Interview Other

What makes author interviews good?

I would love to invite some big authors to answer questions on my blog, but I am put off doing so as I find almost all author interviews boring. Even the most interesting interviews will only have one or two questions that grab my attention. I have noticed that interviews on other blogs often get less comments than other posts.


  • Does anyone know the secret of a successful author interview?
  • Which questions normally provoke good answers?
  • Can you point out any fantastic interviews?
  • Or, are all author interviews going to be dull to some extent?
  • Should book bloggers avoid author interviews?

I’d love to know your thoughts!

79 replies on “What makes author interviews good?”

A few observations from an author who has recently completed 6 online interviews to help promote a new book!

1) Readers are likely to find interviews with authors they know more interesting than those with authors they have never heard of. This is human nature. You have to meet someone before you can get to know them. With so many authors out there, you have to have a reason to want to read the interview in the first place – most likely because someone or something has already tipped you off that the author is likely to appeal to you. You’re no more likely to start reading an interview with an author you’ve never heard of than you are to start a conversation with a stranger in a pub. (Ok, maybe I exaggerate but the principle is the same).

2) Similarly, fans of a certain genre are less likely to be interested in authors who appeal to a totally different audience. A thriller fan probably isn’t going to be interested in an interview with an author of historical fiction. Why should they be?

3) Author interviews can be boring partly – and I stress the partly – due to the lack of imagination in the questions. ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’; ‘What was the inspiration for the plot?’ ‘What’s your typical day?’; ‘Did you always want to write?’ ‘Which authors have influenced you?’ And so on. These will only be interesting to someone who liked the book. It takes two to tango and it’s the interviewers job to stimulate an interesting discussion.

4) Every now and then you come across an author who has a real story to tell. They were kidnapped. They had an accident. A difficult childhood. They were in a gang. They were recruited as a spy. They overcame an illness. They broke a world record. And this background then goes on to inspire or shape the stories they tell (whether fictional or autobiographical). BUT the fact of the matter is that with so many authors out there, there is inevitably a huge swathe of normal, everyday, educated folk, who have kids to look after, jobs to hold down etc, whose life experiences are largely unexceptional. That doesn’t make them boring but, equally, they can’t all be newsworthy. Expectations have to be managed accordingly. “Er…actually, I had a fairly comfortable middle-class upbringing” isn’t going to attract quite so much interest as “I began rescuing nuns after my career as a cage-fighter was cut short when a KGB officer informed the judges that I was actually a woman…” Hang on! Hang on a minute! There’s a plot in there somewhere…!

Patrick, Thank you for the fantastic reply! You are right – the few interesting interviews I’ve seen have always been when the author had an amazing story to tell. The truth is that most authors (along with the rest of society) have fairly average lives, with nothing that exciting to reveal in an interview.

I agree that most of the problems in interviews lie with the questions, but I struggle to think of ones that would inspire interesting answers. I couldn’t think of great questions for my friends, let alone an author I only know through a book or two.

I guess that the message I get from your comment is that I should only interview authors who have been captured by aliens after a difficult childhood living with gorillas in the forest!

I regularly interview authors, and I am one. I mostly do this on the radio. I wouldn’t say being on either side of the microphone gives an insight into the other side, but like most things it comes down to a connection and a chemistry.
Many people in the Northeast of England will know my Chris Ryan interviews- these last three hours because he is gripping, and I am a fan. I come to the party already engaged. We’ve become friends but I can still ask difficult questions.
I mention this because there is so little chemistry normally between author and interviewer. Often they haven’t read the book, and then the author is left with two options both of which are a struggle.
The first is the inevitable re-telling the story of the book. The author has got to learn to be able to summarise the book in thirty seconds, or in a paragraph, or he makes the book redundant.
The second is ok for private dialogue but not mass audiences. People want to ask you about the process of writing. This can become tedious.
I did a book tour before Christmas and on the plot, I said the same every time.
“It’s the story of a mad family, fed up of Britain in 2008, driving a campervan across Australia with disastrous consequences…oh, and my wife is writing the same story from her viewpoint and part two should be out next (this) year.”
That sums it up, and with the exception of Chris Ryan and Ben Elton, most authors are not over comfortable with the selling process.
I’ve learnt one thing. You write the book, then the hard work begins. Selling the damn thing.
The writer is then in new territory, thinking that they have written the book and surely that speaks for itself.
Sadly, people want more.
The best advice that I was given was that to sell the book, you sell yourself. Talk about anything in a blog or an interview, and if you come across as fun and engaging, then you’re in people’s subconscious and by association they buy your product.
Look at Peter Kay on shows like This Morning. He doesn’t answer any questions, or do any plugs. He just starts messing about and taking over, showing his character.
By association, you as an intelligent punter, work the rest out and it enters your sub-conscious that you want to know more. That takes you very quickly to google, and that takes you very quickly to buy.
That would be my advice for the author. Work out a short byte-sized sell on the book that you stick to. Tease something unique for every different interview you do. Then have fun as YOU.
For the blogger or interviewer themselves. Don’t ask them about their childhood, or to tell the plot, or when they first knew that they could write or how do you get published. Think differently. Every time Chris Ryan comes on the show, I read him a paragraph from one of his old books to see if he remembers it, and what happens next etc. It’s great fun. I also look at the picture on the inlay. It’s great research. There’s an SAS picture of him skiing. From that I got out of him that there is an SAS alpine ski course that lasts a year that elite SAS train on for procedures in the mountains. Bet you never knew that!
Hope this is helpful. I’m happy to help with any authors preparing for any radio interviews. Best Wishes Tony Horne, Breakfast host Metro Radio and author of Hornes Down Under.

Ref: Tony Hornes post/interviewed by Chris Ryan.

I hope this won’t sound flip, I don’t mean it to be. It’s just an observation. But, Chris looked bored, and totally uninterested, distracted even during this interview?


WordLily, Thanks for the link – that is a great post. I think Justine is right in thinking that most of us have no interview training. Most bloggers just worship any author they interview and don’t stop to think that they might have been asked the same questions a million times before. Interviewing looks as though it is very hard to get right. I’m not sure I could manage to do it.

Interviewing is definitely hard! I actually do have experience conducting interviews, since I worked as a newspaper reporter for several years (and my degree is actually in journalism). Still, though, some interviews are certainly better than others. I think my most recent one, with Jamie Ford, was pretty well done.

I’d really love to know the answers to your questions as well. Personally, I’d rather read a guest post, where the author just goes off on a tangent…any tangent…that lets you peek into their mind. The questions that Patrick brings up make my hair stand up on end. And I specifically avoid doing Q&As with authors because I do not want to be one of those people who asks them. Yet again, I’m not all that good at coming up with creative questions either.

Now I am faced with an author who just asked me to come up with some questions for her! Which I have not yet provided. I want the post to be memorable, and frankly, few of these posts are memorable. I will come back and see what everyone else says…

Sandy, I have gone down the guest post route a few times, but I’m not sure people are very interested in that either.

I think that you are a great interviewer though – I thought your BBAW interview was the best that day. You clearly have a skill for doing it.

Well, I must admit that I don’t read author interviews at all. I don’t really care what an author has to say with one exception. If I was really confused by a book and have no idea what was going on and really have a need to know, I might look up the authors web site to see if I can find any explanation that would help. I find that too much information on the author ruins the book for me. Like hearing all the bad press about Nickolas Sparks and his horrible in person presentations. I would have rather kept thinking he was a wonderful, romantic hermit living up in the mountains somewhere. Even seeing author’s pictures sometimes ruins books for me. I picked up a hot steamy love story one time and flipped it over to find the picture of the author on the back. Needless to say, it was not a picture that in any way went with the book.

Please, all of you authors, don’t take any of this personally, but you know that you are creating a fantasy and you are part of that fantasy, like it or not. An author can help or hurt the book by how they are able to play into the books. Diane Gabledon is one author that is wonderful at representing her books in person and in interviews. most others, not so much.

Rebecca, I have had a few books improved by reading a bit about what the author intended us to get from it (Little Stranger is the best example of this) but agree that sometimes knowing too much about an author can spoil a book. A few years ago I was blissfully unaware of the beliefs of many authors, but now I feel I know too much about some and do feel it makes me approach their books in a different light.

I don’t ever read author interviews, either. I just skip over them completely. MAYBE if it were an author I knew and liked… but generally not in that case, either.

I have never had an author interview on my blog. The most I’ve done is when offered an interview, I invite the author to instead fill out one of my weekly guest posts- previously, Rosie’s Riveters, and now going forward, With Reverent Hands. I *like* to think that the authors prefer something original like that to the same questions about their books, but I don’t know!

Aarti, I think you have a good balance there – asking all authors the same interesting question is a great way for them to feature on your blog, without you having to research them for hours and still entertains all your readers. I’d be interested to know if the authors like it though – hopefully some will speak up!

How many interesting interviews do you ever see, be it with a pop star or a footballer or even a rehearsed to death politician? The best ones tend to be a bit like car crash TV, when the interviewee has their inhibitions lowered by whatever cause, they me be drunk, jetlagged, or angry and looking for an outlet for the anger…

Having said that, in regard to interviewing authors, if the questions can break open the unseen processes and thinking that goes into a book, or lies behind an author’s method of writing, then you might get some pearls worth reading about. Emprise review asked me some extremely thoughtful questions that showed they had not only thought what lay behind my novel, but had read my blog so they could tie it into my thoughts on world politics and my approach to language as well. I was impressed by their rigour of research.

marc, That is a very valid point – almost all interviews are boring!

It sounds as though I need to meet the author in person and have a few drinks – hopefully after a few they might start to reveal a few areas that could provide some interest!

It does sound as though research is the key though, along with a lot of hard work.

I have a lot of trouble with interviews. I try to come up with questions more related to the book I’ve read rather than the generic “who was your inspiration?” type ones. I tend not to do many because you’re right, they’re very boring, and I usually just do them in conjunction with giveaways to stimulate a little more discussion. I will be honest and say I generally don’t read them myself. But then I also agree with Marc Nash above – I don’t find professional interviews particularly interesting either and I skip Q&As in the back of books. Just not my thing. I’ll be looking to see what others say and what you decide in the end!

I don’t normally read professional interviews either. I normally read the Q&As at the back of books, but I think the one at the back of Half of a Yellow Sun was the only one I found interesting.

I love doing author interviews, and I have noticed that usually you get out of them what you put into them. If I spend time researching the author, reading previous interviews they’ve done, I get a sense of what to ask them and what not to ask. I try never to ask the standard questions, and above all, I ask questions I really and truly want answers to (or just plain fun/silly questions that provoke creative answers). Because if no one else enjoys the interview…at least I will!

Lenore, It sounds as though you have mastered the art of interviewing! I think the key is the research and actually wanting to know the answers yourself. Keep up the good work!

Thanks! You know, I am always excited when I get the responses back from authors. It’s such a priveledge, and it’s kinda sad that some people put so little effort into it, do boring interviews that no one wants to read, and then give something fab a bad name.

And I wanted to add, I DO read interviews on other blogs that I know put time into their interviews, especially Maw Books. Because even if I don’t know the author, I know I won’t be wasting my time.

I personally like author interviews hence why I occasionally post them, though I actually think life long readers (like my Gran ha) can make for more interesting reads. I think if people don’t like the author or don’t like author interviews don’t read the posts. I don’t think Patrick would like my author interviews as I ask a lot of questions he says are a bit rubbish hahahaha. I don’t think do a author interview for comments, I like commments but as we have discussed before they arent the reason I blog. I ask authors who work I genuinely really like to do Savidge Reads Grills and so I guess its a personal thing, but I hope my readers like them!

Simon, I agree that there are probably a lot of members of the public who would make great interview subjects!

I know you don’t do interviews for comments, but thought that the number of commments on a post was a good indicator of how much it interests people. I have noticed that interviews often generate very few comments in comparison to other posts on the same blog, so was wondering if a lot of people just ignore them, no matter how good they might be.

I always read your interviews though!!

Trish, Thanks for the link, but unfortuantely it won’t allow me to watch it in the UK. 🙁
Neil Gaiman is fantatsic though – I have heard him being interviewed before and love him!

As a first-time novelist who did two virtual book tours (one for the hardcover, one for the paperback), I struggled with how to respond to interviews in a way that seemed fresh and interesting. I tell you, it’s hard. After doing dozens of interviews, guest posts, and answering reader questions (both via e-mail and in person at book events), I had told the same stories about writing and publishing my book so many times I was bored by myself (and I’m not that boring! Really!) In my mind, the most interesting interviews/posts I did had to do with discussing the passion that brings authors, readers, and bloggers together: Reading and love of good books. I wrote a post on Why Book Blogs Matter for BBAW ( that many people responded to because it addressed a universal interest which is, frankly, much more compelling than How I Found The Time to Write While Raising Kids or What Advice I Have for Aspiring Authors.
I agree, that if you can research the author, if you can find ONE THING in the book that really resonated with you on a gut level and probe about that, you’ll get a more interesting interview.
And THANKS. It’s incredible that people take the time to read my book, let alone review it and spend even more time thinking of questions, or editing a guest post.

Kathleen, Thank you for giving us an insight into what it is like for the author. I think part of the problem must lie with the tour organisers. Some pressurise bloggers into performing an interview, without giving them any guidance. It can’t help either side if a poor interview is published. If you were ever to participate in a tour again perhaps it would be good to let the organisers know your feelings about boring interviews?

I’ll admit that I skip right over almost all author interviews unless perhaps it’s with an author I really like. I think what I dislike about most author interviews is simply a weakness of the online format (as opposed to face to face or over the phone). I used to be a newspaper reporter, and I always went into interviews with a list of questions (and plenty of research), but often the interview itself would lead me in more interesting and fruitful directions than I’d initially planned. The best interviews are conversations, instead of the typical “answer these five questions” interviews that show up a lot blogging world. And building a conversation is much more logistically difficult than giving an author questions to answer.

Teresa, I agree that a big problem does seem to be a lack of flow in written interviews. People seem to just send off a list of questions, so there is no interactivity. It must be better to do interviews via google wave, or email one question at a time.

The other tack and this is what Sassy-Brit did with me on is to try and make it more of a natural conversation, a chat almost between interviewer and author. We ranged over football, we swapped book tips, my twins, what was in my bedside cabinet and the best piece of life advice I’d ever received.We conducted this interview/chat by e-mail too. When I’d said something that Sassy wanted to expand on, we exchanged another round of emails on the subject.

I do think just a few questions is helpful. Not too long.
And offbeat questions that you don’t see all the time.
And I personally like to hear about books they enjoy and about their writing process.

I agree that most author interviews are utterly deathly. As you probably know, I run a column on my blog called “The View From the Shoe”, whcih is essentially a creative version of Empire mag’s “pint of milk” interviews with filmic tyoes. I ask the same questions every week – none of them really about anything – and hope the person’s personality shines through. The most successful ever was with an author, the wonderful Banana the Poet (

I think the key is not just to ask them about their new book, or the creative process, but to ask them questions that don’t seem to be about those things but actually give real insight. I write freestyle interview pieces with bands for and one of the things I do there is ask seemingly random questions to loosen the band up and get an insight into them. I’ll then mould it into a story with lots of quotations, which I’ll send to them for approval. For example, one of the questions I ask is “it’s two in the morning and you’ve been in the studio since midday. You have at least two hours to go and you’re all starving. What do you get for take out and how do you decide?” – it gives a great insight into the band’s dynamic.

I guess I could sum it up as – lowering someone’s guard but never in a sneaky way. Catching them out, but in an environment that makes it clear you’re 100% on their side.

Hope that makes sense 🙂

Dan, Thank you for the tip about how to get people to let down their guard! Getting an insight into their personality is always something that seems really hard to do. I’ll have to test it out one day!

I’m obviously a big fan of author interviews – but as I’ve said before, I have an obsession for knowing the trivial details that go into an author’s process.
I try to get them to reveal something they may not give in an ordinary interview (eg. personal photos relating to their work or their stories), but not everyone wants to do that! I try to avoid “big” questions (the state of literature today, or something) in favour of the personal (asking David Vann why he likes fish so much).

I toyed with the idea of phone interviews instead, but decided that writers should be able to express themselves well through writing, no? But I might have to try that whole emailing back and forth thing that marc nash mentioned above.

Lija, I am very impressed by the authors you’ve interviewed on your blog – I also wanted to know why David Vann liked fish so much! I’m not really interested in the trivial details of authors lives, but knowing a bit of the background behind the story is interesting to me. Keep up the good work!

I don’t care about author interviews and never read them. For me, reading is about the books and the words in the books. The author is really a completely different point.

I have enjoyed reading biographies of favorite authors. But those are, of course, the classic authors who lived in a different time. (i.e., LOVED the biography of Wilkie Collins I read last year. So fascinating.)

Rebecca, Biographies have never really appealed to me either. I’m sure there are a lot out there I’d enjoy, but they never seem to make it to the top of my TBR pile – perhaps I’ll start with the Wilkie Collins one!

I think a few short questions to someone who has a sense of humour or realizes that blogging is about brevity can be great.

Part of the problem is readers´ expections to blog posts. I am used to seeing short posts, and unless they are of excellent quality, I tend to loose interest after a few hundred words.

A British blogger friend of mine has sometimes split an interview up in three parts, giving us a few answers every day, plus added some appealing photos every time. I think that works fairly well.

Dorte, I agree – I like shorter posts It really has to interest me if I am to read more than about 500 words. In one way I like the sound of breaking the interview into smaller sections, but I think it would annoy me if the author wasn’t that entertaining. I guess it depends on the situation.

I was just thinking about this topic recently! We recently interviewed Joshua Ferris for The Unnamed…and it got only one comment! I’ve noticed the same thing you have about interviews getting fewer responses and I guess it makes sense. I usually skim or skip interviews entirely unless it’s an author I really like. An author interview seems much more exciting for the interviewer than the audience…but it just seems such a shame if the author comes on the blog and gets the impression that no one is reading what he/she has to say!

As for questions, I try to avoid ones focused entirely on books and get to know the author outside of his or her work (a couple are ok, but you could probably do a Google search and find most of those answers!). But it’s hard to know what others would find interesting, because it often happens that once you see the interview format, you just scroll on past it.

Kari, I am shocked that your Joshua Ferris interview only received one comment. He is a big author at the moment and I’d have thought people would be very interested to read his thoughts. It would be interesting to know if there are a lot of silent (non-commenting readers) who love interviews, or whether they are just interesting to the interviewer!

By the way Kari, I read (and enjoyed!) the Joshua Ferris interview back when you posted it. In fact, it’s what made your blog memorable to me amidst all the other blogs I’ve been reading lately. So comments aren’t everything

I think the Larbalestier guide is a response to the way an increasing number of authors feel (her post was, in part, a response to an earlier complaint about standard-question author interviews by John Scalzi at his blog). Many authors feel they’re getting inundated with requests for book blogger interviews, and they’re irritated if the would-be interviewer hasn’t read the most recent book and done some homework.

Jeanne, I loved Scalizi’s little rant and the comments were very funny! I think I’d be annoyed by being inundated with random questions too – I love the thought of Scalzi sending the questions back to people because they were too boring!

Seems I’m in the minority: I love reading — and listening to, and watching — author interviews. I don’t think I know any secrets (grin), but I suspect a key ingredient in the mix of a satisfying author interview is the interviewer’s passion about the author’s work, or, at the very least, a degree of comfort and/or familiarity that gains the interviewee’s trust and respect.

I don’t think an interview conducted by someone who is going through the motions because they have a job to do will provoke the same kind of response as an interviewer who feels a deep connection to the author’s work. But, then again, I find even the nuts-and-bolts bits that characterize writerchat interesting, so I often keep reading even if it’s a mediocre interview.

Some of my favourite online sources are January Magazine (though sometimes a bit nuts-and-bolts-y depending on the interviewer) and the Powell’s Books series (which I more consistently enjoy).

In print I’m especially fond of The Paris Review Interviews and those published by The Believer (the collection appears mid-way down), which also appear in their magazine, as that with Mary Gaitskill appears online here.

And on radio/in podcast, (earlier ones available in print collections too), I heart Eleanor Wachtel’s interviews (I have never been disappointed although I’ve often never heard of the authors to start with) and, more recently discovered, Nancy Pearl’s.

BuriedInPrint, Thank you for the fantastic links! I’ve had a little browse and found a few that interested me. On the whole I still prefer reading the author’s books to an interview of them though.

One more thing. As a favour I asked Chris Ryan to interview me. It probably isn’t the best, and I probably defied everything I preached and I’ve learnt since the interview …but you can take from it how he approached “doing” me when he is normally the subject. Paste in this link and you should get it. The key message remains – we had a chemistry and he was interested…

Best Wishes
Tony Horne

Tony, It is true that if you have chemistry then either party should be able to be a succesful interviewer. Thanks for the link – I’ll watch it later.

I enjoy doing author interviews for my own blog, but I do tend to avoid reading them on other blogs.

I put a lot of work into my interview questions. I read as many of the author’s books as I can find, I research their websites and other websites, as well as any other interviews out there that I can find. This way I can avoid asking them questions they’ve already answered elsewhere and I can get a very wide range of their lives to ask them about. I find they love having a chance to talk about a book they wrote many years ago or about other things in their lives besides he most current book. I do always ask plenty about the current book.

I ask guestions in clusters, typically five or six that relate to one subject, so they can answer as many as they want or just one if one sparks an interesting reply.

It’s a lot of hard work. I do enjoy it, but the truth is interviews get very few comments. I do them for me, really.

I’ve tried breaking them into two posts, but that just meant I got few comments on two days instead of on one. I like the idea of posting just one or two questions at a time. Maybe I could do that over several weeks….

I’ve not done an interview in a while and I’m iching to do another soon.

cbjames, I find it very interesting that you spend so much time on your own interviews, love doing them, but then ignore them on other blogs. Is this because they are authors you don’t love/recognise or because it is the interview process you love rather than the actual answers?

Wow, very interesting post and responses!

I do enjoy author interviews, when they’re SHORT, as indicated above. I also prefer a more personal interview, tailored to the author (rather than a standard 5- or 6-questions same-for-each-author format).

If an author asks about guest posting on my blog, I hope he/she will be interested in writing a Spotlight on Bookstores post. This ties in with other guest posts written by bloggers and authors, so is more in synch with my blog (rather than a generic guest post that could be submitted to many outlets).

I’ll check back to read other responses; this is an active discussion!

Dawn, I don’t think it matters how long they are, as long as they are interesting. I have been bored by very short interviews in the past, but have seen the odd long one which kept me entertained. Good ones, long or not, are hard to find.

Hi there. I was interviewed today on BBC Manchester by Heather Stott. I won’t thrust it down your throat but Heather knew a bit about me and knows Australia. I researched her, listened to her show before hand for an hour. I think it sounds like fun, and you can do this even if you are in separate studios as we were. I didn’t say the book title or amazon enough but there we go. If you would like to hear it just go to I hope it’s helpful.

ps i edited out a song and traffic as it’s not relevant.

I have done a couple interview but also asked the same boring questions. LOL! I have been offering guest posts instead. Sometimes an author had a lot of interesting stuff to talk about that I would never “unearth in an interview, due to my lack of unimaginative questions. LOL!

heidenkind, I haven’t heard of LJ Smith so I didn’t bother to read that when I first saw it. Since you recommended it I’ve been to have a look. I can see why it would be interesting if you’d read the books, but I’m afraid it was of no interest to me. Hopefully some Smith fans will see your recommendation though!

I agree with some of the above responses that the problems with authors often lie in the questions. That being said, you should check out

Angela does ‘responsive interviews’ where she gives the author various prompts – either a question, or a picture or a video, and the author simply responds to that. The result is a curiously interesting interview and it sure grabbted the attention of readers for this particular debut author.

I’m about to interview this same author and I’m freaking out about asking the right questions so it doesn’t seem uber boring compared to the one I just linked.

I have interviewed songwriters, and found that the way to find interesting questions is to do your research! Sounds simple, but I really enjoy reading interviews where the author and interviewer have a rapport – the interviewer quotes something the author said at a previous writers festival and asks them about that, etc. Interviews that are more like conversations may be more likely to engage readers who aren’t necessarily familiar with the author/book.

Hope that helps(?)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *