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Host AMAsAMA with Tori Telfer, Host of Criminal Broads
AMAs >  Tori Telfer

Tori Telfer

show Criminal Broads
When November 11 2019 @ 11:30AM (EST)

Tori Telfer is a true crime author and the host of both Criminal Broads (her own podcast) and Why Women Kill: Truth, Lies, and Labels (presented by CBS All Access). She started Criminal Broads after her first book, Lady Killers, came out, because she wanted to continue to grow her readership in between book releases. The podcast has grown to over 10K downloads an episode within about a year, and has featured interviews with major true crime writers like Harold Schechter and Rachel Monroe. Last year, she started a mini-series within the podcast called Crime-Fighting Broads (exactly what it sounds like!) that’s proven popular with listeners who like the chance to root for the good gal for once.

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Questions now closed.

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Tom Slack Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Hi Tori, thanks so much for doing this AMA for us. I’ll kick things off with my standard starter: From your perspective, what’s the key to a successful podcast?

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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I think a successful podcast is one that the host enjoys making, the audience enjoys consuming, and that—dare I say it?—eventually starts making a little bit of money. Easier said than done, I know! But basically, I believe that success in podcasting doesn’t mean making a million dollars per ad spot, but it does mean establishing a great rapport between host and listener. No host wants to feel like they’re throwing their time and energy into the void, and no listener wants to feel like the host is just phoning it in or taking advantage of their time or feeding them stories that haven’t reeeally been fact-checked. That’s my theory, at least!

Tash Kiely Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Hey Tori, I’d love to know how you got into researching and writing/talking about female serial killers?

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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It all started with a column I had on the Hairpin (a website that’s closed down by now, sadly), about female serial killers from history. The first serial killer I ever wrote about was the Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory, who maybe killed hundreds of servant girls and was maybe framed by a jealous king. An irresistible topic to write about! The column turned into my first book, Lady Killers, and after Lady Killers came out I figured I should try my hand at a podcast, and I’ve stayed in the female criminal sphere ever since.

Cassie Houston Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Hi Joni I would love to know how long the research process takes for the show?

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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The research process used to take me about 12-16 hours per episode, but that simply wasn’t sustainable, since—well, I had to pay rent! These days, it varies wildly depending on the case—some of my episodes end up being 30 minutes, some are closer to an hour—and to be honest, I haven’t timed my research process in a while, but I’d say it takes more like…4-8 hours of research per episode.

Susanne Smailes Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Any tips on promotion and getting an audience when you just start out?

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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First tip: don’t beat yourself up, because in my experience, growing an audience takes a long time (unless you get super lucky and Apple Podcasts puts you on the New & Notable page or something like that). You can start by calling in favors and asking all your friends to review and share your podcast. You can ask similar new podcasts if they’d be interested in doing a promo swap—shouting out your show on their show, and vice versa. Make sure your podcast is showing up on all the big players—Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, etc.—and categorized correctly. You can ask mildly famous people to appear on early episodes—they may share the podcast with their fans, and your episode will come up when people search for their name. And you can pitch your podcast to freelance writers who cover podcasts—be polite, of course; I have a friend who writes about podcasts who hates getting bombarded with repeat requests to be featured!—and ask them to consider covering you. Be sure to explain why you’re unique, amazing, and worthy of coverage! J

Rebecca Williams Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Hey Tori, in all your years researching female serial killers which case stands out to you most?

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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I always return to the case of Darya Saltykova, a Russian killer from the 1700s who tortured many of her serfs to death. I wrote about her in my book, Lady Killers, and her case sticks with me because it’s pretty obscure and I worked with a Russian translator to uncover details about her (which was, I‘ll be honest, COOL!). But she also sticks out to me because her violence was so class-based. She clearly thought she was legitimately better and more deserving of life than the people who worked for her, and even though she was caught and locked away for the rest of her life, she never showed a SCRAP of remorse. Chilling.

JB Baker Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Hiya Tori, thanks for coming on. What is your research process for the episodes you put out? What source do you visit first and where does that take you? Are there shortcuts that make it all easier? Thanks a heap.

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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Great question! My research process varies depending on the case, of course, because sometimes I’m back in the 1600s, sometimes I’m hanging out in 2008…but I will typically start in one of two places: newspaper archives, or a single book written about the case. For example, for my most recent episode, about Jane Toppan, I relied mostly on Harold Schechter’s book about her. For an episode I did about Tanya Nelson, a more recent case, I relied mostly on the local newspapers who covered her trial. For newspapers, I use newspapers.com and ProQuest, both of which I love!

So I’ll start there, put together a timeline of the woman (childhood/crimes/capture/conclusion), and then I’ll try to flesh out the episode with some broader cultural conclusions. Like: how did people react to her verdict? Did the media love her, hate her, love to hate her? Was there a movie made about her? And then I’ll patch all of this into the script.

As far as shortcuts…still looking for those, hah. My main shortcut is just understanding that I will not be able to turn over every single stone about the case. I can’t read every single article, etc. At a certain point I just have to cut myself off and start drafting the script.

Pat Iveo Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Which do you prefer – writing or podcasting about true crime?

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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Hi Pat! I’d say I prefer writing about true crime, but only by a small margin. Since my podcast is scripted, writing a podcast episode isn’t all that different than writing a book chapter, BUT I have so much more time to write the book chapter that I’m usually more satisfied with the final project. Plus, with a book, I’ve got an editor, a proofreader, and even a lawyer to prevent me from making some fatal error…with podcasting, as you probably know, you’re much more on your own. So the writing process just feels a bit more supported in general. Podcasting is more of a leap of faith.

That being said, what I love about podcasting is that you can get your work in front of an audience SO much sooner. Books take forever (forget writing them…they have to be revised, then printed, then publicized…). It’s really fun to research a case, turn it into a podcast episode, and get the semi-instant gratification of having listeners react to the story, tell you all their theories, and so on!

Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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Hi Pat! I’d say I prefer writing about true crime, but only by a small margin. Since my podcast is scripted, writing a podcast episode isn’t all that different than writing a book chapter, BUT I have so much more time to write the book chapter that I’m usually more satisfied with the final project. Plus, with a book, I’ve got an editor, a proofreader, and even a lawyer to prevent me from making some fatal error…with podcasting, as you probably know, you’re much more on your own. So the writing process just feels a bit more supported in general. Podcasting is more of a leap of faith.

That being said, what I love about podcasting is that you can get your work in front of an audience SO much sooner. Books take forever (forget writing them…they have to be revised, then printed, then publicized…). It’s really fun to research a case, turn it into a podcast episode, and get the semi-instant gratification of having listeners react to the story, tell you all their theories, and so on!

Matt Chamber Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Tori, thanks for doing this. I’m interested in knowing what equipment you use to produce your show and if you have any opinions about the ideal cost outlay for someone just starting out.

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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Hi Matt, my pleasure! I am definitely not a tech person, so basically, I’ve just listened to other people (or Reddit) from the beginning. I started out with the Blue Yeti mic and NO pop filter (EEK), recording in a large empty room (the shame). Gradually, I learned what a pop filter was (I think mine was like $10 on Amazon, nothing special), and started recording in my closet, surrounded by soft clothes and squashy pillows. That made a big difference. So let’s see, that was about an outlay of $120, which was about the most money I felt comfortable spending on a project that was so new and definitely not guaranteed to succeed. The ideal cost outlay will probably vary based on your own personal budget and goals, but I definitely think it’s okay—good, even—to start simple and cheap.

Then, maybe six months ago, I spoke to a friend who’s more in the audio engineering sphere, and he recommended the Shure SM7B, which I found on Craigslist and LOVE. Got that, plus the Scarlett 2i2, and eventually a Cloudlifter, because it’s true what they say about the Shure SM7B being verrry quiet. I was lucky enough to get the Cloudlifter through a different job, so I didn’t pay for it, so the mic + the Scarlett 2i2 was about…$500? $600? I had been doing the podcast for almost a year by then so it felt worth it to upgrade.

Hope that helps!

Tom Slack Staff asked this question 5 months ago

Another one from me: With so many podcasts in the true crime genre, what do you think are the ingredients that separate the really, really good ones (like yours) from the so-so majority that don’t seem to quite get the traction?

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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Ahh, I’m very flattered to be lumped in with the “really, really good ones”! 🙂 To anyone who’s thinking of starting a true crime podcast now, I would be wary of the “drinking and chatting about Wikipedia entries” style of crime podcast, because while it’s been super successful for some people, I think audiences are getting tired of it. My list of ingredients would be:

—lots and lots of research (the yeast of the true crime podcast world!)
—an appropriate tone (humor is fine when appropriate, but the best true crime pods never forget that real people were affected)
—a balance between famous and obscure cases (it’s a fine line, because my listeners LOVE when I cover more famous cases, but at the same time, the world will implode if we get another Ted Bundy retelling…there are so many other untold stories out there)
—a bit of a schtick (my schtick is admittedly broad—”criminal women!”—but it lets people quickly categorize the podcast as more than just general true crime. Other schticks might include historical crimes, cold cases, crimes involving the paranormal, crimes that weren’t solved correctly the first time, and so on)
—an emphasis on storytelling and really engaging the listener in the narrative as opposed to just stating facts
—and then general quality control: putting out episodes regularly, respecting the listener’s time, etc.

Daniel Tupez Staff asked this question 5 months ago

What are some of the pitfalls/challenges you faced/face podcasting and how did/do you overcome them?

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Tori Telfer replied 5 months ago

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My biggest challenge was the sheer amount of work that my podcast required. I was taken aback by how long it took to do the research, write the script, edit the script, record the episode, editing the episode, post on social media…I definitely had multiple existential crises about the podcast, especially in the early days, because I wasn’t sure if all the effort was worth it.

Long-term, I think it has been worth it, but I’ve also learned certain time-saving tricks along the way. Like clapping into the mic when I’m recording and make a mistake, which makes editing a lot easier (you don’t have to listen back to the entire podcast to find the mistakes, you just head to the parts where the volume spikes—the claps—and edit there). I do a mix of cases that require a lot of research and lighter cases (maybe ones where there’s really only one source—like a book—to draw from, or just cases that don’t require looking through 30 years of old newspaper articles). Not every episode I do can be a groundbreaking work of original research, and that’s okay, hah. And just being aware of how much time I’m spending on an episode helps. Setting time limits, being okay with imperfection, attempting to stick to strict deadlines—the usual stuff!

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