The Secrets to a Good Scoop

Have you ever heard a little voice inside you telling you to write someone’s story, but you’re chicken to ask for an interview?

Don’t listen to the fear.

Pick up the phone, dial their number, and ask them for an hour of their time. Chances are the little voice in your head is the Holy Spirit guiding you. There’s a reason that little voice is piquing your curiosity. You’re a writer. Writers are tuned in to good stories–stories that can change the world, or change the direction in someone’s life. As a writer you have the RIGHT to eavesdrop, and you have the RESPONSIBILITY to get the scoop.

If you’re one of those people who have a difficult time picking up the phone to schedule the interview I’m here to encourage you: DO IT! What’s the worse thing that could happen?

I recently had the opportunity to hear Joyce K. Ellis, a freelance writer and the Assistant Director of  Write to Publish, speak at the WTP conference. She’s been interviewing celebs and ordinary people, and freelancing since the 1970’s. I trust her because she has experience, and she’s been successful. Today, I’m going to share some of what she taught me. If you’re a writer, chances are you already have these skills. Now you just need to tap into them.



Joyce’s first recommendation was to buy John Brady’s book, Craft of Interviewing. I bought it today for a PENNY, plus shipping. You heard me right. A penny. It’s used, but I don’t care. I’ll be able to write in the margins and not feel guilty. Joyce said it has great content, and I believe her. I’m sure it’ll more than pay for itself.


What’s an interview? If the word INTERVIEW scares you think of it in a different way. An interview is A GUIDED CONVERSATION. It’s that simple. It’s a Q and A. If it helps you relax, pretend you’re having coffee with your good friend and asking her what’s new.

Who should you interview? Everyone has a story. As writers it’s our job to listen. When we hear something that we think might be a great story to share it probably is. If you’re a little nervous, try interviewing your friend. Don’t tell her. Talk to her over coffee or a danish like you ordinarily do, but have a plan. Don’t ask her yes and no questions. Ask her questions that get her to spill her guts. Make it your job to get her to tell you something she’s never shared before.

Another idea: ask an older relative about their childhood. Ask them questions like: What games did you play as a child? Describe them. What did your kitchen look like? Where did you play when your mother said to go outside? Describe your school. Who was your best friend and WHY?



TYPES of INTERVIEWS:  You can do a phone, email, or group interview, but the best ones are typically those done in PERSON.

When you OBSERVE your client on THEIR TURF you bring life to the article. Why? Because when you can go to their place you’re more apt to see something personal that you might not have otherwise noticed.

However, sometimes the only interview available is a PHONE INTERVIEW. My recommendation: Get a phone recorder at RADIO SHACK. This will free up your questions, and you’ll be able to listen more effectively knowing the recorder is picking up all the quotes. I looked everywhere for one and could only find it at Radio Shack. (But have them show you how to use it. Once, I interviewed Cec Murphey for an entire hour only to discover my recorder wasn’t working. I had the wrong wire going into the wrong end. But Cec is such a great guy he let me call him back for another interview a week later.)

GROUP INTERVIEWS:  An example: bring several writer friends together and ask them specific questions about how they plot their novels. (Have your tape recorder going.) Let them interact and disagree with their answers and their opinions. Groups feed off of each other when they interact. It kinda makes your job easier. It lets you find the story.

Another great idea is to bring a group of young mom’s into the room and ask them all the same questions. My guess is that you’d have plenty to write about that you could sell, too. (Especially if you ask them how they feel about breast feeding a four-year-old. Or ask them how they feel about nine-month pregnant moms sharing their bikini photos at FB.)

THE CONS TO EMAIL INTERVIEWS: The interviewee has time to think about their answers. It’s not ‘straight off the cuff.’ They don’t speak from their heart. The juicier details are typically those spoken when the interviewee hasn’t had time to ponder the question.

Still nervous? That’s normal. Most people are. Pick up the phone. It’ll wake up your brain, and afterward, you’ll be glad you did. (Or email me, and I’ll give you a pep talk first.)


  • Research the person whom you are interviewing.
  • Knowing their background will help you ask smarter questions.
  • Google them. What are they known for? Do they have children?
When the interviewee thinks the interview is over. That’s why Joyce says DO NOT turn off your tape recorder until you are in your car. Some of her best skinny has come from things the interviewee said while walking her out the door.

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  1. Robin says:

    Wow! Thanks for the great tips, Michelle. And I already ordered that book.

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