The environment of radio and television talk shows is fast-paced, and competition for appearances intense. How can authors and publishers seize the attention of production staff responsible for booking guests? During a lunchtime presentation at PMA's October Mini Publishing University in Los Angeles, associate producer John Downey III of NBC's Leeza show and publisher Stephen Hall of Radio-TV Interview Reports turned the spotlight on the answers to that important question.
Who's Right for Talk Shows?
Hall cautioned that not every book is appropriate for promotion through radio and television talk shows. Some books, such as those preparing students to take professional licensing exams, are too narrowly focused. "You want a more general topic," said Hall whose magazine promotes authors to radio and TV."You want something that affects a much larger range of people." According to Hall, "naturals for the media" include timely topics, politics, sports, controversy, sex, relationships, self-help, health, entertainment, pop culture, finance and local subjects. And, of course, not every author is right for the talk show circuit either."You have to think about how good the author will be on the air," Hall said. Some authors can improve their skills through sessions with a media coach, he added.
What's Your Topic?
If your book is right for talk shows, the best topic for the author may not be the one that comes immediately to mind. "The question to ask yourself is what can the author talk about that will be of greatest interest to people," suggested Hall. He pointed out that the subject doesn't have to be covered in the book you're promoting. However it must relate to the author's area of expertise. For example, one advertiser in Radio TV Reports is the author of a political action-thriller. Hall said that this novelist decided to prep himself for interviews by researching interesting trivia about the White House. This fun subject intrigued producers and generated many bookings, Hall said. Leeza associate producer John Downey III agreed that carefully considered topics can reap greater results. "Help us find a hook that will bring the author into the show," Downey recommended. "Be creative." For example, Downey advised that you find a news story or emerging topic that your author can discuss. Next match the author with other possible guests for the show, perhaps by locating panelists through related non-profit organizations. Then you can pitch an entire package to a TV talk show. It also helps if the idea will appeal to the emotions of viewers and the studio audience. "Make people feel something," Hall said. "Make them worried or make them laugh."
Tricks of the Trade
Another trick associate producer Downey recommended is positioning the author directly into the story. You can present your writer as a possible panelist with first-hand experience with the issue. "The author can write a letter and say, 'This is my story,'" suggested Downey. To break in, the author might want to be available as a last-minute, stand-in guest. "It's a real problem when someone cancels," admitted Downey. For TV, this approach works best if the author lives in the region where the show is produced. Leeza Gibbons's show is shot in a studio in Hollywood, CA. However, for radio, an author from any part of the country can usually fill in since interviews are often conducted over the phone. Tying your topic to a particular holiday or special commemorative day may help sell your author, Hall advised. "Pick a less typical holiday such as Labor Day," Hall suggested. "Or there's such events as National Procrastination Day or National Nutrition Month." A local angle could be the key that provides access to a regional show. "Tell them you've done research on their state," suggested Hall. "Localize your message to that area."
The Wrong Moves
What mistakes do writers or publishing companies make in their approach to talk shows? Hall and Downey concurred that a common error is not researching the show itself. "You've got to know the show," Downey insisted. "Are we the right place for your book? Find the place where you belong and go there." Attending the taping of a TV talk show is one way to become more familiar with it. Hall said that you must also avoid pitching an idea in the same tired old way. "The trick is to have a hook that they haven't heard before," said Hall."Find a new twist on the topic." Downey added that you can avoid the runaround by knowing who is the right production person to approach with your pitch. "This may take some time to figure out," Downey said.
Leeza: The Basics
Downey also provided particular insight into the Leeza program. He said that its audience is primarily lower-income women, ages 18 to 49. "You have to think about who is at home watching TV during the day," said Downey. Downey disclosed that host Leeza Gibbons has a particular interest in subjects that empower others. Recent topics on Leeza have included: "Retail Racism,""Women Behind the News,""Mothers Who Turn in Their Kids,""Police Psychics Search for Missing Children," and "Wear It, Take It Back." Authors who are booked on Leeza may appear as soon as the next day or as late as nine months later, Downey said.
One of the benefits of talks shows is free promotion, Hall said. Within days of an author's appearance on a national show such as Oprah, thousands of copies of a book are sometimes sold. "An appearance can drive people into the bookstores," Hall said. "It also increases the author's name recognition." "It's important to keep the author's name out there," said Hall. "Try to do a show at least once a month."
Other Mini-Pub Panelists
The October 26th event included other speakers and seminars. Regular PMA Newsletter columnist and attorney Ivan Hoffman fielded legal questions from publishers and writers during the morning session. After lunch, PMA executive director Jan Nathan explored the profitable area of foreign rights sales. Jerry Marino, former PMA president and a marketing consultant, followed Nathan and enlightened participants about the possibilities of direct marketing.
To pitch a topic or author for Leeza, contact associate producer John Downey III at:
Leeza 5555 Melrose Avenue Balaban Building, Suite B Hollywood, CA 90038 Phone: 213/956-5978 Fax: 213/862-1052
For more information on promoting your book through Radio-TV Interview Report, call 800/553-8002, ext. 178.