There has been debate about press releases and whether or not they are obsolete. After all, when you can communicate in 140 characters, why do you need four to five paragraphs?
I have heard directly from book review editors that they toss the materials that come with review copies. I have also had a radio producer chastise me for mistakenly not sending a press packet with a book. Clients have asked me if press releases matter any more: “I mean, does anybody really read those things?”
The short answer is “yes”: there are media, booksellers, librarians, academics, etc., who do pay attention to an old-fashioned press release, and you have no way of knowing who is going to insist on having one and who isn’t. So, I wouldn’t throw out this tool just yet.
What a press release accomplishes
Below are the main reasons why you should write and include a release with your media kit.
1. The Core Message. Press releases are different from any of the other copy you will use to market your book. some of the words may be the same as what you have on the back of the jacket, but the release is supposed to achieve a few things, including delivering the newsworthy or unique aspects of what you are presenting; giving the reader an idea of why you would be a good interview subject; and a relatively brief synopsis of the best points of the book (or product, depending on your industry).
2. Press Approved Copy, or When Your Words Come Back to Haunt You. The copy on your release is assumed to be vetted and usable for the press. It is likely that one outlet or another will just lift the synopsis, or even the entire release, and reprint it online or in the newspaper. The first time I saw this it was a little weird, but by the very nature of what the document is, the words on the release are fair game for repurposing.
3. SEO Optimization. Having the release available on your website, your publicist’s, publisher’s, etc., gives you more real estate online and can offer more search results. You will notice a search for your book brings up Amazon and other big properties first; your publisher and your own website can appear on the first or near the top of the second page. It gives you more power online when there are more references to you and your work.
4. Standard Practices. More people want to see a release than not because it’s part of the public relations/media relations process. Un addition, your booksellers, event coordinators at higher-end venues, and librarians want to see the meat of what you are selling without having to read the entire book. Having a press release gives you a more serious, professional persona when you are marketing your book. It says you mean business and people should pay attention to you. Don’t sell yourself short.
The other more esoteric reason for the release is that it is an opportunity for you and your publicist to come to an understanding of what your intention is about your book and its relevance. It’s important to be fully aware of how the book will be presented and to settle on the message that you would feel comfortable with if it ran in a newspaper or online.
The structure of a release is based on how much interesting or provocative information you can share without overhyping your message. When you introduce the book, in the opening paragraphs, you will need to identify it using the entire title with the subtitle and in parentheses include the publication date, imprint, format, price, and ISBN, like this:
The Great Book: A Novel by Bobbie Bobs (imprint name, publication date, format, ISBN, price).
The first one or two paragraphs should tell the reader of the release why this is a compelling book and what its relevance is to the audience. You will also want to explain why you wrote the book and how your story personal story is connected to it.
The following paragraphs should be a short synopsis of the plot if you are promoting a novel, and a list of the main facts or talking points if you are working on nonfiction. You can also include a more in-depth section on yourself and your story as it relates to the content if you have a strong personal connection to the material.
Within the release, you will want to mention the book’s title at least three times. In the final paragraph, you need to develop an action statement that will tie up everything you have said so far and will encourage the reader to pick up the book and open it! Before you hit spell check, add your short bio under “About the Author” and the specs of the book (the ISBN, etc.) below that. Finish it off with the traditional “# # #” centered on the bottom, which indicates to the media person that all of the words preceding the symbols are approved for the press. To read some examples of releases, go to my website and look under Campaigns.
What is a pitch and how do you write one?
Pitches should fit the media contact receiving them. The press release is pasted below the pitch so the person can choose to learn more about the book. But not everything will get read. The release is an informational supplement that provides another tool for marketing. If a contact only wants to read three sentences, fine. If more is desired, it’s all there.
I have found that authors are much more comfortable summarizing their books than they are “selling” them. A pitch needs to sell something, plain and simple.
The pitch is not the press release. While a press release needs to have some of the most intriguing information about the book, you, and what you are trying to tell your readers, a pitch is a “harder” sell. The idea is to consider to whom you are writing, and to reach out with just the right story at the right time. And, by the way, the first two or three sentences need to hook your target or it’s all over. It’s kind of like auditioning on Broadway. You have eight bars baby. That’s it, so make them shine!
After you have grabbed the attention of the journalist, blogger, bookseller, or producer, you need to include what I call the “meat” or substance that your work will provide to a viewing audience. If your book has a strong nonfiction hook (your personal story can be the strongest hook, even for a novel), then you will need to explain the “story” that makes it interesting. If it is fic-ion, you will explain another story, except this one will be the essence of the plot or characters of the book. This is similar to what you have included on your press release, but not more than a brief paragraph or two.
The end of the pitch is anything else pertinent to the contact, whether it is an event you are doing in a specific market, or simply your (or your publicist’s) contact information. Here are some sample opening lines of successful pitches for nonfiction and fiction titles.
Subject line: She ran a billion-dollar business and changed fashion
Kym Gold, co-founder of True Religion Brand Jeans, changed the way we view and wear denim. This Malibu native is coming to New York in September to promote her book called Gold Standard: How to Rock the World and Run an Empire, in which she relates the story of her life growing up in California; being one of three triplet girls; marrying Mark Burnett and getting divorced; starting a T-shirt business on Venice beach; and years later, married again, running a billion-dollar company, and raising three kids.
Subject line: NJ Family Therapist Dr. Laurie B. Levine pens coming-of-age YA novel
How does an inappropriate student-teacher relationship form, and what are the lasting effects? When Maplewood resident and family therapist Dr. Laurie B. Levine heard that a female Maplewood teacher was arrested for abusive treatment of students, she pulled her young adult novel, on a similar subject, out of the drawer and finished it.
The two biggest mistakes I’ve seen in pitches are that they are too long in length, and not pointed or provocative enough. Clearly you don’t want to create any “fake news” or overhype your pitch, which is just annoying to anyone reading it, but you do need to consider what will make it relevant. The pitch should light the fire and the press release (along with the full media kit—Q&A, bio, talking points) are the fuel that will build the bonfire of interest from media and potential readers.
If you enjoyed this post, I highly recommend Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? by Claire McKinney.
Claire McKinney has been working in public relations for 20 years. She has appeared on Today and CSPAN as an expert on publishing. She travels regularly to speak to authors and audiences about PR and social media marketing. Her clients have included Della Reese, Madeleine Albright, James Patterson, Walter Mosley, Robert Dallek, Rick Moody, George Pelecanos, Kristin Gore, Quick and Dirty Tips, Hafetz and Associates, and Written Word Media.