The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

Road rash: Lessons learned by an author

Charles Shields, author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, has been promoting his book since its publication in 2006, and kindly offered some tips about radio interviews.


If you’re a bit of geek, radio interviews are exciting! You get to visit the studio and see all the equipment. Or, even if you’re just interviewed by phone, you get to overhear all the “backstage” chatter. Here’s what to do to make your radio interviews increase your book sales.

  • The 15-minute rule: be at the station 15 minutes early to get comfortable and have a sound check; be at your phone 15 minutes early because the station will call you and also do a sound check.
  • Know the host’s name and use it several times: DJs have to make a living and want their audiences to think they’re well-connected.
  • Know the region in which your interview is airing. Could be some weather-related event there that deserves your sympathy (hurricane) or admiration (springtime in the Rockies).
  • Have five-six talking points written out in case the host asks boring questions, or strays from the book, or you don’t know what to say. NEVER wing it. One of these talking points should be the most interesting experience you had writing the book. A lot of interviewers will ask that.
  • Speak slowly — listeners haven’t heard your voice and are trying to imagine you. This also will calm you down, if you’re nervous.
  • Never tell an dicey anecdote or joke. In a country as diverse as ours, you could easily offend someone. But it’s okay to be humorous.
  • Steer the interview back around to your book. Softball questions like, “So, do you like writing?” won’t sell your book.
  • Thank the host effusively, not just “thanks.” You just got free advertising that would have cost big, big money!
  • Immediately afterward, note the name of the station, the location, and the time of the interview in your promo journal.  For your next book, a publisher will want to know your publicity track record.


What are some of your radio tips?

May 5, 2010 - Posted by | Media Coaching |


  1. Charles Shields has produced a great list on how to sound like an uninteresting subject. Here’s an alternative list of tips:

    1. An audience is smart enough to detect a sycophant or a phony. If you use the host’s name, don’t err on the side of overfamiliarity. An author transforms instantly a machine when he says the host’s name every five minutes. The best interviews are conversations. Don’t turn them into boilerplate scripts.

    2. If you talk about the region, make sure you actually know it. Don’t mention some casual event that everybody has already read in the newspapers or cite some general landmark that reveals how much of a tourist you really are. An audience will instantly whiff you out as a phony. But if you find fifteen minutes to leave the hotel, or some time in a bar, you may just find a detail that shows you’re really interested.

    3. Talking points? Well, they help. But if you’ve spent several years with a book, you know the material better than you think you do and certainly better than the interviewer. Learn how to improvise. In fact, you may want to take an improv class. Nobody likes a stiff and humorless drone. Be sure to listen to the other person and figure out what makes them excited. You want to be asked back, right? Learn how to be curious and genuinely excited, even if you’re subjected to the same questions (as all authors are).

    4. Speak alowly if that’s you. Or if the audience is composed entirely of deaf geriatrics. But there’s nothing wrong with camping it up or speeding up your voice if you wish to express excitement.

    5. Tell all the silly stories you want if it’s not going well. In fact, CREATE utterly false stories. James Ellroy does this all the time. This is why people remember him.

    6. The phrase “in my book” or a concentration that is overly fixated on a book (rather than emphasizing the book’s points in relation to the host’s interests) reveals that you don’t really want to be there. And besides, most radio hosts in our illiterate culture (sad to say) don’t read the book. Get used to it. If you can accept this, then you’ll have a better time.

    7. Be sure to note the number of freckles, nose hairs, the precise clothes that the host was wearing, and all sorts of needless details that you can pass along to your publicist.

    8. Read John Waters’s thoughts on showmanship in his book, SHOCK VALUE, which apply just as equally to the literary world.

    Comment by Edward Champion | May 6, 2010 | Reply

  2. Just noticed you’re going to the Compleat Biographer Conference this weekend… I’m going, too. Hope to meet you!

    Comment by Alexis Grant | May 10, 2010 | Reply

  3. Edward Champion in his endearing, manic way has added some ideas to mine, i.e., creating false stories, telling silly stories, noting whether the host has egregious nose hair, etc. These many indeed may a writer a memorable guest. But my suggestions are for authors thinking of a long-term career, and not celebrity status. I don’t recommend demonstrating one of Mr. Champion’s favorite words, “asshattery.”

    Regarding talking points, they help out the interviewer as much as the author. Here’s an email I just received from a radio station in Dublin: “It would be very helpful if you could email me a few talking points about To Kill A Mockingbird and Harper Lee in advance of the interview. It doesn’t have to be anything too detailed – just some topics to structure the conversation around.”

    Comment by Charles J. Shields | May 10, 2010 | Reply

  4. I apologize for writing: “These many (MAY) indeed may (MAKE) a writer a memorable guest. But my suggestions are for authors thinking of a long-term career, and not celebrity status.”

    Comment by Charles J. Shields | May 10, 2010 | Reply

  5. I think the lesson to be learned — and both Charles and Ed raise this issue — is that no author, book or host are the same. That means that there’s no one-size-fits-all list of tips that will apply to everyone; on the other hand, it is incredibly useful for most authors — and book publicists — to hear, generally speaking, what has worked over the years.

    I also think that at the end of the day, most (or presumably all!) of us will use common sense to distill from this — or any — list of tips what is appropriate for a certain author / host / book.

    Comment by Yen | May 10, 2010 | Reply

  6. I’m not surprised to see that Charles Shields has corrupted the purpose of my list, which is for authors to make an impression upon the reading public (as well as have a bit of fun). Certainly if “long-term career” involves boring an audience to tears, then Mr. Shields’s advice (not entirely without its value) is well-taken. Yes, some shows do like talking points. But even some of the ostensibly preprogrammed shows enjoy a bit of variety. And what may seem a stiff place can often transform into a memorable interview. (See Ellroy’s appearance on Kurt Andersen.)

    Oh, and John Waters’s essay on showmanship is contained in CRACKPOT, not SHOCK VALUE. My apologies.

    Comment by Edward Champion | May 11, 2010 | Reply

  7. Okay, well. I certainly did learn something from this. Egos who disagree can be quite entertaining. But that can be found on any reality TV show.
    As a volunteer producer at a community radio station in Maine, I can tell you that even the most interesting, literate
    author can freeze up, or get flustered on live radio. If you are doing a feature produced in advance, fine. Otherwise, it is helpful to have a plan. As you know, DJ’s and Engineers have hand signals that are used because they cannot be talking over their guest, yet must manage time carefully. So
    come early, go over the drill, and be prepared. There may be key points that the interviewer wants to touch on. Ask to see some of the questions, and don’t get carried away with a lengthy speech on one topic alone. People want to hear about you and your work from various perspectives. And yes, please slow down. An unintelligible guest is a disaster. You’ll know if things are going well or not, because the DJ will put on a PSA and take a break to coach

    Comment by Mihku Paul | May 14, 2010 | Reply

  8. Great list!

    In a big city I always try to be a half hour or more early if I can, even if I don’t actually enter the station lobby until 15 minutes early. If it rains or the taxis are on a shift change it’s easy to be late.

    Even if they have received promo materis from you in advance, be ready to state what makes the book special in a single sentence. They may never do so in their intro, and some hosts do less homework than others.

    If possible try to keep every answer at 30 seconds or less in length. Radio listeners like clearly spoken, concise answers, not long thoughtful discourse. The host can then ask you deeper questions on topics that interest them, which makes you a “pro” in their eyes.

    I strongly agree with your “use the host’s name” advice. One of the biggest things that get you invited back.

    Great post!

    Comment by E.D. | May 14, 2010 | Reply

  9. I’ve been a publicist, an author and a major market radio producer who’s booked scores of authors. I’d like to add a couple of tips

    1) Be flexible – live radio never starts and stops on time. I’ve had authors give me grief because I had to move their interview back or because they didn’t get as much time as originally planned. I’m much less inclined to ask them back.

    2) The more work you do for me the more I (and my host) love you. Sample questions, press releases with lots of real information and other helpful press materials are gold.

    3) Say Thank You – I remember every single author who has sent me a thank you after the show because hardly anyone does.

    4) And I def. support using the hosts name and having 1/2 a clue about the show and the city. Remember that most of the listeners are regulars who the love the show, and they want to see the guest treating the host and with the same respect and admiration.

    Comment by Lara Starr | May 17, 2010 | Reply

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  11. If I had a dollar for each time I came to… Incredible read.

    Comment by Ali Locklear | May 27, 2010 | Reply

  12. […] Road rash: Lessons learned by an author « The Book Publicity Blog […]

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  13. An author on another site mentioned this tip:

    If you write a series, REVIEW the book–it can be hard “on-the-spot” to remember whether a particular event happened in a particular book. Review character names that appear in the book; know how many books are in the series and a site that lists the series in order…


    Comment by Maria | June 26, 2010 | Reply

  14. […] only been interviewed on the radio once–so far–so I was interested to see these author radio interview tips on The Book Publicity […]

    Pingback by Friday Find: Author Radio Interview Tips | | July 28, 2010 | Reply

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