When your new book comes out, wouldn’t you love a call from a reporter wanting an interview? Wheee! You could be on your way to becoming a media darling. Unfortunately, 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.
- Blowing It Off. Even if you’re crazy-busy, terminally lazy, or simply aren’t interested, professional courtesy dictates acknowledgment of the request and a thank-you. While reporters sometimes follow up to see if a query trickled into spam folders or a phone message got deleted, it’s easier to cross off a non-respondent and move down the list rather than keep chasing you.
- Sending Clips of Previous Interviews. “These will give you ideas of how to write my story.” Perhaps they think they’re being helpful by saying this. The underscored message, however, is that they think the reporter doesn’t know what s/he is doing and needs to see 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. Doesn’t it occur to them those previous reporters would be torqued or that yours truly could be perceived as a plagiarist?
- Sending More Than Is Requested. If an agent asks for the first 5 pages of your novel, you won’t endear yourself by sending 407. Likewise, unless a reporter asks for more than a brief bio and 25-word synopsis, don’t annoy them by sending a headshot, Amazon reviews, sample chapters, testimonials, and Facebook links. The same goes for word-count parameters. When I say a feature will run 800 words max, the last thing I want to get is 6,500 words and instructions to “edit out whatever you can’t use.”
- Being a Flake. Promoting your work is your highest priority. If you’re scheduled for a television, radio/podcast or Skype interview, nothing less than a genuine emergency should cause you to cancel. When you make someone scramble at zero hour to fill your slot, don’t expect to get asked back anytime soon. If you absolutely need an extension, request one as far in advance as possible.
- Being a Pest. You’re not the reporter’s only story. Seriously. If you’re constantly sending emails, leaving voicemails and demanding progress reports, it won’t take long to wear out your welcome. Be mindful, too, that “freelance” doesn’t mean “free at all hours of the day and night.”
- Rewriting the Questions. This typically happens with authors more than any other group. If you’re asked a question you feel is inappropriate, repetitive or off-message, politely bring it to the interviewer’s attention at the outset rather than rewriting it. My own worst-case scenario was an author who not only snarkily re-wrote all my questions but also re-wrote my introduction to what a fabulous person she was.
- Saying “It’s All In My Book.” If you go to buy a high-tech appliance and the salesperson’s response to every question is, “It’s all in the user’s manual,” how inclined are you 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 all wrong.
- Overstepping Boundaries. Just because you liked the interview, it’s nothing short of pushy to now expect the reporter to become your 24/7 publicist, redesign your website, book you on radio shows, and write your advertising copy… and all for free. Nor is s/he obligated to become your BFF and listen to your personal problems.
- Requesting Previews. Unless the interview is in conjunction with paid advertising, you’re not entitled to review a story prior to 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?” That’s like asking a doctor prior to surgery, “Do you promise not to kill me?”
- Trivializing a Journalist’s Role. Last but not least is the most common excuse I hear from interviewees about why they’re missing deadlines: “Unlike you, I have to work for a living.” Do they really think reporters just sit around eating chocolate, watching soaps, and taking naps? Being in the media may sound glamorous 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.
Christina Hamlett is a media relations expert and award-winning author whose credits to date include 30 books, 156 stage plays, 5 optioned feature films, and hundreds of articles and interviews that appear online and in national/international trade publications. In addition, she is a script consultant for the film industry (which means she stops lots of really bad movies from coming to theaters near you) and a professional ghostwriter (which does not mean she talks to dead people). Learn more at www.AuthorHamlett.com.