Friday, December 13, 2019
Yesterday I recorded the hundredth interview for New Books in Historical Fiction. It should go up next week, or at any rate before Christmas, and it will take us to early twentieth-century Hawaii, which is exactly where I’d like to be as the snow and long nights close in.
Of the hundred interviews that have posted or soon will, ninety-nine are mine—recorded over seven years, including eighteen this year alone. So it seems like a good time to stop and take stock. It’s been a great deal of fun, and I hope to keep going. I’ve made great connections, talked to many wonderful authors, and even started a few friendships. And all because of a mistake.
A mistake? Well, you see, when I first approached Marshall Poe—the editor in chief of the New Books Network (NBN) and, not coincidentally, a fellow Muscovite historian—back in 2012, I just wanted to get some publicity for The Golden Lynx, then hot off the press. I’d seen a reference to the NBN in the journal I edit, and when I checked the site address, I saw a reference to a channel called New Books in Historical Fiction. At that point in time, I still had so little idea of what the NBN was that I didn’t understand it involved podcasts. (In truth, back then I wasn’t quite sure about podcasts, either, although I did know they were audio recordings.) But I knew Marshall from way back, so I wrote to him and asked for an interview.
Well, to cut a long story short, the NBN had a channel for historical fiction but no host. Marshall offered me the job, and I almost didn’t take it. In high school I was a nerd, and shy as all get out (this news amazes people who know me now, but it’s true). My husband called radio stations for contests or to make comments; I never did. The idea of getting on a microphone and talking on the air was alien to me. But then I thought about it and decided: why not? I had to grow up sometime. And I’d get to talk to fellow writers. How bad could it be? So I said yes.
Early on, while I was making every mistake imaginable—including my second interview, where I managed to press the buttons in the wrong sequence and record only my side of the interview, not my guest’s—I had the good fortune to link up with Heather Drucker, the publicity director at HarperCollins. A stunningly competent and responsive publicist, Heather has sent me more authors than I can count. She’s arranged three podcast interviews, as well as two blog posts and a written Q&A, with Bernard Cornwell. She’s also connected me with half of her staff, who routinely send me books to consider and set up interviews as needed. One landed on my doorstep just the other day.
Also in those first few months, a chance connection on GoodReads, the social media site for readers, brought me into contact with Caitlin Hamilton Summie, an author and independent publicist who represents authors at many levels of publishing. In addition to these two wonderful ladies, I’ve approached quite a number of authors directly or by responding to e-mail requests. In the beginning, I was amazed and grateful that people even answered my e-mails and agreed to talk with me. These days, I rarely have an unfilled slot in my schedule (I’m booked now well into next year), but I’m still touched by authors’ willingness to share their literary worlds with me, whether those involve Austen’s England or some new angle on World War II.
In the meantime, the NBN has grown dramatically. From one channel in 2010, it’s expanded to more than eighty, although most of those focus on academic subjects (exceptions include historical fiction, fantasy and adventure, science fiction, literature, and poetry). We’ve established a partnership with the Literary Hub, which posts links to new interviews every Friday. And as of last report, we’re on track to serve nine million interviews in 2019. How many of them are mine, I don’t know, but I do know that we have listeners in Europe and Australia as well as North America, which is very cool.
So have I sold many books, which was my original goal? Not really. A few, certainly, on occasions when I’ve been the guest rather than the host. But there are so many other benefits to this gig. The interviews give me something to post on social media that focuses on others rather than myself. I’ve made the acquaintance of many wonderful writers and enjoyed many fascinating conversations about writing. I’ve gotten a few endorsements for my books and visits to this blog. Through interviews I made the acquaintance of Joan Schweighardt, who has since joined Five Directions Press, and P. K. Adams, now a partner on that “Tudors meet Romanovs” mystery that I’ve mentioned in previous posts, now fully outlined and ready to write. For all those reasons, I’m so glad I took the chance and said yes when Marshall asked.
And although I still find new mistakes to make, I’ve become completely comfortable chatting with people on the air—something I never expected that day when I sent an e-mail asking for an interview about The Golden Lynx.
Maybe I’ll even call a radio station someday. But then, why bother, when I have this lovely channel of my own?
Images: Lei of plumaria, “On Air” sign, Henry VIII reenactor—all via Pixabay (no attribution required).