I recently did Hugh Hewitt's live national radio show to promote The Girl Who Cried Wolf and listening to it afterwards – the host archives his shows – I realized, after thirteen book tours and a lot of radio interviews, I had learned some things. I hope the following tips helps other authors facing the microphone and praying that they don’t projectile vomit.
Live radio interviews are either conducted in a studio or linked to your location by telephone. Either way they are terrifying the first few times. Acknowledge that to yourself and move forward.
A studio interview will seem strange the first time you do it. You’re in a glass booth, usually sitting across from the host. The two of you will be wearing headphones and speaking into a large microphone, while the engineer is watching things from another room through a pane of thick glass. Yes, it’s artificial, but the more you can hone in on the host when you talk, the better. You want to make things feel like a friendly conversation between the two of you. Depending on the host, it may actually be a confrontational conversation, but that’s okay too, as long as you keep things lively and don’t freeze up. (I once went on a “Morning Zoo” type early morning show where the merry band of pranksters made fart noises while they read excerpts from my book that they considered “hot.” I played the part of the good sport, although I wanted to strangle them… slowly.)
Location interviews are more relaxed. You’re in a comfortable place at your home, just talking on the phone to hopefully millions of people. Make sure you’re on a land line for the best reception and turn off any “inaudible” air-conditioning or forced-air heating, which will be picked up and make for a “hissy” broadcast. Your host will appreciate this, or, at least the engineer will. (I learned this from an ex-CIA agent I interviewed once, who complained about poor surveillance recordings)
Whether at home or in-studio, make notes to yourself. Short, succinct notes on separate cards. You can’t believe the things you will blank out on under pressure. I usually go with the name of the host, my own name (really), the name of my book, and the plot of the book in fifteen or twenty words. In big letters I write SLOW DOWN. Most of us talk faster when we’re nervous, so a reminder to ease off will make things easier for listeners to understand and keep you from running out of air. (My first interview I think the host was worried he was going to have to perform CPR on me)
I also write a note that says HAVE FUN. This is the most important note of all.
Try not, and I know it’s hard, try not to not feel compelled to insert the name of your book in every sentence. A good host will mention the title at the beginning and end of the segment and in my case at least, spell your name for the audience. (“Just like Lou Ferrigno!”) Let the host do the work. Otherwise you come off as sweaty and desperate.
Radio is a medium of superlatives because it makes the guest more interesting to the listeners. If the host introduces you as “perhaps the best crime fiction writer in the known and unknown universe,” don’t correct them. You may think it makes you look humble, but it also makes the host look bad. Don’t EVER make the host look bad. Chuckle and say thank you. Besides, who’s better than you?
The host is always aware of the clock and so should you be. When you hear background music getting louder FINISH YOUR POINT because the host will be cutting to a break and if he has to interrupt you to do so, it will feel awkward. You want to make the host’s job easy, just like the host wants to make your job easy. See, you’re pals!
You have been given a gift, act accordingly. Airtime, whether on a national radio show or a podcast beamed out of a garage, is a way to connect with people who don’t know you, a party where for five or ten minutes you’re the guest of honor. The host has many, MANY more people who want to sit where you are sitting than you can imagine. So greet the host warmly, thank him or her when your time is over and send an email to that effect afterwards. They will have earned it.