Friday, August 3, 2012

Preparing for An Author Interview by Terry Ambrose

I love, love, love today's topic! We're talking about author interviews. This is actually something I've struggled with because you really want to be able to give answers that are interesting and reflect who you are. Our Guest Blogger, Terry Ambrose, knows his stuff! Read on!

Marketing a book is a difficult task. Author interviews are an important part of any marketing program. Are you prepared to make the most of that opportunity? In my National Crime Fiction column for, I cover both seasoned and debut authors. What I’ve realized is that many new authors—no matter how well they write—have no idea how to prepare for a press interview or how to answer questions in ways that help to sell books. Here are a few tips to make your interviewer’s job easier and improve that article about your book.

Two tiny pieces of marketing material are some of the most difficult to create and are also the two things used in most interviews. Those two pieces of information are the tag line and the short summary.

The tag line should be fewer than ten words and should give people a reason to read your book. It might be funny; it might inspire fear. But, whatever your tag line is, it should be something hard for readers to gloss over. For my debut novel, Photo Finish, my tag line is, “Hawaii, mystery, and trouble that never looked so good.”

That tag line tells an interviewer that the book is a Hawaiian mystery and that it’s either humorous or on the lighter side. Readers wondering why trouble would look good will likely read on for more information. For an interview, the tag line sets the tone immediately and gives your interviewer words to use when referring to the book.

I ask every author to provide a summary of their book so that the article would include a direct pitch from the author. But, instead of authors sending in something short, some were the equivalent of a book synopsis more suited to pitching an agent or publisher. Complete? Yes. Helpful for the interview? No. Here’s why. The longer the summary, the more it will read like a to-do list. When your interviewer is short on space, he’ll look for places to cut—and he may not cut the same to-do items that you would. In an author interview, don’t give details, evoke emotion or the reader’s imagination with the old “less is more” philosophy.

Some writers seem to think that evoking emotion means whipping out the adverb/adjective bucket. Or giving their expectations. For instance, something like, “This dynamically written novel concludes with a massive battle of epic proportions between good and pure evil that will leave readers breathless and terrified.” Twenty-four words. To tell me what? “Good and evil collide.” Sure, this is an exaggeration, but the point is that if the writer provides me with a lengthy and/or flowery book summary, I must distill that down for the article. Quite frankly, I’d much rather copy/paste a well-crafted summary of fewer than 25 words than create my own for a book I don’t know. Believe me, you’ll be better served by creating a 25-word summary and including it with your interview responses than having someone else do it. Then, you’re ready when asked, “What’s your book about?”

Another of the questions I usually ask relates to the theme or story goal. Some authors have told me they don’t make an argument. Instead, they write for entertainment. Others know just what their theme is and love being asked. I’ve even had authors tell me they only write to entertain readers and then give me their argument.

Whether it’s a petroglyph on a rock wall or words on the screen of an e-reader, communications is all about getting a message from one person to another. And that message has a purpose—or goal.  The goal of this post is to help authors improve their press interviews. I’ll bet your story has a goal. If it doesn’t, why did you bother writing it?

When you’re asked for an author bio, what the interviewer really wants to know is how your background qualifies you to write your book. For fiction writers, this can be difficult. For instance, Jane chooses to write about a serial killer, but Jane’s a retail clerk—not a cop, not a serial killer. Her closest encounter with the law was a speeding ticket five years ago. But, what drove her to write the story? If we go back to the story goal mentioned above, what can she draw on? How about something like, “Jane has always had an interest in serial killers and how their minds operate. She’s studied the profiles of…”

That’s the boilerplate stuff you’ll need for an interview. There will also be “personalized” questions. The personalized questions your interviewer asks will be designed to pull out more information that will make your book sound appealing or interesting. For instance, when asked why she wrote A  is for Alibi, Sue Grafton once quipped that she did it because she wanted to kill her ex-husband, but was afraid she’d “bungle it.” That answer is sharp, concise, and funny. Aim for that same level of quality and you, too, can have interviews that sell books.

Check out Terry Ambrose's book Photo Finish!

Wilson McKenna’s newest tenant is hot, gives great
hugs, and just saw a dead body being thrown from a
plane. McKenna’s not one to get involved in other
people’s problems, especially those of a woman half his
age, but before he knows it he’s volunteered to find the
plane and its owner—and found more trouble than he’s
ever seen in his life. He’s uncovered an island drug ring,
pissed off a sociopath, and set himself up as the victim
in a beautiful woman’s con that could cost him his life.

If only trouble didn’t have such great legs.

Photo Finish is available at a download site near you!



Terry’s website:

Photo Finish Landing page:

The McKenna Chronicles:


  1. Thanks for this extremely helpful interview article, Terry!

  2. I thought this was a great post and very timely. I know doing author interviews are fun, but I always feel that I don't make the best use of them. Great post, Terry!

  3. Thanks Kaye and Mary Ann. I am amazed at how many authors seem unprepared for something like an interview.

  4. I fear I am the most boring interview ever, (and even claim to be from Ennui, Ohio). (Which gives too much credit to my hometown.) It is fun to make things up though, it is fiction after all, right? Great post, Terry!

  5. Great interview, Terry, and excellent points made.

  6. Great info Terry!!!

    Thanks for spotlighting authors and books on the Examiner too!

    Lisa :)

  7. This is a very helpful post, and timely, too, as I'm now doing some interviews. Thanks to all involved!

  8. Great looking urban art. I am so glad to get a peek at it!