Why Interview?

My previous post on conducting interviews was largely addressed to inexperienced interviewers. Some of the comments on that post have me wondering what the point of conducting an interview is. For those who simply want to interview their favourite author and find out everything they always wanted to know then that’s your point right there. But I get the impression from quite a few of these interviews that they exist because the blogger feels that that’s what you should do on a blog about books. As you can imagine that does not usually make for a good interview.

I also wonder if people run interviews on their blog because they think it will increase traffic.1 Especially if the author includes a link to the interview on their own site. However, if the interview is not very interesting, i.e. includes those generic questions I was talking about in the previous post, that traffic will be fleeting. Hardcore fans of the author won’t be interested.

Also I’m not convinced that people are particularly interested in interviews. Looking at my site stats, I can tell you that my interview page is probably the least trafficked page on the site. I suspect that many people, even those who love books and have many favourite authors, are uninterested in reading interviews. Unless those interviews are amazing. I know that’s how I feel. I have zero interest, unless the interview is on a topic that I care about, or is with someone I’m interested in who is rarely interviewed.

The book blogs I like best are full of excellent discussion of books. Opinions about the business, trends, books, authors and readers. One of my favourite recent posts was Miss Attitude’s passionate call for a greater variety of YA African-American historicals—ones not about slavery or the civil rights movement. That post generated a great deal of discussion and, I hope, some authors taking up her challenge.

What I’m trying to say is that interviews may seem like an easy way to create content and generate traffic, but they’re not either. A good interview is very hard to do and even then is unlikely to generate much traffic. I’ve conducted two interviews on this blog: one with Doret Canton about YA & girls playing sport and one with John Green about lying. Neither generated much traffic. Fortunately, I didn’t do them for the traffic, but for the fun of talking to two very smart people about two very interesting topics.

I would love to see bloggers doing as Ari and all my other favourite book bloggers do—writing about what they feel passionate about and conducting interviews not because they feel they must, but because they want to add to the conversation on their blog.

I’m sure there is varying mileage out there, feel free to share.

  1. Part of why I suspect this is the blogger whose interview request also asked if I would link to the completed interview. []


  1. Sarah Allen on #

    Very interest. Lots to think about and apply in our own writing lives. Your posts always do that; I always have awesome new goals after I read your posts. So thanks 🙂

    Sarah Allen

  2. Lu on #

    I agree that unless I’m obsessed with an author that’s being interviewed on a blog, I usually skip it. I’d rather hear meaningful thoughts on the book, either from the blogger or the author in the form of a guest post. Interviews are great for a book you have read, but I’m not sure they do as well as a promotional tool. If I haven’t read a book, a lot of times the interview isn’t really going to interest me much. There have been one or two interviews (I wish I’d saved the links) that have really made me want to read an author’s book. I have to agree with you on this one! I like to see a variety of posts, from reviews to guest posts to serious discussions to lighthearted posts. Even personal posts that really let you get to know the blogger! Usually if there’s not that kind of variety, I stop reading at a certain point. I always try to make my posts varied, but I’m not always the best at it!

  3. MissAttitude on #

    Ok so the day before I posted my own interview with an author, you did your first post about interviews. Somehow I missed it. I wish I hadn’t because you gave some great advice. I did an interview with Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich and she was very gracious and informative. even though I commited a few faux pas. I generally mix up questions, ask a few generic ones and then specific ones pertaining to that writer, but I should tell them that and also try to stick to one topic becasue you’re so right, interesting discussions can come out of it! I will most certainly keep these posts in mind.

    I think people do interviews because they want to know more about the author and they think other readers might as well (I’m doing a poll right now asking what people would like to se more of at Reading in Color and 21% said interviews. Now not all my readers vote but that’s a significant little bit 😉 Also I think it helps give some newer authors exposure. I read interviews with authors I know and like and I always read ones with authors of color 🙂 I do like to mix it up, author interviews, posts to get people thinking and of course book reviews. Your blog does it the best and thanks for linking to my post 😀

  4. KatG on #

    I’m the opposite, I’m afraid. I’m much more interested in reading an interview with an author than I am in reading a book review. I don’t care about others’ opinions about a book; what I want is information about books that may be interesting to me and I find it interesting to hear writers talking about their experiences. I have bought books because I found the author and what he or she was doing interesting from an interview (or equivalent.) For instance, that’s how I ended up reading you. You did the Big Idea on How to Ditch Your Fairy on John Scalzi’s blog. I talked my daughter into getting it. She devoured it. Then I did.

    The point of an author interview isn’t to generate high traffic. That fiction books don’t attract a lot of attention compared to games, movies, comics, t.v., or even non-fiction has always been the case. The numbers of readers for a book don’t have to be high to be effective, and a book often outlasts all other mediums, reaching multiple generations. The point of the author interview is to make people aware of a book and the author, out on the Web and elsewhere. Even if it’s only a small group of people — hundreds instead of thousands, thousands instead of millions — it’s the people who actually buy books and they talk to other people who sometimes buy books. But not if they never come across the author’s name, the title, the cover in a bookstore, etc.

    Whether they’ll like it or not is anyone’s guess, but first they have to become aware of the book. And awareness from an interview is more likely to get someone to try a book than a review saying it is awful because it had elves in it and the reviewer doesn’t like elves. So author interviews serve a purpose — to raise one particular hum above the general noise for a bit — if not a purpose on an epic, Hollywood big money scale.

    And all these people doing blogs and being willing to interview fiction authors — that’s a whole venue that fiction authors didn’t have before. It is very hard to get regular media interested in fiction authors, on-line or off. That’s one reason that fiction doesn’t get as much attention — because people aren’t aware that they are supposed to get much attention because the media treats fiction as an obligation, a school chore, not an interesting product, unless there’s a movie made out of it. To have hundreds of passionate SFF bloggers reviewing books, talking about books, and interviewing authors has helped a lot of in-coming and mid-list writers who don’t have a publicist assigned by their publisher and have few options. Maybe the author gets more mileage out of doing his own blog than doing interviews. Maybe a blogger will get more mileage out of being an essayist than a journalist. But people do care about getting the word out, about celebrating fiction authors. They value them, and unlike movie stars, directors and musicians, they get to actually interact with them.

    And that’s how we end up with Stephen King, Harry Potter and Twilight, which then get made into movies and get bigger. Because tiny groups of people do something dumb like talk about books and interview authors.

  5. Sean the Blogonaut on #

    Do you think that in a post Web 2.0/ blogging internet world that the sort of information gleaned in an interview is available more readily through other sources ie authors blogs/forums etc?

  6. Doret on #

    Interviews do not bring traffic, probably because that’s the wrong reason to be doing an interview.

    When I do an interview its because I loved a book and want to give it a little more exposure. When I say little I mean little.

    My last interview I did a give away, I got 5 reponses. One was mines, One the author, third was a solicitor. My first thought was Oh man, I am seriously Bush League. And proud of it, What!

    I think a certain amount of freedom comes with that. I could say pretty much anything and not worry about too many people reading it.

    I like reading interviews at blogs. There are certain bloggers I look forward to their interviews. They do them so well and don’t do it often.

    Though I don’t like blog tour interviews. I like the interviews I read to have a little life to them.

  7. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I agree with Doret that interviews should be individualized. I like when the blogger is like “I always ask what your favorite household appliance is” or whatever specialized question they do every time. Reminds me of Actors Studio curse words question.

    I also liked Justine’s suggestion in the other post about having them talk about something other than the book. (Of course, if they do talk about the book, it’s nice if they get to talk about an unusual facet. The whole “who would you cast in the movie” thing gets old.)

    There are some bloggers who do great interviews. The Book Smugglers had an awesome one today with Jackie Kessler about her new Buffy comic book. http://thebooksmugglers.com/2010/01/chat-with-an-author-jackie-kessler-on-joining-the-buffyverse.html

  8. Justine on #

    Doret & Diana: Absolutely. I didn’t mean to imply that there are no good interviews. There definitely are.

    Miss Attitude: I think you’ve skewed the results. You need a “rants” category in your poll. That’s what I’d tick lacking that I opted for “discussion posts”. I thought your recent interview was excellent.

  9. Joanna Penn on #

    Hi Justine,
    I wonder if you just meant written interviews or whether you include podcast interviews?

    I do podcast interviews with authors because a) it interests me and I want to learn b) so do my listeners.

    Audio is also great for authors to do as it gives people/readers a chance to hear their voice and connect in a new way. If someone listens to your voice for 30 mins or more, then there is a connection beyond the written page.

    In reference to your earlier post, I always spend a lot of time in research prior to interviews so generic questions are not in the mix!

    I personally don’t like written interviews with authors so much anymore as I love podcasts!

    Thanks, Joanna

  10. KatG on #

    I think it would definitely be great to have more podcast interviews with authors. I’ve managed to listen to some and they can get into some interesting topics (kind of like IM then maybe.) I have no idea how you do podcasts, and a lot of folk don’t know how and do blogs instead, but it would be nice if publishers did them and more regularly and made an effort to promote authors that way with podcasts on the Web.

  11. King Rat on #

    I only listen to/read interviews with authors only when the interviewer is known for asking interesting questions or the author is known for giving interesting answers. Or later on if the interview has received buzz for something interesting in it (such as Ashok Banker’s now pulled interview).

    Part of this is that I don’t care so much about the writing process. And part is that I’m of the opinion that once a book/story is released, the author’s opinion about the book has little more validity than anyone else’s. J.K. Rowling says that Dumbledore is gay? Sorry, but that’s just her opinion. It has no more weight than anyone else who can cogently discuss the book. (Since she’s very very familiar with the text, I’ll give her some extra weight over someone who’s given it a cursory reading.) Anyhow, a fair amount of interviewing is all about extricating these hidden details from authors, so I find that tedious.

  12. MissAttitude on #

    Thanks Justine, it was a fun interview with a great new writer, I can’t wait to see where Olugbemisola’s writing takes her =)

    I have no idea how to do a podcast either, but that would be really interesting for interviews as well as IM format. I’m slightly amused at how few people have commented on this post, I would like to read other people’s thoughts on the subject. I learned a lot from both posts and comments and constructive critcisms can only make better bloggers :)(or writers, dancers, people, whatever)

  13. Kaedtiann on #

    Loving these posts about interviews, Justine! They really make we want to try doing one sometime.

    I agree that interviews are the most fun when done by someone who actually enjoys and follows the author/whoever’s work. Being a Harry Potter fan, for instance, I’ve read so many interviews with exactly the same questions (all by reporters who just need to cover the story because it’s /Harry Potter/). Jo Rowling interviews only really become interesting when done by fans (like the wonderful Melissa Anelli), who already know all that stuff, and have more fresh and in-depth ideas to discuss.

    On that note, Re: King Rat… I guess that, really, accepting the author’s out-of-book opinions is totally up to the reader, but personally, I tend to take authors’ added details to their own works as canon. Obviously it may not matter to the books if Dumbledore’s gay or not, but if that’s how Jo sees him, to me that’s how it is. That’s actually one of the reasons I like reading interviews (kind of the contrary to you, I suppose); I like learning how the author’s book fits (and often overflows, with all the character & story background) in their own head. I really like getting what, in their mind, at least, is the ‘full picture/behind-the-scenes’ stuff, for which there may not have been a place in the book. I don’t think the reader always has to subscribe to these extras, but they’re still interesting to consider. I find, anyway.

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