So here’s something exciting in the world of publishing. Oprah is launching a fall tour—The Life You Want Weekend Tour!—that features a roster of celebrities, yes, but these are celebrities who are best known and connected to one another for something they share in common: being authors. It looks like the line-ups will vary from city to city, but on the books so far are Deepak Chopra, Iyanla Vanzant, Elizabeth Gilbert, Mark Nepo, and Rob Bell.
Oprah has long been on a mission to create and hold a certain kind of space. In the press materials announcing this event she says: “All of my life I have wanted to lead people to an empathy space. To a gratitude space.” She gives space to thought leaders and deep thinkers (the kind of people she seems to gravitate toward) in the form of her Soul Series radio show, Super Soul Sunday on OWN, and now this fall tour. What Oprah has to offer feels a bit like church for the progressive masses, because no matter what your belief system, she’s consistently offering a menu of content for the soul. Since leaving her show, she continues to live closer to her own purpose, and she deserves serious credit for walking her talk.
But back to The Life You Want Weekend Tour! and why it’s actually an unprecedented book event. Conceptualized and brought to the public by Harpo Productions and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (a branch of Oprah's talent agency), the tour itself is a tool for discoverability. If you keep up on what’s new in books and/or book publishing, you’ll have heard about discoverability, and the many strategies underway to try to help readers discover new books. With the decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores, discoverability a big problem that’s met with a lot of hand-wringing from publishers and authors alike--the idea being that with so many books flooding the marketplace, how can readers discover books they love, or more to the point, how can publishers and authors help readers discover their books?
Oprah’s weekend tour is one innovative strategy for/solution to this problem, though it begs mentioning here that Sounds True is a leader in this author-leader event space. Its third-annual Wake-Up Festival is happening this August 20-24 in Colorado, featuring mostly spiritual leaders, but certainly there’s a focus on the leaders’ written word, and there will be a lot of book-selling going on.
To date I’ve only seen events like these oriented toward transformation, with a fairly overt spiritual angle. But it seems to me that rock star author weekends can and should be the wave of the future. I would certainly pay to have a daylong event featuring my favorite memoirists speaking on a particular topic, beyond the usual confines of what we see at literary conference keynotes. Elizabeth Gilbert, after all, is best known as a memoirist. She’s raised her own profile and legitimacy through her Ted talks, but she’s a great example of someone who’s broken out of her genre not only by writing a novel, but also by becoming an expert on creativity and genius and expectations—all topics she’s explored in her speaking. Who knows what she’ll tackle onstage with Oprah.
Authors have always had the potential to rise to a certain level of celebrity, but you don’t often (ever?) see authors hitting the road in group tours. The author tour has historically been the realm of the single author, generally (though not always) supported by the author’s publishing house. However, author tours are less common than ever because publishing houses support them less than ever. It’s getting harder for authors—even well-known ones—to bring out big crowds, and tours are therefore largely discouraged in traditional houses for all but the biggest authors.
Oprah’s fall tour is way more than an author tour. And she’s not doing it to promote a book. But her collaboration with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment is evidence that these eight weekends are about books—and about finding bigger and broader audiences, not only for Oprah but also for the other leaders she’s bringing along with her. That events like these would be seen as a discoverability tool—and that they have the capacity to be on par with going to a concert—is pretty cool for books. It’s good for authors, too, because it showcases innovation at work. There are lots of ways to get the word out about your book, no matter who you are, but beginning to see yourself as a thought leader capable of holding your own in a conversation about ideas is a critical component to getting the ball rolling.
So thanks, Oprah, and thanks, William Morris. I’m going to Seattle in November. I hope to see some of you there!
Concert image courtesy of BigSockPhoto.com.