How to Get Booked on
By Susan Harrow
Most authors believe that getting on Oprah will make their book blockbusters.
For your book to zoom to the top of the best-seller list, you must prepare to
make the most of your appearance. Here are some hot tips to help you get invited
as a guest on the show, rivet your audience on the air, and ultimately sell more
books. As a media coach and marketing strategist, I have helped many people get
booked on Oprah, so I know there is a strategy that, if followed, will help
authors increase their chances of getting on the show.
Pitch and Prepare
Before you actually get booked on Oprah, you need to know how to pitch an idea
to the show's producers and how to prepare yourself for the big day.
1. Tape and watch Oprah
Dozens of authors call me every year. The first words out of their mouths are:
"I want to be on Oprah." When I ask them if they watch the show 90
percent say, "No." Part of preparing for success is becoming familiar
with the content, format, rhythm and pace of the Oprah show. Your first step is
to record two to four weeks of Oprah. Then, sit down in a comfy spot and watch
them all at once. This will give you a sense of what's hot on Oprah for the next
few months. (It does change and go in cycles). Notice which producers (listed on
the credits at the end) are responsible for each particular type of segment.
Send a producer information only after you are sure of who you'd like to
approach and why.
2. Pitch a hot topic.
Never pitch your book. Instead pitch something that's newsworthy now: a pressing
national issue, a controversial subject, a problem for which you have the
solution, a common myth debunked. Propose a topic that is relevant to Winfrey's
audience (controversy, relationships, personal triumph, makeovers) then prove
you are the expert on that topic by telling only the information that is
relevant to the idea you're pitching.
For acting coach Cynthia Brian, author of Be the Star You Are! (Celestial
Arts), we created a pitch about how she helps teenagers work out their problems
by role-playing with them on camera. We proposed a makeover show with before and
after footage for parents with difficult teens. Although the show idea isn't
directly related to her book this is an area of Brian's expertise--and Winfrey
has been doing a lot of shows around parent/teenage relationships. Think about
the areas in your personal or professional life where you're an expert and
connect that to a provocative theme.
3. Put together a winning press package.
4. Explore the show's web site.
Send your book along with a pitch or angle page with two or three different
ideas, and a paragraph bio highlighting your expertise as it pertains to your
pitches. Be as brief as possible. You must be able to sell your idea in one
page. Remember Oprah producers get hundreds of packages every day. If possible
include a two-to-four-minute video of you on other talk shows or doing a
presentation to a group. This will help show the producers that you're a viable
Winfrey's Web site, www.oprah.com, has as
much information as you will ever need to get on the show.
There, you can review her entire wish list of subjects. She even makes it
easy for you with a link called, "Be on the show." With the touch of a
key you can send an e-mail that will reach her producers instantly.
Make your topic relevant in a short paragraph to receive a quick response.
Let the producers know that you'd be glad to hop a red-eye at a moment's notice
to be a part of their show, and you increase your chances of being invited.
5. Create 6 dynamic sound bites.
Mark Twain defines a sound bite as "a minimum of sound to a maximum of
sense." Sound bites or talking points, are the essential messages you want
to convey. Talk out loud the most important ideas, concepts, and points of your
book as they relate to the idea you are pitching.
Ask yourself, "What do I want my audience to remember?" Carla Fox,
the niece of Sol Wurtzel who ran Fox Film (20th Century Fox) with founder
William Fox described the success of the studio this way: "For Fox Film it
was an excellent director, a good story and a box office star." In her
book, The Myth of the Perfect Mother (Contemporary Books), Jane Swigart says,
"Being a mother is like asking half the population to do brain surgery
without sending them to medical school."
These memory nuggets consist of anecdotes, facts, statistics, stories, or
something unlikely, unusual, controversial, shocking, funny, humorous, romantic,
poignant, emotionally moving, or dramatic.
6. Make sure you're blurbable.
By definition, a blurb is a very short advertisement or statement about a topic,
product or idea. For example, many book jackets have blurbs about the book, or
what people have said about the book. The average sound bite on television is 10
seconds, so it takes some intensive practice to say something meaningful about
your book or topic in such a short period of time. Practice with a timer until
you can speak your message in 10 to 20 seconds.
7. Get booked on local shows first.
Even before you consider approaching Oprah with your idea, get practice on your
local news and talk shows. This will give you a chance to fine-tune your sound
bites so you won't be shocked by the speed of national television. Once you're
on the show as a guest you'll have a total of one to seven minutes to
communicate your entire message--in 10 to 20- second increments. Once you have a
good feel for the rhythm of television, you'll feel more relaxed and ready.
8. Wow the producers with brevity.
Remember, the moment you open your mouth you are auditioning. Keep your list of
talking points by the phone when you call a producer (or a producer calls you)
so you'll be succinct. You will already have rehearsed them so that they sound
natural and inviting. Make sure all your points are targeted exactly to the
angle you're proposing--making you and your book irresistible on the air.
Smile! You're on Oprah
Now that you know what it takes to pitch an idea to Oprah, you need to know what
to do when you actually appear on the show.
1. Connect with your eyes.
It is very important to maintain eye contact with Winfrey 100 percent of the
time when she addresses you. This means while you're talking and while you're
listening. Audiences believe that you're sincere and knowledgeable if you keep
consistent, soft eye contact.
2. Create a "Top Five" list.
Help your audience remember you by developing a "Top Five" list to be
projected on-screen so all your key points will be illustrated visually as you
discuss them. This is also a secret way to keep Winfrey on track. Once she's
stated that you'll cover five points, she has to help move you through all of
them or her audience will feel cheated. Making this list guarantees you more
At the request of the producers Victoria Moran, author of Lit From Within (HarperSanFrancisco)
created a quiz for a show on vanity with questions like, "Are you
constantly comparing your appearance to other women's? Does the way you look in
the morning determine your mood for the day?" After Winfrey got her guests
to answer, she asked Moran to comment. She got five chances to speak--totaling
one minute and 33 seconds.
3. Bring visual props.
Visual props add liveliness and helps your viewers remember your points, which
indirectly translates into buying your book. Let the producers know how you plan
to use your prop(s) ahead of time. During the show you also need to direct the
cameraman to your object by pointing to it or holding it up to cue them for a
4. Introduce yourself with a stellar sound bite.
On television your very first utterance sets the tone for all the information
you plan to deliver. Say something that instantly brings focus to your most
important message that ties into your book.
With dedicated practice, channeling your passion, enthusiasm, and knowledge
about your subject will come across to your audience, and people will naturally
want to know more about you and your book.
© 2001 Susan Harrow, All Rights Reserved
Susan Harrow is a media and marketing coach and author of "Sell
Yourself Without Selling Your Soul" (HarperCollins). Get more than 100
pages of techniques and hot tips like these in "The Ultimate Guide to
Getting Booked on Oprah." Get advice on the best ways to pitch producers,
and insider secrets from the best publicists in the business. Get your FREE
chapter excerpts today at http://www.prsecrets.com.
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This article was adapted from "Sell Yourself Without
Selling Your Soul: Promote yourself, Your Business, Book, Product or Cause with
Integrity and Spirit" (HarperCollins 2002), and is reprinted with
permission from Writer's Digest magazine.