There are many reasons I love listening to “compete” fiction podcasts. But chief among these is the convenience factor. Because I’ve waited to start listening to episodes until the creator has reached a season finale or completed the entire season, I’m not waiting on them! (Yes, I recognize many people love listening along as episodes are posted. Y’all keep on keepin’ on. Podcasting is big enough for both of us!)
Unfortunately, that convenience factor is often hindered by the presentation of the complete series or season in podcast listening apps and directories. I lay a lot of the blame at the feet of podcast hosting companies who should, I feel, do a better job of catering to the specific needs of fiction podcasters and take a more active role in ensuring creators get things right.
But we don’t live in that world (yet?). We do, however, live in a world where I’ve helped close to a thousand different creators package their fiction podcasts in a way that maximizes the listener experience.
And, after all, every fiction podcaster wants to give their listeners an amazing experience with their show, right?
With that, I make the following ten recommendations on ways every fiction podcaster—staunchly independent or as part of a big production house or network—can improve the listener experience. I encourage you to open up your show’s dashboard in your hosting company and look at your implementation for each of these all-too-overlooked aspects of packaging for fiction podcasts
1. Is your title the right title?
Let’s start with arguably one of your fiction podcast's more important parts—if not the most important part—the title. This is rather straightforward to many fiction podcasters but a bit of a head-scratcher to others, particularly those with multiple seasons, anthologies, and podcasts that contain more than a single story.
When you set the title of your podcast in your podcast hosting company’s dashboard, you have a singular goal: Ensure your show is findable and unambiguous.
Both of those things. Findable, as in when someone searches on this name, will my show come up? And unambiguous, as in if multiple shows display, is mine obviously mine?
As an example of how not to do that, check out this search query for “coaches corner” on the Podnews search engine, which is a good representation of the results in-app search engines deliver. Twenty-two shows with that exact name, dozens more with those words in their titles, and then another set of results once the apostrophe is added. Which one is the right one?
Now search for your show. Or better yet, tell someone the name of your show and ask them to search while you peek over their shoulder. Do the results of that search look like what you expected? What do you need to do differently to your title to get the result you wanted? Add “The Audiodrama” to the title? A few shows do that. Maybe the title of your show isn’t the name of the story you’re currently podcasting. Podcast listening app search engines are exceedingly rudimentary, so be sure to name your podcast the same way you talk about your podcast and the stories you tell.
2. Is your artwork right for your show?
Potential listeners can and do judge a fiction podcast by its cover. And if the cover image for your murder mystery thriller looks like your 8-year-old made it out of macaroni at summer camp… you get the idea.
I’m not an artist, so I’m unqualified to tell you how to design your show’s artwork. All I can do is try to press upon you the need for the artwork to match the show and set the proper expectation, style, and tone. It’s a job that really does require some design chops, so I tend to work with designers rather than hacking something together on my own.
I am, however, qualified to tell you the technical specs your artwork must adhere to. Your final show-level image should be perfectly square, ideally 3000x3000 pixels (but not smaller than 1400x1400), in either JPG or PNG format, and less than 500 KB in total file size. If it’s not, then some directories will reject your show. Not kidding.
3. Is your show’s description actually descriptive?
Generally speaking, creators are bad a writing “summaries” of their work. “If I could say it in a couple of paragraphs, I wouldn’t have needed to write the whole novel,” I’ve had novelist friends say to me. And I understand the sentiment.
Perhaps a formula may help. Sure, there’s the risk it’ll be formulaic, but you can probably smooth that out before you update the box in your podcast hosting company’s dashboard. Try this:
- Start with a sentence that familiarizes prospects with the show they will hear. The first sentence of the description of Afflicted is a great example: “Lovecraft Country meets True Blood in this new series from award-winning producers Tonia Ransom and Jen Zink.” I wish the creators did more than this with their description, but I gotta give ‘em credit for a solid opening.
- After that, write a 2–3 paragraph synopsis that hits the important bits of your show. No, sorry, your characters' names are NOT the important part. Not usually, at least. Don’t give away everything but spend some time setting the scene. Is the story from a certain era? Is it an interesting mashup of different genres? Is there a location/geography component? Are the creators from historically marginalized groups? Try to think of unique aspects of your story that are different from things you’ve heard before.
- Give credit where credit is due! If you did everything, from script writing to performing to engineering and beyond, all by your little lonesome, congrats! Today, however, many fiction podcasts are a team effort, complete with showrunners, a cast of actors, sound designers, marketing people, and much more. And all of them deserve credit in the description of the show. You can even type out URLs for everyone if you like.
- Let people know how they can get in touch with you. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when I find a great show that I want to feature in The End but cannot reach the creator. Podcast hosting companies are taking email addresses out of RSS feeds, autogenerated websites don’t have contact forms, and people are disabling direct contact methods for their social channels. My advice? Get a show-specific email address and forward it to your inbox. Put the show-specific email as the last item in your show’s description.
Do those four things. But don’t worry about this going long. Write as much as you need. 500–1000 characters isn’t unusual in a solid show description, especially for fiction podcasts.
4. Is your website linked in your podcast feed?
If you have a separate website for your show, maybe on Squarespace or WordPress, be sure that website is added to your podcast hosting company's dashboard. Most podcast hosting companies will auto-generate a website for you. And if you don’t have a website, this is fine. But if you do, you want the website you built for your podcast to be associated with your podcast’s RSS feed, not the default one your hosting company creates. Find that field. Enter your custom website URL. And if your hosting company doesn’t allow this… switch hosting companies. It’s quite straightforward.
5. Is your “show type” correct?
Most fiction podcasts are designed to be listened to the same way fiction books are designed to be read and fiction television shows are designed to be watched: from the beginning. As it turns you, that’s a peculiar thing in podcasting, as the vast majority of podcasts are designed to be listened to more like magazines and newspapers are read: from the most recent episode.
Luckily for you, the fiction podcaster (and us, the fiction listeners), there’s a simple “fix”. All you have to log into your hosting dashboard and make sure your show type is set to “serial” and not “episodic.” Yes, you must do this, or your show’s feed will be set to episodic by default. But you are not default. You are a fiction podcaster!
Most podcast hosting companies make this easy. Some have hidden the setting, so you may have to send in a help request. Unfortunately, Anchor, now Spotify for Podcasters, does not let you change this setting. So don’t use Anchor for your serialized, listen-from-episode-one fiction podcast. Sorry.
When your show is properly marked as “serial,” apps like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, and more change how the show is displayed, giving new listeners your very first episode (or the very first episode of your last season, which is a little maddening but we’re moving in the right direction) rather than displaying your most recent—or the last episode if it’s finished—first.
No one wants to listen to your story backward. Don’t force your listeners to go into their app settings and fiddle around to get yours looking right. Change this setting. It’s dead simple. Unless you’re on Spotify for Podcasters/Anchor. Then… move.
6. Is there a trailer to preview your show?
Trailer episodes are fantastic for fiction podcasts. Every show should have one. And a new one should be created each season.
But… if your trailer still says something like “Coming this fall…” or “New episodes release every Tuesday,” that’s less helpful. It made great sense to make that trailer before you released an episode. It even made sense while you were releasing episodes every week. But now you’re not. The show (or one or more seasons) is fully available. Your trailer should say that.
Does that mean you need to make a new one? Well… yes. Keep the trailer (or trailers, if you have multiple seasons) relevant to listeners right now, not what was happening years ago when you started.
Also, mark the episode as a trailer. Not a full episode. And certainly not a bonus. Again, your podcast hosting company should make this easy. If not… switch!
7. Are your episodes properly numbered?
Your podcast hosting company should allow you to “tag” each episode with a season number and an episode number, a pair of fields perfect for fiction podcasters! Yet far too many fiction creators don’t use them. Bah!
Use them! But use them smartly. Every “story” episode should be numbered. Most “non-story” episodes should not. Yes, it’s possible—likely, even—for a fiction podcast to have numbered and non-numbered episodes. Consider a show that has a trailer episode, five episodes of actual story content, then a short episode when they went on break for the summer, then a “we’re coming back next week” episode, then the next five episodes of the story to complete the season, then a trailer for the 2nd season. And maybe a promo episode (an episode drop) for another podcast. That’s 15 episodes, but only 10 of them should be numbered. Like so:
- Trailer (S1, no episode number, type = trailer)
- Story pt 1 (S1/E1, type = full)
- Story pt 2 (S1/E2, type = full)
- Story pt 3 (S1/E3, type = full)
- Story pt 4 (S1/E4, type = full)
- Story pt 5 (S1/E5, type = full)
- On break special announcement (S1, no episode number, type = bonus)
- Coming back next week special announcement (S1, no episode number, type = bonus)
- Story pt 6 (S1/E6, type = full)
- Story pt 7 (S1/E7, type = full)
- Story pt 8 (S1/E8, type = full)
- Story pt 9 (S1/E9, type = full)
- Story pt 10 (S1/E10, type = full)
- Promo for another show (no season, no episode, type = bonus)
- Trailer for Season 1 (S2, no episode number, type = trailer)
There are lots of permutations to this, so do whatever you need to do. Just do it with intent.
8. Are your episode descriptions actually descriptive?
Writing a synopsis for the whole show is hard enough for a fiction podcaster, but doing that for each and every episode is… well, let’s just say I don’t have to struggle with how much to share without spoiling.
Regardless of that, there are a couple of things you should add to your episode descriptions that go beyond plot. Two things, really:
- Credit to the people who worked on/appeared in this particular episode.
- Information that “tethers” the episode back to you show. It’s possible a fan might share your episode directly from their listening app with a friend, losing the context of all the other episodes. A bit of boilerplate at the bottom of each episode, complete with a link back to the website or way for listeners to get more info, can help mitigate this problem.
9. Is your season finale/series final episode clearly marked?
The great thing about most fiction podcasts is that there is an ending, or possibly many endings, in sight. But right now, listeners don’t have a good way to determine if a season finale or the series completion for your show has been reached. Those last episodes look like any other, and many listeners (I’m one!) won’t start a show unless we know an endpoint has been reached.
So in place of a tagging system (we’re working on it!), it’s up to you, the creator, to clearly let current and would-be listeners know that you’ve reached a season finally or the series completion. And you’ll do that in two ways:
- Use something like “Season 2 finale” in the title of your final episode.
- Add something like “TWO SEASONS COMPLETE, AND THE THIRD STARTING IN OCT 2025” in the show's description, right at the very top. And yes, in all caps, Yell that stuff, yo!
That removes any ambiguity.
Pro-tip: Get your Q&A or Season Recap bonus episode posted 24–48 hours after your season finale is posted with info on when you’ll be coming back with new episodes. And clearly mark that one, too!
10. Have you cleaned up your feed?
All fiction podcasts take a long time to produce, but not all fiction podcasters wait until the hard work is done to start posting episodes. That can lead to all sorts of “extra” bits in feeds, from coming soon announcements for the next episode to multiple feed drops for other shows to behind-the-scenes episodes to other things that made sense at the time… but now it’s a year later. Someone listening brand new probably doesn’t need to sit through all that stuff.
So once you’ve posted a finale/the final episode, go back and delete the stuff that no longer needs to be there. In the example above, there’s no need to keep the episodes that announced the season break or the coming back soon event. That’s just clutter for new listeners.
Think of this as cleaning up after yourself. Delete what doesn’t need to be there now. Re-name (or re-number) to keep each episode consistent. Remember—listening now that the show/season is complete should be a much different experience than when you were releasing live. So clean this place up a bit. Company is coming over
So there you have it. 10 things you can do right now to help better package your fiction podcast for new listeners.
I’ve a few more thoughts and ideas noodling around in my brain, so you may see a few more articles like this from me that are written to help make the best experience for listeners like me.