Conference info

How to get that book inside inside you OUT of you

Many longform pieces lend themselves to a book, or perhaps others would be better as a book to begin. Alyson Warner hosts journalist-turned-author Chris Stokel-Walker and his published Martin Hickman as they discuss bridging the gap between the world of journalism and novels.

The book begins with a pitch, something all journalists will be used to. However, Stokel-Walker admits pitching a book takes more anticipated. He had to pitch his idea as something with sustenance, something that would work over 75-80 thousand words.

In terms of what the publishing house is expecting, Hickman says they need to understand how it would work. “Whoever receives it in the narrative house gets the idea of how it would flow,” he says. But what does this mean?

Hickman advises thinking from an editors perspective, your pitch should say, “In a bookshop what shelf it would be on, what genre would it be? What makes you the best person to tell it?” However, the main question they want answering is “will it sell?”

Hickman says the transition from journalism to novelist isn’t easy, “It’s as profound as going from a sprinter to a marathon runner.” From commission, the process of researching, writing, editing, rewriting, reediting then publication and promoting is a slow one. “You should be thinking in terms of years,” he says.

Once you have your book idea, there are three ways of getting published.

Hickman explains, “the first is the traditional route and the best if you can get one is to get an agent.” The agent can shape the proposal for publishers with your interest at heart. They act as the bridge between you and the publishing world. Most charge around a 15% cut, but it is the quickest and easiest way to get published.

The second is to approach publishers directly. However, Hickman explains most are looking to deal with agents and could overlook ignore your pitches.

Finally, Hickman strongly recommends self-publishing, he says, “I do recommend you look seriously at this, particularly if your work is a labour of love and not commercial.” He lists platforms such as eBook, for a quick and easy publication, or Amazon print book. 

“It’s such a difficult transition to make from 10,000 words at most to 100,000,” says Hickman, “You need to have themes in the book, you need to have characters, the chapters need to speak to each other”

Because of this, Stokel-Walker identified the hardest part of transitioning as relying on his narrative voice more and his quotes less. He says, “I had an awful lot of paragraphs and quote that were taken out because there was too much of ‘that character’”

As a final piece of advice, Hickman recommends writers “write a dummy blurb, write the 250 words that are going to go on the back cover and it will give you an idea of whether it’s going to hook in the reader.” If it does, run with it, if it doesn’t, refine it.

Words by Corrie David

Audio Conference info

Maeve McClenaghan on how to create compelling stories in podcasts

Investigative journalist Maeve McClenaghan began The Tip Off two years ago. It began as a side project aimed at listeners behind the scene access to the process of researching and reporting a story. Each episode has a new journalist who takes the listener through their process from idea to publishing.

She joins the Well Told conference on Saturday giving a talk on how to create a compelling story in a podcast. She breaks it down into a few categories: format, tone, structure, recording, publishing and safety.

Most podcasts, she says, are done in people’s free time so she advises creators to “make sure the subject is something you’re passionate enough about.” Then you need to check your hypothesis works and check there’s a market for it. If the market has already been filled, how can you tell that story in a new way?

For format, Maeve highlights the length of the episode. Podcasts do give creators freedom of length, but Maeve advises, “people might not listen for an hour. I find 20-35 minutes works quite nicely for me.” Only include what is necessary.

The tone of the podcast might not have to be the obvious choice. Maeve highlights the Mystery Show for its whimsical tone. She says, “It’s a great example of how even with subjects that aren’t completely serious, you can use narrative storytelling to build up the drama of it.”

Maeve highlights that again, you can get creative with the structure. She explains how linear isn’t always best. “Once I’ve got the story and someone’s told me what they did I think I could start them at the beginning, or I could drop them at this later point and show them how they got there.”

The location of where you record the podcast must also be considered. Maeve highlights the pros and cons of using a studio space compared to other locations. While a recording studio can produce clearer audio, it can be more stressful for a guest. If you are using a room elsewhere, consider how soundproof it is. Maeve suggests looking at rooms with thick curtains or bulky furniture to absorb sounds from outside.

To publish your podcast Maeve recommends the platforms: Libsyn, Soundcloud and Acast. She also recommends creating a cover image that is 1400 x 1400 pixels minimum for high quality.

When it comes to releasing your podcast Maeve says, “Everyone says weekly is better, but I do it fortnightly because weekly is hard.” Weekly works best as listeners get into a routine of expecting it on a certain day, however, don’t force it if it doesn’t work for you.

Maeve has three tips to get your podcast heard. She recommends launching with two or three episodes to give a sustainable impression. She then recommends emailing critics with a press release and hope it stands out in their inbox.

To generate and build an audience she suggests looking at Facebook groups for your speciality and promoting there, she explains “I think once you can get it in front of the right people and a buzz starts happening, that’s how you get your audience”.

She ends her talk on discussing the safety of your podcast. When discussing issues such as domestic violence, it’s important to protect your source by changing their names and sourcing actors for their voices. “You might need to take an additional responsibility of protection for them.” To cover yourself, she says to remember to stay within the law and should you publish any accusations, ensure the accused have had their right to reply.


Helpful podcasts:

For tone: Whimsical – Mystery Show, Rich storytelling – S Town, Human Voices – Dirty John

Structure: Twists – Criminal, Set Segments – Reply All/Heavyweight


Other helpful source for tech: Podcasters’ support group

Words by Corrie David