03 October 2017

Nailing the Interview

by Janice Law

Recently I did a morning drive time interview with our local a.m. station, WILI, following up stories in the Hartford Courant and the Willimantic Chronicle. This counts as a veritable PR blitz here in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. It’s not exactly BSP ( Blatant Self Promotion) but maybe about right for a novel with local settings by a local author.

I know many of my Sleuthsayers colleagues are far ahead of me in the publicity sweepstakes, but I got thinking that a few tips for interviews might be useful for less experienced or less entrepreneurial writers.

Early a.m. at WILI 
First off, assume nothing. I was lucky. Wayne Norman, WILI’s long time radio personality, is a complete pro, well prepared and immensely experienced. He asked good questions, and he had done some preparation, although even he had not read the whole book. No offense! Remember that radio hosts have a guest or two a day, five or six days a week. Many of those guests have written books and articles. Who can read them all and still do the required prep for weather and traffic and sports reports and news breaks? No one.

So, make it easy for your interviewer. Have a PR sheet that describes your book and gives some interesting personal information.

For the actual interview, you will need to have a pithy statement of what the book is about. That was, in fact, the first question I was asked. While most of us hate the idea of boiling down our brilliant prose and profound insights to a few sentences, that’s what’s required. The TV listings are too short, but a Times review is definitely too long.

Figure three or four sentences mentioning your protagonist and his or her situation, emphasis on conflict. You need to do this without giving away the whole plot. Tricky? You bet, so if you are not an old classroom teacher used to thinking on your feet about plots and reader interest, plan ahead; even a few notes won’t hurt.

The next big question is, or should be, chief characters. Once again I was lucky. Mr. Norman had read enough to know who was important and to ask about them specifically. If your interviewer hasn’t cracked the book, find a way to introduce your characters. You don’t need to give their entire biographies, but an enticing villain, a charming child, romantic interest of one sort or another is good – if you can give short and interesting descriptions. Be prepared for this.

Morning WILI host Wayne Normal in parade mode
Sometimes, as in the case with Homeward Dove – and here a tip. Do as I say, not as I do: Mention your book title! I must confess that I left that to my interviewer. Points off! Anyway, in the case of Homeward Dove, setting was my friend. If your book features a particular area, you can sometimes interest a program that would otherwise be cool to your prose. People like to read about their own communities – or in the case of Homeward Dove – the surrounding parks, rivers, and forests.

The clincher for me was the fact that Homeward Dove ended with Willimantic’s famous Boom Box Parade. For those still ignorant of this event, it is a promotion of the local station and was designed to compensate for the demise of local marching bands. When it is time for the parade, the station cues up patriotic marches which are played by a couple of sound trucks but also, and here was the genius idea, by marchers and spectators carrying boom boxes. A description of this event and the creative costumes and floats produced by the locals was clearly a way to my interviewer’s heart.

Along the way, we talked about a number of things mentioned in the book, including the many references to the trades – a chance to talk about my father who was a skilled carpenter, and about whether a particular passage about fears of learning to swim reflected my own attitudes. Since I’ve always adored the water, we ventured into imagination and where ideas come from.  These are good topics and perennials when readers and fans meet writers.

Thinking about that, led me to consider the difference between what readers and critics and interviewers, too, are interested in as opposed to writers. The readers are interested in art, in ideas, in the meaning of it all. Writers, and from my experience, painters, too, tend to talk about money, markets, or, less often, technique. Who’s buying, who keeps your manuscript for ages, who writes snarky rejection letters, who pays promptly, who’s looking for submissions: these are the big questions for writers.

Speakers on for the start of the Boom Box Parade
So, once in a while, it’s nice to talk to some of the folks who love art with the capital A: the readers and fans.

6 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Great points on doing interviews, Janice. And you make a really good point about the interviewers often doing several interviews a week so naturally they can't read every book. I know I've been interviewed on occasion and could easily tell that the interviewer hadn't read the book. Which is very frustrating. So I think the cheat sheet for them is a terrific idea.

janice law said...

You're right. so much of a successful interview- like other human interaction- depends on understanding the other person's situation and if possible turning that to your account.

Eve Fisher said...

Great article on interviews, and I hope someday to need these tips. Love the photos.

Robert Lopresti said...

Very interesting, Janice. As for interviewers who haven't finished the book I remember in Robert B. Parker's LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE SPenser's client encounters an interviewer who hasn't read the book and Spenser says, approx., "it must be terrifying going through life not knowing what you're talking about."

Come to think of it, he's right. It is.

Steve Liskow said...

Excellent post, Janice.

And dead-on about radio hosts and others who are swamped with too many guests and not enough prep time. The cheat sheet is a good idea. Hey, we used notes as teachers, right?

Janice law said...

Glad you enjoyed. I must say Wayne Norman of WILI is a true pro. I can imagine a great many awkward moments with unprepared interviewers . as Steve notes, however, teaching with its many surprises is a good prep for a lot of things in life.