Sunday, April 4, 2021

Pros, Cons, and a few How-Tos on Writing Interviews

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
If you follow Writers on the Move, you may already know that I love Q&A articles a la Ann Landers. It’s a hangover from my journalism days when I was given the job to edit The Great Ann’s column each day for space requirements. It was a lovely lesson in life, writing, and the ways of the publishing industry. These days I love to use Q&As when my readers send me questions using the contact form on my website at Here’s one on writing interviews with a few tips that help with just about anything you do as a freelancer:
QUESTION: I’m a new author and have been asked to do interviews for a pretty high-powered blog and don’t want to embarrass myself. Do you have any guidelines for me?
ANSWER: One of the things I notice about really great interviews is that the question and answers are short. And when I am asked to do interviews, the interviewer often suggests short answers and sometimes gives me a preferred word count for my answers.
When I was writing for a newspaper back in the dark ages I learned that it is an editor’s privilege—in fact their duty—to edit interviews and other material like wedding stories submitted to me. I don't do interviews for my blogs, but if I did, I'd tactfully—gently—let the interviewee know that I might need to edit it for style purposes or length. That way, they aren't surprised when they see interview answers that aren't exactly what they submitted.  
Another thing. This comes straight from my journalism classes: When we're wearing a journalism hat, we aren't required to let an interviewee (or informant) review, check, or otherwise monitor what we have written. We have a free press. So, you aren't obligated to run what you have written by your interviewee. You may choose to ask them to check for accuracy. And there are some benefits to that. It’s a process akin to having a sharp-eyed editor. It’s a great way to begin to build a relationship otherwise known as networking. But there are downsides. Are you willing to change a viewpoint or retract an edit you have made (like shortening an answer) to benefit the readability of your interview?  
Check out Time magazine's interviews. They're usually on their back page and they aim at information, but also try for a little spice, humor, or originality of language—even controversy. Your blogger will appreciate it if you can come up with an image that they might use, too. And it will always benefit you if you add your own short bio or credit line. You have more control of what will go into it if you do it for her. It will save your editor work if she is rushed (and they usually are!)  Be aware, though. She may do some editing of her own on it! That’s her privilege!
More About Today’s Writers on the Move Contributor


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, editor, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program including a class on editing for self-publishers. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes  The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor which won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically launched to rave reviews from Karen Cioffi, The Article Writing Doctor,






Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, this is such and informative and interesting article on doing interviews. I never thought about the editor's privilege and while I knew you love Ann Landers' Q&A, I didn't remember that you edited her columns for space requirements! Super interesting!

Terry Whalin said...


Thanks for this interesting article. In my journalism classes, I was taught never to show the subject the article before it was published. In my actual practice, I've learned to take a different action. I do show my article to my subject before I send it to my editor--and I'm careful the way I set that up. I'm not asking for their rewrite. I'm asking for an accuracy check. The fact I do this process is appreciated by the subject--and preserves my relationship with this person. I can't count on what the editor will do to my piece. I don't know if I will see the edited article or not before it is published. I can count on what I will turn into that editor in the first place. My practice is unusual but I still have great relationships with people I interviewed years ago.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Terry Whalin, yes, there are definitely some advantages to asking for an accuracy check and I think that is a good way to approach it, using that exact phrase! While we're on the subject, a friend of mine had enough books printed for a book club.She as thinking pre-publish buzz and the books cost her about $10 each to do. It was her first book. Probably because the book was not yet published, the club members took the event beyond the usual book club reading. They became pre-publish editors. It was devastating for her. I can see that this system could work as a kind of beta reader event, but it's not such a good idea if the book is rolling off the presses of a big five publishing firm the very moment they are shredding the novel before the authors eyes--and ears! So much depends on the purpose and how the "review" is presented.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson

deborah lyn said...

Super interesting article Carolyn.
I like your "Press Pass", and short question format best. I edited and published a collection of 24 interviews and found that short questions netted lots of great information. Thanks much for this article! and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carolyn,
Thanks for sharing your ideas about interviews!
I sometimes enjoy the long answers!
Short answers want you to learn more. Two sides of a good coin!

How are you?
Never Give Up

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