Marketing

Nothing’s better than free publicity, but to get the media interested in writing about your book, you must have real news about you or your work. And that is not a simple task.

Some of the basic errors authors make when attempting to get news are:

  • believing you have news when you don’t
  • thinking that sending a media release is all you have to do
  • forgetting to follow up
  • pitching to any publication before you have read it
  • pitching to reporters without understanding how they cover their beats.

So how can you get started?

Start out small

Remember, you aren’t alone in wanting press—every other author out there wants it too. So rather than going after a big newspaper like The New York Times or a big TV show like Today, first think small.

Local papers, magazines and newsletters are a much better place to get started. Once you get written up in those papers, the bigger ones are easier to contact. The same is true for television. Don’t try to get booked on a national show before you get your feet wet at your local cable station.

Craft and deliver a pitch

Make a list of all the realistic outlets to which you have access, then listen, watch or read them all for a few weeks. (Don’t forget Internet news and entertainment Web sites.)

After spending quality time learning how these places report the news—and what they feature in their nonnews stories—come up with three or four pitches for each one. Follow these guidelines:

  • Craft each pitch to fit the specific audience of the paper or radio station or TV show. For instance, don’t pitch a book about World War II to a show geared toward young adults, or a steamy romance novel to a magazine read mostly by males.
  • Construct your pitch using an example of a story that outlet has done recently. Your angle should be unique, but use one of its stories as a template for your own.
  • Find out whom to pitch. Be diligent. Don’t e-mail or call any name you find online or in the phone book. Get the name of the editor or producer who you think fits your story. Don’t contact every name you can get your hands on.

    I know of one magazine that automatically deletes every single e-mail addressed to “news editor.” The staffers figure that if the sender didn’t have time to find the news editor’s name, they don’t have the time to open the e-mail.

  • Follow up. Not just once. But two or three times. Again, be diligent.

    Don’t leave messages every time you call—that will only annoy the reporter. If he doesn’t answer the phone when I call, I hang up and call back later. My goal isn’t to fill up the reporter’s voice mail or e-mail boxes. I just want to speak to him and get a real chance to talk about my story.

  • Use e-mail. The best way to pitch these days is a circumspect e-mail, sent once. And then sent once more if you still don’t have an answer. After that, if you really think this is the best place for your story, pick up the phone.
  • Know when to give up. Two e-mails, two phone messages are enough. The last thing you want to do is annoy the reporter so that six months later—when you have even bigger news—she’s so annoyed she won’t take your call.
  • Be confident. Often when you have no public relations expertise, you think it’s too hard to do it yourself. But you can. And if you are going to try, don’t be tentative. Don’t telegraph your trepidation. As the creator of your own pitch, you really do know what you are talking about, and you really are a good spokesperson for your books.
  • Don’t repeat “me, me, me.” A pitch works best when it’s not self-serving. Tie your story to a trend, a cause, another author or three other authors. I had great luck suggesting a story to a major women’s magazine when I included myself as one of a group of authors it could interview.

    Look for opportunities

    Don’t rely on yourself to secure media attention. If my dog suddenly started to walk on her front legs with back legs in the air, I’d try to get on Jay Leno, just so he could ask me what I do—and I could mention my name and my book.

    Or, take this example: I was once almost run over by a horse and buggy in Central Park in New York City. The news crews showed up almost immediately—they’d been nearby filing something much more important.

    They turned the camera on me and asked me my name. Instead of just giving it, I said, “M.J. Rose, author of Lip Service.” I couldn’t believe I did it. And I was shocked when I got an e-mail two days later from a book reviewer at a large newspaper who had seen me on the news, liked the name of the book and wanted to know if she could get a review copy.

    Don’t forget the basics: Know your news source. Don’t leave long, rambling messages on a media person’s voice mail. Be prepared; if a script makes you more comfortable, write one (but don’t read right from it). Do-it-yourselfers with photocopied, generic letters need not bother wasting their postage. Make sure any and all materials are professionally written and produced.

    This article appeared in the July 2003 issue of Writer’s Digest.

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