Thursday, July 30, 2009


First a few facts. For a long time I was called a broadcasting professional. That meant I worked in television and radio. I also did an executive stint at a public access cable organization. I have a certain level of experience and expertise.

I also listen. In the past several months I have been listening to radio interviews with mystery authors. The exposure leads me to share some of my observations regarding the ability of mystery authors to do well on the radio.

First and last: Be Professional.

Remember that you are a guest on the station’s air. You’d like to be asked back when the next book comes out. Right?

More and more radio stations use the telephone to do long-distance interviews. They can reach out and touch someone anywhere in the world. Whether you are setting up your own interviews or you’ve engaged the services of a publicist, most of what follows will be relevant.

You have a date and time and calling instructions, usually several days in advance. It will be a telephone interview and because you know how to reach out and listen, since the radio station has an internet site you ought to do that. It’s part of your preparation. As a wise author, you want some sense of the on-air talent you’ll be talking to so you spend a little time listening. The best thing will be an opportunity to hear an interview with another author.

Chances are this will be a live interview, but it’s possible the station will record the interview to use at a different time. Always assume there will be no editing! Know with whom you are talking. Write down the host’s name (phonetically if it’s difficult to pronounce). An occasional mention of the host’s name is useful. I like to have the publicity picture of the host from the station website on my computer screen during the interview. It’s not animated, but it helps me connect with the voice of my interviewer.

You must remember to turn down the audio so the sound from the computer feed doesn’t come through the telephone.

Know the location of the station. It’s embarrassing to hear an author keep referring to the lovely weather in downtown Winona, Wisconsin, when everybody listening knows Winona is in Iowa. (No it isn’t! Winona is in southern Minnesota.) It never hurts to mention in a complimentary way, other authors who may be local to the radio station and its listeners.

From the moment you pick up the telephone and connect to the station, until you hang up after the interview, assume a recorder at the station is recording everything you say, snort or snuffle.

Lock the kids, the dog and the cats two rooms away from the telephone. Don’t answer the door if somebody knocks. Disable call waiting. Radio people don’t like dead air. Try to have someone around who can control unexpected distractions, like the cat suddenly grabbing the parakeet. Don’t make the call while riding in the car or driving somewhere. Campaigning politicians do this sometimes out of necessity. Bad idea.

I recently asked several radio people for their number one irritants. Two answers arose. First was talking on a cheap crappy cell phone. Your grandmother may put up with it, radio listeners don’t have to. Some radio stations insist that telephone interviews be conducted via landline to avoid noise static and other assorted audio ills.

The other popular irritant to the host is a string of short one or two-word answers from the guest. You mustn’t make long speeches, but remember that the host probably has not read your book. Try to keep the flow going and let the host interrupt. At the same time, there are some subjects that are mostly taboo. Politics, government and religion. Unless of course, your mystery is rooted one of those topics. Arguing with the one who has the off switch is never a good idea.

Sit at a table or uncluttered desk and give yourself adequate room. Have previously prepared notes at hand. Have a glass of water available to stave off an attack of dry mouth. Don’t suck your teeth or rattle your loose denture. Humming between questions is distracting. Remember always that bad on-air-etiquette won’t get you edited; it’ll just get you canceled. If you are doing a live segment, insulting the host will get you terminated immediately. Worse, the producer won’t return your phone calls the next time you want to get on their show. Have a short marked passage to read if asked.

Did something amusing happen during the writing of the novel? Mention it. Talk intimately, visualize the audience of one, sitting across a small table from you. I use the host’s picture.

Have the name, the location and the dates of each bookstore appearance close at hand so you can work them into the conversation accurately and possibly more than once. Pitching your upcoming appearance with the wrong name of the bookstore or the wrong address will not help your promotion. This is especially important if the radio interview is in anticipation of your tour appearance.

I recently heard a tape of a fifteen-minute radio interview set up for a visiting author by a bookstore owner. It was a good interview, lively, interesting, but never once did either the radio host or the author mention that he was in town for a signing at the store which arranged the interview.

Make a short list of the points you want to get across. Never stretch the truth or guess about the town you are electronically visiting. Someone will know the truth and call or email you or worse, complain to the radio station. Referring off-hand to local community problems is fraught with danger for the visiting author.

I believe proper dress is important to good interview! You can do a telephone interview on the radio clad in your raggedy old robe, in the nude, or in your floppy pink bunny slippers, if that’s your thing. I strongly suggest neat and casual. Appropriate dress seems to impart a sharper edge to the interviewee’s attention and the listener gets more cogent answers and a more interesting conversation. And always remember that in a five-minute interview, if you and/or the interviewer haven’t mentioned the name of your book and where it’s available at least once, you haven’t done your job.

If you’re doing the interview to promote your appearance at a local store, don’t only extol the easy virtue of ordering your book on-line at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or Books-A-Million. Even if you are doing a telephone interview from somewhere else on the planet, often the case, if there is a local bookstore you can mention, do it. Never mind the bookstore doesn’t carry your book. If enough people call, they’ll order copies.

A brief word about cross-promotion. You have this radio interview and I hope you aren’t keeping it a secret. With Twitter, Facebook, various newsgroups, you should be promoting your interview, particularly, if it’s a long one with call-in possibilities.

Do radio interviews sell books? I have no positive proof, but I wouldn’t bet against it! Radio has been around a long time and sold billions and billions of products. Why wouldn’t it sell your novel?
In sum, prepare for a phone-in or live radio interview just as you would for a job interview or a meeting with the publisher of your latest mystery. Be professional, smile, and good things will happen.

See you on the radio.

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