SETH HARWOOD: THE ORIGINAL PALMS DADDY
By K. Robert Einarson
KEVIN: So tell us a little about Seth Harwood.
SETH: OK. So, here’s the deal on me: I’ve been
writing fiction for about 10 years now. I started out after
college, wrote a few bad novels from 95 to 98 (I mean baaaad)
and then I started writing short stories. I wrote short
stories from 98 until about 2005, when I started Jack Wakes
Up. In that time I took a lot of creative writing classes
in Boston, Montana, and then at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop,
where I earned my MFA in 2002. I’ve now published
about a dozen of those stories in various literary journals,
mostly print and not online. (There’s a list of my
published stories on my site.) For a long time I thought
this would be how I’d get noticed, but after about
10 published stories, hundreds of rejections and no agent
willing to come within a mile of my collection, I began
to lose hope. At the same time, my attempts at writing a
literary novel weren’t going so well. Basically, I
didn’t know what I wanted to write. So instead of
following all literary influences, I decided to try following
some of the other things I like: movies like Pulp Fiction,
Scarface, Ghost Dog, and shows like the Sopranos. I started
writing Jack Wakes Up and had a ball with it. I gave myself
a deadline, finished the first draft before that, and then
ended up spending the better part of 6 months revising it.
When I first pitched to agents, I thought I’d hit
gold: right off the bat, two wanted to see the whole thing
right away. Then, when they got it, things didn’t
work out. Eventually I stopped sending it out. After a while,
I actually shelved the project and started working on something
Then, about a year ago, I submitted a story to an online
publication, Storyglossia. It was accepted and with it online,
more people started reading my work than had ever before.
I struck up a relationship with the editor and found out
he had 2000 visitors a day and my story was consistently
in the top 5 of stories hit.
KEVIN: So you were finally seeing some success. What did
you do next?
SETH: I figured I’d better get a website and start
putting up my work. Around this time, a friend suggested
that I podcast it.
I didn’t even know what podcasting was, but he introduced
me to Scott Sigler, and Scott helped me work through the
technical issues. Pretty soon I could tell that podcasting
was a way to reach a wider audience than just putting my
stories up in print form. Creating the podcasts and figuring
out how to make a website, took a little while, but by late
July of 06, I’d started podcasting Jack Wakes Up.
I chose it because Scott was doing Sci Fi and I figured
I’d have a better chance of getting an audience with
my novel then with the stories. And I wanted to do the novel.
Truth is, it was probably the most fun I’d had writing
something and it seemed like a natural fit to serialization.
So I started podcasting, Scott and a few others put up promos
for me on their sites, and I was off! By the time I finished
podcasting JWU, I had close to 1,000 listeners, and I was
getting real fan mail for the first time in my writing career!
KEVIN: What do you like about podcasting?
SETH: The great thing about podcasting is these listeners
started writing in, contacting me to say they liked what
I was doing, and that was great! For the first time I had
finally found an audience. I mean the goal of podcasting
was to develop an audience, something I could say in a cover
letter, like “I’ve podcasted this book to over
1,000 listeners.” I figured agents would love that.
Built-in audience and sales, right? No, they have no idea
what podcasting is and still don’t get what I’m
doing. But the thing was, podcasting JWU gave me some big
1. A way to feel like I was ready to move on from it: while
I was podcasting, I went over final edits, and came to feel
like I was done with the book, that it was “out there.”
2. A way to read it through carefully and actually look
at those edits
3. Exposure to a great audience: for the first time people
I wasn’t related to were excited about what I was
doing and following my work. People started to write in
and get involved, when my laptop was stolen, almost 50 people
wrote in with donations. I can’t really tell you how
great that felt. It basically helped me to get over that
awful time. Also, people wanted more from me: to know more,
to read more, to hear more of my work. As a writer, it’s
been great having that demand for what I create.
4. I’m building a real audience, growing my name recognition
and the “branding” of Seth Harwood. I know a
lot of my listeners would buy a book that I published. They’ve
written in and told me so. I’ve seen Scott Sigler
take his listeners and get them into a campaign that sent
his second book to #7 on Amazon.com the first day it came
out. He sold 4,000 copies in the first week alone, with
no marketing budget, no money spent, and a tiny, unheard
of publisher. In each of my episodes, I’ve started
talking about what I’m up to and asking my readers
for help with things. For JP2, I’ve had listeners
design the cover, add voices, make a pdf of Jack Wakes Up,
and help me redesign my website. It’s really cool.
And a lot of them want to do voices, which will help make
JP2 an actually interactive experience. That should be exciting.
5. Podcasting has been a great entry into promotions. This
goes with 4, but basically by joining the podcast community,
I’ve gotten to know a lot of other folks who’re
doing it and since there’s not so many of us, just
yet, we can all help each other. And people really are helpful.
When I started my pitch to promote JP2, I was able to get
a lot of people interested in having me on for an interview.
It’s really helped me build momentum.
KEVIN: So are you going to be focusing only on podcasting
SETH: No. I see it as a way to promote myself and to make
a direct relationship with my audience. They write in all
the time and I can write back. I’m getting to hear
from people all over the world, literally. I’m getting
my work out. But my goal is still to publish, to write books
and have them out in stores, online or brick and mortar.
I want to get a real contract and make money from this (have
I yet? No. Do I mind? Not really. I teach English and composition
part-time at two Bay Area colleges and that pays the bills).
Will I stop podcasting when I’ve done this? No. I
still see it as a great way to interact with an audience.
I’ve gotten more listeners by doing this from my home,
for free, than I could’ve on any big nationwide book
So for me, for right now, it’s great. I want to keep
growing, and podcasting has helped.
With the success of JWU, and when I realized how much fun
I had writing it, I decided to write another Jack Palms
book. Again, something I really enjoyed. I’m podcasting
part I of THIS IS LIFE this summer, and then I’ll
start Part II in the fall.
KEVIN: Do you see podcasting as a more of an episodic audiobook
or a way to give a dramatic interpretation of your work.
If it is a dramatic interpretation, how do you vary the
written version and dramatic version. Is it just sound effects
or are you making it more like an old radio serial?
SETH: I think there's a fine line between the podcast novel
as episodic serial and straight book. But then I guess it's
not so different from a crime series of books. That is,
at the end of a season of Sopranos, they don't wrap up everything.
In a book in a crime writer's series, not everything gets
wrapped up at the end, but pretty much all of it does. I
think the fact that I'm podcasting is pushing me more toward
the Sopranos kind of model. That is, at the end of JP2 part
I, which is roughly as long as JWU, everything isn't fully
wrapped up. And I like that. It gives people a reason to
come back for more, something else they'll want to listen
to. But by the end of Part II will I have a complete book?
(where everything, mostly, gets wrapped up) I hope so. It'll
be a long one, but I'm ok with that.
I think podcasting is really a serial audiobook. It's kind
of like what Dickens did and some of the old time pulp crime
writers. I don't intend to model it as an old-time radio
show, but I started using listener voices b/c it was a lot
of work for me to come up with all the various voices. Now
that I'm using listeners... it's still a lot of work to
cut and splice them in. Not sure where I'll go in the future
I've added a few sound effects, but I don't plan on adding
a ton more. It's definitely not a straight audiobook, though.
(Although if you listen to most of them now, the actors
doing the reading will use various voices.)
KEVIN: Does that effect how you write the book?
SETH: Not so much. The only way I vary the written and podcast
version is to drop a few "he said" and "she
said"s here and there, especially when it's obvious
b/c I'm using someone else's voice. It doesn't effect how
I write the book. I write with short chapters and usually
with a lot of dialogue. That's how I write. Especially for
a crime audience.
Check out the review of Jack Wakes Up following
this interview and visit www.sethharwood.com to catch up
on the latest news about Seth and Jack Palms.
Return to Summer 2007 Table of Contents
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