I’m willing to bet it’s the Number One thing a new author hears: “You should go on Oprah!”
There’s so much packed into that statement. It’s a compliment: “You really could get on Oprah! You’re book is just as good as MIDDLESEX!” It’s optimism: “Your book would stand out from the pack, I just know it!” It’s cheerleading: “I want you to be a success and I know that would do it for sure!” And yes, it’s naivete: “Just send your book in! Maybe she’ll love it! It can’t hurt!”
I wonder how many books Oprah gets? And by “Oprah” I mean “Harpo Studios” where I imagine a platoon of assistants combing through thousands of packages. I imagine a horde of publicists on the phone and over e-mail, pitching to Oprah’s staff. And even more books sent in by hopeful authors – literary novelists from trade publishing houses and Aunt Bertha with her self-published memoir about quilting – on the premise that “It can’t hurt.”
I don’t know exactly how Oprah chooses her books. If I knew that – along with the top-secret list of which stores report to The New York Times bestseller list — I’d hold the keys to the kingdom. I’m willing to bet it’s a mix of personal preference, recommendations from friends (the same way you and I choose books) and maybe some publicists make their way through the layers of approval to get books in front of Ms. Winfrey herself. And I’ll bet that tiny percentage of books making it through still leaves a sizable pile for her to read and consider.
Well, of course it would be great to be chosen. Great? Who am I kidding? It would be an amazing honor. I remember watching Ken Follett (PILLARS OF THE EARTH) greeted by Oprah’s studio audience with a deafening, passionate ovation usually reserved for Brad Pitt or Bono. I thought: wow, anyone who can do that for the written word is my kind of person.
I’m sure if the publicity team at HarperCollins had any way to get me on that stage, they would. But just like I can’t mail my book to Meryl Streep and expect there’s one single iota of likelihood she’ll star in the film version of REAL LIFE & LIARS (wouldn’t she make a great Mira, though?) chucking my book onto the mountain at Harpo wouldn’t accomplish much more than adding to the job security of the aforementioned platoon of assistants.
It really is sweet though, that these people who want me to have success beyond my wildest dreams. So I’ve developed a standard answer to the Oprah remark. I smile and say, “Stranger things have happened. In fact, stranger things have happened on Oprah!”
In the meantime, I’ll content myself with the warm reception I get from readers and booksellers, because even without a rock-star ovation, that’s an honor, too.
p.s. Speaking of warm receptions, the closing days of my summer book tour were excellent. Those of you on Facebook can see a short video of me reading from LIARS and answering questions (such as, how many rejections did I get on the book?) at Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Michigan. It can be found on my profile, and the profile of Saturn, too.