Monday, May 23, 2011

Adding Relevant Content: Interviews

By no means am I the first person to consider or even blog about relevant content.  We all know that if we want people to come back and read our blog we have to continually provide fresh relevant material.  It hasn’t been so easy to do lately because I have already written about my approach to finding a publisher and I know there aren’t very many people that will want to read yet another post detailing my latest rejection.  However, finding fresh and relevant content has been easier to do with another blog (HopHeadSaid) I write because that blog isn’t as dependent on outside acceptance from others for content.  It is just plain fun. 

So, I just want to share my story about an “Ah-ha, why haven’t I thought about that before.” moment with you.  Lately I have been adding more “education” pieces to HopHeadSaid to try and attract a larger readership.  The blog started out solely as a beer review site and then I started adding glassware and food pairing suggestions to the blog.  I was rolling along and enjoying writing about these new topics and then it hit me that I could start doing interviews.  Interviews would be a good educational addition to my blog.  While I was planning for my newest addition I had another “Ah-ha”.  When I was done with this interview I could blog here about my first interview experience and talk about my successes and not so successes.  Some relevant content for both blogs, yippee!

But first let me get back to discussing the interview. 

First of all, I need to come clean.  I have never conducted an interview so this is going to sound a lot like “I’m not a doctor but I play on T.V.”.  Take my experience with a  grain of salt.  I have never conducted an interview, however, I have read a lot of interviews.  I had a vague idea about what I should do; ask some questions and let people answer them. I knew I would have to take notes during the interview and I would have to write about it when I got home. Pretty easy right?  I didn’t once think, can I do this?   

My Preparation:
I had decided to interview the coordinators of a beer festal.  I had a very small connection with the on of the event coordinators so I was able to contacted her via e-mail.  If you don’t have that connection it might be better for you to make a phone call.  I have found that the personal connection makes all the difference.  I have two more interviews lined up with local breweries because of a personal connection but I have yet to hear back for four other breweries that I have no connection with.  Coincidence?

My contact e-mail (you can find at the end of the post, the names have been removed to protect the innocent) was fairly straightforward. I wanted to let the person know who I am and why I am contacting them right away.  I also wanted to let them what kind of exposure the interview would get.  Notice, I didn’t mention anywhere that this could be my first interview.  I didn’t think that would help me any, so I just acted like this is an everyday request for me.  If the contact person is still reading by the second paragraph that is where I started explaining the specifics of the interview.  I finish up the request with a compliment and a link to a review of one of the breweries beers that I have done. The request for this particular interview was met with great enthusiasm and scheduled for the very next week. I am a serious beer geek; I have been homebrewing for fifteen years, I am always searching for new beers, I read beer industry news and listen to beer industry podcasts. So the week I had to prepare for this interview was more than enough time. 

I organized a list of “data” questions; which vendors will be attending, how many people will attend and event history questions. Then I organized a list of “human interest questions” to put a personality on the interviewees.  Then I organized a list of “opinion questions” so the coordinators could talk about their favorite parts of the event.  I wanted to make sure I would have enough information to write an average sized post/article and I figured the interview would last roughly an hour.  I thought this would give a nice balance of close-ended and open-ended questions.

The Interview:

The day before the interview, I started to get quite anxious.  I was starting to feel like I had just bluffed my way into an interview.  I was starting to ask myself “Can I do this?” I started worrying if the interview going to be worth their (the event coordinators) time or if I would even be able to pull it off.  I talked to my wife about these concerns and she simply reminded that I am doing an interview about something that I am passionate about and that I would be talking to other beer-geeks.  She then asked me if I had ever had a conversation about beer that didn’t last at least a half an hour.  Just the right words!  She helped me remember that after all, I am just talking to people about beer.

I brought along my laptop and record the interview with USB microphone.  I use a free audio program that is called Audacity and a Snowball microphone by Blue Microphones.  The program and the microphone are super easy to use and they provide great audio. I had used this laptop/microphone setup on many occasions (for other purposes) and I was comfortable with that format and confident that the interview would be recorded.  I probably don’t have to say this but make sure you test your equipment beforehand and make sure you are comfortable using it.  Using these tools/toys allowed me to concentrate on the conversation and limit my note taking to extra questions that would pop up along the way. 

The interview went well, although I do not like the sound of my voice and I asked almost all of my questions.  I’ll talk about what I forgot in a little bit. The interview lasted nearly 45 minutes. 

Writing the interview:
One of my least favorite reading experiences is reading a Q&A interview:

Q: How are you doing?
A: Fine.

That was a lot of fun to read, wasn’t it?  I wasn’t quite sure how to write the interview but I knew I didn’t want it to read like that so I started transposing the audio and my notes in an outline form.  This wasn’t a conscious decision but one that paid off in the end.  Each question had its own heading and I wrote down the relevant info from the interview in short one or two word answers.  This really forced me to write the article like a review piece rather than a Q&A session.  When I was finished writing the outline for the interview I noticed that I had neglected to come back to a couple really important questions during the interview.  Be careful because it is easy to go off on tangents if you approach the interview as a conversation.  In the future I will use a check off system to make sure I don’t forget questions again.  I e-mailed the coordinators the next day and explained my negligence and politely asked them to answer the two questions I forgot.  They were more than happy to do so and while I could have written the article with out those questions it certainly helped it become a better article.

I hope this story helps anyone. This is a great way to add content to your blog and I intend to make them a regular addition to my blogs.

You can read the interview at .  The really nice thing about conducting interviews for your blog will be that you can organize your interview however you want.  I was able to include some trademark HopHead design aspects which helped convey some of the drier facts about the festival in an easy to read info graphic kind of way.

Interview Contact E-mail

Dear *******,

I am starting a new interview series on my blog to address the local 805 beer scene in detail and I would love to do an interview with you for HopHeadSaid.  HopHeadSaid is a beer review, education and nonsense blog that is “syndicated” on and  I will also be appearing on the Live 805 radio show on 1520 KVTA in June.  The hosts and I are hoping to make this a regular segment that will cover the local beer scene, as well.

The interview could cover the whole spectrum of operations, from recipe formulation to the final product.  I would also like to cover the brewmaster’s professional history as well as the brewmaster’s plans for future beers.  The interview would then be split into two separate blog posts.  One post would cover the basics of the brewing operation for the casual reader and the second post would be for the beer geeks who want in-depth knowledge of the brewery. 

I can do a sit down interview but I would really enjoy a working interview. I have been homebrewing for 15 years and I would love to get into those rubber boots and help out as I conduct the interview.  There is nothing like drawing from first hand experience as a reference for writing! I am a freelance writer and illustrator so I should be able to schedule an interview that will be convenient for you.  Thanks for taking the time to consider this and I look forward to your response.

BTW, I am also big fan of your ******.  You can read a review of ******* and others here


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