Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos, one taken from Pixabay directly. Screenshot taken by me, Allison Symes.
A useful skill for any writer is to develop interview techniques.
These can be used to question potential characters to see if their stories are worth writing up. I find this ensures I have thought my story and character out properly. Using the random question generators can help you find probing questions to put to your characters. I find using a few helps me bring my characters to life. Once I know them well enough, I can draft their tale.
Most writers will hope for (a) publication and (b) for their books and stories to do as well as possible. Most writers (some reluctantly) accept the need for marketing and interviews are part of that. I thought I would look at how writers can prepare for interviews and at why I ask the questions I do to my guest writers here.
Obviously there’s the marketing aspect but they give writers a chance to tell readers about their stories in a way that will engage an audience. It’s direct communication. For this kind of interview, people will expect marketing so talking about your book and the characters will feel natural.
Telling people where they can get your book is a natural follow on and again it is expected. What people are after is an entertaining read/listen by sharing something of your writing journey and indeed of yourself as you answer the questions. Interviews are a great way for readers to work out who you are as an author.
Also a writer doesn’t have space to say everything they’d like to about their book when it comes to writing the blurb but you can say more in an interview. People are fascinated by what inspires a writer and that makes a great lead-in to say your book was inspired by X because of Y. Readers can see the links. It also gives you a chance to say what led you to create the characters and what you like/loathe about them. This is a “behind the scenes” look for your audience. I’m always fascinated by that.
What is a “Good” Interview?
A good interview, in print or on screen, will feel like people have had a conversation. The questions will be open so the interviewee has to reveal more about themselves/their characters as they answer. By the end, a reader will feel like they’ve gained insights into the writer’s sources of inspiration, their motivations to write, as well as learning more about the book. A reader will get a “feel” for what the author is like too. Hopefully readers will be raring to go for your next book!
When I question authors who are my guests here, I put open questions to get a response and then more details from the writers. What I don’t want are Yes/No answers. Where’s the conversation in that?
Naturally the golden rule here Is to always be professional. When I set questions, I make it clear the interviewee doesn’t have to answer them all. (It’s too easy to unintentionally hit a raw nerve) but I find most do (probably encouraged by the fact I’ve said it’s okay to leave some! Murphy’s Law for Writers strikes again here).
I get questions to people in good time and set them a deadline for getting them back to me. I always request an up to date photo, author bio and photos. The interviewee is selling themselves here as well as their book.
I suspect it is that aspect which can make some uncomfortable with interviews – is it showing off? No. Not if you show something of what has made you write as you have and you can discuss your characters in an interesting way. Let us know why we would want to read their stories. It’s not a question of buy my book, buy my book here etc. It is a question of I think you’ll love Character A because they’re a feisty soul/amazing hero and I loved writing about how they overcame their struggles.
Questions to Ask your Characters
I used the random question generator to come up with some ideas here.
What’s your favorite piece of clothing you own?
What have you created that you are most proud of?
What issue will you always speak your mind about?
The generator I use here is the Washington Faculty one, which has a cute duck ahead of its prompts. All good fun.
All three of these questions could easily be put to a character. If your character has a favourite scarf, say, does it remind them of the way Tom Baker was in Doctor Who all those years ago? Why does it matter to them? People have reasons for having favourites. So do characters. What could your character create which is special? What issues resonate with them?
For blogging, I could ask the clothing question as it stood or adapt it into something like do you have special clothing you save for writing? I can use the created question directly. I could also ask the author to name the issues they care about and ask if their characters share these. All of these questions will get a conversation going.
That is what a good interview is – a conversation shedding light on an author and their creations.
How can a Writer Prepare for their Interviews?
Think of likely questions and draft your responses. Read author interviews. Listen to them. This will help give you a feel for what is expected here. Some good questions you can prepare would include things like:-
1. What is your book/story about? Try to summarise this in a couple of sentences. You want to give enough of the flavour of the book to make readers want to find out more. If you can include your elevator pitch as part of this, even better.
An elevator pitch is where you summarise your book in one line. The name comes from the idea that you find yourself in an elevator with a publisher and you have got to the time you reach your floor to sell your book to them when they ask you what is your book about? It is well worth working on this. This one line summary will be useful for other things such as press releases, the strap line on your book cover and so on.
2. What made you decide to become a writer? This is a good chance to talk about your love of books and stories and how that led you to want to write your own.
3. What do you love/loathe about your characters? This gives you another opportunity to talk about your book in a natural way. Again, you don’t want to go on too much. A succinct summary will be enough unless the interviewer wants to ask you more about why you hate Character X and why you put them in the story. Note here how answering those questions would get a good conversation going.
4. What advice would you pass on to other writers? Here you can talk about your writing journey and share tips. Sharing information with others is (a) useful, (b) is a way of “paying it backwards and forwards”, and (c) you can talk about how what you have learned will help you for the next book.
5. What are you working on at the moment? Now it’s a funny thing but I never want to talk much about my work in progress. Why? I did this once years ago, I ended up changing a lot of what I wrote, and I couldn’t face having to explain why I made the changes I did! Now I talk about work I know isn’t going to change much or I talk in general terms such as I am currently putting my third flash fiction collection together. You get the idea.
This kind of homework is useful. It makes you think about how you would talk about your book/story if given the opportunity to do so (and you may well get those chances if you go to writing events regularly).
Even if you’ve not been published yet (note the yet!), it is still worthwhile thinking about interviews. Thinking about how you would talk about your book is useful for when you network with other writers.
One of the first things any writer asks another is what do you write? Being able to summarise this is a great technique. It may well elicit other questions. For example I tell people I write flash fiction. They then ask me what that is and I tell them, often giving them an example of one of my shortest tales. I then go on to ask what they write and before you know it, there’s a good conversation going.
For interviews, you need to have something to say that will interest your readers/potential readers. So being able to say what your book is about succinctly is a crucial skill. You may well find in preparing something to say for this scenario, you will come up with material you can use for when you submit something to a publisher. They will need to know what your book is about after all!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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