Hire a publicist.
Okay, so we’re just kidding.
Have you seen how much those guys charge, though? Tonight’s dinner might just be the last time you eat for a while.
On a more serious note, good publicists are worth their weight in gold. They have the connections to get you top-tier media attention from major newspapers, news websites, magazines, bloggers, TV producers, podcast hosts, and more. They know how to reach the right people, and they know how to pitch. While many will offer á la carte services that are a little less eye-popping in terms of pricing, others will require a monthly retainer. If you have that kind of money to invest, definitely go ahead and do it. Just be sure to do your due diligence and hire a publicist who is a right fit for you and your book. As in any professional occupation, there are good ones and bad ones.
However, if you’re like most indie authors who can’t afford the razzle-dazzle of today’s publicity masterminds, there is an option for you. It’s called DIYing your own publicity campaign, and it’s not as scary as it sounds.
Like most of what you do in book launch planning and execution, you must start several months before your launch date. Depending on the media outlets you target, you’ll find that programming and written content pieces aren’t always last minute efforts. While there might be opportunities for breaking news coverage, there’s generally a ton of content planning involved—which is why you want to reach out and grab a slot for an interview as early as possible.
Now let’s get down to the finer details of constructing and implementing an attention-worthy campaign.
Step 1: Find Potential Media Contacts
The first thing you need to do is build a list of relevant, niche-driven media contacts (including reporters, editors, producers, talent bookers, etc.) who might be interested in your book’s publication or the contribution you could make to their story. Ideally, you’ll search for publications, broadcasters, and TV shows that publish content on your subject matter or within your area of expertise.
How do you find potential media contacts?
Start by identifying newspapers (daily and monthly), radio and TV stations (mainstream and college), industry journals, newsletters, and podcasts that serve members of your target audience. Scour through them for articles and episodes relevant to you and your book, and then search for the content producer or writer’s name and contact information. You can usually find email addresses in their bios, on their social media pages, and on their websites. The key here is targeting—finding the right people who would be interested in your pitch.
Another great place to find media leads is HARO (Help a Reporter Out). It’s a massive online database that allows you to list yourself as a source for journalists and respond to an array of daily queries. Big name networks and publications like Fox News, ABC, Time, WSJ, Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times use HARO to find guest experts and interviewees. In fact, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing attributes 90% of their media success to HARO. When queries roll in, they contact authors who would be ideal for a particular story. They then help them pitch, which effectively eliminates the expense that goes along with hiring a publicist and the disappointment that often goes along with cold-pitching.
As you find media prospects, be sure to create a spreadsheet to help you keep track of their information and the types of content they cover. To make things easier, you can simply add an additional page to the spreadsheet you already have for your reviewer list.
Step 2: Create a Classic Press Kit
A huge part of preparing for a successful publicity campaign lies in the creation of resources like a press kit. This useful tool allows you to share information quickly and efficiently with journalists, book bloggers, editors, retailers, and anyone else who might be interested. Its purpose is to store key information and brand assets in one place so that anyone researching you doesn’t have to waste several frustrating hours sifting through multiple websites, links, and resources to find what they need and piece things together.
Although you should have a print version available for author conferences and book events where there might be a chance to connect with those in the media, it’s easiest to host a press kit page (often referred to as a media room) on your website. You can then use one simple URL to direct people to your author and book resources. You can also add this link to your email signature, business cards, and other collateral to promote yourself as an author.
An often overlooked benefit of creating an online press kit is the search engine juice all the extra content gives you. Google will index this page, ensuring you gain additional SEO leverage when you need it most. Ultimately, it’s an excellent tool for helping you put your best marketing materials into the hands of those who can help you secure valuable media coverage.
What should go into your press kit?
Resources typically include the following:
- Professional headshots: Besides providing an assortment of downloadable high-resolution and low-resolution profile pictures for use in online and print media, make sure you provide both color and black and white options. While a casual look is fine, the latest Speedo or bikini pic from your holiday on the beach is not. Your photos are a critical part of your toolkit, so consider asking an experienced photographer to help you out with a few decent images.
- Well-written, interesting bios: To ensure you cover all your bases, you’ll want to craft a short (50-100 words), medium (100-200 words), and full-length (500+ words) version so that reporters can use directly from your copy or gather the information they need for their story. Bios cover everything from your name, location, job, and family background to hobbies, qualifications, previous publications, and other media appearances. Rather than a boring rundown of your life since the day you were born to the day you became an author, write with personality and make your bio memorable with interesting facts. It doesn’t have to be clever, but it does need to help you stand out and make the right impression.
- Contact information: How can people get in touch with you? Although you don’t want to give out your home number, be sure to include an email address, links to your social media platforms, and information for any representatives (such as an agent). If you have an office number and don’t mind sharing it, then go ahead and add it, too.
- A sample Q&A: The reality is that you’ll be asked the same questions frequently. To save both you and reporters time and energy, create a list of possible interview questions and then answer each of them within a short paragraph or two. A sample Q&A usually contains garden-variety questions about your background, book, inspiration, and future projects, as well as more complex questions about how you came up with your book idea, why you wrote the book, whether it sheds new light on a particular issue, what led you down the path of self-publishing, and your experiences in authorship. Start jotting down FAQs you already encounter to help kick-start your list.
- A list of interview topics: In addition to a list of Q&As, provide a list of interview topics that you can speak about comfortably. This gives reporters and show hosts a better idea of where your expertise lies and what they can potentially ask you. Try to be very specific so that you won’t be asked questions you can’t answer. You might, for example, be in the health and wellness space, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re clued up on every corner of the market. The same goes for topics you’ve touched on in your fiction book. Written historical fiction? Which period? Be clear about where your level of knowledge lies so that you’re not thrust into an embarrassing moment during a live broadcast.
- A high-resolution book cover image: Your book cover image may be used for multiple purposes during a publicity campaign, so make sure it’s a clear, high-quality image media members can easily download.
- A sell sheet: This one-page sheet deals with specific information about your book, including its title, blurb, number of pages, ISBN, date of release, available formats, publisher information, price, and where people can buy it. Although they’re not essential, you can also include a book cover image and several review excerpts.
- Excerpts and sample chapters: Journalists or guest researchers will often request a sample of your work. Including a PDF with a sample chapter gives them quick and convenient access without the constant back and forth. After all, your job is to make their job as easy as possible. Keep in mind that if your book is enrolled in KDP, you are limited by how much content you can make available for free. In this case, consider adding an excerpt to your press kit and offering an ARC to those who will be reviewing or using your work extensively.
- Editorial reviews, testimonials, and other endorsements: Much like potential book buyers, journalists could be persuaded by social proof within your press kit. Reviews are especially impactful if they’re from people with authority in your genre or field of expertise. Ultimately, you want to position yourself as a valid source of information and worthy of some good ol’ traditional media coverage.
- A press release: See step 4 where we cover press releases in depth.
- A list of previously published books: If you have any.
- A list of relevant awards: Any proof that you’re a great writer can be influential, so be sure to ramp up your credibility with any awards or recognition you’ve won over the years.
- A list of previous and upcoming appearances: Have you taken part in any major speaking engagements that could increase your authority? Do you have additional events such as book signings and readings on your schedule? There’s a possibility you could gain coverage for an event, so make sure you keep an updated list in your press kit.
- Links to any useful video and audio content, as well as transcripts, featuring you or your book: This kind of material can be useful for background info, and serves as great fodder for bulking up a story.
- A book trailer: This addition is optional. It simply gives anyone interviewing you another piece of captivating content to share with their audience.
A good press kit doesn’t have to be overly elaborate in its design. Journalists are judging you on your words, not your ability to create a beautiful web page or PDF.
One last thing to remember when crafting your press kit copy is to write with media as your audience in mind. What information do they need? What will appeal to them? While a press kit is about you, it’s also SO NOT about you.
Step 3: Brainstorm Hooks and Pitch Ideas
We’re about to rip your heart out so brace yourself.
The media doesn’t care about your book launch.
It’s sad, but it’s true. Books are launched every day, so your particular launch is not news in itself (unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman). What the media does care about is their audience—what educates, entertains, and inspires their readers. Of course they want story ideas, but they just don’t want them to be solely about your book. To solve this problem, you have to get clever and wily by pitching your book to them in terms of a special interest piece.
How do you do that?
You brainstorm hooks and pitch ideas based on the reporter’s niche and audience needs. A hook is a unique and intriguing element in your book that you can tie to a topic of interest, an opinion, a crisis, or a movement. For non-fiction authors, these hooks are usually no-brainers because the book deals with a topic that is easily defined and articulated. For example, you may have written a home décor book that touches on little known decorating facts, secrets, and tips. Without much thought, you’ve probably got several good angles you can pitch to home and garden magazines, podcasts, TV shows, and more.
If you’re a fiction author, you need something a little stronger. What deep, fascinating, or common issues do you tackle in your storyline? Let’s say, for example, you’ve written a romance with a hero who’s suffering from PTSD after serving in Iraq. You’ve researched PTSD, you’ve dug into psychological and physiological reactions that often accompany the disorder, and you’ve studied the impact it can have on a relationship—all for the sake of writing a realistic, emotion-driven novel your fans will love.
How do you then serve this to the media? Well, you could center your pitches around life after war, the subtle signs of PTSD few people know about, how sufferers might try to hide it, the struggle with finding healthcare, or even the toll it takes on army wives and girlfriends. You don’t necessarily need to tie your characters and the problems they’re going through to your pitch; you could tie in the location, setting, or period in time (e.g. what’s it’s like to keep love alive in a war-torn country).
The key is to not make your pitch explicitly about your book. Yes, there might be journalists and program producers who are specifically seeking to fill their slots with stories about authors and their books, but they are few and far between. You’re likely to have better luck being a source for a story if you can offer details of your book or expertise that fit into their current programming needs, especially if you have a distinctive take on the topic. Keep in mind that a publicity campaign isn’t only about selling copies of your new book. It’s also about reputation building and validation.
Step 4: Write a Compelling Press Release
This is a release for your book’s launch, but as we mentioned, your book’s launch is not news in itself. You need to leverage one of the off-beat hooks you’ve created to capture the reader’s imagination and make them care—make them feel what you feel about the topic. They should believe that reading your book is the next logical step.
When it comes to writing a compelling press release, there are some hard and fast rules you should always follow:
- Keep it succinct and newsworthy
- Use formal language
- Speak to your target audience (the media)
- Focus on what journalists are looking for versus what you want to tell them
- Write no more than one page
- Start with the biggest news first, working to the least important detail (people tend to give you a diminishing amount of attention, so you need to keep them reading)
- Use an arresting headline that makes an intriguing, bold, or unusual claim
If you’re a non-fiction author, think about leading with the main problem and its solution. How does your book help the reader? You can then explain how your book supports this premise, revealing key pieces of information or research that help make your case. Instead of “John Doe Releases New Internet Marketing Book,” it becomes a story about “Success Secrets from Filthy Rich Internet Marketers Who Were Once Flat Broke.” In some instances, it’s even about what you do. While Rachel Ray launched The Book of Burger with a food truck and free burgers as the focus of her press release, Derek Murphy hired a castle with several other writers for Nanowrimo that got him featured by CNN.
If you’re a fiction author, on the other hand, you’ll want to lead with an emotional angle. Paint a picture of the kind of story the media might like to cover. Instead of “Jane Doe Published New Coming of Age Novel,” make it a story about “How New YA Novel Could Help Teens Overcome Conflict in Identity.” Bullying, peer pressure, questions of belief, anxiety, and similar topics all become part of the bigger picture, allowing you to appeal to the media from several different angles. The key is to write a press release that helps the reporter understand the emotions they’ll experience when reading the book.
Besides securitizing some of the press releases in the press kit examples we shared, search online for examples written for your genre or on the topic you’re tackling. You’ll also be able to find plenty of downloadable templates to ensure you get the structure of your press release right.
A standard press release always includes the following:
- An attention-grabbing headline around 20 words in length
- A supporting sub-headline (optional)
- The location (city, state, country)
- The date of the press release
- A compelling intro
- A weighty, interesting, and impactful author quote
- A paragraph or two that includes crucial book information (who’s it for, what it’s about, where to buy it, listing links, etc.)
- A brief author bio
- Contact details include a website address, phone number, social media links, and how to get review copies
- Book-related hashtags (optional)
Press releases also begin with the line “For Immediate Release,” and end with three hashtags (###). In addition to adding them to your press kit, consider distributing them through free and paid distribution sites like PRWeb.
Step 5: Write a Pitch Email Tailored to the Individual You’re Targeting
Crafting a pitch that catches a journalist’s attention requires some skill. Journalists are often knee-deep in articles, deadlines, and pitches, which is why your email needs to be short and compelling. A generic, run-of-the-mill pitch email is a no-no, as is CC’ing. You must customize each pitch for the person you’re emailing.
Here are a few tips to help you nail a good pitch email every time:
- Keep it brief and conversational. Personalization, brevity, and a friendly tone are essential for good outreach. Most reporters would rather read two to three lines explaining what your book is about than a text-heavy email that drains their time. You also only want to provide enough detail so that they grasp the scope of the story while leaving them wanting to know more.
- Make sure it’s the right time. If the person has just covered a specific topic, now is not the time to pitch them on a similar idea unless you can make it a good follow-up piece. Brownie points if you can relate your pitch to a human interest story or current event.
- Build familiarity with your target. Show the person you’re contacting that you’re not pitching at random, that you read, watch, or listen to their work, and that you understand their niche, tone, and style.
- Make the purpose of your email clear. Don’t beat around the bush or you’ll quickly find yourself in the trash folder.
- Express why your pitch is relevant to the reporter’s audience. Help them understand the impact and urgency of your story. How can you entertain their audience or solve a problem for them?
- Provide value. Explain how you can help the reporter as a potential source.
- End your email with action steps. Let them know what they should do, how to contact you, and where they can find more information. Invite them to check out your media room or website for more information.
- Don’t include attachments. Besides the safety aspect, attachments can slow down loading times. If more information is required, you will be asked.
Be sure to include any unique information that might set your pitch and book apart from the rest.
Step 6: Send Only One Follow-Up If Necessary
We’re not going to lie. Most media contacts won’t respond to your pitch if they pass on it. They simply don’t have the time, but the lack of response doesn’t always mean they’ve rejected your idea. In cases where they have enough information to go on, they might simply publish an article without further input. If you’ve sent a press release, they might just publish it as is. This silent approach is often disconcerting to authors who are pitching for the first time, but it’s a common part of the process.
When they do respond positively, it’s a great opportunity to not only provide them with any additional information and materials they need, but it’s also a good way to keep the dialogue going and build on your budding relationship.
The one thing you don’t want to do is send multiple follow-up emails in response to no response. One follow-up is enough to bump you in their inboxes and remind them of your idea without annoying them or burning bridges while you’re at it.
Step 7: Start Scheduling and Preparing for Interviews
As interview confirmations hit your inbox, be sure to add them to your calendar so that there are no missed connections. Find out from the interviewer if they require any additional resources such as a tailored intro for a specific audience, a copy of your book, or links to special launch offers.
You’ll also want to prepare yourself for your interview by obtaining a list of questions before the scheduled date. Make a list of key points, stories, or statistics that might come up so that you’re ready if the interview takes a different direction.
Step 8: Promote Your Appearances
To maximize their impact, promote your appearances, reviews, or article mentions by sharing them across social media platforms, in your author newsletter, and as part of your media kit. Comment on the interview, being careful to include the name of the journalist, host, publication, podcast, radio, or TV show. The media are doing you a favor, so it’s your job to do your part in amplifying the feature’s exposure. If you can, coordinate other book launch marketing activities with the release of those articles or appearances.
Step 9: Send a Thank You Note or Gift
One branch of a successful publicity campaign is building and maintaining relationships and goodwill with the people who have helped raise your profile through the articles they’ve written, through the podcasts they’ve streamed, and through the live TV shows they’ve broadcast. A sincere show of gratitude goes a long way in fostering positive feelings towards you and your work, keeping doors open for future publicity activities.
Keeping the Publicity Machine Alive
Fortunately, setting the groundwork for good PR is a one-off task. As soon as you have a press kit in place, you simply need to keep it current with your new books and achievements. The more taxing task is ensuring the publicity machine stays alive through strategic networking, relationship building, and continuous media outreach. Don’t let your book releases be the only time you stretch your PR muscles.
What marketing tactics have helped you spread the word about your book or authorship? Let us know in the comment section below. Be sure to subscribe to our blog for more on book launches and book marketing. If you’re looking to pick up more book launch tips, download a free copy of our ultimate book launch checklist.