This really happened. This week, in fact.
On Thursday I got the email that all writers dream about. It was from a major television network, inviting me to appear on their morning talk show as part of their regular “author’s corner” segment.
That heady context alone tends to blind one to the dark side. Especially since that dark side is completely new to the author/PR paradigm.
The network was Lifetime.
Okay, not exactly Good Morning America, but still. A pretty big deal.
Even more cool was the fact that this wasn’t about my new writing book, which is getting the kind of buzz that might attract a national television network. No, this was all about my last novel, Whisper of the Seventh Thunder, which was released from a small publisher (Sons of Liberty) a little over a year ago. Long enough for that particular buzz to have hushed.
Anybody who launches a book with a small publisher, or on their own, is hoping for a tipping point catalyst to descent upon them. For a moment there, I thought this was it.
The nice fellow on the other end of the email said he’d learned of my novel as a result of it winning the “Best Suspense Thriller” category in last year’s Next Generation Indie Publishing Awards, sort of the poor man’s Edgars. So of course I opened my mind to this and began visualizing the tipping pointesque aftermath of such an opportunity.
It sounded so good.
Fly to Florida to shoot the interview. Pre-interview with the hosts, who, unlike the major network hosts, would actually read the book. Help position it for a largely female viewership. Alert the publisher to an impending massive reprint.
And then the other shoe fell. They wanted me to pay them $5900 for a “licensing fee.”
At first I thought they were offering to pay me (hey, we hear what we want to hear, especially when intoxicated by the proximity of a national TV interview). But no.
First response: rationalize. Try to justify it. Quiet the inner skeptic. Be bold, seize the moment, go for it.
So I ran it by my publisher. My publicist (for the new writing book) at Writers Digest Books. Several published authors. And my wife.
It was unanimous: something is wrong with this picture.
The word “scam” came up in all feedback. Including from the veteran professional book publicist, who has placed numerous authors on all the major networks.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to work. It isn’t how it’s always worked. This is new.
Frankly, I don’t think it’s a scam, exactly.
I think it’s a business strategy – as in, for profit — from the production entity that has managed to place their program on Lifetime. An angle to seize and profit from the ambitions and perhaps naivety of small press and self-published authors. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, are swamping the old publishing model and rendering bookstores and perhaps even major publishers obsolete.
There’s a new sheriff in town. And you need to make sure he’s not on the take.
I checked the Lifetime website for this, and it’s apparently legit. But there are no A-list authors there, nobody whose name I recognized. In fact, there’s no Big-6 authors there. Also in fact, as far as I could see, there are no authors there who aren’t self-published.
There’s nothing wrong with self-published authors investing in promotion. In fact, it’s a necessity. But with opportunity comes opportunists. And that’s the yellow flag.
It’s certainly up to the writer to decide if an investment of $5900 in their promotional strategy is a good idea. But the salient point here is this: watch your back. It takes a boat load of sales to cover this opportunity (add your travel expenses to the tab).
As a side note, one publisher I talked to said he’d placed an author on a regional program — at no cost, by the way — and sold a total of seven books in the process. Take note.
I did suggest to my new Lifetime friend that the cost was prohibitive, and that I would be delighted to appear on their program if they could wave the fee. The answer was a firm no.
Plenty of small and self-published authors out there willing to write this check, I guess.
Would they charge Amanda Hocking $5900 to be on this program? Probably. Would they charge, say, Chelsea Cain to be on this program? Don’t think so. Then again, they wouldn’t invite Chelsea Cain, because she’s likely already talking to Good Morning America.
It’s a targeted strategy. And you and I occupy a spot in the bullseye. As you watch your sales, be sure to also watch your back.
As an ironic footnote, the name of the guy who invited me on the show is “Fake.” That’s his last name. Fake.
You can’t make this shit up, folks.
Would you pay $5900 to appear on a national cable show purportedly with several hundred thousand early morning viewers?