Author Interviews - How to ask the questions that matter.
“Recently I've been doing a lot of author interviews. I'm new to this aspect of book blogging, so let me ask you: Should I do an interview with the author of a book before I read and review their book, or after?” - Shelby
One of my favorite posts to read and showcase on my blog are author interviews. I love getting to know authors on a more intimate level and a lot of times an author's responses can help me determine whether or not I'd like to read the book when I'm reading an interview on someone's blog. However, there are definitely times when I can tell how much effort a blogger has put into an author interview. It's one thing to accept an interview just for the sake of doing an interview and another thing completely to interview the author because you're genuinely interested in what they have to say. My advice is to skip interviews completely for books you aren't even interested in reading.
Should I read the book first?
In a perfect setting... yes. It's always best to interview authors whose work you're familiar with. It can get awkward when you get to know an author and then realize you're really not interested in their books. It's also always helpful when you can ask questions that specifically focus on events in their books, or aspects of the author's work. If you aren't familiar with their work you'll end up asking really general questions that won't help readers understand the connection between the author and their book.
How do I know what questions to ask?
I have a list of about 10 general questions typed up in a word document. The questions range from things like, “Convince me to read your book Twitter style, in 140 characters or less!” to “What inspired you to write this novel?” When interviewing an author I usually like to ask between 7 to 10 questions and I'll pick some off of my general list and then write up some more specific questions that are linked to the author's work. In an interview I did with Elizabeth Norris (Unraveling) I referred to Alex and his 4.0 GPA and then asked what her grades were like in school. The questions should be personal. Jennifer Bosworth (Struck) requested that I ask some hard-hitting questions so I ended up asking what her relationship with her family was like. Did you have a favorite scene in the book? Maybe ask the author what was going through their mind while they were writing that scene. Ask about the things that moved you, the things that stuck out to you. Not only will it make the interview more fun for the author, but it will make things more fun for the reader as well!
Who should I interview?
I always find interviews more interesting when the interviewer is emotionally invested in the interviewee. My favorite authors to interview are those that I chat with on Twitter, devour their books, follow their careers, and genuinely like as people. Whenever I ask a favorite author for an interview and they say, “Yes” I just get this giddy fangirly feeling like, “OMG I AM SO COOL RIGHT NOW!” Because, let's be honest, having an author agree to an interview is like, the coolest thing ever. It's even cooler when they OFFER to do an interview. Interview the authors whose books you've loved and who have impacted your life. You'll get to know them better, and you'll be able to ask the questions that really matter.
How do I approach an author about an interview?
The easiest way is to just go to their website and shoot them an email through their contact page. I've never had an author disagree to an interview, although I'm sure if I asked someone like Cassie Clare or J.K. Rowling I'd never hear anything. HA. But really, authors are incredibly approachable, nice, humble people who love to do things for their fans. It's always a good idea to include all of your interview questions in the initial email to make things easier on them. That way you can say something like, “If you'd like to stop by for an interview, here are the questions I've prepared for you. Feel free to answer them when you have a moment. Thank you so much.” Now the author can easily fill out their responses to your questions and send them to you without having to go through an entire email chat.
Some authors are more approachable. Debut authors are easier to talk to in my experience. They haven't been impacted with the fame yet, especially if their book isn't out yet, and they're more willing to stop by for an interview to help publicize their book and reach out to their fans. Sometimes, if I have a good rapport with an author on Twitter, I'll just ask them on Twitter if they'd like to to an interview. Other times, authors will offer to do an interview for me and then I'll just think up some questions as well as pick some off of my list.
I think the most important thing to remember is that if you're not interested, no one else will be interested either. People want to read interviews that ooze fun and passion. If you're not genuinely interested in the author's responses or their work then you won't be able to ask the questions that matter. If you're just asking general questions that can be applied to anyone, you won't get the responses that people are interested in. Do I want to know if the author has pets? Sure, but I can usually learn that from their “About the Author” page. Of course I want to know what inspired them to write their story, but almost everyone asks that question. I want to know what moved you while you were reading their book and how the author approached that significant moment.
Who have been some of your favorite authors to interview? What were some of the best interviews you've read? Have you ever decided to read someone's book based on an interview you read?