Sunday, September 16, 2012

Guest author Sally Carpenter: Writing Press Releases That Get Noticed

Sally Carpenter 

Writing a book is only half the battle—now comes marketing your work. But media outlets are swamped with requests from authors seeking coverage. How do you make your press releases stand out from the crowd?

I work at a weekly community newspaper. After reviewing hundreds of press releases sent in by the public—some are well written but most are not—I compiled these suggestions to help writers get a leg up on publicity.

Go digital. 

The press kit with multiple pages, an 8-by-10 glossy author photo and numerous reviews packaged in a cardboard folder is obsolete. The modern newspaper does everything electronically. Media outlets don’t have a typing pool to retype paper documents by hand.

Your “press kit” should be a Word.doc. with author photo and book cover as jpg attachments. That way the staff can easily “copy and paste” your PR without retyping. The photos/graphics can be quickly downloaded into an electronic “folder” without taking time to scan print photos.

If the newspaper’s website has an online submission form, use it instead.

Keep it simple. 

  • Don’t send a PDF of a flyer loaded with graphics. The newspaper will not duplicate your flyer. A PDF that can’t be “copied and pasted” must be retyped. 
  • Some writers are so enthralled with computer graphics that they want to use every type of font and image. If your PR is hard to read it probably won’t be read.

Keep it short.

  • A local theater used to send me nine-page press releases for each play. Out of that material I only used a half-page of information. Another time an author send in a two-page, single-spaced summary of his book. After reading it I still had no idea what his novel was about.
  • Newspaper people don’t have time to wade through reams of data. The best length for a press notice is one page or less. Use the “elevator pitch” for your book. Summarize the plot in one brief paragraph. The idea is to tease the reader, not give away the whole story.
  • Keep the author bio to one paragraph as well. Don’t list every job you had or your hobbies or family members unless that has a bearing on the book (such as your spouse is a fire fighter and that inspired you to write a book about an arson investigator).
  • A newspaper won’t reprint long reviews. A one-sentence quote from one or two reviews is plenty.
  • Always include your website or email address at the end of your press release where the reader can go for more information.

Avoid puff.

  • Don’t load up your PR with adjectives on your book’s merits or brag about your talent. Don’t give a sob story on how your book had fifty rejections or required ten years to write.
  • Just introduce your book with facts. You can gush about your book at the launch party.

Forget the freebies. 

  • Don’t send a copy of your book and ask for a review. Most newspapers don’t do reviews and the ones that do only cover bestsellers. Most free books are simply given away to anyone in the newsroom.
  • You can state in your email that a book is available for review if desired. If they want it, they will ask for it.

Just the facts, ma’am. 

  • If you’re promoting a book signing or other event, be sure all the important information is listed: name of event, day and time, location with street address and city (never assume that the reader knows where the bookstore or library is located), admission cost if any, and phone number of the venue.
  • Triple check your data for completion and accuracy so you won’t need to later send in a correction (dealing with corrections is annoying).

Allow time for processing. 

  • Send in your press release at least two weeks in advance.

Stay off the phone.

  • Don’t call and ask if your material was received. Don’t ask when your notice will run. And especially don’t call and complain if your notice didn’t run. Media outlets are too busy to respond to every query. Multiple factors go into which articles are used. A rejection is nothing personal.

Happy writing and good luck!

Sally Carpenter is the author of the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series. The first book, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper (Oak Tree Press), was a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel. She’s hard at work writing the next book, The Sinister Sitcom Caper. Sally has a master's degree in theatre, a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She has been an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She is now employed at a community newspaper and is a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter and “mom” to two black cats. Contact her at Facebook or


Charles Gramlich said...

Very good advice. Tight and to the point.

Liane Spicer said...

Welcome, Sally!

Excellent advice. I did a stint as editor of a weekly newspaper a few years ago and was amazed by the constant stream of press releases coming through the e-mail. I'd hate to see what the stream for a large, daily publication must look like.

That said, I don't quite concur with the 'no telephone' advice. I've had good results from calling editors and politely asking whether they had received the release. When I did that they looked for it and two out of three responded positively then ran an article. One requested a review copy of the book and did a follow-up review that gave me a couple great blurbs for my websites. These were local newspapers, but I've also had a good result or two from large foreign ones.

I once sent out a batch of releases for a friend. The release included a review that I'd written for the book, and the editor both ran the review and e-mailed me saying that my writing in the review had turned her into a fan. (My friend was not amused that I got a fan out of a press release for HIS book. :))

I once sent a release to the Miami Herald's books editor never expecting anything to come of it, but she contacted me later and offered a spot on the 'What are they reading now' author feature. So those press releases might seem tiresome and futile at times, but my experience has been that they pay off, if not immediately, then somewhere down the line.

Another advantage is when you go through the process once you end up with a great mailing list that makes sending releases afterwards something of a breeze.

William Doonan said...

Great advice, Sally. I enjoyed your no puff, no freebies sections -- it's tempting to think that if you come bearing gifts, you'll be well received. More often, you'll look like an amateur.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Spot on.