Ask Melinda: Book Promotion, Live Interviews, and Challenging Hosts

Question: Do you like doing interviews to promote your book?

Here’s how I see it: Every job has benefits, challenges, and some downright unpleasant parts. My primary job—raising three teenagers—is a good example. Sure, I get to preen proudly when my teenagers win awards, cheer loudly when they score the winning basket, and bask in 24 hours of Mother’s Day glory, but I also get to handle discipline, consequences, poor attitudes, moody dispositions, sick days, and fender-benders. I’m sure CEOs enjoy their big, fat paychecks, private jets, and stock options, too, but I bet they hate firing people. Unfortunately, that’s part of their job, too. Responsible people don’t pick and choose. They do whatever has to be done. Lord knows, I am nothing if not nauseatingly responsible.

Writing is a real job, you know. I’ve said this at least a million times. Just because I work on a laptop in a corner of my bedroom doesn’t mean I don’t work! Sigh. This is a sore subject. Book promotion is part of my job. If nobody knows about my books, they won’t buy them. If they don’t buy books, I don’t get to write. It’s third grade math—not that complicated. Book promotion involves interviews for newspapers, radio, television, and online media outlets.

Here’s the secret: IT’S REALLY, REALLY FUN! Of course, there are exceptions. Not every interview goes as well as I’d like. Sometimes, I just can’t establish a rapport with an interviewer. In the hills of Tennessee, I once looked up in a radio booth while putting on my headphones and read decidedly racist and sexist bumper stickers stuck to the wall—right there in plain view for guests to contemplate during the interview. I had about 3 seconds to process that before we went on the air. Some interviewers (writers, too, obviously) are quirky. Usually, I can tell immediately if an interview is going to work or not. A good interviewer can talk to a wall and make it sound special. I can do that, too. I think that’s because I am naturally nosy, curious, and bossy. I really am interested in every little thing. That comes in handy in my line of work.

Bottom line: To interview well, you have to be flexible, ready for anything, and able to roll with whatever happens live. It helps to have a sense of humor and to be perky and eager to please. I am a pleaser personality. As a Southern woman, I think everyone should be happy with me all the time. I am naturally inclined to try to please my host and audience rather than being contentious or ornery. Because I write humor, interviewers expect me to be entertaining—even at 4:30 AM. That’s part of my job. Because radio and television personalities host so many guests every week, they rarely have time to actually read a book or even a page from a guest’s book. Generally, they flip through the book for the first time when I sit down for the interview, in the 30 seconds before we go on the air. I don’t blame them one bit. It’s not worth a big investment of time or energy on their parts for a 10-minute interview. I am always ready to hijack the interview and take it wherever I want to go—regardless of what I am asked. Yep. That really works. I have had my humor books introduced on live television as: a “cookbook” (well, no, although I do talk about chocolate, gumbo, sweet tea, and tomatoes a lot), a “love manual,” (ah . . . not so much, although if you pick up a few relationship tips from I Love You Now Hush, I am okay with that). I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers has been introduced as a “manners book” for teens. (Nope, just funny essays, although I am, generally, in favor of good manners in any endeavor.) An interviewer in Charleston once told me, while I was attaching my microphone to my dress:

“I’m really hung over, so I’m just going to read your name and your book title. Then you can just talk for about 12 minutes. Okay?”

“No problem! I can do that!” I responded gleefully.

I really do like an open mic, lots of room, and few constraints. I do some of my best work that way.

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