205-223-4415 shawn@shawnwright.net

On September 6, 2019, I published the first episode of my podcast, the Shades Cahaba Oral History Project. It was a conversation with the current Shades Cahaba Elementary School Principal, where we talked about the start of the school, former principals, and what education was like in Shades Valley at the turn of the 20th century. The podcast was my way of celebrating the upcoming centennial of the school that my children and I had attended and for me to learn more about the school’s history. I originally wanted to record simple interviews, but I soon realized I could share the story with many more people through a podcast.

The number of episodes I would produce depended mainly on the number of people I could find to interview, the amount of information I could dig up on the school, and the history of Shades Valley, where the school is located. I buried myself in research and let the episodes come as I learned more. After 23 episodes, I felt I had told enough of the story of Shades Cahaba to conclude my podcast. And it was just in time. That last episode, titled “Time for a new Shades Cahaba,” was posted on April 7, 2020, and the spread of the Covid-19 virus was picking up speed. Access to libraries and interviews with people was already making research harder. It was bound to get worse.

April was a pivotal month because not only did production on my podcast come to an end, but because of Covid-19, my kids came home from school, and my wife was sent home to work. My business took a hit, as most did. There was not a lot of work coming my way while my clients focused on staying in business and learning how to manage their full-time workers remotely. Instead of worrying about work, I wanted to do something constructive with my extra time instead of watching tv, surfing the internet, or making sourdough starters and bread.

I looked back on the content I had created for the show. There were 23 episodes of the podcast; some were interviews, and the rest were scripted shows. There were also 75 blog posts written in support of the podcast. There were stories that either did not make it to the podcast or were meant to enhance an episode. And no matter how much you might love podcasts, you can’t show the photos in an audio show.

What if I wrote a book? It can’t be that hard, right?

I am a big fan of COPE, the “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” methodology popular among content creators. You can write your story once and publish it in many ways to reach many audiences. A blog post can become a podcast, video, email, or in my case, a book. It was time to walk the walk, but first, I had to learn how to write and self-publish a book.

Since the podcast and the book were non-fiction, I didn’t need to follow any structures reserved for novels and creative writing. I settled on a somewhat chronological order and created my chapters.

The first thing I did was have all my interviews transcribed. I like to script my podcasts. They sound better than rambling on and on without a script. Using a script helped me when I moved the story into the book. But the interviews needed to be transcribed. I chose Sonix.ai to transcribe the interviews based on cost, speed, and how it let me edit. A computer performed the transcription, so I needed to go back and clean up what was said. The thicker the accent, the more editing I had to do. I was able to listen to the audio and change words and phrases in real time. When it was all completed, I could download the file and edit the content.

If you have ever transcribed a conversation, you will probably be surprised how awful it reads. We use many placeholder words when we speak, umms, ahhs, you know, and the like. We also repeatedly say the same word or phrase as our brains search for what we want to say. In conversation, we don’t even notice. In print, we sound awful, and that is why we have editors.

Once I had all my interviews transcribed, I brought them, along with my blog posts, into Scrivener, where I organized them into chapters. I used Evernote software to keep track of most of my notes but writing the book happened in Scrivener, software designed for writing long-form content such as books and screenplays. I could move stories around and focus on writing one chapter at a time. It was very helpful and kept me from feeling overwhelmed.

If you are considering writing a book, then there is a point where you are going to have to depend on outside sources for help. For instance, who is going to help you edit your book? There are only so many times you can run your manuscript through spell check and Grammarly. You are going to have to put a critical eye on your manuscript. More than likely, you have friends or family members who have offered to read and edit your manuscript. They would probably do a good job, but this will be more work than they probably realize. And if they are not being compensated, there is a good chance they may put it on the back burner and never get around to finishing. Consider hiring a professional editor if you want to get it done promptly.

Designing the book was the next step. Lucky for me, I am a professional graphic designer, and I was able to do all that. If I was honest with myself, I would probably say that I wrote a book so that I could design it.

When my book was written, edited, and designed, it was time to publish it. There is a whole world of publishers who will pay you to publish your book, or you pay them to do it. I don’t know anything about that world. I went straight to self-publishing.

I chose to publish my book using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing which let me do everything. I uploaded my formatted kindle book and the file for my print book. I set the price, uploaded a cover image, and wrote the overview. Once I made it through all the steps, I ordered print proofs. I went through 2 or 3 edits because of a print issue on my cover and typos. You never see a typo until your book is printed.

A friend told me in the nicest of ways that she would not buy my book on Amazon. She is a strong supporter of our local bookstores and did not want to support Amazon in any way. I agree with her; I think we should support our local bookstores. But without Amazon, I would not have been able to publish my book. It is as simple as that.

My audience for this book is hyper-local. The school is located in a small suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, and is the smallest of the three elementary schools in the town. The surviving students who attended when it was a high school are all in their late 80s or early 90s. I didn’t expect to sell many books, to begin with. If I were to print my books the traditional way, I would likely have had to print 500 or 1,000 copies, and the per-unit print cost would be too high to justify. I would likely have boxes of books in my basement that I would be moving around for the rest of my life. Amazon prints each book on-demand, allowing me to buy author copies in any quantity at a reasonable price.

I have donated copies of my book to the Homewood Library and the Linn-Henley Research Library for people to read and use for research. Local schools also have a copy. Preserving the school’s history was my main goal. A book on a shelf in a library is the end game for me.

Promoting a book from a podcast is the final step in self-publishing. Since my book is hyper-local, posting to Facebook on my podcast and personal feeds has been a big help. The work I had done promoting my podcast paid off when I published my book. My friends and family network has helped me promote my book, and I have sold more than a few to people who have dropped by and purchased a book or five.

So there you have it, the story of how I turned my podcast into a book. I enjoyed doing it so much that I started another podcast and published another book. Be looking for that story in another post.

I never did answer the question “What if I wrote a book? It can’t be that hard, right?” Yes, it was hard but mainly because it took longer than I expected and I had to read the manuscript many times. 


If you would like to purchase a copy of “Shades Cahaba: The First 100 Years,” you can do so at Amazon.com

You can also listen to the Shades Cahaba Oral History podcast and read the blog posts by visiting, https://shadescahabahistory.com/

How I Turned My Podcast Into A Book

by Shawn Wright | From Paste-Up To Pixels