Well, my first interview for the book got published. I learned some things about being interviewed that I thought I’d share here.
It’s true what they say: prepare. Just like for a job interview, have several responses to potential questions ready in your head. You don’t want to be referring to written notes, but you also don’t want to sit there blankly when asked about the meaning of certain themes in your book. Take some time beforehand (hopefully give yourself a few days) to think about the areas you want the interview to focus on, and have some exciting things to say about them.
You might be asked to choose the location for the interview. Either way, do go scope it out ahead of time if it’s a public place. You’ll want to be sure you’ll have enough space to spread out a bit, at least a small table’s worth of space, so make sure that it won’t be too crowded during the hour of your interview. You’ll also want to have enough privacy that you’re not self-conscious during the interview. Worrying about what you sound like to the people at the next table is not helpful when you are trying to formulate smart, authentic answers.
Vet the interviewer as thoroughly as you can. It’s hard to turn down free publicity, but you also don’t want to be portrayed in a way that will turn your audience off. Read through recent pieces by your interviewer, and also try to find their most read pieces and review those. That is probably the style he/she will be going for with you. Have they demonstrated a negative attitude toward the demographic you’re targeting? Will their writing style appear to your audience and be something your readers will want to share with each other? If not, it might not be worth being interviewed by them. Not all publicity is good publicity. On a more positive note, do have a compliment on their writing to give them when you meet. Tell them of a piece you particularly liked, or something about their style you admire. You want them to know that you’re excited to be interviewed by them in particular.
During the interview, be polite and professional. Arrive about five minutes early, but not more. It’s the interviewers job to arrive earlier and scout out a spot. If you think they have chosen poorly, you can politely suggest a different table (but not a different location altogether, unless it really is terrible, and then they should be readily agreeing with you). They might surprise you and want to take your picture, so dress how you would like to appear to your readers. Thank the interviewer at the beginning for meeting you, and say how nice it is to meet them. Thank the interviewer again at the end for taking the time to interview you, and say you look forward to the piece.
Direct the interview. It’s your show. If you don’t like a question, divert like a politician. Say something like, “Well, to answer that question I think you really have to understand this other thing about the book,” and then talk about that other thing. If they ask a great question, tell them. Say, “Wow, great question!” and then give a great answer. You are not captive to their agenda. Remember that they are just as nervous as you are. Help them by steering the interview into the waters where you are going to be the strongest and give the best answers.
Mince your words. You are probably being recorded, and the interviewer has a deadline. They might just quote you directly, so be careful how many times you are saying words like “really,” “like,” and “um.” This interview will hopefully turn into a clipping you can send to bookstore owners, awards judges, festivals, publishers, and all kinds of people whom you want to convince of your talent and eloquence. Make sure you are saying what you want to say. The interviewer won’t quote your silences, other than to say that you “thought for a few moments”, which makes you sound reflective. So don’t be afraid to take a moment to gather your thoughts, speak slowly, and try to say your words exactly as you want them to be read.
But also, relax and have fun. You’re being interviewed! It’s exciting! Enjoy it! You are also building a relationship with the interviewer, who might turn into an important ally in your career. By being relaxed and enjoying the process, you will help put them at ease and help them have a good time, too. Feel free to chit-chat a bit. Think of this person as a potential friend, but not so much that you linger once the interview is done. They might be planning to stay at the location and organize their notes, and you don’t want to be in their hair. You also want to look like an important writer who has work to get to! So thank them and be on your way.
Follow up with a thank you email later that day, or the next morning if your interview was late in the day. If you want to be really classy, send a handwritten thank you note, but send it immediately. They should receive their written thank you within the week. When the interview comes out, share it widely on all your pages. Link back to the interviewer when you can, use their name in a hashtag, and comment on their “great interview.” The more you help their career, the more they’ll want to help yours. If they end up writing a terrible piece, you can silently ignore it and hope nobody notices. But they won’t, because you did such a good job directing the interview and made the interviewer have a good time in your charming, writerly presence.