Even if you’ve written a book already, your work doesn't end there. The next step is getting people to buy it. But how do you do that? Well, unless you have a whopping great marketing budget, the quickest and cheapest way forward is publicity.
Whether you are self-published, working with a small publisher or are lucky enough to have a deal with a major player, all authors should be concerned with the question of publicity.
And the reason is that you are the main person who is going to sell this book – whether you like it or not! Even if you have a major trade publisher onboard, the press officers will expect you to be available to journalists and, crucially, be interesting to them. If your interview is boring, the article may never see the light of day.
So the more proactive you can be, the more success you will have in securing top press and publicity.
And the first step on this road is to turn yourself into a journalist so that you can think of stories that will fly in your local paper, national newspapers, magazines, blogging sites, online and around the world.
On our one-day training course Press My Book, Emma Donnan and I take authors through a practical guide to becoming a journalist overnight so that they can take control of their own publicity.
But as a very rough outline, we’ve highlighted our 5 Top Tips on How To Think Like a Journalist:
All journalists are time-poor. They are constantly on the go, on deadline and their inbox is full of PR guff which is regularly swept away with a click of the mouse. So what they need from you is brevity. This is hard because, let’s face it, writers like to write. But if you are pitching to a journalist you have three sentences MAX to get their attention. And ideally, you should hook them in the first ten words.. Look at this way: how do you read a paper? Do you start reading and then hope to hit a story half way down the page? No, you have a headline that tells you what the story is and if, and only if, the headline grabs you, then you start reading. So keep it short, simple and to the point.
2 IS IT A STORY?
This is the million-dollar question and right now, in newsrooms up and down the country, there will be eager news editors desperately trying to ‘sell’ their stories to their editors. Because there isn’t really a definitive answer to this question – for one thing, it depends who you are pitching to, which we will cover in point 3. TARGET TARGET TARGET. In a general sense, what journo’s term ‘news instinct’ is a carefully honed, hard-won sense developed over many years. However, you can develop yours instantly using these two questions:
1. Is it interesting? 2. Have I heard it before?
Some books naturally lend themselves more to publicity than others – if you have written a memoir for example and you cover some very important historical events, this is a good place to explore. Or if something shocking happened to you, then this could be what you use to hook your story on. But fiction is harder. Publicity for fiction is primarily about the author and this is when you will probably need to start bouncing ideas off friends/partners/relatives/Facebook. To give a general idea, here are some useful directions: Can we relate your book to your day job? Your age? Your experiences? What is the inspiration for the book? Is this the first of anything? The biggest of anything or the longest of anything? Are you the new FILL IN LATEST BOOK TREND HERE (e.g. J K Rowling, EL James)?
We are looking for a standout headline – if you can sum up the story in ten words or less you might be onto something (back to Keep It Short). Here are some good examples of what might make a reasonable local newspaper headline:
‘FROM BINMAN TO BOOK WRITER’
‘I WAS ILLITERATE UNTIL AGED 30 – NOW I’M A NOVELIST’
‘MENTAL HEALTH NURSE INSPIRED TO WRITE BOOK.’
‘GRAN OF EIGHT LANDS BOOK DEAL.’
’16 YEAR OLD PUBLISHES FIRST NOVEL.’
‘SINGLE DAD OF FOUR PENS MEMOIR’
‘DAUGHTER’S ASPERGER’S INSPIRES BESTSELLER.’
‘GRANDAD’S WW1 WAR DIARIES THROW LIGHT ON LOCAL EFFORTS.’
‘BOOKSELLER TAKES 30 YEARS TO WRITE HIS FIRST NOVEL.’
3.WHAT WHO WHEN WHERE WHY AND HOW?
These are the six fundamental questions a journalist must ask when covering any story:
Who did it happen to?
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
Why did it happen ?
How did it happen?
You too can be a journalist of your own stories as long as you have mastered these questions. So, let’s take an example from above. Here’s the headline: FROM BINMAN TO BOOK WRITER.
And here are the first three sentences of the story:
Terry Gibbs binned his day job as a rubbish collector after his first novel was published this week.
[ANSWERS QUESTIONS: WHAT HAPPENED? AND WHEN?]
The 32-year-old dad had worked for the council for five years, writing at night and at the weekends.
[ANSWERS QUESTIONS: WHO? AND HOW?]
Terry, from Dover in Kent, says he always loved detective stories but a chance encounter with a novelist on his rounds set him on his new path.
[ANSWERS QUESTIONS: WHERE? AND WHY?]
The trick is to fit in as much information as possible without the piece seeming too crowded. Your advantage is that you are already a writer so with a little practice and some pointers in the right direction, you should be up and running fairly quickly.
4. TARGET TARGET TARGET!
The one thing that bothered me most when I worked as a Feature Editor on a national newspaper was untargeted press releases. It was the lazy, one-email-fits-all approach to publicity and there was certainly no quicker way to my Delete folder than addressing me as ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. Newspapers don’t write puffs for PR’s, they write stories. If you are thinking about trying to get your name and book out there, you have to target the right person. For a news desk, don’t go for the editor – they are too busy – go for a junior reporter who is hungry for a scoop. Find out their name, their contact details and send them a dedicated email followed up by a telephone call. Be brave – it can be very daunting making a call to a magazine or newspaper or blogger but hey, what’s harder than writing a book? The personal touch is always best.
But not all media is news – there are other sections: features, lifestyle, arts etc. If it’s a feature you want to offer to a magazine, speak to a feature writer. If you’re being really smart, look at the furniture of the paper/magazine/blog and ask yourself what you could fit yourself into? For example, in your favourite magazine is there a HOW I DID IT! section on achieving one’s dreams which you might be suitable for? Or perhaps there’s A SLICE OF LOCAL HISTORY section in your local paper. Usually, journalists are pretty grateful for ideas on filling the furniture so look around at the regular features that you see and try squeezing yourself into one of those.
5. ALL YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW
Before you can start your own publicity campaign, you must have all your ducks in a row. What does this mean? It means you have to be ready: ready to provide high resolution (i.e. printable) pictures suitable for the articles, ready with a website address, twitter handle, ready with offers for competitions, ready with background info, ready with an author video. Get all your ducks in a row before you start your publicity blitz. When a journalist is covering a story they will need pictures, they will need information, videos, all the things that you see and read in the paper and online. And if you can give it all to them in one neat little package, you have a greater chance of getting your piece printed.
* For more useful, insider tips on getting great PR for your book, take a look at pressmybook.com.
* Next courses: April 17, May 9.