Michell Plested: How I do it!

Michell (Mike) Plested is an amateur novel and short story writer in several genres including Fantasy, Science Fiction and YA Adventure (sorry, no sparkly vampires). His most recent writing project is a Science Fiction Comedy entitled “GalaxyBillies” which he is simultaneously writing and podcasting. He is also the host of the bi-weekly writing podcast “Get Published” where he and his guests discuss the in’s and out’s of getting their writing published. He can be found on Twitter as @mplested and on Facebook as Michell Plested.

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?
I do a bit of both. I have written books where I’ve completely plotted the story from beginning to end and created character sketches and I’ve written stories where everything evolves as I go. Completely plotting is a lot of work but generally flows much quicker. Letting everything evolve is more fun because I get to experience the story’s evolution.

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.
I don’t set my schedule to the time of day because it changes for me. I’ve got several different demands on my time on different days. So I set deadlines for amounts of writing to be completed. I set the top four or five priorities for a week and put them on my writing calendar and then work through them one-by-one. If I’m lagging behind it means I might have to stay up late a night or two to complete it.

3. What is your writing environment like? (cats, music, computer etc.) How has this evolved/changed?
I have an office where I do my writing. No animals in the house (members of the family are allergic). Sometimes I will listen to music, but never any podcasts. Having to pay attention to what I’m listening to draws my attention away from what I’m writing. I’ve tried writing near the television but I have the same problem as when I listen to podcasts so I don’t do it any more. I’ve tried many places to write (i.e. coffee shops, living room, dining room table) but the one that always works the best is my office.

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself? (no intention of sharing with a large audience)
Yes. I’ve written some poetry for a couple select people (my wife, example) and I’ve written some songs for my children.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing?
I’ve actually started writing (and recording) a science fiction comedy for the social media audience. I’ve heard so many great podiobooks that I wanted to try one for myself. I’m writing it episode by episode much like Douglas Adams did with “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Win? What are your machine’s specs?
I’m currently using a MacBook running Snow Leopard. It’s an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz system with 4GB or RAM and a 320GB 7200 RPM HDD. I love the functionality of GarageBand for podcasting.

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)
My current studio is a couple areas of the house. I have some quieter areas for recording and I do all my production work in my office. I began by recording everything in my office using a mid-range Logitech headset. I got rid of that within three episodes of my “Get Published” podcast and graduated to a Blue Snowball microphone. The biggest problem with that microphone is my laptop’s fan kicks in after I’ve been recording for a few minutes and it can be heard in any of my recording. I still use it for my interviews via Skype.

I invested in a Zoom H2 digital recorder, which is what I use for most of my recording now. It allows me to record away from my laptop, thus eliminating the fan noise. It also gives me the added benefit of on the road recording. I will be bringing this to Balticon this year when I attend. Hopefully I will find some willing victims to talk to. 

I use GarageBand for all my podcast production. I recently started using Levelator to improve my audio levels for Skyped interviews.

3. If you were able to build your dream studio, what would it include?
My dream studio at this point would be a dedicated room (sound-proofed) with either a powerful Mac Mini (no fan) or an iMac. High speed Internet (naturally) with permanently placed microphones of decent quality. A good mixer would be nice too, but I’d need to learn how to use it first.

4. Other than a computer, what piece of HARDWARE would you recommend to a new podcaster?
Get a decent microphone. I love my Zoom H2 because it is extremely versatile. Also get a good pair of headphones for editing.

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?
How much work producing a decent podcast is. I probably spend 6 – 10 hours per episode in preparation, recording and editing for “Get Published” and a little more for “GalaxyBillies” (but I also consider writing to be part of it too).

6. What would you consider a “beginner’s mistake” you’ve either experienced or hear others making?
The beginner’s mistake for me was not thinking far enough in advance for my episodes. Near the beginning I was scrambling to come up with show ideas. Now I know three to four shows in advance what I’m doing. Much less stressful that way.

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)
For “Get Published” it depends on if I’m doing an interview or if I’m doing the entire episode solo.

If I have an interview, I’ve got to round up a guest and provide them with some idea of what I want to talk about. This can take an hour or so spread out over several days.

Then we meet via Skype and I record the interview. To date, I’ve had interviews as short as 25 minutes and as long as an hour and a half. The average time to record is about 75 minutes.

I clean up the interview by first running it through Levelator and then I edit it in Garageband. The editing takes 1 – 2 hours.

The next step is pulling promos and getting the Q&A section pulled together. If I have questions, I research the answers and write my response. I also write the general scripting (yes, it is scripted) together. I will take the script and record the entire thing in a single pass. (This takes about an hour)

I go into production and pull all the elements together. I break apart the scripted recording into the proper places, add the promos and the interview and create a master. (Call this another hour)

The last steps are to upload the podcast to my hosting site and create the show notes. Another hour here.

That’s if I have an interview. If I don’t, I spent a lot longer researching a topic and writing the episode. The recording takes longer but the production elements are much the same. These episodes feel like they take longer to create.

GalaxyBillies is an entirely different story. It takes longer for different reasons. I usually take the following steps:

  1. Write the episode’s script
  2. Record the script in a single pass
  3. Break up the voices into the proper tracks and create a master (uncompressed) version
  4. Take previous master and clean up any serious problems. Create a new (uncompressed) master.
  5. Add ambient noise and sound effects. Repeat creation of uncompressed master.
  6. Add intro and outro. Create a compressed master for upload to hosting site.
  7. Upload MP3 to hosting site and create show notes.

I auctioned off a voiced character spot as part of the Boom Effect so I now have a bit more complexity because I have an outside voice to consider.

Casting Questions

1. What is the hardest part of putting together a casted podcast?
I’ve only just begun doing that, but so far the biggest challenge is writing their role with enough advance to get the episode done in a timely manner.

2. Do you provide the entire chapter to your talent, or just their lines?
I’m only providing their lines.

3. Is instruction given to your talent on how you prefer the line to be read?
Yes. I make suggestions via email and Skype them if they want any further direction.

4. What do you do with all of that unused audio?
I have very little unused audio. It hasn’t been a problem. I have had some funny stuff (bloopers) that I saved and may or may not use at a later date.

5. What is the hardest part of putting together a “straight read” podcast?
“GalaxyBillies” is sort of a straight read podcast in that I provided all the voices in the first six episodes. I did things a bit differently because I created character tracks that would process my voice to varying extents for the different characters.

The challenge with doing it this way is breaking up the straight read recording (takes a couple hours to do) and minimize the digital artifacts that sometimes arise as much as possible.

6. As far as cast goes, what would you like to try, but haven’t so far?
I think I would have to write the script differently so that there is more direction for the actors. I would also want to give myself several months to produce the podcast before I would begin releasing episodes.

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)
Tough question because I put so much effort into every episode. I would probably want $75 – $100 per episode for one of the complexity level of “GalaxyBillies”. If they wanted a lot of custom sound effects and music and voices, it would have to be much more because the time commitment would be considerably greater.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?
A bit of both, actually. I’m doing “Get Published” because I thought it would help me to learn about podcasting. Get me familiar with the software and working behind a microphone. Then I started interviewing people and realized how cool that was. I learn something new every time I talk to a person. I just hope my listeners get the same value out of it that I do.

“GalaxyBillies” is really an experiment. I’ve always loved Comedy combined with SciFi and Fantasy and I wondered if I had the chops to do it myself. I also love the way Douglas Adams wrote/built “HitchHiker’s” and thought it would be a great challenge to write it episode by episode, recording as I went along.

My ultimate goal is to grow an audience AND get better at my craft.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?
The biggest/nicest compliment I’ve received is to hear that people are enjoying what I do. I keep coming back because I’m having fun podcasting, writing and talking to people. Seeing my audience grown doesn’t hurt either.

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?
I definitely keep track. I use those numbers as a gauge to whether I’m doing a good job or not. If “GalaxyBillies” (for example) didn’t show an upward trend in downloads it would be a strong indication that the story isn’t compelling enough.

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?
I would LOVE reviews left anywhere. A friend told me the other night that I was starting to sound too needy which I found very funny. Without those reviews, I really have no idea if people like/tolerate/dislike what I’m doing and where I’m falling down. It’s pretty hard to improve without that gauge.

6. If not answered previously, how do you read your manuscript while recording (hard copy, teleprompter, etc)?
Hardcopy. Using anything electronic adds background hum that I can do without.

~ by odin1eye on 24 March, 2010.

8 Responses to “Michell Plested: How I do it!”

  1. Very nice to have a podcaster answer your questions. I love his show, the GalaxyBillies and it is fun to see how much alike all of us who are recording are. Whoot for GarageBand!

    • Mike definitely does a great job with the interviews and runs an interesting show. Many of the upcoming writers stray from GB so stay tuned!

  2. I really enjoy this blog interview series. Despite the questions being the same, based on the two interviews so far, we can look forward to very different answers.

    I’m a fan of Pip & Mike (as well as Odin1Eye, of course). I liked reading about a podiobook author who has a setup a bit closer to mine (for a project I’m working on).

    Disclaimer: I follow Odin1eye, Mike, and Pip on Twitter – because they are awesome! (Plus you never can tell when pictures of a certain baby girl from Asgard might be found there.) 🙂

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. Yes, the questions will remain the same because I wanted to know how people I respect attack the same problems. There are plenty of differences in store. And quite possibly some new baby pictures. ,^)

  3. I really liked your questions. They made me think about how (and why) I do certain things. My podcasting style has definitely been evolutionary. It was fun to really dig into how I do it.

    I hope your audience gets something useful out of the series. I know I already have.

    • I hope the readers of my blog get something out of the series too. I have to admit though, the questions were strictly motivated by my own curiosity. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to podcasting my reviews, but it’s a thought. ,^)

  4. That was a great interview. I always love hearing the nuts and bolts of how things are done, especially since I’m going to try my hand at podcasting some genre fiction myself here shortly. Thanks for taking the time to write out these great questions odin1eye, and thanks Mike for your insightful answers.

    • All thanks go to the great authors/podcasters that take the time to share their “secrets” with us. I’m glad you’re continuing to enjoy the series!

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