Wednesday, January 28, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Streamlining the query interview

You've shaken off your nerves. You're ready to do an interview or two for that great query you're putting together.

Here's how I make the process quick and painless.

Ask current sources what they're working on next.

My best story ideas often come in the middle of interviews for something else entirely. If a source says something interesting that's off topic, don't treat it as a distraction. If you think there may be a story there, ask more.

There are two other great questions to ask at the end of interviews: "So what are you working on next?"

Or, "What's the one thing no one is writing about that needs to be covered?"

This may elicit a lengthy response, but it's important. That way your interviews do double duty, and you build on the expertise you're already developing.

Don't promise anything.

When I contact expert and "real person" sources for queries, I make clear that I don't have an assignment yet. I tell them where I plan to pitch it--"story proposal" is the preferred language--and how the process works. Something as simple as, "I'll be pitching it to X magazine, and if I get the assignment, I'll contact you for a more lengthy interview."

This is key because to have serenity, you can't manipulate people into working with you. You may be able to justify it away fine, but your subconscious will remind you at inopportune moments that you aren't working in integrity.

Plus, misleading sources adds extra pressure to your marketing efforts: You'll tell yourself, "This source is depending on me!" You may feel that anyway, but at least if you're honest, you can talk yourself out of that particular rabbit hole.

Do yourself and your sources a favor: Give them the dignity of making a decision with all the facts.

And let's face it: Querying doesn't need to be any harder than it already is.

Keep it short.

While I try to talk on the phone to most experts--because it's almost a guarantee that I'll need to ask follow up questions to be sure I understand the technical side of things--I work to keep that initial interview to 5-10 minutes. After all, you can't guarantee a story, and you don't want to waste your time or his.

Let the source know from the outset that you'll take 10 minutes, and explain that it's to respect both his time and yours. When 10 minutes come, don't ignore it. Alert your source and see if there's anything else he needs to say.

If he's continuing to go on and on, tell him you have another interview scheduled and make a graceful exit.

Do it by email.

Experts usually get a phone call, but for real people, I can often get what I need via email. I did this the other day: I sent a call for "real people" sources to fellow freelancers and trusted friends. When I got a few back, I emailed the people and listed 10 questions.

Usually I try to keep it shorter--closer to five questions. But in this case, I needed to approach the issue from several angles to see what would stick. I got back an email later that afternoon, and now I'm writing up the pitch.

I spent 10 minutes total on the process and I have a source with which to lede a longer query.

What time-saving techniques keep you pitching?

Photo by magnusfranklin.

No comments: