When I was first asked if I'd like to take part in a new BBC television series about family life, I imagined a brief interview and a couple of screenshots of my young daughters playing Monopoly with their teenage brother.
"Why not?" I thought.
But when the TV producer called me, it turned out they wanted to rig cameras in our home for several weeks and have a crew here for "special occasions".
"Special occasions, such as?" I ventured. Oh, just the usual run-of-the-mill stuff: "Birthdays, meal times, family gatherings..." By a stroke of sheer genius, we'd also be given our own hand-held cameras to do "selfies" and put us "in control". Nothing to worry about then.
"Let me discuss it with my partner," I said, to buy myself a bit of time. I think I may have been hyperventilating by this point.
Once I'd calmed down a little, I thought it would be a bit of lark to run the idea past my partner with my "serious" face on. Bad move. It's the closest I've ever seen him to heart failure. The thought of my 8-year-old holding a "selfie" camera at the breakfast table was too much.
"Just let me know when I can move back in," he said, ashen-faced. My mother had a few choice words to say too, as did many of my friends and clients. The sense of fear, dread and outright horror was palpable. Interestingly, there were also those who just said: "Y.E.S! Go for it!"
As a book publicist and marketing strategist, working with authors on press campaigns and book launches, this whole experience raised a lot of interesting questions for me. How much publicity is 'good' publicity? What is 'bad' publicity? Is there too high a price for marketing a book?
A media campaign is a vital part of launching and promoting many new books. A literary review in a newspaper, a feature in a glossy magazine, a slot on national radio or TV, can give you exposure to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of potential readers. Imagine if you had to pay for this kind of coverage!
You only have to look at an Amazon sales graph to see the impact on book orders. There are usually spikes on the days when radio shows are broadcast or magazines are put on the news-stands.
Most authors have different responses to the idea of a media campaign. Many don't believe they're "important" enough or their book interesting enough to be in the media. Others fear they'll be portrayed in a bad light. Some embrace the idea with enthusiasm, keen for celebrity status.
So how can you take advantage of the opportunities that the media offers - assuming you want to take them - while at the same time protecting your reputation and privacy?
Here are some brief guidelines to give you confidence for any interview:
- • Research the publication, programme, or journalist before you agree to speak to them. Are they serious, fun, silly, bitchy? How they treat other interviewees is a good indication of how they'll treat you.
- • Make a list of questions they're likely to ask. These are usually based on the 5 Ws: who, why, what, where, how. (Yes, I know 'how' isn't really a W!) Prepare and rehearse your answers.
- • Make a list of awkward questions and prepare replies. You may never need this, but preparation is the key to staying calm.
- It's ok to say: "That's a great question. But I'm not the right person to ask about that" or "That's not my area of expertise". This approach makes you sound confident and in control, whereas the standard reply of "no comment" sounds evasive.
- • Buy a dictaphone and record the interview. Tell the journalist politely but firmly that you're keeping this for your own records. Most journalists are super-careful with any interviewee who has a duplicate recording!
- • Have a clear "call to action" for your readers or listeners. This might be "check out my book on Amazon" or "sign up for my free newsletter on my website". This ensures that your interview has clear and measurable results.
As for having cameras rigged in your home, that's a decision only you can make. Some authors want privacy; others want celebrity.
My decision: I prefer eating my cornflakes in peace. Besides, I'm not sure my partner's heart can take many more surprises. Beta-blockers, anyone?!