When writing a feature for a magazine, you'll almost always have to find people to validate what you say. So if you're working on an article on, say, prostate cancer, you'll need to interview experts who can explain technical terms and the benefits of treatment, patients who've battled it out, and maybe even a couple of celebrities who're willing to share their experiences.
Finding these billion-dollar, appeared-on-Oprah experts and celebrities isn't all that tough. With a little bit of preparation and some persistence, you can fill up your Rolodex of experts pretty quickly. Here are some ways.
Scour the databases: There are dozens of databases that contain listings of experts, along with their professional qualifications, details about their work and their contact information. Some of the popular databases are:
Hit the bookstores: Find out the authors and publishers of the latest books related to your subject by visiting your local bookstore or Amazon.com. You can find contact details of the author or the publisher online and send them a request for interviews. Since authors are constantly looking for publicity, especially for their new books, they'll be happy to help you out.
Make time for public relations: They can be your best friends, or your worst nightmare, but PR people serve a very important purpose when it comes to connecting you to quotable, media-savvy professionals. Do remember, though, that the bigger your publication, the more likely they are to respond to you.
Be a collector: Companies often send out press releases regarding company changes, product launches and important events; authors announce their new books and professionals looking for publicity regularly offer tips and new ideas. You'll find contact information for all these people on every press release and they're typically very responsive to interview requests.
Find the association: You'll find dozens of associations, non-profit organizations and clubs on almost every topic imaginable. Look up the Encyclopedia of Associations (a three-volume set) at your library and find something that's relevant to your subject of interest. You can call them up and ask their public affairs department to recommend someone. You can also do this with the public affairs offices at universities.
Get on Google: Most journalists, including me, wouldn't have a career without Google! You can find almost any kind of expert by searching for the right words and phrases. But instead of just finding experts, find their place of work. For instance, if you'd like to interview a chef, look up a few restaurants in your town and give them a call.
Become a Pest: It comes with the territory. If you're looking for everyday people, you'll need to rely on your social network (at first). That includes your sister, your sister's friend, your sister's friend's brother -- you get the idea. Talk to your family members; ask them to refer people they know. Then ask those people to refer people they know and so on. Don't forget the professionals you come into contact with every day -- your doctor, your hair stylist and your masseuse could all be potential sources.
Leave a message: If you're writing about common topics such as house-cleaning tips or successful garage sales, jump online. Seek out a message board on that topic (you'll be surprised at how many there are!) and leave a message describing your article. Also leave your e-mail address for respondents who don't mind being interviewed.
Look up the readers: Read the "Letters to the Editor" page of publications that cover your topic. The people writing in are usually very good sources for interviewing, and you'll often get a bit of an idea about them from their letter. Ask the publication concerned if they will put you in touch with the writer concerned. Your chances of getting them to respond are even higher if their letter is in any way related to the article you're proposing (try thinking up some angles).
Read the paper: The woman talking candidly about AIDS in your small-town newspaper may not mind sharing her story for your magazine article too. Again, ask the newspaper to put you in touch or look her up through the Internet. Try these online telephone directories:
Pass the screen test: When looking for Hollywood actors, use the Screen Actor's Guild hotline (323-549-6737) to locate the actor's agent. You can also visit these websites to find the names of agents and managers of celebrities:
Find their place of work: When looking for a famous author, find her most recent publishing house. If you're looking for a singer, write to his record company. Their publicity departments are used to such requests. Write a brief letter explaining the purpose of the interview.
Mark it confidential: In her book Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, Jenna Glatzer suggests putting your letter to the celebrity's agent or manager in an envelope marked "confidential" or "private". She says it's more likely to be opened by the right person this way. Otherwise, it will often be trashed as "fan mail" by a secretary or other gatekeeper.
The best idea of all is to use a combination of several of the above techniques, instead of relying on solely one. That'll not only give you a quick selection of experts, but the most credible ones as well. And that's bound to help in scoring more lucrative assignments. Good Luck!
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