How to Be a Top-Notch Podcast Guest

This month I hosted my 78th interview for Hear Us Roar where my guests are debut authors of women’s fiction, so it’s a perfect time to share some tips from the last 2+ years about using this medium as part of your book marketing package.

As of February 2021, there are 1.75 million podcasts out there so if you’re a writer with a new novel, memoir, collection of short stories, or poetry chapbook, odds are you’ll get asked to be on one of them eventually. And that’s a good thing, because podcasts have proved to be one of the most effective ways to reach beyond your local community to a wider audience of readers. But like anything in life, there are steps to being an effective guest, one whom listeners will enjoy, remember, and look for at their favorite bookseller.

Before the Show

Ask the host who their target audience is and why they tune in. This not only let them know you’re interested in making them a success with their listeners but allows you to plan ahead about what might resonate with this segment of readers. If it’s an older demographic, you might relate how you began writing only after a successful first career; if it’s people who belong to book clubs, you could mention topics in your book which might provoke group discussion.

Most hosts give you a tentative list of questions so you can prep your responses before the interview. If they don’t, ask them for a general idea of the points they’d like the two of you to discuss. And listen to a few of their previous podcasts so you have a sense of their interview style, the general flow of the conversation, and the length of the segment. For example, about halfway through my 30-minute segments, I ask my guests to read a short passage from their novel. Don’t necessarily select the first two pages of your book since those can be read on Amazon. Instead select different pages which feature your main POV character and reflect your voice and style and practice reading beforehand so your delivery’s smooth.

Right before the show.

The host will do a sound check ahead of time to ensure your voice is coming across at an appropriate volume and there are no other mechanical difficulties. I record my podcast on Zoom and I’ve had sessions where I could not hear the guest or vice versa. Likewise, I ask my guests to have other people in the household refrain from heavy computer use during the time of the interview to free up band-width. Close doors to pets and children. Turn off any sound alerts on your computer and shut off your phone. Close windows if you get a lot of street noise or other distractions.

During the recording.

This isn’t the time to be shy. The most difficult interviews I’ve had were with authors who answered in one succinct sentence and then shut down. After fifteen minutes I’d run out of things to ask and was scrambling. You will be doing the majority of the talking, with the host feeding you questions as you complete your thoughts or to keep up the pace of the interview. It’s okay to think for a few seconds before responding but try not to hem and haw too much. Think of it as a conversation with a nice person you just met who’s interested in hearing about your book and your career as a writer. And along those lines, several times during the interview, use the host’s name. It’s a nice touch and makes them feel good. Ditto “That’s a really good question” or “I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that before”. Trust me, the host will eat this up.

Be open and honest about your struggles.

No one’s perfect. Listeners enjoy hearing about what you went through in writing your book and bringing it into the world. Did you turn to experts for help? Do you have critique partners who cheered you on? Did you suffer through rejections before finding your agent? Did the pandemic affect your plans for marketing? Let them know you’re human, that everything didn’t come easily, but eventually with perseverance, you achieved your goal.

Tell personal anecdotes.

Some of the more memorable interviews are when authors pull back the curtain and share an inside “scoop.” A.H. Kim’s sister-in-law went to jail when Orange is the New Black was all the rage and paired that experience with one of whistleblowing to create her novel A Good Family. Barbara Conrey described how her tongue-in-cheek Twitter post resulted in a top-notch blurb for Nowhere Near Goodbye. Stephanie Newman’s book (Barbarians at the PTA) debuted on a social-media black-out day, Sharina Harris (Imperfectly Happy) found inspiration in an Oprah segment, and Eldonna Edwards (This I Know) describes finding her title in a Sunday School class. Come up with a few of your own funny stories to make yourself memorable and let readers see you as a human being.

To wrap up.

If appropriate, sneak in a call to action at the end. For example, if you want people to consider buying your book, let them know the formats it’s published in (hardcover, paperback, audio, e-reader) and where it’s available. You might want to mention reviews and how much they are appreciated or make a plug to be invited to area book clubs or libraries. If you’re appearing at a venue in town, plug the time and place.

Thank the host and say how much you enjoyed being on the show.

After the podcast

Link to the podcast in your social media posts, on your author web-site, and in your newsletter. Send a thank-you to the host for having you on and provide them anything else they ask for quickly, like an author photo or a short bio. Let them know you would be available for future follow-ups or panel discussions.

The best tip of all.

Relax. Enjoy the ride. Remember, this is only one interview out of dozens you’ll probably give. If you flub it, analyze what to do differently next time and move on. The most common feedback I get from authors is how nervous they were ahead of time but that when we were done, they realized they’d actually had fun.

Here’s a round-up of what dozens of other podcasters have to say on the subject. 

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