The 6 Hardest Things About Hosting The SSR Podcast

There are a lot of things I love about hosting SSR (and I hope you know that!), but it’s not always easy. If you’ve ever considered starting your own podcast or are simply curious about what goes on behind the scenes over here, I thought you might be interested in some of the challenges that come with having an independent podcast. I call it an “independent podcast” because I’m a one-woman show and I’m not associated with a larger podcast network!

Before you read any further, please rest assured that none of this is meant to sound whiny! I choose to continue with SSR as a passion project and I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way. The podcast and the community that it’s created (hi, you!) has enriched my life SO. DARN. MUCH over the last year, and it’s been well worth the challenges. That being said, I don’t think it ever hurts to be transparent about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here goes!

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1. Scheduling

My instinct is always to plan things super far in advance, which has served me well in the year since I launched SSR. It took me a while to figure out how much time I would need to get everything done and how much buffer time I need to build into my production schedule so I can get episodes released on a weekly basis while still keeping my cool in my work and personal lives. I don’t like to be caught in a situation where I have to record an episode the week before it’s set to drop (more on why that might be complicated below!), but rain checks and rescheduling can happen. For this reason, working with guests to set up recordings can be really stressful! It’s hard to respect their time while also staying on track with the podcast.

2. Juggling the Reading Schedule

I mentioned this briefly in my Year One recap, but it was (hilariously) a surprise to me when I realized that I would actually have to find the time to read every book being discussed on the show. How exactly did this not occur to me until after I had already started reaching out to potential guests for the first few episodes? I really don’t know. Obviously, I love to read, so I mostly enjoy doing this, but it does make it tricky for me to get to all of the “grown-up” books that I want to read. I feel like I’m always so far behind on reading new releases because I’m catching up on reading for the podcast! The upside, I guess, is that this has forced me to get clear about the books that I really want to read. It’s also helped me cut back on my TV-watching!

3. Anticipating All Possible Perspectives

While this can be a challenge, I also see it as an opportunity to learn. As you know if you’ve listened to more than a few episodes of SSR, my guests and I often find ourselves talking about big, complicated, sensitive issues — everything from race to gender to class to mental health. My hope is that listeners know that I never take for granted how personal these topics can be, but it’s not always easy to think about how to best represent that on the spot, and I know that I haven’t always gotten it right. I’ve learned better ways to educate myself and prepare for conversations that might be upsetting or triggering for people, but it’s definitely an ongoing process! It can also be a challenge to take my own politics (which I make pretty clear, I know!) out of every. single. discussion.

4. Listening to Myself Talk SO. MUCH.

I’ve always been a little self-conscious about my voice, so it’s kind of hilarious to me that I now spend so much time listening to it. Strangely enough, this is also one of the most-asked questions I get from people who are considering launching shows of their own: “Is it hard to listen to your own voice?” Well, sort of. But you do get used to it! This was a much bigger challenge for me in the beginning, especially when I started to realize just how many times I say “ummmm” over the course of a normal conversation (I edit most of them out!). More than a year in, I’m more or less desensitized to this part of it, except when I’m working on editing a recording when I know I was a little off my game. I can get really hard on myself!

5. Making Time for Production

It might seem like most (or all) of what I do for the podcast is what you hear when you listen to new episodes every Tuesday. If only that were true! Just kidding… kind of. The hour it takes to record every episode that you hear is only the beginning of what goes in to that episode. After I’ve finished reading each book, I spend at least an hour researching them — gathering various perspectives/reviews, transcribing especially beautiful or important excerpts, and developing interesting questions for the guest. After episodes are recorded, I do all of the editing myself in GarageBand. Editing a single episode can take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours (!!!!). Then, it’s time to write the intro, record it, put the whole thing together, listen through it to be sure it sounds the way I want it to, and assemble show notes. And all of this is to say nothing of the time I use to communicate with guests and get the word out about SSR!

6. Keeping Reading Fun!

Every once in a while when I’m in the thick of one of those periods where I’m seriously having to juggle my reading schedule (see above!), my husband will look me in the eye and say: “Are you sure you still love reading?” He knows me, so he knows that the answer is always going to be yes, and I’m pretty sure that he only asks to confirm that I’m keeping my love of books at the forefront of all of this. If I’m being honest, there are moments when producing and hosting the show can get really stressful and overwhelming (especially given all of the hats that I wear in my day job as a freelancer), and it’s easy to see reading as a chore. Fellow book lovers — you know that we can’t let that happen! Connecting with other readers on bookstagram has been a great antidote to this temptation. It’s so nice to be in constant communication with other people who are trying to keep their TBR in check while actually enjoying reading. Reading slumps are a real thing, people!

What else do you want to know about what happens behind the scenes of a podcast? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

Where The Blog Began

I’m over here doing a happy dance because the SSR Pod Blog is now **officially** launched, but I’m not technically a stranger to blogging.

If you’ve been following me for a while — me as Alli Hoff Kosik and not so much The SSR Podcast — you might remember a little something called Finding Plan A, a blog I maintained for two full years starting in September 2016 that I suddenly dismantled and shut down like a thief in the night in September 2018. Consider this my official apology to all the loyal Finding Plan A followers out there. My un-graceful departure from the blogging community last year was essentially the equivalent of that annoying thing your friend does when she’s had too much to drink at the bar and can’t be bothered to say goodbye. She throws herself in a Lyft and gets out of dodge. That’s what I did with my blog. I left no trace and it was admittedly rude.

My original Finding Plan A “headshot!”

My original Finding Plan A “headshot!”

Assuming you’re unfamiliar with Finding Plan A, here’s the origin story: When I left my job in book publishing in the fall of 2016 to pursue freelance writing full-time, I knew I needed to establish my own corner of the Internet, especially since I’d decided to enter the industry with basically no experience beyond the writing I’ve always done for myself and my years on the high school newspaper/college newspaper/college yearbook. I figured that I could create well-written content as a blogger to help show off my technical chops to potential editors. In the process, I decided it might be interesting to chronicle the journey of a Type A, rule-following lady as she transitioned out of a traditional job model into something a little more off the beaten path.

Ultimately, my plan worked. Finding Plan A ended up being the starting point for a lot of the jobs I’ve since gotten as a freelancer — and maybe even more importantly, it got me excited about writing again and reminded me that I’m actually good at it. The blog had a small but loyal following, and I really enjoyed running it. So, so much!

When my freelance career actually started to pick up, I couldn’t help but feel like I was running out of material. Yes, I’m always learning and growing blah blah blah, but in so many ways, I felt like I’d already found Plan A (to be clear, I came up with the title of the blog because a.) my name starts with the letter A duh and b.) being a writer had really been my dream all along). It felt disingenuous to build this whole online presence around finding it when I’d already made so much progress. Because of where the blog had started, I also felt like I needed to be so focused on the struggle of building my new career, when I was just ready to celebrate it. A year and a half in, there was only so much content I could come up with that felt true to my original mission!

Here I am being a lifestyle bogger and making banana bread. l-o-l.

Here I am being a lifestyle bogger and making banana bread. l-o-l.

So I did what seemed like the logical next step — I tried the whole “lifestyle blogger” thing on for size. I shared fun facts about myself and told personal stories. I attempted to make the photos that I took on my less-than-cutting-edge iPhone look fancy. None of those pics actually included me, because I felt too weird to ask my husband to be my photographer. And since I’m not someone who really relishes in talking about myself, I started to dread writing posts. Without the structure that had come with sharing the experience of my career transition, I could feel the whole thing falling apart, and it had to take a backseat to the jobs that were actually paying me. Because, of course.

after a week home for my grandmother’s funeral, Heading back to our empty nyc apartment with my brand new pup and swollen eyes.

after a week home for my grandmother’s funeral, Heading back to our empty nyc apartment with my brand new pup and swollen eyes.

The sh*t really hit the fan exactly two years after the blog launched (and two years after I left my corporate job). On September 10, 2018, my husband and I moved to a new apartment in Brooklyn. Five days after that, we brought her golden retriever puppy Irv home. Don’t worry — you’ll get plenty of him in this space. Four days after that, we got a call from my parents that my grandmother had taken a fall in her house and was in critical condition. The three of us (Irv included, though I barely knew the guy at the time) jumped in the car and drove to Pennsylvania to be with family. My Nana died the next day, which also happened to be my twenty-eighth birthday. Having spent my middle and high school years living with my Nana, I was especially close to her. In many ways, she was like another mother to me. Her death was entirely unexpected and completely devastating. After a few days in Pennsylvania, we returned to New York City to an apartment that still felt unfamiliar. My husband went back to work and I suddenly had sole responsibility for a small (and very cute) puppy. Our new apartment was beautiful, but much more isolating than our old one — a real challenge when you work from home. I was already days behind on the work I owed clients, and there was so much to be done. All of this was happening while I navigated a trauma and tried to support my family through their grief.

I think you probably understand why I really didn’t want to be a lifestyle blogger anymore. I was sick of even trying to be one. Truthfully, I had never been especially good at it even when things were going well, and when things got ugly? Forget it. I shut that sh*t down on a random weekday and never explained it to anyone.

But here I am! Explaining it to you.

I share this story with you so that you can get to know me a little bit better, but also because I am so excited to get back into the blogging space! I was never going to be the girl wearing mixed patterns and posing coolly in front of a funky graffiti wall for photos, and I’m not really down to tell you about my best skin care finds or get super personal about things on a regular basis… but books? I can talk about books.

one of my first-ever recording days — before i realized that talking on mic was much easier than expressing some of my feelings on my blog.

one of my first-ever recording days — before i realized that talking on mic was much easier than expressing some of my feelings on my blog.

After I shut down Finding Plan A, I found that it was much easier for me to express myself and my personal experiences on the podcast than it had been on the blog. In conversations with guests about favorite childhood books and high school memories, I was oddly comfortable opening up and sharing anecdotes. I flipped my phone camera around and started “talking” to my followers on Instagram stories. And as the SSR community has grown, I’ve realized that I want to connect with you further! I also want to offer you more content and give you a chance to connect with each other.

So here we are. The SSR Pod Blog. You guys! I’m so excited. Blogging round two: I’m so ready for you. Let’s talk books — and maybe some other things, too.

The Podcast: A Year In Review

Happy first birthday to my little podcast baby!

I couldn’t let the occasion pass without spending a little time reflecting on the roller coaster I’ve experienced since I launched the show. Here are a few of the high points and low points, along with some of the sneakiest surprises that have come my way in my first year as a podcaster.

Where it all started — prepping for early episodes in our old apartment!

Where it all started — prepping for early episodes in our old apartment!

THE HIGHS

Launch day! The SSR Podcast launched in June 2018, but I had been planning for it since January. With my busy day job, I knew that I couldn’t afford to start the quality show I was dreaming of if I didn’t allow plenty of planning, so I gave myself plenty of runway, plotting out my podcast to-do list so that I had just a handful of tasks to handle each month. Recordings began in April and I started the painfully slow process of teaching myself to edit audio in May. By June, I felt SO. READY. to get my podcast baby out in the world. Until that point, it felt like people weren’t quite taking my idea seriously, when I knew that I was putting in so much effort to make the final product professional and interesting. When I got those first episodes out and started getting positive feedback (especially from the people who hadn’t been quite sure what to make of the idea before), it was so exciting and wildly satisfying.

Discovering bookstagram. If you’re starting pretty much anything in 2018, you’ve gotta get yourself on social media, right? Right. BUT I had no idea that setting up that @ssrpod Instagram account would earn me admission into one of the coolest book-loving communities that I’ve ever been part of! Initially, I thought that I would simply use the ‘Gram to share about new episode. Instead, using IG for SSR has introduced me to the wonderful world of bookstagram and so many kind, brilliant new friends.

New friends! All of those new friends that I just mentioned? Yeah, they deserve their own line. Even beyond bookstagram, I’ve had the chance to bond with so many of my podcast guests. These individuals are working on fascinating projects and doing important things, and I feel lucky that they took me up on my invitation to reread a book from their childhood so that we could go to know each other.

the day baby Irv met bookstagram!

the day baby Irv met bookstagram!

Irv’s fame. To be clear, I knew as soon as I met Irv that he was destined for greatness. That being said, I launched the podcast (and its accompanying social media) three months before I met my sweet little pup, so his stardom has been a surprise in a larger sense.

THE LOWS

My first troll. Ugh. If you follow me on Instagram, you already heard me talk about how hard this was to navigate. I don’t want to get into the details here, because (thankfully!) it’s all over, but to sum it up: someone made a very snap judgement about the show having never listened or engaged with it and went on to attack me and question my intentions on Twitter for over an hour. While I’m always open to debate and constructive criticism about the show (I think some of you know that personally!), I will never understand why social media gives license to some people to blindly tear people down and to try to make others look bad. I’m so grateful that the SSR community is generally so positive, because you all really helped boost me back up! I felt so sick while the trolling was actually happening.

Social media stress. I never thought that I’d be the kind of person who put too much stock in followers, likes, and engagement, but, well, I’ve found myself being that person occasionally this year. I blame it on the fact that I’m so much more invested in the SSR community than I ever imagined I would be! I also can’t help but think it has something to do with the absolutely incredible book-related content that’s coming at us from so many different creators and so many different directions. These creators inspire me and give me a kick in the butt to do more and do better!

Imposter syndrome. Even as SSR has grown and become more successful, it hasn’t been easy for me to “own it.” I really felt this when I went to BookCon earlier this month. In hindsight, I should have been walking up to people and confidently introducing myself as the producer and host of The SSR Podcast. Instead, I was hiding in the back of panels and hoping that someone might recognize my SSR tote bag so we could become pals. I gotta get over that!

Hanging out with my nana in brooklyn a few weeks before we said goodbye.

Hanging out with my nana in brooklyn a few weeks before we said goodbye.

Personal lows. Personally, this last year has been the hardest I’ve ever experienced. My dad experienced a sudden heart attack just weeks before the show launched in June. Three months after that — and just after we moved and got a puppy (but you can read more about that here) — my beloved Nana died unexpectedly. I didn’t always know if I was going to be able to continue to produce and release new episodes, but I’m stubborn and like to stick to my commitments! As hard as it was, I managed to keep everything on track in spite of the low points. I think that being responsible for a project that mattered so much to me really motivated me to keep marching!

THE SNEAKY SURPRISES

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Apple Podcast reject. Funny story: Apple Podcasts actually rejected SSR when I submitted it to the store for the first time! My amazing friend and graphic designer Sophie Forman had put together several variations of our current thumbnail art, my favorite of which was (and still is) the one that includes the SH*T SHE READ subtitle below the illustration. That’s the one I submitted, never anticipating that it would be a problem thanks to the asterik… not to mention the existence of podcasts with much racier titles! Within a few hours, I had been REJECTED. The email cited new Apple restrictions, and I freaked. out. Thankfully, I was able to resubmit the feed shortly after that and — obviously — it all worked out on the second try, but I had spent so much time getting everything right with my original application and I was worried that it was some sort of ~sign~ that starting the pod was a mistake!

Getting honest. I never imagined that I would feel so comfortable getting honest and vulnerable with my guests on-mic, or that I would become a regular face on Insta stories. I expected to talk almost solely about books, but those conversations have opened up opportunities for me to share stories about my childhood and personal life, which has been a big shock — especially since I rarely felt comfortable being so honest on the blog I used to keep.

Reading overload. Apparently, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the fact that hosting a podcast in which every episode would focus on an entire BOOK would necessitate that I work a lot more reading into my schedule. LOL! It occurred to me just a few days before my first-ever recording that I would need to make time for all that reading. This reality has definitely changed the way I look at my reading life, but I’m learning to find more balance every month.

Getting political. I don’t typically shy away from getting political, but the kinds of issues that we tend to cover on the show have forced me to define my politics and beliefs in ways that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected. It’s been increasingly important to me to be able to fairly and clearly communicate that to my community, both on and off the podcast.

The blog. When I shut down my OG blog in September 2018 (find that whole story here), I never would have guessed that another one would be coming just a few months later. I love SSR that much! Life is surprising that way : )

What’s the biggest high, low, or surprise that you’ve experienced over the last year?? Share them with me in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!