How do you find interviewees for your articles?

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You almost always need at least one interview for a magazine or newspaper article. But it makes much more sense to get three or four, and even many more if you plan to rewrite the original piece again and again. (And if Reprints, Rewrites, or Reprints of Rewrites are your plan: bravo. My $2.99 Kindle book, just out, by that name should help.)

Most articles need more than quotes, of course. They need facts, quotes, anecdotes, and artwork (photos, drawings, charts, graphs, and so on). Sometimes no artwork, sometimes no anecdotes, but if you also leave out the facts and quotes it’s hard to keep that word house from tumbling down or blowing away from skeletal inadequacy.

The people you will interview might be those who know enough about a topic to be an expert. Or a celebrity, a person with a new idea or invention, someone who was a first-hand witness. If your article addresses a two-sided argument, you either get the strongest proponent of each side, plus another person or two that each suggests. Or just one side of the issue.

Beyond what the interviewee says, there’s another solid reason for getting quotes. Those interviewed give your facts a source of origin. Readers want to know first-hand information from a person who knows first hand, or is at least considerably closer to it than they are. If your piece begins, “Melinda Moore saw a sailor levitate for almost two minutes at Benny’s Grog House last night,” you must mention that Melinda is the daytime bartender at the Grog House. Then you find anybody else who can attest to the same levitation, with details about the incident, plus where they live or work or what they do. Your questions will mostly be about the levitation, how long the sailor has been doing it, did he float anywhere as he levitated, how high did he rise, how long he was he air-bound? You might also ask about the sailor’s (and the witnesses’) sobriety at the time. It will sound like a fish tale if you don’t also interview the sailor. Who is he, how long has he been levitating, how did he do it, what did it feel like, and on what date (and at what time) does he plan to repeat the happening?

The example of Melinda and the sailor is fairly obvious. But in truth, it’s no more difficult finding the best people to interview for almost any article. Ask yourself, what would you (or the editor) want to know about the topic or incident? Who knows about that best? You’re half way home!

If you interview your postman or a gas station employee, those are easy to get. But the more famous your interviewee is, the more likely they are to ask, “Where will it appear?” So if that’s likely to be the first (and major) hurdle, query first, get a “go-ahead” from the editor of the target publication, then the article has more than a 90% chance of being used on those pages.

Is it easy to get a person to agree to be interviewed? It’s never easy, but with the correct explanation of where it will be used and the benefits it will bring to the person and the editor, it’s not hard to arrange.

Four tips: (1) ask the question that must be answered, but make it the second question–unless that question is a door-slammer (“Is it true that you rob the poor box in every church enter?”), then you ask it last. (2) don’t talk about yourself in the interview. The editor won’t buy an article about you. (3) you don’t have to prearrange most of your interviews if the person featured is an everyday person. (4) I’ve never paid for an interview.

A few thoughts about the scariest thing for newcomers in article writing: the interview.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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