So you’ve written your first book and it’s about to be published. Your editor understands the vision, a cover is selected, internal layout gets done— and now you have to step forward and represent your book in your first author interview. Maybe it’s to guest on a writing podcast or your hometown paper wants to report on your success. It could even be a tv show.
How do you prepare for the interview?
Understand the medium
First, get as much information about the outlet as you can. What type of media is it? Different types of press approach the coverage of books in different ways.
With television, for example, it’s all about the visuals— specifically, what you wear (no stripes!) and how natural you come across on camera.
But with a video-free podcast, you could be in your pajamas and the listener wouldn’t know it: Podcasts are all about content and presentation— while with print media, the reporter has more control over how information is presented by selecting not only the parts of your interview they want to share, but the context they create to share your words.
Know your interviewer
Before your interview, watch, listen to, or read prior coverage. If you’re going on a podcast, download at least one episode and play it from start to finish. In fact, we recommend listening to three.
This will give you an idea of questions the host asks every time. Take Gabriela Pereira with DIY MFA, for example, who famously used to conclude by asking authors, “What’s your writing superpower?” (The show now ends by asking guests about the next step in their publishing careers.)
Bloggers have their repeat questions as well: Read interviews on sites like A Good Book to End the Day or Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb and you’ll see the same ones in rotation.
Can you get the questions in advance?
Sometimes questions may be provided in advance— especially for online pieces. Logistically, they sometimes have to be. These interviews are conducted over email and in lieu of going back and forth one question at a time, interviewers typically send the whole slate at once.
Podcasts occasionally do the same, depending on host preference.
But mainstream print media and network television won’t, as reporters consider this sort of heads-up a breach of ethics. (The thinking comes from harder news, where advance notice might give a source time to prepare a dishonest answer.)
What is your author interview goal?
Now that you’ve researched what interviewers might ask, let’s talk about how to respond.
It’s a common mistake to answer a reporter’s questions directly. Instead, drive the conversation toward your personal goal. Why did you take the interview? Why are you promoting your title to begin with?
For many writers, it’s sales, but you could be working toward a teaching position, trying to improve your image, or maybe even trying to get attention so you can sell your next book to a larger press.
The answer to any question a reporter asks should stem from this goal. So write down a few talking points that connect to it.
If you want a teaching job, for example, jot notes on how you put the book together, and why the best person to write that novel was you.
If it’s sales you want to drive, think of points from the book that draw readers: the story is page-turning or fresh, it’s got a blurb from Stephen King, etc.
Answer the question, or don’t— but drive your point home
Then when the interview comes, draw on these notes. It can be tempting to give literal answers, but you’re not there to provide information. You’re there to meet your goal.
Even something simple like “Where are you from?” can send a marketing message. If you’re pushing your own abilities— as opposed to the book— go into how you were raised in a community that fostered this great adoration for story within you.
If you want to sell books, just give the city and state. Anything else would bore readers.
Don’t be afraid to change the subject if a reporter asks something you’re uncomfortable with or don’t want to discuss. Any great interview is going to feel like a conversation— podcasts especially – and conversations often go off-topic.
Just return to your notes and answer with the most connected. Or casually drop your book’s title as a reminder for the interviewer to get back on track.
Get physically & mentally ready
Now that you know what you’re going to say in your author interview, get ready to say it. Review what you’ve written so it’s fresh in your mind and keep those notes in front of you.
Take care with your appearance— even if the interview’s not on camera. Getting ready physically helps the mind prepare mentally.
If you’re fighting nerves, being well-prepared physically and mentally will help make you feel more confident.
Another trick is to do a power pose: Spread your arms wide and make fists like Popeye. It may sound silly, but social psychologists say posing like this gives you confidence and lowers cortisol, a hormone related to stress— something anyone publishing their first book could use less of.
Grab a glass of water too and keep it on your desk, but outside of the frame if the video’s recorded. Besides, easing the sudden dryness that may assault your throat, taking a sip of water also gives you a moment to think and pull yourself together.
What you say can and will be held for you— or against you
One more note: Anything you say can be reported. No matter how cordial journalists may get during the interview, they are not your friends.
They are reporters. Your job is to project yourself and your title in the most positive way, while theirs is to be honest.
Hopefully, these two line up.
But unless you say that something is off the record before you share it, anything you tell them can be printed. And after the interview, it’s the writer’s job to put this information on the page as they see fit.
In other words, as opposed to bloggers who will likely run your interview verbatim, mainstream journalists pick and choose what information goes before and after your quotes.
For this reason, some authors prefer podcasts— where the whole conversation generally runs unaltered— or online Q&As.