One day last month I checked in with BookScan via my Author Central account on Amazon and discovered that a copy of Primacy had been sold in Colorado Springs.

When I was a literary agent I once chased an author in Colorado Springs, a fine writer who worked at the university there but never produced enough words to fill a whole book for me. Nice guy, too, but I doubt he was the buyer.

I also know a few people who attended the University of Colorado many years ago and may themselves have friends in Colorado Springs, but I’d be surprised if they were the genesis of my book sale there, either.

No. Given the timing, I’m pretty sure I know what moved that copy in Colorado Springs. At eight a.m. on Wednesday, September 21, I had a nice chat for ten minutes with a man named Tron Simpson.

“Tron,” you ask, “what the heck kind of name is that?”

Well, it’s a radio name and that morning my conversation with Tron occurred over the airwaves of KCMN-AM. Only one copy sold, directly attributable to that interview, so far as I can tell. But I’m not complaining. It was one more copy than I sold the week before in Colorado Springs.

During that period I sold a bunch of copies in the New York and Philadelphia and Atlanta areas, where I have lots of friends and acquaintances and some family. I sold some copies in Chicago, where I know few people but do have a cousin. And I sold a few more copies in Los Angeles and Baltimore for no reason that I can explain beyond the reach of the Internet.

But I sold quite a few copies in the Seattle area, and I think I know why: thank you, KPQ-AM, Wenatchee, Washington!

Florida, too, has been good to me: thank you WOCA-AM Ocala!

Before I wrote Primacy, I’d been on the radio exactly zero times — never even called in to a sports show. So during the first few “appearances” on my radio tour, I felt pretty nervous. But now that I’ve been on air more than a dozen times, I find that it gets easier.

Here are a few things I’v learned from the process:

  • Issues. I didn’t write Primacy in order to promote animal rights, but it’s because the book went naturally to that territory that I chose to publish it. Unless you’re already an established bestseller, the odds of getting a generic thriller (or generic novel of any kind, no matter how well written) on the radio are not good. You need an off-the-page hook, a theme that sets you apart. In my case, animal rights and what happens in research labs are ways for radio hosts to get into the story. Without some sort of theme, you’re sledding uphill.
  • They didn’t read it? Go with the flow. You have to assume the host didn’t read your book, and that’s o.k. Most radio interviews last ten minutes or less. Who’s got time to read a whole book in preparation for a ten-minute slot? I had a twenty-five minute radio interview with a host who hadn’t read the book, and it went great. In fact, of all the interviews I’ve done so far, I can only point to one interviewer whom, I felt sure, had read it. Not surprisingly, that was an NPR affiliate.
  • Use a script. No one can see you on the radio, of course, and this is a great thing. Not only does it bar you from being self-conscious about your appearance, it also enables you to keep notes on hand. Use this to your advantage. Most questions are easily anticipated and nobody is playing gotcha! with a novelist. Type up your answers and have them spread out in front of you. Just don’t rustle the papers!
  • Make it fresh every time. Having a script doesn’t mean you should sound like you’re reading from a script. Familiarize yourself enough to use your notes as a crutch without letting on that your answer is not completely impromptu. I once heard Tom Hanks say the best advice he’d ever had about acting was: say each line like you’re speaking it for the first time. Remember that the person listening in Boston (thank you, WCAP-AM!) doesn’t know that you said the same thing this very morning to an audience in Little Falls, Minnesota (thank you, WYRQ-AM!).
  • Stay in the moment. The worst thing you can do is let your mind wander to the impact your words may or may not be having on book sales or even on your audience. Keep your attention on the host’s question at every moment. Some hosts go through their list of questions with near indifference. Others are fully engaged, responding to what you say. In either case, he or she is rooting for you and will bail you out if you flub. So stop worrying, be natural.
  • Use the book title. This is pretty standard advice but hard to follow. We all have a tendency to say “my book” rather than using the title. But your audience needs to recall the title when the show is over. The host will help you out on this, but to make sure that you get the title into the conversation at least three times, include it in the answers you put in your notes.
  • Forget the last interview. On Friday, September 16, I did seven interviews in the span of three hours. In a few cases, these interviews were back to back with less than five minutes of rest in between. Even if you nailed the last interview and would like to bask in the glory, you need to hit the reset button and wipe it from your mind immediately — because it’s over. And if you screwed it up? It’s still over! Move on. You have books to sell.

Does radio indeed sell books? Yes, a few in my experience. I haven’t (yet) been asked to appear on any of the few mega-shows that, some say, really enable you to knock it out of the park.  (Waiting for your call, All Things Considered. Pick me, Mr. Imus!) But while you’re looking for that home run, most radio stations can help you hit a lot of singles.


Last week: Publishing Primacy — Folio 29: Hand Selling

Next week: Publishing Primacy — Folio 31: Primacy Numbers (2)

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Publishing Primacy posts every Wednesday by 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

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J.E. Fishman, a former Big Six book editor and former literary agent, is author of the thriller Primacy, which Publishers Weekly called "appealing" and Kirkus called "good, boisterous fun." His mystery novel, Cadaver Blues, was serialized in 2010 on TNB and you can still find it here if you dig deep enough. It's now available in ebook and paperback. His financial thriller, The Dark Pool, was published this year, and his new series of police thrillers, Bomb Squad NYC, will be published in February 2014. He blogs here and at the Huffington Post. Please visit and follow him at his very fancy and expensive official author website.

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