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 TMZ.com 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.


Blogger Payton L. Inkletter said...

Amber, you make such a salient point when you remind us that generally, if it's going to happen, it won't happen overnight, but it will happen - did you get that shampoo ad on your telly like we Antipodeans did? I think any aspiring-to-be-successful writer must adopt an in-it-for-the-long- haul mindset, which is a bummer for any ninety year old beginners!

I'm glad David Letterman has dipped his well heeled toe into the territory of chatting with an author. I first watched him twenty or more years back here in Perth on our local TV, and he certainly has kept to an intellectually light step through the years. I didn't see George Saunders' appearance, but good on him for handling it without desperation. Here’s hoping author chats can be squeezed in between ‘Will it float?’s and Bruce Willis guest appearances more often.

September 19, 2007 at 7:48 PM  

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