Superstar Author Events: Discoverability on Steroids

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

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Comment by Brooke Warner on April 30, 2014 at 3:14pm

@Skye—cool to hear that it's working in practice for others!

Thanks for sharing these other ideas, too. @Meg—5000 for John Green. Not bad!

Comment by Meg E Dobson on April 30, 2014 at 2:34pm
Berkeley PrimeCrime is sending out four authors. I visited w them at an event and it was fun from an author's perspective. The draw for me was that 2013's Edgar Master Award winner was there. Carolyn Hart is amazing!

This is done though quite a bit. Look up book festivals. They are well attended. Over 5000 lined up to get an autograph from John Green.
Comment by Skye Blaine on April 30, 2014 at 10:10am

I recently went to a Redwood Writers meeting in Sonoma County, CA, where Jenn Sterling spoke. She and a bunch of writer friends who all write in the same genre (for young twenty-somethings) have begun creating events like this, where a bunch of authors put on a well-organized event, and readers can get books signed, etc. She said it was working well.

Comment by Ellen Cassedy on April 30, 2014 at 8:14am

Sunday, May 18, 2014, in New York, NY:  "The Whole Megillah Conference on Jewish Story," the brainchild of Barbara Krasner, co-sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries.  For more information:  I'm looking forward to it!

Comment by Juliana Lightle on April 29, 2014 at 12:47pm

It may be a great idea, but I would not go.  A few great authors have come to speak where I live and I only attended one event mainly upon several friends insistence.  A retreat for a limited number of people maybe, but any event where I expect a lot of people is not really my idea of either fun or a learning experience. 

Comment by Stacey Aaronson on April 29, 2014 at 11:33am

What a great idea! I love the concept of bringing memoirists together to speak about their respective topics—and even perhaps hold small workshops on the side with different authors during the day (similar to a breakout session, but more interactive). Thanks for another superb article, Brooke!


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