So someone wants to interview you–woo-hoo! Cool for you!
Since there’s at least a passing chance that the person who wants to interview might be me, boy, howdy, do I have some things to say. I’ve been asking people nosy questions for a couple decades now (well, OK, since birth, actually–but it’s only in the last coulple decades that I’ve figured out how to get paid for doing it), and I’ve talked to some of the most creative and inspiring people on the planet. Most of them–by far the largest percentage–have been fabulous, and they’ve taught me a lot about what makes for a good interview. While I think of it as the artist doing me a favor by talking to me, the way *you* should think of it is completely the opposite: if someone is going to write about you and publish it, you’re getting free advertising that most of us could never afford to buy. If you’re the profile artist in one of the major mixed media magazines, you’re getting half a dozen pages of text and photographs about you and your work. You might want to stop and think about how much that would cost if you were having to pay per column inch. And then read on for some tips~~
1. Don’t think of the interview, whether you’re asked questions in writing or on the phone or in person, as being an imposition. Sure, you’re busy. Sure, an hour-long phone conversation in the middle of your studio day takes away from your work. But, again: this is free advertising. Treat it like work. While it might be more convenient to you to do the interview after dinner over a beer, for the person interviewing you, this is work. It’s their job, and having to call you at the end of a long day isn’t going to make their life easy. You want them to be fresh and excited about talking to you–if they suggest noon, try to make time at noon. In other words, it does no one any good for you to be a diva and insist on being interviewed at 9 pm while you’re soaking in the bath. Trust me on this one. Schedule it just like you would an appointment with your accountant, which I’m guessing doesn’t happen while you’re soaking in the tub.
2. If you’re sent questions to answer by email, think about this opportunity: you have a chance here to think about what information you want people to know, to think about the ways to share your ideas, inspiration, motivation, bio, history, back story–anything about you and your work. If you respond with one-word answers–“No,” “Never” “Why?”–you’re squandering the opportunity. I send preliminary questions by email before I call for a conversation, and the very best interviews almost always begin when I get a return email that says, “I’m sorry to send such long answers, but I really enjoyed this and got carried away.” I know it’s going to be good, because here’s someone who has something to say about what they do and wants to share it. When I get one-word answers, I know I’m in for a long, hard slog with someone who either doesn’t realize what a fabulous opportunity this is (again: free advertising!) or just really has nothing to say. Either way, it does not bode well, and I cringe. A lot.
3. Don’t go in with a chip on your shoulder. Sure, maybe you’ve been burned by an interviewer in the past, or maybe you think you should have been interviewed years ago, or maybe you just don’t trust writers or don’t really like the publication or whatever, but, hey! Did I mention this is free advertising? Don’t take an adversarial stance with the person interviewing you, putting up your guard and assuming they’re trying to trick you into saying something that will make you sound stupid. If they’re from a reputable publication, no one has anything to gain by playing “gotcha.” It’s in everyone’s best interest to show you and your work in the best light possible. Trust them. If you’ve got something you’re worried about–you don’t want them to mention a recent show that flopped, or you’d rather not talk about the split from your business partner–tell them you don’t want to go there and ask them to respect that. Be open; be nice about setting boundaries if you need to.
4. Again, just like we talked about for an audio interview: don’t repeat the same information, the same stories, the same jokes that you’ve used a dozen times before. The interviewer wants something fresh, and it’s in your best interest not to have a set spiel that appears over and over and over. And, please: if you answer questions by email, please do NOT cut and paste information that’s already appeared on your blog or website or, worst of all, in print somewhere else. PLEASE! I’ve had this happen more times than I want to think about: I get answers to the questions I asked, and I’m using some of those as quotes by you, and in checking your website, I see a list of previous publications. I go look those up and am reading them and oh, my: you’ve answered my questions by cutting and pasting information you gave to the person interviewing you for a competing publication. It’s already appeared in print there. And. You. Did. Not. Tell. Me. This. if I’m lucky and not pressed for time and on deadline and have access to those previous publications (very, very iffy), I discover this *before* the piece is printed.
It is to my credit that I have never called anyone and yelled at them, “What were you THINKING?”
5.Observe common courtesy. Make yourself a note so you remember the interview and are actually there to answer the phone at the time you agreed on. Treat it like a business meeting–while I want my own interviews to be comfortable and informal, I would like it if the person I’m talking to would sit down, relax, not chew in my ear or take the phone to the toilet with them (see Part I). I’ve talked to people who were driving on the highway, which was not conducive to a good interview because I was terrified they’d be distracted and run off the road, never mind it’s hard to have a good, inspiring conversation when you’re on the interstate behind a convoy of tankers. Many people think driving is the best time for them to do an interview, but it’s not. You’re distracted, and in some states you’re breaking the law. If you’re on the phone, please don’t talk to your assistant, play with your dog, check your email, take another call, wash the dishes (the running water makes it hard for us to hear you clearly–guess how I know this), or do any of those other things that we can hear and that tell us very plainly that your conversation with us is not the most important thing in your day.
In short, when you’re interviewed, treat it like a business meeting. That’s exactly what it is. Bring in a glass of tea, find a comfortable chair, and settle in for a conversation with someone who’s really interested in you and your work and can’t wait to help you connect with your audience. Relax, have fun, and don’t forget to turn off your cell.