One of the surprising side-effects of becoming a published author is that you find yourself being interviewed. In fact, sometimes you find yourself being interviewed a lot.
And yes, it’s a surprise, even for someone who is used to being on the other side of questions as an interviewer.
I remember when my first children’s novel, The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race To The End Of The World, was first published that there seemed to be an inordinate number of Q&As to fill out (yes, these count as interviews), radio spots to do, and other bits and pieces to endure.
I say endure, because I quickly realised that I am someone who likes asking questions a lot more than I like answering them.
But, having interviewed people for 20+ years, I was in a better position than many debut authors who are suddenly confronted with having to answer questions about themselves and their book for the first time in their lives.
And for many, it doesn’t get any easier as their careers progress.
Both sides of the interview table
I’ve been threatening to write this post for years, and in fact covered some information about how to be interviewed in So You Want To Be A Writer, the book.
But a recent Facebook post by an author friend, a friend who has been published multiple times and been interviewed MANY times, finally galvanised me into action.
My friend was nervous about being interviewed by a national newspaper and desperate for tips on how to get through it without ‘saying the wrong thing’.
So here are my tips, garnered from many years as a freelance journalist, many years as a podcast host and, now, many years of being interviewed for blogs, websites, newspapers, radio and television.
How to be interviewed: my top 5 tips for authors
1. Do some research
Who’s interviewing you? For which blog, website, publication, podcast, station or channel? Who reads this blog, website, publication or listens to/watches this podcast, station or channel?
The audience matters. Your interviewer will tailor their questions to that audience’s interests and you should have them in mind when you provide your answers.
2. Think about the why
If you consider WHY you’re being interviewed, you’ll be able to put together at least a basic outline of the KINDS of questions your interviewer is going to ask you.
That way you can be ready with some answers.
Why are you being interviewed?
Is it because you have a new novel out? Chances are your interviewer will want to know what the book is about (make sure your elevator pitch is strong), they’ll want to investigate any themes in the book (know your hook and be able to expand on it) and where people can find out more and buy it (be ready with your website details!).
Or is it because it’s Book Week and you’re a local author? This is a bigger picture interview, so you’ll need to know the Book Week dates, why it’s important in schools and any other angle you can brain storm. One tip: don’t forget to mention the title of your latest book because your interviewer may not!
Why leads to who, what, where and when
When I’m preparing to interview someone for the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, I’ve always got my journalism training in the back of my mind.
In every article I’ve ever written, I’ve looked at covering the Who, What, Where, and When in the first few questions, leaving the Why until I get towards the end.
As the person being interviewed, you start with the why, but remember that your interviewer will always need to cover those other basic details. So have them at your fingertips.
3. Know what you want to say
This is the most important thing to remember. The interviewer is ready to do their job, getting the story they need to fill whatever bit of space has been allocated to it.
You need to be ready to do your job.
Your job is to get your message across, even as you provide entertainment and information to fill that bit of space.
How do you make sure you do your job?
Create a cheat sheet and write everything down.
Write down the five top things that you want the audience to take away from your interview.
Write that short, pithy statement that says exactly what your book is about.
Write down your answers to the most common questions authors are asked (see tip 5 below).
Most interviews these days are done via phone, Zoom, Skype or even email, so you can keep your cheat sheet handy and no-one will ever know.
And you will be amazed at how easy it is to work in all of the things that you want to say, no matter what questions you are asked.
If in doubt, watch a politician on television. They do it every day.
4. Assume your interviewer knows nothing about you
One thing you will very quickly realise is that most interviewers have not read your book. Many may not have even read the media release.
In radio, for instance, where air time needs to be filled and every day is super busy, a producer will read the media release, Google a bit, and then create a list of questions for the presenter to follow (as a side note, many presenters do not follow the questions).
So there are two things to consider here.
First, make sure your website is up to date.
Otherwise, you may find yourself being asked random questions about irrelevant bits of your bio (cue another side note: as an interviewer, I implore you to please ensure you have a lovely, concise, relevant bio prominently placed at the top of your ‘about’ page. Think of me reading it out loud on the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, and save your love of cats for further down the page.)
Second, be prepared to fill in the information yourself. Don’t answer questions with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, expand to include as much information as you can.
“How are you today?”
Great thanks, just finishing editing my the second book in my new series, The Wolf’s Howl, due out in August this year.
“What is your new novel about?”
“The Fire Star is a middle-grade mystery story set in an ‘almost history’ world, about Reeve, a squire, and Maven, a maid, who meet for the very first time on their first day at Rennart Castle. When a valuable jewel known as The Fire Star goes missing, they are the first suspects because they are the last in the door, so they must band together to find it.”
“Where do books fit in to kids’ lives in this day and age?”
“There are so many calls on kids’ times these days, not just social media and phones, which are often cited as reasons kids don’t read as much, but homework, organised activities, the list goes on. Unfortunately, that’s showing up in the reading and writing results in NAPLAN. The key to getting kids reading is to find books that they will love. I write epic adventure stories, like The Mapmaker Chronicles, because they’re the kinds of stories my own boys love to read.”
You get the picture?
Be ready for the interview to go on tangents you don’t expect, but look for ways to bring those questions back to you and your books.
And keep your answers as short as possible.
5. Be prepared to answer the same question over and over in multiple interviews
If you read a lot of author Q&As, or listen or watch authors being interviewed, you’ll start to pick up on the questions that authors are asked over and over again.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
“How long does it take you to write a book?”
“Who inspires you as an author?”
“Who’s your favourite author?”
“What’s your favourite book ever?”
“What are your top three tips for writers?”
My suggestion is that you prepare an answer for these questions.
Even if you don’t have a favourite author (seriously, who has just one?), prepare an answer that covers that.
Think about tips for other writers (and please, please, please, try to go beyond ‘read widely’ – yes, it’s essential, the number one thing that all aspiring authors should do, but it’s also the most common answer to that question).
Consider the one book you’d take to a desert island and the five other authors you’d invite to a dinner party.
You may think you’ll never be asked these questions, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that maybe, just maybe, you will be, and if you’re put on the spot you will suddenly find you can’t remember a single book you’ve ever read or an author whose work you enjoyed.
Bonus tip: try to enjoy yourself
Being interviewed is a privilege. It’s an opportunity for you to share your work with someone else’s audience.
Most interviewers are not ‘out to get you’. They are simply working writers or broadcasters or podcasters, just like you, trying to get a few quotes to bring a story together or to fill three minutes of a three-hour radio shift.
So be yourself. The best possible version of yourself.
Always remember that you’re talking to an audience (I say this because some interviewers are so good they can make you forget it’s not just the two of you having a chat)
Do the best possible job you can.
Subscribe to So You Want To Be A Writer podcast for more amazing writing advice.
Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here.