Mastering the Radio Interview: 10 Tips for Authors from a Talk Radio Host

We've got a must-read guest post for you this week. David Congalton, screenwriter and radio superstar here on the Central Coast of California, tells us how to be a good radio guest. 

Radio is still essential to book promotion in the digital age. Most car-commuters still listen to broadcast or satellite radio and the popularity of podcasts is growing. I think Dave is right that radio and books go hand in hand. In fact, while Dave take the reins at the blog today, I'll be listening to the radio and catching up on my reading. 

But soooo many authors are snoozerific on the radio. I've made a faux pas or two my ownself going off on tangents and getting too wordy. 

So I talked Dave into stopping by and telling us how to do it right. 

Dave knows what it's like to be on the other side of the mic, too. He's the author of four books and he wrote the screenplay for Authors Anonymous, one of the funniest films about writers ever made (and he has another film in development.) He was also a long-time director of the Central Coast Writers Conference, where I will be presenting on September 19th-20th. More info below...Anne

Mastering the Radio Interview: What This Talk Show Host Wants You to Know

By David Congalton 

Hosting a radio show for almost 24 years, I've probably read enough books and interviewed enough authors to start my own library. I've been fortunate to be able to chat with authors like Vincent Bugliosi, Jane Smiley, Arianna Huffington, Tim O'Brien, Catherine Ryan Hyde, and Carolyn See. 

I've also made time for the 86-year-old grandma who published her memoir locally and will end up giving away more copies than she will sell. Name a genre, I've probably covered it on the radio at some point.

Radio matters. Whether it's satellite radio, or NPR, or the local AM station like the one that hosts my show. People are still listening, and more importantly, I submit, there is an overlap between people who read books frequently and also listen to the radio. 

We're talking about people who are likely (1) older, (2) smarter, (3) better off (4) and have a real desire for information. 

If you read, you're also likely to listen to the radio. It's been a good marriage over the years and the honeymoon is far from over.

And radio is the perfect forum for conversation. 

Television news will interview you for 20 minutes and air 20 seconds. 

Newspapers and magazines are still widely read, but you run the risk of being misquoted or subject to an unsympathetic/jealous reporter. 

Radio is in the moment, whether live or pre-recorded. You say what you want, how you want, and the back-and-forth is largely unedited. Witness the lovely author conversations by Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air," the current Holy Grail of radio book promotion. Listening to that show is like eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends.

So you want radio to be part of your marketing strategy. The good news is that talk radio, whether in New York or Yuma, Arizona, is always on the hunt for smart, articulate guests who can get to the point and light up those phones.

However, remember that you're competing with a multitude of other authors, also desiring precious air time. 

Even the most supportive radio host can only read so many books, interview so many authors—it becomes survival of the persistent. When I first started my radio show in 1992, I was getting about three to four books a week, mostly from national and regional publishers. Now I receive typically one or two books a week, mostly from local authors who are self-publishing.

Things to Keep in Mind when Pursuing a Radio Interview

1) Listen to the Radio. 

We all know that basic axiom, to be a writer, you have to be a reader. In this case, I'd say that in order to be interviewed on the radio, you first have to be a listener. 

How do you know which hosts to approach if you don't know anything about their programs? This may sound basic, but I can't begin to tell you how many wannabe guests approach me who clearly don't know the first thing about my show. They use key phrases like "My friends tell me I might be a great guest for your program," or they inquire about my time slot. 

I can't hit the delete button fast enough on those emails.

2) The Host Probably Won't Read Your Book. 

Don't be offended, but most radio hosts won't read your book. Oh, we might skim a few pages, but mainly we'll hang on to it like a life preserver during the interview and literally pull questions out of thin air. 

Don't hate us. In my case, I'm responsible for 20 hours of live radio every week—I want to support authors, but I don't always have the time. Best-selling author Mitch Albom tells the revealing story of being on book tour for Tuesdays With Morrie. He was with one FM host whose first question was, "So, Mitch. Why Tuesdays?" That's all Albom needed.

3) So…Spoon Feed Your Potential Host. 

When you initially contact a host, make it easy for him or her. Hit them with the book, your bio, and most importantly, a list of sample questions. Guarantee them that you LOVE to talk and can carry a conversation. 

Believe me, the less work for the host, the more chance you have of getting a booking.

Key point: Always make it clear that you're available at the last minute should a guest cancel.

4) Nonfiction Always Trumps Fiction. 

Sorry, fiction writers. Nothing personal. A nonfiction writer will always have a better chance of being invited on the radio. 

In truth, to interview a novelist, the host probably has to actually read the book, and, as I've already explained… Also, it's easier to talk about nonfiction and those subjects, particularly history and biography, tend to draw in larger listenership. 

I never give a novelist more than 30 minutes; nonfiction always gets the full hour. 

Today I booked an author who wrote a new book about Jimmy Doolittle's raid over Tokyo during World War II. Why? Because I'm a history buff and I rarely say no to history shows. 

A good example of the nonfiction bias is the syndicated radio segment Something You Should Know with host Mike Carruthers, heard daily on hundreds of radio stations across the country. Every day, Carruthers interviews a nonfiction author for about three minutes, but the segment is widely heard.

5) A Publicist? Hmmmmm.

Should you, or should you not hire a publicist? It depends. A reputable publicist is your guide to large market radio stations and major syndicated shows—you won't get anywhere near National Public Radio without one. 

But. Don't be led astray by the fast-talking, promising-the-moon publicist. 

My favorite are the ones who boast about the thousands of emails they'll send out on behalf of your book to radio stations all over the country. Trust me, those emails are deleted or go to Junk Mail and never get read. (The same is true of publicists who approach bloggers. Ruth and I no longer accept guest bloggers who use publicists because the authors don't have a clue who our audience is...Anne.)

Never, ever, hire a publicist without being told exactly what shows they've booked clients on and what specific shows they have in mind for you.

6) You Have Two Friends at a Radio Station. 

You have two allies as you hatch your strategy.

The first is the station's website, which can be a rich source of information. Most websites offer programming schedules, host biographies ("Oh, she's into animal rescue. She might enjoy my new dog book."), podcasts of previous shows, or upcoming personal appearances. 

Your other friend is the station receptionist, who typically spends day after day taking orders from everyone in the station and would melt for anyone who might take the time to pay attention to him or her. Many a guest has gotten to me by having our receptionist lobby on their behalf.

7) If you're Interviewed on the Phone, do it Right. 

About half the author interviews I do are by telephone, (called "phoners") which is harder because you can't see each other and can't use basic visual cues. 

 On behalf of radio hosts everywhere, I plead with you to remember the basics: 

8) Explore All Your Radio Options. 

Most individual News/Talk radio stations have both talk shows and news programs. They also have weekend programming with specialty shows. So if a radio host passes on your query, don't be afraid to approach these other programs. 

Most people listen to radio in the morning, so five minutes on the local morning news may be better than an hour on the evening show. 

9) Contact us by Email. 

Don't bother calling because most phone messages are ignored. 

You can always call your new friend, the receptionist, and get the name and contact information for the producer of a specific show.

10) One Last Tip. 

Take a couple hours and wander around, which is the home of podcasts available on public radio. You won't believe the rich diversity of programming and hosts you'll find. Podcasting is becoming more and more viable and may just lead you to an interviewer interested in your book. (Fascinating website. Do check it out...Anne)

As an author and a writer, I've been on both sides of the microphone. There's nothing like that rush of having the red light go on in the studio, knowing that thousands of people are listening to what you're about to say.

Relax. You're going to do just fine.

Okay, Scrivenershave you ever done a radio interview? How did it go? Did you screw it up like I did my last one (never mention a subplot when all you need is a soundbite.) Do you have any questions for Dave? He'll be here on Sunday to answer, but after that he'll be on his way to UCLA for eye surgery, so I'll be replying after that (and we're all wishing you well, Dave!) But I can email him questions for when he's seeing again.

David Congalton is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and radio talk show host based in San Luis Obispo, CA. His popular radio show, now in its 24th year, is heard weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on 920 KVEC. Along with Deborah Bayles, he is the co-author of the bestselling ebook The Talk Radio Guest Book: How to be the Perfect Radio Guest. Congalton's screenplay for Authors Anonymous was made into a 2014 feature film comedy starring Kaley Cuoco, Chris Klein, and the late Dennis Farina. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveCongalton and Facebook.


The Talk Radio Guest Book: How to be the Perfect Radio Guest

by David Congalton and Deborah Bayles

ebook only $2.99 on Amazon

also available here

For anyone with a product to pitch, a case to win, or a point to make, if you follow the steps in this book, you will be heard and celebrated for who you are and that which is important to you. We all want to be listened to. Read THE TALK RADIO GUEST BOOK and people will look forward to hearing what you have to say...Literary Agent Karen Grencik

Authors Anonymous

A hilarious "mockumentary" about critique groups!

DVD only $8.96--great gift for a writer friend!

The Central Coast Writers Conference

In beautiful San Luis Obispo, "America's Happiest Town"!

Anne will lead a workshop on How to Write for the Digital Age and talk about dealing with reviews and she's even doing critiques!  (That link goes to a video with a voice-over from me, if you wonder what I sound like...Anne)


The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

The Central Coast Writers Conference. One of the best little Writers Conferences around! You can attend Anne's workshops on How to Write 21st Century Prose and How to Deal with Reviews and even have her critique your work. September 19-20.

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

Real Simple's eighth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest FREE to enter, First prize: $3,000 for an essay of up to 1500 words on: "What Single Decision Changed Your Life?" Would your world now be completely different if, at some point in the past, you hadn't made a seemingly random choice? Deadline Sept 21.

BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline: September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline: August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys. whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 


Congrats to Tara Tamburello!  She sold her first piece of fiction thanks to an "Opportunity Alerts" entry back in January. The Vestal Review picked up her Jane Eyre-retelling for their Condensed to Flash: World Classics Anthology."

A number of you have written to thank me after they've won contests or placed short pieces with journals listed in the "OPPORTUNITY ALERTS".  So please let me know if you've had good luck with any of these opportunities and I'll post your name here in the new KUDOS section! (And if you've written to me before, do resend so I can include you. Sorry I didn't think of this before.) 

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