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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.”
- 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.
- Use your network. For several of my experts, I was able to obtain an interview via family and friends.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- End by asking if there’s anything they would like to add. They may have answers to questions you didn’t think to ask.
- Make sure they have your contact information. “Please email or call if there’s anything you would like to add.”
- 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 are declined, and also, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For every particular expert that 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. 🙂