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Strategies for Crafting Great Interviews

by Julie Schwietert Jan 10, 2008

So you want to be a travel writer? There are lots of niches, of course—destination guides, first-person travelogues, and reviews—but don’t overlook the travel-related interview.

In this guide, we give you the top 10 tips for landing the ultimate travel writing interview.

10. Redefine ultimate, scout the local talent.

While you may be interested in trying to land interviews with the travel world’s equivalent of A-list celebrities, don’t overlook people of local interest. You could be the first writer to introduce a large audience to someone who hasn’t yet gained much more than local exposure but who could have widespread relevance. Some potential interview subjects to consider include local writers, environmental activists, socially responsible entrepreneurs, and people developing the community. Make sure that you capture that local angle while also identifying some universal themes of interest to a non-local reader.

9. Do your homework.

Once you’ve identified your subject, do some background research. For a recent interview with a local writer, I read his latest book, read essays on his website, and searched for previous interviews that would help me craft questions that were different and generated a unique angle compared to anything else published about him.

8. Make contact. Make a first impression.

Based on the background material you’ve collected, determine the best way to make first contact with your interview subject. I’ve found that it’s best to contact the individual first and then his or her agent or publicist. Be concise. Be engaging. Be appropriate but not overly formal. Make your request as clear and specific as possible. In follow-up messages, establish some parameters and boundaries that will help your subject know what you expect of him or her, including the anticipated length of the interview, and what he or she can expect from you.

7. Offer options and make it worth their while.

You’re most likely to land an awesome interview if you offer your subject options about how the interview will be conducted and if you make it worth their while. In my interview request to the writer, I mentioned that I’d be willing to conduct the interview via e-mail, but that I preferred to get together in person. Because I’d learned in my research that the writer was interested in promoting his local area’s natural beauty–which is one of the subjects of his most recent books–I mentioned that I’d love to meet at the creek that is the setting of his book in order to capture some audio and video to accompany the published interview and introduce a diverse audience to this place. This was a hook that made the interview worth his while.

6. Let the interview be a platform for learning more.

What information can accompany the interview that will make it more attractive to your interview subject and to the publication where you’re pitching it? If you’re interviewing an author, what links can you provide that will take your reader to the author’s work? If you’re interviewing a musician, how can a reader become a listener? What audio and video technologies can you use to expand your piece and give it greater depth? What links can you provide for the reader who may want to learn more about the subject?

5. Establish rapport.

The best interviews reflect the interviewer’s ability to establish rapport with his or her subject. What can you bring to the interview that may help you connect with your subject quickly and effectively? As I was preparing for a recent interview, I found a couple of poems that I considered relevant to my interviewee’s interests—and I also knew he is a poet– and I brought them to the interview. They became a springboard into discussion that was more organic than it might have been just starting with an interview script.

4. Prepare smart questions.

Tip #5 notwithstanding, you should prepare a list of questions that you can use to help structure the interview. Even if you never ask a single question on the list you prepared, the exercise of thinking about and writing the questions will make for a smoother interview. It’s also likely to teach you more about your subject and to make you alert to natural opportunities to ask relevant questions during the interview itself.

3. Get invested in your subject.

While you probably chose an interview subject who interests you personally, spend the pre-interview period getting invested in the interviewee and his or her work. This doesn’t mean that you have to—or ever should—be uncritically praising of your subject, but it does mean you should have an appreciation and respect for that person and should look for qualities that are worth conveying to your audience that aren’t otherwise evident in that person’s work.

2. Find the format.

There are many different ways that an interview can be presented to your audience, and the nature of your interview, the quality of the subject’s responses, the expectations of your audience, and the technological capabilities open to you and your audience will all shape what format you should choose for the most effective presentation of the interview. (Be sure to check out previous interviews on Matador for some great ideas about format!)

1. Follow Up.

The interview process doesn’t end once you’ve completed the interview. Be sure to send an acknowledgment of thanks to your subject, and include a copy of the interview or information about when and where it will be published. If your subject has a publicist or agent, it would be nice to send a clip to that person as well. As John Lane writes in Circling Home, “Saying thanks…to contacts and sources is a writer’s way of plotting points on a sort of relational graph of a community.”

One of Matador’s regular contributors, Julie Schwietert Collazo is a writer, editor, researcher, and translator who lives in New York, Mexico City, and San Juan. She has a BA in English and Women’s Studies, a Masters of Social Work, and is working on a PhD in Literature at the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe.

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