Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rosie tells media, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Don’t get any ideas!

For many authors, an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show is the ultimate media booking. As we wrote a few posts ago just about everything Winfrey touches turns to gold. Rosie O’Donnell hasn’t been quite so lucky in recent years; her magazine folded after a three-year run, she left her hosting gig on “The View” earlier than expected because she couldn’t play nice with her co-hosts, and who can forget her war of words with The Donald?

O’Donnell’s second book, Celebrity Detox, is set to hit stores October 9th. The tell-all autobiography details O’Donnell’s reasons for walking away from her award-winning talk show in 2002, her decision to return to television in 2006, and how fame and celebrity has become an obsession in this country. Internet gossip hounds are also reporting that she dishes her issues with former “The View” co-host Barbara Walters.

O’Donnell is devoting very little time and energy to publicizing the book. She’s turned down not one, but two interviews with media mavens Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey, both of which would undoubtedly boost sales of Celebrity Detox. On her official blog, Rosie writes (in her typical e.e.cummings style,) “i do not feel ready to discuss or defend the things i shared on those 209 pages.” She goes on to assure readers that she appreciated Winfrey’s invitation and that her decline doesn’t mean there’s any bad blood between them.

Luckily, O’Donnell has a name and reputation that’s recognizable enough to make word-of-mouth publicity work for her. In fact, this blog post is evidence that when you are as well known as Rosie, you get media attention for turning down the opportunity to get media attention. Even with just one interview and nothing more, Celebrity Detox is sure to sell quite a few copies.

As a new or relatively unknown author, you do not have the luxury of being able to turn down media opportunities. One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing authors say that they don’t want to heavily promote their book because they “want the book to stand on its own merit.” That’s fine if you’re Stephen King or Tom Clancy, but if you are releasing your first book, no one will know if it has any merit in the first place unless you promote it.

There is an old publicity urban legend that talks about an author who was heading to New York City (the world’s most competitive media market) for a book signing. Of course, the author wanted his publicist to deliver coverage in the NY Times, NY Post and other high profile opportunities. The publicist worked her contacts but was only able to deliver a few radio opportunities, one of which was in upstate New York. After giving the publicist some grief, the author took her advice and made the decision to go ahead and do the upstate interview. It just do happened that while the author was interviewing a NY Times feature reporter was driving through the area, heard the interview and attending the book signing when he got back to NYC. Because the author decided to do the interview, he ended up with a feature story in The New York Times.

The moral of this story? You never know who is listening when you interview. Be willing to work with your publicist and take advantage of every opportunity you get to talk about your book.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

The buzz is building for the Texas Book Festival

From the Austin City Limits Music Festival to SXSW, Austin is known for hosting volumes of festivals throughout the year. Lucky for us, we don’t have to travel very far this Fall as Austin is also home to one of the biggest book festivals in the country, The Texas Book Festival. Established in 1995 by First Lady Laura Bush, the festival’s purpose is to increase awareness of authors and literature and to raise money for Texas public libraries. The Texas Book Festival is held in the state capitol building and offers open sessions to visitors and book signings.

Following the common philosophy that “everything’s bigger in Texas,” the Texas Book Festival is certainly no exception. Visitors from across the country flock to the state’s capitol to rub elbows with the heavyweights of the literary world. Past guests include Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt, The Audacity of Hope author and current presidential candidate Barack Obama, and hundreds of others. This year is sure to be equally as impressive, with featured authors including:

- Monica Brown, author of the upcoming Butterflies on Carmen Street/Mariposas en la Calle Carmen. Brown’s Latino, European and Jewish heritage shines through the novel, with it’s text in both English and Spanish. Brown has written a number of biographies of famous members of the Latino community (Celia Cruz and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are examples) aimed at young children.

- Roz Chast, cartoonist whose drawings of the neurotic among us have been appearing in New Yorker Magazine since 1978. Her drawings offer a hint of light-heartedness to the often stuffy magazine. I liked her 2006 collection, Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons.

- David Talbot, author who ushered in online journalism with his founding of in 1995. He’s written a book called Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years that sheds light on JFK’s administration and assassination and his brother Robert’s reaction to it all.

- Kristin Gore (Al’s daughter,) Jenna Bush (W’s daughter) and John Leake will also be making appearances.

Mark your calendars: November 3rd & 4th at the State Capitol Building.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is Letterman turning over a new leaf?

Late night talk show host David Letterman is often viewed as a creature of habit. From striped ties to top 10 lists, Late Show viewers typically know what to expect when tuning into the show. But last week, fans were caught off guard when Letterman made his very first appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" – an appearance deemed unlikely due to the two mega-stars’ much-publicized rift. More surprising to those of us who work in the book business was Letterman’s move to invite an author as a guest on his own show.

YouTube has a great clip of short story writer and essayist George Saunders appearing as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman. After watching the interview, there are just a few things I wanted to point out:

• Author appearances are a rarity in the world of late night TV.

Unless considered you a celebrity before you wrote your book, don’t count on sitting on Jay Leno’s couch the week after it releases. Though Leno, Conan, Letterman and the like limit their time to celebrities, politicians and other famous guests, every once in a while authors like Saunders are able to land such a highly-coveted spot.

• Saunders’ success wasn’t immediate.

During the interview, Saunders jokes that he did a “downward career spiral” before his writing career took flight. He started off as a geophysicist before becoming a convenience store clerk, and even worked at a slaughterhouse before earning a master’s degree in creative writing from Syracuse. Rome wasn’t built in a day and generally a career as an author isn’t either. Anyone in the literary industry will tell you that momentum for a book builds slowly. Patience is definitely a virtue, but if you believe your book has the potential to connect with people, it’s worth the wait.

• The author used humorous anecdotes during the interview and never once specifically talked about his book.

Saunders was able to get the audience interested in his own life, and made them laugh. Once he established a likeable personality and displayed his great sense of humor, it’s easy to see why people would want to rush out to by his latest book, The Braindead Megaphone, a collection of humorous essays/short stories. While you don’t have to be a comedian in an interview, it’s important to establish an approachable, likeable persona with the audience.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Get the stars to shine for your book; hats off to Madeleine L'Engle

Get the stars to shine for your book
There’s been some rumbling in the news this week about Oprah’s not-so-clandestine endorsement of Democratic candidate Barack Obama for president in ’08. This endorsement has made headlines because a) Oprah’s never endorsed a political candidate before and b) everything Oprah touches turns to gold. Pundits and political talking heads are speculating how this endorsement is going to enhance Obama’s campaign. In the past, political endorsements from Hollywood have failed to make any measurable impact at the polls. However, Oprah typically is not seen by the public as a member of the ultra-liberal Hollywood set. She’s less radical than Sean Penn or Susan Sarandon, and therefore connects with a broader range of people.

Having Oprah in his corner just might be exactly what Obama needs to court at least some of the women’s vote from Hilary Clinton. In an interview with CNN, USC communications professor Marty Kaplan stated, “People buy books when she tells them to. They will watch her shows, and buy her magazines when she asks them to. So the question is: are enough of them willing to follow her lead not with a consumer good, but with a ballot cast?”

Obama hit a homerun with this endorsement because it boosted his credibility with a segment of the market that trusts Oprah’s insight. The same principle applies when searching for endorsements for your book. As you think about potential endorsements for your book, think about the demographic and market segments to which you want to appeal. This is especially true for first-time or unknown authors.

As an example, NavPress just released Ian Cron’s debut novel, Chasing Francis. The book has already generated much discussion and buzz in the emergent community. Author and postmodern leader Brian McLaren called Chasing Francis “a unique and meaningful contribution to the emerging conversation about faith and life in today's world.” Makoto Fujimura, world renowned contemporary artist and founder of the International Arts Movement, says he now finds himself “chasing Francis” in his life and art. Other well-known authors endorsing the book include Brennan Manning, Dr. Tony Campolo and Father Richard Rohr—all leaders in the emerging church community, a market where Chasing Francis is sure to have the most resonance.

Not every author or politician will be lucky enough to get backing from Oprah’s empire or a praise-worthy quote from a well-established author. But remember, the media take quality endorsements very seriously (as does the buying public), so it’s well worth it to spend the time seeking endorsements before your book hits the market.

Hats off to Madeleine L’Engle
I’m a day or two late in mentioning this, but novelist Madeleine L’Engle passed away this weekend at the age of 88. She was best known for her novel for young adults, A Wrinkle in Time, which was first published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1962 after being rejected, in the words of L’Engle, “at least 26 times.” The novel subsequently became a Newberry Medal winner and a source of entertainment for generations. A Wrinkle in Time was one of the first “big kid” books I ever read. My mom bought it for me for Christmas one year, as it was one of her personal favorites growing up. The book’s beloved protagonist, Meg Murry, instantly became one of my heroes (possibly because we both wore dorky glasses), and the novel remains one of my all-time favorites. L’Engle’s work paved the way for many sci-fi and fantasy authors, including J.K. Rowling and Katherine Patterson – whose careers in young adult literature wouldn’t be what it is today without A Wrinkle in Time.

The New York Times sums it up best here. (Registration may be required.)

Oprah Winfrey & Barack Obama photo courtesy National Ledger

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Model product placement, Blog Buzz & True Crime

Model product placement

For those of you who keep up with this stuff, New York Fashion Week is well underway in Bryant Park. In an effort to bring attention to their latest release, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Solutions for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap (And Start Looking Hot!) Running Press had models strut their stuff on the catwalk wearing T-shirts advertising the book. In an interview with Shelf Awareness, Running Press CEO David Steinberger said, “We felt it was the right week to bring attention to the book.” On the front, the T-shirts have a picture of the cover of the book. The back reads, “The Bitch is Back.”

How’s that for product placement? Almost as good as having Victoria Beckham carry it around LA.

So far the original Skinny Bitch diet book has managed to sell 200,000 copies and remains on many bestseller lists. Personally, seeing a gorgeous model who probably never works out (and eats tons of carbs a day) advertising a diet book is a bit of a stretch for me. Nevertheless, Running Press’s creative PR efforts are obviously paying off.

Buzz for this blog!

Thanks to the Grumpy Old Bookman for a great write-up about Phenix & Phenix and this blog. Here’s what he had to say:

“Phenix & Phenix is a firm of publishing publicists based in Austin, Texas. Their main web site contains some interesting information for published writers and for those who wannabe: they report, for instance, that their self-published client Sherrie Mathieson is about to published by Random House. Which is a nice encouraging story for first thing in the morning -- though note, please, that it is a non-fiction book. Ninety per cent of publishing is non-fiction, a statistic often overlooked amid all the razzmatazz.

More to the point, perhaps, Phenix and Phenix staff have just started a blog. This makes available further chunks of free and valuable information for writers. See, for example, the piece on how to get ink in a publishing trade journal; or how to prepare for a radio/TV interview.”

Those of you who aren’t avid readers of Grumpy Old Bookman should check it out. Listed by The Guardian as one of its top ten literary blogs of 2005, Grumpy Old Bookman is one of the most comprehensive blogs that deals with the publishing industry. On the site, you'll find Michael Allen's take on industry trends, book reviews, scam alerts and a very impressive list of links to other book blogs. We highly recommend it!

Stranger than fiction

Anybody see this story earlier this week? Please forgive the tired pun that leads into this section, but is this not the definition of that phrase? After receiving an anonymous tip about a murder that took place in 2000, Polish police arrested and convicted an author who wrote about an eerily similar scene in his novel, Amok.

Here is a brief summary from the AP:

"Police quickly identified the victim as Janiszewski, the owner of a local advertising agency who had disappeared four weeks earlier. But authorities struggled to solve the case and abandoned it after six months.

Five years later, a tip led them to Bala's novel, and the similarities between the fictional and real-life murders. The shared traits aroused investigators' suspicions, although the parallels were not part of the court case.

The judge said Bala was driven by jealousy to kill Janiszewski, whom Bala suspected of having an affair with his estranged wife. Prosecutors said Janiszewski and Bala's wife had become friends, and spent a night together in a Wroclaw hotel in the fall of 2000.

Hojenska said a host of circumstantial evidence led to the verdict."

This case has been the subject of intense media coverage across Poland and, now that the AP picked up the story, the rest of the world. I can’t turn up a link to the book on Amazon, but wherever Amok is being sold, I’m sure it’s selling well. The moral of this story? Careful what you write about...a reader might mistake your knack for detail for real life experience.

The author, Krystian Bala, has been convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was not quite as lucky as his lead character, who was able to get away with the crime.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Tony Dungy having success both on and off the field

Life is good for Tony Dungy. Let’s take a look at his list of accomplishments over the past year. Made the playoffs? Check. Advance to the Super Bowl? Check. Become the first African American coach to win said Super Bowl? Check. NY Times Best Seller? Really?

Though few were surprised that the heavily favored Colts won the Super Bowl, Dungy's first book, Quiet Strength, has beat incredibly long odds to hit #1 on the NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller List . His latest literary accomplishment is generating a great deal of amazement across both the sporting world and the book industry, as the book has been among the country’s top selling books for seven weeks.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote about how significant the success of Quiet Strength has been over the past few months in his column Monday:

“Tony Dungy's book, Quiet Strength, is turning into a surprising story in the book world. It enters its eighth printing this week, which means that 480,000 books will have been printed. It's the most popular sports book since Seabiscuit in 2001.

Here's the stat I like most about this book. It has confirmed sales of just under 250,000 today. That's 86,000 more books sold than the recent coaching biographies of Lou Holtz, Charlie Weis, Jon Gruden and Marv Levy.

Quiet Strength has now sold twice as many books as David Halberstam's 2005 book on Bill Belichick.

It's really rather amazing.”
It sure is.

A great deal of the credit for the book's success should be given to Tyndale House, whose marketing team pulled off an extremely successful book tour amidst a very busy summer for Dungy (a time when most head coaches are focused on football training camp). The tour kicked off at ICRS in Atlanta with Dungy attracting the biggest line of any author autographing books. From there he visited cities around the country, combining significant general market opportunities (including "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "The Late Show with David Letterman") with sports media outlets (including "The Jim Rome Show") that don’t often get to cover books.

It should be noted that the book’s buzz is unlikely to slow down as we enter the football season. My guess is that sales will pick up steam this fall as TV and radio announcers plug the book during Colts games. In fact, if you watch the game between the Colts and Saints tomorrow night you're sure to hear more about the Dungy's publishing success.

As a side note...I recently mentioned the growing trend of CBA publishers releasing books that are making a significant impact within the general market; Dungy’s book is a prime example of that trend. Other CBA titles that can be found on NY Times Best Seller Lists right now include 90 Minutes in Heaven (Revell), Your Best Life Now (Faithwords), The Purpose-Driven Life (Zondervan), Heaven is Real (Berkley Praise) and The Language of God (Free Press).

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