As I write this, I’m in the process of answering questions for an interview with me due to appear on FearNet.com. If you’re lucky, maybe someday you can be as famous as me, and have the pleasure of giving your own interviews.
Since emoticons are generally frowned on in prose, let me clarify: That’s my sarcastic voice with the comment about me being famous (which I’m not), but not about interviews being a pleasure. They’re lots of fun to do. It’s gratifying to have someone read your work and propose questions based on it, or based on your life, or on your experiences searching for Bigfoot in Antarctica or whatever. youIt gives you a chance to reflect on your work and What it All Means.
Best of all, most writer interviews are now conducted by email, so you can give them in your underwear.
Hell, you can give them in your underwear even if you wear a kind of underwear considered outré for your particular century, gender or social class. You can give interviews with a butt-plug in nowadays, for all anyone cares.
Don’t get me wrong — you could give interviews in your underwear back when they used to do them by phone. But I always had this creepy sense that the person on the other end knew you were in your underwear. Assuming that, unlike me, such situations don’t cause you to be seized by the urge to scream, “I’m in my underwear,” it seems unlikely that the other person has a clue…but it just feels weird. Now it doesn’t even feel weird.
I don’t make this point just for LOLZ. There is a very real danger in giving interviews in your underwear, metaphorically speaking — that is, when you’re not mentally (or informationally) prepared for it. In order to maximize the purpose of giving interviews, you need to have a consistent message about your work.
Not to be too much of a bastard about it, that message needs to be part of a unified marketing message. Without seeming to be part of a unified marketing message, catch my drift?
You don’t want your interviews to seem too cynically marketing-focused because that’s not what an interview is for…or, to put it more accurately, it’s not what an interview does best. The best interviews are an opportunity for you to reflect on themes in your work, guided by someone who is both interested in and passionate about your work (whether they love it or hate it). Even if the interviewer is indifferent toward your work, you’ve still got the floor — so, with some practice, you can take an interview where you want it to go, especially if it’s by email.
I’m not just an enthusiastic interviewee; I’ve written up several hundred interviews over the years, in my tenure at the both-defunct Eros-Zine.com and 13thStreet.com. I’ve also done them as part of my public relations work. I know how deceptively easy they can seem, which camouflages the fact that giving good interviews is damned difficult.
That’s because the purpose of interviews is to make you, the writer, into a “real” person, in a way very different than prose can ever do. For most of literary history, the interview has been one of two primary ways that authors reach their readers (the other being their work). As such, interviews make you a “real” person by putting you in the role of instructor or authority — however personable you are, there remains a little bit of an authoritarian distance between you and your readers.
So how do you make yourself “real”? The thing is, social media now does that far more effectively than interviews ever have. Seeing an hourly Tweet or Facebook status from Tad Williams, Peter Straub, Laura Antoniou or whoever makes them into “real” people more or less on the same level that your distant cousin or housemate from ten years ago is a “real” person.
For that reason, interviews now occupy an interesting shadow-land where, in giving them, you’re not quite an authority but you’re not quite a peer. That’s why, to me, the things I say in good interviews are slightly formalized versions of the same sort of thing I might say on my blog in social media. I think the best way to approach interviews nowadays is as a starting point for a discussion with your fans, or — better yet! — people who have never heard of you before. In this age of social connectedness, the fact that you’re “real” should be a central part of your marketing message. (Unless, of course, you’re not. In which case you probably shouldn’t be giving interviews without the OK of your alien overlords.)
That said, though, the slightly formalized nature of interviews is what the format has going for it. Keep in mind that by agreeing to an interview, you’ve placed yourself in the position of being an authority. You’ve claimed to whatever journalist emailed you the request, “Why, yes, yes, I do know what I’m talking about.” Endeavor to make good on that claim. Don’t use interviews to bash other people, whether they’re Lady Gaga or your landlord. If you’re a fiction writer giving an interview, you’re there to bring something positive to the discussion of fiction — something that couldn’t be brought by a blog post, Facebook status or lengthy speech on a soapbox in the town square.
To assist in creating that sense of “realness” alongside a sense of authority, be sure to have a decent-looking photograph of yourself. And for God’s sake, please don’t go to J.C. Penney wearing an off-salmon jacket so you can look like somebody’s overgrown prom date. This is not a school portrait for your mother to hang on the refrigerator. You are not a realtor. (Unless you are, in which case you should use a different photo for your realty ads and your writing.)
If you don’t know a reasonably artistic professional photographer, then go down to the local boho café and meet one…or point a camera at yourself looking ominously into the lens at a famous local landmark, or just shoot thousands of pictures of yourself until you get one you can live with. Taking your own author photos isn’t ideal, but it has the benefit of letting you take a lot of them, fer-cheap, so you can eventually get one that works.
As a fiction writer, it’s better to look like a war correspondent than a Homecoming also-ran, so take a lot of pictures in order to get one where you look, you know, like, charming and romantic and evocative or something.
Don’t shoot them in the bathroom, incidentally. Yes, I know there’s a lot of light in the bathroom. Every fifteen-year-old girl in America knows there’s a lot of light in the bathroom. Resist the urge to shoot your author photo there.
And most importantly, do not ever make duck face in your author photos.
One last note about format: As I mentioned above, most writer interviews for blogs and smaller publications are conducted by email nowadays. The author will email you a set of questions; you will respond and email them back. Yes, since you mentioned it, this looks a lot like writing. In fact, it looks and feels a lot like writing a blog post. But in the same way that I suggest you should try to act like an authority when giving interviews, I must also suggest that you resist the temptation to treat interviews like the opportunity to deliver a manifesto. Get your “realness” out there early and often, and give your readers a sense of what your work is about. Remember that most casual readers quit reading after about 700 words…and since this blog post is well beyond that point, I’ll leave it at that.