Giving Good Interview – Suggestions on How to Be a Dream Interview Subject

When writing friends began to ask me for advice about their role in the author interview, I scratched my head even as I did my best to answer their questions. Surely they’d know more than I; after all, I’m unpublished, uninterviewed, and my credentials in this arena stem chiefly from nosiness. However, a quick survey on my blog explained the cause of their confusion: Most authors don’t have access to a publicist. They’re learning on the job or informally from one another.

This post is intended to fill the gap. I’ll share some examples of what I consider best practices, particularly for an in-depth interview like we do in our two-parters on Writer Unboxed. If you have a different opinion, experience, or suggestions, please add to the conversation!

Tomorrow’s post will be about the interview’s role, and yes, I haz expectations.

Before You Commit Is the Site the Right One for You?

Match your goals and strengths to the site. For instance, are you aiming for quantitative exposure? Do you have a premise and/or cover art that practically sell themselves? Do you find networking a snap? If so, you might favour blogs with short, pithy interviews. Conversely, are you hoping to cement/forge a relationship with a blog host? Would your work display better if given a more holistic approach? If so, consider aiming for a longer interview, then maximize its exposure.

Take into consideration the blog’s voice and audience. You are more likely to find an audience which will engage with your fiction if you enjoy reading the blog. Size isn’t everything. An interview which connects with the host and readership on a small blog probably contains more benefit than a spectacular miss on a big site.

Are there interview guidelines? Ask. Some sites post expectations, some list them in a letter, some handle them organically on a per-interview basis. What’s most important is to have them articulated so you know if you and the site are a match. In particular:

  • Do you want to engage with readers in the comment section or do you want to consider the interview finished when it airs? (Ditto for the host’s engagement.)
  • Does the site favor memes or will your interview be personalized?
  • Many sites won’t put in direct links for reader purchase, others do so routinely. Does this matter to you?
  • Will you want to offer a novel or prize to help spike comments? If so, under what terms? Will your host be open or expect it?

Time-Considerations and Scheduling

You’ll likely be setting up your schedule months in advance, but some pre-thinking will endear you to your hosts:

Pace Yourself and Build in Flex-Time: An interview will take time and energy from you when you might be preoccupied with copyedits or deadlines for another book. From first correspondence to last, you’ll spend a minimum of two hours per site. (In the survey referenced above, that number varied from 1 – 8 hours. “Typical” was about 4 hours.)

If you schedule two interviews on one day, aim for different audiences. After the time you’ve both invested, don’t make your blog hosts compete for the same traffic. Also, if you hit a lower Internet-traffic week, you’ve lost that cadre of readers.

If you have to cancel or reschedule, do it early – if you don’t show, not only will you have wasted your host’s time, but you’ll leave a gap that has to be filled.

To Maximize Efficiency, Build Depth in an Interview, and Make Your Host’s Life Easy…

…build yourself a press kit. At some point, your interviewer is probably going to want access to the following. Offer and send them the following whenever they are ready for it. I prefer to have this data before I compose the questions.

  • cover art
  • author
    photo – if it is copyrighted and credit needs to be given to photographer, include that information
  • biography – your host might well recraft this, rather than cut and paste, but if you have talking points you want included, why not set them up for success?
  • relevant reviews – don’t deceive them if you’ve had a bad review, but darn well ensure they see the good ones
  • premise
  • links to other interviews they might use as a foundation
  • links to the platform sites you’d like the host to reference for readers (FB author page, Twitter,  website, blog, etc.)
  • if the site typically does excerpts, the section you’d like used
  • link to book trailers

As You Compose Your Responses

  • The best interviews happen when you’re willing to be genuine, take risks, and provide each host with a bit of a scoop. (More on this tomorrow.)
  • Include relevant links whenever possible. (If you reference your agent, a blog post, etc.)
  • To serve the reader, on even the most committed site, you’ll face some question repetition. Consider it a challenge to answer in an inventive manner. At the very least, paraphrase yourself. As a reader, what would you think if you followed a favorite author and discovered they cut and paste responses?

To Maximize an Interview’s Exposure

Before it Airs: Particularly for bigger interviews, post a schedule of upcoming events on your website.

When It’s Up:

  • On Michael Hyatt’s blog, Jeff Goins made an important recommendation on guest-blogging. It’s equally applicable here:  “…treat it as you would one of your own posts, if not better. Tweet it, share it, email it, etc. Post an excerpt on your own blog and link to the whole article. Interact in the comments and engage readers who respond. This is a must.”
  • If it’s a big interview and you have a media-savvy agent or a receptive publisher, give them a link. In my experience, they are generally only too happy to direct attention to their clients.

When It’s Over, Keep it Working for You:

  • Link to big interviews on your “About page” or similar. I know for a fact this works, because almost a year and a half after I interviewed Laura Kinsale on my blog, I get near-daily hits from this page on her site.
  • Other examples of popular writers who maximize their interviews: Sarah Addison Allen and Juliet Marillier. (If you don’t care much for social media, you’d do well to study these sites. These authors have done their level best to make information accessible to readers and capitalize on their impact.)
  • If it’s relevant, reference the interview in your current posts. (Kim Michelle Richardson did this on a Huffington Post article, and you can bet I appreciated it.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love it if you turn the comment section into a resource. If you’ve been interviewed and had a wonderful experience, care to share who nailed the role of host? What made it special? Did I miss anything you think is important?

Lastly, if you found this helpful, don’t forget about tomorrow’s post, which will be about the role of the interviewer.



About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.


  1. says

    Wah, great list!! I bookmarked it for future reference. The parts about time commitment are especially helpful.

    I think another thing worth mentioning is to be brief. I know it’s tempting to be really thorough, but think about potential readers. Are they going to read a 1000 word interview? And if they do, will they retain any of it? Or are you better off figuring what 3-4 things you really want to get across, and focusing on making sure your answers highlight those things in a fun and engaging (and succinct) way?

  2. Vaughn Roycroft says

    I now have a new goal: to be a famous enough author to warrant being interviewed by Jan O’Hara. :-) Or now, after today’s and tomorrow’s thorough tutelage, to be qualified enough to interview a post-published Jan O’Hara. (Yeah yeah, I know, I don’t have a venue worthy of your Tartitude…yet. I said it was a GOAL. ;-)

    You’re awesome. Thanks for this. Seriously, I hope to need it someday.

  3. says

    Thanks for the great tips. As a budding author who’s trying to make a name for himself and trying to get his book out to the masses, this subject has never crossed my mind. Sound advice! :D

  4. says

    Now here’s a topic I’ve never yet seen addressed, at least not in this much detail. THANK you! This is going into the bookmarked file.

  5. says

    As a writer who does interviews weekly, on both sides of the equation – as both the subject as well as the interviewer, I can say the most annoying and least effective response I can get from an interview subject is when they simply give me, “yes,” or “no,” answers. The response is rarely useful to me and almost always indicates the question and answer were wasted.

    The most annoying habit I have as an interview subject is that I can let my enthusiasm for the subject matter get the best of me, and I talk too much.

    A happy middle ground can be hard to find sometimes, but it is always appreciated.

    I have also found that the best quotes come from interview subjects (myself included) who aren’t trying to say something memorable. When you relax and simply speak from the heart, that’s when you’re the most uniquely individual interview subject as you will ever be. So if you can contain your nerves – relax and flow with the interview. You’ll have a better time of it, and the interview almost always benefits from your more facile, less protected brain-power.

  6. says

    Jan, I loved this so much I printed it out to keep by my side as I was writing my own online press kit. I’ve got a blog tour coming up and I’ve already sent one post to an interviewer in the kit. I told the interviewer she could use one or none of the links, depending on what was easiest for her.

    She thanked me for making things so easy for her, and she loved my book trailer, which I doubt she would have seen had I not included the link. She said she is definitely including that link!

    Thank you for all your hard work on this. It is really helpful.

  7. says

    Hi, all. Sorry for the delay in my response. I’ve been travelling and don’t care to peck responses through my phone.

    I’m glad if you’re finding this helpful!

    Kristan, I have no hard data, but my sense is that authors are served by a range of lengths. For instance, NYT or Times interviews can be 6000 words plus, and they run them at once and make them multi-pagers. For people who are already fans or deeply curious about an author with buzz, or for someone with a timely opinion, that length can be perfect. However, probably better to make the majority of interviews short and appealing and maximize a “showcase” interview.

    Vaughn, I’m going to remind you of this when you’re beating interviewers off with a stick, LOL. But thank you.

    Jamie, open questions usually serve me well, meaning the kind that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” And nerves don’t help anyone, do they?

    Teresa, IMHO, that sounds like the perfect light touch. (Which I would have expected from you.) I imagine interviewers don’t want to feel *obliged* to use data, but when you make it easy for them to serve you, their site and the material, it’s a win-win.

  8. says

    I’m going to check these and see if I followed all or most of them on my own Miz Tart interview — lawd! ;-D … love this comprehensive guide – love Miz Tart – dang, I love Writer Unboxed – I’m full of love this morning (or full of something anyway – -dang)