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
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
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
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
Promotion ResourcesTo pitch a topic or author for Leeza, contact associate producer John Downey
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
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Robin Quinn is an editor and writer located in Los Angeles. She provides
copyediting, editing, writing and proofreading services through her business
firm called Word for Word. She is also a former associate producer for
various NBC news magazine shows in New York City. She can be contacted by
phone at 310/838-7098 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.