The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

How to prepare an author for an interview

The other day a freelancer called to schedule an interview with an author.  I asked some questions — as I usually do — about the length of the piece, when it would run, and what exactly it was about.  He refused to email much information and was cagey over the phone, so I contacted the editor.   As it turned out, the editor was put out at being asked these questions and reacted by promptly canceling the piece.  Que sera.

But this is quite odd because part of a book publicist’s job is to try to get journalists interested in interviewing authors; part is to make sure authors are prepared for these interviews so they don’t waste journalists’ — and their own — time.  So it’s important that publicists brief authors on the interviewer, the media outlet and the story.  Last week the Bad Pitch Blog, a popular PR blog, posted about this in The Interview Brief.

Realistically, most book publicists won’t prepare “interview briefs” as extensive as the ones described by the Bad Pitch Blog, but it’s still important to review the basics with authors (and authors should ask for details if they are not provided) including:

— When is the deadline for the piece?

— When is the piece expected to run?

— Has the piece been assigned or is the writer “on spec,” i.e., still attempting to pitch the story to editors?

— How long is the interview?  (And for radio, is it live or taped?)

— What is the story angle (and who else is being interviewed)?

— What is the show (media outlet) like?

Journalists can help by providing this information in their initial query — even if the message doesn’t reach the right person the first time, it will get the ball rolling when the book’s publicist does get the query.

***

What else do you as a publicist make sure to tell your authors?  (And authors — what else do you need to know about a journalist / media outlet that helps you give a good interview?)

August 31, 2009 - Posted by | Miscellaneous | ,

14 Comments »

  1. […] leave a comment » How to prepare an author for an interview […]

    Pingback by Links and Things « Enter the Octopus | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  2. That’s a great list. For radio, it’s critical to know if the interview is airing live or being taped (and/or edited) for later, and also if the show takes calls from listeners. I’m working with an Australian author right now who isn’t familiar with American radio hosts/shows so I do my best to tell him what I can about the show–demographics and the scope of the show in terms of market/national importance. He will do all interviews, large and small, but this helps him know who he is talking to, be it a local AM station with a very short reach or one of the top three talk show hosts in the country–we’ve had both and everything in between.

    Comment by Kalen | August 31, 2009 | Reply

    • Of course — completely forgot about that! (I’ll edit the post.)

      Comment by Yen | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  3. A very interesting subject. When I tape author interviews for the radio I often cannot say exactly when they will air. That’s entirely up to the producer and calling the producer to inquire is not usually a good idea.

    In regard to my print book reviews, my editor is a lot like my radio producer; busy, not wishing to be put on the spot so to speak by an author or a publicist.

    For instance, I’m reviewing a book right now. Several months ago the author attempted to pitch a review directly to my editor and got absolutely nowhere.

    Then the author complained to me about it. I suggested that my editor was not the person to pitch. That would be me. Voila, the book is being reviewed!

    Comment by vick mickunas | August 31, 2009 | Reply

    • Good point, Vick — thanks for your feedback. But what if you weren’t a regular book reviewer with good contacts in the publishing industry? If a Google search of your name pulled up almost nothing? In introducing yourself to a book publicist, wouldn’t you feel the professional thing to do would be to offer up a little information about your work and your proposed story? (Of course, an electronic signature can take care of half of this. :))

      Comment by Yen | August 31, 2009 | Reply

      • Good points, Yen. When I got started in the mid-’90’s Google did not exist. Of course it behooves a publicist to research and know who they are being asked to help. With the diminishing ranks of reviewers that should be a simpler task.

        Comment by vick mickunas | August 31, 2009

  4. Here’s the situation from a freelancer’s perspective. The old system usually had the newspaper send the freelancer the book. But because of recent newspaper cutbacks and faster deadlines, freelancers are now in the position of doing this.

    So we often can’t tell you what the outlet is because (a) the editor doesn’t want to be favorable to any one publisher (or create such an impression) and (b) in some cases, the freelancer has an explicit confidentiality clause in their contract where we can’t tell you who we’re writing the review/profile for. If you know WHERE we’re publishing it, the publisher might be inclined to influence that publication one way or another — through advertising, cajoling, or any other time-honored method of lobbying. So ethically, the freelancer and the editor need to have a safe place to offer a fair take on a book, unsullied by conflict of interest.

    In the past month or so, Penguin has been more aggressive about demanding the outlet when I request a book, little realizing that just about every other publisher does NOT ask such a question. And in a crowded fall season, we have plenty of books around here that come through. (In fact, in many cases, we are making a case to an editor to cover a book. So it becomes particularly frustrating when a publisher makes it difficult for us to do so.) And when other publicists don’t hector us about outlets and respect our journalistic ethics (as unusual as they may seem), we’ll go with the other publicist and the other book.

    Sorry to vent. Penguin has been very good and accommodating in the past about these relationships. But I just wanted to clarify why this particular freelancer and editor may have reacted the way that they did. Many of us out here take journalistic integrity very seriously. Indeed, it is vital if we wish to maintain professional relationships.

    Comment by Edward Champion | August 31, 2009 | Reply

    • Are you talking about requesting review copies or author interviews? If I’m working with a freelancer I know, I’d probably send along a book, no questions asked. If I don’t know the freelancer, I would ask about the publications for which they write — which I think is a fair enough question if we’re all trying to get to know each other — although I realize that writers may still be pitching reviews and may not have a particular assignment (or a particular deadline).

      When a writer (or a producer / host) asks to interview an author, though, I do feel that I need to have more specifics so that the author can be adequately prepared for the interview. And from the other end, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for journalists to take the time to read a book and prepare for an interview, only to end up speaking with an author who doesn’t know the first thing about the publication / website / show. This is the situation I think all good book publicists should attempt to avoid by making sure that an author is briefed for an interview ahead of time.

      And lastly, publicists often ask the “annoying” questions — which publication is this for? do you know when the piece will run? — because we’re being asked them, if not by authors, then by editors and publishers and literary agents. Of course we realize that these answers may not always be readily available — and that’s fine — but we still need to ask.

      Comment by Yen | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  5. I just want to say I think Yen is absolutely correct in what she says in this piece and would add to these comments that publicists need to be careful about trusting what freelancers say when a piece is on spec. I recently became embroiled in a bit of a local brouhaha when a big name author I was working with did an interview with a freelancer well ahead of his appearance in the vicinity and the freelancer told me that (at that time) the piece was going to appear in the major daily paper of that city. This all seemed on the up and up so I believed them. Then, a day or two before the event, the same local paper called me wanting an interview, which I thought had already been written and was about to run in said paper. After a lot of unnecessarily angry phone calls back and forth, I finally managed to get the author to do (at short notice) another interview for the paper and also discovered that the freelancer I’d originally arranged the interview with had managed to place the piece in the local university magazine but (obviously) NOT the local daily paper. I was rather annoyed on all fronts to be honest–at the editors at the daily paper for ignoring all my previous pitches and making me scramble at the last minute; at the freelancer for acting like the piece was definitely going to appear in a certain publication when that was not the case, etc. etc. I don’t think anyone had malicious intentions but it did bring home for me the importance of publicists ascertaining that interview requests really are on the up and up and verifying where they will run, as Yen comments in this piece. This is especially true when you are working with a big name author who is swamped with requests for interviews.

    Comment by Holly Watson | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  6. You have my sympathy, Holly.

    Here’s my perspective from out here in the trenches. For the past 5 years I have reviewed books every week for a good sized daily newspaper. Since 1995 I have interviewed authors on our local NPR station (over 1100 interviews). My track record is established.

    I have interviewed many “big name authors,” people like Garrison Keillor (3 times so far). So when I request an interview with somebody like him I always ask way in advance and remind his publicist that I have a track record with the author and I’m serious about publicizing his books.

    I realize that he one of the authors who is inundated with interview requests. Even so, it is far more palatable for me as a reviewer and interviewer to be told right from the outset that an interview is highly unlikely than to be told that the publicist will get back with me or that Keillor’s people at PHC will be in touch with me.

    I’m reading Keillor’s new book right now. I love it. I’ll be reviewing it. Will I be asking for an interview? No. I have given up. I asked for interviews for each of his past three books. I was told that my request was being considered. Then, I never heard anything back. My follow up e-mails got no response.

    So we are all in this together. I’m trying to publicize your books. You are trying to get publicity.

    I am always courteous and considerate when I make requests for interviews. I’m always hopeful that the rejections that inevitably occur are also courteous and considerate.

    Recently, I lost out on an interview with William T. Vollmann for “Imperial.” After reading the entire book, that was upsetting. His publicist was kind and courteous in passing along that news to me. That’s all that we ask.

    Comment by vick mickunas | August 31, 2009 | Reply

  7. Yen,

    Thanks for the valuable information. As an author preparing for a multi-city tour, I’m so glad you posted this.

    Comment by Beth Hoffman | September 1, 2009 | Reply

  8. This is a very good and healthy discussion, and I’m glad everybody is communicating with each other here. Holly’s concern is another good justification not to name the outlet. After all, the freelancer can’t control whether a piece will get killed or coverage needs will shift or (in one recent case) another person was inadvertently assigned the same book after I was (and I had started reading it).

    On the other hand, I find it absolutely horrific (if I am reading this correctly; please correct me if I’m wrong) that Vick Mickunas read the entirety of IMPERIAL and was denied an interview at the last minute. That’s a huge investment of time and I certainly hope that there wasn’t an interview that had been promised.

    For my own part, I only proceed to read a book for The Bat Segundo Show (and I always read the books in full; I don’t want to waste the author’s time) once I have secured an interview slot. (While I haven’t been at this as long as Vick, more than 500 people have appeared on the show in the past four years. So hopefully I have a track record too.) And that can sometimes be two months in advance. That way, everybody’s on the same page.

    The important thing here is for publicists and freelancers to be as communicative with each other as possible. Sometimes the circumstances don’t permit us to reveal the outlet. But certainly for an author interview, you know with me where it’s going to go (and often you get a profile AND a show; so sometimes it’s a double media opportunity).

    Comment by Edward Champion | September 2, 2009 | Reply

    • Thanks, Edward. When the galley of IMPERIAL arrived in the spring I contacted the publicist right away to ask about an interview after the pub date. The publicist said that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m a huge Vollmann fan so I was delighted. I read the entire book and loved it. I waited until the week before the pub date to remind the publicist of my interest in an interview. We began talking about setting up times. We had several tentative radio interview dates. Each time there was some problem on Vollmann’s end with the scheduling and the interview was postponed. After a few weeks I was informed by the publicist that Vollmann did not wish to do any more interviews.

      I have learned in this business that it is is never a good idea to “shoot the messenger.” Vollmann’s publicist was delivering his message; he was done with the interviews. What could I do? I can wait for the next book.

      What irks me is when the messenger cannot be bothered to take the time to deliver the messages, good, bad, or otherwise. I realize I’m not in LA, or New York, but I am in a significant market. Garrison Keillor set a record for turnout when he came to a bookstore here. He has a large fan base here. So when I tried to get interviews with a Garrison Keillor it was a potential win/win proposition for all involved.

      I understand that Keillor is busy. Let me know that. Instead, I got hung out to dry with nothing to tell the station manager about my chances to interview public radio’s biggest star. I’m here to sell books. That’s a good thing, right?

      Comment by vick mickunas | September 2, 2009 | Reply

  9. Could it have been that the problem wasn’t the publicist asking questions of the editor, but that the publicist had to resort to requehesting that information from the editor after the freelancer didn’t even provide information on the subject of the article?

    I work with a lot of freelancers, and they’ve almost always been open that they are writing an article for “a daily newspaper in the midwest,” or a “trade magazine for sales professionals” but can’t provide any more information at that time. If I know the freelancer, I usually have a pretty good idea of which pubs they frequently write for, and if it’s a new contact, I check in with them after some time, or monitor my clippings pretty closely to find their byline.

    Comment by Kama | September 9, 2009 | Reply


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