We’ve discussed podcasting to help promote the book you’ve written—but what about podcasting as a way to tell the story itself? Here, author Liz Keller Whitehurst discusses how the podcast of her novel, Messenger, came to be.

I must be honest: When I decided to turn my debut novel, Messenger, into MESSENGER: A Podcast in 16 Episodes, I had no idea what I was doing. How did my life-long dream and journey to publish a book take a detour, a clinamen (one of Messenger’s concepts defined as a slight swerve that changes everything)? Creating a podcast was the last thing I expected.

(5 Things I Learned From Co-hosting a Book Podcast)

Timing Is Everything: Get It Out

Messenger tells the story of Messenger, a mysterious woman who delivers life-changing messages to seemingly random people all over New York City and Alana, the young journalist who seeks to tell her story. As timing is crucial to the delivery of each message in the novel, timing was crucial to my process as well.

The seeds of Messenger began way back in 2013, when I temporarily lived in New York City, the setting and a major character in Messenger. I wrote the book over several years, workshopped it twice at agent April Eberhardt’s La Poterie Writer’s Retreat, and collaborated with talented and astute editor Annie Tucker. By the second half of 2019, Messenger was ready. April, who’d believed in the story from the start, targeted and shopped it to editors at traditional publishing houses, resulting in multiple reads but no takers. The holidays came, we rang in 2020, and soon realized COVID was not going away. Publishing prospects for a debut author with no established audience? Bleak, at best.

On the morning of my birthday in April 2020, the epidemic surging, I awoke with a clear, urgent message of my own: Messenger’s time had come. My purpose for the novel was to inspire hope, inspiration, motivation, and a sense of the mysterious connection between us all. I couldn’t wait. I had to get it out.

Teamwork: A Creative Community

But how?

The importance and power of community is a major theme in my novel and was a key factor in creating the podcast. My first idea was to release Messenger on a website and as a serial novel, following in the footsteps of Dickens, Melville, George Eliot, and some contemporary writers.

I queried valued friends and confidants with my ideas, especially Rachel Pater and received another strong message: Make it a narrated audiobook podcast. Messenger’s multiple narrative forms and different voices would translate easily and well. The times also called for a podcast, since the last thing people wanted to do after working/virtual meetings all day long was to stare at a screen. When Rachel agreed to record the podcast—that sealed the deal.

Rachel, a voice actor, had produced and narrated podcasts before and had worked with musician and sound editor, Wells Hanley, who wrote original music to accompany each character/narrative form for MESSENGER. Wells worked with Lance Koehler at a local recording studio and I knew Brandon O’Neill, a graphic artist as well as musician with experience making podcasts on the Simplecast platform. Joy Whitehurst provided original photography from Messenger’s New York.

These talented creatives agreed to form a team and work with me to make the podcast a reality. Our MESSENGER community was born.

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Make It Easy—And Free

Just as Alana, the journalist in Messenger, wants to spread Messenger’s story, my goal was to share MESSENGER with as many people as possible and to make the podcast free and easily accessible to anyone who wanted to listen.

The Simplecast platform allowed us to create a podcast website, complete with liner notes, in which we included Questions to Ponder for each episode and made audience asks, plus provided us weekly detailed analytics. It also allowed folks to listen to MESSENGER wherever they found their podcasts.

I stuck with my plan to release the podcast serially, one episode a week, to give listeners something to look forward to and to build momentum. We set our goal to create a quality product that we could all be proud of, which would serve the spirit of the novel. Because each of these people are amazingly talented, hardworking, and professional, we launched the site and dropped the first episode in July 2020.

Spread the Word

Brandon created MESSENGER social media accounts and content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and posted several artistic offerings a week, using Joy’s photography in intriguing ways, often paired with evocative quotes from the novel. I created an email list of every contact I knew or could think of and sent out blasts every few weeks. I also offered to visit book clubs and was invited to be a virtual guest at several.

We got the word out locally by printing postcards of the podcast cover art and leaving them in coffeeshops, businesses, and even in Little Libraries around town. I also used the postcards as thank-you notes to listeners who wrote or helped us in any way.

Ask the Audience

In the novel, Messenger emphasizes the importance of waking up, of paying attention to your life. And she tells Alana we can all be messengers for each other.

One of our most successful ways to draw our listeners in was to ask early in the podcast: “Have you ever received a life-changing message from an unexpected source?” Many had and were willing to share them with us. We received enough stories to create two bonus episodes, with Rachel reading the story of each listener’s message, separated by music by Wells. We dropped these episodes un-announced. Real Life Messages became one of the audience’s favorite parts to the podcast.

Happy Endings

Creating a serial podcast first was an unexpected and unconventional way to achieve my goal of sharing Messenger with the world. It paid off.

My novel was published in October 2021, almost a year after the last episode of the podcast aired. The podcast is still up, still free, and gaining new listeners globally. The podcast and the book have developed a kind of synergy, as readers enjoy exploring the podcast and podcast listeners have bought the book. If you’d like to listen, find it wherever you get your podcasts or on my website: lizkellerwhitehurst.com.

This course will demonstrate that the best way to become a good writer is to study the writing of others, especially the work of the masters. Because there are no hard-and-fast rules to writing, it’s important to study what other writers have done and how they consciously make narrative decisions and meticulously select details based on audience and purpose.

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