It really is a lovely thing to be able to call yourself a writer. What is not so lovely is when you have to turn yourself into a hard-headed PR machine in order to get people to buy your book. But as a self-published author there’s really no getting away from the fact that you are the main person who is going to sell this book.
So, the more proactive you can be, the more success you will have in securing top press and publicity. The first step on this road is to turn yourself into a journalist so that you can think of stories that will fly in your local paper, national newspapers, magazines, blogging sites, online and around the world.
On our one-day training course Press My Book, Emma Donnan and I take authors through a practical guide to becoming a journalist overnight so that they can take control of their own publicity.
Here we highlight our 5 top tips on how to think like a journalist.
KEEP IT SHORT
All journalists are time-poor. They are constantly on the go and their inboxes are full of PR guff which they never have the time or inclination to read. So what they need from you is brevity. This is hard because, let’s face it, writers like to write. But if you are pitching to a journalist you have three sentences MAX to get their attention. And ideally, you should hook them in the first ten words.. Look at this way: how do you read a paper? Do you start reading and then hope to hit a story half way down the page? No, you have a headline that tells you what the story is and if, and only if, the headline grabs you, then you start reading. So keep it short, simple and to the point.
IS IT A STORY?
This is the million-dollar question and right now, in newsrooms up and down the country, there will be eager news editors desperately trying to ‘sell’ their stories to their editors. Because there isn’t really a definitive answer to this question – for one thing, it depends who you are pitching to, which we will cover later. But in a general sense, what journos term ‘news instinct’ is a carefully honed, hard-won sense developed over many years. Your mission impossible, should you choose to accept it, is to develop yours instantly. And to help, I’ve devised a quick shortcut. To answer the question ‘Is it a story’ ask yourself: 1. Is it interesting? 2. Have I heard it before?
If the answers are yes and no then yes, it is a story!
Of course, some books naturally lend themselves more to publicity than others – memoirs, for example. But fiction is harder. Publicity for fiction is primarily about the author and this is when you will probably need to start bouncing ideas off friends/partners/relatives/Facebook. To give a general idea, here are some useful directions: Can we relate your book to your day job? Your age? Your experiences? What is the inspiration for the book? Is this the first of anything? The biggest of anything or the longest of anything? Are you the new FILL IN LATEST BOOK TREND HERE (e.g. J K Rowling, EL James)?
We are looking for a standout headline – if you can sum up the story in ten words or less you might be onto something. Here are some good examples of what might make a reasonable local newspaper headline:
‘FROM BINMAN TO BOOK WRITER’
‘I WAS ILLITERATE UNTIL AGED 30 – NOW I’M A NOVELIST’
‘GRAN OF EIGHT LANDS BOOK DEAL.’
’16 YEAR OLD PUBLISHES FIRST NOVEL.’
‘DAUGHTER’S ASPERGER’S INSPIRES BESTSELLER.’
‘GRANDAD’S WW1 WAR DIARIES THROW LIGHT ON LOCAL EFFORTS.’
WHAT WHO WHEN WHERE WHY AND HOW?
These are the six fundamental questions a journalist must ask when covering any story:
Who did it happen to?
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
Why did it happen ?
How did it happen?
You too can be a journalist of your own stories as long as you have mastered these questions.
TARGET TARGET TARGET!
The one thing that bothered me most when I worked as a Feature Editor on a national newspaper was untargeted press releases - the lazy, one-email-fits-all approach to publicity and there was certainly no quicker way to my Delete folder than addressing me as ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. Journos don’t write puffs for PR’s, they write stories. If you are thinking about trying to get your name and book out there, you have to target the right person. For a news desk, don’t go for the editor – they are too busy – go for a junior reporter who is hungry for a scoop. Find out their name, their contact details and send them a dedicated email followed up by a telephone call. Be brave – it can be very daunting making a call to a magazine or newspaper or blogger but hey, what’s harder than writing a book?
Not all media is news – there are other sections: features, lifestyle, arts etc. If it’s a feature you want to offer to a magazine, speak to a feature writer. If you’re being really smart, look at the furniture of the paper/magazine/blog and ask yourself what you could fit yourself into? For example, in your favourite magazine is there a HOW I DID IT! section on achieving one’s dreams which you might be suitable for? Or perhaps there’s A SLICE OF LOCAL HISTORY section in your local paper. Usually, journalists are pretty grateful for ideas on filling the furniture so look around at the regular features and think about how you can fit that category.
ALL YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW
Before you can start your own publicity campaign, you must have all your ducks in a row. This means you have to be ready: ready to provide high resolution (i.e. printable) pictures suitable for the articles, ready with a website address, twitter handle, ready with offers for competitions, ready with background info, ready with an author video. Get all your ducks in a row before you start your publicity blitz. When a journalist is covering a story they will need pictures, they will need information, videos, all the things that you see and read in the paper and online. And if you can give it all to them in one neat little package, you have a greater chance of getting your piece printed.
For more useful, insider tips on getting great PR for your book, take a look at pressmybook.com. Next courses run on April 17 & May 9.