Home > For Writers > SFWA Committees > DEI Interview Preparation Guidelines

DEI Interview Preparation Guidelines

On occasion, authors have to deal with interviews. Few individuals receive interview training, so here’s some guidelines to help you prepare for upcoming interviews.

1) Preparation is key

The more that you can prepare for the interview, the better. Preparation comes in a variety of manners, and can include:

– reading and studying prior interviews from the journalist and publication in question to understand their house ‘style’

– verifying the reader base and the level of technical expertise of the reader. Mentioning industry terms is fine if you are interviewing for an article aimed at other writers or editors, but less so if you are being interviewed for a reader review blog or a newspaper.

– preparing scripted responses and talking points (see point 2 below) for discussion

– contacting the interview and publication beforehand to discuss the focus of their interview. Note that this might be considered rude by some interviewers and editors, but asking about the general focus of their article is often appreciated, especially if couched as a question to help them improve their interview process.

– understanding the goal of the interview, so that you can help the reporter craft the best story possible (within your requirements).

2) Prepare key messages and talking points

One of the most important aspects about an interview is understanding that your goals for taking that interview. Once you know that – expanding your author brand, promoting the sale of your latest release, discussing an award you’ve received – you will be able to develop the key messages and talking points.

Generally, you’ll want three or four such key messages and talking points. Write them down in point and sentence form and practise enunciating them as clearly as possible. You’ll want to avoid jargon (in most interviews) and be brief. These key messages should be soundbite worthy, which means it should be of interest to the readers and interviewer.

For authors, this often can be a summary about the book, the thematic elements you were aiming for, the key ‘hook’ for the story and an interesting tidbit about yourself as an author, especially if it relates to the work you are writing.

3) Practice for the interview

Interview nerves are common, especially for those not used to speaking ‘on the record’. Practicing will not only reduce nerves, but also help to highlight questions and answers that you might be too long-winded on, talking points that can be briefer and more newsworthy and, in proper settings, help you get back to your key messages even on indirect questions.

If you are able to do so, and expect to be on-camera or expect to do in-person interviews, video taping yourself and the interview process and replaying the interview will allow you to review your answers and your body language. Practicing open body language – arms by the side, legs apart and on the floor, shoulders back, natural smiles, etc. – will provide a positive impression during the interview process and to viewers.

4) Practice controlling the Interview

Not all interviews will be friendly. Some interviews might be hostile or might veer towards topics that you do not wish to discuss. When such questions are offensive or othering, practice how to answer such questions by providing a brief answer and then chaining the question back to your talking point. Example:

    * That’s an interesting point, but in my view, my novel is more focused on…
* That’s incorrect, and here’s why…

    * I’d rather think of it in terms of…

    * I think a better question might be…

    * Some people might view it like that, but for me…

Furthermore, to help control the interview, it’s also important to:

– not use the negative word or phrase used by the interviewer when answering (if any)

– break down multiple questions (e.g. Let me answer those questions one by one…)

– make use of silence to consider your answers.

Remember, you do not have to take each interview question at face value. You can answer the unasked portion of the question (reading behind the lines) or you can change the focus of the question by bringing it back to a topic you wish to discuss. You may even correct the topic of the conversation, correcting a mistaken assumption in the question. Be careful to pick your battles though, too many alterations might see the entire interview being scrapped – which is why it’s important to understand your interviewers focus to begin with.

5) When all else fails, feel free to decline to comment on a topic

Don’t say ‘no comment’, but do feel free to say things like ‘I don’t have that information on me right now. Let me look into it and get back to you.’ (and obviously, get back to them) or ‘I don’t believe that is an appropriate topic for this interview’ if you feel the question is crossing the line. You can also outright decline to comment on an incident or topic, if you feel it is not your place to do so.

While it might seem that the interviewer has all the power, they did ask for you to speak with them. As such, their goal is to get a good interview from you.

6) Lastly, be careful about what you say due to ‘false news’ reporting

Be wary about what you say, since it is quite possible for your words to be twisted. By taking portions of what you said, or portions of the interview, it is possible to provide a misleading or mistakenly quoted interview. In such cases, it’s always best to record your own interview at the time such that you are able to request corrections from the reporter / publication at a later date.

Hopefully these suggestions will help with regard to interview questions and as a guide for interview preparations.