It’s a cliché of a cliché to talk about how bogus the maxim, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is. But for literal-minded book marketers, there could be no worse advice. Strong packaging equals strong sales–and that goes for authors, too. Looking foolish on TV or sounding foolish in the paper or on the radio is a quick and easy way to have people lose interest in your writing. In addition to your physical appearance, you need to monitor how your message comes across in the media; reporters may cut quotes (sometimes altering the entire meaning of your statements) to find a hook. Here are some tips on how to play the media game and make your interviews work for you.
Dress the Part: Newspapers have a tendency to start an article with a description of their interview subject, and–if the reporter is the gossip-mongering type–your fashion faux pas will not go unnoticed. You may be critiqued from head to toe, right down to your socks. Speaking of socks, people will notice if you wear white ones with a black suit, or decide to go without them entirely. But don’t feel bad if the reporter describes your wardrobe malfunction in great detail: surely there was little of substance to deride you about. DO wear solid-color clothing; plaids, stripes, and white tees don’t show up well on camera. Dress as simply as possible. If you draw attention to what you are wearing, the viewer will be distracted from your message.
Don’t Let Them Smell Your Fear: This is more for the viewer’s comfort than for your own. DON’T sit in a swivel chair. It may tempt you to rock side to side, making you look nervous and the viewer feel nauseous. Also, DON’T stare at the camera; the photographer will position you beforehand, and you should listen to the professionals. Maintain eye contact with the reporter throughout the interview. Even slight glances out of the corner of your eye will be picked up by the camera and make you appear cautious or uncertain.
Lose the Lingo: We all know you’re an expert; that’s why you wrote a book on the topic. But DON’T use jargon. You don’t want your 15 minute interview to turn into regurgitation from Webster’s. Try to keep your speech on an eighth grade level. Not only will the reporter fully understand you, but you will also reach the widest possible audience.
Speak in Sound Bites: DO answer in complete sentences. This seems elementary, but the question will be edited out of the interview so it’s best to reword it into your response for clarity. If you’re a victim of stuttering, take a pause and repeat the entire thought again so the reporter has a solid sound bite. Speaking in sound bites will discourage editors from altering your words.
Make Them Love You: The idea is to sell yourself. If you are generally liked, people will be drawn to your book. By relaxing and allowing the conversation to flow, you’ll charm the audience. The reporter is going to answer the who, what, when, where, and why. It is your responsibility to make the interview worthwhile for the viewer. DON’T make something up just to be interesting, but if you have a story about why you wrote the book or how you developed the characters, it will engage the viewers.
Get to the Point: Be very straightforward. Lengthy answers get cut down because viewers, especially in the age if Tivo, have very short attention spans, and they don’t want to hear you rattle on for two minutes about nothing in particular. The air-able quote may have an entirely different meaning than what you intended, so keep things short and sweet. Know in advance how long the interview will last, and when it starts to wrap up, be sure you’ve touched on all the points you wanted to make. Also, remember to clearly state your Web site and purchase information for your book at the end of the interview.