I can hear your collective groans from here. Stop it.
As an author, you will occasionally get to do interviews. As the shy, retiring type that most of you writers are, you won’t want to do them. As a marketer, you do want to do them! Interviews raise awareness of your product – the book you want to sell – but don’t be fooled. The TV stars you see being amazing in interviews on late night TV or the Ellen show didn’t just fall out of bed and hit a home run, being all charming and spontaneous and witty.
Luckily, most of the interviews you get to do will be by email or some other written version. (For some sample interview questions I put together, click HERE. Many are the typical stuff you’ll be asked; some are just me.)
Why is that lucky? Because radio and TV interviews are hard. (MOST of these tips are for written interviews, but the approach is the same for internet of TV.)
First, you will probably have to contact people to do an interview regardless of the medium; they don’t come out of the woodwork to track you down just cos you published a book. According to some radio people I spoke with, authors are always trying to get interviewed – and trust me, doing radio is tough. Quiet spaces while you think of an answer seem like HOURS, and you react by trying to answer quickly – and usually too fast – so it isn’t your best answer and you aren’t happy with the result. The nervousness is noticeable in your voice. You sound like a gerbil.
TV is the same except they get to SEE you becoming a gerbil. That’s just… painful. (Lucky for you, on Writers Off Task With Friends, we are there to make you look good!)
So, as I said, lucky for us author types, most of our interviews will be of the written variety. Words! Heck, that’s our home court!
I think I did three or four reeeeally mediocre interviews (where I was being interviewed, in writing, for websites) before I was happy with what transpired. They were fine questions and answers, but there wasn’t a lot of Dan in the piece. Reading the interview didn’t give you the flavor of the humor in the books or a sense of the snarky, sarcastic goofball writing them.
I decided to have more fun with the next interview, and that turned out great. It got a lot of comments, compliments, retweets, etc. It’s still kind of my go-to, and the reason why is because I got a chance to answer the questions, think about it, and then go back and “funny it up.”
Editing. Who knew?
So that’s what I try to do for others when I interview them, and you should check out the sample interview questions on the blog and take the time to answer them even if you don’t get interviewed by me – it’s good practice.
By the way, those stars doing interviews on TV? First, they’ve been coached to answer questions a certain (charming) way, then segue into “You know, Jimmy, that’s in my book…” or movie or whatever.
They are also pre-interviewed. That means they get the questions, or suggestions about what might be asked, ahead of time. (I know this because I saw it happen on reruns of The Larry Sanders Show during a bout of our five-year-old has a tummy ache and can’t sleep = parental insomnia recently – where Janine Girafalo was the production assistant who did the pre-interviews. I have no reason to believe Nick At Night would lie to me about this.)
So the big stars know what’s coming in their interview and they have had time to think up great answers. Plus they may have a PR person who says, “Say this, not that.”
You do not have such a person, probably. For you, the PR department is you.
One famous late night host was known for making his guests look good. That’s the goal I have in mind when I interview somebody – to make them look good. That’s not every blogger’s goal. They don’t necessarily want to make you look bad, they just might not have the time or skills to do anything but be mediocre. You’ll have to make yourself look good, then. That’s what I do when I get interviewed. Make me look good, my book look amazing, and make the interviewer look smart (if I can. It’s not always possible.)
Again, luckily, we authors usually get interviewed in writing so we have time to answer questions – but there’s a way to do it.
- Many of the interview questions you’ll receive are the same. They want to know about your latest book, some of your hobbies, blah, blah, blah. Read a few author interviews and you’ll see maybe five basic questions over and over. Fine. Have answers for them, work on them to make them good – as in, interesting – and save those answers. Not so you can recycle them verbatim, but so you have an answer you are happy with and can say the message again in a later interview using different words.
- Don’t answer all the interview questions in one sitting. After a while, even you get tired of you. Take breaks. If there are more than five questions, do a few in the morning and a few in the evening, or over a few days.
- After you’ve answered the questions, let it rest. Just like you can’t see your typos after you’ve read your manuscript six times, you won’t see typos – or other glaring, horribly embarrassing errors – in your answers. (Did you really mean to bring up that time you wet your pants in eighth grade?) And guess what? The interviewer might not see your typos either. Can you say cut-paste? Those mistakes go right into the finished product 9/10 of the time.
- Re-read it and funny it up, or drama it up, or romance it up, or whatever your intended audience wants from you – as far as this book goes.
Have fun. It’s not a test. You should put your personality in there. If you are snarky and sarcastic, make sure that goes in. If you are snarky but your books aren’t, you get to decide which side of you to portray. Or maybe be outrageous for one or two questions but not all fifteen. Your call. But I think letting your personality show is what makes your interview interesting and sets yours off from the others, and usually you want that. Memorable counts. Good memorable, I mean. Not if you wet your pants; maybe leave that out.
- My method is: answer the question so the right content is there, let it sit, then go back and basically make fun of my answer by being snarky. Every comment I’ve made here, for example, has been scrutinized a second time for a little sarcasm or humor. Probably.
- Thank the interviewer in the interview and afterward. I call this the Hollywood treatment, or the Schwarzenegger. Brag about what a great interview they did, and be sure to let them see you bragging about how great they are. (You do that on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, etc.) Positive reinforcement. They’ll want to do it again or they’ll have nice things to say about the experience. Sometimes – gasp – they rerun your interview because they enjoyed it so much. See how that works? But usually it just enhances the overall experience and builds goodwill. If you need a favor and you raved about them, they might be willing to do you a solid.
- More about the “and afterward” part. Follow up and tell the interviewer that their interview got X amount of retweets or Facebook comments or blog traffic, and how much higher that is than usual. Ask if you can recommend them to your friends – and then do it. Positive reinforcement works big time, gang.
- If the interview experience was an overall good one, and even if it wasn’t, you learn. Very few bad things come from a bad interview, so relax. You have to learn; maybe the interviewer is learning, too. That’s why the practice questions are there. (So you can practice. Was that not obvious?)
- I forgot what number ten was. Oh, yeah: the questions asked aren’t necessarily the ones you answer, and all of them are fair game to lead into what you want to talk about. If they ask about your hobbies, you can say writing is your favorite hobby – even though you are a killer racquetball player – and then gush about a scene in your book where the MC does something you wanted to mention. That’s fair as long as (A) it isn’t EVERY question you answer that way and (B) the answer fits somehow. But doing it on a few is fine, maybe even necessary. Interviewers aren’t mind readers. You can even suggest a few questions you’d like to be asked. (Gasp!) Yeah, nobody sees the emails going back and forth, just the finished product, so why not?
Like any kind of sales thing, you’ll have to ask for more interviews than you are granted, so call on a bunch.
If you have a book coming out March first, try to have the interviews come out in early March. Most folks can accommodate that. If the book will be available for preorder, maybe late a February interview works best.
Each interviewer is different, too, so if you have the time (and you do), check out some of their other interviews – and mention that you’re a fan of their work/site/blog. Even if you just became a fan five minutes before the interview. If you reference the one they did three months ago and how much you enjoyed it, that may very well blow their mind.
Pictures make for better reading of interviews by breaking up the column and helping show your personality. Find some you like that are of your book cover and a good head shot of you, but also some of you playing around or mountain climbing, whatever your hobby is. (Ladies, if you do Foxy Boxing, send me the pictures for my input.) Not every interview uses pictures, but have some ready just in case.
We can’t prepare you for everything, but we can sure prepare you for the things we know will be coming.
Remember: practice makes perfect – so practice!
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What have some of YOUR interview experiences been like?
If you did an interview, post the link below!
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works