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So, you're an upstart freelance journalist looking to score your first big interview with a real celebrity. How do you go about doing it? Here are some tips for the beginning freelancer.
Establish a relationship with an editor who might be interested in your story. This involves having credentials as a writer as well as having an angle beyond, "I wanna interview Tom Waits." To an editor, having credentials means being a good writer, having a unique angle or "pitch" and knowing your subject well. If you're working with an established editor it makes it easier and, in fact, she may end up doing most of the work for you when it comes to setting up the interview.
Figure out who the publicist is for your celebrity subject and contact that person. All celebrities have publicists and it's not hard to find them, usually in the Contact section of the celebrity's official website, which the celebrity probably never looks at, but the agents do. The problem is getting through to the agent and having her respond to your inquiry. This is why Step 1 above is so important. If you are already working with an established editor for a reputable publication your chances of a response to an interview request are greatly increased. It helps if you can tell them, "My editor is looking at this as a feature or cover story." But don't say that unless it has already been established between you and your editor.
If you don't get a response to your initial inquiry get your editor to tag-team with you, if she isn't already. Persistence is key and editors already have established contacts with publicists. Chances are the publicist will respond directly to the editor at the publication anyway, no matter how much he liked your email or phone message, which again, points to the importance of Step 1.
Be prepared when the interview is green-lighted. Most likely the interview will take place over the phone and you need to be able to record it. The publicist will call you at a predetermined time and then connect you to the celebrity, or you will be instructed to call a certain number at a certain time and there is no telling who will pick up. Don't assume it will be your celebrity subject, just identify yourself and why you're calling. And make sure your recording device works.
If you are not a staff writer for any publication, but working as a freelancer, pitch your story idea to an editor first. Chances are she will set up the interview for you or vet you to the publicist. All celebrities have publicists that handle interview requests. You, working in concert with the editor, must be able to tell a publicist what you can offer his client in terms of placement in the publication, i.e. the cover, a feature, a fun sidebar with a picture.