Radio Interviews and How to Get Asked Back

When I was asked me to be a guest on a  blogtalkradio show, I immediately posted a discussion topic on Facebook, and my writing community there came through for me with some wonderful suggestions. Chuck Collins was especially generous, and he gave me permission to share his wisdom with you. Collins says:

Here I am an expert, no modesty needed. I have been a broadcaster for more than 30 years. There is one simple rule: there is no such thing as a yes or no answer. If you stop reading here, you’ll be fine.

A little physical prep is good. You certainly don’t want to jump off the treadmill and pick up the phone. You want some water nearby (you will get dry-mouth). And you want to make sure the room from where you take the call is totally quiet and you are the only soul present; that includes pets.

Write down the person’s name and city on an index card that you can see almost without looking at it. I don’t care if you are talking to the local swap-meet guy or Larry King, you will forget. Good idea to know the time zone at the destination of your talk. It’s also good to know a little bit about the interviewer, Simple things such as is he or she a parent, of a certain racial or ethnic group. Google him or her!

Be in comfortable clothes, but wear clothes! No sweats or jammies. That will give you a false sense of empathy. A good interviewer will want to throw you off at least a little. Stay sharp.

A bad interviewer will not know where to place the question mark. They will qualify a question to death. Be ready to interject your answer; trust me, he or she will thank you for that.

Have a clock or timer near. I like to use the timer feature on my iPhone. No answer should go longer than 2 minutes. That sounds like a long time, it isn’t. Ideally you want your answers to be in the 90 second range. I am not suggesting you obsess over time, just be aware of it. The interviewer is.

Assume that the interviewer has not read your book and never will. And you don’t care. It is the listener you want to get interested in the story.

Talk about the story or the subject matter. If you get a groupie question such as, “what made you start this project?” Talk about the genesis of the characters and the plot. It really doesn’t matter where your head was at the time. And yes, say the title of the book as often as you can.

One thing to keep in mind: good radio sounds like a conversation but it is not. We know this from composing good fiction. Nearly everyone can write, but few can craft a good novel. Nearly everyone can speak, but few actually sound good on the radio.

You can have a pleasant conversation with a host. Come away feeling good about the segment and not compel a single listener to buy your book.

You must help the host create an atmosphere that is as magnetic as your story. Use your voice to paint a picture that the listener MUST complete by buying the book. In short you need to convey passion, emotion and attraction.

This is not casual. It is quite deliberate. Have you ever heard or seen Garrison Keillor give an interview? There is always something that makes you wonder. It doesn’t matter what you wonder about, but he sticks in your mind long enough to take action, click on Amazon and buy the book. The host talks about the interview after you are gone. If you are lucky even the next day, perhaps replay it, podcasts it on their website! Mr. Keillor is a master of both art forms, but we can certainly learn from him.

The radio interview is a remarkable opportunity. You do not want to become a quivering mass, but you want to serve yourself first.

Generally the people listening to the interview are not interested in us. But we can give them reason to choose our work over the literally millions of options. Convince one person, that is really all you have to do.

If you are on a show about books and authors then you can relax some and just be yourself while still keeping the work central to the discussion. But if you are lucky enough to get on mainstream radio you are expected to perform, not as a radio professional but as an artist. We are supposed to be interesting people, we who have the nerve to create.

As far as selling, there are many ways to do this. The best way is make the product irresistible. No amount of begging can compete with a must-have product. Of course you never want to say, “please read my book,” but you can say “I have reserved a number of books just for your listeners. I will gladly sign them and for the next 24 hours wave all shipping costs.” I don’t believe in discounting the price, that is an insult to those who have already paid full price. But shipping, now there’s a coupon.

There are several ways to get asked back.

Sound like you belong there. This is delicate because you want to remain the “junior partner” in the presentation. In this dance, the host leads.

Remain humble, but not sycophantic. Know your stuff but when possible attribute your knowledge to others the interviewer and her audience may know and admire; maybe even interviewed recently. “You had a great interview with X on your show last month. He is a strong inspiration…” Show that you are a fan of the show, too.

Don’t ask for anything from the show! Arrange to have the show recorded yourself and offer to link the interviewer/program site to yours.

Thank both the host and producer in writing. Let them know how much you enjoyed the opportunity and are available anytime they would like you back…”

Don’t try to be funny. The key word here being TRY. You WILL be funny, don’t worry. You can even prepare a humorous story, but it will come naturally and that is the most engaging and memorable.

Here’s something from the AP Interviewing class: Relate to the audience directly as much as possible. This takes practice. For example. Instead of saying “When I find an author I like…” say “when you find an author you like…” same sentence, same set up. We know that the most magnetic words heard on the radio is one’s own name, short of that is “you.”

Finally you can forget all this and still do great! The worst interviews I ever had were with radio people — Don Imus, Howard Stern, etc. The best were fiction authors who would rather lick a porcupine than talk on the radio. That’s because I admire what they do and was genuinely interested in the craft. You’ll sense that from Rita and other good interviewers and the time will fly by.

Blog Radio

Aaron Paul Lazar and I are doing a blog exchange today. (I will be at Murder By 4.) The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries, Lazar enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2008. Lazar says:

Have you noticed a recent explosion in Internet radio shows? Perhaps you’ve heard of Blogtalk Radio, or other venues, in the past year. Basically, folks register as a talk show host and run their show via phones and the web. The guests call in, and listeners can either sign in or call in to join the discussion at the discretion of the host. The podcasts are available to download, feature on websites, or share via articles or email. The venue has become a wonderful marketing tool for writers and professionals in all fields. Over the past year, I’ve been a guest on several shows, ranging anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. Feel free to listen to some or all of them, if you are so inclined, here.

But in Dr. Niama Willam’s Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes radio show last week (“Dr. Ni” pronounced “nee”), I experienced a completely different type of interview.

It was more like “literary therapy.” Dr. Ni read and loved Tremolo: Cry of the Loon, brought up questions and issues about the characters, how they related to my life and passions, and spotlighted important aspects of the book linked to current day social issues.

She asked some hard questions that stopped me in my tracks.

But it’s not surprising, because the renowned Dr. Ni, literary scholar, author, creative coach, abuse survivor, and natural therapist, has just what it takes to help you dig into your life or novel, explore literary relationships to your life, and return you from the experience feeling enriched and satisfied.

None of it was planned. I didn’t even get the questions until a few minutes before the show. But that made the whole experience more animated, more natural. She surprised me by asking me to read segments of the book I’d never read aloud. I’m working on recording chapters for future audio books, but these chapters were further down the list and I hadn’t practiced. Sure, I made a few flubs, but the discussions we had about these scenes were illuminating.

The Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes program opens with Dr. Ni’s lyrical and mystical acapella singing, with a welcome that promises to “let your ears become intoxicated.” We laughed a lot, shared common experiences, and dug deep into important subjects.

Following are some of the topics we covered:

– The concept of innocence; how it relates to childhood and shapes a writer.
– How an author’s fears drive suspense and plot elements
– Abuse, and why it’s a recurring theme in the LeGarde series
– The lives of concentration camp survivor’s children
– Grandparenting vs. Parenting
– The “macho man” culture of some African American and Latino men and how it’s okay to be human, to be nurturing, to allow your emotions to show, while also being strong and protective.
– The history and future of Siegfried Marggrander, and where the German segments come from in the series.
– The differences between 50s/60s kids and some children today
– How playing outside and inventing games was/is so good for children
– Materialism and its destruction of the family and quality of some children
– The desensitization of society to violence, gore, sex.
– Nature and the importance of living with and in it, as opposed to living indoor in electronic cocoons.

I wanted to share this with you all for the sake of connecting on important issues, but also to provide some fodder for ideas for those of you who are established or budding writers. Whether you already have a book out there or are about to be published, don’t hesitate to take the plunge with live radio!

At first it’s a bit scary. After all, you are LIVE. But as you become accustomed to thinking on your feet, the fears lessen and it can be truly delightful.

The best way to prepare for radio is to do lots of print interviews first. You’ll collect your thoughts, have files of answers handy, and will be practiced in the art of thinking about your motivations, characters, synopses of books, etc. I must have done 25 to 30 print interviews before I “dared” go live on radio. But they helped immensely. I even practiced answering the most popular questions out loud, so my mouth actually said the things my mind intended.

You also need to be prepared to read “live.” Again, practice makes perfect. Before I record my clips for future audio books, I practice each chapter numerous times, until the sound of the voices and descriptions match what was in my head when I wrote the words. That’s hard to do at first, but after a while it again, becomes second nature.

If you have a laptop in the kitchen, or headphones at work, click on the link to the show above and let me know what you think about our discussion. We can keep it going here if you like.

Remember, dear friends, to take pleasure in the little things. And if you love to write, write like the wind!