August 23, 2013 | Posted in:Social TV

Book Shelf

Courtesy of The Indy Reading Coalition

This week, I’ve come full circle and we are back to the books.

The Today show announced earlier this week that they are bringing back their book club, where every four to five weeks a book will be chosen and then read by viewers. The book author is later invited on the morning show to discuss the story with a select group. The biggest difference this time is that the Today show is adding a social media component by including Google Hangouts, discussion groups, and excerpts featured online.

When I heard this, I thought this is the perfect way to get my former CBS colleague and book producer Carol Story out of her retirement deck chair in North Carolina. During our days at CBS, Carol sat across from me in an office for almost ten years and I can testify that she LOVES books, which made her perfect for her job.

What goes into producing a book segment for TV and how does Carol feel about the book club returning to morning television?

I tracked her down yesterday and she answered a few questions.

Photo Courtesy Jude Milner

When you first heard the Today show was having another try at a book club what did you think?

I was happy to hear of the TODAY SHOW book club. I believe anything that helps promote literacy and love of reading is a good thing. For readers, it’s another forum to read and discuss books they love.
I was curious about Today reviving the book club idea and why they did it. Unless you’re Oprah, book clubs haven’t necessarily been ratings winners. From behind-the-scenes, why are they doing this? It may be that Today thinks that a book club gives them something that the other morning shows don’t offer their viewers. Also, a book club gives them a little clout and edge when dealing with the publishers. In booking authors on shows, there is inevitably a little horse trading going on. (I’ll book your unknown author now if you agree to give me your big name one next fall.)  Authors and publishers will want to be the coveted book club selection.
What are you hoping to see in this new book club installation?
I’d like to see a book that is unexpected—one that I haven’t read about and don’t know about. That, of course, is totally unrealistic. The first choice, The Bone Season, has received a lot of attention already. This just helps.
Carol, as the CBS The Early Show designated book producer for a period of time, what was your title and responsibilities?
I was the book editor for The Early Show and before that for This Morning. Before that, I scheduled most of the authors for a local show, The Morning Exchange, in Cleveland, Ohio.
At CBS my responsibilities were to meet with publishers, listen to their pitches about books for the next season (or year), evaluate the titles and then present those to my executive producer. I considered myself an advocate for books. It was important not to give a publisher false hope if I didn’t think an author or title was right for our broadcast. Occasionally, there would be a big book that was highly competitive. When that happened, you usually worked with your senior producers to come up with a written proposal that would win you the booking. For example, after the Gulf War everyone wanted General Norman Schwarzkopf. We submitted a proposal for a three-day series with the general with distinctly different programming. We got the booking.
What did you look for in the books to be featured on the show?
The books had to be interesting and topical. What’s the latest? What’s new? Is there already buzz about the book? Can the author talk? You can have a fabulous book, but if the author can’t talk you can forget about it. Several bookings of fairly big names were canceled because the author failed the pre-interview.
As show book producer, how many books did you actually read from cover to cover for work?
In reviewing books to be pitched, I tried to read a few pages of the book as well as the press materials. If those didn’t grab me, I wouldn’t pitch the book.
If I was producer of a book segment, I read the entire book cover to cover. I can’t say it was always thrilling reading, but I read them. It always pleased the authors and publicists to know that someone read the book.
Some authors quizzed you a little to see if you did read it. Jimmy Carter was one of those authors. He hated it when people said they loved/read the book and had not. Consequently, in the green room before the show, he would ask a question or two to check up on you.
How important and realistic is it to expect talent to read a book featured?
Talent have five or six segments a day. There’s a lot of prep work involved and asking them to read a book isn’t very realistic. I sometimes tap danced, cajoled, and encouraged reading if the book was absolutely fabulous and I thought the anchor would just love it.
The producer has to thoroughly prepare notes on the book with key excerpts, summaries, etc. so the anchor can understand the book in order to do a good interview. Yes, they can just read the question card, but in a perfect world, you’d like the anchor to bring a little to the party.
How was producing a book segment different from producing any other segment on the show?
In some ways, it’s easier. The research/material is right in front of your nose. Read it, figure out a point of view for the interview/segment, and get busy.
If the book is fiction (a rarer booking), you have to figure out a way to help the story along visually. With Patricia Cornwell’s The Bone Farm, we actually videotaped at the Bone Farm in Tennessee and produced a setup piece using the audio book. Then we interviewed Cornwell.
Non-fiction is easier. Many of those are self-help and it’s pretty easy to design a segment.
Most of our segments were four minutes or less. In all cases, the interviews have to be structured so you convey three or four points. This was always a weakness for me. I always wanted ten minutes.
How did Oprah’s Book Club on The Oprah Winfrey Show change the landscape of publishing and books?
The Oprah effect was fantastic. She made reading the thing to do. Undoubtedly, there’s someone getting a PhD on the impact of her book club. She sold thousands of books and publishers loved her.
If I had any criticism of her book club it would be book selection. Over time, the books had a sameness about them. But, hey, you don’t like it? Start your own damn club!
How do you read your books these days—on a mobile device or the traditional way with a book in your hand?
I read book in hand, on Kindle, and on my iPad. I’m currently reading an advance copy of Help for the Haunted by John Searles. John did book reviews for CBS and now for Today. I’m loving this book; it’s tragic and mysterious and a little scary. It is a William Morrow book and it goes on sale September 17th.  See how easy it is to do a little book promoting?
The Today show’s first book is a debut novel The Bone Season from 21-year-old Samantha Shannon. It’s published by Bloomsbury and the first in a planned seven-part series set in a dystopian futuristic London. What advice do you give to any author prepping for an interview?
This interview is a partnership. You are getting a tremendous amount of publicity for yourself and your work. The show is getting programming. You need to give them good programming.
Don’t be a jerk and pretend you don’t have to prepare. Learn to speak in short sentences. Be enthusiastic, but not manic. Identify three key points you’d like to make and make them.
Please, please, be generous with information. Answer all questions honestly with real information. Do not say, “I cover that in my book.”  Your goal is to make the audience like you enough to want to buy your book. If they just think all you want to do is sell your book, they will distrust you. Make the audience your friend. We like to buy our friends’ books.

Thanks, neighbor!

Photo Courtesy Debbie Mitchell


TV/Social Media Producer Debbie Mitchell is an Emmy nominated producer who is a member of the Producers Guild of America (PGA).  She is currently a member of the James Beard Broadcast and New Media Awards Committee.  If you  are a brand interested in Social TV, “Book Case TV”, blogger outreach campaigns, or a blogger or personality interested in television placement follow Debbie Mitchell @SocialTVDeb and/or email
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