Nearly every episode of every talk show or interview show has at least one guest who is an author. Most are celebrities or individuals who have some modicum of celebrity status. If they are not a famous performer their celebrity can be due to their proven expert status or association with a celebrity institution like Harvard, Yale or even better the U.S. Congress. Some unknown authors get lucky because they have a topic that is timely or thought provoking. But what if you are not a celebrity yet and you have a message you want to share via broadcast media, what can you do to get seen, short of debasing yourself or resorting to the option of becoming notorious?
It’s not easy because typically you have to convince a producer that you are an asset to the program and that you have the ability to draw an audience willing to view the advertisers’ paid commercials.
Traditional broadcast media has existed by creating interesting content then charging advertisers a fee to have their promotional messages snuggled in and around the “news, information and entertainment.” In this way there was always at least the illusion of a firewall between editorial and advertising. But that wall has all but crumbled and the question is whether it actually existed.
Let’s put news off to the side for a minute because there are compelling reasons why news should be independent and regarded essentially as a service. In spite of some programming lately that masquerades as news, let’s not even make that part of this discussion.
When it comes to information as entertainment it seems like a quid pro quo has always existed. For instance in the case of late night talk shows such as Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and the rest, the basic format seems to be (with few exceptions) that celebrity guests are invited to talk a bit about themselves, thus providing entertainment value, in exchange for an opportunity to pitch or promote their latest movie, TV show, recording, book or product. Paid advertisers get to hook on to the gravy train with a paid opportunity to promote their product via commercials and more recently, through product placements displayed to the audience the celebrity has attracted.
What we have learned is big audiences are directly related to big celebrity. Without the celebrity “bait” it is difficult to draw an audience large enough to attract advertisers necessary to offset broadcasting costs and make a profit. Keep in mind costs are already largely offset by the fact that the guests themselves, who are paid little or nothing, derive value from the exposure and opportunity to promote themselves and their related projects or products. So this is essentially a barter arrangement whereby the “program producer” makes the forum available to “interesting guests” in exchange for exposure, then the producer proceeds to attempt to make a profit through the sale of paid advertising. If a guest had to actually pay for ten minutes of Colbert’s undivided attention and biting wit the cost would likely be tens of thousands of dollars. Likewise if the producers had to pay for the celebrity, the costs would be similar. So it’s a “wash”. Both sides contribute and both benefit so it’s even.
It is worth mentioning that reality TV has added a new wrinkle to this equation. In the case of many reality TV programs people with little or no celebrity status agree to perform often outlandish deeds or provide unprecedented access to their personal life for the purpose of providing vicarious thrills and voyeuristic, even prurient entertainment in exchange for celebrity status which is then traded for even further media access often combined with product associations to create monetary value for themselves and their business associates.
Game shows have long been a part of this low cost, high exposure, entertainment milieu utilizing the lure of watching average folks compete to earn cash money and prizes in exchange for participating in games of skill or chance. Even in this domain it has been found that celebrity is a key part of the mix. Thus many b-list and c-list celebrities are routinely seen as partners or contestants. Who can forget Hollywood Squares or more recently Celebrity Apprentice which made real estate tycoon and Presidential candidate Donald Trump a household name and provided hours of on-air time for borderline “Stars” trading their often fading celebrity status for an opportunity to keep them in the spotlight?
The reason exposure via TV works so well is largely related to audience size but also because it is an easy and entertaining way for viewers to consume interesting, amusing and occasionally valuable information. The longer face time achieved through interviews and such, gives the viewing audience a deeper insight into the guest and repetition thorough prolonged exposure on one show or multiple exposures on various shows increase familiarity breeding celebrity. Who would have ever heard of Ken Jennings until he managed to win 74 Jeopardy! games in a row winning over three million dollars. His celebrity was primarily due to appearing (and of course winning) consistently on one program.
So what chance does a little-known or unknown first-time author have when it comes to building celebrity? The honest answer is a very slim chance. But that does not preclude most from at least trying. Common marketing wisdom suggests that you begin where you are and work your way outward to create your fan base. Since broadcast media is challenging to break in to, one way to participate is through the use of online video. Youtube has purportedly been the catalyst for a number of celebrities including singer Justin Bieber who was discovered when a marketing exec of a record company looking for another artist accidentally stumbled upon one of Bieber’s videos and rest is history. I am not aware of any authors being discovered by publishers in exactly the same way but I do know that publishers are more intrigued by authors who have a fan base or a following. In other words if you can show that you have a readership interested in what you have to say and who follow you via social media this demonstrates that you have the potential to sell books.One way to make a connection with readers is through video.
As a non-fiction writer sharing information about your topic is a no-brainer. Video seminars, short video tips and full-fledged interviews all make compelling content. For fiction writers it can be a bit more challenging, but book trailers, video fan testimonials, video reviews, character insights, author interviews and book chats all make good video content. Today there is no need to wait for an invitation from Ellen Degeneres or “The View” when you can create and distribute video content on your own or with the help of a video professional. Yes you will have to make an investment in yourself but self-broadcasting is no different than self-publishing. If you want your book to be seen and read it must be promoted. If you do not have celebrity status or a timely topic that is likely to draw a large audience you have little value to traditional media who need celebrity to sell advertising so you will need to underwrite the cost of production and distribution yourself. Thankfully video production is cheaper than it has ever been and there are increasing opportunities and outlets available to share your video content. Beginning with your website, Facebook and youtube there are a number of other video channels plus websites like GoodReads and others that specialize in books. This opportunity to self-broadcast mirrors the self-publishing revolution that turned the publishing industry upside down.
The biggest change happening in broadcast television is the emergence of online or web television devices, which threatens to challenge the dominance of terrestrial television (antenna), cable and satellite delivered broadcasting. Systems like AmazonFire, Roku, Google Chromecast, and AppleTV bring Internet powered broadcasting to your family room or bedroom TV set at a fraction of the cost, delivering not only most of your favorite familiar television programming but also a myriad of new special interest channels like AuthorsBroadCast which delivers video specifically related to new books and emerging authors. Each of the delivery systems is an extension of an existing brand with its own fan base. In the case of AmazonFire the Amazon brand is virtually synonymous with books so it only makes sense that this system would be a natural for book related video content. In terms of drawing an audience, a strong alternative to celebrity is narrow-casting or niche broadcasting. If a viewer knows that a particular channel has a ready supply of programming related to their special interest they are likely to take a look and potentially become a regular viewer if the content suits them. This theory was proven over the past thirty years by cable operators who brought us MTV, ESPN, Food Network, CNN, The Movie Channel and other narrow-cast niche channels that have become huge successes.
The AuthorsBroadCast channel can currently be added to over 18 million AmazonFire TVs, Kindle tablets and other mobile devices putting book related video content directly into the hands of millions of readers and known books buyers. Much of the content such as book trailers and author interviews is subsidized by the individual producers but in this case where there is little or no celebrity to drive advertising sales it provides book marketers alternative access to a niche audience at a reasonable cost that is within the reach of most self-published authors and small publishing houses.
Internet TV will make the narrow casting even tighter and create celebrity opportunities within those niches. The viewership numbers may not be as big but they will be large enough to suit the needs of the markets they serve and occasionally a break-out star will be able to parlay his or her niche celebrity status to a wider audience. Savvy marketers can use this platform as part of their strategy, to speak directly to their target audience. It’s all about control. Self-publishing has put the control of whether a book is produced into the hands of the content producers and the same is true for video production. This is a game changer paving the way for a new era in broadcasting and book marketing.