Saturday, March 22, 2014

Not for Writers Only: The Other Kind of Interview

My next novel, For the Love of Parvati: An Anita Ray Mystery, will be published in May 2014, so of course I’m thinking about promotion and events. A mainstay of the writer’s life is the interview, especially on a blog or in a newspaper. We are used to the long list of questions about how we write, where we get our ideas, how do we do research, what are our goals, favorite characters, and how did we get our agent or publisher. Then come the questions on favorite colors or vacation spots or clothing that are meant to reveal something about our personal character and quirks. The questions leave room for answers about our pets and families. I’ve answered and asked variations on these questions dozens of times, but there is another interview that we hear less about.

New writers may get their first exposure through an interview on cable TV. This may not go farther than the hometown but it can be excellent practice for something bigger. After appearing on a number of local shows and watching other writers and speakers on various topics, I have a few suggestions.

First, keep your hands in your lap. Many of us are expressive, enthusiastic types and our hands fly up at the first hint of something interesting. We wave our hands, spread out our fingers, turn our palms upward our outward, all in tune with our words. Our hands are the baton of the speaker, leading the audience in response. But they are a distraction. Hold your hands loosely together and keep them in your lap.

Second, come prepared with questions. I expect the interviewer to have done his or her job, but many don’t get a chance to read the book you’ve written or research the social issue you want to talk about, or even care about the charity event you’re promoting. If you don’t come prepared with solid questions for the interviewer to ask, you may face a very uncomfortable fifteen minutes or even longer. I generally come with a fact sheet or some printed material I can give the interviewer, just to make her job easier. She’ll thank you and she’ll remember you the next time you call to ask for a segment of her show.

Third, know how to move the interview along. I once faced an interviewer I knew and liked but he wanted to know exactly where my novel was set. I explained that the relevant part of South India was subtropical, very close to the equator, but that wasn’t enough for him. Was it like Florida? No, hotter. How hot? I gave a few temperatures. But every time I thought we were done with this, he asked another question about weather. I was sucked into a downward spiral. I still look back on that interview with confusion. I don’t know what more I could have done to answer the question, but I do know I could have come prepared to change the direction of the discussion.

Fourth, experienced interviewers will tell you that when you are ready to make a direct pitch, look straight into the camera, and talk face to face, so to speak, to the audience, the person sitting at home and watching. It felt very odd to me to do this, but I figured the interviewer knew his business. After all, it was his show. So, when the time came, I swallowed my nervousness, looked directly into the camera, and asked the people watching me to make a donation. (I wasn’t promoting a book this time; I was asking for support for a charity.) If you prepare for this, you’ll look less uncomfortable to the audience, and they will be more likely to respond positively.

Fifth, keep in mind that your audience can be people who have little or no interest in you or your book or your cause. I imagined the audience of cable TV shows or off-hours local commercial TV shows to be sitting at home watching TV while someone made dinner, folded the laundry, or waited for a better show to come on. This was my audience. I was wrong. A friend who was taking a writing class at night told me that she and her fellow students were hanging out in a bar when my interview was scheduled to run. They persuaded the bartender to turn the channel to the show and the entire crowd in the waterfront bar watched me talk about a novel set in India. I can’t vouch for the level of attention but it certainly taught me an unexpected lesson. Your words will be heard in the oddest places. Choose them carefully.

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  1. Hi, Susan,

    This seems like very good advice. I've never done a TV interview but I believe that it's the strongest way to sell books. I once did a radio interview but don't think it actually sold any books. Still, it was an interesting experience.

  2. Hi, Jacquie, I think the more times someone hears your name, the likelier they are to pick up your book, either in a bookstore or a library, and for that reason alone I think cable TV shows are worthwhile. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Good advice! Thank you. I suspect I will be too terrified even to talk should I ever be in the position of doing an interview, but I will remember you advice.

  4. Karen, I had the same feeling before my first live interview, but I surprised myself by forgetting about the camera and worrying instead that I'd flub the questions. Thanks for commenting.