The Oprah Factor

What is the Oprah Factor?

It’s knowing that if Oprah endorses you, you will be successful. Certainly, that’s the expectation, isn’t it? The truth is a bit trickier—–because success comes at a price, and if you’re not prepared, you will go from overjoyed to being overwhelmed.

Let’s face it; everyone wants to be on Oprah. That’s a fact of life. But if you’re an entrepreneur, a speaker, or an author, your hunger for the Oprah Factor is almost a physical thing. You think, feel, eat, sleep, and dream Oprah. Certainly all the authors I talk to, whether they publish with us or not, say, “This book is good enough to be on Oprah.” I never disagree with them, because I believe in aiming high.

Seth Godin’s advice, written on his blog back in August of 2006, says to forget Oprah. He wrote the post for aspiring authors, and it’s nice to see that he advises authors to self-publish because after all, he’s done it very successfully, so he knows what it takes. In that post of advice, he says that self-publishing, via small presses, your own publishing company, or a POD firm, is “keeping control” of your book. It’s number seven on his list of 19, and begins like this, “Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a ‘real’ publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it’s promoted.”

But even before you get to that great advice, his #6 bit of advice—which is relevant to our Oprah discussion—is: “Resist with all your might the temptation to hire a publicist to get you on Oprah. First, you won’t get on Oprah (if you do, drop me a note and I’ll mention you as the exception). Second, it’s expensive.”

When I read that, I nodded in agreement. It is darned hard to get on Oprah! As a publicist I’ve worked with has said, “Oprah is a tough nut to crack!” But I also disagree with Seth. I think you should aspire to being on Oprah. If you work to get your book noticed by Oprah’s producers, who will put it into Oprah’s hands, you just may get noticed in lots of places elsewhere, and you might achieve the fame and fortune you desire, in a smaller than “being on Oprah” way. So let’s look at the Oprah Factor and how it’s helped some other folks, both authors and non-authors.

Mireille Guilano, author of the bestseller French Women Don’t Get Fat (Knopf, 2004), was on the Oprah show back in May 2005. I can’t tell you how many extra books sold because Oprah held her book up on her show. But I can tell you that I watched that show, and here’s what I remember Oprah saying when she held the book up, “You’ll sell a lot of books now, oh yeah, a lot…” (no, that’s not verbatim, I’m remembering it…but it’s stayed with me for three years, so I’m confident it’s pretty close to verbatim). I think I remember it because Oprah was kind of bragging. Rightly so, some might say.

If there is any doubt that Oprah can sell books, this article from February this year, about Oprah’s most recent book club offering, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, will put that to rest: “About 3.5 million copies of Eckhart Tolle’s spiritual self-help guide have been shipped since Winfrey announced her selection four weeks ago. The book has topped the bestseller list on virtually from the moment Winfrey’s choice was revealed and is the fastest-selling pick ever at Barnes & Noble, Inc., according to a statement issued Thursday by Winfrey.” It doesn’t get better than that! The article doesn’t mention that the book was already a bestseller, which it was, but that’s not the point. The point is, Oprah Winfrey sells books and other ‘stuff’ just by mentioning it, or including it in her “Favorite Things” shows, which she does in November.

For instance, looking at a company that says they owe their success to being on her show, We Take The Cake, a bakery that does mail-order pastry, was featured on an Oprah show in 2005, and they have a complete page of media results, listing all the media attention Oprah generated for them. The CNN article includes mentions of other businesses that were favored by the talk show queen, companies that went on to major success. In that article, We Take The Cake says, “Oprah saved our business . . . Our sales for 2004 were around $450,000, and at the end of 2005 our sales were $840,000.” Sweet!

That puts things into perspective a bit, I hope. The article also mentions the pitfalls of being on Oprah—the way an appearance or mention can create havoc, even while it’s bringing fame and fortune. You have to be prepared, so next week we’ll discuss how to be prepared to handle the results of being on Oprah.

To close today, here are five tips, summarized, from Susan Harrow, author of The Ultimate Guide to Getting Booked on Oprah: (all 10 tips can be found at the link below)

1. Watch the show. (For freelancers, this is the same advice your mentors give you about submitting material to publications: read the publication more than once.)

2. Visit Oprah’s website. Become a member. Get tuned in to what Oprah’s doing now.

3. Learn how to push Oprah’s hot buttons. Don’t know what they are? Refer to #s 1&2.

4. Be hot. Your pitch has to grab Oprah’s producers – by the eyebrows! If you can make their eyebrows go up (in a good way, in a ‘We need to do this story!’ way), you increase your chances.

5. Don’t pitch your book. Pitch an idea that Oprah can embrace. Include video and your book. Be newsworthy and visually appealing. After all, Oprah’s show is TV, not radio.

So, there you have it. The Oprah Factor, also known as the ‘O’ Factor. Seth Godin says it’s unattainable. I say, Go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Just don’t obsess over it. While you’re working on being one of Oprah’s chosen ones, you may garner the right attention locally, or even nationally, and not need Oprah after all.Stay tuned for what to do when you actually get on Oprah. It’s what I call the “OMG! Factor” because there is a WHOLE LOT to do when Oprah calls.

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