may be familiar with many names from reading the papers. But these are often
either staff or freelance writers who work under the direction of the ‘section
editor’ for a particular area of the paper or programme. It is the section
editor who directs what gets written about, and who can commission new features
on forthcoming matters of interest to the audience/readership. So how do you
get hold of their names?
you can build your own lists using a copy of a media yearbook. For example,
writing yearbooks include the names, addresses and contact numbers for national
and local press and broadcast media. If you have time to do a personal mailing
piece, you could ring each specific medium and ask for the names of those you
wish to contact (checking difficult spellings) and the address (usually email)
to which they would like material sent (often not the same as the general
address of the paper in question). If you have less time, you could just send
your information to the relevant editor by job title at the address given.
rigorous in keeping records of those you have spoken to. Which is their day
off, when is the best time to contact them? Journalists working on Sunday
papers generally have Monday off, but their life becomes very frantic towards
the end of the week as publication gets nearer.
there are several media agencies that specialise in maintaining lists of
journalists. You can order names by subject specialisation (for example, all
journalists dealing with children’s products) in a variety of formats (email
file, labels, etc.).
What to send out to journalists
- A press release
- A copy of the book, or
a proof or ‘reading’ copy, or the offer of a free copy on request.
How to write a press release
press release is an information sheet sent to a journalist to try to stimulate
media coverage. This is usually achieved in one of two ways:
- The journalist uses
your press release in its entirety, inserting the words you supply into the
paper or medium they write for
- The journalist decides
to write or commission a feature based on the information you send in – usually
an author interview or an article based on the issues your book draws attention
main point to bear in mind is that most journalists receive hundreds of press
releases every day; the more desirable the medium you are pursuing, the more
press releases they will receive. The best advice is to:
- Keep it short (a
single side of A4 is plenty; readers on a website don’t want to scroll down
more than twice)
- Divide up the copy
with subheadings and into short paragraphs so that it motivates the reader to
- Make it interesting.
last point is easier said than done. To start with, cut out long sentences of
introductory copy about the publishing house and background information on the
author (unless strictly relevant). Try to bring the atmosphere of the book to
life, or to highlight the issues it raises, rather than give a complete account
of the content. For example, is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca the story of a
local landowner’s second marriage to a much younger woman – or a compelling
tale of one woman’s jealousy for a dead rival?
in mind too that publication of yet another book is not really news to a
journalist – there will be at least 400 other titles published the same day!
What the journalist wants is a story, so what kind of ‘peg’ can you offer on
which to hang one? This may be something in the book, but equally could be
something in your background, or in the news, or a publicity event tied to
Email or paper version?
are needed. Most journalists like to receive press releases by email, as the
material can then be used immediately, but a printed press release inserted
inside books sent out for review can hold attention, particularly if it is
visually attractive. Similarly, you should have printed copies of your press
release available at any author interviews or publicity events you attend. It
can be handed to the producer/manager looking after you. One will probably have
been sent ahead, but having it there, at the ready, is helpful.
Other facts to bear in mind when preparing
- Give your press
release a headline, not just the book title. A headline serves to draw the eye
in; it does not need to be a complete summary of what follows.
- Put the main facts in
the first paragraph (the journalist may get no further, and if the press release
does get included whole, it will be cut from the bottom upwards). You have not
got time for an eloquent, mood-filled paragraph to set the scene. The former
editor of The Sunday Times, Harold Evans, said that the opening paragraph
should have the ‘who, what, where, why and when’ made really clear.
- If you are trying to
get feature coverage, make the press release specific to the medium you are
approaching. For example, a mass market and a highly professional magazine
might cover the same book, but the angle taken would be different in each case.
- Ensure that your
grammar and spelling are correct, particularly when writing to literary
editors. You are writing to people who care about words; if the press release
is poorly compiled your readers will assume that the book is of the same
- Do not repeat the book
jacket copy in the press release. This looks lazy and is wasting a separate
opportunity to communicate with the market.
- Always put a contact
name, email address and telephone number at the bottom of the page (it could be
someone in the publisher’s publicity department, or perhaps your own). If you
are available for interview, or could give an explanation/do a stunt that could
make a press event, then the press release should say so.
- Try to make the press
release visually arresting. Can you include illustrations – perhaps cartoons,
an author photograph, a cover shot or an illustration from the book? In a
further bid to make what you send stand out; can you print it on coloured
paper? If 99 per cent of the postbag is printed in black ink on white paper, a
coloured sheet will draw attention to itself.
- Be wary of using
quotations on press releases. If you do, it must be clear that they draw
attention to the book’s great interest and don’t imply that every angle has
already been thought of. For this reason, at the end of the quotation, give the
name of the contributor rather than the medium in which it appeared.
- Don’t send press
releases out too often or if you don’t have particular news to impart: you will
devalue your future impact. What is news? Peter Hobday, radio presenter,
provided this useful litmus test:
News is something that is unusual enough to be
noticed that the reader will want to talk about it to his wife at home or in
his local with his mates.’
From Managing the Message, Allison & Busby
- An associated freebie
can work to attract a journalist’s attention. Review copies of Confessions of a
Southern Lady (Silver Moon Books) were sent out with a (very well packed!)
miniature bottle of Southern Comfort. Be very wary of using humour, however –
ideas that seem hilarious at 4.55 p.m., just before you go home, can appear
very different in the cold light of day when the post is received. A reviews
editor commented that finding out the Valentine she had been sent was in fact a
publicity stunt to draw attention to a new book made her feel very disinclined
to oblige with either interview or feature.
- Provide a picture of
the author with a caption. Remember that images with lots of colour are more
likely to be used than those with little, and that an interesting photo (with a
fascinating caption) is more likely to be used than a photograph showing a
line-up of people holding drinks.
assume that only national media are worth pursuing. Local coverage can be very
helpful, as it offers:
- A direct vehicle to a
particular market. If a book has a strong regional flavour, or the author
strong local connections, try to get coverage in a local paper.
- Less of a hard-nosed
approach than the nationals. This gives authors inexperienced with the
publicity process the chance to practise dealing with the media.
- Extra opportunities
for coverage. These exist where the author was born, went to school or
university, where they live now and have lived previously, where their family
came from and so on.
What to do if a journalist won’t take your
calls or never takes up any of your ideas
despair. Get to know the other people working on the desk: even if it is not an
extensive department there will almost certainly be a ‘number two’. It follows
- They get fewer calls,
so may be able to talk to you for longer
- If the ideas you
suggest are sensible and interesting, they are a direct route to the main
editor. Their voice behind an idea you suggest will have more weight than your
- One day they will
probably be the lead journalist themselves (either on the current slot or
elsewhere), and if you have built up good relations you will have someone who
will always take your calls.
Extract from Alison Baverstock's Marketing Your Book: An Author's Guide
If you found this article useful, you might want to take a look at:
How to give an effective media interview
What (and why) authors need to know about marketing
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