My new job has given me the opportunity to dive into some new and interesting projects. For quite some time, I’ve wanted to play around with podcasting. I’ve been on other people’s podcasts (The Successful Author Podcast with Julie Anne Eason, for example), and done various radio gigs, but I’ve never had my own podcast.
Here’s how it came to be.
As Education Director at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, part of my job is outreach. Outreach isn’t the same as advertising. Outreach has to have an educational component to it. But walking into a new job at a little 501(c)(3) nonprofit and getting attention with your outreach programs can be … challenging.
Back when my wife and I owned Red Lodge Books & Tea, I had a little segment I did once a week on FM99 radio called This Week in Books. By “segment,” I mean “60 second live advertisement.” Each week, I’d give the radio host a topic and he’d throw a few (mostly scripted) questions at me. Remembering this segment turned on the lightbulb in my head.
For those who haven’t dabbled in podcasting, you can broadly separate podcasts into two production styles: casual and professional. Anyone with a quiet spot and a smartphone can do a casual podcast, but that’s not what I wanted mine to sound like.
Serious podcasting requires a bit of an investment in equipment and software, and a studio to record in. I have enough in the budget for hosting and some professional audio editing software, but not enough for a studio.
So I went to FM99 and set up a weekly segment again. Just like the old book segment, this one would be completely live. Unlike the old book segment, this one would be recorded. Thus was born Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m., I go to the studio with my notes (and sometimes a few sound effects on a flash drive) and sit down with morning host Les King. I give him a heads-up on what we’re doing, and we talk for a couple of minutes on live radio. When we’re done, I have a professional recording from a professional studio on my flash drive.
I go back to the Wildlife Sanctuary, load up the script in Adobe Audition CC, and clean it up. Usually, the sound editing is pretty simple: clean up a false start or two, trim the beginning and end, and add a canned open and close. Sometimes I have to re-record a piece, and sometimes I add animal sounds in the background.
Once it’s finalized, I type up the transcript — which is sometimes completely different from my original notes because it’s unrehearsed live radio — and create an “album cover” for the episode. Friday morning, the podcast goes live on the podcast section of the Sanctuary’s website along with iTunes and various aggregators.
If you have an interest in the critters of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, I hope you’ll give it a listen. Most of the episodes run 3-5 minutes (despite the name), and they cover a variety of topics related to this ecosystem and our wildlife sanctuary. As of this writing, there are seven episodes up, covering Sandhill Cranes, feeding wildlife, bobcats & lynxes, what the greater Yellowstone ecosystem actually is, porcupines, bear safety, and Swainson’s Hawks.
It’s Sunday, July 6, 2014. I’m at Old Faithful Inn signing copies of the Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park? People show up in spurts here. When the Old Faithful geyser is about to erupt, the lobby is almost empty. Right after the eruption, it teems with people. The cell service here is spotty at best (doesn’t work for me at all), so I’m jotting down thoughts in my notebook when I’m not busy. Here’s a sampling of them.
- Hmmm. There’s no WiFi here. I think I’ll set up a WiFi hotspot on my cellphone. I did this last year, too. Every time someone turns on their phone/iPad/computer and looks for a WiFi network, they’ll see this:
- That woman was headed right for my table. She made eye contact. She looked at the sign. She looked at the books. And then her friend stopped her and pointed out something else. HEY! What are you doing? That’s a potential sale right there. Don’t distract her!
- This is probably the strangest thing I’ll hear today. A couple walked up and the man said, “You might want to file a police report. My wife wants to steal that radiator in the hallway.”
- Approximately 34,000 people have walked up to my table and asked me when Old Faithful will erupt next. Here’s a picture of me at my table. Want to guess when the next eruption is? As Bill Engvall might say, “Here’s your sign.”
- If you buy a fountain drink in the deli, they offer free refills all day! That works nicely when you’re sitting in the lobby for 6 hours (today) or 8 hours (tomorrow).
- Sometimes, when I say “howdy,” people respond and walk over to the table to see what’s going on. Sometimes they:
Carefully avoid eye contact,
Say, “I already bought one,” and keep moving,
Find a quick distraction (“ooh, shiny!”), or
Nod and walk faster.
- Fashion faux pas of the day: a checkered cowboy shirt with a bright multicolored bowtie.
- Closing my day with a smile. A young lady (high school? college? I can’t tell anymore) walked up and looked at my book sign. She then looked at me, said “Who Pooped in the Park?”, threw her hands in the air, did a little curtsy, and in a perfect Valley Girl voice, said “eeeeeverybody!”
- My first customer of the day bought one book. The second customer bought two. The third customer bought four. The pattern broke there. I was hoping it would continue. Twenty customers and I could retire. Don’t bother me with logistics.
- A woman walked by with her son (Or somebody else’s 12-year-old. I don’t know.) and said, “Who Pooped in the Park? Is his name in it?” I responded, “It could be!”
- I have a sign on the table saying “100,000 copies sold” (referring to the Yellowstone edition — the whole series is pushing 400,000 copies now). A family bought a book, and as they were walking away, one of the kids turned to me and said, “Now you can change your sign to say 100,001 copies sold!”
- Book signing tip: Don’t make assumptions about who looks like they’ll buy a book. That high school girl could have a little brother. That big burly biker could be a grandfather. Every single person that walks by the table is a potential customer.
- I have a bunch of thoughts about something I’ll call the “intimidation zone,” but I’m going to save that for its own post.
- This lobby is one of the coolest places in the world to sign books.
Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone Park to sign Who Pooped in the Park? books. There are two concessionaires in the Park: Delaware North, which operates the gift shops, and Xanterra, which operates the hotels. Some years I go to the Xanterra sites and some years I go to the Delaware North sites. Some years I hit both. This year, I was invited well in advance by Xanterra and offered one of the choice sites in the Park: the lobby at the Old Faithful Inn. Since it’s a busy time of year, I decided instead of my usual routine (a few hours a day for a week in various locations around Yellowstone), I’d just do two long days in the same place.
Signings at places like this are very different from bookstore events. For one thing, no bookstore is going to ask you to spend eight hours behind a signing table. For another, the foot traffic is simply amazing. For a second-tier author like me, selling 30 books at a signing is pretty good. I did that in the first hour in the Old Faithful Inn. Also, the questions you answer are quite different (I’ve talked about this here before).
This year’s top questions
- When is the next eruption of Old Faithful? See that thing on the wall behind me in the picture above? It’s a clock showing the estimated time of the next eruption of Old Faithful. This question was #2 last year and jumped to the top this year for some reason.
- Where’s the bathroom? Usually question #1. Maybe folks weren’t drinking as much water this year.
- I took a picture of some scat. Can you identify it? Maybe. Unless it’s a blurry picture with no context and nothing to give it a sense of scale. But what the heck? I’ll give it a try!
- Is that POOP? See below.
- Where are the animals hanging out? I try to answer this one. Really I do. But Yellowstone is over 2.2 million acres of wilderness and I just got here yesterday. This is what the interpretive staff is for.
- Are these free? Really, people? You think I drove down here to give away free copies of my books?
Yep, that’s poop
Props are a highly effective way to start a conversation, and starting conversations sells books. Lest that sound entirely mercenary, I’m a social animal and I do love having conversations. But back to the main point…
In this picture, you can see a row of round things on the table in front of me. You can also see rows of books. Sometimes I do rows, sometimes big spiral stacks, sometimes pyramids. The round things on the table are samples of animal scat (a.k.a. “poop”) that I have cast in resin. The big one in the middle is bear scat — always a crowd pleaser. That thing in the lower left is not poop. It’s my lunch.
As a complete non-sequitor, I inscribed books to hundreds of people this week. The vast majority were children. The most common names were Emma and Wyatt. Do what you will with that information.
Something new and different
I have done a lot of book signings in my time, but every year brings something new. This year it was an evacuation.
It was about 6:15 p.m., and I had been sitting at that table since 11:00 (minus a few bathroom breaks). I was chatting with a family when an alarm sounded. I made some quip about someone opening a door they shouldn’t have opened, and then a recorded voice came on asking everyone to evacuate the hotel. The restaurant was full, with a line halfway through the lobby. The bar was full. The gift shop was packed. There were lines at registration. People were unpacking their bags in their rooms. Everyone began streaming out.
I had my handy-dandy leather satchel with me, so I swiftly stuffed my important possessions in it (signing pen, poop samples, phone) and headed outside. The books and the sign were left to fend for themselves.
Cell service at the Old Faithful Inn is spotty. Did I say “spotty”? I really meant “lousy.” In the interests of keeping Yellowstone as pristine as possible, there is one cell tower in the area, and it is utterly incapable of handling the data traffic that people attempt to use it for. When I went outside, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of people all trying — with varying degrees of success — to tweet about the experience. I managed to get a tweet to go through myself, shot a text message to my wife so she could find me, and then settled in to chat with people.
“We had just gotten our dinner,” one woman lamented. “I had only had one bite of my steak!”
“There’s the difference between men and women,” I told her. “I would have brought the steak with me.”
In general, people handled the situation with grace and humor. Someone commented that a vendor with a beer cart would be making a mint. Someone else said if there was a fire in the kitchen, at least the food wouldn’t get cold.
The signing was scheduled to end at 7:00, and that’s about what time we were allowed back in. It wasn’t until the next morning that I found out what had actually happened: low water pressure in the fire sprinkler system had triggered the alarm.
I believe in using whatever tools lay themselves at my feet when it comes to marketing. When we checked in and went to our room, we found that there was no WiFi available in the hotel except for “Dave’s iPhone.” I don’t know who Dave is, but he had a password on his WiFi, so it didn’t do us any good.
Luckily, however, I have my iPhone set up to become a mobile WiFi hotspot, too. Using it for that does suck the juice out of the battery, so I don’t use it that often, but this situation gave me an idea. There was only one visible WiFi network in the hotel, and it would probably be going away soon. So I changed the name of my iPhone and activated the mobile hotspot app when my signing began the next morning. What did people see when they searched for a WiFi hotspot that day?
I’m a celebrity, by golly!
Every writer should have the experience of being recognized. It’s an amazing feeling. When I was having breakfast with my wife the following morning, someone came up with a book she’d purchased in the gift shop right before the evacuation and hadn’t gotten signed. She recognized me, of course, by my ruggedly handsome face and thoughtful, intelligent demeanor. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the Who Pooped in the Park t-shirt, the black cowboy hat, or the fact that I’m 6’5″ tall.
Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.