Want to get the word out about your book, but the idea of speaking in front of real, live people or a television camera terrifies you? Fear not. One of the best and most accessible ways for authors to get publicity is through radio shows. Radio producers are always looking for great guests, and authors, whether they're traditionally or self-published, are always looking for a way to get their message out to the public—it's a symbiotic relationship.
If you're confident in your speaking abilities, radio may be the perfect medium for you. Get your feet wet by appearing on a few local stations with small listener bases, then aim for shows in major cities. Here's how.
The treasure hunt
"When you send in a manuscript to a publisher or editor, you do your homework and send it to an appropriate market," says Clint Gaige, retired radio veteran and author of A Kerouac Christ. "The same rule applies with radio."
If you're willing to do some searching, several free resources can help you locate radio stations' Web sites. Once there, you can find out the station's format, and learn about the individual programs and hosts who are appropriate matches for your book topic. You also can glean contact information and, sometimes, audience demographics. (See if the site has an online media kit.)
Radio-Locator offers links to more than 10,000 radio stations internationally at www.radio-locator.com.com. You can search by call letters, ZIP code or state. Yahoo offers about 7,000 links to stations at dir.yahoo.com/News_and_Media/Radio.
You may also want to subscribe to John Kremer's free Marketing Tip of the Week e-newsletter, which often includes contact information for radio programs. You can sign up at www.bookmarket.com/tips.html.
If you prefer print resources, use a media directory. Much in the same way that Writer's Market is the bible for freelance writers, Bacon's directories are the essential tools for public relations professionals. If you're taking care of your own PR, get your hands on a copy of Bacon's Radio Directory, available at www.bacons.com/research/radiotvcable.htm. This annual guide lists each station's wattage and frequency, target audience, policies for accepting press materials and more. Also, Gebbie Press publishes the All-in-One Media Directory (www.gebbieinc.com/aio.htm), with more than 22,000 listings of radio and TV stations, newspapers, magazines and syndicates. Both titles are pricey, though, so see if you can get either at your library before making the investment.
If you prefer the reverse approach, you can sign up as an available guest at certain Web sites and in special publications, and allow the radio producers to contact you. Among the most prominent companies in this arena are NewsBuzz (www.newsbuzz.com), which publishes the GreatGuests Newsletter (a one-time insertion in this weekly print newsletter costs $125), and GuestFinder.com (a basic listing is $249 per year). Another service to consider is Authors and Experts (www.authorsandexperts.com). It costs $99 per year to be listed on this site and get access to "media want ads."
Finally, if you have more money to spend, consider Radio-TV Interview Report (www.rtir.com). Published three times per month, the magazine reaches 4,000 radio and TV producers in the United States and Canada. Each issue (free to producers) lists 100 to 150 authors and other authorities available for interviews. The magazine's Web site allows producers to search for guests who've appeared in recent issues of RTIR. Most authors who use RTIR sign up for the Continuous Publicity Program, which costs $326 per month (three-month minimum).
For authors, the most coveted radio spots are morning drive-time shows (shows that air around rush hour, when people are most likely to be in their cars and actively listening to the radio), and talk shows (where authors have more time to speak directly to the audience).
"With news talk, you can go into more depth on the subject," says author Laura Lee. "On top 40 morning shows, you have to stick to sound bites and quick quips. If you're not good at thinking on your feet and coming up with clever lines quickly, you might want to stick to more laid-back formats."
But don't discount other programs. "Late-night shows can be great for odd books," says Kremer. "Religious stations can be great for cookbooks, family books, etc."
Once you've developed a list of shows that match your needs, it's time to make your pitch. If you don't have a contact name, now is the time to call and find out. At larger stations, you'll want to address the show's producer. At smaller stations, look for the station's program or news director. Once you get a name, ask to speak with her briefly to introduce yourself and offer your services as a potential guest.
"Radio stations are very approachable via telephone," says W. Bruce Cameron, author of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. "I just call and ask to speak to a producer for the morning drive-time show. When I get them on the line, my pitch is very brief—something like, `I've got a humor book that was No. 14 on The New York Times bestseller list, has gotten rave reviews, and I've been on a lot of morning drive-time shows recently. I'm a great guest. Can I send you a copy of my book?' "
While most shows conduct interviews by phone ("phoners," as they're called), a few insist on having guests come to the studio, so it's important to confirm each station's policy.
Once you get the go-ahead, it's time to send the media kit. Your kit should include a cover letter, a copy of your book, a news release, your résumé (including a listing of any media appearances you've done), your photo, a list of sample questions the host could ask you, clips of interviews you've done, and articles about you and/or reviews of your book. If you have testimonials from other radio professionals or tapes of particularly good shows you've done, include these, too.
Your news release and cover letter must contain a hook. Ask yourself how you can benefit the station's listeners, not just how you can sell your book.
Find a service angle, a controversial topic or something entertaining about your book and yourself, and use this to sell your-self as a worthwhile guest. Start out with a bang—a one- or two-sentence pitch that encapsulates your proposed topic and makes the reader want to know more, just as you would in a query letter to an editor.
Lee says, "I keep an eye on the news and watch for relevant news pegs. For example, my book is The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation. When I read in the news that a study had just been released saying that people believe Americans are getting ruder, I sent a quick note to news directors saying I was available to speak on that topic, and I got a call the same day from someone who happened to be working on a show on that study."
After you've sent the media kit, wait about 10 days, then follow up by phone if the producer hasn't called you.
"This way they can find out if you can talk! If you have irritating vocal pauses—frequent throat clearing, 'you knows,' etc.—a tendency to swear or other speaking problems, then they know it right away," says Trudy W. Schuett, publisher of The DesertLight Journal. "This phone call is the same as a job interview, really, because they're finding out if you can perform."
In your follow-up call, remind the contact who you are and what you sent him, and ask if he's interested in having you on a show. If you get a positive answer, ask lots of questions about what to expect: who listens to the show, how long you should be prepared to speak, if you'll get a chance to speak with the host before the show, what kinds of questions the host might ask and so on.
On the big day
Be sure to reread your book before your interview. You don't want to be caught off guard when the host asks a question that you can't answer because it's been months since you've looked at it.
Some people suggest standing during your phone interview, to allow you to breathe more deeply and speak more strongly. I also recommend dressing up—if you're wearing sweat pants and slippers, you tend to sound like you're wearing sweat pants and slippers. Have a warm drink on hand to keep your voice steady. Tea or warm water with lemon works well.
Although it's important to plug your book once or twice, be careful not to sound like a salesman. "As it says in my book" gets old quickly, and if you can't devote yourself to serving the audience more than promoting yourself, you won't get invited back.
Always let the host lead the conversation. "Roll with anything they say and laugh if they get weird," says Daylle Deanna Schwartz, author of How to Please a Woman In & Out of Bed. "Howard Stern kept me on for 35 minutes with no commercial break, and I just laughed through his raunchiness. He loved me for that."
With practice, you can turn radio shows into major book sales.