Press and PR for Writers
The art of promoting yourself is an essential skill for writers, particularly in the modern, digital-focussed market. Scottish Book Trust’s Press and PR Manager, Helen Croney, has some top tips for approaching Press and PR.
What is PR?
PR is essentially a means of communication with the public, ranging from marketing to advertising and websites. Events, press and social media are the three most important aspects of PR for writers.
Why is PR Important?
It can be difficult to think of your work as a product, but you will have to if you want to sustain a living or make some money from your writing. You have to be comfortable with talking to the press and using social media platforms to connect with your audience. PR is one crucial part of getting the word out about your work to those who could potentially buy from you.
Before you begin: The importance of planning
Decide on your goal
What do you want to achieve? This goal will inform the publicity you do and the message you give out.
How do you want to be perceived by readers, agents, and publishers? And how can you build toward that perception?
Decide on your boundaries
Think carefully about where you want to draw the lines in your personal life. You should be prepared for the fact that you yourself might become the selling point for your book. Questions can range from a simple query as to exactly where you live or how many children you have, to questions about whether your own personal relationships have influenced your writing. Bear in mind that a local newspaper really does need to know where you live in order to make the story relevant to their audience, and journalists do need to give their interview with you a human interest angle, but you're the one who ultimately decides what information is put out there.
Be realistic about your resources
Resources include both time and money. Be realistic about what you can do so that you don’t initiate efforts and then drop the ball mid-stream.
Know your audience
It is important to know your book’s audience—both the mainstream and the fringe markets. By knowing the audiences before your campaign begins, you can ensure the appropriate media is contacted.
Decide on your Call to Action
Do you want your readers to visit your website, sign up to your mailing list, follow you on Twitter or just go out and buy your book? When you know, focus on pushing that message.
PR is one crucial part of getting the word out about your work to those who could potentially buy from you
PR support from publishers
A large publishing house will have a marketing & PR department, whereas a smaller publisher might rely on the editor to do everything. Regardless of their size, most publishers will create a tailored PR plan for you.
If you do obtain a publishing deal, be sure to ask what kind of PR support you will receive. You should contact them at least 6 months before the book is due to come out and ask if you can have input into that plan. Stay in touch with your publisher after the publicity has stopped and let them know what you’re doing in terms of publicity.
Remember: Most publishers don’t have the time or budget to put lots of promotional resources behind a writer, especially if that author has yet to prove themselves in terms of sales. Publisher cutbacks and a competitive marketplace means that you will be expected to have much more of a hands-on approach to your career.
Arranging events at local bookshops, libraries or festivals is a great way to raise awareness of your work. Invite the local media along and be sure to hand out bookmarks or business cards directing people to where they can buy your book.
Writing a Press Release
Whether you are holding an event, writing about your publishing deal or announcing something exciting, a press release is the best way to do it.
- Stick to one subject.
- Remember that press releases should contain news.
- Only present the facts.
- Create an angle or ‘hook’ for your subject (eg. Current events, local interest or seasonal event).
- Include a clear Call to Action, so that the publicity translates into sales or new members of your fan club etc.
- Keep the lead paragraph below 50 words - who, what, where, when, why.
- Try to stick to one page, two at the most.
- Include contact details.
- Paste press release into body of the email.
- Include one or two quotes - one quote should contain one message.
- Only send photos to picture desks, unless requested.
- Pitching an interview or contributed article idea directly to publications is a good way to secure solid coverage.
- Make a list of the themes and subjects that you are comfortable talking about or could be considered an 'expert' in. If these subjects relate in some way to your book, so much the better.
- If you are happy to discuss your personal life with the media, make a list of interesting or quirky things about you or your relatives which would interest the media (i.e. your great-grandad invented peanut butter.)
- Make a list of publications that you would like to target (including all the newspapers which serve your local area.)
- Research your target publications - either buy copies or browse through them at your library and look out for features that you could potentially contribute to. Remember that the features don't need to relate directly to books. For example, a local newspaper might have a slot for well known locals to talk about what they love most about their home-town, or a national newspaper might be looking for public figures to contribute to light-hearted weekend pieces such as 'how I spend my weekend.' Although not book-related, these features are popular and will assist in raising your profile. The usual procedure is that you offer to contrbute a piece to these features in return for a blurb about your book at the end.
- Prepare your pitch. Keep it short and to the point - a brief outline of which feature you would like to contribute to, with an outline (preferably bullet-pointed) of what your contribution would consist of, a short biog and your publicity expectations (e.g. a short blurb about your book at the end of the piece). If the pitch includes an offer of an interview with you, then send a copy of your book to the journalist first and email them the pitch a few days later.
- If your pitch results in coverage, share the coverage on social media and tag the journalist and publication if approporiate.
- If you are unsure of the content which might be of interest to your chosen publications, read through this list of media-friendly angles and see if you build your pitch around one of them.
- Human interest - as mentioned, a good back story equals good publicity. Is your book autobiographical? Did you go to unusual lengths to research it? Did you or do you have an unusual job? Does your book feature controversial subject matter? Was your nan the first woman in space?
- Expert comment - are you considered an expert in your particular field? If so, keep an eye out for current events which you could offer an expert opinion on and contact newspapers to offer comment in a timely manner.
- Author comment - think about particular days of the year when newspapers might be looking for author comment - Nanowrimo, Book Week Scotland, World Book Day, World Book Night. Or specific days that the theme of your book hooks into - Mother's Day, Father's Day, St Andrew's Day.
- Seasonal events - offer well-written seasonal content - for example, ten books that make great Christmas presents for teenagers, five books that will fill you with the joys of spring.
- Competition - if you have some spare books, you could offer to run a competition with a local newspaper. Call their marketing department to find out what their minimum prize fund is.
- Stunts - if you have a great imagination and are creatively inclined, a stunt is a good way of attracting media attention. You could create the world's largest scuplture made entirely of books or make an outfit entirely from the pages of your book and model it in a public place. Don't forget to invite photograhers along by sending a photocall invitation to the picture desks of your target publications.
And always remember to ask for a mention for your book to appear somewhere in the piece, alongside a link to your website.
Final thought: get an email signature
Now that you’re going to be contacting all these people, you need to make sure you promote yourself via the easiest method – an email signature. Keep it simple, up-to-date and include hyperlinks to your website and Twitter profile.