Maybe you want to talk to a writer about his or her new book; maybe you're trying to get the low-down on how things work in an indie publishing house. Either way, securing an interview seems much more intimidating than it really is. Here are a few tips on negotiating interviews--from finding the right person to email, to writing the best pitch that is sure to get you a response.
1. "To Whom It May Concern" is your last resort.
While it's polite, it really should only be acceptable if the person's name is not available anywhere. For example, let's say you're trying to interview someone from a publishing house. Visit their website, and scan their "About" or "Contact" pages for the name of whomever you should reach out to. Some houses are kind enough to provide you with a specific person's name and email, while others are slightly more obscure. If you can only find a blanket "contact"-@-PublishingHouse email, and no other names are mentioned, go with the founder. It does seem simpler to go the "to whom it may concern" route, but people tend to be more responsive when emails are personalized, and a specific name is mentioned.
2. Always start formal.
Use "Dear Ms [Surname]", or "Dear Mr. [Surname]". It's just common courtesy. Chances are, they're going to respond and sign their first name, which means you can start addressing them as such from then on. Still, it's better to be formal initially, to avoid being presumptuous. Also, even after you've been going back and forth with them a while, never start an email without addressing them by name, even using just brief introductions. (Ex: "Hi, Jim,")
3. Be direct. Be bold.
Introduce yourself! State your name, your school and major, and your focus just to give yourself a quick background.
(Ex: My name is Jane Doe, and I'm a fiction writing major at Columbia College of Chicago. I'm currently in a Publishing class and curious to know more about the publishing industry.)
Then get to the point of the email, and what you'd like from them.
(Ex: My class is creating a blog that features interviews with writers and publishers, discussing their career experiences. I was hoping to meet with a publisher who could tell me more about what it is like to work in the business.)
Make sure you sound like you know your stuff - even butter them up a little, so they know why you chose them for an interview over anyone else.
(Ex: As you have been working in the publishing industry for over 30 years, authoring ten books and founding your own independent publishing company, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the business from a both a publishing and a writing perspective.)
Finish off by adding your availability, but try to be flexible.
(Ex: I am available for an interview in person or over the phone, at your earliest convenience. The best days for me are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, after 2 pm. If you are interested, please let me know a time and date that work best for you.)
Then sign your email, and use just your first name so they know how to address their response.
(Ex: Best, Jane)
Underneath, add your school name and contact information.
4. Don't forget to follow-up!
Some people are great, and they respond in only a couple of days. Others take their time, but that doesn't always mean that they're ignoring you. If you don't get any response within 3-5 days, try following up. A follow-up email doesn't have to include any new information from your original email, but don't just resend the same exact thing verbatim. Try something like this:
Hello again Ms. Publisher,
I am just following up with you about my previous email, regarding an interview request to speak to you about your work in the publishing industry. The interview will be featured on a student-run blog with Columbia College of Chicago. I was hoping to meet with you, or talk over the phone, sometime next week. I understand if you are unavailable, but should you have any interest, please let me know.
Thank you again!
If they still don't respond, have a few back-ups in mind for interviews. Sometimes people just don't have the time. If they do respond but decline an interview, thank them anyway. They might even be willing to recommend someone else for you to speak to on the same subject. In which case, you can repeat the previous steps!