I’m SO excited for my first Behind the Books post with one of my favorite bookish people, Sarah from Sarah’s Bookshelves Live! I talked about Sarah’s podcast in my recent post about favorite book podcasts, and just to reiterate I am such a huge fan of her show. I love the variety of topics she covers, her guests are always interesting, the convos flow so well, and her recs are spot-on. In addition to being the founder and host of Sarah’s Bookshelves Live, she’s also the founder of the book blog Sarah’s Bookshelves and was a two-time judge for Book of the Month. If you’re curious about the behind the scenes of podcasting and want some great book recs, read on!
How the podcast got started:
I had the Sarah’s Bookshelves blog for years before I started the podcast. I was feeling a bit stuck with it and sort of subconsciously looking for a way to move forward. Then, I was a guest on two different podcasts and realized I really enjoyed the podcast medium. Not long after that, I started talking with a fellow book blogger about starting a podcast together. She ended up needing to back out for personal reasons, so I decided to move forward alone with a different structure.
The day to day of being a book podcaster – what is it really like?
I wish I could say it was all really glamorous, but the bulk of the work is definitely not glamorous! The glamorous parts are getting to talk with some amazing authors and professionals in the book industry…and, of course, all the free books (advance reader copies)! But, a lot of the work is scheduling guests, editing, drafting Show Notes and social media posts, and prepping interview questions for my guests. That’s what I spend most of my days doing.
Editing used to take up the largest chunk of time by far, but I’ve gotten better at that and also hired an outside editor to help with the regular episodes. I still edit for content, which takes some time, but my editor now handles the really tedious parts (taking out all those “um’s”, etc). I also started a Patreon Community about a year ago and I spend a lot of time on bonus content for that group now, which is actually one of my favorite parts of running the podcast because it’s a place I can be creative and try interesting things with a loyal group of listeners. I also feel like I’ve gotten better at interviewing as time has gone on (a skill I never expected to need, which is silly because it’s obvious to me now that I of course I would need to acquire some interviewing skills!).
What makes a good podcast host:
I’d say the most important thing for the specific structure of my podcast (interviewing guests) is great interview skills and being easy to talk to. Asking unique questions is a bonus since many authors are “making the rounds” to various media outlets when their books release…often saying the same things in multiple interviews. I try to listen to other podcasts my guests have appeared on as part of my prep to figure out which questions to avoid and where I can dig deeper.
It’s important to be authentic and have a point of view / voice. And, to be able to clearly articulate why specific books worked or didn’t work for you.
Finally, it’s really important to be consistent (making sure you’re releasing episodes on a consistent schedule, etc), especially when you’re first starting out and building trust with your listeners.
On the best and the most challenging parts of podcasting:
I love having this forum to talk books with people I would never be able to talk to otherwise. I love being able to ask questions I’ve always wondered about to professionals from inside the publishing industry. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with releasing a new episode and hearing back from listeners. I love working with my Patreon Community because I can really be creative in that space. And, of course, the free books!
Time is by far the biggest challenge…especially during COVID as I have young children who haven’t been to school since March. I had no clue how much work producing a quality podcast would be before I started, but I’m actually glad I didn’t know going in because I might not have taken the plunge! And, I’m so glad I did.
Booking guests I want is sometimes a challenge, but I’ve been surprised at many of the people that have said yes…especially when I was first starting out and authors took a risk on me. I’m so grateful for those early guests (Ashley Spivey, Mary Laura Philpott, Angie Kim among others)!
A Favorite Interview Episode (I loved this one too!):
Ep. 25: Siobhan Jones (Editorial Director of Book of the Month) – we went behind-the-scenes of how BOTM works and talked about all kinds of things that I’ve always wondered about. Siobhan was incredibly candid, which always makes for a great interview. In general, my favorite interviews are the episodes that go behind-the-scenes of various corners of the publishing industry.
On COVID and how things have changed:
COVID hasn’t changed my role much (we all work remotely anyway and COVID didn’t affect my ability to produce the podcast in that respect)…except from a time perspective. I used to do all my podcast work while my kids were at school and, basically overnight, my entire family was home all the time and needed me for all kinds of stuff. Getting 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time was virtually impossible this spring.
Things have settled down a bit, but my kids are still at home and my work time has not returned anywhere close to pre-COVID levels. That’s why I reduced the frequency of the show from weekly to bi-weekly until things return to normal.
I do think authors are relying on podcasts (and Instagram) much more to promote their books in a COVID environment since in-person book tours (traditional method of promoting books) are a thing of the past (at least for now).
On the future of blogging and book podcasting:
I originally started the blog sort of on a whim and had literally no vision for the future. As time went on, I realized I wanted to make money off of this activity that is traditionally viewed as an unpaid hobby. I made money with my blog, but that was incredibly difficult and the money wasn’t much. I’ve found it’s much easier to make money from podcasting, at least within the book world.
There is an unspoken view in the book world that money is unsavory and people that review and promote books publicly are doing it mostly for their love of reading and free books. But, in reality, it’s a LOT of work and we are offering a real service to publishers, authors, and readers (in addition to doing it for our love of reading). I’ve become more firm in this belief the longer I’ve been doing this and my goal is to be a professional podcaster that’s paid appropriately for my work. I just love talking about books and I’d like to keep doing that in whatever form I can as long as possible.
A lot of people ask if I want to write a book of my own (and many people that talk about books publicly do have this dream), but writing a book has never been a goal of mine. I think I would enjoy editing one, though!
Dream podcast guests:
Jenna Bush Hager
Someone from Goodreads (I have SO many behind-the-scenes questions about the Goodreads Choice Awards).
More about #bookstagram, blogging, and the Patreon community:
I mentioned earlier how my blog got started and I was VERY late to the bookstagram game. I’ve never loved Instagram and don’t really love social media in general. I’m not on it personally and am only on it at all because of the podcast (and because it’s where everyone seems to be in the book world these days). I have enjoyed getting to know a wonderful community of readers and bookstagrammers (and authors) and I love the book recommendations I get from Instagram, but I also find it draining and anxiety-inducing at times. I try not to spend too much time just scrolling mindlessly.
I started my Patreon Community a little over a year ago (and about 9 months after I started the podcast). I always knew I would start a Patreon Community to monetize the podcast, but I knew I needed to build a loyal audience first. I absolutely love my Patreon Community…as I mentioned earlier, I feel like it’s the place I can be creative, try interesting things that don’t fit into the regular show, talk more about my own reading (the regular show is more focused on my guest), and the people in my community are incredibly supportive. I feel like I can be a bit more open and unfiltered since I’m among a group I know is really supportive.
Other Book Podcasts Sarah Recommends:
On tracking your reading (and how it improves the quality of your reading life):
Most of the time, I’m reading for a specific purpose (i.e. looking for podcast guests, vetting candidates for my Summer Reading Guide or my Quarterly Book Preview podcast episodes, etc), so I have a pretty extensive “TBR” list that is generally sorted by publication date. And, I’m generally reading a couple weeks ahead of the publication date. I’m occasionally able to work in older books that don’t have a specific purpose, and I’ve recently made some changes to the blog and podcast that will give me more freedom to read outside of publication date constraints.
I started tracking my reading a couple years ago (using my Rock Your Reading Tracker – available for purchase on my blog) and it completely changed my reading life! The most important thing I track is my recommendation sources (who recommends each book to me) so I can pinpoint my “reading twins” and look to them for trustworthy recommendations. Since I started doing this, the quality of my reading (% of books I read that I liked) improved 43%.
Top 3-5 Book Recs?
I would normally ask your reading taste before making recommendations because reading is so personal, but a couple of my go-to recommendations are (I’m giving you 6 to even out fiction and nonfiction):
Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West – my favorite novel of 2020
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne – my favorite novel of the past few years
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff – most compelling nonfiction I’ve read in years
Untamed by Glennon Doyle – the memoir that was exactly what I needed to read during COVID
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown – the most impactful anti-racist memoir I’ve read
The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy – my favorite book from one of my all-time favorite authors
Thank you so much Sarah for being my first Behind the Books guest! Be sure to tune in to Sarah’s podcast and follow her blog and bookstagram – if you love books as much as me I promise you will love all of her content!