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We’re taking a meta dive into the world of podcasting with Jill Grunenwald, an author, librarian, and the host of OverDrive’s Professional Book Nerds podcast. Grunenwald shares how Professional Book Nerds got its start, how she and her cohosts produce the show, the challenges and benefits of hosting a podcast, tips for authors making their first podcast appearance, and why podcasting is such a popular medium for discussing books. On the writing front, Grunenwald discusses her work as a memoirist, including her latest title READING BEHIND BARS, which chronicles her time as a prison librarian.
Books mentioned in this episode:
- Running with a Police Escort by Jill Grunenwald
- Reading Behind Bars by Jill Grunenwald
- Matrix by Lauren Groff
- NPR’s Podcast Start Up Guide: Create, Launch, and Grow a Podcast on Any Budget by Glen Weldon
Podcasts mentioned in this episode:
- Professional Book Nerds
- Reading Glasses
- Maintenance Phase
- Love to See It with Claire and Emma
- The Always Sunny Podcast
- How to Start a Podcast
Additional podcasts Laura recommends for writers:
- Missing Pages
- Print Run
- The Shit No One Tells You About Writing
- First Draft with Sarah Enni (archives)
- Between the Covers
Jill Grunenwald (00:00): What I love about Cleveland Public is the two levels and like having to like go into the stacks and like up the stairs and it feels like Laura Maylene Walter (00:07): Yes. No, I love that too. Jill Grunenwald (00:09): So, it feels very like otherworldly to do that and so I love any book that gives me an excuse to be able to like go find it in the stacks. Laura Maylene Walter (00:19): Welcome to Page Count presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, book sellers, literary advocates and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the Novel BODY OF STARS. In today's episode, we're speaking with Jill Grunenwald , an author, librarian, and a fellow podcaster who co-hosts OverDrives long running Professional Book Nerds podcast. We're going to take a meta dive into the world of podcasting for writers today, which will include some podcast 101 advice for anyone who might want to start their own podcast as well as tips for writers who might be invited to give an interview for a podcast. Jill, welcome to the podcast. Jill Grunenwald (01:09): Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here. Laura Maylene Walter (01:11): The first thing I always ask all my guests is about their own personal Ohio connection, so let's begin there. Jill Grunenwald (01:18): Sure. I was born and grew up in Summit County in Hudson, Ohio. Went to college at Bowling Green State University. I spent about two years out of the state in my entire life. <laugh> That was for grad school and then I moved back to Ohio 15-ish years ago and I've lived in Cleveland and I've been up back in Northeast Ohio ever since. Laura Maylene Walter (01:40): And I know you work at OverDrive, which is based here in Cleveland and I think a lot of our listeners are probably familiar with OverDrive or they use the Libby app to access their library books for example. But for those who might not be familiar, can you tell us a bit about OverDrive and what your role is there? Jill Grunenwald (01:58): So OverDrive is a company that creates the Libby app. We also have our legacy OverDrive app which allows you to check out eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, all sorts of fun stuff for free from your library right on your device. And I have been at OverDrive for seven years. I started as a staff librarian, where I helped the sales team and worked with libraries to add books to their collections. For the past four years I've been on the marketing team as a marketing and communications specialist. So I manage our blog, I write copy for various marketing collateral and I um, yes, co-host the Professional Book Nerds podcast as well. Laura Maylene Walter (02:38): Well let's talk about that. Tell us how this podcast got started and you were in at the very ground floor, is that correct? Just tell us how this all got started. Jill Grunenwald (02:46): Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are a lot of readers at OverDrive. We love books, we love talking about books specifically on the team where I started as Digital Content Librarian and one day I was chatting with coworkers. I'd been there for maybe a month or two and I was just like, we should have a podcast. And I had a little bit of experience podcasting previously, I had an older podcast that that was running related and so I had some experience podcasting. I went to a coworker on the marketing team and suggested OverDrive start a podcast that was just about books. And luckily we work at a company where if you come to them with an idea they're just sort of like, yeah, sure, let's see what happens. And we had no idea. I still kind of joke even now, almost seven years into this that we're like three children in a trench coat in that a lot of it is still very much kind of on the fly made up as we go along. <laugh> Jill Grunenwald (03:44): The first episode went live December 2015 and those first few episodes, really recommend listening to them. We are still figuring out sound situation and they're a little rough to listen to, <laugh> and you know, we have come a long way in that regard. My previous co-host Adam and I co-hosted together for six years. He took another job opportunity last summer, so for the second half of 2021 it was just me. And then I had two new people join me this year. So there are now three of us who co-host, Joe and Emma, and we're still going strong. So we'll see what happens as we continue to make all these episodes. We do two episodes a week: Monday, are author interviews, Thursdays are book chats where we chat about genres, we chat about upcoming books we chat about, yeah, again, just people with a microphone in front of them talking about books that they love. So I don't remember if we officially hit 650 episodes yet, but it's it's probably close to that. It's a lot. It's a lot. Laura Maylene Walter (04:46): That is amazing and it's very impressive. Two episodes a week, so Page Count only comes out one episode every two weeks. So I can't even imagine. I know it's a lot of work. I know you do the author interviews and you give book recommendations, which is really great. Are there any big things you can point to in terms of how Professional Book Nerds has evolved over those nearly seven years? Jill Grunenwald (05:10): When we started, we actually were one episode every other week and then the author interviews, we didn't really know how those were going to work and if it was even going to be a long term permanent thing. And then once publishers started to show interest, then it became a standard feature of the podcast and we started doing them, yes, two episodes a week. It's a lot. I don't know if I'd necessarily recommend that for anyone starting out. I think, you know, when the, we used to record in the office, we had a little small recording studio and I think the pandemic was for so many people we had to adjust and pivot rapidly to figure out how to still make it work remotely for us. But I do think the author interview sets us apart from a lot of other book podcasts and we just are fortunate to work for a company that has those established relationships with publishers that they will have authors come on. Jill Grunenwald (06:05): And for me personally, I think the big moment I realized that this podcast had become something was when the publicist started to come to us in the beginning we sort of had to like beg and be like, do you have any authors, you could maybe have come on our podcast? It's very low stakes. We promise to promote it <laugh>. And then when we started getting pitches from very well known New York Times bestsellers we're like, oh people, this is a thing now and they're coming to us and that's very unexpected. But that I think was a moment when I sort of realized we had entrenched ourselves within this community. Laura Maylene Walter (06:43): Well speaking of that community, let's offer some tips for anyone listening right now who might be interested in starting their own first podcast. What do you think it is about books and podcasting that go together? Why could this be a good way for a writer or a book lover to go to start their own podcast? Jill Grunenwald (07:02): I think books and podcasts go together so well because so much of deciding what books to read is word of mouth. And I know that if a friend recommends a title to me, I will probably move it further up my TBR than if it was just a book review I read, you know, the newspaper. The mode of podcasting because you listen to people, you get to hear those inflections, you get to kind of know them in a sense and it becomes like that friend recommending a title to you, which is always fun. I mean I have podcasting friends who also do book podcasts and if they recommend a title, I'm like, oh well they mentioned it on their podcast, I feel like I can trust them. So I think that that sense of trust gets built there if you listen to a book podcast long enough. Laura Maylene Walter (07:52): What do you think someone should prepare or have in mind when they're getting ready to start a new podcast? So what are your first pieces of advice? How should they get started? Jill Grunenwald (08:02): That is a really good question and because again, we sort of just made this up and had no idea what we were doing. Laura Maylene Walter (08:08): It seems like that is the spirit of a lot of podcasters where you just, you have a passion about something and you go into it, which I think I respect that <laugh>, but yeah, Jill Grunenwald (08:17): Yeah, no, I do too. But like looking back over the past almost seven years, I'm like, well there probably were things we could have done differently. I think one of the first big things to decide is what cadence of podcasting works best for you and is sustainable for you? Like I said, we started one episode every other week and then ended up bumping it up to to a week, which is a very dramatic, very big jump. But I would urge, like personally as someone who is somewhat risk adverse and likes to be cautious, I would say start with fewer episodes cause then you can build up versus building down becomes a little bit trickier and just figure out what works for you and if you need to change you can change. My other big suggestion, which we did not do and have gotten better at now, is front load and record as many episodes in advance as you can and then release them as time goes on for a long time, probably more than I'm willing to admit, I would come to work on Wednesdays and my coworker would be like, we need an episode for tomorrow. Jill Grunenwald (09:23): And we would have to scramble. Laura Maylene Walter (09:25): That gives me a panic attack <laugh>, Jill Grunenwald (09:27): It just was how it worked. You know, we do this on top of our regular jobs and sometimes things just sort of would slip through and we always came through, we always figured it out. Now that there are three of us, we all have the capacity a little bit more to plan out in advance and record things in advance. But yeah, when we started it was very much week to week and probably even after we had been established it was very much week to week and I don't like that now. And so if you're starting out and you have the ability, just record a bunch of stuff in the beginning and get yourself ahead and then kind of start releasing it. And I think the other thing to consider is, you know, we don't do seasons on our podcast. We do, when I say two episodes a week, I mean like 52 weeks of the year. We always do episodes and I sometimes get jealous of podcasts that have established seasons because they have a time where they're not producing episodes or releasing them. They might be using a time to record them, which would be smart. So I think sort of asking yourself that question in terms of sustainability is not just how many episodes per week but how many episodes per year. Is it a year round thing like we are or does something like doing seasons more sustainable for you as podcasters? Laura Maylene Walter (10:45): I think that's great advice because I do know one thing that's very important for any podcast is to be consistent with how and when you release your episodes. If you are a weekly podcast, it should come out every week and you shouldn't just skip three weeks because that consistency is really important. I agree on banking the episodes, I'm the only person who hosts the podcast and I also edit it and everything. And so we definitely bank episodes. It can take a few months sometimes before an episode airs and there is that balance of you know, not wanting to record something too, too early, but it helps to have everything kind of lined up and ready to go. And I would also add, so Professional Book Nerds I think is a fabulous name for a podcast. I love it. And you've been around a long time. I found though picking the name of the podcast was one of the most challenging parts because you need a name that is not already in use. And by this point I think everyone knows there are so many podcasts out there including book podcasts or writing podcasts and almost any book related pun you can think of has been taken <laugh>. So Jill Grunenwald (11:50): That's true, that's true. Laura Maylene Walter (11:51): One of the hardest parts. Did you come up with the name Professional Book Nerds? Jill Grunenwald (11:55): I honestly don't remember how we came up with that name. If I'm being perfectly honest, my co-host on the marketing team may have come up with a couple different ones decided from there. I I don't remember how we came up with the name. Laura Maylene Walter (12:09): <laugh>. Well that's good. It's not a painful memory for you then of going through many, many lists of names and then asking people to vote on lists of names which I may or may not have gone through. Let's go through a few kind of rapid fire questions that we can both answer to give people an idea of how we each run our podcasts. Now first of all, yours is different because you have co-hosts and you do book recommendations. Page Count is primarily an interview-based podcast but it might help people just to hear the technical side too. So first of all, what kind of microphone do you use or do your co-host use? Jill Grunenwald (12:44): At the office? We just upgraded to Blue Yeti microphones. This microphone that I'm using right now, I don't even remember what type it is so that's not helpful at all. But it has an arm. Laura Maylene Walter (12:56): It has an arm, which I hear is very good because table sounds won't affect it if you bump the table and I see you also have a pop filter on yours, which I don't, but maybe, maybe someday in the future. I also have, we use a Blue Yeti here and you had said previously you had the the recording space at OverDrive, but because of the podcast you all just record remotely from home. Is that how you usually do it? Jill Grunenwald (13:19): Yes, it's hybrid now. So before the pandemic we recorded in the office there was small room that was used for recording purposes for other business purposes within our organization that we sort of took over a little bit and added some soundproofing too. And then during the pandemic, yes we switched to recording online everybody in their own home. And now we kind of have a mix where there's some people at home, some people are in the recording studio and those microphones also have an arm because we did run into the table issue sometimes if you made too much noise. So it really just depends on who's in the episode and where they happen to be on that particular day. Laura Maylene Walter (14:02): And I also want to ask about the software you use to record and I do want to quickly put in here, I'm not asking these questions to suggest that we're endorsing any specific place. I know there are a lot of different websites and software and microphones and all sorts of things to use, which actually I think is one of the challenging parts of starting a podcast cause you have so many things to choose from and I did a lot of research and sometimes you end up with one thing for a reason unrelated to to anything else. But what do you use to record the actual episodes. Jill Grunenwald (14:30): These days we actually record just straight in Zoom and download everybody's individual tracks and we edit in Audacity. Laura Maylene Walter (14:37): That is similar. We use Zencaster to record on separate tracks but I do know Zoom can do that as well. I just haven't tried it that way. And we also edit on Audacity. So editing is the huge part. Who edits your podcast? Do you all do? It is one person, the designated editor. Jill Grunenwald (14:54): We all do it depending on who was sort of managing the podcast as the main host and also just whoever has the capacity to do it within their workflow for the week as well. So it's all of us. Laura Maylene Walter (15:06): If you had to guess just estimate, say you record for an hour, how long roughly do you think you would spend editing compared to the recording time? Jill Grunenwald (15:16): We don't cut a lot. And so if we recorded for an hour, the only things we would probably cut is if there's sort of general chatter before or after we started officially the episode that got caught in the recording or if someone needed to start over an answer. Yeah, we don't really cut a lot so what you hear is pretty close to what we actually recorded. We try to be very efficient in whatever we record is what gets in. So Laura Maylene Walter (15:46): I should take some inspiration from that because I don't cut a lot so I don't cut a lot of actual content that anyone says. But I do a lot of editing, editing out ums, long pauses. I probably make it feels like thousands of tiny, tiny edits throughout one episode, which it's an art form for sure that I am still learning and still finding my footing in. But I appreciate your approach of letting some more of it stand. So maybe I'll use that as inspiration. We'll see. Jill Grunenwald (16:16): I should say, I think if there are like really long pauses that probably will get cut. Laura Maylene Walter (16:20): Yeah. Yeah, you just easily shorten those mm-hmm Jill Grunenwald (16:23): Yeah. But for the most part all those ums are still in there. At least when I edit. I think when we first started we probably were a bit more editing heavy, but after a while or just like whatever, just leave it Laura Maylene Walter (16:35): <laugh> I aspire to reach that and it is, if you take out every single um, or every single verbal tick or whatever it is, a crutch word that someone has, if you take them all out, it doesn't feel human almost. Right? So that's why yeah, it's, it's definitely a balance. What about the promotion side? So this, for anyone wanting to start a podcast, you know, you're not just doing the research and interviewing people or finding your books to recommend, but you are also promoting the podcast so people actually hear about it. So what have you done at Professional Book Nerds and what have you found that works best? Jill Grunenwald (17:10): When it comes to promoting the podcast, we mostly rely on social media. We have dedicated social media, handles for the podcast on Twitter and Instagram and also TikTok. Um, the TikTok is mostly just book related TikToks and not necessarily go listen to the podcast, but it's sort of the brand awareness all the same. We have the benefit of working for a company that has its own very large social media platforms and so our social media person here at OverDrive will also do a lot of promotion of our episodes as well when they come out. We leverage sometimes occasionally the OverDrive blog. So yeah, we benefit from working for a company that that has its own channels that we can sort of hop onto. Laura Maylene Walter (17:59): <laugh>. Absolutely. Yeah. If I were just on my own, I don't think I would have started a podcast like this just on my own because it's so daunting. There are so many podcasts, how do you cut through the noise or how do you make a name for yourself? And knowing that we're at the Ohio Center for the Book in Cleveland Public Library, that makes a big difference. If the library can retweet our podcasts, et cetera, it, it does make a difference. Not to discourage anyone who doesn't have that because of course there are many podcasts out there that are just bootstrapping it and rise because their content is so good having good content, it's just like being a writer, having a really good manuscript is what will ultimately get you noticed I believe in the end. What have been some of your biggest challenges podcasting over these years? Jill Grunenwald (18:44): Some of the big challenges I've had is just knowing or not knowing like what was going to happen or how long it was going to be going on. The fact that I've been doing this for seven years kind of blows my mind a little bit. And I think also adapting to how well known we've become and like getting recognized or having publishers come to us, that sounds like a weird thing to necessarily complain about or call a challenge. But figuring out how to fit the podcast into everything else I do ultimately because it's not my main job and there's just different demands that come with the podcast and balancing it all. Laura Maylene Walter (19:23): And on the flip side, are there any unexpected benefits or joys of doing the podcast that you didn't necessarily expect? Jill Grunenwald (19:31): One of the most unexpected things that has come out of doing this podcast is becoming friends with writers that I've interviewed. And by friends I mean like genuinely text messaging them outside of work and outside of whatever podcasting we've done or just being known by authors that I admire and having them know who I am. I interviewed Lauren Groff about her book, MATRIX, that just came out. Something she mentioned before we started recording is that, you know, when I interviewed an author they haven't been on before or don't necessarily know who we are, I sort of give them a rundown and ask if they're familiar with the podcast. And she said she was because a previous interview I had done made the rounds on the Iowa Writer Workshop listserve and I was like the Iowa Writers' Workshop is aware of my podcast and one of my interviews was shared with the Iowa Writers' Workshop writers. Okay, so, it was just very unexpected. I think it's just sort of getting recognized within this field as being someone who is a good interview, that we are a podcast that people enjoy listening to. The fact that we have listeners, that people listen to us every week is still sort of very surprising to me. Laura Maylene Walter (20:52): Well, do you have any resources to suggest for anyone who's planning to start their own podcast? Jill Grunenwald (20:59): That's a good question. And off the top of my head, I don't and that's terrible and I'm sorry. Laura Maylene Walter (21:03): That's fine. I can share in the show notes and it might be probably because I started a podcast much more recently than you. But NPR has a great book, the Podcast Start Up Guide: Create, Launch and Grow a Podcast on Any Budget that I thought was really great and this might sound really silly and obvious, but when I was making plans for Page Count, I went into Apple Podcasts and I searched for "how to start a podcast" and I found some series of very short, easily digestible episodes talking about how to start a podcast. And I found it really fascinating. I was really interested in it, which is what told me that I should be doing this because if I'm interested enough to listen to a podcast about how to start a podcast, then clearly this is just meant to be. Jill Grunenwald (21:47): That's actually a good point and sort of idea is presumably if you want to start a podcast, you listen to podcasts and I think just sort of asking yourself what is it about these podcasts that I like? Do I wanna be one to try and replicate? Or what do I not like about these podcasts or don't think would work for whatever I wanna do? I mean in that way it's a lot like writing, you know when you read. Laura Maylene Walter (22:09): Yeah. Jill Grunenwald (22:09): Or you read the more you pick up on what works for you as a reader and how can you do that in your own writing. So I think the same can be done with podcasts as well. Laura Maylene Walter (22:17): Would you like to share with us any of your favorite podcasts, either book related or otherwise? Jill Grunenwald (22:22): So Reading Glasses is one of the book podcasts I listen to a lot. I love Mallory and Brea. They always offer really great book recommendations. Um, Mallory is a writer herself, Brea works in the film industry so they always bring very unique insight. Outside of book podcasts I listen to Maintenance Phase a lot. Laura Maylene Walter (22:42): That's one of my favorites as well. Yeah, Jill Grunenwald (22:44): I love Maintenance Phase. I probably listen to more and right now my brain has frozen and I can't remember any of them. Oh, the TV show Westworld I'm a big fan of and there's a podcast run by the guys behind the show on TV who do deep dive into just Westworld. And so that's a very microcosm of each season, the show. So it's only when the show is on do they have the podcast but I always like their insights into the show. Laura Maylene Walter (23:08): I've always enjoyed a podcast about TV shows, which is really interesting and it also makes me think, okay, well just how much of my time now is spent on these on TV shows <laugh>. But it is, you know, when you're washing dishes, you're not going to be reading a book at the same time anyway probably so, Jill Grunenwald (23:24): Right. Laura Maylene Walter (23:24): Yeah. But I like the Always Sunny podcast. What is it? Love to See It, which is a feminist podcast about the Bachelor franchise <laugh>. Jill Grunenwald (23:32): Oh. Okay, alright. Laura Maylene Walter (23:32): So these are some podcasts I listen to, but Maintenance Phase is one of my favorites. You know there are certain podcasts when they show up in your feed, that's immediately what you're going to listen to. Jill Grunenwald (23:41): Yes. Laura Maylene Walter (23:41): Yeah. Laura Maylene Walter (23:42): Yes. Well so you've done a lot of author interviews, so let's change gears a bit and give some advice for authors who might appear on podcasts. So first of all, what is your view of the current landscape for how podcasts fit into a lot of authors' promotional activities when their book comes out? Jill Grunenwald (24:01): That's a good question. I think podcasts provide a unique channel to reach readers that the author may not reach otherwise just because it's not sort of traditional marketing or publicity. But I do think more authors and more publicists and publishers are recognizing that there is a benefit on a podcast. You have that conversational tone and sort of like I was saying, how once you listen to a podcast you get to hear the voices and the inflections and you start to get to know the podcasters on a different level than just reading an interview. I think the same can be said for when an author is on a podcast, you, you really get to hear how they speak and get to know them on a different level than if you were just to read an interview on a website or in a magazine or something like that. Laura Maylene Walter (24:55): And let's say an author has, maybe their first book is coming out and they have been invited onto a podcast and it's the first time they've ever been a guest on a podcast. What advice would you give them? Jill Grunenwald (25:05): If it's the first time you've ever done that and um, you're probably nervous, which is fair. You could ask for questions in advance if that's something, if you wanna prepare a little bit that way. We have been asked that by certain writers to get the questions in advance if we have them. But ultimately one of the things I run into a lot, and this happens with writers who are brand new, who are well established, but somehow we end up being one of the first, if not the first interview they do at all about a new book. And not everyone has their elevator pitched out about what the book is about. And that always seems to throw people off sometimes. And again, this happens with very well established writers where they just haven't talked to anybody about the book yet and they haven't had a chance to really fine tune how they describe it. So before you go on the podcast or really in any interview, figure out how to succinctly describe what your book is about in a way that makes people wanna read it. Cause that's what you're there for is to get people to wanna read your book. Laura Maylene Walter (26:07): Yeah, that's really good advice. And I think I would add you definitely need to prepare your elevator pitch about your book, be prepared to discuss that. Anticipate even if you don't see questions in advance, you can probably anticipate some really common questions that authors get asked or maybe the subject matter of your book. So anticipate those. And I wouldn't say overprepared, don't write down every answer that you plan to give verbatim because that will come off being really stiff. And it's interesting that you sometimes share questions with authors in advance. I will definitely, if someone asks me, share some basic questions I know I'm going to ask them or some topics I know I'm going to ask them about. But I really don't even go into an interview with a regimented set of questions. I have my list, I have done all my research, I've read their books of course, but I will have bullet points of general questions and topics because I know myself I can over prepare and it makes it feel more like a conversation if you actually let things naturally come up. I know it's hard, I get nervous too when I'm interviewed for anything but to just view it as a conversation and try to get into the flow of the conversation versus being too kind of strict about how you're answering. Jill Grunenwald (27:11): That's entirely fair. I think the few instances where it did happen where they, they asked for specific questions or topics in advance was authors whose books perhaps touched on sensitive subjects and they just wanted to be prepared about what would be asked or they will sometimes tell us to not bring up certain things. Laura Maylene Walter (27:32): Oh yes, I think it's important to check with people. Yeah. So don't be afraid to ask the host whether the podcast will be edited and in what capacity. If it is a video podcast, it's less likely they'll be doing a lot of editing for obvious reasons. But you should feel comfortable knowing if you can tell them you don't wanna answer a certain question or if you can go back and start over. And I do always at the beginning just try to quickly let people know that if I ask something they're not comfortable with, they can absolutely tell me and we'll just cut it right out, which has never happened by the way. And I think part of that involves doing good research and also sensitive based on whatever the topic is that you're discussing. So yes, I think that's really important. And also just some behind the scenes since this whole podcast is behind the scenes. Laura Maylene Walter (28:16): We've been having some technical issues throughout this podcast, so yeah, totally. It will be seamless when the episode comes out, but this is now the third recording in our one session, so fingers crossed we can get through. Okay, let's move on to talk just a little bit about your own writing because you are an author, you have written two memoirs, RUNNING WITH A POLICE ESCORT, which is all about the world of running and being a slow runner and it's, it's really great. And your latest memoir is READING BEHIND BARS, which is about your time working as a prison librarian. So I'm wondering if you could tell us just generally about your experiences writing memoir and how does this fit into your, your larger life working at OverDrive and also doing a podcast? Jill Grunenwald (29:02): When I started writing RUNNING WITH A POLICE ESCORT, I have previously not really done nonfiction or memoir writing. The closest I had was a blog, which is not quite the same, but I was used to writing about my life in that way. My background is really in fiction writing, but having been a slow runner who has completed two half marathons, you know, 10ks, 5ks, it was important to me to tell that story because I think when people think about running, they think about the very elite runners who win first place, like the gold medal at the Olympics. But there is another side to that where people do take longer, but we still run the same amount of miles. And I had interest from a publisher, that book in particular, I was able to use a lot of blog posts from race recaps to kind of to remember what I was thinking and feeling the day of the actual race, which was very helpful. Jill Grunenwald (30:02): READING BEHIND BARS came about in a somewhat similar fashion in wanting to tell the story about what it's like being a prison librarian because I know when I started working in the prison right after grad school, I did not know anything about prisons. And everything I did know was from popular culture like Oz, you know, this is before Orange is the New Black, which gave a more, um, realistic view of what prison life is like. I was able to watch Orange is the New Black and feel like this feels accurate to some extent to my experiences working with someone who had been employed at a prison. When I first started, I had no idea and I didn't know that prisons even had libraries. It was not something that was discussed when I was in grad school for library science. And it was just a story that I felt needed to get out there to talk about the guys that I worked with inside who are not that much different than guys outside who just perhaps have not been caught doing certain things, have not been incarcerated for it. Jill Grunenwald (31:07): And that one was written about 10 years after I stopped working at the prison. And so it required a lot more work in terms of memory and lining up timelines. Memoir exists in this weird place. It's not that we lie, it's not that things are untrue, it's just a little bit nebulous in terms of how you tell the story because it tends to work a little bit more with creative writing than a lot of other nonfiction. You know, you employ more creative writing, I think with memoir than you do straight nonfiction storytelling. So when it came to READING BEHIND BARS, there were just things I could not remember and I had to do a lot of research because I couldn't remember certain facts, but I'm like, these are things that people could look up, but I wanna make sure I get them accurate. Also, it's not just my story, it is a story of the men I worked with and I changed names, you know, there's some composite characters in there who are sort of taken from multiple men that were incarcerated at the time I was there. That one was definitely more challenging to write than RUNNING WITH A POLICE ESCORT, but it again just sort of came back to that wanting to get that story out there in the world. Laura Maylene Walter (32:24): Can you tell us something about prison libraries that maybe most of our listeners don't know? Jill Grunenwald (32:31): I think what surprised me the most about the prison library is just how much their reading habits are the same as people on the outside. I don't know why this surprised me, it shouldn't have. I've worked in libraries for years, multiple different kinds. People read the same kind of books, like everybody loves the same types of books. They would come in with the New York Times bestseller list wanting the books that were on the New York Times bestseller list. They loved James Patterson because James Patterson is loved by people all over. The library was really popular and that also surprised me. I mean I went in admittedly with a lot of stereotypes I think about the sort of guys I would be working with. Those myths were busted very quickly and the library was just super popular. And yeah, the reading habits are the same as what you would find in a public library outside. Laura Maylene Walter (33:23): Well, unrelated to prisons, I did notice in READING BEHIND BARS that there is a short scene set in Cleveland Public Library. So since that is <laugh>, that is where I'm recording right now. Thank you for the shout out. And you go into the, the Literature Department, which is where the Ohio Center for the Book is housed. Jill Grunenwald (33:40): I do, I <laugh>, I do. I go into the Literature Department. What I love about Cleveland Public is the two levels and like having to like go into the stacks and like up the stairs and it feels like this... Laura Maylene Walter (33:51): Yes. No, I love that too. Jill Grunenwald (33:53): So it feels very like otherworldly to do that. And so I, I love any book that gives me an excuse to be able to like go find it in the stacks where I have to like go and do the little Laura Maylene Walter (34:02): Right like, oh, it's the second half of the alphabet. Yes I get to go up<laugh>. Well I think writing memoir is, I think, such a challenging genre for a lot of reasons. I mean, not that I have written a memoir, but I have friends who have and I have, you know, worked with a lot of writers working on memoirs and it's personally difficult. Sometimes emotionally it can feel really exposing. And then on the publishing side, I feel we've perpetually been hearing, oh it's a tough time to publish memoirs. So for any listeners out there who are working on their own memoirs, what advice would you give them? Jill Grunenwald (34:36): The advice I would give to anyone working on their own memoirs is if that's what you want and you wanna tell that story, just keep doing it. It's challenging for every genre right now. Publishing is challenging at the moment, but if that's the story you wanna tell and that's where your creative energy is being pulled, I fully support you and just continuing to write it and trying and getting it published if that's what you wanna do. But I think ultimately, you know, writers just really figure out what story you wanna tell and write that no matter what. Laura Maylene Walter (35:08): I agree. And definitely you can't be discouraged by dire warnings about the state of publishing because they're always going to exist and, if you write a compelling memoir or you work at it really hard, I mean you can find a home for it. Absolutely. So don't be discouraged. Is there anything you can share with us about what you might want to work on next or anything you're working on now with your own writing? Jill Grunenwald (35:31): So I have gone back to fiction writing. I will say that RUNNING WITH A POLICE ESCORT and READING BEHIND BARS were published by a small traditional publisher and I did not have an agent for them. But now that I'm writing fiction, I do have a literary agent. So I am working, I'm sort of in those like beginning stages of a manuscript where you're just sort of sitting and staring out the window and thinking <laugh>. So I sort of figure out next time. Laura Maylene Walter (35:58): Yep, we all know that so well <laugh> Jill Grunenwald (36:00): I'm in that stage right now. <laugh> Laura Maylene Walter (36:02): I'm sure our listeners will be curious. So did you go through the regular querying process? Did you have a connection based on your book publications? How did you find your agent? Jill Grunenwald (36:13): This particular agent, yes. I went through the normal querying process. It took about 10 months. I queried about 50 agents over those 10 months. And I do have and tried to use book publishing connections. Those agents did not work out, which is okay. Not every connection will. But yeah, I just went through the normal querying process out in the trenches like so many others <laugh>. Laura Maylene Walter (36:35): No, I think that's really encouraging for people to hear because it is so hard to get an agent, right? It is tough. It's a tough business, a tough industry. The competition is really, really high and agents are overwhelmed with work and sometimes I think writers believe they have to have a quote unquote connection or a referral and, like you, I had over the years I've been writing and trying to get agents in earlier years of my career, I did have eventually some referrals. I had agents reaching out to me because they read my work elsewhere and almost none of those worked out. You know, they still ended up rejecting whatever project I had at the moment. And the agent I did end up signing with had reached out because she had read something. But I also got offers from agents who I just queried. So really, the referral is not always the magic bullet that you think it is. In my experience, a referral means you might get a faster and more polite rejection. Jill Grunenwald (37:26): <laugh>. That is probably accurate. I think a referral, yes. It maybe gets you to the top of the list in terms of order, Laura Maylene Walter (37:34): Which is good. I mean, that's not nothing. Jill Grunenwald (37:37): It is not nothing. Yes. Laura Maylene Walter (37:38): But it doesn't mean a golden ticket to getting representation. Jill Grunenwald (37:42): Yeah. You still have to sell them on the manuscript itself. Laura Maylene Walter (37:45): Definitely. Well this has been really fun. Thanks for talking about some behind the scenes podcasting details with us. But before we go, I have the most important question of all. I know you're a cat person, so am I. Would you like to tell us about your cats? Jill Grunenwald (37:59): Sure. I have four cats. Chloe, Linus, Zelda and Zoë. Chloe, Linus, and Zelda are all older. I think Zelda's like 12. Linus is 14/15 and Chloe's like 16 I think. And then there's Zoë who is like three years old and is the youngin <laugh>. Uh, so yeah, four cats. It can be a handful sometimes they all kind of tolerate each other, which I think is sort of the best you can expect from cats sometimes. Um, yeah, those are my cats. Laura Maylene Walter (38:33): Well thank you so much for sharing that. Thanks for all the podcasting tips and listeners, I hope you listen to Professional Book Nerds and I also hope that you read Jill's books. So Jill, thank you so much for being here today. Jill Grunenwald (38:45): Thank you so much for having me. Laura Maylene Walter (38:48): A quick note here: Earlier in this episode, I said that I do all the editing for the podcast. While that was true at the time of this recording, I've since had some help from Alison Guerin in the Literature Department at Cleveland Public Library. Alison has edited transcripts, put together some promotional clips, and done rough edits on a few episodes so far, hopefully with many more to come in the future. So Alison, thanks for all your help. Laura Maylene Walter (39:14): Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. Learn more online at www.ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Twitter @CPLOCFB or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put podcasts in the subject line. Finally, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.
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