This week, we feature author John Micklos with his experiences and tips for landing a successful interview to elevate the quality and credibility of your book.
Getting interviews and/or quotes from experts or celebrities enhance almost any book. Quotes or endorsements can provide key information, add to your credibility, and perhaps even boost sales. Here are some tips for lining up and conducting successful interviews.
It’s easier than you might think to snag interviews with experts and celebrities—if you are willing to take the risk and reach out. Over the years, I’ve conducted in-person, phone, or Zoom interviews with Dolly Parton, Al Gore, Aubrey Plaza, Charles M. Schulz, many book authors, and dozens of experts in various fields for use in books and newspaper/magazine articles.
Keep these simple guidelines in mind in order to conduct successful interviews.
Lining Up Interviews
First, determine who you want to interview or get a testimonial from. Are you writing a nonfiction book about successful business models? You might interview the head of a successful company or the leader of a nonprofit organization that supports businesses. Here are some specific suggestions on how to reach the people you need.
Did I know I could score an interview with former Vice President Al Gore? Not until I tried. But he was eager to promote his youth version of An Inconvenient Truth, and the publication I edited went to educators around the world. It was a win-win situation. When I pitched a feature article on Aubrey Plaza to Delaware Today at the height of her “Parks and Recreation” fame, they didn’t think I’d be able to get an interview. Turned out to be easy—Plaza cherishes her Delaware roots. And when I wanted a foreword for my Daddy Poems book, a simple email to bestselling Read-Aloud Handbook author Jim Trelease, along with a copy of the galleys, got a quick and positive response.
You can find contact information for many experts in business, science, and related fields through their LinkedIn listings. In other cases, you can go through the website of their company or organization. For celebrities, you typically contact their publicity agency. In either case, you may have to go through an intermediary to reach your interview subject. That’s fine. Those people often coordinate the expert’s/celebrity’s schedule. I generally try to make initial contact via email. I outline what I want and why, and I discuss my credentials. Even busy experts or celebrities may be flattered to be featured in your book or article.
Be flexible (and be prepared).
I always offer several potential interview times. But be prepared for the unexpected. At the height of his Peanuts fame, I called Charles M. Schulz’s personal assistant, hoping to schedule a future interview. She replied, “He’s available now.” Fortunately, I had my questions ready!
Conducting a Successful Interview
Be prepared (but not rigid).
I always enter an interview with prepared questions. But I’m ready to change course depending on how the conversation unfolds. Some of my best interview material has come from follow-up questions or seemingly off-topic responses.
What format to use?
I use email when the interview subject is hard to nail down for a call. Email allows them to answer at their leisure, and I also know that any quotes I use are accurate. On the flip side, I lose out on the “off-the-cuff” responses that may arise during a phone or Zoom interview.
Should you record the interview?
I prefer not to because I think it makes everyone a bit more guarded. The exception is if it’s a highly sensitive topic or there are potential legal issues involved. Of course, you should NEVER tape an interview without permission.
How long should the interview be?
Be respectful of the subject’s time. When I schedule the interview, I suggest a time frame—typically 10 or 15 minutes. When that time is up, I let them know. Often, they are willing to continue, and I gladly let them.
Try to elicit great quotes or stories.
I always try to pose at least one or two questions I think might draw a clever response or evoke a story. But you never know when a cool quote is coming, so always be ready.
After the Interview
Review your notes immediately.
Over the years, I have developed my own kind of shorthand. As soon as the interview ends, I go back and fill in any gaps. This is especially important for key facts, statistics, and material you might want to quote verbatim.
Pick and choose.
With luck, you will have far more material than you can use. Carefully select those facts and quotes that best support your piece, whether it be a book chapter, a book testimonial, or an article. It’s fine to use excerpts from quotes, as long as you don’t change the intent or meaning.
Check for accuracy.
I always check and double-check interview material for accuracy. Should you allow the interview subject to see the material before it goes into print? It depends on the situation. For a book, especially if the material is potentially sensitive, I probably would—but only to check for accuracy, not to rewrite what was originally said. Newspapers and magazines, on the other hand, often forbid writers from letting interviewees review the text.
Be a Name Dropper!
Did you interview a big-name expert for your book? Did someone famous agree to write a foreword or prepare a testimonial? Mention that prominently in your promotional materials. It really can help sell books. You did the work to land that famous person. Take advantage of your success!
Interviews can be uncomfortable, especially with famous or extremely accomplished people. However, I’ve found that most famous people are just….people, and once the interview begins, things quickly become like a normal conversation. The more interviews you do, the easier they become. So grab your phone, set up your Zoom, and prepare to conduct successful interviews.
This post contains affiliate links. I receive a few cents when you purchase items from the links. I thought you should know.
John Micklos Jr. is the author of more than 50 children’s books. His latest picture book, Raindrops to Rainbow, was Delaware’s “Great Reads from Great Places” selection for the 2021 National Book Festival. John loves to visit schools to talk with young writers. Learn more about John at www.JohnMicklosWriter.com.