Alex Blott is the host and creator of the Papertrail podcast. He is also currently working on the Think in Translation podcast series for Vagabond Voices. He loves the opportunities that podcasting gives him to speak with and learn from interesting people about subjects they are passionate about.
1) What inspired you to set up the Papertrail podcast?
The show started out from a desire to expand my own reading, and give myself the creative output I wasn’t getting from work at the time. I’d become aware of how limited my reading experience was and wanted to explore more of what was out there.
I decided to ask people whose writing I respected for recommendations. I was already listening to loads of book podcasts, but they were almost exclusively in the US, so I thought ‘maybe I can make this into a show and bring a little bit of a UK perspective to the space.’ Of course, I just wasn’t looking hard enough at the time, there are loads of awesome book shows being produced by people in the UK. But I’m glad I didn’t realise that at the time or I would have chickened out!
2) Who has been your most inspiring guest so far?
You’re going to get in me trouble!
That’s a really difficult question to answer outright, all of the guests have brought their own perspectives and thoughts which I’ve found valuable to my own reading and creative development. I think there have been a couple of moments with a few guests that have been particularly ‘inspirational’ in the sense that they helped me get closer to a text and understand the meaning behind it better though.
Most recently, I think Preti Taneja’s explanation of why ‘A Spy In The House of Love’ by Anais Nin was so influential for her is a great example. She was so open about what the text had meant to her growing up, and what she had learned from Sabina’s different relationships, and the way she impressed herself on the world. While I enjoyed the book, I wasn’t really able to sink into it and fully understand how radical and powerful the writing was until I spoke with Preti. That’s not unique to her episode either, it’s happened time and time again over the two years of the show.
That’s the beauty of the show, even the books which I am at first unsure about are often unlocked by what the people who chose them have to say. So often I inherit their enthusiasm and love for the book from them. Hopefully the people who are listening to the show feel the same.
3) How do you ensure that you continually grow your subscriber base?
The podcast was started as a way for me to escape from marketing deadlines and content calendars, and that’s still a little true today. Though I will admit it’s thrilling to see the subscriber count growing, and I do of course want as many people as possible to listen to it, I’m fairly lax on marketing the show beyond word-of-mouth and chatting books on Twitter
That’s probably not very useful for your readers, so here are a few things I should be doing for Papertrail much more than I do.
- Be aware of your guest’s social reach. Some of our guests on Papertrail have significant social following and those have been some of our most popular episodes. This doesn’t mean ignore interesting people without a social following. A great episode is a great episode. But do keep in mind that those episodes might be more of a slow burner/long tail in terms of audience growth
- Be direct with people. A newsletter is actually something I’m thinking of adding to Papertrail later this year. Mainly because I’m a tinyletter addict and I want to get in on that newsletter life; but letting people know directly about an episode and asking them to share the show can make a massive difference to your numbers over the first 30 days. Same goes for messaging people who are tangentially linked to your show. When you put out a show with an author, let their publisher know. They might ignore you, but if they don’t, a share from them could make a massive difference to their numbers.
- Speak with your fans. I always feel a little dirty saying ‘talk to your fans because it’s good for business’. Honestly though, talking to fans is fun and enlightening, it just also happens to make a big difference to developing a lasting audience as well. This is something I want to do more for Papertrail but I’m a nervous tweeter so it’s still something I’m working on. Papertrail is about conversations with interesting people, but I don’t want to limit that to the podcast itself. My new year’s resolution this year was to speak more with the show fans and find out more about what they like and want from the show.
4) Who will you be interviewing next on the Podcast?
You can check out all of our upcoming guests on our website. Our next guest is Samantha Harvey, for what I think is going to be a really interesting conversation about craft and experimentation in prose. The show’s new co-host, Sophie Hopesmith, has interviews lined up with Hannah Lowe and Kirsty Logan, and I’m really excited for both of those episodes. One of the great joys of bringing a co-host into the project is that I can now come to the show as a listener myself, rather than as the person who always has half a mind on keeping the conversation on-track.
5) Finally, why should BookMachine readers tune in?
Hopefully I’ve given them an idea already of the kind of show it is, but if you like in-depth book chat and uncovering books off the beaten track then this is the show for you. I’ve also found it to be a really great way to get a deeper insight into some of your favourite writers and what is driving them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned doing this show, it’s that the writers I admire are reading constantly, and that you can’t underestimate the impact of that.
The show is also still growing and developing. We’re keen to hear what listeners think about it, and who they want on the show, so if you’re looking to listen to a show where you can have an input into the way it develops, this is a great pick as well!