by Jack Heath
As a former TV news reporter and current radio talk show host, I have a whole new appreciation for how much work authors go through to get their books out to the masses. For years, I have been on the media side of things and the one holding the microphone asking an aspiring or famous author questions about his or her novel. Back then, I didn’t know, it would be me one day seeking the media’s attention, as a new author.
Life as a talk show host.
As a talk radio show host, I receive at least five emails a week from publicists, pitching their authors for an interview on my program. Fortunately for them, I’m one of the talk show hosts who more often than not will find a ten-minute window to have the writer on the air. We have quite a good book collection at the studios where I broadcast my daily show NH Today from years of publishers and publicists who routinely send us copies of new books to review, with the hope of gain our interest, to help get our attention for their clients.
I have been very fortunate in my media career in terms of meeting and getting to know some incredible people and authors. My experience has shown that the authors that work the hardest, maintain a healthy attitude, with expectations that “this could be the last show I might be interviewed on for a while” are the ones who have been successful. They are in the for the long-haul and are the authors that have been there for me, as a media professional, when I’ve needed them in the future.
An author is born.
As co-author of Salem VI- Rebecca’s Rising, the rolls are reversed and I’m hitting the pavement with my publicist trying to get those precious media hits. As I said earlier, since I have hosted my own radio show, I think I have a 95% batting average of trying to squeeze an author interview into my three-hour show, but I now know that is not typical of a many media outlets to be so generous. I think today’s authors need to be really creative and consistent in their pursuit of selling their book to anyone who will listen. A few months ago I had the son of JD Salinger on my show. This was shortly after the reclusive writer of Catcher in the Rye had passed away in Cornish, New Hampshire. My book was in the process of final edits and the publisher was planning and preparing for the release. I remember thinking, “gone are the days when an author can sit silently in the den alone and quietly, hoping that their book will find a world-wide audience.” I am not saying that some authors won’t get discovered if they have written a truly outstanding story and work. But I am saying they are few and far between and authors need to be committed to the task of marketing and promoting their work.
The importance of a news-hook.
Being a media guy, I have realized the importance for an author to have a news-hook for their story to even be considered by the press. I have covered dozens of strange and interesting homicides in my years as a New England news reporter. In fact, I dare say I have covered the region’s most famous murders over the past two decades and someday may write about a few, but I honestly do not know what the news hook would be. I mean, is it compelling to a talk show host to have a former TV reporter on as a guest to talk about his or her new book about a Maine murder case? I guess it is not boring, but where is the hook? How does such a story go viral and become a best seller? I have had ex-FBI agents on who have written entertaining counter-terrorism novels based in part on real events and part fiction. I guess they were interesting due to the on-going terror threat, but even there, some of these counter-terrorism books are getting to sound a lot alike.
How is Jack Heath approaching the “news-hook” challenge as an author?
My book is a modern-day twist about the Salem witch trials. Having grown up next to Salem, Massachusetts, and being a descendant of Rebecca Nurse, the 19th victim accused and hanged as a witch 320 years ago, I came up with a pretty strange twist giving the witch trials bring it into modern-day. Being related to the Putnam family too, Rebecca’s accusers, helped me write about conflicting bloodlines. My story may appeal to some media folks and I have scored lots of local, regional and national media interviews which have greatly helped book sales which helps generate more media interest which helps create more buzz and sales…you get the cycle.
After months of pitching the media, marketing the book and working a second full-time job to market the book, we had an incredible break and the news-hook for the book really took shape. A recent piece by Pat LaMarche of the Huffington Post, The Salem Witches Are Missing, made all the difference to the book’s hook and future media coverage. Ms. LaMarche heard an interview I did just after my book came out where I openly questioned the recorded history of the Salem witch trials and raised further protest over why the Salem witch victims mass grave and bodies have never been located after 320 years. She contacted me to get a quote and used my insight as an inspiration for her article, doing her own research and siting other sources.
My point is this, as a news guy, having found a news-hook that helps me talk more about my book and that helps my story appeal to more media folks, it is getting me more interviews, which is helping to give more exposure to the book.
I close by suggesting, not preaching, that today’s aspiring authors, should think of themselves as a news story and not be nervous about going out and telling the world about their book. I suggest they try writing their own news headline, as if they were reporting on their own story and then ask themselves, is this story interesting? The world knows about the success of famous authors like Stephen King, Dan Brown, J. K. Rowling or John Grisham. But that is like saying in the sports world, people know about Payton Manning , Derek Jeter, Tom Brady or Tiger Woods. For every one of them, there are countless athletes who may have had the talent but gave up on the dream a long time ago.
I am not sure why some people break through to the masses. In some rare cases it is indeed very rare talent. But as Steve Leach, a buddy of mine who played fourteen years in the NHL, once told me on the golf course, he made it not because he was that much better of a player, he said he made it because he wanted it more and just tried harder. Success is indeed elusive. Sylvester Stallone’s story is great because he wrote Rocky and no one in Hollywood would give him the time of day. How Stallone went from being rejected and discarded to standing on top of the Hollywood hill looking down is the true magic that is so elusive. We will all take a lucky break any day of the week. But even the super stars had a news hook or drove their story that much harder or had someone who never stopped wanting to tell the world to read their books. It is true, we can hear news in seconds on our hand-held devices, but that also means there is a lot of clutter and noise out there competing for the next viral hit. I hope it is yours and one day. Who knows, you may be a guest on my show.
Jack Heath is the host of NH Today, New Hampshire’s only live afternoon radio talk show, and co-host of Sport Legends of New England with Bob Lobel, which can be seen throughout New England. A direct descendant of Rebecca Nurse, the last person to be tried and hanged during the Salem witch trials, and Ann R. Putnam, one of her accusers, his first novel, “Salem VI: Rebecca’s Rising” is an altogether modern take on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.