January 21, 2009
It's a Wonderful Time for Interviews By C. Hope Clark
Everyone loves to peek inside the lives of the successful, the intriguing, the ones who made the world spin to their whim. That's why interviews are great cash cows for those freelancers who can spot a personality and turn him into a neat guest spot in a feature. Name a magazine that doesn't accept a snappy interview?
Interviews pay as well, or better, than regular features. Your job is to define the need for that interview. What makes the person perfect for a particular magazine? Often the match and editorial acceptance depends on how you pitch it, and these days, you have a lot of angles to play. The economy, education, business, philanthropy, politics, professionals and hobbyists all make for grand interviews. Considering the world is clamoring for positive news, as a writer you can pitch the right interview and make an editor snatch it up, because readers seek an escape, guidance, answers and entertainment more than ever.
Start with your local newspaper. You can find at least ten personalities that would make for a great interview to a magazine or web site, and I'm not talking international celebrities. In my newspaper today, I found a professor partnering with business in my state to increase the number of students majoring in information technology. Who'd have thought that students addicted to iPods, laptops and iPhones weren't flocking to computer jobs? Actually, my state has a shortage, and business is hurting as a result. I could take one sitting with that gentleman and turn the experience into three or more interviews in educational, business and computer magazines.
Interviewing is easy once you get the hang of it, and each interviewer has a method. I hate tape recorders and prefer to chat, noting verbatim quotes in shorthand as I hear them. Other writers hate to be distracted and prefer recorders, to avoid interruptions and recants. If you haven't performed an interview before, start with a brief one, on a topic you understand, maybe with someone you know. Note what makes you comfortable, and what disturbs your attention span, including what you wear. Carry a professional-looking notebook and backup pens. If you have a laptop and prefer typing, use it, making sure it's well-charged. Just ensure you make lots of eye contact with your guest as you document.
To make your job easier, email the questions in advance. Both of you will appreciate it in the long run since the preparation overcomes much of the nervousness that comes with chatting with a stranger. You never know. That email may result in a written response and avoid the face-to-face completely. As a minimum, you'll have documented replies and the time to study answers and determine if you have more questions.
But which comes first, tying down the interviewee or the gig with the editor? Either way, you must convince the party you can do the job. If you prefer contacting the party being interviewed first, then tell him that you've written for other publications, have freelanced for five years, or have training in journalism. He won't ask for a resume. One of the first interviews I performed on the phone was with a major greenhouse producer who I captured with my degree in agronomy, not my writing background. The point is to make a connection.
When approaching an editor, pitch your experience, knowledge, education, and even your people skills. Maybe you have insight into a topic or a backdoor advantage to reaching a personality. The point is to paint yourself as the perfect person for the job. Again, make the connection.
The larger the publication, the greater chance you need a release form from your individual, to include contact information in case a fact-checker needs to confirm a comment. This form also defines the parameters of what you can do with the person's quotes. For instance, your magazine interview does not entitle you to insert the same quotes in a book or on a CD, or maybe it does. Your release also removes a certain amount of liability from you, and reminds the person being interviewed he isn't being compensated. You can find sample interview release forms at:
So while you're making your freelance plans for 2009, include interviews. They're quick, easy and usually approved faster than most articles you query, a great recipe for more writing income.
A few interview markets:
Cineaste (anyone in the cinema business)
In the Fray (activists)
Wittenburg Door (religious humor)
Contemporary Verse 2 (Canadian writers/poets)
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