Q&As—articles formatted as an interview transcription with a simple introduction, like these—can be a freelancer’s best friend. They require an interview with a single source rather than multiple sources, they follow a very specific format, and they appeal to readers because they place a greater focus on the subject’s voice.
I’ve used the format to my advantage plenty in my career. In one case when I felt the pay rate wasn’t high enough to justify a multi-source feature, I convinced the editor that a Q&A with a single authoritative business expert would satisfy her need for content (not to mention my need to hit a certain hourly rate). It was a win-win for both of us.
That doesn’t mean Q&As are easy, though. You have much less control over the content, and you can’t bolster a boring subject with your own interjections like you could in a normal reported piece. It’s why many freelancers specialize in the format: They’ve mastered the sometimes unorthodox skills and tricks that allow you to consistently churn out interesting interviews.
Read on for expert tips from freelancers who’ve published Q&As in major media outlets on how they identify great sources, conduct readable interviews, and stand out from other interview specialists.
Find a compelling subject
Monosyllabic responses do not make for page-turning prose. To create a compelling Q&A that editors will actually be interested in, you first need to find someone with an interesting point of view.
“It has to be someone that has something to say,” said Joel Keller, a New Jersey-based entertainment writer who’s published Q&As on Playboy, TV Insider, and Parade. “I end up getting offered a lot of people, and not everyone’s interesting enough to talk to.”
Keller often finds that the creative forces behind a TV show, for example, can be more interesting than actors or actresses on the show.
Also consider timing. Lisa Liebman, a New York-based freelancer who’s penned Q&As for Vulture and Vanity Fair, said she gets a lot of pitches but she looks for people in the entertainment business who have a project coming up that she deems worthy of press (not just some D-list celebrity or a reality TV personality).