by Annette Lyon
Whether you've published with a traditional press or are going the indie route, a lot of promotion for your book will be on your shoulders.
In an attempt to get featured on television, radio, magazines, and newspapers, writers generally put together press releases and send them out, hoping for the best.
Problem: The vast majority of press releases will end up in the circular file, never to be read or passed along . . . or acted upon to give you any attention in the media.
There are several reasons why. One is that media outlets are bombarded with press releases. They simply have too many to wade through.
Another reason is that hundreds (if not thousands or tens of thousands) of writers send out press releases, and they all look the same. If a release doesn't stand out (as in, really stand out), it'll be ignored completely.
REALITY: Being a novelist doesn't mean you automatically know how to write a good press release.
Study up on the standard press-release format, including things like the headline, date, contact information, and even where to put the little ### symbols.
Of course, read it aloud, proof it meticulously, and then seek out the best people to send it to.
But before you write it in the first place . . .
Find your media hook, or your press release is already dead in the water.
The news is just that: NEWS. It's interesting information that the media think their audiences will want to hear and learn about. Write your press release with news in mind.
On the wall of a local news station I was at once, I saw a poster that was a reminder to the correspondents. It listed the most common things viewers care about (I think it was something like the 50 top subjects). Reporters were encouraged to use those topics as launching points when coming up with ideas for the news stories.
The types of things on the poster were all things that impact viewers' lives. I don't remember them all, but they included things like nutrition, safety, little-known hazards, heroes, health studies, recalls, environment, politics, warnings, and so on.
In other words: what will the viewers want to hear about because they already care?
I can guarantee you that "Local Author Publishes Novel" isn't going to cut it. Sure, your neighbors might care. But they probably already know your news. But who else will bother reading that?
Non-fiction is typically easier to sell for press releases than fiction, because often the hook is in the topic itself. A how-to book on finances, for example, could launch a spotlight on the author with a few of the tips from the book. But even then, the press release isn't about "expert on finances publishes book" so much as "expert reveals 25 sure-fire ways to get out of debt." And those ways happen to be in the book.
In other words, your hook should be something you could imagine on that poster. (Who out there isn't impacted on some level by money? Right.)
To get any kind of media attention with a novel, you need a news hook that is something people already care about.
Several years ago, Precision Editing's own Josi Kilpack was on a local morning talk show with her novel Sheep's Clothing. Her hook was the underlying concept behind the plot: the dangers of internet predators and how to keep our children safe. (And then as a post script: "Oh, and the book is about an internet predator. It's a great suspenseful read. Check it out.")
Are internet predators a current topic? Does it (or at least, the worry of it) affect a lot of viewers?
Let's see . . . it impacts any viewer with an internet connection and a child somewhere in their lives. Pretty much everyone.
Note that Josi's appearance was more about the issue and less about the book.
The same thing applied when I made it onto two local television shows and two radio interviews, plus some newspapers, while promoting my novel Band of Sisters.
The focus of the press release and the spots was on a charity that helps military families, something I learned about while researching the book and then joined forces with. The novel is about deployment. I included a page in the back about the charity, the Flat Daddy organization. I raised money for military families through my blog. On radio and television, I talked mostly about the charity and what people can do to help military families. The hosts mentioned the novel on the side.
We snagged one TV spot with a press release about the Flat Daddy charity, but when I got there, all the hosts asked me about was the book. Which was nice, although totally unexpected.
When writing your press release, find a new hook that reporters can latch onto. Make it something viewers or readers will want to find more about. It must be relevant to the viewer, not just to you because you love your book.
Sometimes that could mean writing a guest editorial about a topic (like finances) instead of doing a press release, then mentioning your book in the bio line.
But whatever you do, remember to never, ever use a headline that mentions just you, your book, and that gee, wow, you published one. That isn't news, and it won't get covered except, perhaps, in tiny local papers with a brief mention (which won't sell you any books).
Why should the media care? Why will their viewers and readers care? Hook them with a news story about something that matters.
Then make sure it's a crisp, clean press release, and you just upped the chances that they'll bite.