Yes, Author Interviews are Worthwhile

InterviewA few weeks ago the Evilest Mastermind of them all had a post about author interviews, questioning whether they are worthwhile. One of the things I do away from Indies Unlimited is run a site called The IndieView. For those who haven’t visited, the content consists of three main things. (Watch me subtly plug the site here. I’ll bet no one even notices.) First, a database of indie friendly book review sites for authors in search of potential reviewers. Second, an index of recent reviews from a slew of different sites which readers can visit and scan looking for books that might appeal to them. And last of all (the only thing I would have mentioned were I not sneaking in a plug) interviews with indie authors and reviewers.

Given The IndieView’s interview content, I almost feel obligated to argue against what the EM had to say about author interviews. The reality is, every point he made (okay, make that almost every point to give me a little wiggle room) was right, for him. However, I’m not sure it is right for everyone. Some of my points were probably made in the comments to the original post, but repetition is good, right? So here’s my rebuttal. Hmm. I think I’ll do this using the same style Joe Konrath uses when fisking the spokesmodels of traditional publishing. That’s bound to be fun.

EM: Unfortunately, not a whole lot of people love to read author interviews … Once we realized the interview features were not getting a lot of views … we discontinued the feature.

BigAl: If I’ve learned nothing else from observing recent happenings in the publishing world it is that unsubstantiated claims on the internet aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. We need data to back these claims up. Sure, The EM told us a story about why IU no longer does author interviews and claims this is based on numbers. So show us the numbers. Or not. The profile of the typical IU visitor may be much different than another site. What doesn’t work here, may elsewhere. In contrast, just over two years ago I did a survey where I invited the readers of my review blog to answer some questions. One set of questions was a list of features we were considering adding that asked if our blog readers were interested in seeing us add that kind of content. Over 70% of the survey respondents indicated they wanted us to add author interviews. The last time I checked more than 2/3rds of a population didn’t qualify as “not a whole lot.”

EM: Not to say interviews don’t work at all or ever, but the return on investment is often quite small for both the interviewer and the subject of the interview.

BigAl: Yes, the ROI argument. Again I’ll say it. Show me the numbers. If we’re going to decide what we do and don’t do based strictly on ROI in measurable dollar terms, there are a lot of things most of us wouldn’t be doing. Both my sites generate a few dollars in income, but if I was deciding what to do with my time on that basis I’d be better off getting a part time job at the local McDonald’s. I won’t even mention the ROI of contributing to IU because the major benefit, all the gruel I can eat, as long as it is no more than half a bowl a day, isn’t that great. Especially when I can get gruel almost as good at the local soup kitchen for free. Many things we do are based on more than monetary return.

EM: Authors love to be interviewed.

BigAl: Data? Actually, I think I’ll take the EM’s word for this. (I happen to know the EM doesn’t like interviews, regardless of what he says about authors in general. He even says so at the bottom of his post. Maybe that’s the real issue.) I know I’ve enjoyed the times I’ve been interviewed. Part of that is you get to express your thoughts on a subject near and dear to you knowing that, at a minimum, one person is going to read them. Sure, a captive audience of one blogger isn’t much, but it is guaranteed. I’ve also found that interviews make me think about my motivations and the why I do things the way I do. This sometimes leads to questioning my approach, which can lead to an improvement. A little forced introspection can be a good thing.

EM: I think the unspoken hope is that an interview will make a splash bigger than the pool into which it jumps … Unfortunately, big pool ≠ big splash.

BigAl: In this regard, the EM is probably right, at least about some authors. The same goes for virtually EVERY marketing tool available to an indie author to get their name and book cover out there. With a few exceptions (Bookbub and less than a handful of other places like it), very few things are going to move the sales needle in a big way. To abuse the EM’s analogy, making a splash isn’t what you want. It’s to raise the water level of the pond. A splash gets some water higher for a few seconds, but what you really want to raise the level of the whole pond for a long time. (See, I’ told you I’d torture this analogy.) You do that with the equivalent of dropping little stones in, one at a time. (Gawd, I can’t stand this any longer. I’ll drop it, but keep it in mind while reading the next paragraph.)

In the comments, Lynne Cantwell mentioned that people need to see or hear your name (or, in this case, your book’s title) an average of seven times before pulling the trigger. Until you’ve sold so many books that the Amazon recommendations engines, word of mouth, and a built in fanbase are selling all the books you care to sell, you need to be doing things to get your name out there. An interview, if you enjoy doing them, may be a way to expose your name one more time to some number of people. (I’ll point out here that even if someone just reads the title, “Interview with Author X,” that’s exposure.)

Another things to consider (thanks to commenter Tom Kepler for reminding me) is how interviews help solidify your fanbase. Reading about you, what inspired your latest book, or even your writing process, is something people who have already read and enjoyed your book are going to enjoy and will make them more likely to buy your next one. What? You want data? Okay, I surveyed Tom and myself and 100% of respondents said I was right.

EM (in his Donald-Trump-like voice): BigAl, you’re fired.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

28 thoughts on “Yes, Author Interviews are Worthwhile”

  1. I think the helpfulness of an interview (as far as a marketing tool) has a lot to do with the questions asked. I’ve done some that were fun and funny, some that really made me dig deep to think about my answers, and some that were the same standard questions we’ve all probably answered dozens of times. I’m guessing a lot of people blow right by the latter. After a few dozen times, even your best friend will get tired of hearing whether you’re a “pantser” or a “plotter.”

    I think the bigger issue in regard to “helpfulness” is the audience of the blog/website. Is it reaching the people we want to reach? If it isn’t, then the interview as a marketing tool isn’t going to work.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Melinda.

      I’ll leave it to Ms McKinney to respond to the first part of your comment below. As for the second, I agree that as a marketing tool the audience, both makeup and size, makes a difference which the EM mentioned in his post, too. That’s one of the reasons why I started a new feature at Books and Pals this week that pimps recent IndieView interviews every few weeks. I was thinking about this and realized that even though the B&P readership has indicated they like interviews and many of them know about The IndieView as well as announcing when I discontinued interviews the reason (that they were happening elsewhere), I realized those in the habit of visiting B&P might forget if not reminded. The normal readership at B&P is a much higher percentage of readers than that at The IndieView and I want to lessen that.

  2. I agree with Melinda that the interview styles vary widely, some pretty pedantic, others extremely entertaining. If we get creative questions and put some thought into our creative answers, I think they can be a lot of fun. I haven’t done any research on reach or branding effectiveness, but my gut feeling is that readers like to know more about the authors they’re reading. It’s all part of the social media world; connecting and having at least some sense of personality is almost required these days. I’ll keep doing interviews as long as I’m having fun with them.

  3. Big Al,

    I think you raise some interesting points, but we’re still operating in the area of supposition here, as we are wont to do with all things marketing. I think it is hard to argue anything other than that the people most interested in any given author interview are those who are already fans of the author. Presumably, they have already read your book and you are sort of preaching to the choir rather than reaching new readers.

    But let us assume for a moment that our intent is to reach new readers. When you put yourself forward as the product, remember that every question you answer equally runs the risk of alienating a prospective reader. If your interview is a yawn, or you seem too arrogant, flighty, or just downright odd, it could put readers off – a decision they make not on the merit of your writing and the books you are trying to move, but YOU. That is the inherent risk of conflating the author with the work.

    That doesn’t mean I think author interviews have no benefit. I do think they can do as much harm as good, and on the whole, are probably a wash.

    And, you are not fired. It’s your turn to scrub the plasma conduits. MWAHAHA!

    1. I’ll run the risk of being assigned the conduit scraping next week 😉 and point out that alienating a prospective reader can be a *good* thing. I’m in favor of anything that might weed out readers who really, really won’t like your stuff, before they stumble across your book as a freebie and leave you a 1-star review.

      That said, I’ve done interviews where the questions are unimaginative, and interviews that challenged me to think more deeply about my work. The challenging interviews were beneficial to me, at least, even if I didn’t pick up any new readers.

      Plus, hey, they’re free advertising. If you sell any books at all from ’em, your ROI is through the roof! 😀

      1. Thanks for responding to the EM for me, Lynne. It leaves me less to write in what promises to be a long comment anyway. Probably as long as the original post. 🙂

        EM, There is some supposition here, but less than I think you feel. My impression, possibly incorrect, is that the rule of thumb that you on average need seven or possibly more exposures to something before someone purchases it (the subject of Lynne’s post yesterday) was not supposition, but based on research, I suspect a lot of different research over many years. Either that or it is a theory with no proof that is close to a universal belief among marketing types. Possible, I guess. :/ Much of my argument is based on an interview being another means to get that exposure.

        I don’t disagree with your contention that a person seeing an author interview is more likely to read it if they are already a fan. That makes perfect sense. However, I think your comment really went off the rails after making that point.

        First, I disagree with your contention that the goal is to “reach new readers.” I’d word the primary goal differently. It’s to sell more books. (I think there are lots of secondary goals that are meaningful, too. I mention some of those in the post. One I didn’t mention was building goodwill with the interviewer. I know you’ve done at least one interview where that was probably your main reason. 🙂 )

        My rewording of the goal might seem the same, but it isn’t. I’m going to split possible readers of the interview into three groups in decreasing order of the likelihood for them to read the interview. The fans that you mentioned, that I’ll define as someone who loves your books and is going to buy anything you put out as soon as they know about it. The people who have read another of your books, but aren’t in the fan category. And last, the person who has never read one of your books. Each one of them are going to react to seeing your interview differently.

        The fan, we’re in agreement, is very likely to read it. If the interview is pimping a new book and they hadn’t heard it was out yet, they’ll run off and buy it just as soon as they finish reading. It didn’t gain you a sale that wasn’t probably going to happen anyway. Eventually. But in the process you’ve (hopefully) solidified that person’s standing as a fan.

        The person who has read you and isn’t yet a fan will be reminded of your existence (one of those seven exposures) and possibly read the interview, like what they read, and get pushed that much closer to becoming a fan. This isn’t preaching to the choir, but unless they hated the book they read, they’re an easier sell than someone who has never read any of your books. (The old saw about it being easier to keep current customers than get new ones applies to this group, I think.)

        Last is the person you mention who hasn’t read you before. As I said in the post, if they just see that the interview exists, that’s one more exposure. If they read the interview, it might be the exposure that sells them on the book or, as Lynne said, it might convince them that they aren’t in your target audience, Although I can’t see concentrating any effort on doing that as a goal, it is still a good outcome.

        As for the possibility of messing up in some way and alienating a potential reader, that’s a risk you run in any way someone might be exposed to you or your “brand.”. In some instances, that might be a good thing as Lynne mentioned.

  4. I agree with Al in that you never know where people are going to see you and decide to pick up your book. This is a quote from one of my Goodreads reviews, “I got the recommendation for this book off of one of the blogs I read.” I have no idea what blog the reviewer is referencing, but at least one appearance caused her to buy the book.

    Interviews are another method of reaching readers and while the return on investment is very hard to correlate, because as Lynne pointed out yesterday, it might take 20 views before a purchase. So, I think an interview can help with that.

    People do have to be strategic about it, because there’s only so much time in the day. But, an interview here and there is probably helpful.

    1. Thanks, RJ. I’m sure the Goodread’s reviewer was talking about Books and Pals. 🙂

      You’re right, hours are limited and you have to pick and choose. That’s why I think the EM is right, for him. But largely because he doesn’t like to do interviews. His time is better spend on some other means of exposure that he likes better. His dislike of interviews probably raises the risk of his concern of saying something he’d have been better off keeping to himself. (A self-fulfilling prophecy?)

  5. Like Lynne Cantwell says, people need to see or hear your name (or, in this case, your book’s title) an average of seven times before pulling the trigger. It’s all about exposure. I think an interesting interview probably counts for more than one exposure. But, again, I have no numbers to back that up. 😀

  6. This blog has two footprints: One about interviews and one about unsubstantiated claims. When I was in print, I did far more interviews for newspapers and magazines. I enjoyed those because reporters do their homework and asked leading questions. From bloggers I get the same set of questions. It gets boring to me and perhaps for the reader, but all blogs do not have the same followers. Big Al is so right about unsubstantiated claims. I recently read this: “It is common knowledge that Amazon counts reviews toward Best seller ratings on books.” Where does that blogger get his ‘common knowledge?’ That is so not true. I felt the urge to challenge it, then let it go. It is not my problem if an author/blogger doesn’t educate himself. Back to interviews. They may get read, but I have seldom seen one, much less a raft of comments on a site beneath a interview. Sometimes mine would be single lonely comment. IMO that’s telling.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jackie. My response may be as long as to the EM. 🙂

      I’ve done interviews both ways.

      For the short time I did them at Books and Pals I used questions that were tailored to the specific author. I think you still find some standard-ish questions in those interviews, but often those are questions that the interviewer wondered about that specific author, so we might surmise others might have as well. Obviously these take a lot more time to do right. The interviewer has to do some research and ideally will have read at least one of your books. (For that reason, I didn’t do any interviews at B&P where I hadn’t already reviewed the book.)

      At the IndieView we have four different interview types. The regular IndieView has two flavors, one for authors and another for review bloggers. We also have a type called a BookView that is an abbreviated interview focusing on a specific book for authors who have already done a regular IndieView. All of these use standard questions. I can’t take the credit or blame for them, they were in use before I took the site over and only had minor tweaks done. But they’re also open-ended enough that authors have ample opportunity to sell themselves. It puts the onus of creativity on the creative person. Asking “leading questions” means the person asking them has possibly already decided on a slant for the interview and the direction it is going to take. Wouldn’t you rather do that yourself than have it imposed on you? I said that the IndieView has four different types of reviews and listed three. The fourth one is called Allirea’s Realm and are interviews conducted by a friend who is an avid reader of indies. She does tailor the questions to the individual and they tend to be fun as well as a bit irreverent. Unfortunately for those who like this idea, they’re also by invitation only, so if you want to do one you’ll have to find and convince Allirea to extend an invitation. 🙂

      As for unsubstantiated claims, you see this a lot with anything having to do with Amazon and what they do. Your example is a good one. With their internal workings being as obtuse as they are people are always trying to figure them out. They come up with theories, but too often present them as fact without having evidence of that. There are also a lot of Amazon watchers who base what they say on evidence (sometimes hard data). They’re the ones I choose to believe. (Examples of these are David Gaughran, Ed Robertson, and Hugh Howey/Data Guy at their author earnings site.)

  7. Great post, BigAl. I think you made some valid points. And I am sorry I have to disagree with Ms. Clayton’s statement, “I think the helpfulness of an interview (as far as a marketing tool) has a lot to do with the questions asked.” I think it is the author’s job to make their answers to even the most boring or repetitive questions asked interesting to readers. They are the wordsmiths, right? Interesting and creative answers are what’s going to grab a reader and then you hope the reader shares that gem that you just polished.

      1. Honestly, I tried to be respectful!!! I can see now I should have used the words ‘respectfully disagree’ and perhaps thrown in an IMHO somewhere…

        Please spare the whip…

        1. You were absolutely respectful and had a VERY good point. Don’t let Al tell you differently – grab that whip! Wait…was that a song, back in the 80s? Oh, no…that was “Crack That Whip.” Well, whichever works….;-)

  8. Great post, Al! I love doing interviews–which is weird, since I HATE to talk about myself in person 😀 I list ’em all on my website so I have a handy place to find bloggers/podcasters/radio interviewers with whom I’ve had contact, but also if someone’s interested in my work and why/how I do it, the answers are all there. BTW, I love the questions you ask on the IndieView.

    I also agree with Linda in that it’s the author’s job to make those answers as interesting as possible (not that I always manage it). We work with words, for goodness sakes. Use them.

    1. Thanks, DV. As I said above, I think the IndieView questions, while standard, give the interviewee a lot of space to sell themselves and apply the slant to the interview they want. Simon did a good job putting them together.

      Many (most?) people would say they don’t like talking about themselves. I’m not sure that’s true. I think most people are just afraid of looking foolish in those situations and many avoid them. Personally, I love doing interview, whether an interview that is going to run in its entirety, or just answering questions to provide background and material to use for pull quotes in an article somewhere. While I don’t seek them out, I rarely turn down the chance to do one unless it is on radio or a podcast, where I’m unpredictable. I’ve even had two that have led to positive outcomes beyond the obvious reasons for having done them originally. One interview I did for an article being written for a website that covers the publishing industry and it eventually led to the reporter becoming a reviewer at Books and Pals.

      But the biggest thing to come out of doing an interview was one I did two or three years ago for a little site that I don’t think was read by very many people at the time. The ROI on that sucked big time, or at least appeared to. (Note to administrators – is the word ‘sucked’ SFW?) Anyway, the interviewee reviewed me and several other bloggers about various aspects of reviewing from the viewpoint of helping authors get reviews and knowing what to expect. I guess I must have done okay because around a year later the site owner contacted me and asked if I’d be a regular contributor to his site and I have to believe the interview had some part (I think a large part) in leading to that offer. Imagine my shock to discover that little nothing blog had turned into a multinational, multi-author, Deathstar blog.

  9. Hello BigAl,
    I have dumped a bit of corn syrup into the Death Star engine. That should temporarily distract the EM.
    I’m with DV – I enjoyed the author interviews I’ve done.
    At this point in my writing journey I need to take advantage of any offers to make myself more visible on blogs. Quantifying what works in marketing is extremely difficult.
    Everyone has already quoted Lynne’s ‘Twenty Times is the Charm’ post. I thought of referring to it before anyone else did. Just sayin’.
    Great post and comments. 🙂

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