Why Can’t I Just Talk About My Book On The Air? Why Using the Media to Sell Books is a Finesse Play

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Unless you’re Oprah, a former president or a major celebrity, there is one question you will likely never be asked by the media when promoting a book.

“So why did you write your book?”

They won’t ask it, not because they don’t know you’re an author nor because they’re being rude. They won’t ask because the media doesn’t exist to help authors sell books. The media exists to create content that informs and entertains its audience, so that their audience stays tuned in. The more audience they have, the more advertising dollars they can charge for their print space and air time. Audiences are what make them money.

This is one of the most common disconnects we usually see with those who are new to the game of PR. Authors expect they can use the media as a venue to talk about their books, while the media is only interested in them for their expertise and the information or entertainment they can offer their audiences.

But, there is a wide gulf between using an interview to wax philosophic about why you wrote a book and giving an information-packed or fun-filled interview aimed at holding the interest of the audience. So here are a few things to remember when preparing for media interviews:

  1. “What’s In It For Me?” – The success of your interview, whether your audience stays tuned into you or tunes out, will depend largely on whether or not you tell them how your information will help them. No one knows this formula better than producers, hosts, editors and journalists whose livelihoods depend on keeping their audiences tuned in. They’re slaves to the audience – they know if they can’t hold them, they’ll lose them. And, if the audience goes, so does the advertising revenue and possibly their job.
  2. Make it Fast– Today, the media has far less time and space than it ever has in its history. Ratings and readership figures are transmitted electronically, tracking not only what media you are consuming, but how much, for how long and when. They have it down to the minute. That doesn’t mean that we are reading less or have shorter attention spans. It means there is a lot more competition for our attention than ever before.We have radio and TV shows, movies, the Internet as well as content for our smartphones and PDAs. Media is delivered to us on plasma screens in the checkout line at Wal-Mart, in the airport as we wait for our flights and even at the pump as we gas up our cars. As a result of the competition for our attention, the media gives us much more information, in a variety of ways, faster than ever before. For the media, it’s as much about how much content as it is about how fast they can give it to us. Most TV interviews are in the 3-5 minute range, and radio interviews are in the 5-10 minute range. In print, a 500-word article is about the medium length most people will find. In USA Today, only a handful of stories ever break the 500 word mark. They want to give you more, faster. So when an author is offered an interview with the media, they better be able to provide helpful information that will leave an impression and be able to do it quickly, because their air time is so limited.
  3. Walk the Tightrope– The media knows the dance. You are offering your time and expertise to their audience in exchange for exposure of your book. But if during the interview you say things like, “In my book, I wrote…,” it will be a short interview. However, if your interview fills the host’s need for delivering an entertaining and informative interview, they will do the promotion for you by mentioning your book and even your Web site on the air.But, even more important than the media’s perception of being overly promotional when interviewed on the air, is the consumer’s perception. It is a universal truth that consumers don’t like being sold. They don’t like commercials (which is why they fast forward past them on their DVRs), or shopping for cars at a dealership. They don’t like banner ads, spam, or a landscape cluttered with billboards. So the clue here is – don’t sell! Instead, inform, entertain and, in doing so, you’ll build the audience’s trust. And, one thing is for sure – no one puts their money on the counter without there being some level of trust that they are getting something of value in exchange for whatever it is they are purchasing.

The bottom line is that in order to get value from your media exposure, you have to offer value to the media first. Otherwise, you will forever be on the outside, looking in, as your competitors get the air time and media exposure you want for yourself.

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