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How Suze Orman Became Famous

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

I just had a lovely video call on Skype that seemed more like I was interacting on a TV talk show than talking on the phone. The guests or hosts were Barbara Wellner and Karen Melamed of Mediawise Consulting (www.Mediawise-Consulting.com). They were as entertaining as can be! They teach people how to be GREAT when they’re on television–and though they were only on a little webcam from their computer, it was clear that they were naturals at it themselves.

Barbara was a senior producer on the team that developed and launched FX, the largest launch in cable history, as well as a producer for Tom Bergeron.

Karen was the producer of a local TV show in Baltimore called People are Talking. You might have heard of the star of that show: Oprah Winfrey.

She later became a producer of Oprah’s national show and was responsible for some of her highest rated episodes.

So Karen was around before Oprah helped make Suze Ormon a star.

She told me three things that made Suze extremely easy to work with from the perspective of a television producer:

1) Suze offered to be a guest in case there was an emergency because of a cancellation.

2) She offered to pay to fly herself to Chicago and

3) She was more than willing to be one of the experts who comment from the audience that Oprah talks to for 30 seconds. (If you’ve watched Oprah, you’ve seen them. Believe it or not, some people are divas who say they will only appear if they can sit on the stage.)

But the most important part of the story is this: Suze said to herself, if I’m going to only have thirty seconds on Oprah, I’m going to make it the best 30 seconds I can.

When she had her moment in the spotlight, she was so entertaining, informative, and easy to understand that Oprah continued to talk to her way past the thirty second mark. In a few short minutes, she heard the words that every guest on Oprah wants to hear: “You’re fabulous! I need to invite you back on the show.”

That’s how Suze Ormon went from a thirty second guest in the audience to a household name.

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What Literary Agents Want to See When You’re Not Famous, Part I

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

When you’re trying to get published, the first thing literary agents tell you is that you have to have a platform. A platform is an audience of people who know who you are. Typically it’s achieved through becoming a well-known speaker, having a syndicated column, developing an e-zine with a large following or a Web site or blog with lots of traffic or having tons of followers, friends, or links on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

A platform takes time to build. But certain strategies can help you land a literary agent and get published even if you’re not already well-known to tens of thousands of people.

First off, timing is everything. Literary agent Grace Freedson says you can sell a book without a platform “if it’s a topic that a publisher … feels if I had a book on this I know I could sell it.”

Even if publishers don’t realize they want a book on a particular topic, but yours covers a trend that affects lots of people, you can get published without a big platform.

Here’s an example:

In today’s economy, millions of people are losing their homes to foreclosure, going bankrupt, and missing credit card payments. How do you do things like rent an apartment, get a job, buy a car, get a credit card and start a new business after your credit is shot? Chris Balish and Geoff Williams answer that question with their book LIVING WELL WITH BAD CREDIT, which literary agent Laurie Abkemeier of DeFiore and Company sold to publisher HCI.

If you’re a book publisher, publishing this book is a no-brainer. It’s filled with timely information that the media will be happy to talk and write about. A morning talk show like the Today Show could literally do a week-long series on living with bad credit. Each day they could show you how to overcome one of the problems the book solves.

So if you come up with something timely that’s already on everybody’s minds, or if you happen onto a topic that publishers think is hot, you can attract a lot of attention from book publishers and literary agents.

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Literary Agent Grace Freedson on What Book Publishers are Choosing Based on Today's Economy

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

In an interview with literary agent Grace Freedson,  it’s evident that one way to get published is to filter your self-help or how-to book through the lens of the economic realities we face today: “I think I would say there is a trend towards frugality not only in the way business is conducted but in the types of books we’re seeing published . . . when I say frugality, it impacts the business sector, it impacts the way we cook and choose the foods we eat. It might impact the way we plan our weddings [etc.] and that’s reflected in the kinds of books that are published.”

She also mentioned that  she had several books on the use and misuse of credit cards, as well as dealing with collection agencies, which are topics that pretty obviously relate to today’s rough times.

Freedson started her own literary agency after she left Barron’s, famed for their SAT and GMAT books, as Director of Acquisitions.  She mentioned that  one of her bread and butter categories is particularly hot today:

“. . . Test preparation [is] still a very fertile category, people are staying in school if there are no jobs, graduating college seniors might opt to further their education. Those who are not furthering it are trying to improve their skills. So there are many skill-based books, whether it’s how to manage your time better to how to interview better for a job. I think those skill-based concepts are pretty good right now.”

Here are some recent deal as of this month that reflect what Freedson talked about with me.

In terms of saving money:

Ellie Kay’s THE LITTLE BOOK OF BIG SAVINGS, ways to save money every day in twelve  categories

In terms of skills for work:

Michelle Lederman’s THE 11 LAWS OF LIKABILITY: Building Authentic Relationships for Business Success

Jodi Glickman-Brown’s GREAT ON THE JOB: 11 Essential Strategies for Succeeding in the Workplace (also about relationships and communication)

If you can figure out a way to make your topic relate to the economy, you have a better chance of getting a literary agent.

Want free publicity? Tie your story to current events

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

HOW CAROL BURNETT BECAME A STAR

How potent is tying your subject matter to current events?

Potent enough to turn Carol Burnett from a little known night club singer into a national star.

According to Tom Shales of the Washington Post, this is how Carol Burnett got her big break:  In 1957, she was appearing at the Blue Angel nightclub. Teen-age girls were obsessed with Elvis Presley. Burnett’s friend Ken Welch wrote a song about a young girl totally obsessed not with a rock star but with the secretary of state: “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles.”

Jack Paar heard about it, booked her on the “Tonight Show,” and it created a frenzy. Ms. Burnett says in Shales’ original article, “The phones were ringing off the book. I went back to the Blue Angel to do the midnight show and there was a man on the phone who said he was Mr. Dulles’ television adviser, and he said, ‘Mr. Dulles didn’t see it. Could you possibly go back on the Paar show and do it on Thursday?’ I said, ‘Fine by me.’ But of course I didn’t know. But they called Jack Paar, who had a great show, and he brought me back on Thursday. Then Ed Sullivan called and I did it on his show that Sunday. So it was three times in one week.”

A week later, Burnett watched “Meet the Press” because Dulles was to be the interviewee. “And the very last question was, ‘So tell me, Mr. Dulles, what is going on between you and that young lady who sings that love song about you?’ And you know how dour he was. I got up close to the television set and he said, ‘I make it a matter of policy never to discuss matters of the heart in public.’ Isn’t that sweet? Wow.”

How Adults Learn

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

This next post is based on a conversation I had with Michelle Price of www.SellMoreBooks.com.

At a past job, Michelle designed education programs for grown-ups. We were talking about a book I was editing that I thought was too theoretical, without enough meaty (well, tofu-y, I’m vegetarian) ready to use information.

In agreeing with me, she mentioned 3 principles of adult learning that I think are particularly appropriate for authors.
Here they are, in Michelle’s words:

1. Adults want to enjoy the process and have fun learning.
2. Adults want to be able to apply what they’ve learned in their own life – it needs to be relevant now.

3. Adults want to be able to share what they’ve learned with others so concepts should be simplified (not dummified) – an easy way to do this is to find a way to compare what you are teaching to something they already know, which will anchor it for them.

If you’re writing non-fiction, check what you’ve written against this list.

Book Clubbing II

Friday, July 14th, 2006

Just to make my point even further, I was just looking at a list of debut fiction that recently sold, and here’s another that sold as a pre-empt–in other words, an auction was about to be held, but one publisher came in with a high bid right out of the box, pre-empting the auction. What that means is that the book sold for a lot more money than most debut authors get.

It’s by Susan Breen and it’s called THE FICTION CLASS. The book is populated by a teacher and the offbeat members of a creative writing workshop she leads.

A ongoing class is a kind of a club, right?

The author is a writing teacher.

It must be cool to have a novel written about the writing class you’ve taken.

But hey, there really was a Broadway musical written about the songwriting class I took when I was trying to make it as a composer and lyricist for Broadway.

I talked about that  in my last newsletter. You can subscribe by going to www.GetAnAgentNow.com.

Book Clubbing

Friday, July 14th, 2006

I don’t know when this trend started, but editors seem gaga when a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, has a club or a group in it.

Maybe it started with Sex and the City, or maybe it was just those non-fiction Sweet Potato Queens, but it seems like every publisher likes a book with a club in it. And the Jane Austen Book Club was a bestseller. (I once even heard an editor at USA Weekend say something to the effect that if anyone ever published a novel called The Over the Hill Dating Club, she would cover it as part of a dating trend piece.)

Club books often sell at high prices– Yoga Mamas sold at auction– and the latest “club” book mentioned by Publisher’s Weekly was sold via a seven house auction. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a debut novel by Mary Ann Shaffer. It’s about neighbors who survive the Nazi occupation who by meeting over potato peel pie to discuss classic novels.

With seven houses involved, this book fetched a high price. Yes, it’s probably well-written. And yes, there’s a historical factor.

But I believe the best money making factor that had seven houses bidding was that it’s about a club.

For great info on how to promote your novel, go to www.promoteyournovel.com

More Big Name Marketing

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Brad Meltzer is one lucky guy. His first published novel, The Tenth Justice, made the New York Times Bestseller List. So did his next four.

He doesn’t have to do anything extra to market his books. Still, his next novel, The Book of Fate, due out on September 5th, uses a marketing trick every author should think about.

The hero’s best friend, Rogo, is a lawyer who helps people fight speeding tickets. His web site, www.downwithtickets.com, is mentioned frequently in the book.

And guess what? You can actually go to the downwithtickets web site. There are links to info about the book and the real lawyers who have a speeding ticket practice.

This concept got me to thinking: if Meltzer were a new author, he could put postcards with the down with tickets site under the windshield wipers of cars all over his home town. The site could feature information on him as a local author, and free downloads of the first chapter. And if he was really aggressive, he could even put the postcards under the wipers of all the cars parked at his local TV and radio stations, and his local paper. It’s such an unusual promotion, it could easily get media coverage– especially locally.

Frankly, you could do the same thing– whether your book is a novel or non-fiction. Let’s say you have a character whose hobby is gardening.

You could have her get tips from www.planttelepathy.com. And you could have a web page for plant telepathy, with your bio, and a free first chapter of the book. And you could do a windshield wiper campaign at gardening stores, and perhaps also put out postcards at your local new age bookstore as well. (And you might as well go for the media, too.)

The name of the game is to help as many people as possible find out about your book in as many ways as possible.

Do Big Names Market Harder Than You?

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

Lately, I’ve noticed a rash of well-known authors and film directors making smart marketing moves that unknown authors should emulate.

Frankly, if you’re writing a book proposal– you should include ideas like these in your marketing section.

Two of my favorites come from Kevin Smith, the director of the upcoming film Clerks II, as well as Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Jersey Girl.

Smith is an established director with a built-in fan base, but he’s still working hard to attract new fans– particularly Generation Y fans– in other words, the MySpace crowd.

Smith is giving the first 10,000 people to add one of the movie’s MySpace.com pages to their “friends list” a credit on both the movie and the DVD.

But not only that–he’s also running a banner contest. The top 11 people who get the Clerks II banner on the most websites, message boards, MySpace boards and blogs win prizes.

First prize is a walk on part in Smith’s next movie. The contest is at: http://silentbobspeaks.com/?p=256.

By the way, one side benefit of creating interesting marketing is that people like me, with blogs, and newsletters, write about you.

More tomorrow.

For info on promoting your novel, go to www.promoteyournovel.com.

For a free list of top agents who are looking for authors, go to www.GetAnAgentNow.com