Share this article on Facebook
Anxiety-Free Interviews: How to Get the Info You Need without Stressing out Over It
by Kelly James-Enger
Whether you’re a writer of fiction or nonfiction, the time may
come when you’ll have to conduct interviews to gather information.
Does the thought make you nervous? That’s normal.
Many writers dread conducting interviews, but having a blueprint for
how you’ll proceed will help you overcome interview anxiety. Here’s
a roadmap of what to do to find and interview experts for your work:
Track Them Down
First, you need to find your experts. Your background research may reveal
good potential sources, and online databases like www.profnet.com
offer thousands of experts in every discipline. Or check out The Encyclopedia
of Associations, a three-volume set that’s updated annually. Find
an association that matches the type of expertise you’re seeking.
Then call the association, ask for their public affairs or public relations
department, and request a referral to an association member. The PR person
will know who the media-friendly members are, and usually will have background
information on them as well—it’s a huge timesaver.
In addition, look for books on the subject; authors are almost always
happy to be interviewed as it provides publicity. Universities and colleges
also offer a stable of qualified experts. Call the school, ask for their
public affairs or media affairs office, and explain what type of expertise
Make the Connection
OK, you’ve located your experts. What’s the next step? Making
contact. I call, introduce myself, and explain how I got the person’s
name. Then I describe the story I’m working on and ask if she’s
available for a brief telephone interview in the near future. I’ve
found I can conduct most interviews in 15-20 minutes. If I need more time,
I tell the source so he or she can plan accordingly.
Usually I use the first call to arrange an interview time instead of
conducting it right then. This gives your expert time to think about the
story you’re working on, gather any necessary information, and prepare
to speak with you. I double-check the time and date, paying attention
to time zones, and tell the source I’ll be in touch at the arranged
time. I then make a note of the interview time, the person’s name
and his telephone number in my calendar.
(Note that while I only rarely do interviews via email. A phone interview
is more immediate and convenient for the person you’re interviewing.
He or she can simply answer your questions orally without having to type
up responses. Of course, if a source prefers an email interview, you can
always accommodate that request.)
Ask the Right Questions
If you’re new to conducting interviews, write down the questions
to cover. Don’t forget basics such as name (and double-check the
correct spelling!), address, phone number, email, job title, academic
title if applicable, and book title(s) if applicable.
Part of preparing for the interview is acquainting yourself with the
subject you’ll be asking about. If you’re interviewing a doctor
about a new medical procedure, read up on it so you have a better understanding
of what it’s designed to do. Your sources shouldn’t be expected
to spoon-feed you. By doing your homework in advance, you’ll save
time and be able to ask more probing questions—and you won't be
as nervous, either.
Pick up the phone, and make the call. When your expert answers, identify
yourself and ask if this is still a good time for him to talk. You’ll
set a positive tone for the interview right off the bat.
I like to give the expert an overview of what I’m going to ask,
and then proceed with the questions one by one. If a source is tight-lipped,
ask lots of “why” and “how” questions—like
“Why did the results of your study surprise you?” or “How
will this affect small business owners?”
When you've covered your planned questions, ask if the expert wants to
add anything. I usually say something like, “Is there anything important
I haven’t asked you that you’d like to mention?” I usually
close the interview by telling the source I’ll be in touch with
any follow-up questions, or if my editor needs any additional information.
Finally, I always send my experts personal thank-you notes to express
my appreciation for their time. I include my business card and tell the
source I’ll be in touch when the article is published. (If it’s
a trade publication, I’ll usually offer to send a photocopy of the
story—not the magazine itself—to the source.) While this takes
a little extra time, people appreciate it. They’re also likely to
remember you then next time you need an interview—which makes your
job easier (and less stressful!) in the long run.
© Copyright 2006, Kelly James-Enger
Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.
Other articles by Kelly James-Enger :