I’ll talk the point of view from someone who gets books reviewed day in day out as a book publicist. I do this for a living, so I’ll share with you how I do it and what it takes to do it well.
I’m not a fan of book reviews, I believe that they have their place and a certain amount of limited utility. But to date, my experience and that of my clients continues to show that feature stories sell more books. They have a broader deeper reach, have greater shelf life, and are people focused, rather than product focused. They brand the author and with the trust and interested they generate, they result in people being far more likely to buy everything the author may have available for sale.
For that reason, I’ll hope you can bear with me and I’ll work you through this process of selecting what to say to media if you are an author trying to maximize your return on investment and the time you put into being a person who hopes to profit from creative writing and publishing. I’ll cover both book reviews and feature stories. I will do my best to encourage you to only use book announcements and try to get only to get started, and to switch to pitching feature stories if you really want to maximize your sales. The reason is simple. People respond to media best when it affects them emotionally. People can be persuaded to buy things using media yes. But to do so means that you have to turn them on and get them emotionally engaged. If you want to use media to reach people, that’s what you have to do.
Think about it. When was the last time you read a book review in a newspaper and then grabbed your credit card? Now when was the last time you read a recommendation in a trade publication, a blog post or a technical forum discussion (like this one), and then bought something or hired someone? What sort of writing got YOU to take the action.
Basically an author/publisher really wants publicity that gets people to buy books, so when you contact a media person, the goal is to get coverage that makes a galvanizing impression on the reader of the publication, or the person who’s listening to the radio, or watching TV, or reading a blog, or a mailing list or discussion post.
So the message you want the person to receive has to be so good that it provokes them to ACTION. So not only do you first need to WRITE A GOOD BOOK, but then you need to know what to say about it that really turns people on.
That’s the content you need to place in front of your reviewer, whether you want to just get a book review or a galvanizing feature story.
To be maximally effective with media, you have to understand what makes them tick. You need to realize that media are publishers (or producers of shows) they make their living, they survive and thrive from two primary sources of income: subscriptions and advertising. Yes, they are publishers who sell their writing just like you are trying to do.
That’s what you offer media. You package it in something that they are accustomed to using as a decision document. It’s called a news release.
My definition of a news release is a little different than that used by many. I define a news release like this:
– A written proposal
– containing a request for media coverage
– and/or an offer to provide media the content needed to achieve that end.
You sent a news release directly to the right media decision makers or you place it where they can find it and use it. I’ll spend more time on this later at the end of this post.
The goal of a news release is to get media action that results in media coverage. There really are only two possible favorable things that happen when you send a news release.
1. They write about you or interview you.
2. They request more information (like a copy of your book and a media kit)
If you don’t succeed at this step, you simply fail. So it’s crucial that you get the door open and either get them to say yes to something once they read your news release.
Being successful at this is like going through a gauntlet. Media will not give you free advertising. They only publish news, education, or entertainment that their audience will pay for and that their advertisers won’t object to.
So you have to be very selective on what you present. You have to present copy that is strategically designed to:
– Interest and even expand the media outlet’s target audience.
– Provide news, educational or entertainment value.
– Be easy to verify, trust, and work with.
So what information do you give to media? You give media information that increases the number of people who will buy what they publish. You do this by studying what they publish. Day in day out, what you need to produce to be successful is right before your eyes every day. You simply need to mimic what you see and use what is being published as a guide to deciding what you need to create and offer. You can use my 3 I technique any time you want. It works very well. You can decide you want to use a magazine, or USA Today, or the NY Times Book Review Section. It doesn’t matter, you just pick a target that looks just like what you want, and create something that looks like it belongs there.
That’s why when 3 I technique news releases are submitted, so much of the content is readily used. It’s not that you get lazy journalists, it’s that you’ve done your homework so good that the editor sees that it looks like it belongs there and decides to use your copy with little or no extra expenditure of corporate resources. I can show you a news release for client Susan Casey for a book titled Women Invents, which was published in 1997. A year ago, we wrote a news release all about women inventors. The news release was turned into an article for the March 31 2009 issue of Fast Company Magazine with Susan Casey getting the byline for the article. Cut and paste verbatim for a book that was published over ten years ago.
The lesson learned is that the book doesn’t really matter to media. What you offer to their public matters to media.
Media basically look at everything that comes to them and ask three questions:
1. How many people in my audience will be interested in this?
2. What’s in it for my audience?
These are pass fail questions. The answers have to be 1. Lots of people will be interested and 2. There’s great news, education or entertainment value.
If and only if you get a pass on these two questions, then you get to the next question.
3. How much time, effort, and money will this project require?
The answer has to be VERY LITTLE. In other words, the editor has to spend little money, time, resources, people, etc. to do their job.
Content is the ultimate determining factor to getting media attention. And to get media attention and interest you use a special communication called a news release.
Six essential parts of a Trash Proof News Release
1. The Call to Action
2. A Real Story That Relates to Real People
3. A presentation of The Value to the Audience
4. The Crucial Information
5. The Highlights of Qualifications
6. Access to Key People
You may think that you need to do more and when you send a book to the media you can add other information, but really and truly, all I recommend people send to media at the very least is a copy of the news release and a copy of the book. The book data, (cost, publisher, isbn, length, size, etc) is given in the Crucial Information. We tend to be pretty successful when we do this. You do not need to throw the kitchen sink at media when you send a media kit. You do have to be selective and send them what they need to do the job you want done.
Once you write a 3 I technique news release, then you target your media. I use Cision for my client projects, it’s perhaps the largest online real time reasonably maintained media database, and it now include newspapers, magazine, radio, tv and all sorts of online media and even associations. When I target, I focus on the message and ask who are the right media to receive this message? I also ask:
1. Who are your customers?
2. What do they read, watch or listen to?
>> Particularly when they are receptive to learning and are open to taking action.
This last little tweak to this question is crucial. There’s a big financial ROI difference one gets by getting a review or an article in a newspaper of general circulation compared to getting the exact same article in front of a topical newsletter with far fewer readers, but they are dedicated professionals with money and a desire to improve their lives and livelihood. The latter tends to outsell the former.
You have to communicate meaningfully with media decision makers. These days I use email to custom targeted media lists. You can also use fax, phone calls, street mail and in-person communication to present a pitch and a proposal. These are what I call direct contact methods.
There are lots of other less effective methods and places you can place your messages. Some are more direct than others. I mean there are web sites, blogs, media sites, libraries, wiki’s forums, ezines, discussion groups, and audio, video, podcasts, and now there’s social media and specialized search engines for all the above. To meaningfully communicate means you news release becomes a landing page and you use email, headlines, snippets, slices, blinks and tweets to get people to go to that landing page. Being persuasive now is a complicated process. The technology requires you to format the message to match the medium. If you don’t meet the media’s needs, then you won’t get coverage.
The online news release posting services (free and fee) are not as direct as email and other direct contact methods. They often times are just web based storage, with searchable links, based not on content but on headlines. Real decision making journalists will not receive these communications unless they find them first. I’m not impressed with the media coverage that my clients and I have experienced using the more passive methods.
The lesson learned here is that the more attenuated the technology, the greater the number of steps, the less likely it is that the right media person will receive a meaningful communication, and you are thus less likely to succeed.
You can read my book Trash Proof News Releases if you want to learn more about this style of doing news releases. It’s a free download at Smashwords. Book page to download Trash Proof News Releases Smashwords edition: