Author Interviews: What You Should Know by Mike Feder
Readioactive is HONORED to have SiriusXM radio host Mike Feder sharing some of the things to keep in mind whenever the opportunity to promote your writing comes around. As a professional host of three national radio shows each week, he’s endured more than his fair share of sticky interview subjects!
I was interviewed a few days ago about my new book, about writing and performing—and also about doing radio and various other topics. And I have to say, it was a pleasure being on the other side of the microphone for a change—not being the one who had to come up with the questions, guide the guest through the interview, and fit it all into a relatively short time-frame.
I’ve interviewed roughly a thousand guests—journalists, professors, authors (fiction and non-fiction), historians, politicians, musicians, activists, etc.—during the time I’ve been on the air. It’s definitely a skill—bordering on an art—to get the best information in the most articulate way from a guest. Most of these interviews are done live on the air, and some were done in person and broadcast live when I worked at Shakespeare & Company books in Manhattan.
It’s hard to be a good interviewer. You have to converse intelligently with the guest but make sure the audience is hearing the best conversation they can hear—and do it all in a specific time frame…twenty minutes, a half hour or forty-five minutes.
Some guests—no problem. They are born talkers. They’re fluid, entertaining, passionate and know how respond and keep a conversation going. Others you can’t get to shut up; ask them a question—even a simple one—and they’re off. You have to break in and practically yell at them before they will stop talking. And still others—you put a question to them—sometimes a complex (and you hope, interesting) question—and, in response, all you get is, “No” or “Yes.”
And it keeps happening, over and over again. It’s like digging for gold with a blunt spoon. In fact, one time, I just gave up, put some music on and told the guest, thanks a lot but I have to move on now…
Then there are guests who come into the interview with a bad attitude, authors who hate doing interviews but have to to sell their books, or authors who have already done twenty interviews before they speak to you and have two more the same night. Or maybe the guest was asked (or told) to do the interview by the organization they work for (a think tank, university, etc.) and hate the idea of talking on the air.
Some people just have personalities like cactuses and they feel no need to alter that when they go on the air.
Now there are other interviewees who are friendly, good-hearted, and even brilliant; masters of their field…but they cannot speak. They talk like they’re sitting on a back porch and they have all the time in the world. Or they speak so fast they sound like caffeinated chipmunks or so slowly you start to nod off. Then there are the guests who speak so low nobody (for instance, the audience) can hear them.
When it comes to fiction writers and poets, they can be the trickiest interviews of all. It usually runs to extremes. Either fiction writers can be great talkers—almost as if their verbally expressed thoughts are first drafts of their writing or entertaining critical reviews of their own work—or they are so used to spending years alone, thinking and composing in isolation, that when they have a microphone in front of them and not a keyboard they have no idea what to say. They work in silence—and it’s as if talking were spending their thoughts like money. They are afraid that if they talk too much or even at all, they’ll metaphorically go broke and have nothing left to write.
Interviewing is a real skill and not for amateurs. It can be hard work. So when I was the one being interviewed it was like a taking a vacation.
Mike Feder has been a radio personality and host for almost 35 years, first on WBAI and WEVD in New York City, and now nationally on Sirius XM and PRN.FM radio. He is the author of several books, and his latest title is A Long Swim Upstream. You can follow him on Twitter at @Mike_Feder.