To follow up on Interviews, Part I, I’m happy to present a Q&A with Wendy Call, whose book No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy, was released last month to fabulous reviews. Wendy is a longtime journalist whose book is based on hundreds of interviews over ten years — and now, as part of her book tour, she is on the other side of the mic. She’s done more than a dozen radio interviews in the last month and has a lot to share.
What are the best reasons for authors to do radio interviews?
The primary reason might not be to sell more copies of your book, but to reach a wider public with the idea(s) behind your book. In the month since my book No Word for Welcome was released, I’ve given fifteen radio interviews. Perhaps two times out of three, I notice a bump in my Amazon sales ranking in the hours after the interview airs. When I don’t, it certainly doesn’t mean the interview was a waste. I can think of many, many times I’ve listened to an author interview, and then checked her book out of the library, or discussed the author’s work with a friend. When I buy the author’s book, it’s usually weeks or months after – most often after I’ve read or heard something else about the author.
If you land a radio interview in a city where you’re giving a reading, a radio interview can bring a larger audience to your event. One of the very first readings I did for my book, No Word for Welcome, was in Los Angeles. I have a few friends and acquaintances in the city; a local organization helped me promote the event; and I did two radio interviews in the week prior to the reading. About one-third of the event’s attendees were my friends and colleagues, one-quarter were members of the organization that helped with promotion, a few came because of a mutual friend’s recommendation, and the remaining quarter came because they heard one of the interviews. So, radio interviews help, but they should be only one part of a wider promotion strategy.
What did you do to prepare yourself for being interviewed?
My publicist and I spent quite a bit of time developing a list of “suggested questions” that were sent out to each of the radio hosts being approached, making sure that those questions covered each of the major themes and ideas of my book. I then devoted about six hours to crafting careful answers to each of the questions. Of course, many of the interviewers asked their own questions, but having those well-rehearsed answers has really helped. My publicist and I also did an hour-long “mock interview” over the phone.
I also do whatever is necessary to get enough sleep the night before the interview – it really does make a difference in both clarity of thought and quality of voice.
If there is one single thing an author should do before an interview, what should that be?
Relax for several minutes before the appointed time, breathe deeply, and review the three key points you want to make in the interview. (Note: “Readers, buy my book!” is not one of them!)
Do you have any tips for writers being interviewed for the first time?
Think in terms of vignette and story.
Listen to author interviews and think carefully about what appeals to you and what doesn’t. While preparing for my interviews, I listened to NPR’s audio archives. I found that the most compelling interviews are those in which the author offers clear, specific, brief vignettes to make her primary points.
Don’t expect the interviewer to read your book.
Radio hosts are extremely busy people; some interview three or four authors each week. I know very few people who read three or four books every week. I’ve had interviewers who had clearly read most or all of my book, and others who hadn’t read past the flap copy. While I’m grateful to those who did read it, I have to say it’s fine either way. To be honest, it’s often easier when the interviewer hasn’t read the book. Those interviewers tend to ask more basic questions, so it’s easier to give answers that will make sense to an audience that knows absolutely nothing about you or your book.
There are far more books being published than there are radio hosts to interview those books’ authors. Any radio host who chooses to interview you is giving you a real gift.