When television writer and playwright Pia Wilson first became aware of the possibility of scripting for podcasts, she was intrigued.
“Shows like audio plays are as old as time—it’s a grand tradition,” Wilson said. “With my experience in fiction and theater, writing a serialized podcast was a natural fit.”
With that, Wilson went to work writing the podcast If I Go Missing… The Witches Did It. Critics praised the mystery-thriller when it premiered last year, awarding it a 2022 Webby for Best Scripted Podcast: People’s Voice.
Alongside the acclaim, Wilson gained entry into the elusive club of podcast writers. It’s a relatively new field that has only exploded in recent years with the proliferation of the popular, genre-ranging medium.
For others looking to break in, here’s an overview of the industry and some tips on how (and where) to find work.
Podcasts: The ‘Wild West’ of content
While the podcast industry is currently going through some growing pains after an avalanche of money flooded the art form—Spotify recently announced plans to scale back their podcast ventures after spending a cool billion dollars on the format in 2021—it’s clear the industry as a whole isn’t going anywhere. According to the research firm Statista, 82 million people in the U.S. listened to podcasts in 2022 alone. By 2024, that number is expected to rise to 100 million.
For writers, podcasting represents not only a precious source of income but an invigorating playground. “You definitely have more freedom in podcast writing because it’s the Wild, Wild West out there,” Wilson said. “When you’re in that kind of open environment, people are more willing to take a risk on the structure or different forms of storytelling.”
For Wilson, writing for podcasts is a stark difference from writing for the screen. “The television, film, and theater industries are more risk-averse, even if you’ve had a proven track record,” she said. “On podcasts, you can be a little different… You get to try new things.”
The path to podcast writing
While everyone’s path to the medium varies, Wilson noted that many of her podcast-writing peers have gotten jobs via networking or reaching out to podcast production companies directly.
For Wilson’s part, she collaborated with the company Realm, which specializes in highly produced and immersive tales like If I Go Missing… She found the opportunity through her agent.
Podcast scripting gigs are also regularly posted on typical job search forums like ZipRecruiter and UpWork. Contently also offers opportunities for podcasting creatives that range from scriptwriting to full-scale production.
Companies like Wondery, audiochuck, and Exactly Right churn out some of today’s most popular podcasts. There are also specialized outfits, such as the comedy powerhouses Earwolf, as well as Team Coco. (The latter company was a late-career lark by the former late-night host Conan O’Brien. He recently sold the venture to Sirius for $150 million.) Of course, there are also major corporations behind the podcast push as well, with the aforementioned Spotify and iHeartRadio behind some of today’s most popular shows.
Brands also put out their own podcasts: For instance, Morgan Stanley’s Access and Opportunity, a 2022 Webby winner, focuses on topical issues in the world of finance like building credit as a new immigrant or inclusive investing in real estate.
Other examples of branded podcasts include Inside Trader Joe’s, which is meant for mega-fans of the cult supermarket chain. DuoLingo produces podcasts in—you guessed it—a variety of different languages, and even Gatorade recently produced an interview-based show, The Secret to Victory.
Going solo: Dipping your toe into podcasting
Adding credence to the Wild West metaphor, would-be podcast writers also have the option of launching a podcast of their own.
A bevy of freelance journalists has transposed their respective expertise into audio ventures. The Italian travel writer Erica Firpo did just that with Ciao Bella, which offers insight into life throughout Italy.
Culture journalist Evan Ross Katz interviews celebrities for his Shut Up Evan podcast. And proving the podcasting audience knows no bounds, the writer and diehard skier Stuart Winchester hosts the ski-centric The Storm Skiing Podcast.
In terms of earning income from this type of work, there’s a wide range of possibilities for monetization. For those who host their own podcasts, sponsorship opportunities abound. For those trying to break into podcast writing as a freelance niche, pay varies greatly per project.
Skills to hone when writing for podcasts
When it comes to actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), Wilson said that the craft has some unique challenges and parameters that differ from plain writing for the page.
“You can’t rely on visual cues to get your point across,” she noted as an example. “It’s obviously a very aural experience. You have to be conscious of how words sound out loud, like not having too many ‘or’ sounds.”
A few other skills you may want to hone for podcast writing include:
- Conversational writing. You don’t want your script to sound like a diary entry or a long, monotonous report rife with run-ons. Often, writing for podcasts means writing for natural conversation—including opportunities for hosts to freeform riff.
- Pacing and personality. Successful audio content has a flow—almost a melody. You’ll want to consider the rhythm of your words, as well how to allow hints of hosts’ personalities to shine through. Think of this as the ultimate exercise in tone of voice.
- Collaborating with other creative professionals or teams. Like video scripting, podcast writing is just one piece of a larger puzzle when it comes to bringing the format to life. If you plan to write for podcasts, you’ll need to be comfortable working with other creatives like sound designers.
After the success with her foray, Wilson is keen on keeping active in podcast scripting—and she’s already hard at work planning another show. “It’s a strong medium,” she said. “And an interesting way to develop and tell any story.”
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Author: Rob LeDonne