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On Interviewing Authors

I host a podcast and radio show for Starburst Magazine called Brave New Words1. It’s about books and the format can be summed up as “Ed tries to review a book. The other team members try to stop him”.2 Towards the end of the show there’s a section that’s come to be known as ‘an interview with a Lovely Author’ .

It’s an opportunity for an author to promote their work. It’s recorded separately 3, usually over skype. We’ve had a huge range of writers on the show, from Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin and Robin Hobb to a host of debut authors for whom I’m their first ever promotional interview. For all the ‘light and frothy’ nature of the show, we’re the book-business-part of a hugely popular national magazine with thousands of followers, listeners and readers4. The magazine has been around for decades, and has the cultural reach that brings.

I’ve recorded over a hundred of these conversations now, and I’ve always been delighted to help new writers get involved. With all that being said it seems time to throw out a few tips and some advice. Hopefully this will make things less nerve racking for all involved. Of course, writers tend to over think everything, so I’m not sure how much this will all help. Still, here goes:

Relax – The hard bit was writing the book. This is a chat about the book. With a stranger who’s really into books and who has already taken the time to find out more about your book. Chill. This is just a bit of promotion; it won’t make or break the book. It’s useful and important, but it’s really just a friendly chat. Take a moment to enjoy the achievement. Interviews can be fun!

Be On Time – It can be a haphazard affair, the life of a debut author. For most, it’s a hobby that’s gotten out of hand and/or the first step in pursuit of a life-long dream. Regardless, you probably have a day job and your work/life balance is likely enjoying a bit of a knock as you gear up to launch your book. Remember that most book bloggers/podcasters etc also have day jobs. So when a time is agreed on, stick to it. If it’s in the evening, make sure you’ve figured out enough time to eat/relax before the interview. Don’t try and do an interview on the bus, or while shopping, jet-lagged or anything else that will lead to you being not on the top of your game.5 As the person interviewing you, I want you to be relaxed and chill. 6

On air sign and microphone

Old photo from the old studio. Our current set up has more books

Set your expectations – A bit of media exposure is not going to catapult you into a world of glitz and glamour. Just have fun with it.

Be You – One of the most frequent occurrences from an author or their agent is a request to see a list of questions in advance. I understand the logic behind this, but it isn’t happening. Instead, I tend to reassure the author as to what the general vibe is going to be. For Brave New Words, we ask the author to talk about their work, talk a bit about why they write and then ask some ‘deep’ questions that aren’t really that deep, followed by some stupid ‘finishing off’ questions about The Simpsons or Doctor Who. The reason there isn’t a script is because we don’t want you sounding like a robot. This is a chance to meet, virtually, a bunch of amazing people who listen to the show. So we want you to be natural. It’s fine if you don’t know how to do that yet.

Plan –Here’s a useful tip; work out how to explain your book to an elderly relative. If your Nanna is going to wander off halfway through your pitch, re-think it. You’ve spent months or even years working on the book, so don’t worry about being over familiar or over rehearsed. Just figure out a way to ‘elevator pitch’ the thing. No work is so complicated that you can’t squeeze it into a pitch 7

Do-Overs are fine – Check first, but yeah, do-overs are fine. Stopping and restarting is fine. Taking a minute is fine. If you’re not up for it on the day, don’t worry about cancelling. We are here to help, so we want you to be full of vim and happy to go ahead.

Check your kit –Make sure your mic works, that Skype doesn’t need updating and that you can actually talk. If not, re-schedule.

If you are uncomfortable, stop – I’ve never had this happen to me, but if you’re not happy with a question or anything else, stop. Sanity and safety first.

Expect the unexpected – You’ll get a question that will cause your brain to freeze, or the microphone will fall off your desk. The dog will run off with your phone or a small child will suddenly decide to join in. These things go wrong, it’s not the end of the world. It will be fine. Laughter is good.

Ed and Si recording a show

Also making podcasts is really fun

1: Because it’s the season for these things: We are eligible as Best Fancast for the Hugo Award nominations. If you like the show and you do the WSFS/Worldcon stuff, gives us a nom. Fun fact : Despite being around for 40 years, nothing directly Starburst Magazine related has ever come close to winning a rocket.

2: This is doubly true for the live shows, where we get guest authors to join in as cast, rather than people to interview. The rather talented RJ Barker is especially good at stopping me in my tracks. Check out the Sledge Lit 2017 show here.

3: This is mostly due to logistics. The podcast is a labour of love and doing it all in one gulp is simply not practical. The podcast is not my proper job (*cough* hence the Hugo eligibility) but it is something I really like doing.

4: Oh, and that’s not including the radio station, Fab, which the show also airs on.

5: Avoiding excessive background noise is a good idea as well.

6: In the early days of the podcast, syncing up interviews with bigger names was tricky. I seem to recall interviewing Sarah Pinborough over the phone whilst huddling in the smokers’ shelter between shift changes. I was very lucky with the sound quality, and Sarah seemed to think it was all hilarious, which was nice.

7: That whirring sound is George Orwell spinning in his grave. Misery guts reckoned you couldn’t do a book review in under 400 words. Which is weird because I’ve heard many people review Fifty Shades of Grey in just one. Regardless, short pitches are a possible thing. Even if it’s the next Gravity’s Rainbow or The Dubliners.

Bonus foot note: The show used to be called The Bookworm. I always hated the name, and now it’s got a  cooler name with a better format.

Categories: Brave New Words
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