Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Borrowing Authority

I have a family member who has decided that he is not only going to write a book, but he is going to try to have a certain world-famous political celebrity endorse it and possibly write the forward for it. He believes he has a reasonable chance of this happening. I won't name the celebrity, but you know his name, I can basically guarantee it. This family member has no existing close connection to that person, nor does he know anyone else who does. My family member also has not published any books, but he has written shorter works that he has produced at the most basic level of self-publishing, what I'm tempted to call "grunge press," i.e., staple or comb bound, no ISBN, no distribution channels, no retail sales, etc.

My admittedly-unsolicited advice was to go ahead and try—but to not expect success. I think most people would agree that the odds are absurdly low. Sometimes people get lucky, so there's presumably no harm in trying, but expecting success in this scenario does not seem wise to me.

However, the general concept is not bad, especially for nonfiction works, and it's not at all uncommon. If you aren't a recognized authority in the field already, any chance you can get to borrow authority from someone else is something you should not pass up. I think it's also important to note that it's not necessary to shoot for the highest level. You might want someone with the social influence of Oprah to endorse your book, but if you can "only" get the endorsement of a local celebrity, it's still worthwhile.

The question, then, is how does one find an opportunity to leverage the fame or other status of another person? I don't have answers, as I've never done it, but I'll throw out some ideas and encourage you to post other ideas in the comments. Here are some things I could see that might help.

  • Start with the people you know. The people we interact with on a regular basis often have facets we know nothing about. It's possible somebody you already know is in a position to "lend" their authority to your work, and they'll be much more likely to do so than somebody you've never met.
  • Network personally. Assuming you don't find anyone in your immediate circles with an appropriate background, check out your "second degree." Maybe somebody close to somebody you know is worth considering. If not, explore outward based on topic. Don't start with a destination in mind, i.e., don't decide that you need a connection to Oprah. Keep your mind open to people closer to you. If you see a possible connection, start asking for introductions.
  • Network organizationally. If you belong to organizations relevant to your writing topic, find out who else is in those organizations. If none of your fellow members is appropriate, check out related organizations. It might be worth joining if it puts you closer to someone whose endorsement could help establish the value of your work.
  • Produce a small, no-fluff, meat-and-potatoes reference work. It should be current, probably time sensitive (to encourage prompt redistribution), and of interest to people in the field you are writing about. Make it look clean and professional, as it will serve as a sort of resume. Then distribute it, at no cost, with your contact information attached. This is basically fishing for a connection initiated by someone higher up the food chain. An infographic might be a good option for this.

Any other ideas? I welcome comments and suggestions!


  1. Good luck to your family member. It's like my mom says, "All they can say is no." It doesn't hurt.

    1. Yeah, it's worth trying, but with realistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations -- assuming that it's not only possible but reasonably likely -- could lead to the book never being published. The answer might not be "yes" or "no," it might be -- and probably will be, if my experience is any indication -- utter silence. Perhaps saying "no" to thousands of people per month is too much of a burden, or perhaps the person (or their staff) does not want to hint at even being open to a discussion. Whatever the reason may be, the silence can be misunderstood as the celebrity "considering it" and the resulting decision to delay publishing indefinitely.

      The people I tried to contact were less well-known (in some cases much less well-known), and almost all inquiries resulted in no reply at all. I had one "no" reply from an agent. On the other hand, there are outliers; I got a personalized note from the office of Ron Paul. However, he generally seems more approachable and down-to-Earth, and I also wasn't seeking an endorsement -- at least not directly.

      Anyway, my message to my family member wasn't "don't bother" but "go for it... but understand that it's really unlikely." And it may never come up; the book needs to be written first.