Effective Self-Presentation for Novelists' Publicity

Have you ever seen yourself present something on camera?

I was videotaped teaching college students as part of my training in grad school. Wow, was that an eye-opener. Presenting an analytical subject is not as easy as it feels. Though I was satisfied with my performance overall, I was surprised to see that a few of my points during the lesson might have been an analytical leap for my students, who didn't have my background knowledge to help them connect the dots.

I will never forget what I learned by watching myself on video. What we think we are presenting is not necessarily what comes out to the listener or viewer. To know how we will appear in interviews, we have to look at ourselves from the outside.

In this post, I'm going to showcase three kinds of interview: telephone-to-print, public TV interview, and self-or-publisher-created video interview.

I did my first telephone interview for a newspaper article a couple of months ago, for a publication called This Week Westerville. Thanks to a nice job by the reporter, it came out well. Here it is if you want to check it out.

One aspect of print interviews to remember is that you will not always be quoted in your own exact words, especially if the reporter is taking notes rather than recording you. That difference in phrasing can be surprising to writers who are accustomed to their own speech patterns. But this reporter did what good reporters do: she captured the spirit and the content of what I had said.

Radio and TV are a whole different ballgame. Few of us like to listen to ourselves or watch ourselves on screen. But it's a necessary part of promotion, especially if your novel has a nonfiction component that will appeal to a certain demographic and encourage them to take interest. In my case, my novel is based on a real family who lived in Westerville, Ohio in the nineteenth century and worked on the Underground Railroad. So it's possible that for radio and TV in Central Ohio, I might be asked to speak in detail about this family and my research. For interviews in other regions, I might be asked about the Underground Railroad. I could do either of these topics, though I admit I would do some serious preparation before an interview focused more generally on the Underground Railroad! I might even be interviewed on the more personal subject of "Humanities Ph.D.s who work outside of academia, and how they use their training."

Author Robin Caroll did several interviews for her novels that are available on YouTube, so I hope she won't mind being an example to show a couple of types of interview that an author may encounter.

Here is a small television station interview with Robin about her novel.

Here's an interview that Robin's publisher put together to showcase her work. Notice how in both interviews, she explains the link between her novel and the nonfiction issue that inspired it: child trafficking. Then she discusses her novel In the Shadow of Evil, which has a connection to gang violence and to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Robin communicates herself as a wonderfully warm, down-to-earth person who would be easy for readers to like. That is her strength, that is who she is, and so her publisher has done a good job of helping readers connect with the real Robin.

Here's the same type of publisher-created promotion, but created for Tosca Lee, an author who appeals in a completely different way. Tosca's style is very dramatic, and so her interview is just as good, but she does not bring as much personal material into it (despite the fact that the segment is called "Author Spotlight"). Her focus is resolutely on the book, and she does it very well. This is Tosca's strength as an interviewee--drama and mystery. Is she much more than that, just as Robin is more than the brief glimpse of her personality that comes across in her interviews? Absolutely! But the clarity required by publicity means that each of these authors must focus on her core appeal in order to best connect with readers in the limited time available.

Effective self-presentation means first knowing yourself, and then having others to help you identify your areas of strength. My publicity team will tape me in a mock interview before I do real ones. This will help me hone my answers so I don't stutter or stop making sense during the real thing.

I do like the points that commenters made in my last post, though, about answers that sound rehearsed. Ideally, we want to know the general shape of our answers without plotting them out word by word. That will preserve our freshness without risking our coherence.

What do you think would be your personality strengths for radio or TV interviews? Are you the comfortable, cup-of-coffee kind of friend who radiates warmth? Are you funny? Or do you have an edge of mystery in your voice that intrigues? Don't be shy...let's identify what qualities help authors connect with specific readers! Or, tell us about a memorable author interview you saw or heard, and why you connected with that author.