Talking to authors about their lives and books for your blogs and website can be a daunting process. What if you ask the wrong question? What if you forget to ask a crucial question? What if the author doesn’t want to tell you something? What if they want to tell you too much?
Should you do a face-to-face interview – or will it be over the phone or, more commonly, via email?
Just how do you cope in an interview situation? Where do you start and what do you need to remember?
Sue and I have been interviewing people all our working lives – but believe us, we still get nervous about doing it because it’s such an important job.
So we’ve come up with some tips to help you …
Be prepared: Whatever the interview, preparation is vital. You need to know something about the person you’re going to interview so that you can ask relevant questions.
Research: Do some research to learn about your interviewee. It might be something as basic (but hugely important) as getting the spelling of their name and the title of their book(s) right. More fundamentally, there might be something in their background that you can dig up which will add interest to your interview.
For instance, if you are interviewing the author of a crime thriller, you would need to know where that interest came from. It could be they were once a police officer or had been involved in the criminal scene in some way!
You can check authors out via promotional material and press releases sent by their publishers, and you can look at profiles on social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Prepare questions. Some interviewers say they never do this – they treat the interview as a conversation and, having asked the first question, let nature take its course. This is all very well, but you’ll find yourself borne along by the interviewee and you might find you haven’t got the information you want. Make a list of questions – and work your way through them – but avoid being too rigid. Listen to the answers you are given – and respond or encourage with follow-up questions.
Setting up: It almost goes without saying that you will need to fix a date and time for the interview, but you’d be amazed at the number of times either the interviewer or the interviewee forgets what’s been arranged – or something turns up at the last minute and one of you can’t make it.
Face-to-face: I prefer face-to-face interviews because they are the best way to establish a rapport with the interviewee. But I appreciate it’s not always easy to do a physical meet-up. However, face-to-face interviews are more personal and you can pick up on not just body language but also surroundings. If you can write about your interviewee’s character, manner, even their way of dressing – and the surroundings you met in – it will add extra flavour and interest.
Phone interviews: These can be impersonal and there’s no chance of picking up on facial expressions or spotting when someone is being impatient, wry or ironic on the phone. But if you haven’t got the chance to meet someone in person, the telephone is a familiar medium and the interviewee should generally feel relaxed enough if they’re talking on their phone at home or in their office.
Make sure the connection is a good one and that you can hear properly – on the phone a P can sound like a B and an F can be mistaken for an S. Neither of you wants to be misheard or misunderstood.
Be encouraging and interested: Use lots of signs during the interview – verbal and physical – to encourage the interviewee. They will clam up if they think you are bored or not listening.
Email interviews: This is a common, popular and relatively easy way of doing author interviews. But you still need to do your research and work out your questions in advance. You need to be aware that you might have to wait longer for your answers – and that could be a problem if you are up against a deadline. On the other hand, email interviews give authors time to think about their answers and, hopefully, come up with interesting responses.
Q&A: This stands for Question and Answer and I reckon I’ve seen more of this style of interviewing than any other. The interviewer’s questions are marked with a Q and given in full – maybe highlighted in bold – and the interviewee’s answers are marked with an A and also given in full.
The Q&A serves the purpose of recounting faithfully the entire conversation, leaving the reader in no doubt about what was said. Bear in mind that this style of interview offers no comment or analysis, observation or colour other than what the reader can glean from the questions and answers themselves. So, you might want to inject some added interest – as I’ve seen some of you do – by suggesting you are having wine or tea together (a lovely idea).
Can I suggest though, that if you do this, you ask the author specifics about the “imagined” meeting – what wine they like to drink, which tea they prefer, or what is their favourite cake. I’m not suggesting you pretend that you’re doing something which you aren’t, but readers will find it more interesting if you suggest that you’re enjoying a virtual meeting and add specific detail.
And if any of you find yourselves interviewing me – I love Sauvignon Blanc and lemon drizzle cake! To see what Sue drinks – you’ll have to read our novel, A Falling Friend.