When it comes to getting the word out there about their book, the first thing authors think of is writing a press release. Which makes sense, I mean it’s what we’ve been taught about book promotion, right? Got something to say? Issue a press release. But is that really the way it should work? If you ask most journalists, they’ll probably tell you no.
Why the Media Hate Press Releases
So let’s be clear, press releases can be a necessary part of doing business. But in general, 99% of press releases issued are non-newsworthy and are a waste of your efforts and the media’s time. Those in the media often cite poorly written press releases as the number one reason they are rejected. But not being newsworthy is a close second. As authors, and in particular as indie authors, we often tend to go to the ‘tried and true.’ And a press release seems to fall into that category. But while, when it comes to book promotion, that’s not a bad idea, per se, you’ve got to follow some solid rules if you’re going to get noticed.
When to Write a Press Release
Publishing a book is not newsworthy. Similarly, announcing it via a press release is not a good use of your book promotion time. There are 4,500 books published every day in the US, so this isn’t news. Sorry, I know that sounds harsh but it’s true. There is one exception to this rule, that I’ll go over further on in this piece.
So when would you write a press release? Well, consider these options — and I want to be clear that these book promotion tips are specific to all authors. This includes indie authors as well as traditionally published authors! And if you would like to work with me on getting yourself ready for big media, I’d love to help you – click here for more info.
Let’s say you’ve sold your 10,000th book, now that’s a cool milestone. Or maybe you just finished a big marathon and this ties into your book. These could be good reasons to do a press release. However for anything in the “milestone” category, I suggest considering pitching this to local media only. While the 10,000th book is an awesome thing, it’s not really national morning show material. So before you pitch a milestone, consider first what your audience might actually be interested in. Often in book promotion, authors tend to think that everyone is interested. That’s not always true and indie authors end up wasting a lot of time because of this.
These are always good things for a press release. So if you’re doing a local book event or participating in a local event in some significant way, I’d issue a press release on it. If the event is national, like let’s say the Boston Marathon (which gets a lot of national coverage) then you could consider doing a press release to the national media. But again be careful what you send them. You running in the race isn’t a story necessarily. However, if you’re doing a book promotion event during the race and donating all proceeds to help the victims of the Boston bombing, that’s potentially a national story.
I live and die by statistics, and eat them up like Oreos. I adore factoids and new research. And this is also a great way to pull in national attention for your book and to issue a press release. So if there’s a new study or statistics that have come out, especially if they’re super unique, you can use this to drive your story. Non-fiction indie authors who are serious about book promotion are always knee-deep in statistics and industry news.
If there’s something going on in the news that you can anchor your story to, by all means do it. In most cases, and given how narrow the news cycle is, you’ll have to act fast. But if there’s a story making national news, and you’re also an expert, you can use this to your advantage. Book promotion 101: if there’s a story you can speak to, especially one that’s dominating the national news, jump on the bandwagon.
Holidays & Calendar Hooks
These are potentially good opportunities to look into as well. For example, January 1, aside from being New Year’s Day is also Customer Service Day. January 12th is Clean off your Desk Day.
Every month, we publish a list of monthly observances to trigger ideas you can write on. So calendar hooks and holidays are also a solid book promotion tactic for gaining more exposure for your book and positioning yourself on something unique. For example, during Fire Prevention Week we pitching an organizational gal, the pitch was: How to Get Organized Without Resorting to Arson.
During Valentine’s Day week I pitched an indie author who wrote a book about volunteerism and her press release started with: Did You Know You Could Meet Mr. Right in a Soup Kitchen? And then went into creative ways singles meet while volunteering.
Make Sure It’s a Newsworthy Story
When it comes to writing a press release, the trick is always to make it newsworthy. So, when you’re doing a press release, or considering it, make sure the story is going to be newsworthy enough.
You also need to understand that there’s a difference between writing a newsworthy piece for national media, vs. regional media. If you’re not sure, read local and national papers and see what’s making the news.
Watch the news consistently to see what’s being talked about (aside from politics). We’ll get into the techniques of writing a good release in the next section, but the takeaway is that if you’re not sure if your story has a newsworthy aspect to it, maybe hold off until you have a bigger story to share. There’s always a lot that can be done when it comes to book promotion. I’ve seen a lot of indie authors spend a lot of time writing press releases when they could be better served focusing on something else.
How to Write an Effective Release
If you’re writing a press release effectively, it should read like a news article. I know that maybe sounds like a lot of work, or like you’re doing the media’s work for them, but that’s the what you need to do to get noticed. If you want to get national news attention, or even regional media: make this as easy as you can for them. Craft a story that requires very little work. I’ll go into what this means as we dig deeper into the mechanics of writing a press release.
- Stay Away from Jargon: Don’t use a bunch of confusing industry terms unless you’re sending your press release to a specific industry person or publication. Keep your language simple and layperson.
- Short and Simple: Your press release should have no more than 800 words, on average. And if you can say it in 500 words even better. Generally I recommend 300-800 words for a good press release. The days of two-page press releases are long gone. Keep it short and informative.
- Verbiage and capitalization: Be careful how you word it. And remember that you aren’t addressing your reader specifically so don’t use terms like “you will love this new book,” because the media person who is getting the press release is probably not your audience. Don’t use caps, so don’t WRITE THINGS ALL IN CAPS to stand out. Even in a press release it looks like you’re screaming.
- Hyperlinks: I don’t recommend using a lot of hyperlinks. The goal is not more than one hyperlink per 100 words, otherwise Google will think you’re just a spammer. You should though, link to any external content like a video if you’ve got one, or even better: your press room.
The Structure of a Good Press Release
As with anything you do in book promotion, you have to start by tempting the reader to ask for more. And that’s why your press release should start with a tempting, irresistible headline.
Once you have that down, your first paragraph should be very clear on the what, who, where and why of the release. This isn’t a time to bury the lead as they say in the media. Make sure that it’s up front and there so the media person you’re targeting doesn’t have to dig around to look for more information.
If you’ve got quotable pieces, like a great review blurb if that’s appropriate, or a quote from you, or something else relevant to your topic, include that after the first paragraph. You could also include more statistics, if your release is using a new stat as its anchor point. Or you could expand on your newsjacking topic from the first paragraph.
The closing paragraph should include any other additional background information, more about you, and how someone can reach you.
How to Get Your Press Release Out There
You can spend a lot of money sending out press releases, but it is really worth it? I think for big corporations this makes a lot of sense. Or for massive book promotion projects. We’ve worked on some very high profile projects and I know in the case of big books from well-known people, the publisher issues releases and sent them out via a wire service. For most of us though, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. What happens during a wire transmission of a release is that it goes out to a whole bunch of media, with no personalization. It’s just sent out there which again is fine if you’re Apple, but not so much if you’re not. Instead, let’s consider some other options.
- Going Offline with your Press Release: This may seem quite old-school but have you ever considered mailing a press release to your local media person, with a personalized (short) letter? We all get a ton of email these days, so regular US mail may get more attention. Keep in mind that if you send a press release early you may want to consider letting the media know it’s embargoed until a specific date. You can do that in the cover letter.
- Targeting Specific Media: If a press release is being sent to everyone, what’s the news value? Make a media person feel special and send it to specific folks instead of everyone. It’s always more personal (and a good book promotion strategy) if you’re targeting specific media, rather than blanketing all of them with your release. So why not consider personalizing your email to specific people who you know will be interested in your topic.
What Can You Do if You’re Not Using a Wire Service?
There are actually great options for sending a press release without a wire service. Here are some of them!
- Twitter: This social network is still one of my favorite ways to connect to media. I have a special list within my Twitter account so I can see their activity and respond to things, which helps my engagement with the people I’m following. It’s easy to set up Twitter lists and a great way to stay in touch with your preferred media. If you see one of them discussing a topic you can speak to, you can certainly reach out to them (maybe a private DM). Or if your press release is online in your website media room, share a link with them.
- Email: This is always the go-to for most people pitching and it’s great as long as you don’t abuse it. So a link to your press release or pasted in the email is fine (though keep in mind that most media people hate email scrolling). My recommendation? Create a short elevator pitch from your release, maybe just use the headline, with a link to “see more” and send them to your press room.
Going Offline to Connect
- Regular Mail: I mentioned earlier that especially for local media, this could be a fun way to get in front of them.
- Phone calls: I mention this, and will say that you should only call if you know the person. And by “know” I mean if you’ve met them or if they’ve previously done a story with you. Even then, I only call media when and if there’s a big breaking story. So keep this in mind if you’re ever tempted to pick up the phone
A Note on Pitching vs. Press Releases
If you’re pitching media consistently, then sending them your press release is certainly acceptable. But if you have been pitching bloggers and not media per se, I’d leave the press release and just sent it as a pitch instead. Bloggers aren’t so keen on press releases and prefer pitches, but if you write a strong press release, it can serve as both!
If you do end up using a wire service, be sure not to send your release on the hour. Why? Because everyone does that, instead send it at odd times like 2:11 or 2:13 or 10:17 or something like that. It could help increase the attention you’re getting for your release.
The Bottom Line
Indie authors will ask me if there’s any merit to having your press release online (which is what happens when a press release is sent through a wire service). There are a lot of things you can do in book promotion that will bring weight to your efforts but putting having a press release online isn’t one of them. The quickest way to hide a story is to send out a press release and let it “sit” on the internet. You know the best way to hide a body is to bury it on the 2nd page of Google. The same is true for your press release. It won’t sit in the “news” section of Google for more than a few minutes, after which, it will fall off of page one and few people will ever see it.
Writing a press release is a good book promotion plan, if and when you have big news. But often indie authors confuse “all news” with big news. And as I explained in this article, the two aren’t the same thing. Save your press release skills for the big, amazing news. And when you do write one, follow the book promotion tips in this article, write a great press release, and watch your exposure soar!
What techniques have you used to get media attention? Top subject lines? Unique ideas? Please share in the comments!