Answer Hard Questions

Have you been interviewed on radio, television, or for a newspaper? If so, did you get asked a question that threw you for a loop?

I've been interviewed a few times, not on TV yet, thank goodness. I took a workshop once on how to successfully appear on television. I had not idea that it could be so difficult to get your message across in 45-60 seconds which is about all the talk time you'd have unless you're James Patterson or someone similar.

I like Internet interviews. They're usually easy because you receive a set of questions in advance. You answer them and send them back. But what happens when you are being interviewed "live" either on radio, TV, Skype, or by a journalist for a newspaper or magazine?

How do you prepare when you have no clue what you may be asked?

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Use Your Imagination

The best thing to do is make a list of what you think would be the worst possible questions. Then proceed to write out an answer to each question. Be as ruthless as the nosiest tabloid reporter.

To spur your imagination, here are some questions that many writers find difficult.

What's your book about?

Uh... uh... Remember how I – and a thousand other writers – always advise you to write a logline, a one sentence description of your story. Shrink your book down to 1 or 2 sentences so when someone asks that question, you can rattle off the answer and sound poised.

How much money do you make writing books?

I've been asked that just about every time in interviews – also by my neighbors, relatives, other writers, and my kids' teachers. How would you answer that? I usually laugh and say, "Enough to keep on writing."

Some authors say, "Show me your 1040, and I'll show you mine." (For readers outside the U.S., Form 1040 is our income tax form we file each year.)

How's Your Book?

How's your book coming along? How's your book selling? For some who ask this, it's just another way of asking how much you're making. For others, like for people who know you, but who usually don't buy your book, this question – they think – expresses interest in how you spend most of your time.

Be polite. Smile. Say, "very well, thank you." You can even follow up with: "How's your medical practice, teaching job, nude modeling, or whatever doing?"

Just For Romance Authors

Then there are the questions aimed specifically at romance authors. All of them have an edge of prurience to them because, you know, you write sex *wink, wink*. Inquiring minds, apparently, want to know about your kinky sex life because you must have one if you write about sex. Don't be surprised if someone asks you if you posed for the sexy photo – face obscured obviously – on your bookcover!

These are the questions and variations you – or your husband, boyfriend, or sig other, might be asked. Most of them are just variations on the main question...

Do you really do all those (kinky, dirty – insert word of your choice) sex things? Who helped you with the *wink, wink* research for those sex scenes?

My husband has been asked by male business acquaintances if he helps me with writing "those" scenes. He grins big and says, "No, but I inspire them."

When attacked this way, and it is an attack designed to put you on the defensive, keep smiling, stay in a good mood. You can answer in a variety of ways, depending on the interviewer's tone of voice and the vibes you get.

"Murder mystery writers don't have to commit murder to write convincingly, and romance writers don't have to act out a love scene or do physical research in order to write one. We do book research about psychology and human sexuality (or some other response that tells how intelligently you write.)"

If you're ever confronted with anything that makes you uncomfortable, don't feel you have to respond other than perhaps asking, "Why do you ask that?"

Another good response: "I'm curious as to why you want to pursue this line of questioning. I thought we were going to talk about the way I handle characterization, plot, theme, (etc.) because I'm sure that's what the readers in the audience would like to know."

Questions With Embedded Preconceived Attitudes

Then there are the questions that have built in preconceived attitudes.

Aren't all romances alike?
Aren't romances just written to a formula?
Aren't romances unrealistic?
Aren't romances degrading to women?
Aren't romances fantasies for housewives?

Remember These Tips

1. Keep the upper hand.

2. Answer a question with a question that puts the burden on the interviewer to defuse the situation.

3. Respond with humor.

4. Choose silence. If things get really bad, then just smile and stay silent, especially if you're on radio or TV. Those people just hate dead air. Five seconds of dead air is huge! Let them fill the silence.

5. No one can make you uncomfortable unless you allow them so don't allow them. Cloak yourself in the attitude that you deserve respect.

6. Prep your answers now.

The Ultimate Question

If you get popular enough, at some point, you'll be asked some or all of the questions above, including the question all genre authors love: "When are you going to write a real book?"

By that, people mean books published by a publishing house (apparently, some people think ebooks aren't real books) or books in a different genre that the interviewer would consider "literature." Oddly enough mystery seems as respectable as so-called literary fiction to many, but romance doesn't seem to qualify. I guess murder, stealing, and conspiracy are more respectable than sex, romance, and love.

Takeaway Truth

You don't have to be a Boy Scout to always be prepared. Start today.


  1. I've not been out and out asked if I have done any of the things in my sex stories or not, but I have been asked similar questions.

    I suppose I feed the stereotype a bit because I often reply, "Well, you know, they do say to write what you know." Or I just admit to being an active member in kink circles and I use it as an opportunity to stress that some sex scenes are fictionalized and fiction shouldn't make it into their reality. It's great if fiction inspires someone. It's not so great if someone uses a sex scene in a novel as some kind of recipe for their own bedroom.

    Sometimes there's wiggle room in those questions where I can turn it into a mechanical answer about how every sex scene has a purpose. If I can, I try to explain that the sex scenes in a good erotic book add something to the story other than heat rating. The activities specific to a scene are specific to the characters at that moment in the story and a good sex scene addresses the motivations and/or the intentions of a character more than what tab is doing X with what slot.

    That does one of two things. It stops that line of questioning or it turns the conversation into a much more useful conversation and away from my personal sex life.

  2. Sounds as if you have a plan of action. That's always the first step. Good luck.