Turn Interviews into Wow-Worthy Articles

How to Write Interview-based Articles

 We’re picking up the interviewing process at the point where you have all your information together and you’re ready to write the article. Later in this blog, you’ll find a link to a magazine that consists soley of interviews, and a link to a video that reveals a “secret” method to construct wow-worthy personality profiles based on interviews.

In your article, depict body language, gestures, mannerisms and surroundings to portray a person. This example is from an article by Angela Lambert: “In a light-filled, graceful room tumbled with cushions, rugs and sofas, Doris Lessing is talking. Even though her conversation flits and strays there is – as there is in her writing – an immense concentration of energy in every word.”

To prevent articles from becoming impersonal, add personalizing details, even if (especially if) you never met the person face to face. How did the interviewee sound during phone conversation? “Helen’s voice spiraled angrily when she talked about milk-fed veal.” What has the interviewee done, seen, thought? “Dave gazed out his office window toward the capitol, most likely wondering, ‘Can I win the next election?'”

Before composing your article, study your targeted magazine for style preferences. Do published articles use past or present tense (said or says)? Does the magazine present people in a flattering or controversial vein? Do articles cover one view or several sides of an issue? What percent of each article contains quotations versus narrative? Who is the audience and how does that affect your article’s slant? Does the editor require written releases from interviewees? Model releases for photographs?

Read and learn from world-class writers whose articles based on interviews are published in Interview Magazine.

Watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_AQuGgqCtc for a winning process to construct the article.

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The Novel Ken’s War stands out for its appeal to young adult and adult readers, males and females. With a blend of restrained pathos and quiet humor, the tale follows a boy forced to live in Japan with his stern, pre-occupied father.

The novel by Beth Fowler is slated for publication later this year by Melange Books.

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The Art of Interviewing by Cindy Kalinoski

Cindy Kalinoski

Cindy Kalinoski

Guest blogger Cindy Kalinoski edited the non-fiction book Leg Up The Courage to Dream, a 2013 Award-Winning Finalist of the USA Best Book Awards, sponsored by USA Book News. Cindy provides writing, editing, copywriting and proofreading services as The Word Helper. She also created. The English Makeover Cindy has written for National Geographic,  Dale Carnegie, YORK International, Penn State University, and Susquehanna Style magazine, among others.

The Art of Interviewing

Journalism—whether it’s for news or for a company piece—is about getting the real story. The story behind the story. What we writers call “back story”.  That, along with good writing, is what makes reading an article interesting…or not.

Suppose you are writing a profile about someone. How do you know what to ask? How do you find out what really drives him? How do you get her really talking? First, consider that the art of interviewing is about more than just the interview; it’s also about research. It’s about asking questions and listening and recording, but research will take you a long way toward an article people can’t put down.

So research your subject. Google her. Find out everything you can from the person who asked you to write the article. If your subject is less than forthcoming, tell her thank you and that you’ll call her back with more questions in a day or two and maybe a third time. She may become more responsive and will have thought about what she can share with you. Meanwhile, ask for the name of a friend or colleague and get some quotes about your subject from that person, and ask him or her what topics you should raise.

Next, you’ll want to generate questions, some of which will surface from your research. If he has done something extraordinary, like invented an app that made him millions, learn what you can online. If she has volunteered at a homeless shelter, look up the shelter and find out whether their rules make volunteering there challenging. Look at where the shelter is located and check out Google maps’ street view to see if she’s putting herself in danger every time she goes. Come up with some open-ended questions. Ask, for instance, what or who has influenced her. What are his favorite life experiences? What does she do when she gets off work?

This will lead naturally to passion. What really drives a profile article is communicating a person’s passion, and first you have to find out what it is. When you go after this, use different words. We’ve all heard people say, “It’s my passion”. Get creative. Ask if she thinks it’s her calling. Her purpose. Ask why he likes doing it. Prompt him to express it in new ways. That goes for every answer you get; try to encourage the person to say something quotable by rephrasing what they say and asking if that’s what they mean. Ask questions in fresh ways. If you’re lucky, you can feed her a quote and she’ll repeat it.

A note here about listening. Most of us—at least Americans—spend a lot of our time talking or at least me-too’ing when people talk. Resist this with every cell you have. If you insert your own experience, it can knock your subject off his train of thought and stop him from talking. You can insert little sounds of agreement, but do not steal the narrative.

Hand in hand with listening is recording. Don’t depend on your memory. Have a method of recording—heck, have two if possible. Use your cell phone’s voice recorder app, take notes by hand or bring your laptop (or slap some headphones on for a phone interview) and type like a fiend. Don’t worry about spelling, and throw punctuation out the office door. Just close your eyes and type as fast as your poor fingers can fly. Later you’ll be able to piece together what you typed. One advantage to this method is that you won’t have to transcribe your notes, and you’ll have great word-for-word quotes.

One final hint: don’t put your pen down (or stop typing) until you have actually hung up the phone or gotten in your car to leave. People tend to get more quotable when they think the interview is over. Don’t miss these gems.

You’ll get at the heart of the matter best by researching, listening, and asking compelling questions. Best of all, you’ll find that a good interview—or several—will make writing your profile a whole lot easier.

Write a Winning Query Letter

What about query letters to magazine editors?

Query letters are previews to coming attractions, therefore, I write query letters after I’ve gained adequate knowledge about the topic. This enables me to insert enticing tidbits. I also list my interviewee list so the editor knows whose expertise and experience I will incorporate in my article.

I consult my query letter as I write the article to ensure I deliver the promised goods.

For more sure-fire tips that have helped me convince hundreds of editors to request my articles (and pay for them), listen to Paul Lima of the University of Toronto.

In a future blog, I’ll share the query that landed a deal for my novel, Ken’s War.

The novel highlights Ken’s attempts to find his place in a world turned upside-down. Exquisitely portrayed characters play indelible roles in Ken’s rocky journey from boyhood to manhood.

Cross-Cultural Blunders Have Consequences for Authors (Part 2)

Armed with cultural sensitivity and a global perspective, freelancers who produce informative and interesting articles will make sales in the international marketplace. Here are some tips that have helped me gain credibility with editors across the globe and make international sales.

            Gesture Judiciously – Writers are encouraged to describe gestures in personality profiles and fictional characterizations, but gestures don’t necessarily convey universal meanings. Thrusting the index and middle fingers upward in a V shape signifies an insult, victory, two or peace—the meaning depends on where thrusting occurs! Similarly, in some Asian countries a western-style goodbye wave means, please, come here. My buddies raise one hand and flap it side to side signifying something is so-so. The same wiggle in the East can mean no, no.

When gestures are important to a story, international freelancers include explanations that flow naturally. Illuminate body language using descriptions along the lines of “Making a circle with finger and thumb, the captain indicated that the trip was successful,” and “The driver crossed his forearms to form an X. The gesture meant the bus was broken.”

            Hold the Humor – Comedy, especially puns, double entendres, satire and allusions, can be risky. A Singaporean businessman reading an Australian writer’s editorial remained stone-faced when he came to the journalist’s supposedly humorous reference to Kerry Packer’s weight. Who’s Kerry Packer? What’s his weight got to do with anything? Trans-cultural humor requires intimate knowledge of psychology, zeitgeist, politics, history and language.

Getting laughs in the comedy-writing field is tricky even within one’s own culture. If a joke or amusing anecdote is integral to the manuscript’s purpose, recruit a local from the country whose ribs you hope to tickle (to use a cliché) to review the piece first. Rewrite accordingly.

Cite Specifics – In anticipation of a two-week holiday in England, a Bombay reader scanned a travel article written by a Brit. The reader’s wife, wanting to know what clothes to pack, asked, “How’s the weather this time of year?” Her husband replied, “This writer says England is ‘red hot.'” The woman packed lightweight clothing for the family. They shivered for a fortnight because London temperatures never rose above 20º C.

Like chameleons, adjectives change in relation to the environment. “Cold” to me is balmy to Koreans. “Spicy” to me is bland to Malaysians. “Conservative” for me is offensive to some Saudis.  Internationally published writers avoid relative words (hot, heavy, tiny, expensive, near) in favor of specific words (32º C, five tons, one centimeter, HKD$200,000, 150 meters).

            Learn the Lingo – Do Thais drive trucks or lorries? Do Vietnamese rent flats or apartments? Do Japanese assume a thong is a slipper, an undergarment or something else? Do Chinese diners ask for tomato sauce, catsup or ketchup when eating…um…chips, wedges or French fries? Find out.

In Ken’s War, a YA novel by B.K. Fowler, Ken finds his world is turned upside down when he is whisked off to Japan. Culture shock and teen hormones collide. The novel is slated for publication in 2014 by Melange Books LLC www.melangebooks.com.

article by Beth Fowler

article by Beth Fowler

How to Interview Someone for an Article (Part 3 of 3)

Submitting the Manuscript

            Submit the manuscript with a cover letter reminding the editor he or she had expressed an interest in it, on-spec, based on your query. If the article was commissioned, mention that. On a separate page list each source’s name, position or job title, interview date(s), telephone number and email address.

Maintaining objectivity is an interviewer’s primary goal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always help writers win friends, but it does influence people. The minute the newspaper with my article about the previous night’s school board meeting hit the streets, the school principal called me. She objected to the way I had written my brief. Still disgruntled, she complained to my editor. He asked her, “Are the facts as reported correct?” “Yes, they are,” the principal admitted.

That saved me. The editor learned he could trust me to report the facts and that I didn’t succumb to real or perceived pressure.

We all appreciate articles brimming with facts, animated by interesting personalities. Conducting interviews can be your route to writing articles readers crave and editors buy.

If this blog was helpful, then “like” and share with other writers who want to get published.

“Follow” this blog to receive more articles for writers who like getting published.

Ken’s War, a YA novel by B.K. Fowler, is slated for publication in 2014 by Melange Books LLC www.melangebooks.com.

How to Interview Someone for an Article (Part 2)

Putting it all Together

            Organizing research and interview notes can seem daunting, plus it’s tempting to cram in as much data as possible into your article. Following a structure helped me condense facts and figures from four books, two essays, an interview and an outing with a falconer down to a 1000-word article.

In the first or second paragraph use a quote containing a surprising or unusual fact and another quote which captures the essence of the person or topic. Avoid opening with a quote because many magazines print the first letter of the first sentence in fancy fonts and colors. The first set of quotations marks become stylized, enlarged or lost.

Put the subject in context. What is so unusual about this person? What led up to this situation? What bearing does this have on readers? In other words, answer the readers’ unspoken question: So what?

Weave historical facts, background information, statistics and emotions and others’ views in with quotations. Develop a rhythm by alternating pro and con views, or present and past, or direct quotations with description.

Wrap-up with a quote summarizing the article’s theme and with another quote that looks to the future. An article by Annette Spahr in Apprise magazine begins, “Captain Kathryn E. Doutt sits at her desk rolling a glass ball.” The article ends, “Perhaps a crystal ball should be consulted.”

Not only does Spahr’s article end with a reference to the future, it also recalls the image of the crystal ball from the first paragraph. This creates a pleasing literary roundness.

As you write, you’ll decide which quotes to use and which to toss out. Use quotes that only the interviewee could have said. Any weight lifter might say, “I eat lots of protein.” Only the champion weight lifter said, “After I added 33% more lean protein to my diet, I won the regional completion.”

Let the subject’s voice show through. This means quoting their specialized vocabulary, idioms and even incomplete sentences. Your narrative will define unfamiliar jargon. Avoid preaching or moralizing (unless that is your job.) Let the subject’s quotations do that.

Vary repetitious he-said-she-saids with partial direct quotes, as in, Mary described herself as an “optimistic fatalist.” Summarize the conversation: Carlos reviewed his plans for reorganizing the department.

Calling interviewees to verify what they said is standard. When possible, verify information with a second source. If Joe said his dad opened the first hotel in Craver County, check county records.

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“Follow” to receive more helpful articles written for writers who like getting published. To meet characters a reviewer described as “so real you can actually sense their presence,” get the eco-thriller The Universal Solvent at Amazon.com or at www.xlibris.com.

It’s too soon to say much, but next year you’ll have a chance to get your hands on a good novel and donate to a worthy cause at the same time.

How to Interview Someone for an Article (Part I)

 Interviews provide writers with the meat ‘n’ potatoes for personality profiles and spice for articles about topics other than the interviewee. Quotations, insights and asides you get during interviews can ignite a spark of life in articles, setting your work apart from ho-hum encyclopedic rehashes.

Doing the Homework

            Find someone unusual about whom others would enjoy reading. My most delightful interview was with my 53-year-old neighbor, a falconer. I sold an article about falconry to a retirement magazine. To learn how to land a chat with a big shot go to http://goo.gl/tdX8ip

Before interviewing someone, research that person thoroughly. Read newspapers, magazines, press releases, text books and, yes, encyclopedias (online and otherwise). Gather basic facts, unique insights and opposing views before interviewing the key person. Get info from the person’s admirers and detractors.

Thorough research yields advantages. First, you’ll be challenged to come up with questions that aren’t answered already in common sources and websites.

The second advantage of research is being able to pose deep questions to penetrate beneath rehearsed “party line” responses. This sets you apart from amateurs.

When I asked the director of a national association what she thought about newspaper articles alleging the government wasted money using her firm’s services, she responded vehemently and in detail. She obviously wanted to set the record straight. Had I not researched, I wouldn’t have known about the allegation.

After thoroughly digging up the goods on your target, you’re ready to request an interview. Libraries and search engines are excellent resources. To write a business article about consulting, I found potential interviewees’ addresses in an index of consultants. For another assignment, I called the Malaysian Embassy to locate expatriate Malaysians willing to talk about their experiences in a foreign country. Each person led me to another resource. I packed the article with anecdotes.

I always tell the person the purpose of my article, the magazine I will submit the article to and the audience. I also state the benefits of published articles to interviewees, their organization or pet causes.

Conducting the Interview

            If a prospective interviewee is reluctant to cooperate, probe his or her reasons. The president of an international company finally agreed to an interview contingent upon two ground rules: that I wouldn’t portray his employees as being foolish (which hadn’t occurred to me, but told me something about his fears) and that no proprietary information will be revealed. Fair enough.

Of course, refusal to grant an interview or to answer specific questions is informative in itself. Who among us has not drawn conclusions about the harried politician who uttered, “No comment,” as he ducked into his limousine?

Some questions solicit yes/no and one-word responses, however, most questions should be open ended. Open-ended questions begin with What, Why and How. Ask: How does that compare to . . . ? What is your reaction to …? What misconception do people have about . . . ? Why do you want to change? What else would you like to say?

Reflective phrases like “It sounds as if you’re dissatisfied,” and “You’re saying your life changed at that point,” keep dialogue flowing. Allow pauses. They indicate the person is thinking and might elaborate upon a point.

In the 1960s David Attenborough visited Australian aborigines. In The Quest Under Capricorn he described his interview technique: “I tried not to ask leading questions, nor to force the story into a neat plot; not to require happenings to have causes nor to connect events into the logical sequence of action and consequence demanded by our own fictions.”

While you want to remain open, as Attenborough did, you also want to focus the conversation. So if your subject prattles about her Siamese cat, ask, “How does that tie in with your Pulitzer Prize?” Then again, maybe you can submit an article to a cat fanciers’ magazine.

Some authors advise against taking notes in the presence of interviewees. Others, like me, must take notes during the interview. I jot key phrases, not a word-for-word transcript. Your preferred note-taking method depends on your memory retention.

I was in a restaurant interviewing a corporate leader. The server interrupted ten times. It was difficult asking questions while slurping linguini. Espresso jangled my taut nerves. We quibbled about who should pay the bill. But, clever me, I recorded the interview, freeing my hands to twirl pasta.

Later I listened to the recorded interview. I heard Muzak, clanking silverware, clinking china and the sometimes discernible voice of my interviewee. A Watergate-like gap in conversation was testimony to technical problems.

If possible, hang out with the person on different days. Conduct at least one interview on the person’s turf so you can describe his or her interactions in a typical environment. Choose quiet settings – a hotel lobby, an office – and for the second interview, do something fun and physical as the writers for Men’s Health do.  I got vital details when I went falconing with my neighbor. Finally, learn to use recording gadgets with a spy’s proficiency.

You can conduct interviews and follow up questions via telephone, email, or send a questionnaire to be completed. Include adequate return postage for snail mailed interviews.

I always ask interviewees what questions they have. Invariably people ask, “When will the article be published?” and “Will you send me a copy of it?” The answers are, respectively, “I don’t know,” and “Of course!”

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Books and other articles by this author are available at http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewwork.asp?AuthorID=1344