This is a great time to be an indie writer. We have the whole wide world available to us as our market place via the internet, and there are a ton of ways to get the word out about us and our books. The burgeoning influence of blogs has spawned a mini-industry of author interviews, a particularly friendly, chatty way to connect with all our readers. Author interviews can be interesting, educational, informative and fun. After reading many and taking part in quite a few, however, I have realized that, like anything else, there are good ones and some not so good.
What’s the difference?
For the Interviewee
Ok, we authors are not really used to standing directly in the glare of the limelight. We tend to hold our books up in front of us like a mask while we hide behind them and peek out shyly at the readers. After all, we’re selling our books, not … us. Right?
Yes and no. Of course we’re selling our books, but the fact is that readers tend to buy more books from authors they perceive as being likeable. They can get that impression from our books―from the tone, from the story resolution, from the moral stand of the main characters, but author interviews give them greater access into our hearts and minds. I don’t know about you, but after I read the first Harry Potter book, I really wanted to sit down with J. K. Rowling and ask her just how she came up with all that amazing stuff. Author interviews offer a taste of that kind of one-on-one conversation readers often crave.
So this is your chance to shine on your own, no book in front of your face.
Ok, just breathe. In. Out. It’ll be fine.
The first thing to remember is that, even though you’re being asked questions by the interviewer, this is about more than imparting information. Sure, you’re answering the questions, but do it in an entertaining manner. You’re a writer, for Pete’s sake—write like one! Each question is a chance to tell a mini-story, to expound, to weave, to fascinate as well as explain. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like this:
Q. Did you do a lot of research for your book?
Really? That’s all you’ve got? Come on, you’ve just missed a great opportunity to talk about that time you got lost in the stacks at the public library and almost got locked in for the night. Or that time you took a road trip through New Mexico looking for a locale to match your character’s home town and you almost got beamed up by a flying saucer outside of Roswell. This is about more than giving information—it’s about showing us your craft.
Sometimes I think writers fail to understand that the medium of the internet—text—gives them boundless opportunities to show their off their talent or expose their lack of imagination. When I see a writer in one of the many writers’ forums online comment, What r u talking about? I can write as gud as anyone, I just have to cringe. If this is a sample of their writing, who would even think of picking up their book? Yes, we live in the age of texts; yes, we’re used to tossing off all the abbreviated shortcuts, but don’t.
Every chance we have to write, whether on paper or on the internet, is an opportunity to show our mettle. Don’t blow it off. Don’t hunker down and make the interviewer drag it out of you. Get up there and shine!
For the Interviewer
As for the interviewer, you have the opportunity to open up that author in unexpected ways. I know it’s easy to gravitate to the general questions every interviewer asks—Who’s your favorite author? What’s your favorite genre? —but you are also in the position to make your interview unique. Spark up that interview by making the author think. Delve deep; draw him or her out of their shell. Here are a few suggestions:
Ask open-ended questions. Don’t ask yes-or-no questions like the one above. Instead ask, “What’s your process when you’re researching a book?”
Focus on the author. If you’ve taken the time to read some of the author’s work and checked out their webpage or blog, you can ask very specific questions about them and their work. For example: “In your new book, Hell on Wings, your main character base-jumps off a thousand-foot cliff naked with his hair on fire. What kind of research did you do for that scene?”
Not only is the reader going, “Whoa, never saw that in an interview before,” but the answer is giving the reader the behind-the-scenes glimpse that expands his reading experience. It’s like watching “The Making of ...” section on the DVD after you’ve watched the movie. Very often knowing the story behind the story gives you a greater appreciation and a more textured experience of the original movie. And in the above case, if the reader has not already read this particular book, this question just might move them to buy it.
So enough of the generic one-size-fits-all interviews. Get creative—on both sides of the interview!
Bonus: what questions would you like to see asked? Comment below, and thanks!