Media Interviews 101 – An Article

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THE TEN WORST THINGS TO DO WHEN THE MEDIA CALLS

By Christina Hamlett

The dream of almost every author when his/her new book comes out is to get a request from a journalist to do a feature interview about it. Yippee! Huzzah! Can fame and fortune be far behind once you become a media darling?

Unfortunately – and because most people think of interviews only in the context of job-hunting – the potential for totally botching this invitation to free publicity is pretty high. Herein are the 10 most common mistakes that will land you on a reporter’s never-call-again list. (Note: Although the focus is on authors, the advice is applicable to spotlight moments for virtually any other industry.)

  1. Blowing It Off. Even if you’re maniacally busy, terminally lazy, or simply aren’t interested, it’s a matter of professional courtesy to at least acknowledge the request and say thank you. While now and then a reporter will follow-up to see if a query trickled into spam folders or a phone message accidentally got deleted, it’s much easier to cross off your name and move down the list rather than to keep chasing you. Not surprisingly, a number of authors that have ignored my original invitation will call me a year later and expect me to still be wildly interested in them.
  2. Sending Clips of Previous Interviews. “These will give you some ideas of how to write my story,” they’ll explain. Perhaps they think they’re just being helpful, unaware that a good journalist will already have done his/her homework to learn as much about the interviewee as possible. The underscored message, however, is that they think the reporter doesn’t know what s/he is doing and needs to learn from examples. Even worse are those who say they’re too busy for an interview but they don’t mind if I cut and paste from prior publications. Does it not occur to them that those previous reporters would be torqued or that yours truly could be perceived as a plagiarist?
  3. Sending More Than Is Requested. If an agent asks to see the first 5 pages of your novel, do you really think you’ll endear yourself by sending 407 along with a smiley-face note that you just knew they’d be hooked and want to read the whole manuscript? Unless a reporter specifically asks to see more than a brief bio and a 25-word synopsis of your project to prep for an upcoming story, do not annoy them by sending your headshot, Amazon reviews, sample chapters, glowing testimonials, or Facebook links. The same goes for word-count parameters. When I tell an interviewee that his/her story will run about 2,000 words, the last thing I want to get is 6,500 words and instructions to “just go ahead and edit out whatever you don’t want.”
  4. Being a Flake/Missing Deadlines. Promoting your work should be your highest priority. If you’re scheduled to do a television, radio/podcast or Skype interview, nothing less than a genuine emergency should cause you to have to reschedule it. When you cause an interviewer to have to scramble at the last minute to fill your slot with someone else, don’t expect to get asked back any time soon. Whenever a journalist gives you a date that s/he would like to receive your email interview replies, it’s because that interview has been slated for a specific issue/publication date. You shouldn’t have to be reminded multiple times to turn in your content. If you absolutely need an extension, ask for one as far in advance as possible.
  5. Being a Pest. You’re not the reporter’s only story. Seriously. If you’re constantly sending emails, leaving voicemail messages and asking for progress reports, it won’t take long to wear out your welcome. You must also be mindful of the fact that “freelance” does not mean “free at all hours of the day and night.” A freelance reporter will certainly do everything humanly possible to accommodate your schedule but expecting him/her to take your calls at 3 a.m. or on holiday weekends is neither reasonable nor professional.
  6. Rewriting the Questions. In my experience, this happens with authors more than any other group. If you’re asked a question that you feel is inappropriate, repetitive or off-message, politely bring it to the interviewer’s attention at the outset rather than rewriting it yourself. My own worst-case scenario was an author who not only snarkily re-wrote all of my questions but also wrote “my” introduction to what a fabulous person she was.
  7. Saying “It’s All In My Book.” Let’s say you went to buy a high-tech appliance. Every time you asked the salesman about a particular feature, you were told, “Oh, it’s all in the user’s manual.” Would you really feel inclined to make a purchase? The purpose of any interview is to sell yourself as the expert, not do a hard-sell commercial for your product. If you can’t impart useful tidbits to whet a reader’s appetite, you’re approaching the interview process in entirely the wrong way.
  8. Expecting the Journalist to Become Your Personal PR Firm. On the one hand, it’s flattering that someone likes the way you develop a feature story about them. On the other hand, it’s nothing short of pushy on their part to now expect you to become their 24/7 marketing maven, redesign their website, get them booked on radio shows, and write advertising copy for them…all of which they expect you to do for free. (It’s also not uncommon for interviewees to expect you to become their BFF just because you’re paying attention to them.)
  9. Asking For Previews/Demanding Copies Upon Publication. Unless the interview is in conjunction with paid advertising, you’re not entitled to review the story prior to its publication. This only holds up the process. Nor is it appropriate to ask a journalist, “You’re not going to make me look terrible, are you?” This is akin to asking a surgeon while you’re on a gurney being wheeled into surgery, “Do you promise not to kill me?” With online publications, I always provide my interviewees with a link when their story goes live. For print media, I provide interviewees with a pdf version. With books, magazines and newspapers, you’d be surprised how many people ask me if I can get them x-number of copies – and deliver them – so that they can send them to friends and relatives. Sorry, guys – if you want extras, you need to contact the publication yourself and purchase whatever number you want.
  10. Trivializing the Journalist’s Role. Last but not least is the most common excuse I hear from interviewees about why they haven’t responded in a timely and responsible manner: “Unlike you, I have to work for a living.” Do they really think that reporters just sit around all day eating bon-bons, watching soaps, and taking naps? Being in the media may sound glamorous on the surface but it’s still work. Hard work. Work that often extends well beyond an 8-hour day. Trust me: We’re just as busy as you are.
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5 thoughts on “Media Interviews 101 – An Article

  1. Ian Lauder says:

    Thanks for the info, Christina. Very useful; I just put most of my life’s work (46 books) on amazon and am about to launch a media blitz, so it’s nice to know what not to do.

  2. Thank you very much for this! Good reminder. You’ve got another book on Media coming out shortly, right? 🙂

  3. Elise says:

    Very nice write-up. I absolutely appreciate this site.
    Keep it up!

  4. I appreciate #2. To tell the truth, in my rough copy of my response to you I had copied and pasted a previous interview! Here’s why: When I did a freelance article about a wildlife haven, I asked to see other articles that had been written about it. By doing so, I hoped to save the owner time by not asking her a lot of questions that had been asked before, I also hoped to develop an original take on a popular topic (in our area) by avoiding the hooks other writers had used. And I did come up with an original one–her Siberian tiger had starred in a movie. (She made sure it was well fed first!) The owner saved us both time by providing me with articles (which I did not plagiarize), and I was hoping to save you time.

    But–thanks for the tips, and I have deleted the previous interview from my submission to you 🙂

    • Thanks, Margaret. Tip #2 was partially derived from the experience of a small business owner that told me she and her husband didn’t have the time to commit to an interview but that I could just cut and paste portions of interviews they had done previously with other journalists and pass the patchwork treatment off as something original. The irony is that they were struggling to stay afloat in a bad economy but were clearly making media invitations a very low priority.

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