Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The downside of email interviews

For a long time, I have been supportive of using email as a means of interviewing people for my books. Of course, I have made exceptions with this, using Internet relay to phone people who did not have time to answer questions through email. In such cases, it has gone well: I would explain that I am deaf and must use relay for phone calls. I would explain what a relay call was, what the person could expect upon receiving a relay call, and how it might take a little more time than your average phone call because you have to wait a bit to get a response from me because I have to type what I say. But in most cases, I use email.

I have found, though, that there is a huge downside to using email to interview people for books: The fact that email is easy to ignore. For some people, they think “book” and figure I have weeks, months or years to get a response from them, so there’s really no need to hurry with a response. I did not run into this problem when I was writing for SIGNews, because they knew I was writing for a newspaper and I had a deadline to get my article turned in. (I used relay for a lot of THOSE interviews!) But I have noticed this happening a lot when it comes to interviewing people for my books. And it’s starting to get really annoying.

When I contact people to interview for my books, I give them a timeline on when I’d need a response. This particular deadline is not my real deadline; I usually add a little wiggle room to give myself time to go over their response, ask any follow-up questions or check in with them about things which aren’t clear in their answers. So, yes, they do know that I need a response by a certain time, so that has not been an issue in hearing from them again. Sometimes, some of them have even asked for more time, and that was arranged. But the point here is that there was actual COMMUNICATION going on.

With other people I have tried to interview for my books, there would either be no communication at all, or some communication at first and then nothing at all later on. With those I never end up getting a response from, I move on to find someone else to interview. But for those who initially agree to be interviewed then drop off the planet, it’s hard for me to tell if they are still interested. Especially if weeks go by (with me sending a follow-up note) and I don’t hear from them anymore. I completely understand that things can get busy and that life happens. Got no argument there. But after 3 weeks of nothing, I have to wonder if I’ll ever hear from them at all ever again. There’s one person I’ve interviewed for a book and I haven’t heard from her for over a year!

When it gets to this point, that’s when I have to start considering the possibility that I won’t hear from them anymore. I can be very patient with my sources, but it helps to let me know if there’s something holding things up or just a schedule conflict keeping them from getting back to me. But after so many weeks and after so many months, that’s when I need to start thinking that maybe I need to drop this person from the book. I just can’t keep waiting and waiting and WAITING to hear from them again. As far as my personal life is concerned, I have a motto: “I put my life on hold for no one.” And I am beginning to seriously consider adapting that particular motto to my books, especially for the sources I never hear from again. I do have my own deadlines for the books I write. I have SO MANY books going on and so many waiting for their turn for me to work on them that I can’t keep holding things up with ONE book for ONE person I don’t hear from anymore. It just causes problems for the rest of my sources who actually took the time out of their very busy lives to communicate with me. And I’m not going to put my book on a back burner to wait until I hear from that one or more source to remember me and get in touch again. That’s just a waste of my time because chances are good they won’t remember me at all. Especially after so long of not communicating with me at all. And then the book will never get published. It will waste away. And all those people who invested time in it will have done so for nothing. So, no, I won't do that.

So, with this turn of events, I have decided that I will no longer continue waiting forever and a day to hear from people again. I just won’t rely on them anymore. I would’ve loved to include them in my book, but I guess it won’t happen after all. I will have to start dropping people if I don’t hear from them in one month’s time. One month. That’s how long I will wait.

The thing is, in light of these events, I am very hesitant of using email for interviews for future books. I may have to go straight out with relay calls. I may have to suggest it from the very beginning. Or I may have to just rely on quotes from other books to back up or support what I’m saying. (I am seriously thinking of doing this with my book on prayer.) Nevertheless, I am beginning to feel that email interviews are not as reliable as they once were, and that the time has come for me to start rethinking how to include people in my books without losing that connection to them. I really hate bugging people week after week, and I really don’t want to do that anymore. So maybe from now on, I need to come up with a different method of interviewing sources for books that will have more success.

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