The Writers Strike and Author Interviews

Publishers Weekly reports that the writers strike is causing author appearances to be canceled. And I have to ask whether this is really that terrible of a development. Getting an author on Colbert may raise visibility, but it’s really just an excuse for Colbert to employ his schtick. Meaningful conversation about the books almost never happens on television. And certainly Colbert hasn’t read the books in question. I’m also wondering if there’s as significant a sales boost with a Colbert appearance as there is for an outlet devoted to books.


  1. The fact is that an appearance on Stewart or Colbert usually results in a boost in sales that only Oprah can top. An example from ’04: Tom Frank appeared on Bill Moyers’ PBS show and some NPR shows to promote “What’s The Matter With Kansas.” That got the book to #13 or so on the NYTBR list. Then he did The Daily Show. The next week the book was at #5 or thereabouts and stayed on the NYT list three months. (Of course, extensive word-of-mouth would have helped too.) It’d be worthwhile to draw up a chart showing how many recent books by writers who went on Stewart/Colbert made the top 10, and how many that were promoted everywhere else only went into the 10-15 area. My guess is that if Bookscan shows a significant dip in the sales of bestsellers in the next few months, leading figures in the industry may be pleading with their colleagues or bosses on the other coast to settle pronto.

  2. If people wanted meaningful conversations about books on TV they would watch Book TV. The good thing about these appearances is precisely that they will attract people who otherwise wouldn’t even have known the book existed in the first place. I don’t believe commercial TV is a good forum for in-depth discussion of books. The closer you’ll ever get to that is a pundit pitching his newest title on a political show or a news story on the release of a book on some current event that’s interesting by itself.

  3. I do think it’s important to make a distinction between the type of conversation that happens on The Daily Show and what happens on the Colbert Report. While neither reaches the level of discourse that Michael Silverblatt, Terry Gross, or Bat Segundo does (due to things like time limits and audience), I am generally pretty impressed with Jon Stewart’s ability to speak in an intelligent and insightful way about books. I’ve been to a couple of events with the booker, who swears up and down that Stewart reads every book himself, and having watched his interviews many times, I absolutely believe it.

    There’s a place for a Colbert Report appearance, as well. If the author is able to roll with the jokes and assert him or herself in between Colbert’s jokes, then it’s a great platform for promoting poppier books.

    As I said above, obviously the level of discourse is different than a longer-form show, but there is something of value that can be gleaned, and that is certainly of higher value to authors than most other television appearances.

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