Ask and You Shall Receive: How the Novice Writer Lands the Expert Interview By Janene Mascarella

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While watching the evening news with my husband, there was a segment on NASA’s mission to collide with a comet. I turned to my husband and said, “Oh, I’m interviewing one of the NASA experts on this subject next week”.

He gave me the strangest look, and replied, “How’d you get that?”

“I just asked.”

Now – I know he wasn’t trying to put me down, or make me feel inadequate, but considering I only started this whole freelancing thing about six months ago, his “HUH?” response was not (that) insulting.

For those just starting out, here are the all-too-common query quandaries:

+ Which comes first, the interview or the assignment?

+ How do I find a chatty expert when I have little or no credits?

+ Why would anyone waste their time talking to me with no guarantee it will ever get published?

+ Do I tell the expert that I’m new at this, and there’s probably not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’ll even get a response to my pitch?

I grappled with these questions myself. I exhausted my inner critic, mustered up some confidence, and prayed the Good Book’s promise of “Ask and You Shall Receive”, was really that simple. When it comes to approaching experts, it doesn’t really hurt to ask – does it?

I had a great idea I wanted to send to a women’s magazine, and I knew that if I wanted my query to pack a punch and get noticed, I should at least have a few expert quotes. So I Googled my way to the name of a renowned relationship expert. More fishing around and I found the email address of the woman in charge of her public relations. Before I lost my guts, I quickly sent a short note informing her that I would love to quote her client in a pitch I was planning a send to a few national magazines. I explained my topic, and asked if I could send along some brief questions. Within an hour, I got a reply from the PR firm, asking me what magazine I write for and the date of my deadline.

Uh-oh. What should I say? I really wanted my query to glitter with expert advice. I thought up a thousand ways I could possibly dodge her questions, and scanned my imagination for creative ways to say, “Uh, I don’t have an assignment. I don’t have a deadline.”

Then I had a brilliant idea: just tell the truth.

So I hit the reply button, and typed up a short note about how I wanted to break into magazines, and how her (I’m sure very busy) client would be perfect for my pitch. I made it clear that I did not have an assignment, but I promised to let her know when I did. (Hey, if you’re begging for alms – at least try to sound confident!)

The next day, I got an e-mail from the expert herself, saying she’s love to talk with me! Yes – little old me! She gave me her phone number and asked me to call on Thursday at 4 p.m. So, at exactly two minutes to 4, hands trembling with my list of questions, I dialed her number. Within minutes, all my fears and anxiety faded away. (No wonder she’s a noted psychotherapist!) She was well spoken, eloquent, generous and quite friendly. She took the time to answer all my questions, and even touched on ones I didn’t even think to ask. At the end of the half- hour conversation, I warmly thanked her for her time and told her I would keep her informed about the status of my pitch. She simply replied: “I would love to be quoted in your article.”

And that was that. My very first expert interview. I sent my pitch, (carefully fleshed-out with my expert’s quotes) to a national women’s magazine, as an idea for their “front-of-book”. Later that day, the editor sent me a short, sweet note informing me she was going to forward my pitch another editor who handles features.

My NASA interview was granted in the same fashion. I simply asked and received. No promise of publication. No canes and top-hats. Just a writer who is fascinated with a topic, and would love to learn more. (The NASA scientist actually replied to my questions via e-mail from a conference in Hawaii!)

Linda Formichelli is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. She knows a thing or two about expert interviews. She has written for over 120 different magazines!

She says, “Trying to find sources for a query can be a scary experience. New writers fear that no one will want to waste their time on an interview when the writer doesn’t have an assignment in hand. When I’m working on a query and I approach an expert, I tell the source what magazine(s) I’m sending the query to and what magazines I’ve written for. That way, they know I’m a professional writer and that I’m serious.

“For example, I might say, ‘I’m working on a proposal I plan to send to my editor at Family Circle. Would you be interested in a brief interview? You can see my previous publication credits at http://www.twowriters.net/.

“Also, for queries I tend to do interviews via email, and I let the source know that if I get the assignment, I’ll be back in touch to schedule a more in-depth phone interview. Email interviews are easier for experts, as they can answer your questions at their convenience.”

Will all my expert interviews go as smooth as these? No, probably not. But it did give me the confidence I needed to get out there and swing for the fences!

Janene Mascarella is a freelance writer living in New York. She can be reached at Janemscrl (at) aol.com.