Monday, December 9, 2019

Lesson's From Oprah Winfrey's Book Club

Song of Solomon, a novel by Toni Morrison (USA), used to sell about 50,000 copies a year before it became an Oprah Book Club Selection. The year after the book and author were featured on Oprah’s TV show, sales soared to an estimated 500,000 copies. Cameroonian Imbolo Mbue, then 18 years old, was one of the people Oprah inspired to read the book. Many years later, Imbue was interviewed by the talk show queen about her own novel, Behold the Dreamers. In the July 2017 issue of the O magazine (whose cover featured Oprah holding a copy of Imbue’s book), Oprah wrote:

There are few things I love more than discovering a favourite new writer. That’s the joy I felt when I came upon Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel. Exquisite.

Below are some lessons gleaned from Kathleen Rooney’s thoroughly enjoyable book, Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America:

  • Television is a great medium for the promotion of books and authors.
  • Both literally/classic literature and contemporary works by living authors may be explored.
  • Publishers are generally ‘on board’ with television promotion, as are most writers. However, some individual writers are ‘uncomfortable’ with TV, feeling that it somehow dilutes/cheapens their ‘literature’.
  • Surprisingly, TV audiences are receptive to ‘serious’ thought-provoking works, not merely ‘pop fiction’.
  • The chasm between high-brow and low-brow art is as wide as ever and must be navigated carefully by the TV book club organisers.
  • OBC has a proven track record of boosting sales.
  • The televised show is not the only contact audiences can have with the book/author. OBC held dinners for the selected authors and continued ‘discussing’ chosen titles online, via e-mail. The books were also featured in O magazine. An OBC sticker was also placed on the jackets of selected books which piqued the interest of the show’s papal fanbase when spotted in stores.
  • As with all Arts and Sports, the best initiatives/projects/performances are usually passion-driven. From the beginning, Oprah displayed genuine enthusiasm for books and authors. She raved about books she read and proudly displayed them on TV, holding them up herself. Concerning Ken Follet’s massive novel, The Pillars of the Earth, the TV talk queen raved, ‘I never knew the Middle Ages were so interesting!’
Source: ‘Changing the Literary Map of Africa’ (2019):

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