(HOST) A recent phone call had novelist and commentator Deborah Lee Luskin dreaming about sudden fame and fortune until reality – and her conscience – kicked in.
(LUSKIN) The other day, I answered the phone when I meant to be writing. I knew it was a cold call the minute the man asked, "How are you doing today?"
"I’m working," I lie. If I’d been writing, I wouldn’t have answered the phone. "So please get to the point."
As soon as he mentions my book, he has my attention. He’s scouting for authors to appear on a segment of a nationally televised show for women, which airs for an hour every morning on both coasts. Had I heard of his show?
"No," I say. I choose not to confess I don’t own a TV.
He tells me about the show and says he can tell from my website I have "presence" and would probably make a great guest.
I’m flattered. I’m thinking this is the lucky break I’ve been waiting for. I start telling him about my experience as a public speaker while computing what five minutes on national television could mean in book sales.
Now, he’s playing coy. "I have to bring this proposal to my team," he says. Then he mentions the show’s corporate sponsors.
"Are you saying I’d have to endorse your sponsors’ products?" I ask.
"Oh, no!" he assures me. And he launches into production costs, which run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the five-minute segment. This doesn’t surprise me, but I’m wondering why he’s telling me all this, when I hear something about a $4,900 fee.
"Who pays the $4,900?" I ask.
"It’s a preproduction fee," he says with slippery evasion.
Despite the great gaps in logic, I understand perfectly: the network wants me to pay to appear on their show.
With unaccustomed grace, I say I’ll think about it.
I momentarily bask in the knowledge that my obsessive, one-woman marketing efforts have penetrated this level of corporate broadcasting. But as the flattery fades, I confront this sobering fact: by charging its guests, the show is no more than a paid advertisement – except that the audience doesn’t know that the "guests" are really just elite advertisers, and not newsmakers at all. And the target audience of this show – women aged 19 to 54 – they most probably have no idea that they’re being – well – scammed.
I email the man my regrets, telling him $4,900 is way beyond my budget, which is mostly the truth. It is also true that I find this kind of broadcasting unethical, but I don’t tell him that. Instead, I’m left to wonder what would I have done had the fee been $100? I’d like to think my principles would trump my obsession with making any book of mine a must-read from coast to coast.