Interviews, Platforms, and Careers
December 7, 2007 | Written by admin
Dennis wrote to say, "I’ve got my first book coming out, and I’m supposed to do some interviews on radio. What do I need to know?"
First, there are only two kinds of book interviewers: those who have not read your book, and those who don’t know how to read. So never assume the interviewer has read your book. Therefore, always have stories at the ready — and no matter what the interviewer asks you, tell a story. You should be ready to tell the stories and talk about your book in a minute, in five-to-ten minutes, and in ten-to-thirty minutes, so that you can fit whatever time slot they’ve got booked for you. (In other words, think up more stories.) Unless you’ve done a lot of this before, don’t agree to take caller questions on the air. It only leads to random nutjobs, lonely widows, and hyperventilating outraged types, with the occasional know-it-all blowhard who loves the sound of his own voice.
Learn to be yourself on air. Relax. Don’t try to "sell" your book, just start sharing interesting stories and helpful ideas. You don’t know this about me, but I used to do a call-in talk show on Christian radio. 3 to 7 p.m. on the west coast, Monday through Friday — twenty hours per week of yakking it up on the air with people, asking them about their books, taking lunatic questions, listening to outraged Christian voters. A lot of authors don’t want to appear to be arguing on-air, so they become wimpy, agree-with-everyone types…which makes for radio that is BO-ring. If you want to get attention, be different. Don’t agree with everyone. Go onto some nonChristian stations and stir things up, keep your sense of humor, and talk about what’s in your book.
Jen wrote to ask, "I can understand the importance of a solid platform for a non-fiction writer, since most readers want to know the author’s qualifications, but how important are platforms for novelists?"
You could make a case that fiction writers used to base their success on the importance of their themes, the entertainment value of their stories, and the quality of their craft…but in our media-saturated society, even novelists are now expected to have a platform for their books. So we’re seeing books, seminars, and blog after blog touting ideas for fiction platforms. Blog tours, internet conversations, interviews, endless media exposure — there are a number of good resources out there, but they all basically come back to the same four ideas: (1) get your name noticed, (2) focus on the author more than one particular novel, (3) keep it out there regularly, and (4) stay in touch with your readers as much as possible. The advent of the worldwide web has changed the discussion for novelists — they are now celebrities, and readers want access to them. So as a novelist you are trying to create a series of positive impressions, in order to get readers to like your style and buy your books…not just your current book, but all your books.
Janet wrote me with this: "I went to a writer conference this year, and whenever someone asked an agent what they do, the agent would say something about ‘career planning.’ It got to be a joke, like beauty contestants talking about world peace. What IS a career plan for an author?"
You hit one of my hot buttons, Janet. I happen to agree that "career planning" is crucial for authors, but in my experience, some agents don’t know the difference between "a career plan" and "the next deal." In other words, their idea of helping you establish a career plan is to get you another contract. (I’m not exaggerating.) But a book deal doesn’t equate to a career plan. Every author who signs with an agent is expecting a book contract.
In my view, a career plan for an author is created by first helping the individual figure out (1) where they are now, (2) where they want to go in the future, and (3) what the plan is for getting there. And success is going to be defined differently for each author, Some people want to make their living writing, others don’t care about the money so much as that they are writing regularly. One views success as making it financially feasible (let’s say $2000 per month), while another defines it as replacing her corporate income (making a minimum of $5000 per month). So part of the first stage is simply figuring out where you are and where you want to be. It can take a while to get to that place — you have to thnk about your past, your schedule, your personality, your platform, and your calling. What’s the message you feel you’ve been given? What are the books you simply HAVE to write? An author also has to think about keeping life in balance — having a career is more than just making money. You have to consider how much you’d like to earn and where it will come from, but you also have to think about how you maintain healthy relationships, stay physically fit, and have friends and a vibrant spiritual life. And you’ve got to write all this down somewhere, so that the author has a document from which he or she is working. THEN you can start thinking about the next steps to take.
Sure, if you’re unpublished or between contracts, most likely the first thing you need is a deal…but it’s not the only thing you need. Noodle on your writing career — where are you strong and where are you weak? An author with no platform is hoping the salability of her idea and the quality of her craft will carry her to success, but that’s become tough to do in today’s marketplace. God has a unique calling for each of us — He calls one to make a million dollars and another to have modest success. It’s not always because of great writing or a unique idea. Think of it this way — you’ve probably heard better preachers than Billy Graham, but for some reason one guy gets on TV and another guy toils away in a small town, outside the scope of the media. I don’t believe God is calling everybody to success…but I do believe He’s calling each of us to obedience.
So I think creating a career plan is about taking steps to move your writing life forward. Think about what you could do to improve your sales and visibility. What could you study to improve your craft? How can you keep things in balance, so that you have a real life and not just a writing life? That’s creating a career plan.
And Amanda wrote to say, "I’m struggling with keeping my writing career going. It seems like I’ve been at this for years and not seen much success. I just want to feel that my career as a writer has been worthwhile. Can you help?"
You know, Amanda, that’s a fairly common struggle with authors. There can be an inherent sense of selfishness in writing — I’m doing what I want, I’m by myself most of the time, I have to promote myself and my writing. It’s easy to start thinking that "my world is all about me." My advice: Look for how you can serve others. There’s something about hands-on ministry to others, even in a very part-time role, that causes us to be far less me-focused. I’ve known authors who got involved teaching reading in adult literacy programs, teaching writing to kids in schools, and occasionally doing something that has nothing to do with words or writing. It’s different for every author. I"d ask you what sort of ministry or others-focused activites are you in now, and encourage you to participate.
That’s not the whole issue, I realize. Each writer has to decide if they’re writing what they should be writing, and if they’re finding fulfillment in it. I got to a point a couple years ago where I felt the only thing I did for other people was write them a check. I needed to do something hands-on with other people, so I started working with new immigrants (I come from an immigrant family, so that’s meaningful ministry to me). I hope you find something that’s a fit for you, and that this idea helps you clarify why you’re doing what you’re doing.