What Did You Say?

By Robin Lee Hatcher

Would you like to know what my ideal writing world would look like if I could wave a magic wand over it? I would write my novel without any writer's block or plotting problems. The publisher would design a great cover and edit me well. When the book was released, buyers in droves would grab copies of it off the shelves. Then I would take a nice relaxing vacation, and upon my return, I would get to work on the next book.

Did you notice what's missing from the above? (Besides a dose of reality!) Marketing, reviews, and media interviews.

Marketing can be a time and financial drain; that's a different article. Reviews can send you to heights of joy or to the depths of despair; that's a different article, too. Media interviews? Well, they can certainly be a mixed bag. That's this article.

In April of this year, I had a very nice write-up in the Idaho Statesman. The reporter, according to others who read the piece, did a good job of capturing my personality. She didn't make me sound like a complete nut either. And while there were some minor errors/misquotes (i.e. she confused one of my books with another), there was nothing in the article that upset me.

Over the course of my 24 years as a writer, I have been interviewed many times for print, radio and TV. Most of my experiences have been good ones. However, I have learned the hard way how easily words can be twisted. With either careless or purposeful editing (both by what is left in and what is left out), a reporter can be "technically" accurate while still making a person seem to say something they did not. That happened to me in a 2002 print interview in an extreme way, and I got hammered for it later. It isn't an experience I will soon forget.

There is no guarantee that you won't one day have a bad experience with the media, but here are a few tips, in no particular order of importance, that may help you avoid making mistakes when being interviewed for print, TV, or radio.

1. Have your own recorder and use it if at all possible, particularly for a print interview. That way you will have a record of what you said.

2. Reread your book in advance of the interview. It may be a year since you wrote it but only a day since the interviewer read it (if they read it at all).

3. Prepare your own list of suggested questions and offer it to the interviewer in advance.

4. Look for current issues that relate to your book.

5. Tailor your words for your audience.

6. Smile, even on a telephone interview. Be warm and friendly.

7. Be prepared to turn the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Don't allow an interviewer to make you say something you don't want to say or know that you shouldn't say. If they ask, "How much money do you make" or "Do you research your sex scenes with your husband?" reply, "That's an interesting question. Are you aware that ___ number of women in this country are among the homeless?" Actually, you will need to be more creative than that, but you get my drift.

8. Don't go the hard sell route. But when mentioning your book, call it by its title. Don't say, "when I wrote my book..." Say, "when I wrote The Victory Club..."

9. Mention where the audience can purchase your book ­ "At your local bookstores, at on-line bookstores such as Amazon.com, or on my web site at robinleehatcher.com.

10. Speaking of which, give your web site address at least once.

11. Give one or two minute answers at most. The nicest compliment I've received from radio interviewers is that I "answer like a pro," addressing the questions briefly and not rambling on. And if an interviewer just doesn't seem to "get it," beware. Don't over explain. They may be trying to get you to say something you should not.

12. Make note of the interviewer's name and don't forget it. I've had interviews last two hours or more, and I've found it's wise to call the interviewer by name occasionally, just to keep it fresh in your mind.

13. Give the interviewer your full attention. Don't let your mind wander and don't be distracted, even if it seems the interviewer is. Stay focused. When I was on the TV interview blitz for Beyond the Shadows last fall, I had one hostess who was getting messages by sign language from a crew member at the same time I was replying to her question. The camera was on me while she was looking at the crew member. It was extremely difficult for me to pretend I was speaking to her when I knew she wasn't listening, but I had to do it.

14. For TV interviews, be careful how you dress. Avoid busy fabrics and check with the studio to learn if there is a color you should not wear (i.e. your red suit might be the same color as the backdrop or it could clash with the orange set). Generally, avoid white because it washes you out in the bright lights. For print interviews, offer a good quality publicity photograph but be prepared for them to take on the spot pictures instead.

Those are my interview tips. Hardly an extensive list, but they'll get you started. While they won't guarantee that you won't be misquoted in the press, they may help you avoid falling into a few of the possible pitfalls that I've discovered along the way.

Happy interviewing!

Robin Lee Hatcher discovered her vocation as a novelist after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. However, she's certain there are better plots and fewer calories in her books than in puffed rice and hamburgers. The winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction (Whispers from Yesterday), the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance (Patterns of Love and The Shepherd's Voice), and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award, Robin is the author of over 45 novels, including Catching Katie (Tyndale), named one of the Best Books of 2004 by the Library Journal. Some of Robin's most recent titles include Beyond the Shadows and The Victory Club. You can learn more at Robin's website: www.robinleehatcher.com or her blog: robinlee.typepad.com.

© 2006 Robin Lee Hatcher. Used with Permission.

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