Writer, actor, blogger, J.L. Orchard has written freelance articles for publications such as Canadian Horse Journal, Horse Canada and Horsepower Magazine since her teen years. She has interviewed actors, directors, Hall-of-Fame sport judges, and more, including a founding member of Cirque du Soleil. Orchard’s short stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and won numerous contests including the Athanatos J.R.R. Tolkien Award. Her goal is to be a fantasy novelist and she shares the woes, thrills and learning curves of that journey, as well as insightful interviews with seasoned professionals, on her blog www.jlorchard.com.
This question can be answered in one word. Yes. But may I add, not without one valuable asset.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, interviewing skills are a valuable asset to the writer.
The best way to win fans amongst the experts in your audience, the police officers reading your crime novel, the equestrians reading your wild horse story, is to go the extra mile, interview the brains and get the facts straight. Experts can tell when you’re guessing.
But how is a teenager to be taken seriously if they ask for an interview? I began conducting interviews in my mid-teens. I’m in my twenties now, still zit-faced and could pass as fifteen. There’s no magic age where you’ll start to be taken seriously, so don’t delay doing interviews just because you’re young. There is one way to be respected as an interviewer and no one, whether they’re twelve or forty-five will be respected without it. Professionalism.
The person you’re interviewing was a teenager once. Likely, they remember how it felt to be new and inexperienced. Because you’re young, if you approach them with professionalism, they’re likely to be more impressed by your ambition and courage than if someone twice your age did the same thing. Being a teen counts in your favor.
But how do you go about requesting and conducting an interview professionally?
BE CLEAR - Ask them for an interview and tell them up front why you’d like to interview them. Say that you’re writing a book and, knowing how experienced they are in their field, you’d like to pick their brain to get your facts correct. Ask which way would be best to contact them, set a date when you will be in touch.
DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU’RE GOING TO DO – Those were District 9 actress Nathalie Boltt’s words from an interview I did with her. Those words are applicable to every aspect of life but particularly to interviewing. If say you’re going to email them the first week of April, email them the first week of April. Nobody wants to waste their time with someone that doesn’t do what they say they’re going to do.
ARRIVE BEFORE THEM – If you’re meeting at a coffee shop, don’t let them arrive and be puttering around waiting for you so the interview can start. Be there, have a table picked out, and wait. It’s better for you wait than to make your interviewee wait. If you’re doing an online or phone interview, be on time. Call at precisely the time the interview was set. Be sure you check if there are time zone differences.
DON’T ASK FOR AUTOGRAPHS – You are a professional, not a hanger-on. You’re there to do a job, not to get gloating rights and souvenirs. If they have copies of their book and you want to buy a copy and get it autographed, I’m sure they’d love that. But don’t, even discreetly, try to bribe a free copy out of them or get extra favors.
ASK HOW MUCH TIME THEY HAVE – Find out when they want to be done by, and don’t keep them later than that unless they initiate the conversation to continue. If they do though remind them of the time. They may not realize how late it is.
DON’T TALK ABOUT YOURSELF – The interview is not about you and how you wanted to be a fireman as a kid but saw this movie that made you afraid of fire, but your dead uncle was a fireman and firemen make you proud so you’re going to write a book about firemen… You are there to interview them, not the other way around. It’s fine to thank them for their work and say it’s touched you, but don’t give your life story. You are a professional, like them. If they’re interested about you, they’ll ask. The more time you talk about yourself, the fewer valuable things you’ll learn from the interview, and the more they’ll feel they’re wasting time. Their time is precious. Respect it.
BE COMPOSED – Don’t swear. Don’t remark on some dirt you dug up on their personal life. Dress professional. That means natural-looking makeup, clean and tidy looking clothes with no glaring logos or slogans, and no clothing that is overtly revealing. You may have a certain identity that you want to maintain but the most important identity for yourself at this time is the identity of a professional. It is possible to keep a certain style about yourself but if your style is really out there, tone it down. You want them to focus on the questions, not on what you’re wearing.
THANK THEM FOR THEIR TIME – They’ve given you their time, likely for free. Show your gratitude and thank them as soon as the interview is finished. Go home and email them another thank you. Even if you asked for an interview and they declined, thank them for their time.
There could be some itching question you have right now. Someone out there has the answer, and the only way you’ll find it is to conduct an interview. There is no better teacher than experience, no better way to develop familiarity and comfort with conducting interviews than by doing them. If writing is going to be your career, polish your interviewing skills now and take a head start on those waiting to graduate college.
Believe it or not, the average professional will respect an ambitious and professional teenager more than their adult counterpart. They also forgive a young person’s mistakes more readily. Start now to work out your kinks and develop a comfort with what could one day be your norm.
Being a teen is to your advantage.