Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Conversation With Lisa Erspamer

Saturday, May 10, 2014
A creative force who loves to turn a great story into a visual spectacle, Lisa Erspamer is an Emmy-nominated producer and the president of Unleashed Media, a television, film and digital production company whose clients include Sony Television, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Pinterest and more.  She is also the creator of the book series A Letter To My Dog, A Letter To My Cat and the upcoming A Letter To My Mom. Before starting her own company, Lisa served as Chief Creative Officer and Executive Vice President of Programming and Development for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Prior to OWN, Lisa was the Co-Executive Producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she produced hundreds of shows and oversaw such memorable episodes as the biggest flash mob in history, the legendary car giveaway, Oprah's After Oscar Specials and Whitney Houston's final interview to name a few. Lisa, an animal lover since birth, lives in Los Angeles with her two precious pups, Lily and Grace.

How did the idea for the "Letter" brand series of books come about?

Actually, we had sold one book to a publisher, and while we were celebrating that publishing deal - we were having dinner with them and drinking wine - I said, we should really do a 'dog book' because my friend Robyn had photographed my dogs for my birthday as a surprise, and the pictures were unbelievable. And I said we should call it "A Letter to My Dog" and have everybody write letters to their dogs. And the publisher said, "I want that, I'll buy that right now." We said, "Okay, now we have a two-book deal!" And my co-author, Kimi Culp, and I started putting that book together right away.

As the letters started coming in, I realized how powerful the art of writing a letter is. We actually used it over the course of my career at the Oprah show. It was sort of a technique to get people to the heart of their story.

What was the technique you used? In what way?

Say if they were surprising somebody like their mother on the show or a friend, and we wanted them to say something to the person, and they were like "I don't know what to say," we would ask them to write a letter. And that would help them get their thoughts together about what they would want to say to that person. What we realized is that writing a letter is something that people can do really easily. It's hard for somebody to write their story if you say 'hey, write your story.' That's really daunting and hard, as you know. It makes people crazy. But when you ask people to write a letter, it's really easy for them to do. Not easy, but much easier. People can wrap their brains around the concept. Nobody asked us 'what should we write the letter about?' People just did it.

Like the dog letters that came in, they were funny or really heartwarming. But they all made you feel something, which is what I really loved about the idea. And so then I built it out into an anthology, and we have 17 titles.

Can you share what the next title might be?

I think our next two would probably be "Baby" and "Dad." I'm obsessed with "A Letter to My Baby" even though I don't have one. I think about that relationship and how, when you're a parent, your baby - regardless of age - is always your baby.

For the "Dog" and "Cat," those two books celebrate the relationship that people have with their pets. And we hope that people will see how special it is and maybe adopt a pet that needs a home. But I think with "Mom, "Baby" and "Dad," we hope that it inspires people to write letters for the people in their own lives.

What have you learned about publishing?

I think of television. Neither one of them are businesses you should go into if you're hoping to get rich. I'm not saying that you can't get rich. They're things you have to do because you're really passionate about them. And I feel like publishing is the same. It's really personal, it's really not business. You care about it like you're giving birth to it. It's probably not healthy.

You do it because you really care what you're putting out there, and you want people to love it, and you want to make them feel something. You want them to laugh, or be touched and moved. I'm definitely not in it for the money. It's costing me more money than I'm making. But I really believe in what we're doing. I love the concept of writing a letter. I think it is the best gift we can give somebody, and the best gift to get.

What kind of letters are you looking for?

We're not looking for "I hate my mother" letters for sure. I think the tone is really about the love, and you know, the fact that this person put you on the planet. And that it is a complicated relationship. But that we all still have some gratitude for that relationship. And I think as we grow up, we sort of come full circle.

People interested in writing a letter to their mother have an opportunity to be published in the book, and they can submit their letters HERE!

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"A Letter To My Dog" is now being sold in seven countries; read an excerpt from the book.

A portion of the proceeds from every book in the series goes to charity: The Humane Society for the first book, and Best Friends Animal Society for the second book. Lisa and her team are in the process of determining the charity they will serve for "A Letter To My Mom."
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