By Stacey J. Miller, Book Publicist
S. J. Miller Communications
Four Ways to Deal With Confrontational Interviewers
A few authors seek publicity in any way they can grab it. Recently, a highly successful comedian stormed off the set during a nationally-televised interview during her book promotion campaign.
The story went viral, and it deserved to, because it was so unusual. Most authors appreciate interview opportunities, and they don’t try to create drama during those interviews. In fact, when they come across hosts whose style is confrontational, most authors see that as their worst nightmare. They hope to make it through their entire book publicity campaign without ever encountering conflict during an interview. Yet, because there’s a built-in audience for highly dramatic interviews, it’s likely that, sooner or later, every author will run into an interviewer whose style is confrontational.
Some of the most popular radio show hosts — Howard Stern, Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh, and others — have built antagonism into the act. Confrontation is their shtick. It’s entertaining to their listeners, and they expect their guests to be good sports about the insults rendered because of the publicity value of the interview.
It’s easy to avoid the brand name radio show hosts whose styles are belligerent and insulting if you’d rather not engage in combat to sell your book. But what happens when authors are ambushed by an interviewer who is trying to be the next famous cut-throat interviewer? Do authors have to grit their teeth and take the abuse? Or should they follow the lead of that comedian and walk away in the middle of the interview? Here are four ways to handle a confrontational interviewer, if you encounter one:
Expect the Unexpected. When you’ve scheduled a book promotion interview, or when your book publicist has scheduled one for you, get as much information about the interviewer as you can. Your book publicist will be able to help by giving you some information about the interviewer, but don’t stop there. Get the correct spelling of the interviewer’s name, and look up that name online. If the interviewer hosts a radio show, check out the radio show, too (and don’t forget to research the radio station, or network, that airs the show). You can get a sense of that person’s interviewing style by reading his or her bio, and listening to (or watching or reading) past interviews. With that research behind you, know that the interviewer can still unpleasantly surprise you. So come to every interview prepared for anything, and don’t let yourself be shocked when an interview turns ugly. Confrontational interviewers (or congenial interviewers who are just having a bad day) are out there, so expect to meet at least one or two of them during your book promotion campaign. It happens.
Prepare Yourself. If you do your homework, then you’ll be far less vulnerable to a hostile interviewer’s attack. Before you begin your series of book publicity interviews, assess your weaknesses, and work on making yourself bulletproof. If you’ve skated close to the line of exaggerating claims, then back up. If you’ve overstated your credentials, correct that. If you have any vulnerabilities in your background or in your book, find them before an interviewer does — and deal with those issues positively, honestly, and immediately. It’s your job to ensure that hostile interviewers don’t have a leg to stand on when they try to attack you!
Stay Calm. You know the old saying: It takes two to tango. If you refuse to argue with a confrontational interviewer, and you politely answer (or decline to answer) disrespectful questions, then the interviewer will soon realize you’re not a great target for his or her unpleasantness. The interviewer, in that case, will likely back off as quickly as most bullies do when you don’t engage them. If, however, you lose your cool, then you’re just feeding into the interviewer’s nonsense and letting yourself become part of the show. Hold onto your temper, and take deep, calming breaths. You’ll be a hero if you gracefully continue the conversation, even after the interviewer has demonstrated unkindness and hostility. Don’t walk off the set or hang up the phone in anger. Let your dignity and grace bring the interview to a successful conclusion, and make sure your blood pressure doesn’t hit the ceiling in the meantime.
Don’t Take It Personally. When you run into an interviewer who attacks you, don’t let it hurt your feelings. The interviewer doesn’t dislike you. He or she is an entertainer who is out for ratings or readers, and you’ve volunteered to be part of the act. Since this isn’t a personal attack, there’s no need to get defensive or angry. Just continue to convey the information, and focus on your message points. Change the subject, if you can, and move forward without getting emotionally involved. There will be other interviews to focus on soon enough. Just get to the end of this interview without questioning your worth or losing your confidence.
Finally, the best way to deal with a confrontational interviewer is to “just say no.” It doesn’t matter how high the interviewer’s profile is, or how massive the audience or readership. Being abused, or treated disrespectfully, is not mandatory for your book promotion success. If you know, before you commit to the interview, that you risk dealing with an unpleasant person, then don’t accept the invitation. There will be other opportunities during your book publicity campaign, and those congenial interviewers are worth waiting for!