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Handling the Media Interview
by Michelle Giles

Return to Public Speaking · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

A media interview is your chance to sell yourself to the public. Whether you appear in a newspaper article, on a radio show, or a cable television program, you want to present yourself as an interesting, talented and professional writer. And you can achieve this if you do one simple thing -- prepare.

First, remember that everything you say is "on the record," which means the reporter can print or record whatever you tell him.

Next, always tell the truth. Anything you say can likely be checked with one phone call. If a reporter catches you lying, you will lose all your credibility, and he probably won't use your story. You need to establish yourself as a credible source.

Keeping those points in mind, the most important part of your preparation is to anticipate the interviewer's questions and have your answers ready.

The reporter will ask about you and your writing. Typical questions include: What is your novel/story about? When did you start writing? Why do you write? When do you write? What is your professional background? What do you read? Have you won any awards? Where has your writing been published?

Every answer should make you sound good. Leave out anything negative. You want to provide great quotes and sound bites.

Most reporters will ask your age. If you don't want anyone to know how old you are, have an answer ready like "I'm just a day over 21" or "I'm in my early '40s."

When describing your novel, make sure you don't give away the ending. You want people to go out and buy your book. Don't ruin it for them!

Think of anecdotes that describe your writing experiences. Anecdotes are an easy way for the public to identify with you. Stories about how you get ideas for your writing or even how your day job ties in with your writing often make great anecdotes.

Some reporters may ask you for another source to speak about your writing. Have someone in mind, either a teacher, an editor or a writer friend, and get their permission to give their name and phone number to the reporter.

If you are doing a newspaper interview, it will be conducted either by telephone or in-person.

For a telephone interview, have everything you need in front of you. Write out your answers to the questions--the reporter won't know you are reading. Also, have your resume handy. When you are nervous, it's hard to remember the exact dates of when you left your last job or started your current one. Make sure you have the names and locations of the magazines where you've published work. You want to give specific answers to show the reporter you know what you are talking about.

In addition, spell out anything that can be misconstrued. A friend of mine, during a phone interview, told a reporter the name of her novel, Spirit Sleuth, but didn't spell it out. The reporter printed Spirits Loose.

For a one-on-one interview, the reporter will probably come to your home or office. Make sure the setting, and your clothes, project the image you want to portray. Even if the newspaper photographer is coming at a different time, the reporter will notice what you're wearing and your surroundings because they describe your character, and he may print it.

You also need to memorize the answers to the questions you've anticipated. You can type up a biography and a summary of your novel/story and give that to the reporter. It will save time and avoid possible mistakes.

For a radio interview, call up ahead of time and find out the format. You want to know how long the show will be, if it will be a question/answer interview, or if you will take questions from callers.

Remember to keep your tone conversational and use anecdotes. With radio, you can probably get away with using a couple of sheets of notes containing key words for reference. Avoid using "like" and "umm" in your speech. Practice on a tape recorder.

For a television interview, again, call up and find out the format. Even small cable stations are now technologically advanced and use teleprompters. The station may want you to forward questions to the host beforehand.

As in radio, keep your tone conversational and use anecdotes. Watch your hand gestures; too many can be distracting on TV. Typically you will look at the host--not the camera--throughout the interview, but ask ahead of time.

Also, dress properly. Red and blue are good colors for TV. Have a friend videotape you to see what colors are right for you and to practice presenting yourself.

Overall, it's best to start with the smaller local media, then work your way up. Even if you follow all these tips, you will probably make a few mistakes, and the smaller media will serve as great practice. After all, isn't it better to make a mistake on Channel 8 than Good Morning America?

And speaking of mistakes, after the newspaper article appears or the radio or TV interview runs, you will likely find some minor inaccuracies. Unless it is a huge mistake, don't call to complain. The media has given you great free coverage and you will need them again in the future. You want to stay on good terms.

Lastly, send a thank-you note to the interviewer. It's a small thing to do, and it shows that you appreciate what they have done for you.

Remember, a media interview is just like a job interview. You have to sell yourself. And if you're prepared, you can guarantee a great sale!

Find Out More...

How to Be a Great Radio Guest! - Larry James

Radio Station Checklist: Stuff You Need to Know Before You Go on the Air! - Larry James

Using Your Best VOICES on the Air - Brian Jud

Copyright © 2001 Michelle Giles
This article originally appeared in Spilled Candy
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Michelle Giles is deputy director of communications for the New Jersey Assembly and frequently speaks on media promotion for writers.


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