How to get my 92 year old father on Oprah?
December 18, 2005 9:06 AM   Subscribe

My 92 year old father has written a book about his life and he wants to appear on Oprah and similar shows to promote the book. Does anyone know anyone who can help gets this to a national market?

After 5 years of working on this biography, the book has been self-published and is selling well locally. The family feels that working on this project has been the stimulus that has kept him going. Now he is enthused about getting the book into the national media. Does anyone know a media agent or anyone like that who thinks this would be an interesting project? My daughter made a website about the book and it is linked in my profile.
posted by Helen J. to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Consider posting the actual numbers you're talking about in terms of "selling well locally." How many copies, at what price, in what channels (bookstores, discounters?), in how long, in what location?

Agents and major publishers are very turned on to making self-publishing phenomena into their own little cash cows. Perfect combination of low risk and high return.
posted by MattD at 9:22 AM on December 18, 2005

Just a heads-up that you need to fix the Web site URL in your profile -- it doesn't go anywhere right now.
posted by killdevil at 9:26 AM on December 18, 2005

Fixed link:
posted by hendrixson at 9:38 AM on December 18, 2005

Contact local news programs. Start small. You want to build a base. You're not going to directly to Oprah. Local news/magazine shows do this all the time. Also, see if you can get the human interest reporters of your local news.

I *think* you'd like someone in the MeFI audience to go, "Oh, my brother works for Oprah...", but realistically, they'd still look individually at the small press that the work has gotten. (It would have been nice if your MeFi profile beyond the link to the site...something about you - like a zip code.)

Raleigh Newspapers
Raleigh Television Stations
posted by filmgeek at 10:03 AM on December 18, 2005

This is the dream of millions. Oprah is a long, long, long shot. It takes a lot of work and nearly full-time devotion.

My landlord is doing exactly the same thing. She's convinced her biography is going to become a movie made by Spielberg, although her daughter and I have continuously reminded her that while the book is decent, the odds are slim.

Let me also say this: talking to the media is more flattering than it is useful in selling lots of books, unless you handle it right. Most of the benefits are indirect. You have to take that coverage, clip it and copy it and quote it, and publicize that press coverage yourself. Show the clippings to book stores, book distributors, and potential readers. They, like journalists, all follow some sort of pack mentality and are more likely to be interested if they see others are. And by sending the coverage to other media, you can get still more press from other journos who see the first story and do their own.

Foremost, you need to see if a 92-year-old is capable of sustaining the interest of a live audience--and capable of sustaining his own energy. You may have already done these, but:

--Get him started going to local book stores to see if he can get shelf space or can arrange a "meet the author" session (and make sure more than family shows up).

--Get him interviewed in the local paper and radio station. Maybe find a few bloggers (especially audio bloggers) who might be willing to speak with him. Don't spam the bloggers! They hate that. You need to make each contact you make *personal* and have a hook to the site in question--explain why that blog is right to talk to your father. Keep it short.

--Get him in front of students. Teachers love plug-and-play local color, if they can fit it into the lesson plan. Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops work, too.

--Start rehearsal interviews. He needs to be good at this.

--You need to be honest with him. Explain over and over again how unlikely his dream is of ever being fulfilled. Don't be nice because he's an old man: the small negativity now might save him from crushing disappointment later.

--Finally, when you are helping your father in trying to achieve his dream, you will get a far better response from everyone involved if you present yourself as his personal assistant, editor, publicity person, or some other kind of representative (NOT his publishing agent--they'll call you on that very quickly). You don't have to lie about being his daughter, but if you mention it right away, nearly everyone you need to talk to in order to sell this book will shut you down instantly. If they think of you primarily as his daughter, nothing you say will be perceived as unbiased or realistic, even if it is.

(PS: My experience with this comes as someone who works in publishing and is about to release his second little book.)
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:11 AM on December 18, 2005

I'm not an "expert" on media P.R. but I'd say that Oprah would give visibility...but to the right target audience or
a wrong one ? i see Oprah as much more interested in controversy and strongly felt polarized emotions.

At least from the appearence it seems James look like an ordinary old-style hard working familiy loving decent Joe Sixpack, a nice image millions could relate to (but imho the centered picture of him on book needs to change..the rounded frame looks very creepy)

Also, should the Oprah staff reject that would be a delusion, as if he couldn't reach the peak once denied one time..which is obviously false.

Rather then a big name I'd look for many many ordinary shows...quantity could lead to as long as James enjoy it and it's not too stressing.
posted by elpapacito at 10:19 AM on December 18, 2005

Consider putting a chapter or two up on that web site -- as is, it doesn't really give the flavor of the book.
posted by words1 at 10:32 AM on December 18, 2005

Consider putting more than just a couple chapters up on the web site. Either way, once you've done that it would be a perfect candidate for Metafilter Projects. Even better would be if you could flesh out the website with complimentary content. You could interview him. You could put up a photo album.
posted by stuart_s at 11:00 AM on December 18, 2005

About six years ago I had the opportunity to be on Oprah, but turned their offer down. I'm glad I did because when I watched the show I realizd that i would hav been the only legitimate guest there. All of guests she had on were amateur porn stars and people dumb enough to sell naked pictures of themselves online.

Explanation: the show was about people who had been fired from a job because of their personal web sites.
posted by camworld at 11:17 AM on December 18, 2005

I would recommend your 92-year old father start a blog about the book. I would love to read a blog from someone that old, especially if it's well-written.
posted by camworld at 11:19 AM on December 18, 2005

I second the blog on and the photo album. The photo album especially could be very interesting if it was done chronologically and revealed a few pictures at a time. Consider using Flickr.
posted by awesomebrad at 11:28 AM on December 18, 2005

A blog would also be an excellent media hook.
posted by words1 at 12:24 PM on December 18, 2005

Although Skallas's tone is harsh, I think the sentiment is ultimately correct. Helen, what your father did was great, and it must be wonderful to see him engaged in telling his story. But in order to make national press waves, you need a publisher and an agent and a publicist and a press agent and... well, the list goes on. If your eventual goal is to get him and his book national press attention, then start by getting an agent with the intention of finding a publishing house for the book.
posted by incessant at 1:39 PM on December 18, 2005

A friend of mine is a full-time writer who's having books published by major publishers, and she is considering hiring a publicist for the next book to supplement the publicity being done by the publisher. This will cost her several thousand dollars and probably won't even land her on Oprah. But this is what your dad will need to do -- hire someone who knows how to do publicity. The better they are, the more they will cost.
posted by kindall at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2005

I was on Oprah, it wasn't that fun. (Hidden video episode - I was on there through no virtue/effort of my own).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:52 PM on December 18, 2005

Just like MattD said, and an agent said to me the other day as well, that re-selling self-published books to commercial houses is the order of the day. That's your surest ticket then -- if you sell it through an agent, well, then a publicity/marketing team comes along with the sale. Better all around, no?
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:13 PM on December 18, 2005

I have to echo skallas and incessant in that you seem to be attempting to skip several thousand steps. "Selling well locally" is about all you can hope for from a self-published book. If you've made back your investment, you've done well so far.

First thing's first--do your research. Your local library will have a Writer's Marketplace, which lists publishers and agents and their submission guidelines. Query agents and publishers that do similar books. Include the local sales and publicity you've gotten.

If the book's good, it will get an agent. If it's anywhere near the type of thing Oprah will pay attention to, you'll get a publisher. But you have to be patient, do research, and go about it professionally. (Perhaps pick up "Getting your Book Published for Dummies"). The publisher will have a publicity department, but it still probably won't get on Oprah. A publisher's publicity department or even a private PR company has to be very selective about what to even pitch to shows like Oprah. However--if you do have a national publisher, you will also have some sort of national press. Understand that Oprah is the holy grail of book publicity. Many of the most successful authors of our time will never get on Oprah. But they're still successful.

All of the above will take several years at the least.
posted by lampoil at 10:04 PM on December 18, 2005

Ditto what everyone's said about it taking years, a lot of hard work and money to make this happen. Currently, your dad is happy because his book has sold well locally. The self-satisfaction and pride from that fact is wonderful. What will happen if you and your family encourage his goal to make it big, and it doesn't happen? How will your dad handle rejection from publishers and no call returns from Oprah?

If you really want to pursue this, be aware that the traditional route is mired with failure and rejection, and a grass-roots, word of mouth effort tends to not make it in the national spotlight.

But we could be seeing your grandpa's book with the Oprah Book Club logo a few years from now. Who knows, just be cautious. (Actually, know that I think about it, your story is just the hartwarming, community interest stuff the morning shows pick up occasionally.)
posted by lychee at 1:24 AM on December 19, 2005

Regrettably, as others have noted, the getting-on-Oprah thing is probably not going to happen any time soon. But getting on "similar shows" might be a possibility, depending on your definition of "similar shows."

To help promote my own book, my publisher's PR guy took out an ad in Radio and Television Interview Report, which is a publication that puts people who want to be interviewed in touch with radio & TV shows looking for interview subjects. I have no idea how much the ad cost, but it worked pretty well; we got about a dozen interview requests from local radio stations around the US as well as one in Canada. None of these shows had anywhere near the reach of Oprah, but they all gave us the chance to introduce our work to an audience that might not otherwise have seen it. Also, I get the sense that part of your dad's goal in writing the book was to pass on his life lessons, so even if it doesn't lead to more sales, it will give him the chance to speak to a wider audience.
posted by yankeefog at 8:24 AM on December 19, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, killdevil, for catching my typo in the url, and to hendrixson who fixed it! yankeefog's information about the Radio and Television Report was very helpful and something we will follow up with. MoNickels, we will also follow some of your suggestions. I think Dad would be great talking with students and the practicing his interviewing skills would be very valuable. The blog sugestion was also very intriguing.

We will in a small town in western North Carolina. The books are being sold in both bookstores and in two retail stores. He has had newspaper publicity and will have a book signing this week. As you can understand, we are taking things in small steps so that he can enjoy it and not be overwhelmed. Thanks to all for your comments!
posted by Helen J. at 7:03 PM on December 19, 2005

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