What I’ve learned in 6 years of podcasting

Anne Bogel sits at her desk recording a podcast.

Today marks the 6th anniversary of What Should I Read Next. We launched Episode #1, called Books that inspire crying jags and sleepless nights (in the best sense), on January 12, 2016, with guest Jamie Golden.

Jamie loved Persuasion and 11/22/63. She hated Go Set a Watchman. I recommended The Man in the High Castle, A Man Called Ove, and Bel Canto. The whole thing was 24 minutes long.

Six years later, much remains the same. The core format is unchanged: every week a guest tells me three books they love, one book they don’t, and what they’ve been reading lately—and based on what our conversation reveals about their reading life, I recommend three books they enjoy reading next. (Read the show’s origin story, including how I came up with this format, here.)

And yet the show has evolved over the years. I’ve loosened up a lot, and the format reveals this flexibility. Now instead of keeping the show to a tight, loves-hates-and-recs only format, we have room to explore interesting topics that pertain to the reading life each week. We have a great team who makes the show sound amazing week after week.

But the biggest change is probably in me. Six years in, I mostly feel like I actually know what I’m doing these days. (Ha!) And, most importantly, I know that instead of looking to others to show me the “right” way to podcast, I can, with my team’s help, allow this show to become what it needs to be.

I’ve learned SO MUCH along the way; here are a few highlights from six years of podcasting.

What I’ve learned in 6 years of podcasting

Aside from the silly-yet-serious bits like socks make great pop filters (necessary because it turns out I pop my p’s), and books make great microphone stands, and when I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to say next I tend to talk really slow which is really hard to edit, and to always, ALWAYS run backup audio because paranoia has served us well in that regard …

1. Pick a topic you could talk about until the end of time.

When I began quietly talking about starting a podcast 7 or 8 years ago, a lot of people wanted to tell me what I “should” podcast about. Most people thought I should launch a podcast called “The Modern Mrs Darcy Show” where I talked about the same stuff I blogged about. I love this blog, and at the same time, I had zero interesting in doing that. Zip, nada, none.

Instead, I wanted my podcast to follow a tightly constrained format that could nevertheless feel fresh and new each week, one with a supportive structure that allowed endless freedom for exploration.

And I wanted to talk about books, something I knew I’d never grow tired of, and about which there’d always be something new to say.

2. Everyone gets nervous, but you’re the expert on your own reading life.

What Should I Read Next is not like other podcasts. The majority of our guests are “regular readers,” as our listeners have come to call them. Most will never be on another podcast, because that’s not what they do.

We feature a wide variety of readers who can reflect your own reading life back to you, people who sound like—who sometimes actually are—your sister or neighbor, grandma or nephew, your dentist or nanny, your child’s teacher or your own, your therapist or local business owner.

Maybe that’s why most of our guests confess to being nervous when we sit down to record. They’ve never podcasted before; it’s not their job!

At this point I usually tell an embarrassing story or tell them how much Daisy dislikes being shut out of my home podcast studio for recording. I’ll ask about their pets, plans for later that day, favorite Taylor Swift songs. I typically confess to being nervous, too, which is 100% true: because of the way our show works, I typically sit down having NO IDEA what books I’m going to recommend at the end of the episode, and that’s not easy!

But I also tell them a foundational truth our show is built upon: everyone is the expert on their own reading life. No one else is equipped to talk books for the next hour in exactly the way they are. We’re going to have fun together, and they are going to sound GREAT.

And you know what? That’s always how it goes.

3. Hard writing makes for easy reading.

I couldn’t resist using that quote, from one of my favorite (and much-mentioned on WSIRN) Wallace Stegner novels, Crossing to Safety. Stegner’s character is talking about writing novels, but there’s an apt parallel for podcasting.

It takes an unbelievable number of hours from our team to create a finished What Should I Read Next episode that clocks in under one hour. Our listeners know that we’re not making a sophisticated audio production like Radiolab, but a conversation about books. It doesn’t sound like it takes twenty or thirty (!!) hours to make a single episode, but it sure does. (And I’m not even counting my reading time!)

We put in all that work—communicating with guests, preparing for conversations, editing the audio, scripting our show notes—because we know that all that hard work makes for easy, enjoyable, effortless listening.

4. There is such a thing as being overprepared, and it does not make for a good episode.

Ours is not—should not be—a scripted show; the best episodes sound like free-flowing conversations. Careful preparation sounds like it should be a good thing! Alas, that is not necessarily the case.

Occasionally I’ll need to coach a guest to back away from their notes so they can talk to me from the heart. It makes a huge difference in how the episode sounds in your ears. (Easy listening, remember?)

Another frequent note I give guests is to skip the plot when they’re talking about their favorite books. We don’t want to know what happens, we want to know what the book’s about—two very different things. And most importantly, we want to know what your reading experience was like.

How did the book make you feel? Tell us about that.

5. The best books come out of left field.

In talking to hundreds of guests on the podcast about what they love and what they don’t, it’s been interesting to notice the patterns of people’s reading lives. I have a thousand insights I could share, but the most striking is probably this: even for readers who have very specific taste, their best-of-a-lifetime reading experiences are often notably dissimilar to what they typically enjoy reading.

If you hear me helping readers find more of what they love while also urging them to take a chance on something new, this is why.

6. The perfect recommendation will always come later—and that’s okay.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ll finished a recording with a guest, step away from my mic, go make myself some lunch, and THEN AND ONLY THEN does the perfect book recommendation occur to me. Wait, on second thought, I CAN tell you: it happens nearly every week!

I used to stress about this, but I don’t anymore, and here’s why: there’s always going to be another episode, another conversation about books, another opportunity to share the right title with the right reader. I’ve learned I can email the guest this “bonus” selection, or even record a bonus episode for our Patreon supporters.

A great book never goes to waste.

Thank you!

Readers, thank you for making this a wonderful six years of podcasting. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section: what episodes have you particularly enjoyed, what book have you discovered, what have you learned about your own reading life from What Should I Read Next? We’d love to hear all about it!

P.S. If you’ve never listened, this week’s episode is a great place to jump in: Episode 314, Your reading life is in good hands. The same goes for last week’s episode: Episode 313: Books that stand the test of time.

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  1. Neerja Jain says:

    Happy 6 years of sheer bookish delight Anne! So grateful for you and this podcast in my life and what’s its done for my reading. Thank you and congratulations from the bottom of my heart!

    • Catherine Morrison says:

      I have enjoyed hearing recommended titles and reading them myself. I like connecting with readers and feeling as “I’m not alone” when a book title wasn’t a favorite. I also love Anne’s way of drawing out guest’s thoughts…”tell me more”, “what other ways…”, or just being quiet and letting the guest talk. I’ve learned so much just through your ability to conversate! Thank you for 6 years of great listening! Keep on keeping on!

      • Milissa says:

        I agree with this comment so much! I’m only halfway kidding when I tell people “listening to this podcast has made me better at my job.” I’m in sales, but I’ve never thought of myself as a salesperson, I’ve always thought of myself as a problem solver…”someone who helps people.” A few of the language techniques I’ve picked up from Anne has made such a huge difference…and it’s also taught me how to think differently (because it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask that or use that phrase.) Plus, I’ve had the best reading year yet…not because I read more, but because Anne has taught me to choose better. I love this show! Happy 6 years.:)

  2. Karen Wirth says:

    I am a new listener to What To Read Next. At the age of 55, I completed my Ph.D. in Sociology and find myself commuting over an hour each way to the university where I teach. I savor each new episode that comes out and began listening from the first episode in between new releases. I have gone from listener to Patreon member to MMD Book Club member in a few weeks because I can’t get enough! Thank you for making a relatively long commute go by in a blink of an eye!

  3. Amy Mair says:

    I have my own book review podcast that I started a year ago. Yours is a constant source of inspiration. You are authentic, informative and relaxed. I love your calm voice. Congrats on six years!

  4. Kathleen says:

    Thank you, Anne, for your continuing important work. It was so dear to read this article and to see my name with Crow Mary circled next to it. I’ve been working so hard on her story and seeing this today just spurs me on.

  5. Sarah Jane says:

    I remember where I was driving when I heard the first episode. Ever grateful for your podcast and how it has positively influenced my reading life! All the best.

  6. Leah says:

    Congratulations on 6 years! I’ve so enjoyed listening to your show since the beginning and seeing it evolve – but not too much : ) I’ve gotten countless recommendations that I’ve enjoyed from you and I feel like listening to WSIRN was what first gave me permission to make more time for my reading life as a busy mother with young children.

  7. Wendy says:

    I haven’t listened to a podcast, but I intend to rectify that very soo. I love reading your blog and seeing what books you recommend. Thank you and many blessings.

  8. Lkb says:

    Dear Anne and Crew and also all the lovely people who comment with book suggestions, This is my first comment and it is way overdue. I have listened and read and made tbr lists from your emails and podcasts for years. I open all of the emails and listen to every episode, but have never said thank you. THANK YOU!!! There are so many books I wouldn’t have read without hearing about them from you and your wonderful guests (and the great readers who leave comments!), but now live in my heart as friends. A neat result of the work you all put in for an easy listening experience occurred for me when my sweet granddaughter was super colicky. The only “noise” that soothed her to sleep was your kind voice talking books. It works on many levels! I use it for stress relief, to just go to the bookshelf and browse with like-minded folks. Thank you, thank you, all of you! It is much appreciated!

  9. Annie McCloskey says:

    Anne, I need to let you (and your team!) know how much I love, love, love your podcast. Your authenticity is apparent every week… your love for reading, books and discussing books comes through in every episode. Congratulations!

  10. Courtney says:

    Happy 6 years!!! WSIRN was literally my gateway podcast- I had been an MMD blog reader for years so I was excited when you started this thing called a podcast. 🙂 It’s still my favorite and I’ve never missed an episode! Plus it’s done wonderful (terrible??) things to my TBR stack. This behind the scenes peek was fun- keep up the amazing work, WSIRN team!

  11. Darian Carson says:

    I have enjoyed every episode (I think). In addition to the amazing recommendations, I have learned three important lessons from the podcast: 1) Audiobooks are awesome, 2) I can (I am “allowed”) to read more than one book at a time—that never occurred to me before and 3) I need to plan for reading time in my schedule so it actually happens. These three things stand out as game-changers in my reading life. Thank you so much! I look forward to many more podcasts. Happy 6th Anniversary!

  12. Katherine Hardee says:

    Congratulations on 6 years Anne…I’ve been listening for three and rarely miss an episode. It is one of the highlights of my week! My reading life has never been better. Thank you and the entire MMD team for all the hard work to bring us each episode. BEST podcast ever!

  13. Laura says:

    Have loved the show since the first episode. Had to find internet while I was in Europe so I could download it, but I was able to and it has been a favorite ever since!

  14. Allie G Smith says:

    Happy Anniversary. I am flabbergasted that you come up with your recommendations while you interviewing. I am beyond impressed!!!!

  15. Candace H says:

    Thank you Anne and team! ✨ Have listened to almost every episode (some twice) and have a healthy and diverse TBR because of your podcast. Congrats 🍾 and here’s to many more years of wonderful book discussions and getting to know the fantastic team and guests!

  16. Janene says:

    Congratulations on six years of this wonderful podcast! Some of your guests have reading tastes much different than mine and others seem like we could be really good friends, sharing notes about books all day. No matter what, I always enjoy listening and I always hear about a book or two that must go on my TBR. Thanks to you and your team for all you do to make this podcast so much fun for all of us!

  17. Natalie says:

    Anne, congratulations on 6 years! I found WSIRN in 2018 when, as a mom of 4 young children, I found myself in a serious reading desert. Listening to your podcast helped me rediscover my reading life! It gave me permission to read what I like, rather than what I “should” read. So many of your recommendations have been winners with me. I began reading for pleasure again, found a book club and my reading life has flourished, thanks to your show. Thank you!

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Happy 6th birthday to WSIRN! I love the podcast and listen faithfully. You are an inspiration to this stay at home mom who is considering next steps as my youngest will be off to kindergarten this fall. I hope to be able to turn one of my passions into my life’s work! Thank you for making me feel that it is possible. And, of course, thank you for the myriad book recommendations over the years.

  19. Krist says:

    I’m a MMD groupie. I listen to every episode even if the guest has absolutely nothing in common with my interests, I always learn something or hear about a title that would be a perfect read for a family member or friend. I just listened to episode 313 this morning and it is my current favorite. Something about pacing your reading and reading backlist or the complete catalog of a favorite author. When I read “The Whistling Season” by Ivan Doig, I fell in love with his writing. I have most of his books on my shelf. I’m going to take 2022 and read them! Thank you, Anne. You make my reading life so much better.

  20. Sue Clark says:

    Anne – all the comments above say it all…yes there are other great book podcasts out there….yet….yours is so “unique” and just a wonderful experience to listen to you in conversations with your guests and of course book recommendations!! Thank you Anne and also thanks to your wonderful staff for giving you all the support you need to do what you do!!! Looking forward to 6 more years of great book recommendations!!

  21. Suzanne says:

    WSIRN has been one of my first and still go-to podcasts for traveling, dog walking or house keeping and gardening tending. I started because I’ve always loved reading and am also looking for next book suggestions. Stayed because Anne’s voice and enthusiasm are just right for me, which is not always the case for podcasts I try. The “regular” guests are fantastic, but I do enjoy hearing from writers, editors, book store folk. Keep up the wonderful work the whole team of WSIRN is creating. I’ll be downloading and loving.

  22. Ruthie says:

    CONGRATULATIONS, ANNE, and a million thanks for the HUGE part you’ve played in my reading life and general well-being, especially over the course of the pandemic, during which MMD, WSIRN, and your soothing voice have provided just the mental balm I needed!
    For several years, while caring for parents, I had ceased reading anything other than essay collections and cookbooks. My overtaxed mind couldn’t support anything more challenging. I found your blog, then your podcast, and just listened to the book discussions for months before
    attempting to read again. When the day did come, it was your and your listeners’ suggestions that pointed me in the right direction, and that have supplied most of my book leads since then. In 2018 I started keeping a book journal, and or the past two years I’ve averaged a book a week… a reading life of the sort I hadn’t enjoyed since my teen years!
    So, thank you for all of your efforts, and your team’s, and your listeners’! CHEERS!… and here’s to the next six years!

  23. Chris says:

    Happy Podcast Anniversary! I’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of listening to the bookish chat each week. Your podcast is my “cheer me up – guaranteed” spot in the media world. Even if none of the books in an episode appear to be to my taste, I learn something about books, about you and the guest, and so often, about myself. Thanks to you and your team for the hard work & creativity!

  24. Sue says:

    I get such pleasure from seeing MMD in my email and even more from reading your blog and listeningvto your podcasts. Thank you, Anne.

  25. Suzanne Harley says:

    Anne – happy 6th birthday. Goodness, listening to your podcast makes me want to retire from my full time very demanding job right now so I can read all of the books you talk about. I love hearing people talk about the three books they love, the one that is not for them and your picks for them. I have started trying to do that for my family and friends. It’s so much fun. Thank you for all you do to keep books – great books and great writing – first and foremost for us.

  26. Ali Barnes says:

    Happy birthaversary! I cannot express how much I love this podcast! It makes Tuesdays something to look forward to.
    The podcast has helped me think about what I love or dislike about a book, to delve a little deeper about what exactly moves me, for better or worse. It has helped me try different genres (The Parable of the Sower). It has helped me read more! I’ve always loved to read, but now I’m thinking about it more, finding more time for it, and planning out my next reads.
    Anne, I’m sure many have told you this, but hearing your voice is like hearing from a treasured friend. And you must be one of my besties, you love Crossing to Safety, my favorite book!
    Happy anniversary, and please, don’t ever stop!

  27. Margy Dolan says:

    Congratulations on this Birthday/Anniversary! What an accomplishment for you and your entire team! I listen to a lot of bookish podcasts and WSIRN is my all time fave. My bookish BF gifted me a Patreon membership and I’m loving it! Also, just want to tell you that a new movie has come out called The Tender Bar. The book was released in 2005 (NF/Memoir) by J.R. Moehringer. I’ve never heard the book mentioned on any podcast and I’m surprised because it is one of my all-time favorites! If you’ve read the book, please give it some love on your show! Can’t wait to see the movie. Thanks for all you do, Anne, you are SO appreciate by me and so many others! Hugs!

  28. Suzy says:

    I’ve only been listening for 2 or 3 years, but I’ve heard every one since then (or read the transcript), and you were my very first podcast! It has changed my life. I LOVE your format of 3 books they loved and one they didn’t (Especially one they didn’t!), and I look forward with great expectation as they launch into these favorites. I think my favorite episode is the last one (314) with Tara! I feel like I am impressed with her reading tastes, but her criteria parallels mine, and I immediately went to her Instagram account to see the 100 Book Challenge choices! I will be following her for sure, now!

  29. Ruth O says:

    It’s been 6 years?? Congratulations! I don’t get to listen to podcasts much at all, so really grateful for the transcripts and the lists of books. It’s so interesting to see what other readers are going through and how they choose what to read and also what they think of different authors and books…yes the TBR dilemma!
    Thank you!

  30. Sakshi Bhatia says:

    Congratulations 🙂
    I love your podcast. It’s so different from other reading based podcasts. What I like the most is that it is like a free flowing conversation and that the guests are regular people. I enjoy listening about their reading experiences and how books truly impact their lives. Good Luck Anne 🙂

  31. Mary says:

    Thank you, Anne and team, for this wonderful podcast. I’ve tried several other bookish podcasts but WSIRN checks all the boxes for me. I love the variety of guests and literary tastes. You and your guests have helped me to step outside my comfort zone. You have taught me to look beyond genre and what I thought I liked. My reading life continues to be enriched with every episode. Thank you!

  32. Susan says:

    Congratulations on this sixth anniversary of the podcast. I discovered it in July 2020 when I was scrolling around to find some fresh listening for walking in the summer. It is so enjoyable to listen to. Your voice is calming and you put your guests at ease. But your genuine enthusiasm and delight in all things books and reading also comes through. In the episodes I kept hearing about the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. What is this? I thought to myself. Oh, it is another element of this program! Well I joined that September and that online community has added so much to my life. A community of “my people” is so wonderful. Thank you to you and all of your team for your great work! So glad to have found you.

  33. Lee Jakobson says:

    I am new to MMD and enjoying every aspect of the programs,emails , etc.
    I don’t know how to get in touch with you or any of the team members. Can you please send me this information?
    One question is , what is the February book selection.
    I have enjoyed many of the podcasts. A special one was when you had the author of “1,000 Books Before You Die”.
    Thank you for your patience .

  34. Anne, I’ve been listening to WSIRN for about four years and it’s the only podcast I listen to faithfully every week. I loved that, while you do talk with experts and writers, most of your guests are regular everyday people. You inspired me so much that I started my own podcast, Story~Power, on July 22, 2020. I took a tip from you and focused on something I could talk endlessly about, stories of all kinds, but I chat with regular people from all over the world, thanks to PodMatch. Thank you so much for being an inspiration.

  35. Stephanie Mackey says:

    I am so grateful you have been able to assemble such a great team who is so good at what they do. And I’m so glad you followed your gut and did a different format for the podcast than for the blog! While I do enjoy the book recs, my favorite part of the show is hearing the guest’s background and reading life. After all, I’m a reader and love a good story!

  36. Joanne says:

    Congratulations on your success. I found your podcast last year so I’m only on episode 171, the one in Scotland in February 2019. I listen to go to sleep then have to rewind what I missed haha, occasionally opening one eye to add a book to my Goodreads TBR list!

  37. I enjoy listening to your podcasts because of the way you debate things. Your podcasts are genuine and informative. I’m new to podcasting and have just released my first one, and I’m learning a lot from you. Thank you so much, Anne! Lots of love

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