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Three strategies for getting your book on National Public Radio

An NPR bookshelf

An NPR bookshelf (source: NPR)

National Public Radio published an interesting blog post this week on how it handles books. This is a subject of interest to many people. NPR receives over 100 books a day for consideration.

So how can you get your magnum opus on All Things Considered? As you might guess, NPR’s Lori Grisham insists that there are no “hard and fast” rules to success in this area. But there appear to be some to be some soft and slow ones. Here they are:

1. Figure out what some NPR reporter really likes

Attention scholars of antiquity, get thy books to Neal Conan.

“I have an interest in ancient history, so we do a lot of ancient history,” Conan told Grisham, which is why he interviewed Adrian Goldsworthy in September about his book Antony and Cleopatra .

“I know Goldsworthy’s work well. I’ve read both his biography of Caesar and his book on the Fall of the Roman Empire–and we’ve tried to get him on the show in the past. Goldsworthy is a wonderful story teller, a quality that helps a lot in a live radio program.”

So if you already listen to NPR, start listening to various reporters for a sense of what really bakes their cookies. Then contact the right one with your recipe.

2. Pitch the book’s potential as an audio draw

Grisham writes:

A book might catch NPR’s attention if someone thinks it would make a strong audio story. An example is Susan Stamberg ‘s interview with playwright Harold Pinter’s wife, Lady Antonia Fraser about her book Must You Go? My Life With Harold Pinter .

“She’s a wonderful writer. I’ve interviewed her in the past and I knew she was a good talker,” said Stamberg. “In addition, I lost my own husband three years ago and what she did was basically create a memoir of their life together,” she said. “It very much connected with me.”

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to get the message here. When you send your book to NPR, emphasize your skills (if you have them) as a storyteller. Maybe even include an audio clip.

3. Follow NPR Books

Aside from the fact that it gets about one million visits a month, NPR Books isn’t a bad place to hang out, with lots of book related features and reviews. You probably also want to follow the reviewers. Heller McAlpin regularly reviews books for NPR, and his posts can be found on the NPR Books pages.

McAlpin also writes for The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The San Francisco Chronicle. It stands to reason that if you want your book on NPR, you might want to get his attention.

Here is some less helpful advice that I offer because I am a cynic.

4. Be Michele Norris

NPR’s Michele Norris is the only author in existence who has managed to get her memoir on all four of NPR’s big shows: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, and Tell Me More.

“Now is a good time for NPR to formulate a policy on how to handle future staff books,” NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard concluded after an investigation of Norris’ good fortune. “Such a policy, making clear that NPR employees should be treated the same as other authors, will go a long way toward enhancing credibility and showing that NPR isn’t favoring its authors and artists over others.”

5. Be famous already

“A book might get selected if the release is likely to make a splash in the book world,” Grisham writes. “This occurred when Washington Post writer Bob Woodward’s book, Obama Wars, made news in September.”

So try to be Bob Woodward or his equivalent if you can.

Is there anything you shouldn’t do? Yes. Don’t bother sending your book to every part of NPR.

“Some publishers will send the exact same book to every department,” NPR mail room staffer Ernesto Permodo told Grisham. “And it ends up on the free shelf in a week or so.”

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