Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Getting MSM press coverage for your book

In my day job, I’m editor of a couple of regional magazines. Before that, I was managing editor at another regional lifestyle magazine. Press releases come through my inbox ALL the time. I say all of this because a recent post about author promotion on a publishing-industry blog discussed the pros and cons of a soon-to-be-published author hiring a publicist. If you don’t have the money but you’re concise and to the point, you can at least put together a good press release yourself.

I can’t speak to publicity through less MSM (mainstream media) channels like YouTube book trailers and social networking – although I think they are excellent publicity vehicles.

But for what it’s worth, as a member of the old-school MSM, I can tell you what does and does not get a closer look by me (and others in my field) and, subsequently, deleted or published in my magazine. Keep in mind I’m just speaking for myself here.

DON’T tell the editor/journalist to publish a review of your book, and don’t in any way intimate that you are doing her a favor. Journalists are a touchy bunch and LOATHE being told what to do. Also don’t mention that you spend a lot of advertising money with the publication (even if you do), or that you might buy an ad in the publication if it reviews your book, or even that it will lose you as a subscriber if it doesn’t publish a review. Journalists are a touchy bunch and LOATHE being confused with the advertising side. Don’t tell the editor/journalist how to write or lay out the review because, all together now: journalists are a touchy bunch.

DON’T mass e-mail your press release to a gazillion reporters and editors. Some authors might think it’s a good idea to get their books “out there,” but this is not helpful. I get e-mail blasts often, and 99.9% of the time they’re pushing a product that is in no way related to anything my magazines would ever publish. If I don’t see why the product or book is a good fit within two or three sentences, the e-mail gets deleted. When I see a certain repeat offender (a bad publicist) in the “from” line, his e-mail gets deleted immediately. Instead…

DO some research and e-mail only journalists, editors, bloggers, etc. who might actually be interested in your book (i.e., don’t send your NASCAR mystery to Architectural Digest, or your YA romance to a sci-fi blog just because it reviews books). If you have the time, personalize at least the first couple of sentences of the e-mail to each person. This is because, most importantly…

DO stick your lede (journo-speak for your hook, or the most important info) in the very first sentence. It should answer this: Why should I review this in my publication? For example…

DON’T start the e-mail like this: “My name is Jane Smith and I have been an English teacher for 14 years. In the last few years I have been told by my students that I should write a book, and so a year ago I began writing my novel. It is an epic journey of love and redemption and how to find yourself...” :::zzzzz…snorrrre…snuffle…snort—wah?:::

DO start an e-mail like this: “Readers of Southern Home magazine are a design-savvy bunch and might enjoy a good architectural mystery. My debut novel is about a feisty young historic preservationist who uncovers a 100-year-old secret hidden behind the rotting walls of an abandoned mansion in Charleston. I’d like to submit it for consideration in Southern Home’s monthly Best Books review column.”

Or like this… “Aliens in Alabama. It’s not such a far-fetched notion. Since the audience of Southern Home magazine is mainly concentrated in the Rocket City, home of U.S. Space & Rocket Center, my debut novel Circles in the Cotton would be a good fit for your readers. When a retired rocket scientist finds a little green man sitting in his kitchen…” What I’m saying is…

DON’T treat a press release like a query letter. I know my above examples aren’t the greatest, but my point is that to get MSM press coverage for your book, you’re not necessarily selling…your book. You’re selling your book’s popularity with the publication’s readers. I’ve seen books that looked cool but I wouldn’t run a review about them because they didn’t fit my publication’s niche.

DO contact publications in your geographical area. I’m always more interested in local or regional authors since the magazines I work for have a specific regional audience. Plus, you're way more likely to get a mention in a regional pub than in Vanity Fair. Every little bit helps. Above all…

DO tell the editor/journalist/blogger why your book is a perfect fit for her publication’s readership in the first two sentences. And one other thing…

DO offer added value, if it makes sense. For example, if you’re pitching Circles in the Cotton to a lifestyle magazine, mention that you’d be willing to do a humorous sidebar on the Top 5 Clues Your Neighbor is an Alien; for a sci-fi magazine aimed guys in their teens or 20s, you could provide step-by-step instructions on how to make a crop circle in your own field. The main thing to remember for added-value stuff is to keep it short and sweet. Nobody is going to want you to write a whole article, so don’t offer that. Space is at a premium in magazines and newspapers, the editor doesn’t know you from Adam, so most publications are looking for short, snappy info boxes to punch up the look of a page. Speaking of page layout...

DO be able to provide a high-resolution image of the book cover, and a high-res image of yourself. Images need to be 300 dpi and at least 500K in size, preferably closer to 1 MB or more. I have passed on a book before when it was the only one that didn’t have a pretty image to go along with it.

Whew. Sorry for the lengthy post and rant. These are just the things I wish authors and small businesses knew before approaching me. Post any other tips in the comments!

**UPDATE: Two more "DOs" (Thanks for asking about this, Irene!)

DO check your timing when sending out press releases. In most cases, your book will need to be on store shelves by the time the publication prints. With newspapers timing isn't a huge deal; try to send your press release out at least two weeks before you'd be interested in seeing it in the paper. Most book reviews are weekly and are probably planned at least a week in advance, maybe more. Don't send it out too early, though (like several months in advance) or the editor will put it in a pile and forget about it.

Magazines are a whole other ball of wax. Editorial deadlines vary, but for my smallish bi-monthly magazines, the lead time is around five months. For example, my editorial deadline for our upcoming Oct/Nov issue was Aug. 17. That was the deadline, which means I began planning for that issue in May. And this is just for a mag with a circulation of about 35,000 so I imagine if you're targeting larger or national monthly publications, leads could be much longer (unless it's a weekly like People). In most cases it's perfectly fine to call the magazine to find out what the lead time is. If you're polite they won't mind telling you. And one more...

DO be the squeaky wheel. So much stuff comes across my desk that I don't remember it all. I'm much more likely to pursue an article or idea if the person follows up (politely, of course) a week or two after the initial e-mail or call with another e-mail or call.

8 comments:

Irene Latham said...

Super helpful post! What are your thoughts on timing of said press releases? (in terms of book release date) THANKS!

Irene Latham said...

AC, just the info I needed! Am printing and filing. xxoo

Liana Brooks said...

Thank you for putting up that side of the fence. I haven't even thought that are ahead, and when I worked in the field I left the A&E people well enough alone.

My question is how many cities can I claim as my "hometown" ? If I live Here but was born There and am moving to That Other Place can I call myself a local author for all of them, or just the locale I'm actually planted in at the moment?

Anna Claire said...

Liana, I'd say to use your globetrotting to your advantage! You don't have to lie of course, but I'd contact pubs in all the places you've lived, and mention your connection pretty close up front; anything to tie yourself to the area and give you an edge. Without necessarily calling yourself a "local author" you can say something like "I lived in XXX for several years" or "many years" or how you loved your time spent in XXX or you "grew up" in XXX even if it was only a few years of your childhood. As long as you're not outright lying I don't think anyone is going to check too closely. The main point, I think, is to get the editor's attention.

lotusgirl said...

Thanks! What a great list of do and don'ts.

Joyce Wolfley said...

This made me laugh. I needed that. Thanks!

Christy Raedeke said...

Spectacularly helpful post! Thank you!

Barrie said...

This is a gem of a post!