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Why podfics, the audiobooks of fanfiction, deserve more appreciation

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Dec 10, 2019

Welcome to Read This Fanfiction. Once a digest, now a deep dive into the world of fan-created written works. Join us twice a month as we examine authors, platforms, trends, scandals, and more from every corner of the fanfiction universe.

With nearly 22,000 works on Archive of Our Own alone, podfic isn't exactly niche. Nor is it new. Fans were recording audiozines, aka fanfiction on tapedecks, in the 1970s and '80s, with Doctor Who and Star Trek stories being the most popular. But audio fanfiction didn't really make it "mainstream" until 2004 with sbp aloud, the Livejournal project to record an audiobook version of a popular Harry Potter fanfiction, "The Shoebox Project." Soon enough after that, podficcing communities started to pop up all over Livejournal and Dreamwidth. With the creation of the Audiofic Archive, which sadly had a major server corruption and lost over 25,000 podfics in 2016, podficcers were slowly building a community, one that would spread to Tumblr, Twitter, and Archive of Our Own over the years.

That said, podficcing is still on the outskirts of general fandom discourse. With the rise of podcasting, it's come up more often than it did two decades ago, yes, but it's still an art form and a way of experiencing fanfiction that more people simply need to know about.

"As a listener, it's the intimacy of it, the 'warm hug' of someone's voice," Annapods, who considers herself a major fan of podficcing, so much so that it actually helped her speak English, told SYFY WIRE. She finds the variety of skill levels one of the best parts of podfic. Not everyone is a master sound engineer or actor, but podfics are a labor of love — and it shows.

"There's no right way to podfic, and I really enjoy exploring all that's possible," she explains. "Podfic is especially good for that because it's multimedia. There's acting, sound engineering, design, communication, statistics, HTML, and sometimes CSS, project leadership, and participation. Compared to podcasts or audiobooks, podfics feel more personal. They're not as polished, and each podficcer does things differently. There are some podficcers I can recognize from the first lines of any of their intros, from their voice and the way they word it."

The grand majority of podfics live on AO3, with various tags identifying types of podfics, if they're MP3 downloads or streaming, as well as their length, be they 20 minutes or three hours long. And while that may be the main platform, podficcers also make use of Soundcloud, Box.com, Backblaze, and others. Additionally, Paraka Productions hosts the work of over 150 podficcers.

One of those podficcers is semperfiona.

"I can't even remember exactly how I found out about podfic. I know I'd been reading loads of fic, and there must have been some in the search results. I've been an audiobook listener for many years as I have a long commute every day, and the idea of listening to fic instead of reading it just seemed logical," she explains. She had been struggling with writing her own fic and so decided, after a bit of lurking, to finally give recording a fanfiction written by her friend a go. That was five years ago.

"I figured that she would be willing to give me honest feedback, and I didn't really know anyone else to ask. I definitely didn't know anyone in the podficcing community yet; I didn't even know there was a community until my author friend gave me a few names of people she knew," she explains. Soon after she started podficcing herself, she came upon the Harry Potter Podfic Fest, met a few podficcers, and the rest is history. Since then, she's gradually joined more online podficcing communities and this fall she attended Podfication, an annual two-day convention all about podfic.

Like many in the podficcing community, semperfiona is passionate about her craft and the community at large, wishing more people would take it seriously and understand the massive amount of work that is involved from beginning to end.

"Some people have an idea that podfic isn't really a fanwork in its own right. But it really is," she says. "You can tell this easily if you listen to two different renditions of the same story; they will be entirely different experiences."

And it's true. There's a vast number of facets to consider. Will it be narration or need multiple voice actors? Should music be added? How much editing will be needed? Who will do the cover art? Also, are you even allowed to record someone else's fanfiction?

This is where the Blanket Statement comes in. Think of it as an author granting permission for anyone to make transformative work of their transformative work. Typically, as far as AO3 is concerned, these sorts of statements can be found in authors' AO3 profiles. This allows podficcers, artists, and other creatives to be able to immediately get started on their own fanwork without having to worry about asking for permission and waiting for a reply. Otherwise, podficcers tend to ask authors if it's okay if they record their story. Most of the time the answer is yes, but the importance of asking or seeing a Blanket Statement is paramount.

When Werebear had just started recording herself, two of her own fics were suddenly podficced by two different people. One had asked her for permission, but the other had gone by the blanket statement and recorded it without doing so. The stories chosen were particularly close to her heart, which made the fact they inspired people to actually record them all the more special.

"I was very surprised and gratified that multiple people wanted to read my story aloud and put in all the work and thought that goes into making a podfic," she explains, "… since I had just started recording podfic myself, that effort was prominent in my mind… I know of several fic authors who are glad that people podfic their stories, but don't listen to them — it's too weird for them. For me, though — I was thrilled to hear the voices and interesting takes on how they delivered the dialogue and the jokes and so on."

For her, podficcing is a different way to experience a fanfiction. While she typically has trouble processing information aurally, she enjoys making podfics and finds that reading and recording the stories for herself brings her a great deal of enjoyment.

"I do wish that podfics got more love and appreciation in general," podficcer Werebear says. "The time required to make them is considerable, and from what I've seen on AO3 at least, you're lucky to get half a dozen kudos, if that."

One of the biggest initial hurdles in the podficcing world is learning how to record yourself and edit said recording. The vast majority of podfics fall into the realm of narration, much like an audiobook. Some podficcers say they do change the intonation of their voices for different characters, but rarely are accents and the like attempted.

Semperfiona typically finds herself recording in the evenings after work or on the weekends. Considering how often she podfics, she actually has a small room in her home that she uses as a recording studio, allowing her to shut out the world and record in peace and quiet. There she will spend roughly five hours on recording and editing per the finished hour of podfic. After that comes two hours of creating the cover art. However, each podfic is variable based on the length and often she will have beta listeners to give her feedback.

"I get up very early in the morning in order to help minimize background noise from my family and pets, and I record," Werebears explains. "When I stumble over a line or otherwise make a mistake, or if I want to try another take on a line delivery, I snap my fingers in order to mark the place for easier editing later, and re-do the line." Werebear explains that she tends to still focus on relatively short fics, but it'll still be an hour or two long process to just record, with a further four hours for editing.

"I'm terrible with accents, so I don't try," Sabine, who is primarily an author but has gotten into podficcing, admits. She tends to record solo, but has worked with a full cast a handful of times, including during a special internet event on Dreamwidth.

Pod Together is a podfic challenge where podficcers and authors collaborate to create audios. They can vary in style and include everything from the narration type to full old school, fully-casted, radio-style plays with foley effects and everything.

"It's unusual in fandom in that both sides play off each other, and the things that come out of it are really special," Sabine explains. She's participated in Pod Together three times and encourages anyone interested in recording or writing fic to get involved. Her own experience with podfics of her own work is much like everyone else's: It's amazing.

"It's so special to me when someone takes that time out and shows so much care and attention to my work then makes it into a whole new thing of their own. It's magic," she says. So, experience some magic of your own and listen to a podfic, or two, or 5,000.

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