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In session 6, you discovered how to take one idea and spin it into multiple articles.
In session 7, the focus is on developing your own network of experts.
You started out on this journey by gathering together a list of your types of expertise and the expertise of your friends and family members. As you continue on your freelancing career, you’ll want to keep expanding this list. As you interview more and more people, you’ll want to keep their contact information. And, as you attend writer’s conferences and other networking events, you’ll want to keep contact information of the writers that you meet – and that of the editors and publishers and agents that you meet and work with, and so on and forth.
One aspect of freelance writing that often makes people nervous is reaching out and interviewing people that you don’t know. But on your quest to keep expanding your universe of experts, it’s vital to do it well. Here is an article that I wrote on the topic:
The Interviewing Conundrum
When I worked for a newspaper, I interviewed a photographer who taped cable television shows for the local school system. He was a pleasant man and our interview progressed well, but I feared that the article would be bland. Near the end of our conversation, I commented on his ever-so-slight accent and then words spilled from out of his mouth. He’d literally gone from millions to mayhem; as a young child in Hungary, he’d lived in a mansion filled with servants. Then the Nazis destroyed his idyllic life and by the time the photographer was a young man, his parents were dead and he was a newcomer in the country of America. He knew how to take pictures, however, and so he supported himself in that way.
Everyone has at least one good story to tell. It’s the writer’s job, however, to uncover that story, because the subjects themselves often don’t realize how intriguing their tale. The photographer, for example, told me that I could include his personal history if I thought “someone would be interested.”
Here’s the interviewing conundrum. The writer must ask all the pertinent questions and ensure the accuracy of the answers. But a good interviewer is also willing to veer off the subject if a more engaging one surfaces – and so begins the balancing act. My personal solution is this: I research the subject of the interview and jot down thoughts in preparation, but I never create a hard and fast set of questions. I want my interviews to have the flavor of a pleasant yet professional conversation.
There’s a risk in this, of course, because vital questions can be overlooked. I won’t claim that this never happens to me, but with practice, it has become a rare occurrence and the spontaneity I maintain is worth the gamble.
Interviewers must mimic the tone of the interviewee. If you call someone and she asks about the weather in your area, assume that she enjoys preliminary chitchat. If the person says, “How can I help you and how long will this take?” this is a clear indication that precision is the key.
The personality of the interviewee also dictates the style of the questioning. When I wrote ’Bout Boomerangs: America’s Silent Sport, I interviewed about 50 boomerang experts from around the globe, each one a distinct individual. One athletic and eccentric man shaved his head, except for one boomerang-shaped piece of hair, and a golden boomerang dangled from his ear. Contrast this with my interview with the brilliant engineer who revealed the physics of the returning stick –and the one with the enthusiastic 15 year old who’d set a world record in speed throwing less than one hour before the interview.
But, while each interview is unique, there are many common threads. Since I’ve sold hundreds of profiles of authors, I’ll use that process as an example:
• Prepare for the interview. Read the most recent or most well-known book of the author’s. Also read already published interviews of this person, to avoid stale and clichéd questions, and peruse any press releases accompanying the book.
• Determine what interests you most about the book and/or author and jot down these thoughts. Also write down anything that confuses you, so that it can be cleared up.
• Set a precise time for the interview and be on time. Often interviewees like to know how long the interview will take, so offer an estimate.
• If a statement during the interview confuses you, paraphrase that statement, then say, ”If I understand you . . .” If you were correct, your mind is at ease. If you misunderstood something, then you just prevented an embarrassing error.
• Thank the person for his or her time and ask that you be allowed a short follow-up phone call for clarifications.
• Clear your calendar for a short time after the interview, because they often take longer than expected. Gauge the reaction of the interviewee, however, to see if this extended time is acceptable. (Or just ask!)
• After the interview, review your notes while they’re still fresh in your mind and organize the information immediately.
• Send a written thank-you note, if appropriate. In this hurried and harried world, old-fashioned etiquette sparkles and puts you a professional pedestal. When the article arrives in all its polished glory, send a copy to the person interviewed.
Action item: set up a system to keep track of contact information of the people you meet as your freelance career develops. Actively network. To help that along, here is my contact info:
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kbsagert
- Twitter: http://twitter.com/KBSagert
- Google+: https://plus.google.com/117952625717994307054/posts?hl=en
- LinkedIn: Kelly Boyer Sagert
- Email: KBSagert@aol.com