Learn how to earn free press coverage to elevate your author brand and drive demand for your books. You'll also learn how to write a press release and how to promote your news to mainstream media. This is part six in Mark Coker's six-part serialization of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide. This six-part marketing series began with episode 10 of the Smart Author Podcast.
The 10 Minute PR Checklist - Earn the Publicity You Deserve - A short publicity checklist for corporate executives, written by Mark Coker. Although not written specifically for authors, some authors who want to control more of their publicity have found it helpful. Enter coupon code YM44S to get it for $2.99 (save $5.00).
Google Alerts - Identify the media and journalists that write about your topic
Blogmetrics BlogRank - Use this free service to identify the top blogs in different categories.
Help a Reporter Online - Free email service alerts you whenever reporters are looking for expert sources to interview.
Cision - Media directory. Too expensive for authors. Ask your library if they subscribe.
Bulldog Reporter - Media directory. Too expensive for authors. Ask your library if they subscribe.
PRlog.org - free press release wire service
PRNewswire - Owned and operated by Cision. Industrial strength PR wire service used by PR agencies and corporations. Too expensive for most authors.
Welcome to the Smart Author Podcast, where you'll learn to publish ebooks with greater pride, professionalism and success. I'm your host, Mark Coker. Let's get started.
In this episode I present the final installment of my six part series on book marketing. You'll learn how to generate high profile press coverage that will elevate your author brand and create exciting new opportunities to reach readers.
This is my audio serialization of the new 2018 edition of The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, coming out at the end of January 2018. This marketing series begin with episode 10 of the Smart Author Podcast. Let's jump in now to episode 15.
How to earn free press coverage
As I mentioned back in chapter 1, prior to starting Smashwords in 2008, I ran an award-winning Silicon Valley PR firm for about 15 years. I've always had enormous respect for the power of PR, and especially its potential to be used as a force for good or evil. A quick check of the day's headlines in this era of fake news will give you a depressing sense of how people can use the political derivative of PR propaganda to use it for evil.
Here in this final section of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, I want to share how you can harness the power of PR for good, and this good is to help you draw greater attention to your author brand and your books. I'll teach you how to work in the spirit of partnership with professional journalists to earn mainstream media coverage that can elevate your author brand and your books to thousands of potential readers.
As an indie author, you're running a business, your marketing objective is to raise awareness of your author brand and build positive brand perceptions that will motivate readers to take actions beneficial to your business. The most important of these actions is for your target reader to gain the necessary awareness and desire to give your writing a try. Once they try your book, it's up to your writing to earn the reader's ongoing trust, loyalty and word-of-mouth.
As I explained earlier in the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, there are two primary components to brand building. The first is awareness building and the second is perception building. One of the most powerful methods of building brand awareness and perception is to be the subject of traditional media coverage.
In this section I'll teach you skills and techniques that you can use to earn free press coverage. You'll learn how to leverage your expertise and credibility as an author to gain inclusion in mainstream media stories.
The mainstream media is story driven. Reporters are looking to develop and cover stories that educate, inform and entertain their readers. Throughout this section, when I refer to your story in the context of publicity, I'm not referring to your book in the narrow sense, instead I'm referring in a broader sense to the newsworthy aspects of your authorship. We'll explore the news you're making that deserves press coverage and we'll explore your opportunity to contribute useful insights, perspectives and expertise that can get you quoted in these media stories. You'll also learn how to help reporters develop original stories that would not have existed were it not for your vision and contribution.
Media coverage comes in many forms, it could be a feature story about you in a local newspaper or a national newspaper, a story in a print magazine, an interview on national television, or on a radio show, or a guest interview on a podcast. It could be a quote from you in a broader story about some trend or issue. Most stories in the media are formulaic; they pull together different components that work together to form the whole. Much in the same way that your heart, lungs and nervous system contribute to the story that is your life.
For example, a reporter will cover the news such as a hurricane making landfall. To round out their story, they'll want to speak to people affected by the news, people that are making the news, and then they'll want to speak with independent experts for their perspectives on the news. Depending on the story, as an author, you'll have opportunities to contribute to these stories from one or more perspectives.
You'll also have the opportunity to suggest stories to which you can contribute. These stories you suggest are bigger than you. The stories are vehicles that will carry your story to a greater audience. Whether story is about you or it simply includes a short quote from you in support of the larger story, the story that's published will help elevate your author brand and your books to thousands of people.
The value of media coverage is that it's more credible, more desirable and more visible than paid advertising. Consumers go out of their way to ignore paid advertising. This is why it's so difficult for authors to achieve a return on investment from their paid advertising. Consumers view a paid advertisement as less trustworthy and less credible. Often, paid advertising clutters up the physical and virtual page that gets in the way of them reading the journalist produced articles and stories they want to consume from trusted media outlets. If the New York Times or your local newspaper chooses to interview you for a feature story, that story is perceived by readers as an endorsement. It's an affirmation of your awesomeness. This is because traditional media coverage is curated by professional journalists and therefore it's viewed as more credible. If you're fortunate enough to earn such press coverage, your brand and your books could be celebrated to an audience of hundreds of thousands of potential readers.
There's a purpose to press coverage, it's not about ego gratification. As an author who needs to reach readers, you have a personal responsibility to get your message out. The press is the medium to get your message to the largest possible audience.
Back when I ran my former PR agency, I'd often work with media shy CEOs who didn't want to be in the spotlight. They'd tell me "I want to elevate the stature of our products and our company, not myself." Their modesty was virtuous, but misplaced. My response was always the same, as the CEO of this company, you have a responsibility to elevate your personal stature in the industry because your stature will give you the platform to elevate your products and company.
As a self published author, you are the CEO of your business. You might be a shy introvert, but if you want to take your marketing to the next level you have a responsibility to yourself to elevate yourself so you can elevate your business. A reader can't consider your book if they don't know it exists. Even if they stumble across your book by accident, they're less likely to consider it if your pen name, which is your brand, is unfamiliar to them. If they haven't heard of you they won't have any perceptions about you, you're unknown. In marketing, being unknown is tantamount to being an un-trusted outcast, whereas familiarity fosters greater trust and confidence.
This is where the art of public relations comes in. Public relations, also referred to in this context as publicity or media relations, is one of the most powerful tools in your marketing toolbox. Most authors have no idea how to unlock its potential. The primary goal of public relations is to generate free publicity in the form of media coverage. Few marketing activities can elevate your author brand and your books as effectively as media coverage. Press coverage will help make you more known and will help you build positive perceptions about your brand and your work. The term media is a broad term, media is basically anything upon which your message can travel.
In the early 1990s, the most coveted media coverage was print and broadcast. Back in those days, I'd work to get our clients covered in major national newspapers like the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal, or in national magazines, or in local newspapers. We'd work to land them stories on television and radio.
By the late 1990s, online media coverage came on the scene as internet usage grew and magazines moved online. Blogging also came to prominence as an important media outlet around that time. At first, online media coverage was seen as less important than physical print coverage, but today attitudes have changed. The online story today often gets significantly more readership than the print version because the online version is shareable across social media and also because more news is consumed on screens.
Over the last two decades, we've seen a rise of new and increasingly influential media forms. In addition to traditional media moving online in new and exciting ways, media itself has been democratized with the advent of social media, blogs, YouTube videos and podcasting. We're all media now. Traditional media has fractured, it's become atomized and infinitely specialized, and in the process thousands of exciting new outlets for media coverage have joined traditional outlets to carry your marketing message directly to your target audience.
Next section, the thinking behind strategic media relations. Now the big burning question, what can an author do to become the subject of positive media coverage? It starts with ta process of reverse engineering, first identify the target audience you want to reach. Who is that reader who will enjoy your books more than any other reader? Once you identify your audience, identify the media outlets your audience consumes, because these are the outlets you'll want to target when you begin your media outreach. Next, study each media outlet to understand it, study their stories to gain a sense of how they seek to serve their audience. What do they write about? The only way you can convince a journalist to include you or your books in a story is if they believe your information or expertise can help them build a story that will serve their target audience. No two media outlets are the same. Some might write only book reviews and others might publish a mix of news stories, book reviews and opinion pieces.
Next, let's cover message development. Visualize what your target reader needs to know. What are the perceptions that will ultimately drive your target reader to seek out and purchase your books? Once you know the perceptions prospective readers must have to drive demand for your books, then you can identify the messages that can help build and reinforce those perceptions.
For example, if you write nonfiction you want to establish yourself as a subject matter expert on the topics covered in your books. You can establish your expertise by sharing your expertise in a way that will get it picked up by the media so that the audience of that media is exposed to your author brand and your expertise. Prospective readers who appreciate your expertise will then seek out more by purchasing your books. If you write fiction you want to establish your author brand as an author of high quality books in your specific genre or category. You might even want to establish yourself as a subject matter expert in topics that are related to the category for your books.
Your inclusion in mainstream media coverage will serve as an endorsement of your author brand and send the message that you're an author worth reading. In both the nonfiction and fiction instances, the goal is to build awareness, familiarity and demand for your author brand.
Next, to bring this reverse engineering exercise full circle, identify the common intersection between the types of stories, the specific media outlets audience wants to hear and your ability to package your messages in a way that you can become part of those stories. In this way, the stories become the vehicles that carry your messages to prospective readers.
Your opportunities are multidimensional. For example, if you wrote a cookbook, there are an unlimited number of ways that you can slice and dice your expertise to serve the informational needs of multiple different media audiences. Maybe one magazine that focuses on parenting has a regular monthly feature on how families construct their budgets, in this case, you could offer the magazine tips on how readers can stretch their meal budgets. Or maybe a different magazine or media outlet is focused on healthy living for seniors, or for athletes, or women, or men, you could offer to be interviewed for a story on how to prepare healthier meals. Or maybe it's a cooking magazine and your expertise could help them develop an interesting story on how various spices can interact with one another to create exciting new flavors. There might also be geographical, cultural or historical angles that you can explore as well and new audiences you can reach that would be interested in these different angles. If you're an expert on regional cuisine, for example, there are airlines that fly to different regions of the world, and these airlines publish high circulation in-flight magazines that do articles celebrating the cultural aspects of these different regions. The stories you seek to inspire, or gain inclusion in, will leverage your expertise to draw both direct and indirect attention to your author brand and books.
Media outreach, how to work with reporters
The most effective method of earning press coverage is for you to get out there and proactively pitch reporters on your story ideas and expertise. You want to learn to think like a reporter. If you can help journalists serve their readers or audience, you can gain inclusion in their stories.
In the last section, you learned how to identify the messages that media can deliver that will establish the awareness and perceptions that cause readers to gravitate toward your books. With this thinking under your belt, you're ready to start contacting reporters. In the next section, I'm going to list 24 tips to help you plan and execute your media outreach. But before you can start contacting reporters, you need to first identify which media outlets and reporters should be contacted. We'll start with how to identify opportunities for press coverage.
Tip number one, visualize the types of stories for which you want to gain inclusion. Like most authors, you probably often read stories in the media for which you have strong opinions, you might also often read stories for which you're thinking "they should've interviewed me for that." Every time you're interviewed for a reporter's story, that story becomes the vehicle that carries your author brand name, your pen name, to a greater audience, and it also carries with it your unique perspectives and expertise.
Visualize the types of stories and the subject matter of stories for which you seek to gain inclusion. What are the keywords and phrases associated with those stories? Once you identify those keywords and phrases, go to Google alerts, which was the subject of tip number six among my 65 Book Marketing Tips, and create an alert for each of these keywords and phrases so you're alerted whenever a reporter writes a story on this subject. This will help you identify media outlets that can help you reach your audience. It will also help you identify the journalists who are interested in covering these topics. A journalist that writes a story about romance, ebooks today or steampunk fiction, or whatever your category, is likely to write similar stories on that topic in the future. If the story has a comment section, add your expert perspective and opinion. Keep the tone positive. Write an email to the reporter and let them know you enjoyed the story and then introduce yourself and offer to serve as a resource if the reporter plans to cover similar subjects in the future. Finally, add the reporter to your target media list for future contact if you have a story that might interest them.
Your media list is my next item.
So item number two, build your target media list. Identify media outlets that can help you reach your target audience and add them to a spreadsheet so you can track and contact them in the future. These outlets may range from specialized genre specific magazines to national mainstream media for which your target audience represents some subset of their audience. Let's say you live in the United States and you published a book titled How to Protect your Garden from Squirrels without Killing the Cute Little Critters, there are probably hundreds of gardening reporters, at local and national newspapers across the country, who could benefit from your wisdom.
Where do you find them and where do you find their contact information? Well, here's the answer, there are great media directories out there such as Scission and Bulldog Reporter, that will tell you which reporters cover what and how to contact them. But these services are too expensive for most authors, so I don't recommend you buy them. Instead, contact your local library and ask if they subscribe to these or other media directories. A good media directory will list the media outlet, the circulation or reach of that media outlet and which reporters cover which topics and how best to contact each reporter. If you don't have access to a media directory you can still build your target media list by visiting the websites of your target media. Click to the stories in your subject category and learn which reporters cover category. Often, stories are accompanied by a reporter's name and email address. Or check the masthead of the magazine, or the newspaper, or the media outlet and look for the names of their editors, reporters and the beats of these editors and reporters.
In addition to traditional media, don't skimp on bloggers. A company called Blog Metrics operates a great free service called blog rank, you'll find it at www.blogmetrics.org. Blog rank allows you to search on any topic and then it produces a ranked list of the largest and most influential blogs on that topic. Back to my gardening idea, you can view blog rank's lists of the top gardening bloggers by going to blogmetrics.org/gardening. Give it a try. Visit and read the blogs to identify which ones do the best job of reaching your target audience. Study what they write bout, who their target audience is and visualize how you can shape your expertise to benefit their audience while promoting your book. Once you know these answers, you're ready to contact the blogger owner with a targeted pitch.
Number three, ask your readers what media they consume. Post a query on your Facebook page and ask your readers to tell you their favorite media outlets that they use to stay informed about the news or to discover new books in their favorite categories. You'll likely gain several ideas for additional media targets that will help you reach more readers like them.
Number four, build an editorial calendar. Many national magazines and newspapers maintain editorial calendars of major feature stories they plan for the year ahead. As you develop your list of target media, check their websites for editorial calendars. Magazines and newspapers publish these editorial calendars to help advertisers identify opportunities where the target readers for these stories match their target audience for their ads. PR professionals and authors can use these editorial calendars to identify upcoming features for which the author's expertise or book could provide useful assistance in the development of that story. You'll often find these calendars in the advertising section of the website and often within what's called a media kit. The editorial departments of monthly magazines are usually working four to five months in advance of the cover date of the magazine, so contact them early. This means, for example, that if a major monthly magazine is planning an appropriate feature story for their December issue, you'll probably want to start reaching out to their editorial department in early August.
Number five, subscribe to HARO. I mentioned, which stands for help a reporter online, earlier in chapter two, tip seven, within my list of 65 Book Marketing Tips. With a free subscription to this thrice-daily service, you'll be fed a steady stream of potential media opportunities. Respond to the queries as appropriate. In the next tips, I'll teach you how to pitch your story to the media, composing the pitch.
Tip number six, celebrate your identity. You are an author, you want to help develop stories where you're either the feature of the story or you're one of the experts quoted. When a reporter quotes you and identifies you, you want to be identified by first and last name and as the author of your given book title, or as a writer of books on your book subject. In this way, a simple one line quote with attribution serves as a publicity vehicle by which you can raise the stature of your author brand. This means that per the advice in my 65 Book Marketing Tips, all your social media profiles should identify you as an author, and your email signature should also identify you as an author. That's your job title. That's your identity. Because if your name is Jane Smith and you're an author and a reporter interviews you and only identifies you as Jane Smith, a resident of San Jose, California, you gain no marketing benefit from that quote.
Number seven, honesty. Always be 100% honest with journalists. Honesty is the secret to successful PR. You want to develop a lifelong relationship with this reporter, and relationships are built on trust and credibility.
Number eight, email is best for first contact. Even if you have the blogger's or reporter's phone number, email is always the best form of first contact because you'll never risk interrupting them while they're on deadline. The best time to send a newspaper reporter an email is in the morning because daily newspapers go on deadlines starting in the afternoon.
Number nine, no file attachments. Never send a press release or other material as a file attachment and never attach multiple files in the zip format. Reporters won't want to open it for fear that it contains a virus. It also requires multiple clicks to unzip these zipped files. Instead, always compose your email in plain text, not html, and copy the press release into the body of the email as plain text, if you're including a press release. If you want to provide them other digital files, provide hyperlinks to where the reporter can download these files from a trusted website such as your author webpage, your blog, or Dropbox.
This brings me to the next item, number 10, provide a digital press kit with links. 20 years ago, it was a common practice for PR professionals to snail mail or FedEx physical press kits to reporters. A press kit is simply a folder containing the press release, artwork such as a high-resolution headshot or cover image, printed or digital media such as a CD or a thumb drive, and brochures or data sheets if those are appropriate. Although PR people still send out physical kits, a better option for most authors is to create a digital kit, which can be as simple as your text email along with the text of the press release, if you have one, and hyperlinks to where the reporter can download your photo, your book cover image and other supplemental materials. Stories with images get better readership, and it should go without saying that if your picture or book cover is included in the story, it will significantly increase your brand stature.
Number 11, pitch around themes for which you are a subject matter expert. You're a subject matter expert in something or possibly many things. Even if your book has already been on the market for some time, you can still package your pitch around the themes of your book to help the reporter write something new.
Back to my gardening theme, let's say you wrote an ebook about organic gardening, you could pitch gardening reporters a story like five tips for pesticide free gardening, and these tips would draw upon the information in your book. Reporters love to run checklists. Checklists also articulate your expertise, which may motivate the reporter to decide to interview you for a more in-depth story.
For nonfiction authors, it's easy to identify the areas in which you're a subject matter expert, just look at your books. Fiction authors are also subject matter experts. Most fiction authors do extensive research on their subject. If you're writing steam punk fiction, for example, you're probably an expert on Victorian era technology and clothing. If you write historical fiction set during World War II, you're probably an expert on aspects of that war. If you've sold a lot of books, you could be interviewed as an expert on an article for self-publishing.
I remember a few years ago I was watching a CNN special and the topic was the illegal drug trafficking that was going on between Mexico and the United States. Their on-air subject matter expert was an American author who had researched Mexican drug cartels for his novels about the Mexican drug trade. It was an amazing press coverage opportunity for him and his novels.
Number 12, great pitches are about substance. Avoid hyperbole in hype. That's a turnoff to reporters. Stick to verifiable facts.
Number 13, the pitch should be relevant to the journalist's audience. The reporter's there to serve their audience, not to serve you. Put yourself in their audiences' shoes because that's what the reporter does every minute of their day. If you write romance novels, the pitch to a journalist at a romance magazine will be much different than if you're composing a pitch to the publishing reporter at the Wall Street Journal. A romance magazine serves readers who are enthusiastic about romance novels, whereas a publishing reporter at the Wall Street Journal cares about the business of publishing and how it impacts publicly traded booksellers and publishers.
Number 14, personalize your pitch based on the journalist's prior stories. Each reporter or blogger should receive a personalized pitch written just for them. Research the reporter before you contact them, confirm they write about topics similar to your realm of expertise or interest. Don't pitch your story to reporters who won't cate.
For example, a gardening reporter would never want to talk to an author of a political memoir, unless that author was also an accomplished gardener. A gardening reporter will mostly care about seeds, plants, soil, bugs, critters, weather, gardening tools and gardening techniques. Go the extra mile and ream some of the journalist's prior stories before you pitch them. If you read their stories, you'll know what interests them. If you can tell them you read one of their stories and cite the story by name and give them a hyperlink to it, you're 10 times more likely to receive a positive response because they'll know you took the time to understand their beat and their interests before you contacted them. And if they no longer cover that beat, if they see that you went the extra mile, they're more likely to introduce you to the new reporter that covers that beat now.
Number 15, the pitch should be short. Journalists are pressed for time, they won't have the time or attention to read a rambling thousand word explanation of why you're contacting them. Your pitch should be no longer than a few short paragraphs, followed by your press release pasted below the pitch, if you are using a press release and if a press release is appropriate for the pitch. I'll talk more about press releases in a few moments. If you can't hook the reporter with your email subject line, they won't read your email, and if you can't hook them in the first two or three sentences of your email, you're wasting their time.
Number 16, the tone of your email. The tone of your email should be professional and to the point, but not stiff or stilted. Think business casual. Avoid attempts at humor, because on first contact humor or snark is easily misinterpreted. Reporters care about facts.
Number 17, address them by name. Although you're welcome to address a reporter formally, such as, "Dear Ms. Smith," I've always found that first name is best. There's no need for unnecessary formality. There's no need to elevate the reporter to a pedestal when you can show them the respect they deserve in other meaningful ways. Always address them by name and never with a salutation such as, "Hi," without the name. Put yourself in their shoes, they receive hundreds of emails each day and they're looking for reasons to click delete as they clear out their inboxes. When I receive an email addressed to "Hi," without my name, I usually delete it without reading further because it's either spam or it's not for me. If they know my email address, how do they not know my name?
Also, for the same reasons, never address the email to "Dear reporter," or, "To whom it may concern," because nothing is more personal to a person than their first name. Use it.
Number 18, don't expect a reply to every pitch. Every reporter's hounded by people who want free press coverage, even if they're interested in your story they may not have time to reply or maybe they'll file your query away so that they can contact you in the future. That's good too. If the ignore your pitch, don't worry, most pitches won't receive a reply. PR is a numbers game, if you write 20 well researched and personalized pitches and you get one story out of it, that single-story will make all your effort worthwhile. If your pitch is personalized, appropriate and targeted you'll probably earn a higher response rate than that.
Number 19, don't hound the reporter with follow-up. Don't be annoying. One tactic that unsavory salespeople use is to send you an email and then when you don't respond, they'll send you same email over and over again by clicking to their outbox and doing a reply all and then they'll ask you if you missed their email. That's annoying. Never do this to a reporter. You serve at the reporter's pleasure, not the other way around.
Number 20, always respect a reporter or a blogger's time. If you contact the wrong blogger or reporter, or if you pester them, they'll remember you for the wrong reasons. They're under no obligation to cover your story, no matter how wonderful your story is.
Number 21, always be polite. Authors are passionate people, if a reporter or blogger rejects your pitch, thank them for their consideration and move on. Don't argue with them. Don't call them names. In other words, don't be an idiot. Believe it or not, I've heard many stories of authors abusing book bloggers who declined to review their books. That's crazy.
Number 22, tips for contacting bloggers. Unlike most reporters, which are paid by their media outlet, many bloggers you contact are doing it for the passion alone. Ask yourself, how can you help them serve their audience and how can you make their job easier by providing them content for a great post? In addition to pitching them stories, check to see if the feature guest bloggers, if they do, you could offer yourself as a guest blogger.
Number 23, leave an open door. At the end of every pitch, try to leave the door open so that if they can't do a story now they'll consider you as an expert resource in the future.
Number 24, write a great press release. In the section that follows, I'll teach you how and under what circumstances to write a press release. A press release is a time-honored form of packaging newsworthy information that can then be provided to the journalist. Professional journalists use press releases to write stories or they use them to inspire ideas for different stories.
In my tech PR days where we'd often promote new technology products, we wanted the press release to answer a very simple question immediately in the first sentence, what it is, what it does and why it's special. This context is important. If you can't answer the question of why someone should care, then you probably shouldn't issue a press release.
Here's how a good email pitch might read, incorporating some of the guidance I just provided above, so here's my pitch, "Hi, Sam. I just read your gardening story from last year about weed control using herbicidal sprays," and then insert a hyperlink to the story, "I'm a master gardener and I thought your story was excellent. Yesterday I published an ebook at Smashwords titled 50 tips for chemical free gardening," and then insert a hyperlink to that book, "and I dedicated an entire chapter to organic weed control. Would you believe that bantam chickens are great weed eaters? I also address important topics such as soil conditioning, water conservation and pesticide free bug control." Now, note how with this sentence I'm dropping an additional topic area likely to interest a gardening reporter in the future. I want the reporter to save my contact information for the next time they write a story on one of these topics, and then I continue with the pitch. "If you'd like a free review copy of my book, you can use this coupon code it Smashwords to download it as a free ebook," and then I give a hyperlink to the book, where the book can be downloaded and provide the coupon code in the email.
"I'd also be happy to speak with you on the phone if you'd like to learn more about my organic gardening tips. The press release is pasted below. Please let me know if you're working on anything now or in the future where I can be of assistance." So note that this sentence leaves the door open for future collaboration. "Thanks for your consideration and best wishes. Jane" And then Jane lists her full name, which is Jane Gardner, and her phone number and then below that is her automatic email signature, which lists her other coordinates.
So that gives you an idea of the tone and content of a targeted pitch that's likely to be met with a smile on the other end. Note how I presented the reporter multiple options to work with me and I gave the reporter reasons to hold onto my information so that they can use me as a resource in the future. If they find my pitch compelling, they can pull information directly from my press release or email me back to request an interview.
Now let's look at how and when to write a press release.
How and When to Write a Press Release
One of the most effective methods of packaging your media-worthy story is to write a press release. Press releases have been around for decades as one of the primary vehicles by which companies package and disseminate news to the press. If you learn how write a good press release, it'll give you an advantage in the battle to secure a high-profile press coverage.
As I suggested in marketing tip number 50 earlier in this book, you can write a press release to celebrate your next book release and send that press release to your local newspaper. The act of writing a press release is a valuable exercise. It forces you to confront, define and refine various aspects of the newsworthiness of your expertise, knowledge or story. A press release helps you answer the question of why the world should care. You'll find that the skills you learn writing a press release will carry over into all your other marketing.
For example, once you know how to write a great headline, you'll find that all your social media posts become more compelling too. Once you learn to capture the meat of your story in the first couple sentences of your press release, you'll hone your elevator pitch. Below, I'll teach you got to write a press release and then I'll share ideas on how you can promote your story, but first let's review three benefits of press releases.
Three Benefits of Press Releases
Number one, the press release is a proven form of communication. Recipients of well written press releases, such as reporters and bloggers, know that it will contain all the information they need to evaluate the suitability of your story for their audience and it will include all the information they would need to cover the story. A good press release tells the recipient what you're announcing or offering, why they should care and where they can learn more information if interested.
Number two, press releases aren't just for the traditional press anymore. Since a press release is a packaged story, consumers read press releases too. In fact, some news organizations even have channels on their new sites where they run a full feed of press releases.
Number three, press releases help you build paths, hyperlinks back to your author profile page, your book pages, or to your website and blog. Your press release will be forever archived and discoverable on search engines like Google. This means you're building paths to help internet users discover you and your book. The more paths you build to your online presence, the more likely you are to rank highly in the search engines, which means your prospective readers are more likely to find you.
What's a good press release topic?
A good press release should have news value for its target media outlets. The company or author issuing the press release provides the press release to the press in the hopes that it'll generate a story or an interview request. Each media outlet will have a different definition of what's newsworthy and this will be based on the outlet's editorial mission. Their interest in your story can also be influenced by the time of year, geography or current events. Your hometown's newspaper, for example, covers news of interest to local residents. They might be interested to learn that a local resident has just published a new novel inspired by the local area, or they might be interested to receive a press release announcing that you're holding a book launch event at your local library, or that you're announcing that several indie authors are joining together to hold a public reading at the local library.
A press release might have local or national relevance. How might your press release be of national interest? Let's say you wrote a gardening book, you could publish a press release that shares the top five tips for ridding your garden of pesky squirrels. You could promote it to the home and garden writers at major newspapers, magazines and blogs. A good time to pitch the story might be in early spring when readers are starting to plan and plant their summer gardens.
You might also have the opportunity to offer yourself as an expert source tied to a topical news story. In this way, even an old book can serve as the catalyst for fresh press coverage. Let's say you wrote a book many years ago titled flood repair for homeowners, when the next hurricane hits Florida, causing major flooding, you could issue a press release to share important flood remediation tips drawn from your book and then send it to reporters at all the newspapers in the region. In the aftermath of any disaster, local journalists will be hungry to write stories that can help local residents recover from the disaster.
Now let's look at how to write a press release.
Press releases have a strict format you should follow. If you don't follow the format, the receiving journalist is less likely to consider you a credible source for their story. A good length for a press release is the equivalent of one or two printed pages. Shorter is usually better.
Let's look at the elements of a press release, piece by piece.
At the top of the press release, you'll see the phrase For Immediate Release. These three words usually appear flush left at the top of a press release on its own line and signal to the reporter that this is a press release and it contains news for their immediate consideration and coverage.
The second element is the Press Contact section. If you're sending a press release to a reporter, add a section titled press contact where you include contact information such as your first and last name, your email address and your phone number. If you're placing the press release online or sending it to a wire service, drop the phone number and obfuscate your email address so that automated scrapers don't add your email to their spam lists.
My email address, for example, obfuscated, would be first initial, second initial @ smashwords.com. In a print-formatted press release, the press contact section is usually near the top of the press release, usually near or across from the for immediate release slog. Alternatively, you can place the contact information at the end of the press release under the boilerplate, which I'll explain in a moment.
The third component is the headline. The headline's words are either all caps or initial caps. Initial caps is best. A good headline summarizes the high-level message of what you're announcing or offering. If your headline isn't compelling, the reporter won't read beyond the headline. In my flood remediation example, the headline could be something like, "Flood Repair Expert Shares 10 Tips for Home Flood Recovery". If you're disseminating the press release on paper, the headline should be centered and it should occupy no more than two lines of text, sized at 12 or 14 point font. When you email the text of the press release, centering isn't necessary.
The fourth component is the subhead. Subheads are always initial caps and centered and separated from the headline by a blank line. A subhead provides additional context about your announcement and helps convey why the story is important. In my flood recovery example, the subhead could read, Homeowners Learn to Mitigate Flood Damage and Access Federal Disaster Recovery Assistance.
The fifth component, which starts the body of the press release, is the dateline. The first paragraph of your press release begins with the dateline in the format of city, state – date. This tells the reporter from where your news is originating. Usually, the dateline is your hometown.
The next element is the first paragraph of your press release. The first paragraph of your press release should begin with a punchy sentence and that sentence begins immediately after, and on the same line, as the dateline. The first sentence should also start with common phraseology such as Jane Smith, author of XYZ, today announced or today shared. So in my flood remediation example, the first sentence of her press release could read, Jane Smith, author of flood repair for homeowners, today shared 10 flood remediation tips to help homeowners cope in the aftermath of hurricane Jeffrey. A good first sentence and a good first paragraph is packed with context, it should tell the reader what the announcement is about, who's it for, why it's important and why the audience would care. If you don't grab the journalist's interest by the end of the first or second sentence, they won't read the rest of your press release.
Next comes the second paragraph. The second paragraph is a good place for a quote from the author. A strong adds useful context or information and should be written in such a way that the reporter would want to lift the quote and place it directly into their story. A good quote should contain only two or three sentences and it should follow a strict format of first sentence followed by a come and end quote, followed by an attribution and book title, followed by a second and possibly a third sentence of the quote. The first quote should make a notable statement and the second and third sentences should add more context. So in my fictitious example here, Jane's quote might read as follows, "The greatest property damage from hurricanes is usually caused by flooding," said Jane Smith, author of the book flood repair for homeowners. "The most immediate priority after a flood is to try out the premises before mold sets in. Left untreated mold can destroy a home and render it unsafe for habitation." So that's a punchy quote that should get the reporters interest.
After the second paragraph comes the third paragraph and the fourth and however much you need. This is where you'll place additional media information and newsworthy information. In the flood example, Jane's 10 tips could be bulleted here. In the following paragraphs, brevity is important. You want to provide the reporter enough media information to form the basis of their story or you want to spark enough interest for the reporter to request a full-fledged interview with you. If you write nonfiction, this is a good place to summarize, or share valuable knowledge, or give the reader a high-level overview of what they'll learn from your book and how this information will benefit them. If you're writing fiction, this is a good place to provide some juicy details about your story, the research you conducted or what inspired you to write the story.
The final element is called the boilerplate. This is the last paragraph of the press release and will usually be titled about the author. In a single paragraph, you'll place the author bio and summarize where readers can purchase the book or learn more about the author. The boilerplate can include hyperlinks to your Smashwords' author profile page, your book pages, your personal website, your blog, your social media coordinates and convention which retailers are carrying your ebook.
Sample Press Release Layout, Per Example Above
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Author, Flood Repair for Homeowners
Flood Repair Expert Shares 10 Tips for Home Flood Recovery
Homeowners Learn to Mitigate Flood Damage and Access Federal Disaster Recovery Assistance
Miami, Florida - August 21, 2018 -- Jane Smith, author of Flood Repair for Homeowners, today shared 10 flood remediation tips to help homeowners cope in the aftermath of hurricane Jeffrey. These ten tips will help homeowners mitigate damage, speed cleanup and save money on repairs.
"The greatest property damage from hurricanes is usually caused by flooding," said Jane Smith, author of the new book, Flood Repair for Homeowners. "The most immediate priority after a flood is to try out the premises before mold sets in. Left untreated mold can destroy a home and render it unsafe for habitation."
10 Tips for Home Flood Recovery:
About Jane Smith
Jane Smith, a writer based in San Jose, California, is the author of ten books that homeowners how to prepare for and recover from common natural disasters. Her latest book, Flood Repair for Homeowners, published in January, 2018, won the coveted Ducky Award from the Society of Flood Engineers. Flood Repair for Homeowners is available as an ebook priced at $9.99 at all major retailers including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo and Amazon. Follow Jane on social media at Twitter @janesmithflood or visit her Smashwords Author page for more information at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/janesmithxxxxx
Where to run your press release.
In addition to including your press release within your email pitches to the media, you can also run your press release on one of the press release wire services. There are several free press release wire services you can use to get good exposure for your press release. One that I've experimented with is called prlog.org. For an industrial-strength wire service, you might consider PR newswire at prnewswire.com, but PR Newswire is not free. Try a free service first. The primary benefit of publishing your press release on one of these PR wire services is that your press release will become archived and discoverable by all the major search engines. It can be difficult to sell enough books to justify the high expense of a service like PR Newswire, which will typically run you $300 or more.
If you do decide to experiment with one of these paid services, run your press release only on the cheapest circuit such as your local circuit. Many of these paid services offer so-called national or international or premium circuits to give your press release broader distribution, but my experience over the years has shown that these broader circuits are usually a waste of money. Many people believe that by running a press release on a wire service, they'll get press coverage. This is not usually the case. Your best press coverage will come from your proactive promotion of your news when you personally reach out to reporters and bloggers and pitch your story to them.
Learn more about the practice of public relations.
Several years ago I wrote a short ebook titled The 10 Minute PR Checklist, Earn the Publicity You Deserve. It's available at Smashwords and all the major ebook retailers. I wrote it for marketing professionals, entrepreneurs and business executives to help them understand how they can leverage strategic public relations to achieve any business objective. Although it's not specifically written for authors, some authors who are serious about doing their own PR have found it helpful. Unlike my free ebooks on ebook publishing, this short ebook carries a price of $7.99. Readers of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide can got to Smashwords and enter the coupon code YM44S, that's S as in Sam, and they can get it for $2.99. I'll include a link to it in the show notes.
Final Thoughts on this Six-Part Marketing Series
Before I wrap up part six of my six part audio serialization of the 2018 edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, I'd like to share some final thoughts on this marketing series.
This serialization was an experiment for me, back in November, a couple months ago, I had this crazy notion that since this new edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide was completed and edited and ready for publication, that it would be easy-peasy for me to simply read and record the entire thing in a day or two for this podcast. Boy, was I wrong.
Here's what happened: the moment I sat down to record part one, which was episode 10, I immediately discovered that what read well on paper and on screen didn't translate well into spoken words. I realized that this book, which I had essentially rewritten compared to the prior edition five years ago, needed yet another revision because the mere act of reading it out loud and hearing myself read it on the playback helped me identify dozens of opportunities to make this book even better. As I prepared to record each of these six parts, it was like rebuilding a rocketship in midflight. Despite the pain, I'm thankful I embarked on this experiment. It helped me make this book even better for readers. I hope you enjoyed it.
The new edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide will be available as a free ebook everywhere on January 31, 2018.
So that concludes episode 15. This 15th episode represents a milestone of sorts for the Smart Author Podcast. When I first started the podcast, I envisioned it as a master class that would have a limited run of maybe 10 core episodes, focused on evergreen best practices. Clearly, I've overshot the initial target. For the last 15 episodes, I released a new episode each week. Going forward, I'll moderate things a bit by moving to a monthly schedule with the occasional bonus episode here and there. I've got at least another 6 or 10 episodes I want to explore with you, so we'll take it one episode at a time.
If you've got a burning desire to hear me tackle a specific topic I haven't covered yet, or if you want me drill deeper into a topic that I've covered already, tweet me @markcoker.
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Until next time, keep writing. I'm Mark Coker.