"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Are E-mail Interviews "Taboo" For Today's Writer?

One of the greatest advantages afforded to modern writers is the use of technology.
Smart phones. Online research.  Electronic readers. Electronic submissions.
Self-publishing tools.
These enhancements have allowed us to advance our dreams, amplify our voices, accomplish more in less time, and increase our bottom line.

Which is why I was a little shocked recently when I came across a blog post by a "noted" writer on the topic of interviews.

In it, she stated categorically that email interviews are the sign of "lazy writers" and that editors frown down upon them. Huh?
Although I respect every writer's right to express his own personal views and values, based upon his individual experience and perspective, I must admit, I found this declaration to be, well...misleading and misinformed.

As a veteran writer who has been on both sides of the proverbial fence, and who has conducted interviews with business leaders, entrepreneurs, and accomplished authors, I beg to differ.

Here's a case in point...
A few years back, as a feature writer for a regional publication, I was assigned to interview an up and coming "star" in Atlanta who had built a successful real estate business in her area.
The editor of the magazine informed me that the subject preferred to speak by phone.
I honored her request. After a few initial emails of going back and forth to set up a mutually convenient time to talk over the phone, we finally connected.
Unfortunately, the interview itself didn't.

We spent about 2 hours over the phone, where she shared things that had little to do with the interview-- including her romantic status, the weather, and people we mutually knew.
Not to mention, she kept repeating herself and getting off track.
Don't get me wrong; she was a lovely lady, and I appreciated the opportunity to speak with her.
But when the "interview" ended, I felt that this was definitely not the best use of either of our time.
"I could'a had a V-8!"

In another incident, I was the person being interviewed.
I was tickled pink to have a fellow writer ask to interview me and to share the success story behind my career and my blog.

She was very professional and polite when she called me on the phone. And to her credit, I felt that she asked some really great, probing, creative questions that readers would be enlightened by and enjoy.

A few weeks later, it hit print.
Like for most writers, it was a bit of an ego boost.
There was just one problem. Her phone interview was not as accurate as it should have been.
For one thing, she misquoted me a few times, and she failed to include some important details that I would have liked to share with her audience.

The moral of the story here?
Email interviews, (if done well) offer many advantages over phone interviews and even face to face meetings.

Here are a few of them:
  • They can be done at any time, without regard to time zone differences or scheduling conflicts.
  • There are fewer chances to misquote the subject, since they provide their own typed responses to questions posed. 
  • They are more efficient.
  • People often write better than they speak. You typically won't have to omit words like "uhm" or phrases like "you know what I mean," in preparing the interview for publication, as subjects often edit their own work before submitting.
To further support some of the points mentioned here, I even conducted an "informal" interview with Writing-World.com editor, Moira Allen, who shares her thoughts on this timely topic.

Here's an excerpt...

"I vastly prefer doing e-mail interviews to phone interviews. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the time factor. An e-mail interview enables both the interviewer, and interviewee, to handle the interview when it is convenient for them. I don't have to call you and set up a time when you can talk to me for an hour. I formulate my questions, send them to you, and you handle them when you have time. (It's important for the writer to stipulate if there is a time pressure or deadline that they are working to - so that the interviewee doesn't just put the interview aside and forget it for a week.)
An e-mail interview gives the interviewER time to think through a series of questions and present them as clearly as possible. (It's usually best not to have TOOO many questions.) It gives the interviewEE time to think about each question - no clock is ticking, no impatient interviewer is
sitting twiddling thumbs waiting for an answer. So in general, in my experience, one gets more thorough, well-thought-out answers to an e-mail interview.
It's considerably easier for the interviewer, who isn't frantically trying to copy down the answers as a person speaks, or find a way to record them (which is sometimes a problem when doing a phone interview). You get the answers "spelled out" right there."

When I asked if she "frowns down" on writers conducting email interviews for her, she states:

"I've never frowned on them. I really don't care HOW you get an interview, if it's a good one. The issue to me is the quality of the material, not how you obtained it. I am also not aware of any editor ever suggesting to me that I couldn't do e-mail interviews, or trying to micromanage how I got my material. So I've never had an experience of an editor "frowning" on e-mail interviews."

In conclusion here, I think that different interviewing approaches should be considered, based upon the subject's preferences, the nature of the project, the deadline, and the interviewing style of the writer.

For best results, it's usually prudent to ask the person being interviewed.

Your turn to be "interviewed."
Do you think that e-mail interviews are the signature of lazy writers?
What type of interviews do you prefer? Or does it depend upon the circumstances?
Do tell...


  1. I agree with you, Jennifer.

    I'm currently the interviewee and grateful for time to formulate an answer without the risk of being misquoted.

  2. Congrats, Sue. I'm sure it will provide for an interesting read. :-) Thanks for starting us off today.

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us. I don't think I could go anyway but e-mail inteviews due to the time factor. And also, some things DO get misunderstood if we talk via the telephone.(Do you remember the game that proves this point?)

    I did sort of an interview with a pastor's wife via a phone call. I must have gotten flustered because I found myself asking her if she was married. (I tried to clean it up but I will never know if I really made up for my social gaffe.)

    1. quietspirit,

      I got quite a chuckle out of the question you asked the pastor's wife! I always value your input here. Thanks.

  4. I prefer the email interview, both when being interviewed and interviewing someone. While in person or phone interviews can be great, I agree with you. There's the risk of being misquoted or saying something without thinking, etc. Email provides the opportunity to think through one's questions and statements, and has a tangible record of what's been said.

    1. Karen,

      I couldn't agree more; thanks for your thoughts.

  5. I don NOT think e-mail interviews are a lazy way out, at all. And for the reasons you and Moira mention right here. I've done both (and on both ends) and the temptation to get sidetracked is far greater when using a phone or even in person. The beauty of e-mail interviews is in the re-say aspect. I can formulate my thoughts or questions and make a far better presentation when there's the ability to re-say (re-write) for the final product. My two cents.

    1. Sue,

      Your "two cents" add great value to the discussion. Thanks much

  6. Phone interviews tend to be tricky if there's no way of recording the conversation. If possible that is one of the best ways to capture the true conversation as no words are skipped. The important thing is to keep the focus on your work, no matter what you're talking about, what questions you are being asked, like, where did you grow up? Well, I grew up in midtown Manhattan in New York City during the 1970s, and you can see that in chapter four of my book where I talk about… Always bring the subject back to your book. Answer the question the interviewer is asking, but bring it back to the title, as many times as you can get it in without being obnoxious, and the focus of your book.

    1. Anita,

      Welcome! It's a great pleasure to have you join the mix. You are right: focus is of great importance to the overall process. Thanks for the feedback. B/T/W/ You have a very impressive professional background and I liked visiting your site today.

  7. It looks to me that E-mail Interviews can be very practical, especially for example for when you do an Expert 'Round Up' blog post, with just a few simple well thought through questions, you don't have to take much time from an influential busy person.

  8. You make a great point H.P.; thanks for making it here. :-)