Bloggers: Stop asking guests, ‘When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?’

Other than family and friends, nobody buys an author’s book after seeing a lame, blog-tour question answered like this:

“I’m very passionate about writing. I knew in the first grade I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t start trying to be one until after having another career in the insurance industry that finally burned out, leading me to think, holy crap, what am I going to do with my time now?”

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate.

wordcloudBut here’s the problem: answers like that don’t sound like anything a professional writer would say, and by professional, I’m talking about career authors who have spent years paying their dues and perfecting their art and craft.

Sure, sooner or they’re asked when they started writing, but it’s usually within the context of a larger, more detail-oriented professional sounding interview.

Blogs Mass Producing Author Interviews Don’t Help Anybody

If a blogger asks the same questions to every guest, including the typical first question, “Can you tell us something about yourself?” then the resulting interview is only preaching to the choir, the choir being the author’s friends, family, and co-authors at a publisher or critique group.

In a world where most people buy most fiction from authors with major buzz at major media outlets, few serious readers are going to select a book from an unknown author after reading a generic interview.

Real Interviews are Journalism

Books are an investment of money and time. Make them sound worth it.
Books are an investment of money and time. Make them sound worth it.

While breaking news and short deadlines often cause reporters to ask bad questions, real interviews are done by reporters, magazine staff writers and competent freelancers who do their homework first. Homework means: research your guest before you start asking questions.

This is where most blog-tour bloggers fail. They’re looking for quantity rather than quality, so naturally, they don’t read the guest author’s book, study their websites, see what they say about themselves on Facebook, or so anything else to provide enough background from which to ask intelligent questions.

These bloggers are well intentioned. They see the generic interview as a service. And, on high-traffic blogs including those in which a guest author can answer, say, five out of a list of 50 possible questions, some authors may be getting decent publicity. The rest the authors are, I think being harmed more than helped.

Why? Because most readers are savvy enough to see the difference between a journalistic-style interview with a professional author and a talking-over-the-backyard-fence generic interview with an unknown author. Generic questions just scream: This is amateur stuff.

Most people have a limited book budget and are careful about what they buy: they’re not going to buy an amateur book because they can’t afford to spend the money on it, and even if they could afford it, they don’t have time to read it.

Perhaps Doing a Few Interviews Well is Better

Personally, I think a blog’s traffic goes up when it includes interviews in which readers see that the blogger actually knows something about the guest author’s work AND that s/he isn’t asking every author the exact same questions.

Publishing has become more democratic. There are more venues and more ways to get one’s workinto  print. Meanwhile, social networking sites encourage authors to get out there and shoot the breeze with as many followers as possible. It’s easy to see how this leads to blog interviews where the blogger and author act like just plain folks as though the author is the friendly neighbor who suddenly decided to write a book.

The bottom line is, people don’t spend money to buy a book written by their next door neighbor who just decided, what the hell, I think I’ll be an author.  We need bloggers willing to learn their subjects and present unknown authors in the best possible light rather than making them look like amateurs.

Now that would be an interview that makes both the blogger and author look like the kind of people we want to read again and again.