Friday 29 June 2012

12 Women in 12: Heather Ordover

When I decided to pick up the microphone and tried my hand at podcasting, I had a few heroes in mind. I am thrilled that I managed to snag a podcasting hero for this month's 12 Women in 12. Podcasting is a project that can be a huge platform for promotion, information and building a community and when it is put together with professionalism and style, is addictive to listen to. I caught up with podcasting legend Heather Ordover to ask her what it takes to make a great podcast the phenomenal success 'Craftlit' and its sister podcast 'Just the Books' have become.

(c) Heather Ordover
CraftLit is a free podcast for readers whose hands are too busy to hold a book and follows a format of an 'audiobook with benefits'.  When Heather started back in 2006, she realized it would be a great way to wed her crafty side (which was largely knitting at the time) with her literary-teacher side. (After a stint behind the scenes at Disney, Heather taught reading, then high school English before moving on to writing curriculum and eventually teaching writing at the University of Arizona).

However, in talking to Heather, it's clear that the format of the podcast wasn't always so clear cut and that she is a person constantly seeking improvement either for herself of her projects. It's something I can definitely relate to as a podcaster and demonstrates that no matter how much you've 'made it', there's always challenges to be lived up to if you are a person who strives for that.  Heather admits that orginially she was so nervous about being hyperbolic that she started with the tagline "a Podcast for Crafters Who LIKE Books." As she heard people say it was "for people who love books" she realised she had hit upon just what she was hoping to achieve and worked hard to create a perfect experience for her listeners.
As CraftLit grew in popularity, Heather realised that there were listeners beyong the crafters she orginially targetted and so began a parallel feed for 'Just the Books', a podcast with all of the book talk and none of the crafting. It meant that Heather was rapidly becoming the go to source for quality audio about books.

What's more, the quality of readers on the show has gone from strength to strength, attracted by Heather's commitment to her craft no doubt. Heather admits that over the history of the show they've had a number of times where listeners have stepped up and provided audio. She particularly loves this as it is a community that podcasts can provide, working together to keep the show fresh and alive.

"It means a lot to me that people took time out of their lives to record for us and it makes me really proud of all of us."

The reader's didn't stop there and over time Heather has included fabulous readers such as
Josie Henley-Einion of the CastingPod podcast. When Heather was stuck for a voice during the 'Woman in White' she turned to Josie who performed brilliantly and gave Heather the confidence to approach others. Previous readers have included talents such as Jon Scholes of, Ehren Ziegler (, listener Arielle Lipshaw and prolific Librivox reader Elizabeth Klett.  These are practiced and experienced voice artists, drawn to Heather's project and understanding for the need to add elements such as vocal depth and variety.

With this professional cast comes the draw back that Heather now feels unable to return to her listeners as readers for more free readings without a promise of some kind of compensation. So this time round she has asked Ehren to help her record the current book 'Gulliver's Travels' and when he's done, will be releasing the readings as a downloadable audiobook. Any monies that come in from those sales can then be split amongst her readers. It's a plan Heather is hoping to replicate with the upcoming work on Canterbury Tales and thus develop the podcast further still.

It makes you think when you hear this story, just how much time and commitment goes into making such a rich audio experience. The podcast is still freely downloadable and it's budget relies entirely on listener support, as do all podcasts. Heather is respected as highly as some of the big publishing houses that release audio yet with minimal budget and staffing. Heather is amongst a small band of podcasters that create quality audiobook experiences for crafters, book enthusiasts, students and homeschoolers alike, for free. 

As a podccaster myself I know how time consuming it can be to create something of quality that you can share with listeners so I nervously asked Heather how much time all of this took her. Heather admits that it's grown over time. Once Heather started getting emails from mother's of special needs children who used the show to learn literature so they could graduate from high school, she began planning more clearly for the future of the show.

(c) Heather Ordover
However, it wasn't until What Would Madame Defarge Knit? got picked up by Cooperative Press that Heather felt a very clear opportunity to use the book and podcast as support for each other. Coupled with her understanding of the importance of what she provides, Heather knows that both her podcast and 'In Your Shakespeare' by Ehren Ziegler are crucial to reviving interest in Literature. Both podcasters are incredibly passionate about how important it is to read, watch, and listen to these texts; how important it is for people to grow and become both more aware and more curious through hearing classic tales.

So finally, what is her advice to those wishing to follow in her footsteps?
Get a great mic!
Heather explains that when people comment about the audio quality (good or bad) on podcasts it almost always comes down to the mic. A good mic doesn't have to cost a lot of money, but comfortable ones often do. Heather suggests doing a test run on a friend's son's gaming headset before you buy something new. Heather uses a Plantronics DSP-500 headset mic because she likes to move when she talks.
Heather also learned from early feedback on sound quality that recording with a dying mic or in the wrong environment for the sake of a weekly schedule is not going to cut it in what she is trying to achieve. She explains: 
When you have my voice in your ear you seriously DO NOT NEED to have the added background noise. Clear audio is a must.

Oh and if ever you want to smile when you listen to Heather's voice, just remember she's using a mic she's specially modified to achieve the quality audio she wants. The trick? Roving and handpsun added to get it to sit right and avoid popping Ps. Brilliant.

Heather's final words that she left me were:

(c) Heather Ordover
"I am really not full of it when I say CraftLit people are just better. I've met many, many, many listeners over the last 6+ years and seriously—no bad apples in the bunch. I love my listeners. We're all so nice on the Ravelry group—not that we don't differ in our opinions, just that we're nice about it. It's just a joy to know that everyone is out there, living their lives and making the world a better place by just being themselves."
I like to feel I'm included in that bunch as a loyal listener. A huge thank you to Heather for taking time out from her busy life to answer questions to share with the playful readers. If you would like to keep up to date with all of Heather's projects, you can follow them on her website or twitter feed.
Stay tuned for more 12 women in 12 and please do join in to show your appreciation for great business stories by either tweeting along on twitter (#12womenin12) or sharing your feelings on your own blog. Be sure to let me know/ link us in, I'd love to know what you think!

No comments: