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Friday, January 23, 2009

What I Learned From My First TV Appearance

I'm hardly an 'A List' writer, but from time to time I do get asked to appear on TV or radio. Typically, nowadays, this happens when a producer Googles the topic of his show, and one of my books comes up in the results list.

TV appearances in particular can be a great opportunity to promote yourself and your books to a large audience - so while I do still get a bit nervous before going in front of the cameras, I usually accept any invitations. (Although I did turn down one opportunity recently to discuss obituaries, where I had been asked because I wrote a novelty book about 'famous last words' ten years ago.)

Anyway, I thought in this post I'd tell you about my first-ever TV appearance, nearly twenty years ago, and what I learned from it. It was arranged by the publishers of a book I had written called How to Find Your Ideal Partner. As you may gather, this was a guide for single people on how to find the love of their life - sadly it's out of print now...

The publisher told me I'd be appearing on a regional evening news programme. Unfortunately it wasn't in my area but in the East of England. I was promised a rail travel voucher and an overnight stay in a nice hotel, but no fee. Still, hopefully the appearance would give sales of my book a big boost, in East Anglia anyway...

At first, all went well. I arrived at the station mid-afternoon and found my way to the hotel. I had been told a taxi would pick me up at six pm, so I amused myself for an hour or two watching afternoon TV and using the hotel swimming pool and sauna.

The taxi duly came, but instead of taking me to the studio as I expected, I was delivered to a local technical college. 'This is where they're filming,' the taxi driver explained helpfully.

OK, then. I headed for the college reception and explained my business. I was directed to a small room where a trio of bored-looking technicians were drinking coffee from plastic cups. I introduced myself to the one with the most impressive stubble. 'Oh, you're the relationships expert, aren't you?' I duly accepted this description. 'They want you up in the library.'

So off I went. I was immediately grabbed by the producer and told to stand by one of the bookshelves while the Glamorous Female Presenter introduced me. He gave me a slip of paper: 'Here's what we want you to say.' It was along the lines, 'I'll be telling you everything you need to know on how to meet the man or woman of your dreams.'

And within moments a camera was pointing at me and the GFP began, 'Tonight I want to introduce you to Nick Daws, our very own Doctor Lurrrve...' I was so stunned by this, I completely forgot what I was meant to say and instead muttered something like, 'Hey, there.' 'That'll do,' the producer said, and off we marched to the next location...

To cut a long story short, instead of the cosy studio discussion I had envisaged, the show in question was a manically paced, 'zany' affair. After the library, we invaded a workshop, where the only female student was asked embarrassing questions about whether she fancied any of the men there, and I was asked to pontificate on the attractions (or not) of evening classes for those in search of a mate.

Eventually I got a chance to sit down and the GFP asked me a few more serious questions about the dating game. I answered as best I could, and then suddenly the shoot was over. 'Thanks, mate,' one of the techs said as they were leaving. 'That was good TV.'

It was half-past six and I was left on my own as the crew bundled into their van and headed off to the local pizza house. I realised as they drove off that, in all the frantic excitement, I had completely forgotten to mention my book....

So that was my introduction to the crazy world of television. Here are a few things I learned from it. I pass them on in case any of you find yourselves in the position I was...

* Find out as much as you can beforehand about the show you are appearing on. Don't trust your publisher to tell you the whole story!

* If it's a regular show, try to watch it yourself a few times to get a feel for the style and approach.

* If it's not in your area, ask a friend or relative who does live there to watch and report back (and preferably send you a recording). Nowadays, you may be able to check it out on the Internet as well.

* Remember that the producer and interviewer will have their own agenda and 'angle' they want to pursue. Try to find out in advance what this is. If you're not happy about this, then say so.

* Have your own goal or target as well. If you're going to promote your book, DON'T forget to mention it! Be sure to take a copy with you, and if at all possible show it to the viewers.

* If you have a good anecdote to impart, tell the researcher beforehand. There is every chance it will be passed on to the interviewer, who will take the opportunity to ask you about it.

* And finally, don't take any of it too seriously. Try to relax and be yourself. TV is entertainment - it's not a matter of life or death.

So those are some of the lessons I learned from my first TV appearance - I'm glad to say others I've done subsequently have been a little more successful. But what about YOU? If you've been on TV or radio to discuss your work, I'd love to hear about your experiences and any tips you'd like to share. Please use the comment facility below.
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Anonymous Linda said...

Hi Nick - sounds brilliant but hilarious! I shall forever think of you as 'Doctor Luuurve' - only joking!

I don't suppose you have any YouTube opprtunity for us to take a peek do you? :)

There's a great media coach called Joanne Mallon who has some excellent tips for media appearances and other TV-related stuff, I think you may enjoy her blog:

I've been on telly a few times for different reasons (I think the first time was on the court steps taking notes in a gaggle of reporters when a footballer was done for drink driving!) and I must admit I hate it, I have been on a few programmes to do with twins and can get very upset after about what I look like.

I prefer radio interviews (as of course I have a face for radio) and in the last one, won a bet to say 'kumquat'.

Anyway, thanks again for a great read and the excellent tips.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Linda. Sadly (or perhaps luckily) there was no YouTube in those days...

Thanks also for the tip regarding Joanne Mallon's blog. I'll certainly check it out.

Like you, I'm more comfortable on radio really, as I don't have to worry what I look like. And it's a much more laid-back medium, in my experience. But, of course, radio isn't nearly as good for promoting yourself as TV.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous mark bruhwiller said...

Hi a first time published writer in 2006 my publisher arranged a couple of tv interviews and a radio interview to talk about my book 'inside out- the black heart of the motor trade'.
The first one was for morning television that was to be pre-recorded so not too much panic- until I was told it was to be live- to- air, but I handled it well I'm told, and have the tape to prove it. However, let me say it was a panicky blur through make-up, cue instruction etc, for 10 minutes on air, only to be followed by pole dancers (I had a front seat tho), so my story was short lived.
Next was two other stations vying for an interview so I felt quite important until I was put off, recalled, put off again and so on until I finally was interviewed for a current affairs program, only to be disappointed with the hacked piece going to air.
And an interview (pre-recorded for FM morning radio) was just pathetic with this pair of cretins (girl/guy duo) trying to be funny at my expense. I finally had to be rude, and then told the producer what a pair of uneducated dopes he employed as prime time djs.
I have another book to be released next month re all the other nefarious creatures at the helm of this, our fast sinking ship we call Earth.
This time I will be prepared (if it should be reviewed) and will take on all comers with the old proverbial 'pinch of salt'.
So be careful as we are only there for their amusement to be used and abused, then discarded at will.

Mark Bruhwiller

5:23 AM  
Blogger John of Celtic Ways said...

Mine's not a TV experience but my experience at the time could have used your advice.

All through my life I have been interested in mythology and ancient cultures, which has included trying out some of their rituals and knowledge.

Way back in the mid 70s, for awhile I was fascinated with the workings of astrology as my grandfather and great grandfather were herbalists who used astrology to determine the pathway of illness. The "techniques" for this involved drawing various astrology charts and measuring their compatibility. For fun I started doing this between people including comparing relationships between parents and children.

I never did this as a business but obviously talked about this a lot. One person in the pub was a visiting freelance journalist. She asked me if she could write a small article about this side of astrology. I agreed and she also took my photograph.

The article did appear as a prominent feature in the Sunday Independent, a UK paper, about me living on a Scottish Island conning parents around the country letting them believe that I can solve problems they have with difficult children with the use of astrology, while I lived smug and comfortable drawing the dole.

At the time I was not drawing the dole but was a stone mason on Iona plus earning some nice side cash writing a weekly syndicated column on Celtic mythology and stories.

The lesson there was never to give interviews unless you exactly know who the interviewer is connected with, and what the intent of the interviewer is. Most important try to track down previously published articles by the interviewer.

Back in the 70s there was no Google but I should have stepped back and agree to an interview, after I had seen sample of her published work.

However, that's not foolproof because editors can seem to totally re-write submissions by writers to change the total angle of the story. That used to happen with some of my submissions fo my column. The editor sometimes altered my content to make it somehow fit in as a comparison to a current news issue.

With TV appearances since then one trap I have been in a couple of times is when the interviewer asks you how what you are doing compares to what someone else is doing. If this is a recorded show, be careful.

Chances are they are creating a documentary. If I would say something like "well their product is very good but we do blah, blah" the interviewer snaps in a question that seems like a call to verify what you have said in more detail. Part of your response can so easily include a few negative words such as "well their product doesn't .....".

Guess what? That may be the only part of the interview they will broadcast, those few negative words and not the whole sentence.

Prevention? As Nick indicates, don't do the interview until you know something about the work of the interviewer.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and your advice, guys. I guess what they both show is that TV/radio (and indeed newspaper coverage) can be a double-edged sword where writers are concerned. It can be great for publicity, but can work against you if the producer/interviewer has a different agenda.

9:25 AM  

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