One of my writing students wants to do a series of biographies. So we’ve been discussing how to approach the people in question for interviews. Whether you want to write a biography of someone who is still alive or need to interview a park ranger about bobcats, here are three tips to help you score.
1st Do Your Research
Doing an interview is a way to supplement other research. It is not a short cut. Because of this, you need to first do all of the research that you can without doing the interview. This means that you should have read all the articles, sites and books before you ask for an interview.
It doesn’t matter if you want to interview a sports figure and are approaching her or her trainer. Do your research first.
It May Be Hard to Get a Yes
No one has to give you an interview. In fact, they have every right to say no. Can’t do your piece without this particular interview? Than you might not be writing it. Some people are just too busy to squeeze you in.
Others just won’t see why they should do it. They might see you as an intruder.
When I worked on my master’s thesis, I interviewed members of the local Chinese and Taiwanese community. Look at my picture. I am neither Chinese or Taiwanese. My thesis advisor helped me land my first interview and it was a tough one. The plan was for each interview to take 30 minutes. Maybe I would have to do two or even three with a single person. I met with this person for hours over the course of two months. But I did it. And this person got me in to see absolutely everyone else I needed to see.
First, I had to pay my dues.
When you are writing for children, let people know that this is what you are doing. I’ve had people hesitate to say yes right up until I identify myself as a children’s writer. I’m not trying to stir something up. I just want to teach children about geology . . . Akal Teke horses . . . white-tailed deer. When I let them know who I am and specifically what I am writing, doing an interview becomes more appealing.
An interview is a great way to gather information. Be prepared to show your interview subject that you respect them and aren’t using them as a shortcut. No one likes to feel used.