Do Your Homework!

Preparing for that all-important interview.


Imagine it: You've landed your first author interview and, as luck would have it, your subject is someone you've always admired. An immense feeling of joy sweeps over you as you think of how envious your colleagues will be when they find out you’ve scored a one-on-one with such a celebrated person.

And then it happens.

You’re brought back to reality as the apprehension sets in. How can you possibly ask this person questions when you've never done anything like this before?

Do not worry, fortunate journalist. I am here to alleviate any qualms you may have.

The important thing to remember when preparing to interview someone is to treat it like any other assignment. If you are at ease, your subject will be, too. I find it helpful to learn as much about the person as possible beforehand. I glean all I can from interviews others have done. Watching video clips of the interviewee is helpful, too, because it allows you to get a feel for how the person answers questions and for which questions have already been asked.

Once I have a general idea of what I want to ask, I write down all of the questions. I take as much time as necessary doing this because I want to make a good impression. Not only do I want my subject to take me seriously, but I want people to actually learn something while reading the interview.

Questions that probe are a must, and sometimes asking one thing can lead to unexpected answers. (The responses received are often longer than planned, and it is difficult to edit them down later.)

Thanks to email, it’s much easier to conduct interviews than it used to be. Just as you would keep a copy of any submitted material, it is recommended that you save a copy of your questions. This will help you if your correspondence is lost somehow.

If you have to conduct an interview by phone, you can use things like Skype to make it more interactive. Regardless, gone are the days when writers simply worked via tape recorders and paper.

If you find yourself nervous when speaking to your subject, just think of it as an everyday conversation. Remember: Everyone — even your vaunted author — makes mistakes and stumbles sometimes. So don't feel bad if you mess up a question. Just go back and start over.

Have fun and make it the best interview you can. You’ll be grateful for the experience, and your subject will (hopefully) appreciate your efforts.

(Click here to read my recent interview with bestselling mystery novelist Donald Bain.)

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