Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Kayleen Reusser
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The good news is that you don't have to be famous to interview celebrities. My name isn't Mike Wallace, and yet I've interviewed Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys, singer Russ Giguere of the musical group The Association, singers Larnelle Harris and Steven Curtis Chapman, actress Morgan Brittany of Dallas fame, and best-selling novelist Gilbert Morris.
Interviewing celebrities takes skill, timing and practice. I interviewed dozens of people before attempting to talk with a celebrity. In addition, most celebrities are on a strict time schedule, so each question and minute must count. A third challenge is accessibility. The more famous the celebrity, the more difficult it is to procure the interview.
Despite all of these obstacles, a celebrity interview is easier to conduct than you might think. Following these steps will help to produce sellable interviews with famous people.
1. Get an assignment
I hadn't been writing long before I discovered it helps to work on assignment, especially when interviewing celebrities. Famous people pay managers and agents great amounts of money to screen interview requests. Only the most deserving writers, i.e. those with an assignment from a publication's editor, will be worked into the client's schedule. After publishing dozens of profiles on 'regular' people, I contacted the editor of the Ticket! Section of the Fort Wayne (Indiana) News-Sentinel newspaper and was hired to write freelance articles for them.
Now, when I call a celeb's publicist for an interview, I begin, "Hi. I'm Kayleen Reusser from the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel and I'm calling to set up a time to talk with Steven Curtis Chapman." Then, I ask for a copy of the celeb's latest work, be it CD or book, to be sent to me. Fortunately, with the advent of websites, the need to ask for hard copy press kits is nearly extinct, saving time and expense.
If you'd like to write celebrity articles on assignment, send a few published clips from profiles you've published on Average Joes and Janes to the entertainment section of your local newspaper. Cutbacks in staffing at newspapers have meant more opportunities for freelancers. Tell the editor that you've heard Jaci Velazquez is coming to sing in your area and you're familiar with her music because your daughter plays it constantly at home. You'd love to do an interview with Jaci and write a 500-word (or whatever word length they specify) article for the newspaper.
2. Be flexible
A celebrity's time is tightly structured. You must be willing to work around whatever time the publicist offers you for an interview. However, if you work at another job during the day, as I do, this can be challenging. I try to schedule interviews for evenings or weekends. But when the publicist for the Christian music group dc talk informed me that Michael Tait could only talk on Wednesday at noon, I made arrangements to interview him on my lunch hour. The resulting article appeared in Whatzup!, a local entertainment guide.
3. PrepareFind out everything you can about your subject before the interview in order to prepare your questions. Use the Internet to find out biographical information, career beginnings, discography, number of sales of hit records or best-sellers, family life, and quotes.
You've heard it before -- don't assume everything on the Internet is accurate. If you find something that sounds questionable, ask the celebrity about it. When I read several years ago that Joe Bonsall, lead singer of the Oak Ridge Boys, had published a children's book, I was puzzled. Upon inquiry, he enthusiastically explained his interest in writing for children. I wrote up the article, including this bit of new information and my editor was pleased.
Use your library to check out other sources of information about your celebrity. When I was preparing to interview Dick Smothers, I found the website skimmed the surface of his career during the 1970s with his brother. I needed more info, which was available in books at my local library. The resulting article containing several of these facts appeared in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.
4. Record the interviewCelebrity or not, I tape record every interview. Since most of my interviews are done over the phone (I live in the Midwest and many celebrities live along the coasts), I invested in a $25 telephone recording device from Radio Shack. It connects my tape recorder to the phone. I begin each conversation by telling the celebrity that our conversation is being recorded, which is required by law. No one has ever complained.
5. Think on your feet
Keep in mind that celebrities don't live in ivory towers. They like to mingle as much as anyone. This accessibility means the writer must be alert to running into famous people and be ready to ask questions should circumstances allow.
When I lived in Port St Lucie, Florida, the town where the New York Mets hold their training camp, I met one of the Mets, Tim Teufel, at church services one Sunday evening. After chatting with the outfielder for several minutes, I realized he'd be a good interview subject. When I explained that I was a writer and would like to interview him for a profile on his Christian faith, Teufel agreed and called me at home the next evening. The resulting article, "A Different Ballgame," was published in Evangel, Gem, Live, and Sharing the Victory.
6. What was the name?
A so-called 'up-and-coming' Christian singer was scheduled to perform in my area. I hadn't heard of him and when the editor of the local entertainment guide I was writing for asked me if I wanted to do the article, I wasn't too excited. I did try to contact the singer's manager twice, but only got voice mail with no return calls. As the deadline approached, I decided to cancel the article. The editor was okay with the decision and we filled in with another.
Shortly afterward, Bob Carlisle's immortal song, "Butterfly Kisses" topped the Christian and mainstream charts nationwide, making him one of the most sought-after singer-songwriters - and interview subjects -- of the year.
Do I regret not pursuing the interview with Bob Carlisle? Yes. But I chalked it up to experience and resolved to treat future interview opportunities more aggressively.
Okay, you've done your homework and got the interview. You prepared well and wrote an interesting article. Your work isn't finished yet, however. Now you must send a copy of the published article to the publicist who helped you arrange the interview. She may decide to include it in the online press kit for her client. Someone's articles have to appear there. Why shouldn't they be yours?
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Kayleen Reusser has written hundreds of articles for dozens of publications, including Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul 2, Today's Christian Woman, Grit, Decision, Scouting, and Fort Wayne Magazine. She writes regularly for the Travel, Neighbors, and Ticket! sections of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. She is the editor of a jail chaplaincy newsletter. Visit her website at http://www.KayleenR.com.