Wednesday 19 September 2012

10 Tips For Interviewing Authors

I've interviewed around 40 authors in the past few years, starting with Savita Kalhan, author of the wonderful The Long Weekend, and most recently (on this site, at least) speaking to Jackie Marchant and Dougal Trump, who provided me with my first ever double interview to celebrate the publication of I'm Dougal Trump... And It's Not My Fault. Over those years, I've actually learnt a few things, and thought I'd quite like to share them with other bloggers who may be in the position I was once in. (That position was, of course, hiding under my desk shaking with fear at the thought of approaching a Real Life Published Author and hoping they wouldn't turn me to stone for having the sheer nerve to approach them. Many thanks to Savita for not doing that!)

1. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, choose your interview targets carefully. Aim to interview people you admire, who have an interesting story to tell, or who are currently making waves in the book world.

The vast majority of my interviews are with people whose books I've read and loved - but there are other reasons I'll approach someone. One of my favourite early interviews was with Leah Clifford, author of A Touch Mortal, who tweeted offering to 'grant wishes'. I replied with a cheeky wish that she'd grant me an interview and she agreed - so I focused the first few interview questions on the theme of wishes. More recently, Michelle Krys, whose blog I really enjoy reading, got a publishing deal with Random House. Rather than wait until 2014 for her first book to come out, I grabbed an interview focusing on blogging and on being a newly-signed author.

My success rate in getting interviews is above 80%. There are people who've turned me down, been too busy to fit it in, or not responded - but very few in that last category. (Only one who I can think of, in fact.) The vast majority of authors are polite, enjoy talking to bloggers, and have surprised me with how keen they are to take part. Three years ago, if someone had told me that by 2012 I'd have interviewed Teenage Booktrust Prize-winning author Anthony McGowan, and Karen McCombie, one of my very favourite authors of all time, I'd have thought they were delusional. If they'd then said I would have conducted well over 30 other interviews, I'd have been convinced!

2. Be professional when you approach people. Explain why you want to interview them and where you'll run the piece. (I'm lucky enough to be able to get most interviews on The Bookbag, which has a huge following, as well as my own smaller site.) If you've given one of their books a positive review then shoot over a link to it. (If you've given it a negative review, it's probably best not to link to it. But if you're not a fan of their books, why do you want to interview them in the first place?) I tend to approach authors via Twitter or by e-mail if they have an e-mail on their site and make it clear they're happy for fans/bloggers to get in touch - if there's no obvious way to contact them directly that's probably for a reason! In that case, it's better to try and get in contact via their publisher.

3. Do your research. The main purposes of an interview, as far as I'm concerned, are to bring visitors to my site (or the Bookbag) and to publicise the authors' books. The best way to do that is by asking interesting, engaging questions that directly relate to the authors themselves or the books they've written.

4. There's nothing wrong with 'stock questions' - but an interview shouldn't JUST consist of stock questions. I've always used a mixture of questions tailored to individual authors, as mentioned above, and questions I like asking to various people. Some of my most often asked ones are "What was the soundtrack to...?", "If you could ask any other author a question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?" and "How important do you think an online presence is to a YA author today?" I like them because they're fairly open-ended, they allow authors' personalities to shine through, and it's really interesting for me personally to compare the answers from different authors.

A few months ago, there were a couple of quite vocal authors online basically asking "Why on earth are bloggers sending me stock questions instead of asking me deep, searching, meaningful questions about my Wonderful Work of Staggering Genius?" (No-one I've interviewed, by the way!) I panicked a bit about the stock questions I was asking after reading that, but talked to authors Louisa Reid and Sue Ransom at last month's UKYA event and they seemed to agree with me that having a few stock questions wasn't a problem at all. I would stress, though, that I think you should definitely try and make sure some of them are clearly directed at individual authors.

5. Get a timescale set but be prepared to be flexible. Authors are, almost without exception, busy people. Many of them have day jobs in addition to writing and editing these wonderful books. It's great to get a rough idea of when you can run a post, but I always make it clear that I can shuffle things around or push an interview back if there's a problem with the author getting something done.

6. If people get in touch with you asking if they can be interviewed on your site, think carefully about whether to say yes. If it's someone you're a fan of, great! But if it's an author you haven't heard of, or read before, it's worth suggesting to them that you wait until you've read one of their books before committing to anything. That avoids the problem of agreeing to an interview, reading a book, finding it's not to your tastes and then having to try and either back out gracefully or struggle to find an interesting angle on a book you didn't enjoy.

7. Throw in some interesting links when you run the interview. I'll link to my review of any books the author's written, the author's website, Twitter, and maybe Facebook if they have one. Again, it's a way to publicise your blog posts and the author themselves.

8. When you've got the interview up, publicise it! Tweet it, leave comments on friends' blogs, and message people who are talking about the author of the book. Just be reasonable with it! I use Tweetdeck to monitor various YA related terms and author names and, for example, if I saw someone tweeting about a particular author a day or two after I'd interviewed them I'd drop them a tweet with a link in. If you're just tweeting 50 random people with a link it's both less effective and extremely spammy.

After writing the first 8 tips above, I threw the question open to Twitter.

Matt Imrie of Teen Librarian said "Keep some stock questions around to bulk up an interview, generally only book/life specific questions can be personalised."

M from We Sat Down advised "Craft some open-ended questions so that they can tell the story and ask questions for which you really want to know the answers."

Have you got any great tips about interviewing authors? It would be brilliant if you'd share them in the comments section!

Edit: The fabulous Helena Pielichaty took to Twitter to ask "Is #1 take chocolate?" For those of you lucky enough to score face-to-face interviews, that sounds like good advice to me!

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