Better Interview Questions

By Ben Baker

Writing the story is only part of the process. You have to get information first.

If you interview enough people, sooner or later you will come across someone who replies to everything in monosyllables, grunts, and short sentences that give you the very barest minimum of facts. No matter how good your initial questions are, in order to get into the subject and really bring out details, you will have to have great follow up questions to draw information out of the subject.

A few notes about the following list: Not all questions are suitable for all interviews. Some questions refer to jobs, some refer to activities like hobbies. Some questions can be used for either. In most cases the word “field” is used to represent profession, activity, hobby, etc. Some questions don’t have anything to do with an activity; they just seek personal information. This is not an unabridged list. A good interviewer will find launching points for questions which could not possibly be anticipated.

Without further ado, here is a list of common interview questions (Q) with some follow-up (F) questions that will help you get more if your subject doesn’t give you a lot of information.

Q – Who are your inspirations or heroes?

F – Why do they inspire you?

F – What makes them heroic in your eyes?

F – What effect do they have on you?

F – When did you first learn about them?

F – Who told you about them?

F – What have learned about them since first learning of them?

F – How have you applied what you learned from them?

F – How can other people see your heroes/inspirations in you?

F – What do you do to be more like your heroes/inspirations?

Q – Married?

If “yes,” then:

F – How did you and spouse meet?

F – How long married?

F – What first attracted you to your spouse?

F – Does your spouse help in your field? If yes, then how?

F – Do you help your spouse in spouse’ field? If yes, then how?

F – Children? Grandkids?

F – Want to have kids?

F – Do you want to see your children do the same thing? Why or why not?

If “no,” then:

F – Ever been married?

F – Ever been engaged?

F – Ever wanted to be married?

F – Kids?

F – Want to have kids?

F – Do/Would you want to see your children do the same thing? Why/Why not?

(Note – if the person is biologically incapable of having kids, ask about adoption.)

Q – Are you involved in your community where you live?

F – What do you do?

F – Anything you’d like to do in your community which you have not yet done? Why?

Q – Where would you most like to visit?

F – Have you been there? If yes, what was the best part of it? If no, then will you ever go?

F – If you go back, what would you do that you haven’t done?

F – What makes it a good place to visit?

F – If you recommended this place to someone who’s never been there, what should they do first?

F – What surprised you about this place?

Q – Have any hobbies?

F – How did you get started in the hobby?

F – Why do you keep doing it?

F – What have learned through your hobby?

F – Why would other people enjoy doing it?

F – What’s a good way to get started in the hobby?

(NOTE: If possible, ask to see the person’s hobby. This could be the picture you need for the article, the person and hobby)

Q – Where did you grow up?

F – Did you move around a lot? If yes, how did this affect you? If no, how did the stability of living in one place all your life affect you?

F – What did you enjoy most about where you grew up?

Q – Are there any political or social issues you feel passionately about? (If you can’t get a story’s worth of information out of this line of questioning, you have GOT to be interviewing a corpse!)

F – Why are these things important to you?

F – What do you for these causes?

F – How can someone else get involved in these issues?

F – How much of your time do these causes take up?

F – Have you ever considered taking on these causes as a full-time occupation?

F – What would you most like to do that could further these causes?

Q – Do you have a nickname?

F – How’d you get it?

F – Do you like it?

F – Ever given someone else a nickname?

F – Did they like it?

Q – What is your favorite (book, movie or play, quote, poem, website, type of food or individual dish, music genre, song, band or individual musician, perfume, clothing style or designer, etc.)?

F – Why?

F – What drew you to this?

F – Where can other people find this?

Q – Why do you do what you do? (e.g., Why do you write? Work on cars? Race horses? Fish? Run marathons? Annoy politicians?)

F – How did you get started?

F – Who helped you get started?

F – How did they help you?

F – If you couldn’t do this, what would you do?

F – Why?

F – Would you be as happy?

F – Would you recommend (what the person does) to someone else?

F – Why?

F – What do they need to do to be successful at (whatever the person does)?

With these next follow-ups, you made need to insert some detailed specifics.

F – What would you change about (whatever the person does)?

Here, if the person says nothing, you may need to dip deeper into the subject. Ask about particulars. Referring back to the main question which spawned these follow-ups, you’d as a writer if he enjoys editing, research, writer’s block, finding a market for the work, the pay for the work. With cars, you might ask if the person enjoys having to dispose of used oil, getting greasy, scraping knuckles in hard-to-get-at places. With horses you might ask about the work which goes into horses, shoveling manure, brushing hide, filing hooves, buying feed, vet bills. If the person fishes, ask about the cost of maintaining a boat, lures, other fishermen, cleaning and cooking fish, driving to places to fish. On marathons you could ask about entry fees, cost of running shoes, the kind of surfaces the person runs over, running in different kinds of weather, trying to break through a pack, the Wall. Annoying politicians is my personal hobby and the only thing I’d change about it is having more time to annoy them.

F – Why would you change it?

F – How would changing that affect what you do?

F – Does that change make sense and really need to be done?

F – Why or why not?

Q – Is there anyone in (whatever the person does) you admire? (NOTE: This series could have been addressed in the first set, but there’s no guarantee it was so addressed. A hero may not be the same as someone who is admired.)

F – Why?

F – What do you admire most about that person?

F – Do you know this person?

F – Has this person had any influence on you?

F – Has this person ever given you advice?

F – What was the advice?

F – Was it good advice?

F – If so did you take the advice? Why or why not?

F – How did you apply the advice?

F – Is it good advice for anyone interested in (whatever that person does)?

Q – How have things changed?

F – Have any of the changes surprised you?

F – Were there any changes you expected?

F – How have you incorporated the changes?

F – Were the changes good or bad?

F – Why?

F – If you could, would you change it back? Why or why not?

F – What does the future hold?

Q – What sets you apart from the competition?

F – Have you learned anything from the competition?

F – What do you think the competition has learned from you?

Q – What training do you have?

F – Have you ever taught classes/seminars in your field? If so, where?

F – How often do you go to seminars/classes?

F – Have you ever wanted to be a professional teacher in this field? Why or why not?

F – Where is the best place to go to learn about your field?

F – Did your training prepare you for everything you’ve had to deal with? If not, what didn’t it cover? How did you handle it?

F – Do you need formal training for the work?

F – If you could tell people entering this field about something school did not teach them, what would it be?

Q – What honors have you received?

F – How did you feel about receiving the award(s)?

F – Have you ever recommended someone else for honors?

F – Have you ever delivered honors to someone else?

F – Are honors important? Why?

F – If you didn’t have the chance to receive honors, would you continue to do what you do?

Q – Are you involved in any of the field’s groups and associations?

F – What are they?

F – Any you would like to join but haven’t? If so what are they? Why haven’t you joined?

F – What group(s) would you recommend to a beginner? Why?

F – Have the group(s) helped you? How?

F – Have you made significant contributions to the group(s)? What?

F – How has your contribution affected things?

F – If you could make a lasting contribution, what would it be

Ben Baker has been a writer for longer than he wants to think about. He’s interviewed people ranging from garbage truck drivers to world-famous celebrities and he still can’t remember every question he needs to ask. You can find Ben Baker’s books on Amazon, and he blogs at Pork Brains And Milk Gravy.

Interview at Writer Unboxed

Image of several circular slices of an orangeIf you’ve ever wondered about the behind-the-scenes workings at Absolute Write and the Absolute Write forums, Jan O’Hara over at Writer Unboxed has just posted a two-part interview with me about Absolute Write, the community, the mods, and writing. Jan does a heckuva fun interview, and I’m not just saying that because she interviewed me—she’s got some terrific interviews on her own blog, Tartitude. And as a Web destination for writers, Writer Unboxed offers a lot of terrific information, insight, and conversation.

Part I
Part II

You can also find Jan O’Hara on Twitter @Jan_OHara.

Interview Preparation for Radio and PodCasts

By Roberta Gale

When it comes to media interviews, interview preparation is a two-way street. The host needs to do his part to become as familiar with the guest and her topic as possible. Whether this means reading (or at least skimming) her book, checking out her biography, or reading reviews, he should ideally be prepared with a list of questions that aren’t just jotted down verbatim from the guest’s press release. Consequently, if you’re guesting on a program, you also need to show similar respect and professionalism by being fully prepared for your part in the interview.

Here are some tips to help authors prepare for a radio program. In the long run, preparation on both sides makes for a more entertaining experience for listeners. And the more listeners are entertained, the more intensely they’ll pay attention to what you’re saying.

1. Know as much about the host, the station, and the show as possible before the interview.

Go to www.yahoo.comwww.radio-locator.com or www.zap2it.com to look up the station’s website. This will allow you to check out the format, hosts, upcoming promotions and contests, selected links, and other information that may be useful to you. If the station has streaming audio, (or obviously if you’re in the same market as the host), you’ll be able to listen to his show. If not, try calling the station’s talk line, tell the call screener you’ll be guesting on the show in the near future, and ask to be put on the “on-hold” line for a few minutes to hear the program. They may or may not honor your request, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

2. Find out as much as you can about the market.

Most local newspapers are on the Web, and you can find them using the above-mentioned websites. Take the time to look over the local paper prior to your scheduled interview. The information gained will enable you to toss in the names of local suburbs and hangouts during your time on the air. This is not only a great way to connect more deeply with both the host and listeners, but you may be able to tie your topic to a hot local issue or event.

3. Don’t forget the small stuff.

Write the name of the host, the station’s call letters, the city name and the number of the radio station on a Post-it note and stick it somewhere where you will be able to see it during the interview. That way, even if you have a temporary mental meltdown on air, you can focus on getting the more important parts of your interview on track and yet not forget who you’re talking to or where they are. And the phone number? No matter who calls who initially, you may need it in case you get disconnected.

4. Make sure you can be heard clearly.

It is very important to have a phone that will sound as good as possible when you’re on the air. Nothing will get you shown the metaphoric radio door faster than poor quality audio on your end. No matter how fascinating your interview, only a masochist would stick around to hear you on a low-level phone with a buzz. In my experience, more expensive phones don’t necessarily sound better than cheaper ones. And corded phones don’t always sound better than the cordless variety. Just find a phone that sounds clear and has sufficient volume. Prior to the interview, call a few of your friends and family members on the phone you intend to use and ask them how you sound.

5. Speak up!

No matter how high-quality your phone is, you must speak loudly and enunciate clearly enough to be heard. The path your voice has to travel before it reaches its intended audience is a long and complicated one, involving phone lines, audio processing, a few transmissions and re-transmissions and perhaps a satellite or two. Again, call a few people you know prior to the interview to test your clarity and volume.

6. I Can’t Hear You!

It was always funny when Sgt. Carter said it to Gomer Pyle, but it’s much less of a laughing matter when you have to say it over and over to the person interviewing you. Not being able to hear the interviewer correctly can not only ruin the tempo and pacing of your on-air performance, but it can lower the interest level of the host and audience. Your airtime may even be cut short because of it. If you’re hard of hearing, or if you just can’t hear the other party well, be sure to turn up the volume control on your phone, if it comes equipped with such a device. Since you never know how low the volume will be on the other end, and you may be talking to hundreds of different stations, it wouldn’t hurt to take a tip from my friend, Lorilyn Bailey of NewsBuzz.com, and invest $10-$20 bucks in a volume control device from Radio Shack.

7. Call waiting is your enemy on the air.

Yeah, it’s a godsend when you’re talking to your mother and the network is trying to call to let you know you’ve made the finals of “American Idol,” but it’s a less-than-stellar feature when you’re being interviewed on the air and the audience call hear the tell-tale “drop-out” as your call waiting kicks in. If you are supposed to call in to the station, be sure to disable your call waiting first. If you’re unsure how to do this, call your local telephone company.

8. Create the proper environment to execute an interview.

Whether you’ll be doing your interview from your office or home, be sure that you have a quiet place to think and speak. This is no time for children yelling, battery-powered wall-clocks ticking, co-workers laughing, and phones or doorbells ringing. Clear your desk of everything but your notepad, index cards, book, bottle of water, or whatever else you’ll need for the interview. Be sure that everything you need will be within easy reach.

If you follow these simple interview preparation  tips you will find that your interview goes more smoothly. But most importantly, the host will treat you with the respect due someone who actually put some thought into preparing content for the precious airtime you’ve been so generously given.

Roberta Gale has spent 22 years on the radio in every part of the country. She now heads Roberta Gale Media Coaching, which provides media training to authors, experts, spokespeople and businesspeople.  

 

How to Give an Awesome Author Interviews

By Patricia L. Fry

When you become the author of a nonfiction book, you are also considered an expert in your field. People want to read what you write and hear what you have to say. You want to promote your book and get personal exposure by writing articles and speaking publicly. Author interviews are an important part of your publicity program.

Why not add to your professional credibility by seeking interview opportunities through websites, podcasts, radio talk shows, and publications related to the topic of your book?

Add to your professional credibility by seeking interview opportunities through websites, podcasts, radio talk shows, and publications related to the topic of your book?  

Interviews and interviewers come in all shapes and flavors. Some interviewers want you to respond to questions via e-mail and they post your interview as is at their site or publish it in their magazine. Others prefer to conduct a telephone interview which they will paraphrase in their publication. But the most popular interview processes today are the real time podcast and the online radio show.

Not everyone is comfortable being interviewed. Yet, if you expect your book to reach a high level of popularity—if you hope to sell thousands of copies of your book—you really must learn to handle author interviews.

I have been interviewed numerous times in a variety of ways. Personally, I love the e-mail interview where I just respond at my leisure by typing my answers. I like having the time to think about my responses and to reread them before submitting. My worst interview experience occurred when the interviewer, in a real-time interview, began challenging my responses—playing the devil’s advocate. I’m not a debater and I don’t do well under that kind of pressure. I had to work hard so as not to come off sounding defensive. I hope I was able to carry that off. Book sales after that interview were up and that’s always a good indication of a good interview.

You truly never know what to expect from author interviews and maybe that’s one reason why the fear of the interview is so prevalent among authors. Recently, I was asked to participate in a podcast interview. I guess I misunderstood the original instructions because I was prepared to have the host ask me some questions. That’s generally what happens when someone interviews you. Just minutes before the show aired, I learned that I was supposed to speak for twenty minutes on my topic, “The Right Way to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Book.” There would be no questions. No one else would speak. I was expected to take charge of the airtime all by myself for the first twenty minutes of the show.

I quickly revised an hour-long speech I’d given recently on the subject and printed it out as a crutch. There’s nothing worse in radio than dead air, I’m told. And I did not want to be at a loss for words. I think it went well. Even though I was simply speaking over the telephone, I imagined myself looking out over the airwaves into the faces of a large audience eager for the information I was imparting. At the end of the 20 minutes, the host stepped in and asked me a few questions before the show ended. Again, book sales were up for a few days after that.

If you would like to be interviewed on the topic of your book, here are some tips and techniques that could help:

Author Interviews: Tips and Techniques

Locate interview opportunities through websites and publications related to your topic as well as those that feature general author interviews. If you spend some time exploring the site, you will soon discover whether or not they conduct interviews. If you see no indication of interview opportunities, post an e-mail asking for the opportunity.

Do a Google search to locate directories of websites and publications with general interview opportunities or those related to your expertise.

Check Radio-TV Interview Report for possible interview spots.

Create a succinct, but impressive bio to include with your inquiry. A potential interviewer will want to know that you are articulate (which should show through, at least to some degree, in your writing style), qualified, credible, knowledgeable, and interesting. A bio can help to portray this. A good interviewer who conducts live interviews will also want to hear your voice. So give your phone number, as well.
Handle yourself as a professional during any interview. Here are some tips:

Think like your target audience. What do they want/need to know about your subject? Even if your interviewer gets off track with his line of questions, you can bring the discussion back to the issue at hand. Always keep in mind “What information and resources can I offer my audience?

Don’t be afraid to give. It’s highly unlikely that you could ever give away too much during a 30 or 60 minute interview. Besides, the more you give, the more the listener will want. And it’s that yearning for more that will sell copies of your book.

Keep it simple. Remember that your time is limited—there’s no room during author interviews to teach or share what took you several months to write. Concentrate on a few key points and, no matter what the interviewer asks you, try to bring it all back to the original points. My book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, covers writing and publishing a book from start to finish and beyond (including distribution, promotion and so forth). During an interview, however, I may focus on the importance of writing a book proposal or the process of self-publishing or some aspect of book promotion. Your book on baking healthy muffins from scratch would be aptly represented by revealing a few of the recipes and describing the health benefits of the ingredients. If your listeners like what you gave them, they’re going to want more.

Read and listen to other author interviews to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Of course, you want to keep your own style of speaking, but there are definite faux pas that you want to avoid. Eliminate filler words such as “ah,” “um,” “er,” and so forth. Banish habitual phrases from your vocabulary. This might include “Ya know what I mean?” and “Right on,”” and “You bet.”

Practice speaking off the cuff. You will definitely need this skill when doing a live interview.

Join a Toastmasters Club near you and participate often in order to improve your public speaking skills.

As an authority on the subject of your nonfiction book, you will be sought after as a speaker, writer, and interviewee. You’ll also want to seek out interview and speaking opportunities. Prepare yourself now for the challenges ahead.

Patricia Fry is a full-time freelance writer and the author of 25 books including The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. She is also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network). Learn more about her line of books at www.matilijapress.com. Patricia Fry writes a publishing blog. Patricia Fry has a website, and is the author of Promote Your Book: Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author.