I always knew I was going to be a writer, but I had no idea it would require so much time in front of a camera.
I think maybe every author or would-be author imagines what life might be like as a mega-bestselling success: some famous celebrity photographer snapping photos as we lounge by the pool, Jay Leno or Meryl Streep hanging on our every word, and a dozen mailbags a day stuffed with letters from adoring fans.
But the reality of modern publishing is that if you want a career that lasts longer than the shelf-life of brie, you need to promote your books. And frequently, that means going on television.
My very first TV appearance was on the Sally Jessy Raphael show, where a team of professionals cemented my hair with seven or eight layers of hardcore industrial-strength hairspray, approved my wardrobe selections, and spackled enough makeup on me to warrant an automatic arrest on a Friday night within twenty miles of a red-light district.
Remarkably, when the show aired, I looked pretty darned good.
My second TV appearance was on a local Minneapolis affiliate, where I did my own makeup.
I looked, shall we say, pretty darned bad.
Pale. Sickly. Chinless. Drab. Corpselike. I made several more appearances with random success — sometimes I looked passable, frequently, I looked horrible. And after a few lackluster appearances I started begging the hair and makeup people at the big shows for pointers.
(My biggest learning experiences came from doing a regular TV gig every week. I could really see the difference show-to-show.) Week 3: no eyebrows, week 17: too much cleavage, (week 18: not enough cleavage), week 24: what in the world was I thinking when I put that on?
And, as I am absolutely certain my fellow debs will all have their much-deserved turn on the Today show, or (hallelujah!) Oprah, or at the very least, their local news station, I offer these tips for looking fabulous on television:
Wear solid colors and avoid white — patterns sometimes play havoc with the cameras, and white can be a problem. Plus, dark solids make you look skinnier.
Smile. It’s always a shock when you watch a tape of your very first TV appearance and see how much time you spend not smiling. Why do I look so miserable? , you’ll think, I should be happy. I’m on TV selling gazillions of books. Remind yourself to smile.
V-necks are most flattering. I’m not sure why, but it’s true.
Your features will just melt into a puddle when you’re on TV so you’ll need to wear a lot more makeup than usual. When you start to feel like a female impersonator, you’re ready.
Wear false eyelashes. even if you would never EVER wear false eyelashes in real life, wear them on TV. The nice people at the MAC store will show you how to put them on. I snorted when I first heard this tip, but all the biggies wear them: Katie Couric, Oprah, Diane Sawyer.
Wear a good powder. In TV world, shiny is bad. Richard Nixon bad.
Try not to look like a lunatic. Pre-TV, I tended to bob my head in agreement when someone was speaking, and use a lot of hand gestures. (I’m Italian, can’t help myself.) The result? The bobblehead is distracting, and gesturing too wildly (or rocking in your chair) can make you look nutty. That said, don’t just sit around like a stiff with your hands folded neatly in your lap. Animated is good, hyperactive is not.
Don’t be offended if the host hasn’t read your book. Five shows a week, a bunch of segments on every show, producers barely have time to eat lunch, let alone read six (or twenty) extra books. Just be thankful for the airtime.
Plan what you’re going to say ahead of time. Make notecards and practice in the mirror. You want to have a few soundbites ready that sum up your book and/or your main points. A four- or six- minute segment goes faster than you think.
Bring a copy of your book. Most shows will want to cut away to your book cover at the end of your segment. It’s always a good idea to have one with you. (Even if you sent one before.)
Most of all, be yourself, and have fun.
That’s it, kids. Are you ready for your closeup?