More on Writing Interview Questions

Some How-Tos on Writing Interview Questions.

Last week we spoke about interview questions and their role in a press kit to promote a book or a product.

We mentioned the questions should address the key points in your book, and serve your goals.

This week we are going to dive into more of the how-tos, and I’ll be sharing a few more things I have gleaned both from years of writing questions, and from watching how the interview questions I’ve written have been used.

Here are some questions you might have:

What should you ask? What questions help promote the book or cause? In what order do you put the questions? Do you send out the answers to the questions?

When you think about writing the questions you might want to think about how they will flow. You want to have an interview start and progress in a logical manner and not jump around back-and-forth.

Of course that’s not always how our brains work when we are thinking about it, though.

So to write interview questions I don’t start by worrying about the order or flow, I start with answers. What are the elements in the book I think might be interesting to discuss – or the key points I want to make – and how might those responses be framed as answers to questions?  I’m working backwards, Jeopardy game show style, if you will, to write a question in a conversational tone.

Once I have some questions written, then I go back and rearrange them in an order where I can see a conversation flowing, sometimes eliminating a question or editing it.

Always keep this critical fact in mind: an interview is basically a conversation, so you want to have a nice flow back-and-forth.

So that also means you don’t write questions that require a super long answer. If I realize a question needs a two-part answer, then I break it into two questions.

Plus it’s better if a question only shares part of the info on a topic. Let’s say you wrote a book called “What Southerners Should Know When Relocating to Minnesota” and in it you outline 10 things you need to do to prepare your car for winter. Do you ask questions to outline all 10 things?

No, of course not. You might write the question mentioning you’ve outlined 10 things but then ask, what is the most important thing a newcomer to the north needs to know to prepare their car for winter. Or, what is the thing that most surprises a newcomer to the north about cars and winter. If someone wants to know the other nine things, they can read the book.

And how do you start off?

One trick I use is to imagine I’m the host of the program and think about how I’d handle introducing this guest to my audience.

Remember your journalist is trying to keep their audience listening and engaged so you want to do something to catch their attention as quickly as possible.

So some journalists do an intro before they include their guest that sets up the interview by making a compelling statement about the topic.

Or the questions might start that way. One of the authors with whom I am working for NRB has a statistic that says one million young adults leave the faith every year. That’s a stunning statistic and one that is getting attention.

Some hosts like to start by introducing the author to their audience, because one other goal the questions need to address is the authority of the author — Why should this person be listened to? What do they know about this topic?

However, you need to be careful if you decide to start your interview questions with that, though – authors sometimes make their answers too long. A detailed recitation about their training in whatever field is generally not that interesting.

So you need to carefully plan your brief response to that ahead of time.

Remember it’s OK not to provide every detail. If the interviewer wants to know more, they can ask another question. Again, picture the conversational aspect of the interview.

Also remember that one of your goals is to tell enough about the book to interest someone in reading it, not completely tell them everything so they feel no need to buy the book.

That advice goes double for fiction!

If your book is fiction, you need to be careful not to give away the plot, but offer enough information on genre and the premise of the story to interest people in reading it.

My further suggestion is for you to carefully craft in advance exactly what you are going to say to tell enough to interest someone in the story, but never too much. People get nervous in interviews, so for fiction especially, I recommend a carefully worded description from which you don’t deviate so you don’t accidentally say too much.

And while your authority on the topic is important to establish, keep in mind this interview isn’t really about you. You, your credentials, the wonderful instruction you received from the Lord about writing it – as important as all that is, to the average listener, that’s way less important than what you know that can help them with their concerns, whether that’s a rebellious teenager or a car with tires that won’t stand up to Minnesota snow.

A few final notes.

No, you don’t provide anyone with the answers. Some authors like to write out answers to help them prepare and that can be a helpful way to craft a succinct response. But when you go to be interviewed, you shouldn’t be reading out prewritten answers from a piece of paper that might be rattling into a microphone. If you are very nervous, you might provide yourself an index card size note with key statistics written down, or key points you want to be sure you don’t forget to mention  But not the questions and answers.

And how many questions? Usually you’ll want to write maybe 10 questions, that will hopefully fit on one page if printed.

As a final note, and this I learned from an author in my early days of writing these questions, you should always end with a question about how the audience can reach the author, and also where they can get the book.

So prepare questions and yourself as best you can, then pray and leave it up to the Lord. Try to relax, smile, and enjoy your interviews. Remember the host doesn’t have to use any of your questions, but consider that any opportunity you have to be chatting about your book in front of an audience is advancing your message and ministry.

Originally sent as an email to the Buoyancy community on May 12, 2023.
Joni Sullivan Baker
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