15 tips for interviewing experts for your novel #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

15 tips for interviewing experts for your novel

Interviewing has played a large role in my career as a journalist and marketer, and now, as an author. Sure, I still get all flustered when I’m reaching for a big interview, but for the most part, the fifteen tips and techniques below work for me.

  1. Track the experts you interview. That way, when it comes time to write the acknowledgements section of your book, it’s all in one place. Make a habit of grabbing email addresses or other means of contacting your experts once it comes time for publishing. For my current book, I’m dealing with sensitive subject matter, and what I’ve told my interviewees is that I will email them closer to the publishing date to ask whether they would like to be mentioned in the acknowledgements. I’ve also offered a few the option to read the manuscript before deciding.
  2. If you’re cold emailing, offer a summary of what types of questions you’ll be asking, and ask the interviewee for their preference of responding via email or phone call. And before you launch into questions, introduce yourself and give a brief summary about what you’re writing (genre, writing credits if you have any, story pitch if you’re comfortable giving that information out, at least something vague about the story if you’re not.)
  3. Type out your interview questions before you pick up the phone. And if you haven’t introduced yourself by email, do so prior to launching into questions (genre, writing credits, story pitch.)
  4. Be mindful of an interviewee’s schedule. Give them as much notice as possible, but don’t leave your timeline open-ended. For example, you could say, “I’m hoping to start writing my story in one month.” Be aware that the larger the bureaucracy, the more lead time you’ll need to give yourself. I wouldn’t tell an organization that they can feel free to respond within six months, but it may take that long.
  5. Be mindful of an interviewee’s time. Tell them how much time you expect an interview will take. Professionals only have eight working hours in a day, and to give you one-eighth of their day may sound like too much for them. If you prepare your questions ahead of time and only ask questions that you can’t find answers for elsewhere (books, Internet, friends), more often than not, you can get through an interview in fifteen minutes.
  6. Give your availability in their time zone (if applicable.) If you don’t give your availability off the hop, you’re increasing the amount of emails that need to go back and forth to secure a slot in their schedule, which means you’re making it harder for them to say yes. In the same breath, don’t give them your availability in your own time zone, because this also makes more work for them. Use their time zone. As an example, “I can make myself available for a phone call Monday-Wednesday, noon-3 P.M. PST,” or, “My mornings are wide open, or if you prefer evenings, that works for me as well, every night except Tuesdays.”
  7. These rules apply to gatekeepers. Often times, it’s the expert’s assistant who decides whether to forward a request to their employer. And sometimes, an expert’s assistant can answer some or all of your questions.
  8. Use your network. For several of my experts, I was able to obtain an interview via family and friends.
  9. Use common reference points. For example, if I was reaching out to a forensics expert, I might try one who lives in my city. Because I live in Winnipeg, I might say, “I’m a Winnipeg author.” Or I could try reaching out to a forensics expert in the city where my story takes place. “I’m writing a book set in your city.”
  10. Ask for interview references. Even when an expert says (for whatever reason) that they can’t help you, they may be willing to point you toward someone who can.
  11. Let them talk. Don’t interrupt. They may go off on tangents that will spark plot and character ideas. Of course, you still have to be mindful of keeping within the agreed-to interview length, but as a general rule, let them talk.
  12. Let the interview go where it will. Think of your prepared interview questions as a guide. They’re points you need to hit, but at the same time, an interviewee’s answers may spark impromptu follow-up questions.15 tips for interviewing experts for your novel
  13. End by asking if there’s anything they would like to add. They may have answers to questions you didn’t think to ask.
  14. Make sure they have your contact information. “Please email or call if there’s anything you would like to add.”
  15. Yes, it’s another eggs-in-basket analogy. Not everyone is going to say yes. Potential interviewees are more likely to accept an interview request from established and even agented but unpublished authors. I’ve also noticed that certain professions don’t want to be associated with fictional pursuits. All this to say, don’t get discouraged if you’re declined, and also, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For every particular expert you need, try floating two or more requests around. If you end up doubling up on interviewees, all the better; a second or third opinion can only help your story.

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

Have you interviewed anyone for a story before? Good experience or bad? Do you have any tips to add? Talk to me in the comments. 🙂

77 thoughts on “15 tips for interviewing experts for your novel #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Great tips! Especially #11. It’s so tempting to just blurt out the next question as soon as there’s a pause, especially when you’re trying to be conscious of the other person’s time, but you can get SO MUCH by just giving them an extra minute or two to think/speak.

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  2. Never be afraid to ask a question. Questions turn on the lights in a dark room. For things I don’t know about? A lot of the time I come back to a warehouse full of authors who advise against overly detailed descriptions and the minutia of any occupation. The Moby Dick model comes to mind. Take the whaling how-tos out and it’s a short story about an obsessive whack job and a whale. I know, stylistically, there are those who would describe the bark on desiduous trees they camped out under, or tedious medical or forensics processes, but it’s not for me. “Hey Bonnie, we got DNA yet?” Next. But I did call a guy who recycled all the myriad junk from Hurricane Katrina. Whew. I never knew about the layers of recyclable material in a dead washing machine. Which did me no good but I did use the bit about Lexan and enclosed tractor cabs.

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  3. I’ve interviewed a lot of people for work, but have yet to interview anyone in regard to my writing. These read like excellent tips, no matter what kind of interview. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Excellent post Raimey. I have found when I let locals know I’m writing a book they get very excited. But my interviews are more in the animal rescue area then forensics 🙂 I can imagine forensics is a bit trickier. 🙂 Have Author Toolboox Blog Hop Day!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So helpful! Thanks for sharing. I’ll be keeping this in mind as I try to write about things that aren’t within my immediate sphere of experience. The tips especially to let your interviewee talk are so helpful. Thank you!

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  6. The closest I’ve really come to “interviewing” anybody is asking specific people who do specific jobs how something is done so I can include it in a story. I emailed a library once because I needed to know the layout of one of their floors and couldn’t find the information online. When I told them why I needed the information they were quite tickled and happy to help!

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  7. Great advice, Raimey. I spent many years in sales and marketing, and it’s amazing how many of your suggestions apply to making sales calls. Although, interviewing experts for your book is much more interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such a great question. I’ll email you this response in case you’re not signed up to receive responses. In general, you’ll probably find that people are more reticent to leave any digital footprint. I would avoid asking unless it’s a more in depth interview, for instance, if you are interviewing someone for their own memoir, or if you are ghostwriting something else. You can try asking, but I would give them options. “Would you prefer if I take notes or record the interview?”

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  8. This is great! I’ve never interviewed anyone for my book, but I’ve interview authors about their books. For some reason, I find the idea of asking an expert questions for my book nerve-wracking. Or that they’ll think my questions would be stupid or they’re wasting their time. Although I know that wouldn’t be true. Most people do want to help writers who are kind and considerate.

    Keeping an on-going list of people to thank in your acknowledgments is a great tip. 🙂

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  9. I think this list might also be a great first step, in addition to everything you’ve said on it: take some time to figure out what I’m going to need to do, as a sort of meta-checklist. Hopefully I remember if/when it ever comes up!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve interviewed lots of experts. Do you think it’s better to give a gift at the time of interview or give the expert a copy of the book after it’s published? One seems more immediate. The other more personal as the person get the book they provided advice for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I turn the question back to you, because I am totally not sure. I’ve never given a gift for an interview, and I haven’t published yet. Well, that’s not strictly true. There have been times when I’ve said, “Can I take you out for breakfast/lunch/drinks on me in exchange for me picking your brain?” What kind of gifts do you give at the time of an interview. I’d love to hear you blog about this, lol.

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  11. All of these are great points, but #11 and #12 really stands out to me.
    In a lot of ways I feel like the role of the interviewer is to help the expert get on a roll. Ask questions to find what they are passionate about, and then let them go, and take in as much as you can of the flavor and personality of who they are and what their perspective is like.

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  12. This is a great list of tips. I have one question though about number 7. When dealing with an assistant do you actually interview the assistant or provide a list of questions for the expert? Thanks again Raimey. As always you have given us valuable and actionable advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great question. The answer is to be on your toes, because it could go any number of ways. Example 1) The assistant has all of the answers you need. Example 2) The assistant can answer a couple of your questions, but now that you’ve asked the questions, she/he says they’ll get back to you with the rest of the answers and they bring them to their employer anyway. Example 3) The assistant doesn’t have the answers, but now they’ve gotten to know you, and they change their mind and decide to bring your questions to their employer.

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  13. Thanks for sharing these reminders. I’ve had to interview many people for my business books. Experts who could share case examples. I’ve found that most people love to talk to writers. One thing I might add (when writing nonfiction) is to offer to send then the portion of the book that showcases their interview. People love that.

    “If you prepare your questions ahead of time and only ask questions that you can’t find answers for elsewhere (books, Internet, friends)” I love this from your post. Indeed we shouldn’t ask questions that can easily be found on the internet on a company website, etc. That’s unprofessional.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s such a great point. I used to do this with some of the business mags I wrote for. But that was a slippery slope between a heads up and granting editorial privileges. But it’s a great way to make sure you got it right as well as what you said.

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  14. Thanks for a really great list, Raimey. While I haven’t done any interviews for my own writing, I have done some interviews with writers to help publicise their new books and I think a lot of your suggestions could easily be applied there.

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