What do you do if a promised article interviewee finks out?
If you are writing a one-interview piece, a sort of bio plus, and the fink is the purpose of the article, apologize to the editor as soon as possible. You needn’t make excuses for the person but do try to reschedule it right away…
Since queries very often suggest interviewing three people to get differing viewpoints, if one backs out at interview time, find another person to substitute who is equally as well informed. Tell the editor what you did and why, and try to maintain the same pro-con-middle balance if that’s what’s expected… Do you tell #2 that he/she is second choice and the first choice ratted out? If it’s well known that there was a #1 choice, of course. They will find out anyway and wonder why you weren’t more straightforward. But if it’s still early in the planning stages, probably not. As usual, it depends…
You might ask the editor if they have a suggested replacement for the absentee if the piece is due far enough in the future–or if travel is involved. Or offer to find a substitute and check it with the editor–preferably before.
Don’t promise the editor that you will interview the Queen for your piece unless the Queen has agreed…any queen! Then don’t dawdle. But don’t panic unless the person is that caliber or is super reclusive. The world (1) will not stop spinning, and (2) is full of well-informed folk who love to talk and will be delighted to see their words and wisdom in print, even if that wisdom is questionable.
Sometimes editors get excited about a highlight series of interviews. Some years back I wrote about 15 articles related to animal orientation–dogs, cats, goats, and so on finding their way home over long distances. It was a new discipline and almost all of the top human experts in the field were alive and active. The author of a key magazine was enthusiastic too, and suggested that we pose about five central questions and ask each to reply, separately, in different articles. Unfortunately, once the schedule was ready, the questions were defined, and press drum rolls were an issue away from stirring up excitement in the readers about the coming special features, reality set in. They each wanted to know what the others were going to say first! Then Z wanted B (nobody knew who he was) included–if Z was going to participate. And C would only do it, with reluctance it seemed, if the pay was enough. At which point the editor shook her head (or so I imagine; we never met) and within months the leaders started getting too old, too forgetful, or too dead–and the editor and I were off somewhere else.
There’s another point worth sharing here. Figure out the best way to conduct the interview, for you and them. During most of my article days it was either by phone or in person, though now it can also be done by Skype or other visual means. I found that the more famous the person was, the more they didn’t want a one-on-one talk–unless TV or video were involved. So phone was it. Politicians were the reverse: true flesh-pressers. The wariest and prissiest were the academics, and the weariest were the athletes, often exhausted trying to find different, intelligible, clean answers to the two or three worthwhile questions you might ask them. And a personal bias, since I interviewed in Spanish and Portuguese too: in person, please. That was a double win, though, because I got to meet and see them laugh as well.
Just some scattered thoughts. Hope they help.
P.S. I have several other “interviewing” blogs here. To read them, just write “interview” in the search box at the top of any blog–and all will probably appear. (In fact, you can do that with other themes or words too. A great time-saver for all.)