Thursday, September 5, 2013

Getting the most from interviews

By Steve Weddle

Folks have been really nice about sharing the recent Publishers Weekly review of COUNTRY HARDBALL. If you haven't read it, here you go. I was too anxious to read the whole thing closely, but I'm told it says that purchasing the book will make parts of you bigger where you want and smaller where you want and help you live a better life and get to Heaven and stuff like that.

Here's the thing that happens when you combine your need for promotion with the kindness of people -- they help promote you. I have found, at least in my case, that people have been far nicer to me than I deserve.

So let's look at interviewing, shall we?

I've done some interviews. People have asked me questions. I've asked them questions.

Here's a list of some of the times people have asked me questions: Interviews with Weddle.

I've talked via video with people, on the phone, on the email machines. Radio and podcast. Print and dig.

And I've interviewed people, both during my newspaper time and my blogger-ing time.

I've had the pleasure of chatting via telephony with Frank Bill and Hilary Davidson and Lynn Kostoff and others. Those are available at the DSD Podcast.

I've done video interviews with folks, including JT Ellison.

I've been on both ends of the emailing of TEN questions and/or answers. Or one at a time.

All this to say, I have had ample opportunity to see how to screw this up in every single way you could think of.

Maybe you're interviewing people. Maybe you're being interviewed. Lately, though, I've had the experience of being interviewed, so I thought I'd share some thoughts I kinda wish I'd had a while back.

Know The Format

Is this a conversational interview or a straight Q and A? I'm more of a conversational guy, in that I tend to look for connective tissue in everything. An interview can be a string of thoughts flowing into each other, building and collapsing throughout the hour. Or an interview can be more of an informational gathering process. Informal or informational? Shit. Prolly shoulda used that as a header somewhere.

If you're in a conversational interview, keep it loose but on-track. I've heard far too many interviews in which the whole thing jumps the track, plows through the water tower and into the orphanage. Don't do that. The kids. For the love. If it's conversational, you'll want to engage the interviewer and, by extension, the audience. No matter what side you're on, this isn't all about you. If you're a jerk like I am, then you're still convinced it's mostly about you. But you'll want to talk with your chat companion, not at him/her. If you're asked about the best book you're read recently, you probably don't want to put your interviewer on the spot by saying "Chris F. Holm's BIG REAP. Have you read it?" Because, you know, maybe she hasn't. Maybe you say the thing about Holm, but say "It's about a war between Heaven and Hell, kinda. I like book with big themes that seem grounded in the personal" or something along those lines, to which your interviewer can say something about Holm or, on the off-chance that he/she hasn't read, something more general. But you're engaging, at that point.

Let me be clear, here. Do or don't do. Whatevs. I'm not saying that you should say this thing or not. Just, you know, something to think about. That's all. It's your interview. Do whatever you want. Just offering some ideas. K? K. *hugs*

If it's more the "here's a question-give an answer" kind of interview, you'll definitely want to review the types of questions the interviewer asks. Are they big questions? Are they the same for each interview? I used to have this thing where the last question I asked was always about the favorite room in the person's house. When I was doing reporter-y interviews, it was always whether golf was a sport, because ha ha.

With my book (there goes Weddle again. it's all about him.) the bigger questions tend to be about economics in the rural south. That's from people who have read the book. If people haven't read the book, they can ask "Tell us a little about your book."

Either way, figure out which type of interview you're lined up for and give it some thought ahead of time.

Of course, if the person is emailing questions instead of doing so in real time (phone, skype, etc) then forget everything I've said. (Pause. Wait for joke.)

Have a thing

John Locke, who sold a gazillion books and was a darling until some people got the angers about paying for reviews, said you'll need to communicate one thing when you're doing an interview. That's good advice I hadn't considered.

If you're doing an interview with someone, you'll want to wrap up something nice and hand it over as a present. Maybe it's a particular anecdote you want to share this one time with this one audience.

I don't have the maths, but many of the questions you'll get as an author are the same from interview to interview. "What's your process?" "Do you enjoy editing?" "What are some of your influences?" "Do you find toothbrushes as gross as I do?" "What are you working on now?"

Interviewers and readers can get Interview Fatigue. Engaging the interviewer is one way to beat this, but so is dropping in something fresh. Have a story in your pocket that you want to convey to people. A thought. Maybe you want people to know that you wrote the book in just under ten years. Or that proceeds are going to help train-wrecked orphans. That all kinda lead to our next and (checks clock) final point:

Know Your Audience

People read books differently. Some people will read a book and see an aging headmaster trying to hold on to control after one of the students he's failed tries to take over the world. Others will read the same book and see three wizards coming of age. You have to figure out what your interviewer and his/her audience will see. You have to connect before you connect. Hmmm. Something like that.

If you're being interviewed on Wake Up, Metroville, then you're going to want to connect with whoever the hell is up at 5 am. Worker people? Stay-at-homes? Invalids? I dunno. Whoever that is. Maybe watch the show. Do they do consumer tips? Local history? Somehow, you'll want to tie in to the things they talk about. "You know, Annabelle, I saw your segment last week about preventing pick-pockets and it reminded me of this scene in my book." Um, maybe not that obvious.

If you're Joelle Charbonneau and you're writing the Glee Club Mysteries, your responses are going to be much different if you're talking to the Chicago Tribune or the Valleydale High Glee Club Newsletter.

My book has baseball, mills, convenience stores, VCRs, meth, an elephant, a funeral, deviled eggs and so forth. If a cooking mag wants to talk to me about all the food in the book, I'd better know the difference between paprika and nutmeg.

Mostly, I think, it comes down to knowing that each interview is different and preparing accordingly. Don't just show up and figure you don't have to do any work if you're being interviewed. You spent years writing this book, yeah? Don't screw it up now.

And be nice to the interviewers. Their time is valuable and they're hella nice for bothering with you at all.


Thomas Pluck said...

I was gonna buy your book anyway but it's got an ELEPHANT? Now I'm totally down.

Steve Weddle said...

I was challenged to write a book in which an elephant solves a murder.

Dana King said...

My imagination immediately jumps to a meth-crazed elephant running amuck in a convenience store. I'll wait for the book to fill in the gaps.

Good points on interviews. Having done all mine via email, regardless of which side of the interview I held down, it's good to be reminded the dynamic is different if there a real-time give and take.