To Pay or Not to Pay for Television Interviews – What’s the Answer?

Guest Post by Irene Watson

I received this from Jill Ammon Vanderwood, children’s books author, through Facebook:

I want to share some information that will help your readers. Please post in your weekly editorial.

As authors you may encounter many marketing experts who want to line their own pockets. I have had phone calls on my voice mail in the past from producers wanting to do television spots for my books. When I call them back, they are only marketing for internet TV and they want to charge fees for the segments they produce.

This week we were very excited to receive an email from the Lifetime Television Network. The producer found out about our book, Drugs Make You Un-Smarter through The Indie Excellence Awards. He said he’s the producer of a morning show called the Balancing Act, and wants to have us on the show for an author segment. He asked for my phone # so he could talk to me.

He called the next day and asked me questions about the book and why we wrote it. He had me go to the website for The Balancing Act and look at the show hosts and the testimonials of past guests. He told me how they do their segments with only 5 minutes of airtime. Then he told me I would have the rights to use the Lifetime Logo, the Balancing Act Logo and even the Interview on my website and anywhere around the web.

I thought, Wait a minute, no one gives you that kind of rights! Then the other shoe dropped. He said it would cost me $5900 to buy the licensing rights.

The first thing out of my mouth was. “You’re not paying our airfare and hotel, are you?”

“No, you will need to be in Florida for at least two nights. We usually film on Monday mornings and we film it over, as many times as necessary to get it right. This is not a commercial.”

I’m not going to tell you the name of this guy, but his last name was very similar to Swindle!

He then said, “I’ll be honest with you, you probably won’t sell enough books through this appearance to earn back the amount you spend. Since you have already been on TV, maybe you don’t need this exposure.”

What? He decided to be honest with me?

I told him I would need to back out!

Later in an email I said, “Most authors are hoping to be the next big thing, but I don’t think this is the way to do it.”

I’ve been approached by this company on many occasions because of the press releases we send out for authors.  I have personally talked to them to find out more information as to what they actually do.  Basically, it’s a form of advertising even though the producer that talked to Jill said it wasn’t.

After Jill wrote the above to me I decided to check their website to see how many authors they have actually contracted.  To date 147 author interviews have been posted. I scanned the list and found one author, Edna Thayer, that I know and immediately sent her an email asking her if she sold enough books to cover the expenses and how many she actually sold.  This was her response:

I did not sell enough books to pay for my experience.  However it was a marvelous experience that I am very happy I had.  Many people did see the show and it was much fun to do.  I would do it all over again.

As a business proposition, it is not worth it, but it was all income tax deductible.  I used frequent flyer miles to get there.

And it’s hard to put a value on the joy of doing the show.

For direct sales, I probably only had about 8 or 9.  But I did get newspaper articles, speaking engagements, and radio shows as a result of it.  My sales at Amazon and through Partners increased also following this.  I sell most of my books at speaking engagements.  I do between 25 and 50 a year.

Edna also wanted me to add:

I want people to know that the people at The Balancing Act were great and I loved the experience even though I didn’t get many direct sales as a result of it.  It’s impossible to know how many indirect sales I received as a result of this interview.  And Florida is a great place to visit when you’re from MN.

So…what does one do?  We are hammered by “experts” that we should never pay for a media interview, or in fact any type of interview.   We are told that the media should flock to us.  We also get an attitude that publicity should be free for us as authors; after all we have just published a best seller. Maybe so…if we are narcissistic.  (Or don’t have a marketing budget and don’t want to admit it.)   But, let’s think about this realistically.  As in Edna’s case, she could be considered an “unknown” author to the masses. She chose to allot  some of her marketing budget to this venture to help her get known. Is that wrong?  I don’t think so.  For her, spending the $5900 plus was worthwhile while someone else would cringe at this type of advertising but be willing to pay the same amount for an ad in a newspaper or magazine.  Or is it any different than paying $15,000 to a publicist only to sell 6 books and not get any interviews or speaking gigs? (Yes, a livid author told me that!) What one thinks is a good marketing strategy another may pooh pooh it.  In Jill’s case, doing the 5 minute paid-for gig is not the way she wants to spend her marketing budget. Edna and Jill are both right; they are choosing how to spend their marketing budget in the way they think works best for them.

What is your opinion on this?  Do you have any experiences you’d like to share? 

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Posted on August 28, 2011, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I had to talk one of our authors off the ledge, she was going to spend $5,900 to appear on the Balancing Act. I personally canvassed more than 20 of the guests, of which three replied to my message. All of them agreed it was a good experience but sold no books. I found numerous technical errors on Lifetime's web page which featured the archives of these interviews, errors that prevented readers from contacting the authors because the links weren't even right. File this one under "well-meaning but ineffective". I don't mind having my name on this post because I know they will never invite one of my authors for less than $5,900 and I will never pay that much, household name or no.

  2. Hello Irene:I have received at least 10 calls from this network and others based in Florida and all asking for 5000 dollars or more. And if you cannot afford they are willing to lower the price to $4000.00 dollars.There are several ways you can look at this marketing venue. I know I have ordered several E-blasts and market on several radio shows and market on several web sites and vitural book tours which the total cost amounted to 3,000 dollars for each book. And the yield was low. There were no additional interviews or radio spots. The advantage: I did this from home compared to traveling and paying hotel fees. And then you will also have to buy food. I am happy for Edna to choose the TV spot,and for getting the interviews and radio spots, however, I did not have the $4000 dollars to spend at one time. We , as authors have to be carefull to pick and choose each offer that comes our way. Maybe Irene you can offer us a similar but less expensive project. I know you have the internet radio and the trailerviews. Thanks Reneefor another great story.Once again, Irene for a great story.I

  3. Balancing Act contacted me and after a long conversation where Greg F. determined that I qualified for the show, he then dropped the shoe about how much it would cost me to be interviewed ($5900 + I paid for my own expenses). I told him that I couldn't afford it at the time and that if things should turn around, I had his phone number and would get back to him. I then checked on the books of some of the authors they interviewed, both those that seemed to fit the show's format and those that didn't, and determined that none of these authors seemed to reap the benefits that a $6K investment should garner. And since my book are about Richard III in the 21st-century, I reckoned that I'm not a fit for this show.

  4. Thanks, Irene, for bringing up subjects that are important to independently published authors. There may be no such thing as bad publicity, but there is certainly such a thing as too expensive publicity. When my first trade novel was published, I was offered several publicity packages which I accepted, not having sufficient experience in their effectiveness to make good judgements. The book packaging company had very heavy self-congratulatory statements about their marketing on their website. The facts were much less impressive. I estimated well over $7,000 for press releases, cold calls to TV and radio stations, presentations to author's agents, reprint publishers and Hollywood, etc, etc. The final results? Not a single exposure. Thankfully I had the ambition to promote myself, and got more effective publicity from smaller on-line companies such as Reader Views, Pump Up Your Book, etc, for a few hundred dollars. I also entered the book in literary award contests that I considered appropriate, and ended up winning the Silver Medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards and Honorable Mention in the 2008 New England Book Festival. Ultimately the author must accept a large part of the publicity and advertising responsibility. Focus the marketing with laser-sharp aim, and the result will be more money for a continued campaign even if book sales are not stellar. The other important part of the equation is to keep producing excellent books so when one does capture a wide audience, the earlier books will find their way up on the sales chart.

  5. A Balancing Act representative contacted me about my book <I>Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting</I>. The beginning of the conversation was exciting. We authors love our books, and for a few minutes it seemed this producer was excited aboutz <I>Every Natural Fact</I>. As soon as I understood the cost involved, it was clear that the numbers just didn't add up for me. I did a double check on a few of the books featured at the Balancing Act: were they top sellers? It didn't seem that the Balancing Act was a springboard to mega success for the authors. Once I had made a decision, the Balancing Act producer remained kind and was not high-pressure. They are honest about what they are doing. This show might be a part of an intellingent promotional plan. It just wasn't for me. I'm still waiting from a call from a television producer who cares about my thesis that time in natural settings is essential to understanding who we are and what we love. I'm also ready to receive a call about the value and fun of reading literary nonfiction. I've won many literary awards. <I> Every Natural Fact </I>won the top outdoor writing award in my state, and my hometown newspaper offered only a one-line statement on their blog. I don't bake cupcakes, forget to wear underwear, or have volitile fights with my friends. Does society have any interest in building richer lives and relationships by forging a relationship with a stunningly elegant planet? In my dreams baby. In my dreams.

  6. I was also contacted by "The Balancing Act." I was told the large amount of money they wanted was a "scheduling fee" to ensure guests would show up since they couldn't afford to have "No shows." I told them I would think about it, but when I then emailed and asked whether I could have the names of other authors who appeared on the show, I never got a response so I decided against it.When I heard "TV" like most authors, I thought I'd finally made it to the big time and stars appeared in my eyes, but once I heard what it would cost me to be on the program, reality set in. The money they wanted was enough for me to print my next book, and if the show didn't result in book sales and a sure way of that money returning to me, I wouldn't be able to print the next book. The show is also on at 7am here – women might watch it while getting ready for work or sending the children off to school, but I wasn't convinced the viewing audience was large enough, or that enough viewers would be interested in my books to make it worth my while. Furthermore, I write novels while the show seems geared toward "self-help" tips for women, home decorating, relationships etc. – not exactly my topic.I don't regret not being on the show at all. I think I made a wise decision.

  7. Yes, I forgot to mention, what clinched it for me was checking the Amazon rankings of the people who did appear on the show… they were uniformly not good.Everyone MUST have a video clip of themselves for promotion. However, you don't have to spend $5,900 for it. Either exploit your local "Community Access" Cable TV channel or find a community college student who needs to make a professional video for their video production class.

  8. I have been on TV 3 times locally—it was OK, never wrecking but OK. I did not pay for these appearances, NBC 9 did not have the proper equipment for a cookbook segment—and I GOT SOME BLAME cause of NBC news is not as grand as they like to think while CBS 4 was great. Now with this said, would I pay $5900 NO—obviously Edna had the money to spend and enjoyed the sudden but not long lasting celebrity status. $3000 for The Today Show 30 seconds—maybe but I would gain more access to more people in 30 seconds then 5900 for 5 minutes.

  9. Thanks for this article, Irene. I, too, have been approached by Lifetime’s The Balancing Act, twice, after book awards have been posted. Initially, I was thrilled with the idea of appearing on TV. When I was told there was a $5,000 “scheduling fee” that was not negotiable, as well as being responsible for my own travel and hotel expenses, my enthusiasm cooled. I had a choice to make: did I want to spend $5,000 on a 7am morning show for 5 minutes of airtime, or did I want to use that same amount of money to buy a booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April, attend Book Expo America and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards ceremony at the Plaza Hotel in NYC in May, the American Librarians Association convention in New Orleans in June, and produce fliers, bookmarks, and other promotional materials? I am happy to report that I chose NOT to appear on The Balancing Act. The second choice was very fulfilling for me. I got to talk to people face-to-face about my book Creating A Healthy Life and Marriage; A Holistic Approach: Body, Mind, Emotions and Spirit and hear their reactions. I loved visiting New York City and New Orleans and learning about the book trade, and I made a lot of important connections. As a result of these venues, my book has made it into 12 libraries across the continental United States and Hawaii – which is no small feat for a small publisher. There have also been some direct sales. So, back to your question “To Pay or Not to Pay for a Television interview?” it depends on the priorities of the individual author and the size of the marketing budget.

  10. Thanks for this discussion, Irene. After I won awards and got some good reviews for my first novel, I also got a number of offers from publicists for their services. I was skeptical, though, that the number of sales would ever justify the amounts of money the publicists wanted me to spend for what they proposed to do. Your post and the comments tell me I was right. On the other hand, I agree that for some authors, but not me, the aptly named Balancing Act might be the way to go.

  11. Herbert L. Smith

    Just after I self-published my first book, Cairo The Mother Of The world, I found a program on our local PBS station (OPB) called Back Page. It was hosted by Jody Seay and featured different authors talking about their books. I sent her an email, hoping for an opportunity to have an interview, and she responded immediately. She told me that she had a cancellation for her next group of authors, in less than a week, and wanted an overnight of my book to determine whether she would interview me. She phone me and said yes, so a couple of days later I went to the OSU campus in Corvallis – 40 miles away – and had the fun of meeting and talking to Jody. It was a cost free opportunity,and took about a half hour. I was able to answer her questions and expound a bit. It was a fantastic opportunity although I'm not sure it sold any books, but I had the fun of finding myself on the show every few weeks for awhile.The show is still available on the internet at Back Page 142 (Google) if you want to take a look. (If you can't get it that way, you could add my name, Herbert L Smith as well as the title of the book.)Lots of people I know have seen it, and it may even be available in other places across the country.Unfortunately, the show has been canceled – just two months ago – by OPB, and that will be a loss for authors in this region.

  12. I was also contacted by the Lifetime TV opportunity. It was pretty flattering until after spending at least 20 minutes talking about my books, especially Santa's Birthday Gift which had just won a National Indie Excellence Finalist Award, I was informed that it would cost me over $5K. Never once in the earlier part of the conversation was there any hint that there was any cost involved. My advice if anyone is contacted? Ask up front, "How much will this cost?"

  13. Herbert, I would've enjoyed doing what you did even as I would've realized it might not sell many books. And, except for your travel and time, it was free.The explosive advance of the independent publishing universe, together with the remarkable commercial success of a few independent authors, might lead some writers to believe they could be next. And $5,000 or more (one apparently respectable publicist wanted $17,000 from me) might seem all it will take to reach that lofty goal.Authors who have a nice net worth and money to burn, and a book they truly believe deserves wide recognition, should go for it. Who can blame them if they don't succeed? Many, if not most, venture capitalists lose their investments. Life in our world involves a lot more gambling and luck than we humans are sometimes willing to acknowledge.On the other hand, I can't help but think of the independent authors who might be tempted to spend their life savings or go into serious debt on these high-end publicity offers. I'd plead with them not to do it. I believe they'd be much better off saving a few bucks each month to spend on review services, awards competitions, and low-cost and individually targeted advertising on GoodReads, First Chapter Plus, Facebook, Amazon, etc. And the most important thing they'll need, close behind their talent and infatuation with hard work, is patience.

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