In my last post, I wrote about the benefits of media coaching. While some publishing houses include formal media training as part of an author’s book campaign, this isn’t always the case. With that said, there are a number of tips authors can use to their advantage and tasks they can complete on their own in preparation for media interviews about their books, even if they don’t experience formal coaching. Below I’ve compiled a list of to-dos for authors who want to ready themselves for interviews:
Reread your book! Sometimes I’ll ask an author about the press materials I’ve drafted or a specific point he’s made in his book when the author will stop me and say, “Gee, it’s actually been a while since I read/worked on that part of the book. Let me go back and check.” After an author has submitted the manuscript (and this is typically many months before publication), he will often want to take a step back from the materials he’s been dealing with for months (and often years) on end. (Understandably!) However, it goes without saying that come interview time, the author won’t be able to tell a show host, “Hold on one moment. Let me refer back to that quote in the book and figure out what I meant.” It’s extremely important for you to reread your own book and refamiliarize yourself with the characters/plot lines/dates/details/conclusions/etc. It can also be refreshing to read your own book cover to cover several months after finishing work on it since it might just feel like you’re reading the book in its entirety for the first time!
Create a list of talking points. This is especially important if your book is nonfiction. These talking points typically address the basic who-what-where-when-why-how questions about your book and writing process. The points should be concise and easy to remember, the basic tenets upon which you built the book. While it’s depressing to admit, many show hosts don’t read the books before they do interviews. In many cases, you’re lucky if they’ve glanced at the press materials. As such, if you have a list of major points/themes/takeaway ideas prepared, you can help guide the conversation and ensure that the message you want conveyed about the book is actually conveyed.
Practice, practice, practice interviewing. There’s truth to the saying that “practice makes perfect.” You wouldn’t go to your piano recital without having practiced your piece countless times and you wouldn’t give a speech in front of your entire company without having drawn up notes and practiced saying it over and over. The same thinking applies to talking about your book on national tv or radio. Additionally, because there are different interview formats (magazine style versus morning drive-time versus interviews that include one-on-ones with the host as well as listener call-ins), you’ll want to practice answering questions about your book in different formats. You don’t want to get on air having only practiced long-format interviews to find out that it will be a 5 minute interview in which you’ll only have about 20 seconds to answer each question.
Videotape yourself being interviewed and watch it afterwards. It can be a bit of a shock to see yourself on camera for the first time (and not just because “the camera adds 10 pounds”)! You may realize you have a nervous tick (touching your jewelry, waving your hands, brushing a hand through your hair) or say things (like “ummm” before each answer) that you never before realized when you’re in an interview setting. After seeing yourself unconsciously do these things, you can consciously work to correct them.
Stay up-to-date on the headlines (if your book is nonfiction or has a news hook). If you’ve written a book about presidential politics during an election year or if you’ve written a book about the Great Depression during a down economic year, chances are that your interviewer will be asking you to draw parallels to present day or even asking you flat out what your various predictions are based upon your book and the research it entailed. Furthermore, if you’ve written a current events book (let’s say it’s about the Middle East), you’ll want to make sure you know exactly what’s going on in the region and be able to field questions about news stories that tie into the area – even if the questions aren’t directly related to the material in your book.
Christina Mamangakis is a publicity manager at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Prior to that, she worked for Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, and W. W. Norton & Company.