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Being able to interview people is a skill. Luckily it is a skill that, with practice, becomes almost second nature. There is so much information to be found in people if you only knew how to ask.
It is important for writers to be able to interview people well. Interviews are a wonderful way to get your foot in the publishing / magazine / journal door. They are also a good way to extract information from experts and research certain topics for your fiction writing. There is so much information to be found in people if you only knew how to ask.
Below is a list from the INTERVIEWING PANEL at the National Writers Conference, 2015, combined with advice from a number of websites and blogs and a few tips and tricks from Susannah Fraser, our Manuscrapped in-house interviewer.
Before the Interview
- Give your subjects options and be respectful of their time let them choose what works best for them.
- Expect the booking and pursuing of an interview subject to be time-consuming.
- It helps having a publication behind you when you approach subjects for interviews.
- Once you have found a subject that you wish to interview, approach their publicist. ‘Publicists are generally good to deal with.’
- Refer a friend. It’s not out of the question to ask your interview subject to refer a friend for an interview. Subjects will often know someone interesting you can interview next.
- Choosing person to interview – ask your editor first. 90% of the work will be tracking these people down.
- Think of what an interviewee might have to offer on a larger topic. Don’t be afraid to include news and currents events, to get their reaction to the world. It is a wonderful way of getting an insight into how your subject views the world. What could they teach readers, about a larger story?
- Aim for a face to face interview every time. Try to meet in a quiet cafe.
- Skype has failed and cut out. Email for follow up – responses are very canned. Natural flow with face to face.
- Interviews via email tend to result in a more guarded response they were beneficial if you are working to a deadline.
- Subjects tend to worry with emails and over stress about the wording.
- Face to face people less guarded.
- A subject’s home can seem like a strange and intimate place for an interview but it is very good for profile writing.
- Send a few questions through to your subject before hand. This will help prepare your subject for the tone and type of interview they are agreeing to.
- Prepare questions – you will probably not use them but writing them out and knowing they are there helps you to keep on track just in case.
- It seems obvious but be prepared! You need to feel prepared, you are the one who is driving this conversation, not the subject. They will follow your lead.
During the Interview
- Subjects will often arrive a little tense so it is nice to be able to relax sitting with a coffee. Always have a quick ‘off the record’ chat before you start so they can relax into your company.
- Recording the interview. Make sure you are familiar and confident with whatever technology you want to use. It ruins the chemistry if your technology doesn’t work and can be hard to get back to that place if you have to stop and fix things.
- Hide your iPhone. Help the subject forget they are being recorded. Look at person while their talking – don’t look too much at questions, and take as few written notes as possible. Always looking down can give off the impression you are trying to wrap up the interview or are not willing to be flexible with the content.
- Try and keep it fresh.
- Research other interviews your subject has done in the past. You will immediately see that they have been asked the same questions a million times. Look for the gaps. This will help you to go into the interview with a fresh conversation. Then open up to where the conversation might go.
- Over ask questions and talk much more than you need to. It is always better to walk away with too much material.
- The tone of publication can guide the interview.
- Silence. Don’t be afraid to allow your subject time think and reflect. It’s natural to try and fill that silence. Sometimes wine gets the interview going.
- You don’t just want highlights, you want the darker stuff. Remember the failures and struggles too. Need to always be gauging their response about weather to push further.
- You can talk too. The best kind of interview feels like a normal conversation. It’s importance to make the subject as comfortable and relaxed as possible.
- Be aware, they are putting a lot of trust in you – interviews are delicate thing.
- Important to reveal a little about yourself. This is exchange between you. Can’t be all one sided.
- Don’t be afraid to be a gushing fan – your telling the subject that you want to be there.
- Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions, you often get great answers.
- At the end of the interview, ask your subject if there is anything else they would like to talk about.
Saving a Bad Interview
- Don’t be afraid to cancel the interview if you’re not getting what you need.
- It someone is being cold and evasive, call them out on it and acknowledge they seem uncomfortable. Just say it. The withholding then becomes a part of the interview.
- Save the interview you can reschedule – but I’ve been lucky. You can include the Include the negative things too.
- when interviews authors read their novel. Very familiar.
After the Interview
- Remember that subject does not owe you anything.
- Thank your subject for their time.
- Taking the role of the interviewer your need to assume a moral and ethical responsibility towards your subject. Need to tread carefully and respect their previous experiences with other journalists and in interviews.
- Email follow-ups are great.