How to incorporate great interviews into your book

How to incorporate great interviews into your book

You have a great idea for a book – it’s about your area of expertise, you’re passionate about your subject, and you’re already thinking about the cover and marketing. Best of all, you have a large network you can contact for interviews. This is going to be awesome – with your happy clients and your industry contacts, you’ll have so much content that the book will be a breeze! Right?

There is a right way and a wrong way to incorporate interviews into your book and, if you get it wrong, you will:

  • Waste the tens of hours spent questioning your contacts and transcribing their responses;
  • Lose the thousands of words those interviews contributed to your book; and
  • Potentially have to rewrite some new chapters from scratch.

Many of my clients get excited about a general idea for a book – “it’s going to be about coping with change,” “it’s about recruitment,” or “it’s going to be about small business”. And, once they have that general idea, they will then reach out to relevant contacts in their network for interviews they can incorporate into the book.

What generally happens is that they’ll prepare a number of general questions based on the general topic (using the previous examples, these would be questions on change, recruitment or small business), and end up with a thousand words or more of responses from each person.

However, when it comes to actually writing and structuring their book, these interviews don’t fit anywhere. How could they? If you’ve asked them about change in general, how can you fit their interview under any of your five steps to cope with change? If you’ve asked them about recruitment, their interview isn’t going to be specific to resumes or interviews. If you’ve asked them about small business, their interview isn’t going to fit well in the marketing section or the staff management section.

From here, the writer will either:

a)  Randomly sprinkle the interviews throughout the book, not taking into consideration how they relate to the immediate point or chapter; or

b)  Create a brand new chapter and just dump the interviews in there.

This creates a lot of frustration for your reader because (if you take the random sprinkling method) they read the interview and can’t figure out why it’s relevant, or (if you take the brand new chapter method) you give them a big chunk of content and they need to search for the information that’s useful to them.

Your job as an author is to pick out the most relevant information for your reader and present it in a way that’s easy to digest. Neither of these methods achieves that.

So how do you incorporate great interviews?

The trick is to plan your book first, mapping out each of the chapter topics and subtopics, and then approach your network for feedback, quotes, case studies and interviews on specific topics.

This will help make the individual points in your book more credible and compelling, it structures the information in a way that’s easy for your reader to process, and it means you get a range of different viewpoints from experts, rather than several of them repeating very similar ideas (this happens if you go to everyone with the exact same question).

How? Take a look at my article 5 steps to plan your book for more detail, or my book for an in-depth blueprint, but in essence you brainstorm your subject until you figure out everything you want to talk about. You then group the topics that came up into groups, and these larger groups would become your chapters.

As an example, if you were writing a book on small business, one of the larger topics that came up might have been marketing. That means you have a chapter on marketing, and the subtopics within that chapter might include direct mail; traditional media coverage; print, TV and radio advertising; and online marketing (in fact, you could do an entire book on small business marketing, but for the purposes of this post we’ll make it a chapter).

Once you have those subtopics, then you approach people in your network for interviews that are specifically on traditional advertising, or online marketing, or PR, etc. Unlike interviewing on small business or small business marketing in general, this gives your book far more depth.

Note: The more specific you get with your interview topic, the better. So if you have a section in your chapter on PR, but you want to make a point on how PR can be done in a cost-effective way, then structure your interview around that topic (or at least specifically ask that question in the interview).

But what if I’ve already done ‘general’ interviews?

If you’ve already done general interviews, don’t stress – you can work with this.

Once you’ve mapped out a structure for your book, then go back through any interviews you’ve transcribed and look for comments that relate to specific areas of your book. Then copy and paste those comments into your plan under the bullet points for the relevant topic (to continue with our previous example, if you were talking to someone with a marketing background about small business, I’m sure marketing would have come up in the interview. In this case, you take their thoughts on marketing and put them into your marketing chapter, rather than including the entire interview). When it comes to fleshing out that chapter, you can either include direct quotes from the interview, or paraphrase.

The benefits of this method are that you still get the added credibility of including an expert’s knowledge, and it’s also reader-friendly, as you give your readers the information they need in the relevant part of the book.

But won’t I lose most of the interview?

First, remember to go back through the same interviews for every topic in your book – you might find you can use quotes and thoughts from a single person in three separate chapters (obviously you wouldn’t be using the same quotes in each case).

That said, you will lose a lot of the interview. However, if your book loses some general, irrelevant content that isn’t useful to the reader, isn’t that a good thing?

Ready to write your book?

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Adrian Tan - October 22, 2016

Thanks for the tip! I had been considering combining many of my interviews with entrepreneurs into a book but never knew how to make it sync.

Will try to map out specific areas (Marketing, Sales, etc) and try to fit those in to maintain max relevance.

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