How to ‘Meet the Press’ and Sell Your Book

by Candace BelAir

Surely one of the most important days in any author’s life is the day you find out your manuscript has been accepted for publication. At long last, your dream is coming true. Your book will be on the shelves of bookstores and libraries; you’ll be the center of attention at book signings and media tours.

Media tour? Yes, indeed. Media coverage is perhaps the best way for you to promote and sell your book. Interviews in newspapers and on radio and television talk shows give you tremendous visibility. You’ll have the potential to reach millions of people.

Obviously, you want to make the most of this golden opportunity. That’s why you need to know how to handle media appearances before you face your interviewers. And, while it’s true that most talk-show hosts are friendly, you may still get that occasional difficult or sticky question – the one you don’t know the answer to, or the one you don’t want to answer (because it’s too personal, for example).

Over the years, I’ve coached many authors. They are smart and articulate, and they know their subject matter inside out. But when I put them on camera, most get nervous. It’s natural. An author’s expertise is writing, not promoting books through the media.

You may have mannerisms or gestures that merely are distracting or – far worse – are seriously undermining your credibility. A good media coach will point them out. Just as an editor improves your writing, a media coach improves your on-air delivery.

Let me share some of the tips I give in my training sessions. I’ll start with the basics. I call these…

Media Manners

Always be prepared. If you agree to do the interview, take the time to do your homework. Looking or sounding unprepared will hurt your credibility.

Don’t ask to see the questions in advance. Many novices do this, and their requests are denied. However, it’s OK to ask the general direction the interviewer will be taking. I suggest you submit a list of questions you’d like to be asked.

Don’t ramble. This is a mistake many speakers make. Instead, keep your sentences succinct and to the point. Be aware that the reporter is listening carefully for that pithy 15-second sound bite. (Besides, the audience has a short attention span.)

Don’t complain. Even if a story does not turn out the way you would have told it, you’ll still reach a huge audience of potential buyers. But if the story is factually incorrect, or it hurts your reputation, call immediately and state your case.

Expect the unexpected. News is always breaking; an interview planned well in advance may be postponed at the last minute. Try to graciously “go with the flow.”

Be relaxed, confident and honest. Remember, you have been selected for the interview because of your book. Speak to the reporter or talk-show host as if you were speaking to an acquaintance who is very curious about your topic.

These tips fit all interviews: a magazine profile, a newspaper article in which you are quoted, a two-minute story on the evening news. But because authors most often find themselves on radio and television talk shows, I’m going to share several do’s and don’ts specifically for broadcast appearances.

Tips for a Successful Talk-Show Interview

Know the show. By the time you appear on the talk show, you should know the format and the host’s style. If possible, tape and review the show before you arrive at the studio.

Listen carefully to each question. You may be so preoccupied thinking about a particular point you want to make that you miss the question. If you don’t answer the question that was asked, you’ll look as if you weren’t paying attention.

Don’t memorize your whole presentation. Instead, memorize only key facts, figures and anecdotes. A canned speech sounds stiff and rehearsed.

Think like a star. Assume you are on camera at all times, not just when you are talking. A camera may be focused on you when you are listening to the host or another guest. After the interview, don’t assume you’re off the air until you are told that you are.

Finally, a few words about the hostile interview. Some talk-show hosts intentionally turn up the heat. When that happens, keep your cool. To prepare for a hostile interview, I ask authors to bring me a list of the 10 most dreaded questions they hope they will never be asked. Those are the questions we practice on camera. It’s a valuable exercise.

Tips for Handling a Hostile Interview

Never say “no comment.” If you can’t respond to a question, explain why (e.g., “The matter is under investigation,” “We don’t know all the facts yet,” etc.).

Stick to your own story. Do not be led into explaining an opponent’s side of an issue. Simple say, “I will let them speak for themselves. My view is…”

If you are introduced with a negative statement. Don’t let the negative impression stand; the audience will assume you agree with it. Say, “There’s something I’d like to correct,” and then rephrase the opening statement.

If the interviewer uses a pregnant pause. Do not rush to fill the lulls in the conversation. Instead, say, “I believe I’ve answered your question. What else would you like to discuss?”

Do not repeat a question that contains negative language. Even to deny it. Rather, say “That is not true. Here are the facts…”

One last thought: Always keep in mind the tremendous power of the media. Its influence is pervasive. So if you are fortunate enough to be invited to an interview, recognize the precious opportunity that lies before you. Doesn’t it make sense to capitalize on it?

When all is said and done, how successful you are in your media appearance comes down to this: The more confident and relaxed you are, the more books you will sell.

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