Writing novels, how to write novels, fiction writing

Book marketing is essential for fiction writers. In today's "Million Book Market," readers aren't likely to stumble across your novel on an e-retailer site. That's why successful fiction writers promote their work.

Authors have a variety of promotional venues at their disposal. However, a talk show is often considered the Holy Grail of these venues. Winning an invitation to speak on the radio or a podcast helps an author gain an air of celebrity.

To land a broadcast interview, you'll need some insider knowledge about the news media. In part one of this two-part series, I drew upon my experience as a corporate publicist to explain how you can query a talk show to become a guest.

In today's post, I'll share my best secrets for speaking successfully on the air.

1) First and Foremost, Throw Out Your Script!

Your host wants to have a natural conversation with you. Trust yourself! Nobody knows more about your novel and your writing career than you do.

Besides, you'll sound stilted if you read from a script, and you'll sound rehearsed if you recite from memory.

2) Speak in “Sound Bytes”

Listeners have short attention spans. When you're on the air, speak in 10-second to 15-second answers, called "sound bytes." Think of these sound bytes as your "literary hook" for each topic.

In other words, start your answer with the most interesting, compelling, or important idea. Add less important details toward the end of your answer.

This strategy is especially important if the show is recorded. After your interview, the podcaster has the power to edit your answers, especially the long-winded ones.

Wouldn’t you feel silly if the recording airs with you talking mostly about your pet, instead of the characters in your book?

2) Avoid Rambling Monologues

Most hosts will offer open-ended questions like, “Tell me about your book.” Keep your answers short and succinct. Lengthy, rambling monologues will bore or confuse listeners, and ultimately, defeat your goal of selling books. 

3) Focus on Your Agenda

If the host isn’t a “take charge” personality—and leaves the direction of the interview to your discretion—congratulations! You can focus on your agenda.

Concentrate first on your top 2-3 Talking Points. These Talking Points should pertain to your plot. Then discuss interesting anecdotes about the time you spent writing it.

If you don’t focus immediately on your agenda, you may run out of air time before you get around to discussing your book. You’ll be surprised how fast 60 minutes fly by!

4) Use the Bridging Technique

If the host is a “take charge” personality—and neglects to ask questions about your book—then you have to steer the conversation back to your novel. Professional publicists call this tactic, "the bridging technique."

For example, if your host starts asking about the weather, or a recipe you posted on your blog, or your local football team, you need to nip these questions in the bud. They won't help you sell books.

To bridge back to your book, you might say something like, “That’s a great question, Bob. To tell the truth, I don't know much about football. And neither does the hero in my novel, Jinxed. He's a rascally bad boy. I decided to make him a con man because...

5) Act Natural

Don’t be afraid to laugh, show warmth, demonstrate your sense of humor, etc.


6) Opt for Diplomacy

Unless you thoroughly enjoy debate (and don’t mind sounding like a fool on the air,) don't let the host push your buttons. The host will always win:  it's his show, and he'll make sure his questions steer you toward an epic fail. That's why you should opt for diplomacy over conflict.

Why would a host bait you?

Controversy attracts listeners and paying advertisers. Even though you've written a sweet Hallmark-style Romance, your host may try to lure you into a heated debate about censorship and sex. He might ask, "Why would any decent, Christian woman ever read Romance novels? They're all full of pornography, right?"

Do not get angry. Do not take offense. Take a deep breath, and bridge to a less controversial topic. For example, you might say:

"There are so many different readers in the world, Bob, and they all have different tastes. That's why I can only speak for myself and my book, Celebrated by Love. My novel is a sweet story, about a hard-working farmer and his childhood sweetheart, who returns to their hometown at Christmastime..."

7) Never Lie On the Air

If you don't know an answer, don’t invent one. You’ll lose credibility if you quote Urban Myth, or worse, if you lie. Handle the situation by bridging.

For example, you could say: “Unfortunately, that’s not my area of expertise, Bob. But what I do know, is that an author has to write fast in this market. For instance, Caught in the Act has 410 pages. I wrote that book in under two months! People always ask me how I managed this feat…”

8) Answer Audience Questions

Questions from a live audience can be a double-edged sword. An author hopes to hear from genre fans, people whose questions will let her share entertaining facts about her novel.

Unfortunately, Q&A segments pose risks. Whether you're speaking live at Barnes & Noble, or whether you're sitting behind the microphone of a podcast, you will inevitably cross paths with a heckler. You must be prepared for these encounters.

For instance, let's say your Mystery plot has Fantasy elements. How would you respond if some jerk calls the show and says, "Only a witch would know so much about magic. Do you dance naked with the devil?"

Pause. Take a deep breath. Laugh.

The last thing you want to do is get sucked into a religious debate.

Respond to uncomfortable questions by bridging to a safer topic. For example, you might answer the heckler this way:

"Wow! I'm so flattered that you've read my novel. I hate to disappoint you, but Celia, (the witch in Murder by Magic,) is nothing like me. In fact, I wouldn't know song-spell from a wolf whistle! That's why I did so much research to write this mystery. I especially enjoyed talking to paranormal investigators because they use technology in such interesting ways..."

If you think fast on your feet, you can always "bridge" your way around a heckler. 

9) Close the Show with a Sales Pitch

At the end of the show, the ideal way to convey buying information is to let the host tell listeners where to purchase your book. That way, you won't sound pushy, greedy, or desperate for readers.

Usually, you will know that the show is ending, because your host will say something like, "Thank you, Mary, I've enjoyed having you on the show." At this point, the host should then say to his listeners, "Hey, folks, don't forget, Mary Smith's new book, Tinker's Trust, is on sale at Amazon all week."

Unfortunately, hosts sometimes don't "close the sale" for you. In this case, you may have to instigate your own sales pitch.

What's a sales pitch?

It's any blatant speech that urges a listener to buy (for instance, "...And you can buy Tinker's Trust for just 99 cents all week long on Amazon and Kobo.") A sales pitch should never be delivered—by you—more than two times in any broadcast interview. 

10) Beware of Chit-Chat with the Host

In every news media training I have ever attended, veteran publicists warn that broadcasters will often keep the microphone on, even though the show has supposedly ended.

Unfortunately, I fell into this trap during a pre-recorded book podcast. After my interviewer said good-bye to his audience, I thought we were off the air.


For four minutes, I babbled about my relief that the show was over, and that I couldn't wait to go back to writing my new novel. Fortunately, I didn't say anything too ridiculous, because my babble aired in the podcast.

The takeaway here?

Never, ever assume that you are off the air until you hang up the telephone. In fact, you should assume that everything you say before the show airs is fair game, too—even if you're "only" speaking to the podcaster's assistant. 

After all, you want to leave listeners with a good impression of you and your books.

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