“When you look at Seth Meyers and you look at Trevor Noah, what publishers love is the intelligence the hosts bring to the conversations, and the risks that they’re willing to take with the subject matter,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a brand-name author if it speaks to them.”
Of course, a few literary-minded late-night hosts can’t fully compensate for shifts in the media ecosystem. For a new or relatively unknown author, publishers increasingly have to cobble together an elaborate publicity plan that includes podcast, TV and radio interviews and coverage by blogs or YouTube book reviewers. And for authors of serious nonfiction about subjects other than politics, opportunities on television are hard to come by.
The industry may never fully recover from the loss of Ms. Winfrey’s original book club on her daytime talk show, which ended in 2011 and averaged roughly seven million viewers a day. Some of her choices, among them Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth” and Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone,” went on to sell millions of copies. She brought the club back in 2012, but without a daily talk show it has not had the same impact.
Ms. Makkai, who appeared on Mr. Meyers’s show in July, said she was surprised when a producer told her that Mr. Meyers had read and loved “The Great Believers.”
“I said: ‘You’re kidding. He actually reads them?’” she said in an interview.
After her appearance, she heard from readers who had bought the book, and started getting inquiries from film and TV producers interested in acquiring screen rights, she said. (Her book also became a finalist for a National Book Award.)
Most of all, she said, being on late night reinforced the idea that literary fiction remains relevant.
“It’s been a tragedy that we’ve had all the other arts represented on late night — you have actors, Broadway people, musicians — but authors fell away for a while,” she said. “To get authors back into the mix says this is not esoteric stuff, this is part of pop culture.”