What Makes a Great Writer Interview?

All writers want to know how to do a great interview and we’re delighted when someone asks us. Most of us love to get a chance to be treated like a writer.

Over the last three years since the first book in my Loyalist trilogy broke onto the vast market, I’ve been part of a lot of interviews, most of them online but a couple on radio and video for television. It’s an awesome ride for someone who found her new and most true life after retirement from a rewarding teaching career.

On the day I received my first printed copy of The Loyalist's Wife.

On the day I received my first printed copy of The Loyalist’s Wife.

I’ve learned that interviews can vary all the way from being asked to write my own questions and answers to being given a huge list of questions to choose from. Many of the interviewers have tried to streamline their process in this and other ways because time is always a problem.

If the interviewer takes the writer’s answers and links them together in some way the whole piece can be very rewarding. If, however, the interviewer just strings the answers together with no preamble or linking words, the effect is just a little sterile.

Today I was reading the January 2016 issue of The Writer magazine and came across an article by Elfrieda Abbe complete with her interview of Julianna Baggott. The article began with a longish quote from Baggott’s YA novel, Pure, (“Pressia is lying in the cabinet….”) which absolutely hooked me. Talk about an opening! As I got to the actual interview questions–there are 14–I became more and more impressed with the work the interviewer put into this piece. She knew her subject intimately and linked her subsequent questions to things the author had revealed already. She asked Baggott to expand on such phrases as “undeniable truth” and “efficient creativity” showing that she was thoroughly enmeshed in the author’s work.

The Writer, January, 2016.

The Writer, January, 2016.

“What gave you the idea for Pressia’s disfigured hand?” she asked and my immediate reaction was that I must read this book. What power this interviewer had in her words and I’m convinced any author on the receiving end of such questions would be delighted.

The five-paragraph excerpt at the end of the interview revisits the quotation used in the opening but gives more information this time, expertly drawing the reader into the story. The last thing we are left to contemplate is where we might buy the book. Surely that must make the author smile. So, yes, this is a great writer interview showing both the writer’s absolute skill and the interviewer’s knowledge of just what her job is and her success at it. And I’m rewarded at this stage in my own career by having learned to dissect an article and see the process behind it.


For All Lovers of Historical Fiction!

The Loyalist’s Luck, Book Two in The Loyalist Trilogy!

Purchase The Loyalist’s Luck Here.

The Loyalist’s Luck_cover_apr1.indd
John and Lucy escape the Revolutionary War to the unsettled British territory across the Niagara River with almost nothing. In the untamed wilderness they must fight to survive, he, off on a secret mission for Colonel Butler and she, left behind with their young son and pregnant once again. In the camp full of distrust, hunger, and poverty, word has seeped out that John has gone over to the American side and only two people will associate with Lucy–her friend, Nellie, who delights in telling her all the current gossip, and Sergeant Crawford, who refuses to set the record straight and clear John’s name. To make matters worse, the sergeant has made improper advances toward Lucy. With John’s reputation besmirched, she must walk a thin line depending as she does on the British army, and Sergeant Crawford, for her family’s very survival.

The Loyalist’s Wife, Book One in The Loyalist Trilogy!

by Elaine Cougler, winner of the WCDR 2014 Pay It Forward Scholarship

 Short-listed for Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair’s Canada Self-Published Book Awards

The Loyalist's Wife_Kindle_1563x2500

When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.

Purchase The Loyalist’s Wife here.




5 thoughts on “What Makes a Great Writer Interview?

  1. What a great contribution to helping other authors with interviews. I learned much from this post, so thank you. As a former journalist, I will confess that much of my later career involved training corporate executives in how to do media interviews and in delivering speeches. Here are some tried and true pointers I’ve shared elsewhere. Hope these are helpful to your many admiring followers, including me:

    How to Achieve a Successful Interview
    By James Osborne
    Getting the most out of a media interview opportunity involves preparation, physically and mentally. Below are a few thoughts. Some of these might seem trivial at first, until you are in the middle of that first interview. Keep a copy of this… you’ll be back:
    1. A few days in advance of the interview, send the journalist a brief biography (150 words +/-), a blurb on the book (the one on the back cover will do nicely), and one or two sample reviews, with reviewer names and links).
    2. Starting at least a week in advance, make a list of three or four key points you want to make about your book, or about you, during the interview. Memorize them and rehearse.
    3. Make a list of possible questions the journalist is likely to ask, and prepare answers. Keep the answers brief –one or two short sentences. Rehearse.
    4. Have someone role-play a Q&A session with you two or three times. Videotape the last one, and play it back. Make notes on where you can make improvements, then do it again. Repeat.
    5. Avoid coffee the day of the interview. You will be nervous and coffee will make it worse.
    6. Have a small snack an hour before. It will help settle ‘butterflies’.
    7. Take a bathroom break about 30 minutes or less beforehand.
    8. After the bathroom break find a quiet place to sit quietly alone even for five minutes, ten would be better. Direct your mind to think of something happy or calming.
    9. Take only one prop with you into the interview—your book.
    10. Remember, keep your answers brief. One or two short sentences.
    11. Resist the temptation to fill in the gaps between your answer and the interviewer’s next question. You are likely to regret the unorganized jumble of words you will utter. Interviewers use gaps to put you on edge—even friendly journalists.
    12. Wear comfortable clothing, preferably the type that breathes, i.e., will minimize perspiration under hot TV lights.
    13. Similarly, if it’s a TV interview, avoid wearing plaids and herringbone patterns. These cause a dancing glare on TV sets that will distract viewers from what you have to say.
    14. Women especially will want to avoid wearing sheer white tops. TV lights and cameras can ‘see’ through them. If that sounds sexist, so be it. However, I am unaware of any women author who would want her privacy invaded in this way.
    15. If it’s a TV interview, arrange in advance for someone to record it for you.
    16. Always thank the interviewer by his or her first name. A simple “Thank you, (blank). It’s been a pleasure”, will do. Avoid expressing your thanks using excessive and effusive verbiage.

    Good luck!


  2. One more point to add: It may be obvious (but evidently not sometimes) under no circumstances have gum or anything else in your mouth during an interview… and that means any interview where you’re face-to-face with the interviewer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for adding your very valuable two cents worth, James. I especially like your addendum. Isn’t it amazing that people have to be told that? And getting your interview recorded is a simple thing but we often forget. Awesome, James!


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