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Controlling the Message

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… by Steve Piacente

I booked a booth at the recent BEA Conference in New York and, like every other self-published author, scrambled to attract media attention. As a former reporter, I was aware this was only part of the battle. The other part was remembering that success might not lead to the result I wanted – a positive review or story. The reporter might be hostile or unprepared.

So here are two good things to remember during interviews. First, the interviewer is not your audience; he’s the gateway to your audience. You’re using him to talk to them. Be polite, be friendly, but remember that this is a chance to reach your readers, or better yet, the readers you hope to attract.

Second, if you’ve got your core messages down, you can field any question, and then pivot to the point you really want to stress. As in, Yes, of course Sean Connery was the best Bond. Now his countrymen in Ireland will be able to read my novel because we just launched a Kindle version.

After I left journalism, I became a speechwriter in the federal government. As a speechwriter, the most you can hope for is that an audience remembers three of your principal’s key points.

I try to keep that in mind during interviews about my novel Bella. Specifically, I try to make sure the reporter knows:

  • The story is about a striking widow intent on proving the military lied about her husband’s death.
  • She lures a Washington journalist into the investigation. Working together, they discover more than they bargained for, namely:
    • The power of temptation,
    • The futility of revenge,
    • And the consequences of yielding to either.
  • I spent a year developing a social media-based marketing plan to promote and sell the novel, and we have a great trailer at www.getbella.com.

Third, don’t lose your sense of humor on the way to literary success. Yes, you spent years filling those blank pages with love, mystery and adventure. Know up front that not everyone cares, or shares your passion. Don’t take it personally. Enjoy the journey and have some fun. And make sure to control the message.

Steve Piacente is deputy communications director at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), an award-winning former reporter, and an adjunct professor at American University in Washington, D.C. In late 2010, he published Bella, a novel that centers on Isabel Moss’ quest to uncover the truth behind her husband’s mysterious death on an Afghan battlefield. Watch the video trailer at: www.getbella.com.


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  • BlogWorld Expo

    This is such a good tip Steve!

    “Second, if you’ve got your core messages down, you can field any
    question, and then pivot to the point you really want to stress.”

    David Lee Roth was a master at this. I heard him give an interview once where he told the reporter that whenever anyone asked him a question he would answer

    “you know that’s a great question Joe, and then I talk about whatever the hell I want” or “I’m really glad you asked about that Joe, and then I talk about whatever the hell I want”.

    That was 30 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. This guy who played the fool was a master of media.

    On the other hand, nothing makes me angrier than when a politician or a business leader pulls out their non-responsive answer. I find myself mumbling at the TV telling the reporter to make them answer the question directly.

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