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September 4, 2014

A Challenge for Better Interviews

by Donna Huber

I have been thinking about interviews lately. I know a lot of authors want to do interviews because they think they are easy. And given the type of questions bloggers typically ask (including me) they are easier than say writing a guest post. But I have to wonder if we are cheating the readers with our "easy" interviews.

If an author does many interviews it gets old answering the "what inspired you" question and I think it probably gets old for readers. I know I don't read many interviews. Why? Because I don't get much information or at least not the information I want. I don't care if an author prefers Coca-Cola to Pepsi. I want to hear about the book with tidbits sprinkled through about the author and writing process. Given the numbers, I have to say my readers agree.

One of the more popular interviews was one done by Deborah Harkness. It was an interview that was sent out to a lot of bloggers and could be found on many sites. Yes, it could be argued that the post did well because of the giveaway, but one comment mentioned the great interview.

I know that the interview was done by a publicist and was probably done one-on-one. Bloggers might not have the time and authors may not want to do an "in person" interview. Though with chatting programs like Skype, Google Hangouts, and even Facebook chat it might not be that difficult. I do know time zones can complicate things.

Yet, even just sending over a list of questions I think we can do a better job at asking interview questions and making it seem like we did it in person. (Oh and I'm not putting the burden completely on the shoulders of bloggers. Authors need to step up as well on doing interviews).

One, do some research.
I know with my reading list that I don't have time to read every book where an author wants an interview. But there are ways to "cheat". AUTHORS should be providing media kits to bloggers. Within that kit there should be a more detailed synopsis than can be found on Amazon or Goodreads. Also a fuller bio will aid bloggers in creating better questions.

Read More: Author Media Kit Components

For books that are already available, you can take a look at the sample or "See Inside". Perhaps AUTHORS could also, upon request. send the first 1 - 3 chapters so that bloggers would have some first hand knowledge.

Looking at the author's social media and website can also give you ideas for more than "canned" questions. Find unique topics to discuss. Is the author a human rights activitist? How does that play a role in their books? Reading their past interviews and guest posts may also provide "follow up" questions for you to ask.

Two, ask follow up questions
I know time is always against us and just coming up with the first set of questions can be time consuming and the thought of a second round might just be too much. However, if you haven't had the resources or time to do some research before sending your questions, then perhaps starting with 3 - 5 questions that, depending on the responses, will provide room for follow-up questions would be preferable to sending 10 unrelated questions. Again AUTHORS can assist with this process. A pre-formatted interview that a blogger could gather 2 - 3 "starter" questions from and then build their unique interview upon could prove to be beneficial to both of you.

Three, make the interview more conversational.
So you have no time to make follow-up questions or even create unique questions for each author, then at least tailor the interview before posting by adding in comments and transitions. Or even cleaning up the questions that are is/are (i.e. Who is/are your favorite author(s)?) will make your interview not seem so canned. If the author answers in the plural, it would only take a second to delete "is" and the parenthesis around "s". AUTHORS could also help in tailoring the questions. When I send "canned" questions, I also tell authors that they can reword the questions to help him/her answer better.

Jane Carroll's interview a few weeks ago was a pre-formatted interview the author sent over. But it looks like we might have chatted.

Four, focus more on the book than the author.
If the interview is done well, focusing on the book will also draw out tidbits about the author's own life. I'm not saying don't ask about the author at all, but do so in a way that can draw it back to the book. Typically, a reader wants to know about the book (particularly in cases where the interview is done before the publication of the next book in a series).

Take the Challenge?
I know what I'm asking for is a lot. I'm writing this post as much as a challenge for me as for my fellow bloggers. But I truly believe stepping up our interview game will pay off for authors (particularly indie authors) and our own publications. Will it be easy? No, it won't be easy. But often the best things in life are not easy. As always when I suggest making changes in the "way" we blog, I recommend starting off slow. If you do a lot of interviews each month, shoot for making 1 or 2 each month more in depth and the rest can be your everyday variety. As with most things, each time you do it you get better and it takes less time.

So what say you? Will you take the challenge to write better interviews? If you are already doing unique interviews, do you have any tips for us?


  1. A really great post. I try to ask interesting questions. I have my standard ones as there are some things I'm plainly curious about with all authors such as what they themselves are reading. I also try to find out a little about them so I can ask a personal question something related to them and their life experience. I love the idea of follow up questions which I really should be doing. This post has me rethinking how I interview :)