Celebrity Influence

Today at Spec Faith I wrote a post about the “It Factor” — the something that some books seem to have that separates them from the crowd.

One of those is what I called “The Celebrity Factor,” by which I meant some writers by virtue of their name sell books. Marketing may call this “branding” — readers aren’t so much buying a book as they are buying the author.

Once musicians did the same thing, which is why they sold “the best of” albums and eventually CDs. Fans didn’t really care that they were simply buying a re-packaging of music they already owned. If the artist they followed put it out, they bought it.

Several people who commented on my Spec Faith post, however, looked at “The Celebrity Factor” in broader terms than just the celebrity standing of the author. They correctly identified the importance of celebrity influencers. One person mentioned how Oprah’s recommendation could sway people. This (from Facebook) is so good, you have to read it:

It could be old hat, new hat, or controversial & it will sell if any known person backs it. Oprah is the perfect example. If she promoted potato sack dresses with corn-on-the-cob belts, they’d be flying off the shelves tomorrow.

😆 I laughed at that one because I think she’s absolutely right. Personal taste would go out the window if a respected celebrity gives approval. Rather than wondering what happened to Oprah’s good sense, people would line up to get whatever it is she said is great.

The point is, it would become great because the influential celebrity said it was great.

I know I’m influenced by names I recognize and respect. My first awareness of Wayne Thomas Batson and his writing, for example, came one December when I was shopping in (the now defunct) Borders for Christmas presents. Right next to a new Cornelia Funk fantasy was this beautiful hardback book with the most intriguing cover. When I opened it, on the flyleaf was an endorsement by Josh McDowell. That’s when I realized the book was written, most likely, from a Christian worldview, and that’s when I knew I wanted to read that book.

The endorsement essentially sold me. I didn’t know anything about this Wayne Thomas Batson character ( 😉 ), but Josh McDowell I’d read. I knew what he stood for.

Interestingly, today on Facebook, author D. Barkley Briggs asked me to spread the word about a poll he is running (for the title of book 4 in his Legends of Karac Tor series) to my “network of fantasy friends.” After he clarified that he did indeed believe the friends are real, not make-believe, ( 😉 ) I got to thinking a bit more about the idea of finding the talkers.

I’d read about it before in Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing: part of the strategy to get people talking is to identify the talkers — the people who know people and who will talk about your product.

I am certainly no Oprah, but Dean knows of my connection to the CSFF Blog Tour and to Spec Faith. In other words, he recognized that I could be one voice reaching out to his target audience. I then become one of his talkers.

The problem that I see with this “celebrity influence” is multifaceted. For one thing, in an area like Christian fantasy that is just developing legs, who are the celebrities? Wayne Batson went outside the genre to acquire his influencer, and that might be the way to go.

But there’s also the problem of access. There simply aren’t enough celebrities to go around, and the ones that exist are undoubtedly bombarded with requests. Many writers — not even of the celebrity category — have decided they must adopt a “no endorsements” rule because they receive so many requests. A few reserve their endorsements for personal friends. Which brings us back to the access issue. How does a beginning writer become the personal friend of a celebrity writer? Or a celebrity anything?

It feels a lot like the conundrums I faced as a young adult. In looking for my first teaching job, I was asked for my teaching experience … In applying for a credit card (in the days before they were handed out like candy at Halloween), I was asked for my credit history …

Here are a few closing thoughts on the subject. When writing about all the people who would line up to buy an Oprah-endorsed potato sack, I was reminded that “all we like sheep have gone astray.” How like sheep we are!

Regarding celebrity endorsements, I think how much better it is to have the King’s approval — the eternal King who knows the beginning from the end, who loves me and has my good at heart. With Him, I have no access problem. And I can be confident that He’ll see to it my writing will end up where He wants it.

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Don’t forget to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll — it will remain open for four more days.

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