never get good sound. J.C. Hutchins gave me the suggestions that led to my current setup, and he credited them to Mur Lafferty. I have an MXL 990 mike, a Behringer Xenyx mixer and a Behringer digital converter to go from the mixer to the computer. My studio is actually just a room with a large bed with pillows and blankets piled high like a moat around myself and the microphone. That gets rid of a lot of the echo – I did some trial and error, and am always tweaking things a little bit. My computer goes outside the door of the room to avoid fan noise. Oh, and I use Audacity for software.

3. If you were able to build your dream studio, what would it include?
Can’t answer this one, I don’t have a dream studio.

4. Other than a computer, what piece of HARDWARE would you recommend to a new podcaster?
I would recommend the three pieces of hardware that I have. I don’t believe you can get an adequate recording with just a USB mike – I’m sure there are a few exceptions to prove me wrong, but why make it hard on yourself?

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?
A tough question. A lot of what I’ve learned has come from advice from other podcasters. So I mostly didn’t have to learn a lot of key things, just a lot of little things. I guess the biggest thing that no one specifically warned me about was to stay away from using various software techniques to improve sound quality. Filtering, normalization, etc. They mostly don’t work. The key is to get clean source audio by setting up a decent enough system for recording, then the amount of post-recording cleanup is limited to just editing basically.

6. What would you consider a “beginner’s mistake” you’ve either experienced or hear others making?
The biggest beginner mistake I hear is simply accepting less than decent sound or performance. Everyone is in a hurry to get started, but I’ve heard a bunch of different samples from people who thought they had it, and they simply didn’t. Put on a good pair of headphones and listen critically to your own stuff. I pulled my hair out for weeks and weeks with trial and error when I was literally ready to pull the trigger except that my sound wasn’t good enough. I am very glad I persisted until I figured it out. Plenty of people have better sound than me, but there’s a certain level with solid reading and little or no background hiss that I think most people can reach of they shoot for it.

7. How much time does it take, once you have all the elements, for YOU to put together a 30 minute podcast? (please describe your production technique)About 2 hours. The recording itself will be about 40-45 minutes. Then I need to listen through the whole thing and edit it as I go. Then I run it through the levelator, then mix in intro/outro/promos. Then one last listen to double-check, usually done while I am preparing show notes and stuff to actually get it in my feed.

Casting Questions

1. What is the hardest part of putting together a casted podcast?
My podcasts have basically only had three voices – myself, my co-author, and my wife. We did have one or two guest voices, but those were very minor. The hardest part is simply the time consuming process of mixing in all the track so they sound good together. I can imagine that if I had to wait on people for audio, that would be the hardest part!

2. Do you provide the entire chapter to your talent, or just their lines?
All three of us read the whole thing, with lines highlighted.

3. Is instruction given to your talent on how you prefer the line to be read?
Not applicable.

4. What do you do with all of that unused audio?
Not applicable

5. What is the hardest part of putting together a “straight read” podcast?
Keeping different voices consistent. I might be able to get a Russian accent if I practice, but keeping it the same as I switch from voice to voice can be tough. To solve this, I sometimes will record all of one character’s voice in a row.

6. As far as cast goes, what would you like to try, but haven’t so far?
I think an audio drama, like Mur Lafferty’s The Takeover, would be fun to both write and produce. A HUGE amount of work, though, so I don’t have one planned at the moment.

General Questions

1. If someone approached you with THEIR book, and asked you to podcast it for them for a fee, what would you consider a reasonable rate per episode? (The way YOU do it)
Ooh, that’s a tough question. If I were to gain nothing from it at all besides the salary – no cross-promotion or anything – I’d have to bill for 30-40 hours of actual work. I would probably do it for about half of my hourly rate at my day job because I’d enjoy it. But I might be less inclined to do it for a book I didn’t like. I should also note that I am usually more than happy to read parts for other podcasters – I’m assuming your question relates to someone I don’t know who has not podcasted a book before asking me to take on the whole thing.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?
The answer is both. I podcast because I think it’s a great way to get people exposed to my work. If that leads to some sort of income in the future, great, but even if it doesn’t, I like the idea of sharing my work.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?
Nicest compliment I guess was a gushing five star blog review on the Time Well Wasted blog when New World Orders first came out. What keeps me coming back? A lot of things – it’s nice being part of the “community” and it just feels right to release my work in this manner.

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?
I definitely keep track of downloads. The “subscriber” numbers are almost useless (a complex discussion best left for another time). I check my downloads a couple days after releasing a new episode and maybe once or twice a month aside from that.

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?
Reviews are extremely important. I’m not sure listeners realize this. I don’t even care if they are BAD reviews as long as the reviewer explains why he/she didn’t like it. It’s not about ego, it’s about knowing how my work impacts people. It’s a connection of sorts between author and consumer. Not incidentally, it will also help my writing/podcasting be better in the future.

6. If not answered previously, how do you read your manuscript while recording (hard copy, teleprompter, etc)?
I read a hard-copy when recording, but I think I will bite the bullet and get an e-reader soon, so that may work better in the future.

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