Of Mini-Celebrity and Micro-Fame

Nov 15, 2011 by Jonathan Rich, PhD

Upon publishing their first book, mental health care professionals might find fame and fortune to be elusive. However, properly marketing and promoting one’s work can yield significant, tangible results.

After I published my first book, I encountered three big surprises:

 

Surprise No. 1

Royalties didn’t make me rich.

I really thought there was a possibility that my book sales would set me up nicely. I figured that with a little luck, my royalties might run into six or seven figures. I might be able to retire a few years earlier and have a substantial income that would last me for the rest of my life.

Then reality hit.

People who sell millions of books tend to be already wealthy and famous, involved in sleazy scandals, or incredibly lucky. When I calculated my hourly wage for writing and marketing my book, it turned out to be alarmingly close to what I would have made flipping burgers at McDonald’s. My last royalty check would finance a night out with the family—again, at McDonald’s.

 

Surprise No. 2

I didn’t become famous.

My Walter Mitty fantasy of wealth was accompanied by dreams of fame. Of course, I knew that it was unrealistic to expect self-help author fans to gather en mass and to scream and cry like Beatles or Elvis fans. That was never part of my fantasy—not even for a brief moment.  However, I did think that I might occasionally be recognized on the street and would have my mailbox and email stuffed with appreciative letters. A small fan club would have been nice.

It never happened.

 

Surprise No. 3

I got lots of TV, radio, and magazine interviews.

A particularly attractive aspect of my wealth and fame fantasy was that I imagined that very little additional effort would be required on my part. Writing and publishing a book was quite enough work, thank you, and I assumed the fans and book buyers would come flocking. I envisioned adopting the facade of a modest author struggling to maintain his privacy and anonymity.

There may have been a time when authors could write under an assumed name, churning out bestsellers while they secluded themselves in remote mountain cabins. If there was such a time, it no longer exists. Book marketing is an integral part of being a successful book author.

The exciting part of this is that the media is very interested in talking to book authors. After you publish a book, you become one of a very small group of people considered to be an expert in your chosen subject area. In the first few months after publication, you have the additional advantage shared by every new product: a perception that you might offer solutions that are revolutionary breakthroughs. The media has a lot of airtime, pages, and Internet space to fill. When writers or reporters are working on articles that correspond to the subject of your new book, they are not only willing to interview you—they value and will actively seek your sound bite or quotation.

A BRUSH WITH MICRO-FAME

Your first book is unlikely to make you rich or famous, but it can bring you micro-fame. Becoming as well known as Jennifer Aniston or Dr. Phil involves many uncontrollable factors: opportunities, knowing the right people, and having an unquantifiable quality that makes millions of people enjoy watching you week after week. Micro-fame, on the other hand, involves more persistence than luck, and is available to almost anyone.

The micro-famous are part of the daily media barrage—they’re the hundreds of experts who are interviewed on radio and television and quoted in magazines and newspapers. The inventor of the pet rock, last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, many professional athletes, and the actors who have played supporting roles on a few sitcom episodes are among the micro-famous. So are many book authors.

The micro-famous have often influenced millions of lives—maybe only for a few seconds—but they reside as vague memories in the minds of many. A tiny percentage of the public would recognize their names, but many more would have a flash of recognition if reminded of what they have done.

Have you ever heard of Larry Thomas? Of course you haven’t. But if you are a Seinfeld fan, you no doubt remember the “Soup Nazi.” Joining Larry and other members of this elite group of micro-celebrities is something well within your reach.

CULITVATING MICRO-FAME

There are a few simple steps to joining the ranks of the micro-famous. First, write a book and publish with a conventional publisher, one that does not charge you for publication. (Please see my articles, Getting Published—Eight Steps to Success and Resisting the Lure of Self-Publishing.) After completing the hard and solitary work of writing, you will enter the next phase: marketing. Your publisher will help you to get some interviews, but most of the publicity is left up to you. Here are some pointers :

Start a website - Choose a website address that includes relevant keywords—words that potential readers would be likely to use when searching for your book or topic on Google or another search engine. Choose something easy to remember and easy to say in a radio interview—a dot-com, no hyphens, nothing that needs to be spelled out or clarified. “BipolarSurvival.com” works; “Help-4-BipolarPeeple.net” does not. Remember that few people will be looking for your name, but many of your potential readers will be looking for your book topic.

On your website, publish lots of information on the subject of your book. By creating a valuable online resource, you will give people a reason to come to, linger on, and re-visit your site, and it will give other sites a reason to link to you. Provide interactive and ongoing features that give people a reason to return to your site, such as a test with free and automatic feedback, an online forum, an emailed newsletter, or a blog. Of course, you’ll want to provide a link to allow site visitors to purchase your book.

As much as you can, create the site yourself. If you hire an expensive web designer, you will be reluctant to update your site, and it soon will become stagnant.

Pander to the media - Be on the lookout for newspaper and magazine writers who regularly write on your book’s topic. Keep your eyes and ears open for radio and TV shows that might be a good fit. Then, contact them by phone or email and “pitch” your idea for a show or article.  Keep in mind that they are willing to promote your book in exchange for your interview, but their primary goal is to increase their own popularity and to provide their audience with appealing content. So sell your expertise, not your book.

Sometimes your topic will tie in with current news. Seize this opportunity by writing a press release and contacting news outlets. When you do get media inquires, handle them properly. Do everything you can to make their job easy, including giving a prompt interview, emailing an outline of important points, and providing as much valuable and accurate information as you can.

Publicize your publicity - Publicity builds on itself. Highlight your interviews and media appearances on your website. This will convince potential readers that you are someone worth listening to, and show the media that you can that you can give a compelling interview.

LIFESTYLES OF THE MICRO-FAMOUS

Micro-fame is fun. It’s fun to mention that you got an email from your publicist. It’s fun to talk on the radio or appear on TV. (It is enough of a “high” to have prompted me to get up at 3:00 a.m. to drive to a Los Angeles TV studio to do a 90-second interview.) It’s fun to flip through a tabloid in the checkout line at the supermarket and casually point out to your wife that you are quoted a few paragraphs away from where Tom Cruise is quoted. It is not fun when your wife mentions that she wishes you looked like him (not that I am speaking from experience, of course). Mini-celebrity gives you a small taste of life in the fast lane.

More important, there are practical benefits. Choosing a psychotherapist, a consultant, expert witness, or similar professional can be a confusing and difficult process for many people. Your book and the accompanying media exposure will transform the public’s perception of you. This is an amazing phenomenon. It’s not even necessary that you demonstrate brilliant ideas in your interviews. The mere fact that you are deemed interview-worthy raises the value of your professional stock.

You will be seen as having reliable expertise. Instead of being perceived as just another consultant or therapist, you will be seen as trusted and credible, and someone who really knows something on a particular topic. As a result, your phone will start ringing. Not only will people contact you as an expert on your book’s subject, but you also will be seen as someone who can be trusted in other areas, as well. When you quote your full rate—you know, the one that you bill on insurance forms, but which sometimes seems more like a theoretical ideal—potential clients will be much less likely to say, “You’re kidding!”

But the biggest thrill of micro-fame, compelling you to do the next interview, and the one after that, is that you could be just one interview away from joining the ranks of Dr. Phil and Oprah.

Mega-fame could be right around the corner.

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