|Fishing For Ink: Getting Noticed By
By Scott Nicholson
Okay, you have the book out, youve just won a contest or award, or you think that October would be a great time for the local media to do a piece on a horror writer. You know about it. How do you let everyone else know?
The first stop should be the Internet, of course. Post on your favorite newsgroups or message boards, e-mail your friends, send your tidbits to the appropriate webzines. This costs nothing but time, and Ive noticed that most writers are already wise enough to take advantage of this medium. But now you want to reach beyond the same old circle.
The good news is that getting ink or bandwidth space isnt as hard as you might think. I have been on both sides of a thousand press releases in my experience with newspapers, radio, and television. About half of the releases are awful, and nobody has the time to rewrite them. Its easier to write a good story than rebuild a flawed one. However, if your press release comes in all spiffy and ready to dump, you might get that valuable free space or air time.
Journalists, whether print or broadcast, are like most everyone else in the world. They are overworked and underpaid. I write between 8,000 and 10,000 words every week for my paper, plus material for special inserts and seasonal editions. The staff also is expected to post daily news updates on our website. I produce one or two video pieces for our weekly cable television show. If an easy or interesting story walks through the door or crawls through the fax machine, I will embrace it, kiss it, and get it before the public. So will every other journalist I know.
As an author, your job is to make your story easy, interesting, or preferably both. Maybe one or two of you already have substantial six-figure promotional campaigns for each new book, but I doubt youve read this far if thats the case. The more responsibility you take for your career, the better off youll be, no matter what level youre at. Heres a little secret: most big-name authors dont trust their publicity entirely to their publisher. They employ outside consultants or promotional firms to augment what the publisher does. Sometimes these representatives work hand-in-hand with the publisher, sometimes not.
Most likely, you will be putting together your own press packets, compiling your own lists of media contacts, and arranging your own book signings and presentations. Before you groan, look at it as an opportunity to learn, not as yet another chore that drains away your precious writing time. Immerse yourself in all aspects of the business if you have ambitions of being a professional writer. Merely banging out the sentences is not, and has never been, enough.
As a first step,
you should have names, addresses, and phone numbers of
your hometown papers. Dont overlook the little arts
and entertainment papers, which might be your prime
territory. You can find information on radio stations,
television stations, and regional newspapers by
conducting Web searches. I also suggest investing in
copies of media guides, usually put out by state or
national media associations. While individual editors and
reporters may come and go, the basic listings usually
stay the same, so you only need to update every five
years or so.
This isnt as horrifying as it sounds. For my photos, I posted a flyer at the local universitys photography lab. I didnt offer pay to the student, but I purchased materials and promised to give a credit whenever the photo was used. For about $20, I got 40 5" x 7" photographs, but more importantly, I have the negatives, so that I can mass-order more copies at any local studio. The photo also appears on the back of my forthcoming story collection.
I wrote my own
press releases, of course, so the only cost there was
paper and toner. I bought a slightly better grade of
paper than I use for manuscripts. I wrote three different
versions of the release. If the package was going to a
newspaper, I included the photo and a three-page story
about winning the contest. A separate page contained a
condensed, fact-filled version of the event, opening with
an enticing lead line and then quickly going on to the
all-important Ws: who, what, when, where. Dont
worry about "why," because nobody nowhere knows
the answer to that one.
were not all Orson Scott Card or Sharyn McCrumb,
but the principles are the same. A local woman released
her first novel with her husband as publisher. Their
press packet included an interview, photo, blurbs, a copy
of the book, and the "inner flap" copy. Another
dirty little secret: rarely do journalists have the time
or interest to read your book. But you can still get a
write-up if your jacket copy or synopsis is good enough
to go right into the article.
Phone interviews also work well with radio, since newscasters love voicers or sound bites to help move their casts along. Pitch yourself as an interesting morning-show guest for radio. Look for timely angles. How about the advent of electronic publishing? The recent popularity of horror movies? Are you an expert in any obscure or interesting field? Morning deejays are like everybody else, they like to be associated with smart people, though always remember that you shouldnt upstage your host. From working in radio, I can advise you that bringing a bag of donuts or fastfood biscuits (make sure theres enough for everyone) will increase your chances of being invited back.
You should always get your material into the proper hands in timely fashion. Many papers have lead times of at least two weeks. For radio and television, two weeks or so is adequate. Obviously, photos arent necessary for radio material. A follow-up phone call or e-mail should be standard operating procedure, but dont be a pest. Press releases can be e-mailed initially, but I consider these far too easy for a reporter to disregard and delete. Hard copy has a much stronger presence, so use the postal system for the initial contact.
Few of us can afford to send a copy of the book with every packet. This is a choice youll have to make. You might want to reserve your scarce review copies for those papers more open to literary features. Always include contact information in case a reporter gets hooked. If he or she bothers to call, that means your chances of getting in the door are pretty good. You can send a review copy at that time.
Even if you send a review copy, dont mourn the lost revenue. A small ad in a paper, depending on the circulation and other factors, costs somewhere between $40 and several hundred dollars. My experience is mostly in small markets, but the principles are similar for large urban media outlets as well. Competition for space is higher in the big city, but so is the constant and endless demand for copy.
Hopefully, the bookstore or publisher will buy some advertising, but dont count on it. Most chains arent allowed a local advertising budget. If you have the money, you might consider chipping in with the publisher or store in a co-op arrangement. Truth is, buying an ad greatly increases your chances of getting a feature article. Pick up one of those Book Page papers that the chains give away, and take note of who is buying ads and which books are featured in the copy.
If someone writes an article about you, its okay to send a card or e-mail of thanks. Dont ever complain about an error, or youre guaranteed to be blackballed from that paper for a decade or so. A local sculptor bugged me about doing a story, I finally relented, and ended up having to get material from his website because he was unavailable with deadline approaching. He complained about seeing his "artists statement" in print, but he wasnt half as unhappy as I was. Hell never get another inch of ink out of me.
So what will I use in the packets when my own collection comes out? I am buying a box of pocket folders, I have the photographs ready, I have my press release and blurbs. I will include a brief interview. Some writers send clips of earlier articles, but those are practically useless since the material is copyrighted. By the way, dont use a byline on your press release. That implies ownership, and reporters and newspapers want to "own" it for themselves.
I wont put a review copy in each packet, but I will enclose the cover as a postcard if the reporter needs to scan the image. I have contact information handy. Best of all, I will also include a version of all the material on a diskette. Rich text format is the most universal for text files, GIF or JPG for graphic images. Not many press packets contain disks yet, but I think its a good investment at an extremely low additional cost.
Even if you are a bottom-line type of person, look at it this way: for my Writers of the Future signings, I sent out between three and fifteen packets each week. Even with postage, I only spent about eighty-five cents per packet, or less if I omitted the photo. Most press releases of any kind wind up in the recycling bin, but I got five or six very good feature articles out of my efforts. Though I wasnt getting royalties from the anthology, this was a great investment in my future. Those reporters will likely remember my name the next time I come to town, and so will some of their readers.
To crunch it down to dollars, if I had to buy the space for those articles, I probably would have spent between $500 and $1,000. I dont know whether or not any of my radio releases were used, but some of the material appeared on newspapers websites. As it was, I spent maybe $25 during my entire promotional campaign. Of course, I knew what to do, and now you do as well.
If you would like to see a sample of the press release I used, click on www.hauntedcomputer.com/promo1.htm. For my complete media materials, visit my online press kit. Read them over, and take note of the straightforwardness. Im sure you can do better, because, after all, youre a writer, arent you?
--copyright 2000 by Scott Nicholson. Contact for reprint permission
Scott Nicholson copyright 2001-03ŠAll rights reserved