Kate Baker is the podcast director for Clarkesworld, an online magazine of speculative short fiction. She is a long-time resident of North Central Connecticut. When she isn’t pouring her heart and soul into the magazine, she’s working for a software company on the East Coast, or spending time with her three children.
I had the pleasure of interviewing her a short while after learning that Clarkesworld won the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine.
Daily Dragon: Welcome to Dragon*Con. How does it feel to be on the team that won the Hugo?
Kate Baker: Fantastic. We are a true team. Short fiction is important to all of us.
DD: What do you find the most challenging aspect of your business?
KB: Bringing stories to life in a way that best represents the intent and spirit of the author’s work. Bringing emotion to the characters, both protagonists and antagonists.
DD: Making it more like a radio play than someone simply sitting down and reading a story?
DD: Do the authors tend to read the stories, or does the magazine use regular voice actors?
KB: We started podcasting two years ago, and sometimes Neil Clarke, the editor, would use the author, and sometimes he would choose other people to read. I started reading for him in January of 2009, and then I became staff in October of that year.
DD: So you worked your way up?
KB: Yes. We were chatting at WorldCon, and Neil said, “I love the narrations that you’ve done, how do you feel about joining the staff?” and I said, “Heck, yeah!”
DD: What sort of traffic do your podcasts generate?
KB: We publish 24 stories a year, two per issue, an issue a month. When we originally started podcasting, we published one podcast per issue. The staff were brainstorming, and Neil wondered what we could do to get more downloads, more listeners, and I said, honestly, the better thing to do would be to add more content. Let’s put a podcast out on the fifteenth of the month, as well as the one on the first of the month, so we would have people coming back to the site for the second podcast.
DD: So that must generate more consistent traffic, where people don’t all try to jam your server in the first couple of days.
KB: Looking at the subscription numbers, it’s shot through the roof. When I started we were averaging about 800 downloads per month, and we get about 1,500 in the first couple of days now, and average over 3,000 downloads per month for each podcast.
DD: Have you considered adding non-fiction content, such as having the authors describe the process of how their stories evolved?
KB: I think it’s in the works. We’re definitely looking to expand and offer more of that type of content. It’s a matter of finding the time to organize and prepare a plan to go in that direction. Right now, we’re so busy at the end and start of the month, that time constraints are preventing us from doing so.
DD: Because Clarkesworld is online, do you have an “office” in the traditional sense?
KB: Our staff is across the world, all across the U.S. and in England. The Internet is an amazing place. We have a great email system, we use instant messaging, we essentially collaborate on everything.
DD: Is your job at Clarkesworld your first foray into the publishing business?
KB: Yes. But also I worked for Tony C. Smith at Starship Sofa, which also won the fanzine Hugo this morning.
DD: So you have your finger in multiple Hugo pies? You’re the Kevin Bacon of the Hugo Awards?
KB: Ha! No, Tony probably passed out when his name was announced this morning. It was very good to see him win. It was the first podcast that’s been nominated for a Hugo. It’s excellent news. Maybe it will open the door for other podcasts.
DD: Podcasting is an industry that’s really taking off. One that bases its promotional model on word-of-mouth, so any type of publicity must be helpful. Perhaps a mainstream push, such as appearing in a movie?
KB: I think Rachel Swirsky said, “What makes podcasts so appealing is that podcasting is a medium which is very convenient for people who don’t have the means to have a book with them. All you need is a set of headphones and an MP3 player.” Say someone serving in the armed forces oversees, people driving, doing the dishes, exercising, or gardening. It’s a way of reading when you’re working with your hands, or being occupied with something else.
DD: Yes! I’ve always been frustrated that I can’t run on the treadmill and read a book at the same time. Think of all of the extra reading I can get done now.
KB: Exactly. And the short story is the best format for a podcast because there’s your hour. You can take an hour to exercise, take an hour to clean your house, and in that hour you can finish the story. Plus, the caliber of stories that Clarkesworld brings in are very high. They’re amazing written works by amazing authors that anyone can listen to. I have the best job in the world right now.
DD: How did you feel when the magazine won? Did you feel like a portion of it was your prize?
KB: I don’t want to say it’s my award, but Neil was kind enough to mention me in the acceptance speech, delivered by Cheryl Morgan who was down in Australia. It’s a pretty good feeling. We can plaster this one all over the front page, “Hugo Winner, 2010!”
DD: Do you see this as your future, the direction your career will take?
KB: I would love to, but like many of the aspects of publishing, it’s not hugely financially rewarding. Narrators and podcasting directors aren’t compensated enough to pay the bills. I would like to see that changed for the industry in the future, but for now, my work is born out of a love for the genre. If my friend Peter Hodges hadn’t written a great story, and I hadn’t picked up a microphone to read it, then I wouldn’t be sitting here today. That’s where the genesis is. If you had asked me seven years ago, if I would see myself here, at cons, involved in podcasting, I would have said, “No.” But I am, and it’s an amazing change.
DD: Thank you so much for agreeing to do an interview so early in the morning, and so soon after the big Hugo Award win. Congratulations to you and to Clarkesworld. I look forward to more of your great podcasts.