I Hate Press Releases

Blank Faces by Rommel Adao

Blank Faces / Rommel Adao

This is part rant, part advice.

I don’t write this post as if my needs were everyone’s.

But it’s frustrating to see authors AND PUBLISHERS—who probably have little time and resource to begin with—wasting their time by contacting bloggers (and others in the media) with dead-on-arrival press releases.

Let’s back up for a moment.

What kind of press releases do I receive?

I receive announcements primarily about new books, new products, and site launches. I also get information about author-experts who are available for interview.

When I say “press release,” I’m referring strictly to an e-mail announcement that is neither addressed to me personally (beyond an automated greeting line) nor is it seeking to serve me or my audience. It is looking to get something out of me: coverage on my blog or social network.

Why are the press releases I receive typically ineffective?

They are part of a huge and impersonal blast, hoping that a few hits will justify a send to hundreds or thousands of e-mail addresses. For instance, I receive regular blasts from book publishers announcing new releases. But it’s hard to feel any excitement at receiving such an announcement when it is not tailored to me, my blog, or my audience. Such releases demand that I make the connection—that I figure out the right angle or fit.

Bad press releases:

  • Do not address me personally
  • Don’t show awareness of my blog or site
  • Are far too long, wordy, or boring
  • Ask me to spend valuable time evaluating something I don’t trust yet (e.g., “Review this book!”)
  • Put limitations on what I can or can’t do
  • Do not propose any specific action steps for me to take
  • Focus on the author/publisher

In other words, I am not treated like a real connection.

Here’s an example of a good e-mail I received from a publicist. This was a cold contact, meaning we had never before been in touch. (This is an independent publicist, not a publicist working for a book publisher.)

Hi Jane.

I follow you everywhere and enjoy everything and always learn!

My client, Rochelle Melander, has her 10th book coming out on October 18 from Writer’s Digest Books.

The title is Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and live to tell about it). Just in time for NaNoWriMo. Rochelle wrote the first draft of this book during NaNoWriMo 2009.

Rochelle’s website is www.writenowcoach.com for more info about the book.

We have a press release, bio and book trailer ready to go. Review copies are available digitally and by mail. We like giveaways of the book if that interests you.

Thanks for your kind consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Dindy Yokel

[contact info]

This is short and to the point. It’s clearly suited to my blog and audience. The publicist and author are interested in doing giveaways, but I’m not, so I replied and said I prefer to run excerpts of new releases rather than review them. Anyone watching my blog for a week or two would catch onto the pattern—but that’s OK. It was easy to reply, and it felt like this would be an easy thing to run. Once I had a digital review copy in hand, I had control over selecting the best excerpt for my audience. And that’s exactly what happened. Easy, fast, and satisfying for all.

Here are 5 reasons I say “yes” to coverage of a book, product/service, website, or author on my blog.

  1. Strong, quality content that will appeal to my audience
  2. I don’t have to “work” for the content or create it myself, except in the case of Q&As. (But I usually only run Q&As with authors whom I know already to some extent—or can easily research. I put time and thought into drafting the questions.)
  3. I believe in the author’s message, or at least I think it’s worth considering/listening to
  4. The content is not going to be duplicated on everyone else’s site/blog
  5. I have some control in selection of the content (I choose the excerpt, headline, etc)

Yes, I pay more attention to appeals coming from people I know, or those who are referred to me by people I trust. But I’m happy to be pitched by strangers if I think their content or message is strong and suited to my audience. If I think the content is suspect, even if it’s coming from someone I know and trust, I will either reject it or edit it until it’s advice or instruction that I would feel comfortable delivering into people’s inboxes.

Back to the rant: I’ve read trend pieces on whether or not the press release is dead. Sometimes I wish they would die, but I also realize they still have a role to play in disseminating official information quickly to specific media channels. But no publicist worth his/her salt ought to be blasting out mediocre requests for coverage to a list of near-strangers. It wastes everyone’s time.

I’ll always remember publicist Dana Kaye answering a question at the Midwest Writers Workshop, from a writer who asked her how big her contact list is. Kaye rightly pointed out that it’s not list size that matters, it’s the list quality. Who will actually read her e-mails or take her calls? Can she get people to pay attention? Does she have meaningful connections on that list?

That’s where the real value lies—NOT in how many people you can reach with a generic message.

 

Posted in Marketing & Promotion.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Florence Fois
Florence Fois

Thanks, Jane. I wonder what you think of blog “tours.” I know that the writers in two of my groups announce releases on our two Facebook pages (RWA-WF and GIAM with Amy Atwell) and that is in a way of supporting each other’s successes. The blog tours are supposed to be replacing the book tours, especially those who are e-pub’d … and I have guested authors on my blog … I am still unsure as to whether this works since we are all talking to each other and not “readers.”

Jill Kemerer

I wish all authors with a book coming out would read this. I often get requests from authors to promote their books, and a few things factor in for me. 1. Does their genre or online presence directly oppose my values (I write for the inspirational market)? 2. Is this author someone I have interacted with online–maybe it’s an author who hasn’t made an effort with me personally but who clearly supports writers–I would be inclined to help this person out. But if she is a debut author and I have supported her by following her blog, leaving comments, and connecting on Twitter/Facebook, but she has not… Read more »

Aaf Aslam
Aaf Aslam

Jane I couldn’t agree with you more. As Editor of a free literary magazine that aims to promote new writers, I’ve often come under pressure to promote the magazine anywhere and everywhere. Many people think that if you just vomit the information all over the net, something’s bound to come out of it. After having read Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’ several years ago, however, I’ve been stuck on the notion of relevant pitching to the right people, i.e. people who have access to reading and writing networks. I’m interested in building a readership and reaching places where promising writers ‘hang’.… Read more »

K McGill
K McGill

Great stuff Jane. Appreciate the heads up. 

Debbie Ohi
Debbie Ohi

yesyesYES!!! So agree with this post. ESPECIALLY THE LAST LINE.

Vanessa Leavitt
Vanessa Leavitt

This is GREAT advice. As a blogger, I get a lot of requests to review books. Unfortunately in this day and age, we are bombarded with so much information that a impersonal press release just isn’t going to catch me the same way a simple personal request would.

Anne R. Allen

Say it, sister! Every blogger who does reviews or has a lot of traffic will relate. If I get a request to publicize anybody who isn’t a follower or a regular commenter on my blog, it goes in the trash. I feel the same way about blogs with tiny readerships who offer me the “opportunity” to guest on their blogs. Why would I write for a stranger’s tiny audience when I have a large one of my own? If you have no relationship with the blogger, don’t bother her! 

Jennifer Vanderslice

I’m glad you told me so I won’t bother you in the future with any press releases about the authors I represent.  I’m sure you’re as relieved as I am! 😉

Liz Jansen
Liz Jansen

Hi Jane,

Your timing is impeccable.  As a new author getting ready to launch her first book, there’s a steep learning curve to master. With so many details to focus on, there’s no point wasting time or resources on anything that’s not value-added.  Thanks for your words of wisdom.

Irving Podolsky

You know, Jane, I don’t think there is one person on the planet that doesn’t want or need something from someone else. It’s the BIG GAME, the competition is fierce, and it’s natural. So with all the ASKING going around, (and it doesn’t matter where you are in the food chain), I feel like I’ll never get to the head of line. And if I do, I feel awkward asking for favors. It just doesn’t feel like a natural happening. That’s why I try to steer clear of the solicitations. I’ve found it’s much easier to GIVE, and make an… Read more »

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Carolyn O'Neal

What about press releases sent to newspapers? Do you have any advice regarding them? Is it better to send press release via email or mail. Mine are pdf files & I fear sending attachments means they won’t be opened. Do you think directing newspapers to my website is the best way to go (like in your example ). Thanks for your blog!

ferris robinson

Thanks for another great post and a very timely one for me. I’m speaking at a business association meeting next week (yikes!) about how to submit info to a newspaper and once again, you nailed it. I appreciate all you share!