Have you ever spent months, maybe years, either thinking about or working on an idea that you’ve been completely unsure of? Where you frequently move between, ‘This is brilliant,’ and ‘What on Earth am I doing?’
That was me for far too long, so I decided to do something about it. I had an idea for a podcast that I liked, but I wasn’t sure if anyone else would. Inspired by the concept of building a minimum viable product, I decided to show my work and test the idea with real, actual people.
My brilliant or possibly not brilliant idea
Here is the idea in a nutshell.
Leisure Club is a fictional podcast set in a local, erm, leisure club. It’s narrated by a somewhat irritable communications officer, who reports a mixture of mundane and slightly sinister news and nonsense. Episodes last no more than 10 minutes. There are recurring characters and ongoing storylines. It features darkness, warmth and silly jokes.
Watch out Ira Glass. I’m coming to get you.
The idea came about when I tried a little free writing on my lunch break. I started with a sentence and went with the flow.
I wrote two or three paragraphs and thought that they were slightly silly in a way that I sort of liked. I wrote some more later that week then pecked at it in spare moments over the next few months.
I don’t remember why, but I ended up mentioning the idea on the Write for Your Life podcast. No details, just that I’d written something a little different and that I thought it might work as a fictional podcast.
I decided to work what I'd got into a cohesive script, record the audio quickly and find some suitable sound effects to give it some background noise. I went with a looped sound of children playing in a swimming pool.
With a rough first cut, I decided to share my work with a handful of family and friends. The feedback was generally good.
Everyone said they'd laughed in the right places and most thought it could work well in the format. The consensus also said that episodes should be shorter, tighter and have more varied background sounds.
So, pretty good, right? I was certainly pleased, but with an already busy schedule and a novel to work on, I ended up putting the project on the back-burner again.
To make those kinds of changes, especially the added sounds, would take time. That was the one thing I didn't have, especially to spend on a project that could come to nothing.
One of the most difficult things about having limited time for non-actual-job projects is knowing how to spend it. In a commitment-free world, I'd have invested my time and energy, launched Leisure Club and waited to see what happened.
However, with children to work around and a full-time job, that notion felt like a luxury.
But, but, but… what if?
My interest in the project was reignited when the Write for Your Life podcast came to an end, which also coincided with me starting a new job at Yoomee.
Was the idea of a fictional podcast set in a leisure club really such an unusual, unmarketable idea?
There are some great fictional podcasts out there that have taken a specific, narrow idea and had great success. There's Welcome to Night Vale, of course, but also Hello From the Magic Tavern, which I love.
What if there was an audience for Leisure Club?
In fact, what if there were enough people – and there need not be many – who would not only enjoy listening, but be willing to support the project financially through Patreon?
I have a need to make money. Family. Security. But also because it's very difficult to make a living out of writing literary fiction. Stories about people and everyday life don't tend to sell in their millions. It does happen, but not very often.
I’m not going to self-publish my novels, but perhaps I could experiment to try and make income from my other fiction without having an impact on my longer work.
Patreon is great for this. I could see scope for Leisure Club rewards, like deleted scenes, original scripts and listener-suggested characters. And there would be plenty of ways to expand the Leisure Club world via a fictional Twitter feed, Facebook page or website.
As you can probably tell, I found myself thinking about Leisure Club a lot. I’d been writing new material too, whenever an idea came to me. It was time for a second opinion.
Creating a minimum viable podcast
You might have heard of the term, minimum viable product (MVP). Here’s a pretty good definition:
Building a minimum viable product is a strategy for avoiding the development of products that customers do not want. The idea is to rapidly build a minimum set of features that is enough to deploy the product and test key assumptions about customers’ interactions with the product.
In my day job at Yoomee, I’d been getting used to the idea of building an MVP and it had got me thinking about writing fiction.
It takes so long to plan, structure and write a short story, let alone a novel or, in this case, a script for a fictional podcast. More often than not, those projects stall or end up beneath a pile of rejection letters.
Why don’t we test our ideas earlier? Not with friends and family or even a handful of beta readers, but with real people?
Instead of dilly-dallying any further, I started thinking about what an MVP (with the P now for podcast) might sound like for Leisure Club. What was the minimum I could put together that would allow me to test the viability of the idea?
Not much, I reasoned. In just a couple of hours, I rewrote the original script into something shorter and tighter, rerecorded the narration and replaced the background noise with looped music.
After more than a year of tinkering, my minimum viable podcast was assembled in no time at all. And here it is.