If you write topical, trending, pop culture books, there’s one benefit (or liability) I forgot to mention: TV shows.
If you’ve written a fresh, innovative book or two (and marketed them with a supporting blog or quirky author platform), and the topic is trending (or a cyclical interest), you may hear from TV producers.
Of course, maybe that was your goal all along. If so: yaaayyy!
Or, maybe working with TV shows could be a side hustle (a part-time income source). It may also boost your book sales. Again: yaaayyyy for more income!
Or – at the other extreme – you may mutter “Oh dear heaven” every time another TV producer contacts you, especially if you’ve had a bad experience in the past.
“Producer” Can Mean Many Things
The first thing to know is: a “producer” may have an actual job with an actual production company.
Or, he/she may be someone who’s worked in the entertainment industry and is putting together a show idea to pitch to a network.
Even when they say “I’m working with [major network],” they may actually mean, “A network seems open to ideas – or I’ve had good conversations with them in the past.”
I’m okay with that. As the cliche goes: That’s entertainment.
Why Producers Contact You
Producers will contact you for one of two reasons.
1) They’re casting a show and they’re looking for “talent” (people who will be on-screen, talking and doing things), or they’re looking for guests to appear on the show, or they want your input (ideas or research).
- “Talent” usually gets paid. If you’re going that route, be sure to get a good entertainment manager and a related contract attorney. Do not be like the ensemble of newbies who agreed to share $500/week… without realizing that a typical reality/unscripted TV show requires ~3 days (not including travel time) to film, per episode.
- “Guest experts” often appear on-screen for a few minutes per episode, or in lots of little segments throughout one episode. Some get paid. Most don’t. (Be sure to negotiate for your name and book title on-screen, when your segment/s are in the show.)
- Off-screen… you may simply “talk shop.” That’s fun and I’m rarely paid for a few hours (spaced over several days, weeks, or months) of chatting about a topic I’ve written about.
- Or, a show may hire you as a consultant/researcher. That can mean anything from scouting filming locations, to locating fellow experts to appear as guests, to providing additional research info as content for a particular episode.
If you do this, learn from my mistakes: Get 50% payment, up-front. According to friends who work as consultants/researchers, regularly, that’s normal.
And, even if you have a contract, make sure you have an entertainment/contract attorney ready to enforce it.
I’ll sheepishly admit that I spent three weeks scouting historical locations for a paranormal show… and was never paid. They said the producer wasn’t actually authorized to sign contracts. Ouch. Lesson learned!
2) They’re working on some ideas and need expert input for background info, to fact-check a few key points, or because they hope you’ll present them with a fully marketable show concept they can use, as-is.
I don’t mind calls like that, when I’m not busy. I know I’m unlikely to be paid for it, so – for me, anyway – it’s just a chat with someone who’s fun and enthusiastic about a topic.
Because I value my privacy, I do not tell him/her my real name. Ever. (Not unless a contract and payment are involved, and – even then – the production company’s contract writer and accountants are the only ones who need to know my real name.)
Do You Wanna Be in Pictures…? Really?
If you sign up to be a regular member of the show’s team/cast – meaning: in front of the camera – consider what you’re giving up.
First of all, your privacy can vanish. I know people who’ve appeared in shows that trended briefly, and then were cancelled. One is a close friend. He can’t even go to the grocery store without being recognized and asked for an autograph.
Yes, people sometimes recognize me, too, from my public appearances. Most are respectful enough to ask, “Are you [pen name]?” (I may or may not admit to it.) Then they drift off once I’ve answered their (brief) question. Generally, I decline to autograph anything except my books.
My point is: You and every member of your immediate family will be in the limelight. And, if the media glom onto you, the exposure can be relentless. (Seriously, Jennifer Anniston doesn’t need to make another movie or TV series, ever. She’ll probably be on the covers of tabloids for the rest of her life, whether she likes it or not.)
Think about your life, but also the privacy of your parents. Your kids. And remember that distant cousin who’s always wanted to be famous, and he/she might write a tell-all book or give embarrassing interviews to tabloids. (Really. It happens. Like what Meghan Markle has had to deal with.)
Related to that: after the show is cancelled, you may not be able to return to your old career.
- That’s partly about privacy. Some companies don’t want the attention a “TV star” might bring them, no matter how brief your entertainment career.
- It’s also about how the show portrayed you. (Heaven help you if you were edited to look not-very-bright, weird, promiscuous, or two-faced. That’s how the HR person may think of you, seeing your name on a resume.)
- It’s also a (possibly legitimate) concern that, if a company hired you, you might vanish in a few months when the next network hires you for a new TV series.
So, if you usually need a “day job” to cover your bills, keep the financial aspects in mind. Like a book that’s viral for a short time… TV paycheques can come to an abrupt halt.
One smart friend negotiated his filming schedule so he kept his day job. He’d show up on the TV set on weekends, and film his segments with the rest of the “reality show” cast.
When the show was cancelled, he still had his day job. Life went back to normal. (Or normal-ish, anyway.)
After the Gig is Over (or the show is cancelled)
Many former TV stars (and full-time researchers/consultants) have two likely options to continue the fame and/or fortune.
You can travel either path, or or pursue both at the same time.
- Hit the road and talk at events, colleges, TV talk shows (national or local), radio shows, podcasts, etc., and hope you’re entertaining/interesting enough to remain popular (and well paid).
- Build on your existing fame (this should start while you’re still on TV) with what you and I usually consider an author platform: Books and merchandising, a website or two, a YouTube channel, lots of social media, and so on.
(I haven’t had time to look at Printful, but they’re one of many companies that offer a broad range of merchandise you can brand. That’s convenient, but you may do better by going directly to individual print-on-demand companies. Research carefully before committing to just one option.)
And, of course, if you’re reading this, you already know that being an indie author is both easy and free… and $2 (for a $2.99 Kindle book) is a far better per-copy-sold royalty than the 35-cents (per printed book sold) that traditional publishers offer. (And then there’s the income from digital books “borrowed” via Kindle Unlimited. And audio books, and so on.)
Amazon offers all the tools you need to publish your own book today, and see income from it tomorrow.
- For great, inexpensive book covers, I like Fiverr’s vikncharlie.
- For editing, ask at kboards.com. A search for “editors” can point you to people doing good work, inexpensively. Be sure the editors’ reviews are current and credible.
- For book promotions on a shoestring, Fiverr’s bknights still gets raves from many authors.
Why I Wrote This
So… yes. This week, I’ve heard from three TV producers and actually spoke with one on the phone. Usually, I hear from a producer about once every two or three months. (It’s been that way since around 2003, when one of my books – related to a pop culture trend – attracted attention.)
Generally, I’m not interested in TV. I’ve seen too many friends get sucked into that scene, and emerge damaged by the experience.
Also, I like my privacy. There is no way I’ll be in front of the camera.
I’ll be a consultant or researcher, but only on my own terms. It has to be fun and it has to pay pretty well.
Otherwise, if a producer wants to “talk shop” about my niche, and my schedule isn’t too crazy, I’ll happily chat for an hour or so. No strings attached.
Just be aware that TV producers may contact you if you write trending, topical nonfiction topics (and some abruptly successful fiction sub-genres). Remain on your toes. Know if you’ll be paid: how much and when, for exactly what kind of work.
Don’t get sucked into the “this could be fame and fortune” vortex. Not with your eyes closed, anyway.
Mostly, keep writing. It’s what we do… right?