How to Conduct an Interview
By Naching T. Kassa
Welcome to HOWCON 2021! I’m Naching T. Kassa, and I conduct Chilling Chat Interviews on the HorrorAddicts.net Blog. I also interview for the Horror Writers Association Newsletter.
Why should you learn to interview? Here’s the answer. You can meet many people through interviewing and, for a writer, meeting people is essential. We need to network to get our work and skill out before the right people. Also, it gains the attention of potential publishers. Publishers look for websites and blogs which conduct interviews to showcase their writers. Think about it. Someone could come to your blog for the interview you’ve done and stay to look at your books.
The following are two lists. The first is a DO list. These are things you should do to conduct an interview. The other is a DON’T. Avoid these things at all costs.
- CARE—Whether you are assigned an interview or whether you write one up for your blog, always—ALWAYS—care about your subject. This is a person you’re speaking to and not a lump of cheese. You’re not Oprah or Barbara Walters. You’re not Geraldo Rivera. The subject is doing you a favor by granting an interview. Don’t ask them what kind of underwear they wear and what color. It’s rude and creepy. The least you can do is care about your subject. Treat them with respect.
- CONTACT YOUR SUBJECT—Always contact your subject prior to the interview. Don’t just turn up and start asking questions unless they suggest it. Give your subject options for interviews. Ask them what date and time are best for them. Since all my interviews are done online, I make it clear they are text only and we will not be speaking on the phone or through Skype. I then ask whether they would like to do a text interview through Facebook Messenger or e-mail. (Facebook Messenger is my preferred way of interviewing. It shortens the time taken to conduct the interview, is easier to transcribe, and allows you to see whether your subject is finished writing or in the process of writing their answer.)
- PREPARE FOR THE INTERVIEW—This is a VERY important step. A successful interview depends on your research. If this is an assignment, read the information you are provided with. If there is none, or you are interviewing on your blog, Google your subject. Look at their website. If they’re a writer, check out their Amazon page. If they’re an actor, check out YouTube or watch their movie. If they’re a musician, check out their music. If you don’t know your subject, you won’t ask pertinent or interesting questions.
- WRITE OUT A LIST OF QUESTIONS BEFORE THE INTERVIEW—Always write a series of base questions before you conduct an interview. (Since I interview people involved in the horror genre, I like to ask them how they became involved in horror, what they’re favorite horror movie is, etc.) You can use the base questions to keep you on point. I tend to go off on tangents when interviewing because my questions are organic and are reliant on the subject’s answers.
- ALWAYS INTERVIEW THE SUBJECT ON TIME—Make sure you contact your subject at the agreed time. First impressions are important, and you are conveying professionalism and trust by being WHERE you’re supposed to be, WHEN you’re supposed to be.
- HAVE FUN—Interviews often start stiff because, usually, neither you nor the subject know one another. Be sure to ask questions which are interesting to your subject. This will engage them. Let’s face it, you don’t want an interview where all the answers to your questions are either yes or no.
- –OPTIONAL—HAVE A CONVERSATION ON THE SIDE—I like to converse with my subjects during the interview. How do I accomplish this? I speak to them in parentheses. At the beginning of the interview, I tell the subject that nothing within the parentheses will appear in the interview. Then, as I ask questions, I can give them my true reactions. I interviewed Nancy Holder—the well-known horror writer and Sherlockian—and throughout the interview, we discussed how much we adored Sherlock Holmes. None of this appeared in the interview. It was just a fun conversation that made both of us feel more at ease. Someone who’s having fun will tell you more than someone who isn’t. And, don’t feel bad if the person doesn’t message you back in parentheses. You’re letting them know how you feel. People appreciate that.
- ASK PERMISSION—If a subject tells you something in private conversation, and you think it would be good for the interview, ask permission to add it.
- SHOW APPRECIATION—Once the interview has concluded, thank the person for their time. Again, your subject deserves care and respect. Plus, you may want to interview them again one day.
- EDIT YOUR INTERVIEW—What I mean when I say edit, is make sure the grammar and spelling are correct in your interview. (You don’t want to post an interview where you misspelled your subject’s name, do you?) Also, read it over carefully. If some tangent questions could fit in a better place, and they will not ruin the context of the question, then move them.
- E-MAIL INTERVIEWS WITH A SET SERIES OF QUESTIONS—Sometimes I have to interview multiple subjects on a deadline. When this happens, I usually come up with a series of ten questions which I send to all of them. This is not my preferred way of interviewing. It’s a bit too impersonal for me. However, many people do it and do it well. It’s all a matter of taste.
- TELL THE SUBJECT WHEN THE INTERVIEW POSTS—It is essential you tell your subject when and where their interview will appear. I like to inform my subjects the day of and I like to share the link with them. Your subject will then share for you, bringing attention to your site and your work.
Ok, we’ve covered the good stuff. Here’s the bad.
- DON’T MAKE THE INTERVIEW ABOUT YOU—An interview is not about you. The subject isn’t here to talk about your new book or your website. Don’t ask questions that pertain to yourself.
- DON’T STALK YOUR SUBJECT—Researching a person is not the same as stalking. Do not be Snoopy McSnooperson and go to their Facebook account to investigate their friends, relatives, and pictures. Only research what is essential to the interview. Again, unless you’re Oprah or Barbara, you don’t need to know about their personal life. Not unless they bring it up and give you permission.
- DON’T GET OFFENDED—If you are an easily offended person, interviewing is not for you. Some people may be grumpy or difficult. Be professional at all times.
- DON’T MOVE ANSWERS OUT OF CONTEXT—When editing, do not move the answers out of context or add to the answers. You are there to report what the subject says. You are not there to put words in their mouth.
- DON’T BE MERCENARY—Do not ask your subject to like your Facebook page, write a review for your book, or otherwise endorse your work. Networking is all about reputation and if you do this, you’re creating a bad reputation for yourself. The subject will let you know if they’re interested.
Remember: the most important rule when interviewing anyone is to CARE about them and RESPECT them. It’s the best way to network and the best way to be—well—human.