Transcribing “See You on the Bookshelf”

Sunday Letter | #322

This week I rolled out something I’ve been meaning to tackle for a while: full audio transcripts for “See You on the Bookshelf”, the podcast I produced in 2017 about how See You in the Cosmos went from manuscript to published book.

I’m pretty satisfied with both the end result and process. I’d inconsistently transcribed parts of interviews while I was producing each episode, but digging those out and trying to piece them together turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. So I ended up just running the final audio files through Descript to generate the initial text. (Descript, by the way, is every bit as magical as its marketing page makes it out to be; I wish it’d been around when I was working on this podcast.)

Once I had the rough transcripts, I re-listened to each episode and made corrections along the way. After this initial pass, I made one more pass to lightly edit the text for clarity and readability. Most of the episodes are 20–30 minutes long; I estimate it took me about an hour per episode, per pass. So in total, I probably spent in the ballpark of 30–40 hours on the transcription work.

Could I have paid someone to do this? Yes. But I’m glad I didn’t, because the process itself was so rewarding. I got to reconnect with people and ideas, and rediscover my gratitude for everything and everyone that’s involved in making a book, a book – particularly the folks who (unlike my editor) I don’t have much interaction with during earlier drafts. I also found that there were some episodes, like the Librarian Conference and Book Tour ones, that were better than I’d remembered. That I’d consider even today to be – dare I toot my own horn – darn good pieces of audio.

To automate or outsource any more than I did, whether to a piece of software or another human being, would have, I think, been to deprive myself of the full effect of these feelings. It was a semi-conscious, not-entirely-intentional refusal – a tiny little no – and it turned out to be a good one.

This transcript archive is also the first of several member-supported projects I hope to launch in the first two months of this year. I’ve been doing a poor job of promoting the membership program, but the regular support of readers like you have helped sustain me, especially through an uneven 2020. If you find value in weekly letters like these, and in the other things I write and make, be it books or podcasts, please consider supporting me for as little as $3/month.