The Author’s Guide to Podcast Stardom

Six Tips to Help You Impress On-Air

Indie authors cram their book marketing plans with social media posts, blog tours, bookstore signings, and more, in the hopes of winning a nanosecond of attention or, gosh, to sell a book. 

One marketing strategy for authors that is still somewhat overlooked involves booking yourself on a podcast with a strong regional, national, or international following.

Guest-starring on a podcast that focuses on books and writers is almost always free, you can easily arrange it yourself, and it’s a sure-fire way for many listeners to learn about you at one time. Not just any listeners, but those who actually buy and read books, and are pre-disposed to support writers, which is why they tune into the program you’re on to begin with. A well-hosted podcasts gives you a chance to read an excerpt from your book and plug your website or whatever else helps readers find you. And that’s on top of a meaty conversation about why you write, what else you’ve written, and so forth.

There are many outlets for pitching yourself to a podcast. While the most popular and prestigious podcasts (e.g., Between the Covers) don’t accept cold pitches from unknown indie authors (“Don’t call us, we’ll call you”), there are scores that are eager for potential guests to connect with them and will respond surprisingly promptly. Sites such as Matchmaker.fm and fee-based Podmatch.com, to name just two, list many programs where authors are a good fit. I’ve been on programs featuring authors over fifty as well as programs specializing in authors writing mystery. Both categories happen to work for me. Some programs focus on BIPOC authors, some on authors writing about religion and spirituality. The list goes on.

Make the most of your starring role

Getting booked on a podcast is only half the battle. Making the most of your guest spot requires some forethought and planning.

Here are six tips for authors who wish to impress their hosts (which means, making the host’s job easy) and make a good impression on listeners. If you really play your cards right, you may get a spontaneous invitation to return to the program with your next book, or to appear on another show the host runs. (I’ve received both kinds of invitations, to my surprise and delight.)

1. Prepare for the question likely to trip you up the most: “What is your book about?” 

It sounds simple enough. You wrote the thing; who better to discuss the contents? But too often, authors launch into a semi-incoherent recounting of character names and plot points, not unlike reciting badly written jacket copy. The listener is unenlightened and may tune you out early.

Please prepare a cheat sheet in advance, which you either memorize word-for-word or else read from in a casual tone of voice.

When a host asks me, “What’s The Nighthawkers about?,” I read this, while trying to sound like I’m simply upholding my end of the conversation:

An archaeologist must choose between her handsome first lover and the irresistible stranger who helps her discover a powerful destiny…But really…it’s a story about feeling lost and learning that you can’t choose the right partner until you know yourself.

Quickly and succinctly, I’ve offered listeners a tight log line plus a window into the story behind the story, where the emotion lies.

2. Be ready to read from your book. 

I always have a prepared excerpt from my book on screen, which I can read at a moment’s notice, if asked (you don’t always know in advance). Choose a short, self-contained scene, or part of a scene, which is mainly self-explanatory. A first page often works well. Unless pre-arranged with the host, your excerpt should not exceed two minutes or so. Practice ahead of time, so that you are adept at performing the different voices in your passage, to help a listener follow along. (Record yourself and play it back to see if you’re reading too fast — a common mistake.) Be prepared to offer a very short (fifteen-second) set-up of the passage you are about to read. Something like, “In this scene, the lovers Pauline and Grey are about to embark on an illegal dig for artifacts.” Then boom, get right into it. Don’t summarize the entire book or comment on the scene itself.

3. Monitor the length of your replies. 

When the host asks a question, keep your response to a minute-and-a-half or less. Droning on at length gets boring, makes you sound pompous, and kills a conversational vibe. A good host will ask you a follow-up question if they want to know more on a particular topic.

4. Ask the host a couple of questions. 

Don’t make this solely about you. When the host asks a particularly challenging or thoughtful question, end your response with a question of your own, such as, “What’s your view on this?” or “Has this happened to you, too?” A genuine back-and-forth is much more engaging than a bare-bones Q&A.

5. Follow the host’s lead and format. 

The second the host presses the record button, they are in control of the format. Keep your mouth shut until the host has formally introduced you, at which point you will always say, “[Gary], it’s great to be here. Thanks so much for having me on.” Then be quiet until you’re asked a question. You’ll do the same thing at the very end: thank them for a great conversation. This is professional on-air behavior and you need to get it right.

6. Establish a professional environment on your end. 

Make sure you have a good pair of plug-in headphones (no Bluetooth), not just earbuds, and absolutely no noise in the background. If the podcast is also a videocast (some programs do both), make sure you are properly dressed and lit, with a professional, non-distracting background. Many podcast recordings are produced using software apps that, unlike Zoom, do not allow you to put up a green-screen background. So be prepared, if that’s the case.

If you follow all of these tips, and relax into the conversation, you and the host will get along great — and you’ll easily persuade new readers to find you, thanks to the miracle of the airwaves.

Amy L. Bernstein is the author of several novels as well as an essayist, playwright, and poet. She is also a certified nonfiction book coach and former journalist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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