If you are a new or emerging author, chances are you don’t have a massive budget for paid advertising, which is why getting free publicity is all-important.
As a former journalist and newspaper editor, I can confirm that people in the media get dozens, if not hundreds, of emails every single day (and early in my career I even used to get information hand delivered through the letterbox of my home, because I’m old and I lived in a small village in Scotland where not everyone was au fait with typing yet).
Should I give each and every email and press release my full and undivided attention? Probably, but that would literally take up my entire life. So getting my attention became all important for people sending me stuff in the hopes of it getting on the page, and I’m going to tell you some things you may find useful when you are promoting your books to members of the media (and you won’t believe how simple some of them are).
Your email subject line is your shop window
So many people get this part wrong and it’s infuriating! Think about how you look at your emails – your inbox shows a subject line, maybe the sender and (if you have it set) a preview pane). Too many people just put “Press Release” or similar as their subject line and, honestly, unless I know who it’s from I would bypass it altogether. Spend time on your subject line – think of it like an elevator pitch for your book (and like a mini writing challenge in itself). Grab my attention!
Think local, not just national – and get specific
Yes, if you get featured in the New York Times you’ll be seen by thousands upon thousands of sets of eyes, but you are also fighting against more authors for those column inches. You are far more likely to be featured in local media than national if you are unknown. Plus it puts you on the radar of people who organise events near to you, like book festivals, which can help you reach a wider audience.
This also applies to reaching a specific audience. Make a list of websites/magazines/podcasts/TV shows and the rest that relate to the subject of your book (for example, cooking) and make sure to let them know about your book. Because you can bet that people who enjoy cooking also enjoy reading about cooking, and will enjoy stories about chefs or restaurants.
Sell yourself, not just your book
People connect to other people, as well as to a story or idea. That’s why we all know the story of JK Rowling being a single mum on welfare writing the first Harry Potter in a café as well as the adventures of the boy wizard. If you put yourself out there, then you’ll get the attention of the people who can identify with you, as well as those who have read about your book and think it sounds right up their street. This particular applies to local media, who will focus on your connections to the area as well as your book.
This also includes creating a strong social media presence – let readers follow you and get a glimpse into your life. That dedicated following will become your constant readers and journalists are more and more following people on Twitter and Instagram to get the latest news and updates on the people they cover.
Follow up on your email/book submission
There’s no harm in following up an initial contact with a call or email to check that it’s been received and to ask if you can provide any further information. In fact, it can often prompt a journalist to look at it if they haven’t already. I can’t tell you how many times someone did that and it reminded me about that email I’d meant to follow up that had completely slipped my mind and fallen far down the inbox!
Throw in a present
Journalists love a freebie! Maybe because it’s not a well-paying job, or maybe just because it’s a change from the doom and gloom that comes with day-to-day reporting, but if you chuck us a free pen or water bottle or tote bag, we are happy campers. So, if you can afford it, why not get some pens printed with the name of your book to send out along with review copies? That’s definitely something they’ll keep and use and you’ll be in front of them every day. And if you can’t afford to do it for everyone, cherry-pick a few recipients to get a “VIP” package (because making us feel special is almost as great as free stuff!).
At the end of the day, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll get a free article written or a segment about your book. But by standing out from the crowd, taking the time to plan and devise a strategy for spreading the word and then following through, you will give yourself the best possible chance. The media and the people who work in it can become your best friends, so do your best to cultivate those relationships.
I hope this helps and I look forward to reading your work one day!
Meet Katy Gordon
Katy Gordon is a former newspaper and online editor and has spent her nearly-20 year career working in the Scottish media environment, from junior reporter right up. She is now currently a senior commercial copywriter, aspiring stand-up comedian and the owner of an eternal WIP of her own.