The other day I read an article about an author’s first TV interview. It included this sentence: “She felt her upper lip was sticking to her teeth, but those watching said she conducted the entire solo interview with panache.”
Funny, but also pretty accurate in that generally we tend to think we do worse in these interviews then we really do. I’m a veteran of a good number of TV and radio interviews and they’re not bad if you remember a few things to do—and a few not to do. Since people tend to worry more about things going wrong, let me share a few things to avoid:
1. Going into depth about anything. Typically you will get three to six minutes on the air. That seems reasonable until you’ve had the experience of trying to talk intelligently about your work in that little chunk of time. You have to be prepared with some sound bites. Your goal is to make people interested enough to find out more and to get them to do that via your website, Amazon, or their local book store.
2. Assuming that the interviewer has read your book. Or any book ever. Even the smart ones interview one or more people every show and they don’t have time to read every book.
3. Assuming that the interviewer will ask the questions you and the producer agreed on. Some of them just wing it totally.
4. Assuming that the interviewer wants to talk about your book. Sometimes you’re just the stooge who makes it easy for them to tell jokes or riff about something totally different.
5. Arguing with the interviewer. No matter what a doofus he or she is, you’ll lose because the people watching or listening to them like them and are on their side. Even if the interviewer makes some whopping mistake, be as diplomatic as possible. A national TV personality once started my interview by asserting something that was the exact opposite of the case. I said, “You know, everybody thinks that, but, surprisingly, it’s actually not so.”
6. Trying to work the title of the book into every sentence. You may think it’s subtle to say things like, “As I point out in my book, ‘The Gentleman Caller,” we are all communicating in new ways…” but it’s not. It’s annoying and it guarantees you will not be asked back. However, if the host has gone through the whole interview without mentioning the title (or mentioning it only once at the start) you can, with humor, make sure to get it in at the end. Something like, “Thanks for having me on, Pete, and to avoid having my publisher shoot me, can we mention the name of the book (or the name of the book’s web site)?”
I’m not trying to say that all your experiences will be negative. I’ve had quite a few fun and pleasant interviews, but it’s good to be prepared for the worst.