You’ve dreamed about writing a book for years, and now you’re finally ready to share your story and expertise with the world! But even if you’re brimming with writing inspiration, coming up with enough material to fill a 200-page nonfiction book is a challenging undertaking.
Although you have decades of experience to share, some of the chapters you write may end up feeling short or incomplete. Conducting interviews can help you fill in those content gaps and flesh out your nonfiction book. Gathering quotes from other industry experts will make your book more authoritative and turn it into a go-to resource for readers who hope to learn more about your field.
Memoirists can also benefit from speaking with experts. Although your memoir will mainly cover your personal experiences, sprinkling in quotes from professionals can enhance your story. For example, an author writing about their struggle with anxiety could ask a mental health professional for tips on managing stress levels. Combining your story with expert advice will inspire your readers and help make a difference in their lives.
If you’re ready to strengthen your book’s message, here are some tips to help you gather winning quotes and incorporate them into your writing.
How to Conduct an Interview
Map Out Your Book First
A common mistake many authors make is conducting interviews before planning out their book. If you only have a general idea of what your book will be about, you won’t be able to ask interviewees specific, targeted questions. Plus, the quotes you gather may not fit your manuscript down the line when you finally hone in on your book’s true message and purpose.
Creating a BookMAP first will help you avoid ending up with quotes that aren’t relevant or usable. A BookMAP is a visual representation of all the concepts, anecdotes, and lessons you want to share in your book. Completing your BookMAP is the first step of The Book Professor’s® proven book writing methodology, which will help you finish your manuscript and become a published author in just one year.
Find an Expert to Interview
After completing your BookMAP, you may notice that some sections of your plan have less material than others and need to be fleshed out a bit. Finding experts to interview is a good way to add more high-value content to areas of your book that may be lacking or missing something.
The easiest place to start searching for qualified interview sources is your personal network. Reach out to peers who have the expertise you’re looking for and ask if they’d be willing to chat with you. If they don’t have time, they may know someone else who would make a great interview subject.
Don’t be afraid to reach beyond your network and cold email people you don’t know, such as a professor who published a study you enjoyed or a podcaster you listen to often. Websites that journalists use to find sources such as Help a Reporter Out and ProfNet are also good places to connect with potential interview candidates.
Once you find someone who’s willing to be interviewed, you’ll need to sort out logistics like where and when the meeting will take place. On the off chance that you and your source live in the same city, see if they’ll let you buy them a coffee. Meeting in person makes it easier to connect and build rapport, which can create a better interview experience.
But if an online meeting is your only option, you can still have a productive conversation over the phone or on Zoom. However, try to avoid conducting interviews via email. It’s harder to ask follow-up questions and have a meaningful discussion when you aren’t speaking to each other in real-time.
You should also let your source know roughly how long you think the interview will take. If they can’t commit that much time to the meeting, try to be flexible and work with their schedule. After all, it’s better to get some of your questions answered than none.
Research and Prepare Questions
The key to a good interview is preparation. Set aside a few hours to research your interviewee and familiarize yourself with their work. Getting up-to-date on their current endeavors will enable you to make the most of your time with them and ask deeper, more insightful questions.
An interview is a fluid discussion, so you don’t need to rehearse what you’re going to ask your source word-for-word. However, it’s a good idea to come up with a preliminary list of questions you can refer back to during the interview if you get stuck and don’t know what to ask next. You can also send this list to your source if they ask to see the questions ahead of time.
Before the interview, you should also decide how you’re going to take notes. Typing or writing your source’s answers by hand can be distracting and take your attention away from the conversation. You may also make mistakes or miss important information if you try to write everything down yourself. That’s why it’s usually best to record the interview, so you can easily play it back later.
Both Skype and Zoom have built-in recording features that you can activate by pressing the record button at the bottom of the meeting window. If you’re grabbing coffee in person or talking on the phone, you can use a digital voice recorder or a mobile recording app like Just Press Record to capture the discussion. But make sure you get your source’s permission to record before you try any of these methods.
Interview Your Source
If you don’t have much experience leading interviews, you may be nervous about meeting with your source. But remember that an interview is just a conversation between two people, so don’t be intimidated.
The main thing you need to conduct a successful interview is good listening skills. Paying close attention to what your source says will enable you to ask relevant follow-up questions. Listening more than you speak will also ensure you get enough information and quotes to flesh out your book.
However, being a good listener doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about your project at all. Giving your source some background on your book and what you’re hoping to learn from them can be a great ice-breaker. Another way to ease them into the interview is by starting with more basic, general questions first. This gives them a chance to warm up and get comfortable before you move on to more complex questions.
As you delve deeper into the topic and their work, your source may use terminology that you aren’t familiar with. If you don’t understand something they say, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. After all, the purpose of the interview is for you to learn! If the interviewee strays from the main subject and starts discussing something you aren’t interested in, it’s fine to redirect them. Just try not to interrupt them while they’re speaking—wait for a natural pause in the conversation.
Another important interview etiquette tip is to respect your source’s boundaries and busy schedule. If they don’t want to answer a question or ask for something they say to be off the record, honor their request. Do your best to keep track of time and wrap up the interview on schedule, even if that means some of your questions don’t get answered. Before you end the meeting, make sure to thank your source for fitting you into their jam-packed calendar.
Your source took time out of their busy day to help you with your book, so it’s polite to send them an email to thank them again for meeting with you. And don’t forget the power of a hand-written note. Plus, reaching out gives you an opportunity to ask them any follow-up questions that have come to mind since your conversation. If you need to arrange a few more interviews with other sources, you can also ask if they know anyone else who would be willing to chat with you.
Once you’ve decided which quotes from the interview you’re going to use, it’s a good idea to send them to your interviewee for approval. Allowing your source to review the quotes will help ensure that all the information is accurate and you’re both happy with the final product. You should also consider sending them an early release copy of your book. Since they’re featured in it, they’re likely to recommend your book to their audience, especially if they think it’s a worthwhile read. Their expert endorsement can build buzz around your book before the official launch and help boost sales.
Tips for Incorporating Quotes Into Your Book
If you’re planning to speak to multiple experts, you’ll probably have thousands of words of material to work with by the end of the interview process. You don’t have enough space to include all of that content in your book, so you’ll have to narrow it down to the best quotes. If you’re not sure how to choose, listen to all the recordings again and write down lines that stand out to you. Then use a process of elimination to further whittle down the quotes if necessary.
After you decide on your quotes, you’ll have to figure out how to seamlessly integrate them into your book. If you’re struggling to incorporate quotations into your writing in a natural-sounding way, it can be helpful to read feature articles and personal essays from major publications for writing inspiration and ideas. Paying attention to how journalists introduce quotes and which transition words they use will give you strategies you can use in your manuscript.
It’s also important to make sure you format your quotes correctly so they don’t stick out. Here are a few quick grammar rules to keep in mind when using direct quotations:
- Put double quotation marks at the beginning and end of quotes.
- A quote’s punctuation should go inside the quotation marks.
- Capitalize the first letter of a quote if it’s a complete sentence.
- If a quote is a short sentence fragment, use all lowercase letters.
- Long quotations (also known as block quotes) are usually formatted as a new, standalone paragraph and aren’t surrounded by any quotation marks. They may also be indented and italicized.
Don’t forget to properly attribute the quotes you use to give your sources credit for their ideas. Ask each interviewee for their preferred name and title so you can cite their quotations correctly.
Another thing to keep in mind is that quotes are supposed to be copied word-for-word, so you can’t edit or change something a source said without their permission. However, many people appreciate having grammar mistakes and typos removed from their quotes, so your sources may give you the green light to make some minor revisions.
Lastly, avoid taking quotes out of context. Don’t remove surrounding sentences from the quote if it changes the original, intended meaning.
Need Some Extra Guidance?
Whether or not you decide to include interviews in your manuscript, writing a nonfiction book on your own can be difficult, especially as a first-time author. If you often procrastinate or give up when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may need some extra support to finally finish your manuscript.
Nancy will guide you through the process of completing your book step-by-step, from the planning stage all the way to the final round of edits. If you’re ready to fulfill your dream of becoming a published author, contact The Book Professor® today.