Bill and Gloria Gaither, famous Christian singers & songwriters, were easy to interview.
Articles about celebrities are one of the easiest types of articles to sell. Editors know readers want to learn what makes well-known people tick.
The good news is that you don’t have to be famous to interview celebrities. My name isn’t Barbara Walters, yet I’ve interviewed Bill and Gloria Gaither, Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys, singers BarlowGirl, Tobi Mac and Steven Curtis Chapman, and comedian/singer Mark Lowry.
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; 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.
Jerry Jenkins, author of Left Behind books, was full of information about writing books.
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
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 email a celeb’s publicist for an interview (having gotten the information from my editor), I begin, “Hi. I’m Kayleen Reusser from the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel and I’m calling to request an interview with Steven Curtis Chapman to promote his upcoming appearance in our area.” I may 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 personal websites where celebrities’ public relations departments post press releases, the need to ask for hard copy press kits is extinct, saving time and expense.
Tracy Petersen has written dozens of popular Christian novels. She is seated in middle.
If you’d like to write celebrity articles on assignment, send a few published clips from profiles you’ve published on Average Joes to the entertainment section of your local newspaper. Cutbacks in staffing at newspapers can mean more opportunities for freelancers. Tell the editor you’ve heard Joe Piper of 90 Minutes in Heaven fame has scheduled a book signing in your area. You’ve read the book and would love to do an interview with Joe 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. If you work another job during the day, as I do, this can be challenging. I try to schedule interviews for evenings or weekends. When the publicist for Michael Tait informed me he could only talk on a certain week day at noon, I interviewed him during my lunch hour. The resulting article appeared in Whatzup!, a local entertainment guide.
Find out everything you can about your subject before the interview to prepare your questions. Be aware of 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 something 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. He enthusiastically explained his interest in writing for children. This all went into the article, creating an avenue of information readers probably were not familiar with. My editor was pleased.
Use your library to check out other sources of information about your celebrity. While preparing to interview Dick Smothers, I noticed his website skimmed the surface of his career during the 1970s with his brother. More information was available in books at my local library. The resulting article contained several of these facts. Databases are also helpful.
4. Record the interview
Years ago, I taped record every phone interview with a recording device from Radio Shack. It connected from my tape recorder to the phone. I always informed the celebrity that our conversation was being recorded, which is required by law. Today, I’m a faster typist and can get the conversations in the computer without using my device. This saves time and effort in transcription. Again this takes practice so don’t rush it and risk misquoting.
5. Think on your feet
Keep in mind that celebrities don’t live in ivory towers. They like to mingle with people. A writer must be ready for these opportunities.
Several years ago, while living in Port St Lucie, Florida, the town where the New York Mets hold their annual baseball spring 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. He consented to an interview for an article about his Christian faith. He called me at home the next evening. The resulting article, “A Different Ballgame,” was published in Evangel, Gem, Live, and Sharing the Victory.
6.One more step
Okay, you’ve done your homework and got the interview. You prepared well and wrote an interesting article. Your work isn’t finished. 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 not yours?