Monday, November 2, 2009

Why We Read Interviews

This was going to be the post that kicked off my Interview Question series, but when I was writing about why I asked X question, I discovered there was a lot to say about why we—readers, writers—will read an interview, and what makes an interview good. So I thought it might be worth doing a post about this all on it’s own.

Let me say really really quick that this is not some kind of admonition or criticism of all the authors I’ve been interviewing lately. It’s the opposite. I’ve had so many awesome interviewees that it’s gotten me thinking about my own reaction as a reader, and what made these interviews so good. Why does one interview make me add a book to my to-reads list, and another, make me take the book off? That’s what I want to answer.

Let’s look at what an interview is, fundamentally. It’s a promotional device. It’s a way to learn more about someone else. Through an interview, readers connect with the author. The author shares about themselves and hopes to gain more readers. But, also, an author shares so they will be understood. (Think about that. Our core goal as a writer is to have our story be known the way we’ve known it, right?)

Based on these above speculations, we can say that there are some basic goals associated with both parties involved in the interview. We have:

The interviewee. Their goals are –

1. To create buzz/name recognition/readers/(and ultimately) sales.

2. To be known/understood/respected/get an ego boost.

3. To have their work be known/understood/respected/enjoyed better.

The reader. Their goals are –

1. To prolong the reading experience by learning more/understanding better/seeking clues about unresolved plot points, characters, etc.

2. To gain information about books in the series/author events/kind of person who wrote book/author’s agent/any information related to book but not about book.

3. To recapture the magic they experienced while reading by learning about the writing process/authors experiences/plans for characters/next book(s) in series/backstory/inspiration/information related directly to book.

And also we find the industry insider—typically writers who also read. Their goals are much the same as the normal reader’s. However, an industry insider is going to read a book, experience a reaction, and then want to know how the author made them have that reaction. Thus –

1. They want to learn about: the magic they experienced/the characters/the plot/author’s writing process/authors success/what made the book good artistically.

These lists makes it all sound a bit dry, but really, it’s not. Authors want to share. Readers want to know more. Writers (or industry insiders in general) want to know about.

Logically, we can assume that the best interview is one that meets these goals.

Ahh. And how, dear Sherlock, does one do that?

This is where I’m going to step out on a limb and toot my own horn a little bit. I think one of the keys to a good interview is asking the right questions. When I started out interviewing, I looked at which questions were asked the most, and what kind of answers they got. I noticed that the best questions were ones that took the typical question and gave it a new angle or slant. Somehow, this encouraged authors to go deeper than usual or share more than they had before.

I’ll give an example of this when I get into the actual interview question series. But for now, let me just say that slanting a question can get to the root of it. Many questions are in some kind of disguise. They ask for the product – (what inspired you? How long did it take you to write X?) – when what they question actually wants is the story behind the story – (what brought you to the point of inspiration? What were you going through when you wrote X?)

That’s one of the keys to a good interview: asking the right questions the right way. The second key is solely on the author’s shoulders. And it is, dum dum dum, answering questions the right way.

Logically, we may stipulate that this means meeting the author’s goals. But again, it’s not so simple. (If only if only, the woodpecker cried.) Oftentimes we don’t know how to meet our goals. Sharing is not easy. This is why so many writers want to write in solitude and never come out, except for coffee and fresh ink. They’ve done all their sharing already – it’s in the book. Duh!

But remember, readers want to understand better. Writers want to know about. They both want the journey behind the book, the story behind the story. When an author shares, they must give something that sheds light on everything they shared before. When someone asks, “how do you manage your writing life and your personal life?” they don’t want you to say, “It’s easy/hard/I don’t know, I just do.” What they want is for you to say, “Well, it’s hard because…

Did you catch that? Because. BECAUSE. As one of the most magical worlds in our industry, a quiet little “because” will dig straight to the marrow of whatever you’re about to say. It gives your answers meaning. Without meaning, the answers become…well, meaningless. Empty. Disappointing.

Disappointed readers is a Very Bad Thing. They readers don’t subscribe to your RSS feed or comment on your interviews or pre-order your next book. They sigh, linger a moment on how good your book was, and then they move on. To some other book. To some other author who can reframe the magic of reading for them.

Not cool.

In upcoming weeks, as I post my interview questions for public response, think a moment about what the question really means, what you as a reader like from such a question, and what story you as a writer have to share. This is supposed to be a promotional exercise. Go ahead answer as if you’re published, regardless of your actual situation. (It’s really fun! Trust me. You can even use a fake WIP if you’d rather not risk getting plagiarized.)

One more thing – most of this is based on my own experience. I could be completely missing an important aspect of the reader/interviewer experience. What do you all like in an interview? What do you look for?

Look for the interview question series kickoff this week!

-Creative A

1 comment:

sputnitsa said...

I think the fascinating questions are ones that focus on HOW and WHY. Like you said, the story behind the story, the connection between author and creation. Behind the scenes--that's what draws us to interviews. Bloopers, personal dynamics...

And you know the answer's going to rock when the author pauses before answer--because then it's gonna be new. :)

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