Image: Matthew Loffhagen
For independent and/or self-publishing authors, publicity can be the biggest challenge of them all. Most authors don’t have any experience in this area, don’t know where to begin, and don’t have anyone pushing them to just dive in and get started. Consequently, no-one really hears about their book, and it takes them much, much longer than necessary to make any kind of impact (think years, not months).
Press coverage is just one type of publicity, but it’s an area that can be tackled on its own. Unlike the endless warren of social media or the inside baseball of seeking out professional reviews, getting press coverage is comprised of a few discrete tasks with a functional end date. It’s also much easier than you might think, and once you know how to do it, the technique doesn’t really change.
That’s why, in today’s article, we’ll be looking at the five steps to getting press coverage for your book.
Step 1: Think small
The first place that authors go wrong when seeking press coverage for their book is in aiming as high up the media totem pole as possible. Of course, this makes sense from a certain perspective – shoot for the moon and, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars – but it ignores how the press find stories.
While the big players in media do go out and find their own stories, they also source a huge amount of information from smaller publications. This is true all the way down to the local papers; when a national journalist wants to know about an emerging issue, they turn to local publications, because local journalists are usually in on the ground floor.
On a slow news day, a story from a minor press outlet can become national news, and any major news outlet has people constantly trawling smaller publications for the seed of a story.
Because of this, it’s usually a waste of time for indie and/or self-publishing authors to chase the major press. Even when they want to cover something like your book, they’re not looking to you for that information. It’s like showing up at the reception desk of a major business and asking if they have any positions open – even if they do, that’s not how they want you to apply.
It’s far more effective to target smaller news outlets with the intent of growing public perception. News items may pass quickly, but reporters and reviewers love precedent – if you’ve been written about before, that’s confirmation you’re newsworthy (not least because it means they can build on previous coverage).
Of course, you should still shoot high. Being in the town newsletter is nice (and really does count – even those minor journalists need somewhere to gather facts), but if you can get in the area newspaper, that’s better, and to be featured on a popular website is worth your time. The point is to pursue every opportunity and not to discount a gain just because it’s small. Press builds, but it can’t build on nothing.
Step 2: Remember what reporters need
Having set your sights on a realistic publication, make life as easy for them as possible. Reporters and reviewers need to create constant content, but they need to be able to package that content in a particular way.
Reporters need to tell their readers something new. If you wrote a book a year ago and you don’t have anything new planned, that’s not news, it’s just a fact. If, on the other hand, you wrote a book a year ago and you’re about to release the sequel, the reporter who writes about you gets to inform their readers about an upcoming event.
Reporters also need to tell their readers something that’s both relevant and exciting. If, for instance, you’re talking to a reporter whose publication deals with LGBTQ issues and you focus on extolling the realistic setting of your book, they might love what you tell them, but it’s not relevant to their publication, so they’re going to struggle to pitch you as a story. Likewise, if you’re bringing out a recipe book but you present it as just some of your favorite recipes – no theme, no angle, no history – that news just isn’t exciting enough to support a story. ‘Another book of recipes released’ isn’t an angle, whereas, ‘All the recipes in this book are based on fictional meals’ is an idea that can be unpacked.
If you’re struggling with this, I’d actually recommend taking a look at podcast marketing. Podcasting is a heaving market, partly because podcasts aren’t that hard to make (though they’re much harder to make well). Consequently, pretty much every podcast, regardless of subject matter, has some sort of gimmick; a really specific topic focus, a challenge that’s being met, a quirky connection between the hosts, or something else that sets it apart. This is the way you need to think about yourself to get press; what story can a reporter tell about you or your work that’s new, relevant, and exciting?
This is something many authors neglect when seeking press, since they think it’s the reporter’s job to frame a story around them. It is, of course, but there’s no shortage of new authors, so most reporters are going to pursue the easiest version of their job. That means an author who comes pre-packaged with some kind of compelling narrative.
Begin with yourself. Is there anything about your particular journey that adds to the story of your writing? A lot of articles about J.K. Rowling’s success play off her time as a struggling single mother on benefits, since the contrast to her current situation creates a compelling story. This may sound a little gross, and you don’t have to heave out your private life for inspection just for a few column inches, but every author has a journey of some kind; a reason they chose the subject matter, characters, or setting they did. You’ll recognize this kind of personal narrative from reality shows, but that’s because it works to offer readers a journey as part of your brand.
Next, ask what you can emphasize about your work to make it more tempting to the publication in question. If they have an area of focus, dig up everything you can think of that would be relevant to that area, even if it’s minor in the grand scheme of your work. Write down every setting and every major and secondary character and pick them apart, looking for things that will appeal to different demographics. Reporters are unlikely to read your book for their story, so they’re relying on their questions and your knowledge to bring up anything relevant.
Wherever possible, offer reporters a question they can pose to their readers. By this, I mean a topic on which people might have different opinions. Of course, direct controversy is much more likely to get you press, but all art makes some kind of point, so consider what you’re saying in your work. Reporters want to write about issues that will divide opinion, so look for such topics in your work and then pose them in that way. In short, present a discussion. Should X be the way it is? Can we Y? What if Z?
Consider what quotes you can give a reporter to make their work easier. They’re a writer too, and they’ll find some compelling phrases for themselves, but it’s easier to build a story around direct quotes, so give them a couple to work with. ‘This is a story about _______’ is a strong, direct statement that will easily support an article. ‘I was kind of considering the themes of _______ and _______’ just doesn’t pack the same punch.
Another thing to consider is presenting your book as a mix of A and B. For example, the marketing for Lindsay Ellis’ sci-fi novel Axiom’s End describes it as ‘Stranger Things meets Arrival.’ Authors hate doing this, since their work is unique, but reporters, reviewers, and marketers love it, since it makes readers feel like they understand the work in question while carrying over any positive feelings they have towards the examples. If you can bring yourself to do this, it’ll make getting press attention significantly easier, but the key is to focus on well-known, well-liked examples rather than trying to actually pinpoint the exact combo that describes your book. On her social media, Ellis says, ‘I don’t know why they went with stranger things because it isn’t like… at all’ but follows that up with a mantra that’s going to be helpful in getting your own press: ‘but hey, marketing’.
Those are some techniques you can use to mine your work for things that will make it easier to cover, but this is an area where you can be even more proactive…
Step 3: Be topical
One of the big things you can do to make your book relevant to the press is to link it to something topical. The most obvious example is public holidays; if your book is about (or just includes) Thanksgiving, then releasing it around Thanksgiving is a no-brainer, since every press outlet in the country is looking for stories about Thanksgiving.
The same is true for current events or cultural milestones. If, for instance, your story is about the Titanic, then your best chance for getting press attention is going to be around a significant anniversary of it sinking.
Of course, you don’t have to be that direct, and sometimes you’ll need to get creative to be topical. If your book includes a corrupt politician, then it’s worth making press contact if there’s a sudden political scandal. That’s what people are talking about in that moment, and reporters want content that taps into the zeitgeist. Reporters need an excuse to include a topical buzzword in their headline. Furnish them with that excuse and your reward is the article that comes under it.
As with presenting your book as a mix of A and B, it’s worth considering what other books or movies are popular at the moment and making comparisons. Again, authors hate this, but if everyone’s talking about The Hunger Games, then claiming to have the next Hunger Games is a story, even if the only real comparison is that your protagonist uses a bow at some point.
For smaller press, you should also stay aware of local events. If there’s a fair you can read at or a local cause you can become involved in, this is another avenue to render your work topical. If they’re covering an event where you performed a reading, then a second article where they can talk about your career in that context gives them both a second article that’ll be appealing to the same readership and a chance to link the two articles, retaining readers for longer.
If you’re serious about chasing topicality, Google Alerts is your new best friend. Google Alerts is a service where you choose relevant words or phrases, mark them for alerts, and then receive a notification when they crop up in the news. If you’ve identified the topics that you can most easily link to your book, this system can alert you to occasions when reporters will be looking for new ways to talk about those topics, and that’s your cue to get in touch and offer yourself as an asset. This is especially useful if your book renders you something of an expert. For example, if you’ve written a novel about the Tudors, then you’re a valuable talking head anytime someone wants to write about the Tudors – an anniversary, a new discovery, a new movie or television show, etc.
When people are talking about X, new X content attracts readers. That means there’ll be days when a reporter is just trying to find another way of writing about X, and they’ll happily write about your book if it affords them that opportunity.
Step 4: Make contact
All of the techniques above make it easier for reporters to write about your work, but they have to know about it first. Some lucky authors will be contacted by the press, but the majority of them – and especially those working outside the major publishing houses – will need to make first contact.
There are a number of ways to do this. The easiest and most obvious is just to send an email. This will be most effective if you’re contacting smaller outlets, and you should include your name, where to reach you, and the minimum information needed to prove that you’d make for a good story.
If you are sending an unsolicited email, it is an act of immediate self-sabotage to be anything other than extremely brief. Anything longer than a couple of paragraphs encourages the recipient not to read past the first line, and even that second paragraph is pushing it. Heck, the fifth sentence is risky. Remember, you’re volunteering your relevance in regards to certain topics. If the reporter wants to know more, they’ll email you back. If, in a year’s time, something 100% relevant comes up, they will dig back through their inbox to find you. Include prior press coverage in any new message, as this will encourage journalists and reviewers to take you seriously.
A more formal process is to create and send out a press release. Press releases are likely to be pretty similar to the email described above, but they’re formatted for the ease of news outlets and they can be distributed via a newswire (a service that such outlets can check for story material).
It may sound tempting to rely on this formalized process, but there are very few success stories of authors relying on newswire services. Writing a press release is worth your time, but at the time of writing, I wouldn’t suggest using a paid service that submits your press release for you. It’s likely that almost no-one will read your press release, let alone act on it, and this is something you can do for free, especially with the right online resources.
Businesses like PRNewswire, Pressat, PRLog, and JournoLink offer either free press release submissions or free resources for doing it yourself. If all it costs you is time, submitting your press release to various newswire services is a sensible decision, but it’s not reliable enough to be worth paying for the privilege.
Step 5: Have a plan
Press coverage is a great way to get attention, but if that attention isn’t part of a larger plan, it’s only going to be a drop in the bucket. When new readers look you up, they need to be able to buy your work, and they need places to find out more about you (your author website) and to follow future developments (your social media and your email list).
Another good idea is to have something for prospective readers to consume right away – a blog or some free writing that makes it possible for them to put down your press coverage and move straight to your work, minimizing the number of people whose interest you gained but who forgot about you before they had chance to act. You should also ensure that all other marketing avenues are working with your press coverage to get the most attention – if you’re waiting to declare a new project, for instance, don’t do it a week before you’re in the press, as that’s enough time for new fans to miss your own big news. (You can check out So You’ve Published Your Book… Now What? for more post-publication marketing steps.)
Crucially, if your book is new on the market, it’s best to try and organize any articles or interviews either just prior to publication or at least within the first ninety days after your book is released. This is about the period for which your book is ‘new’, and this makes it easier for news outlets to present your work as relevant.
After this window, any press is still better than no press, but you lose your most important asset in terms of the story being about your work rather than mentioning it while covering something else. Keep in mind, however, that having released a new book and having written a book about X can be combined even if it’s not the same book. If a journalist wants to write something about X, then ‘Author of book about X has a new book about Y on the market’ might do in a pinch. Their coverage probably won’t center on your new story, but those ninety days can be about more than just your most recent work.
Stop the presses!
Once upon a time, press coverage was easily the best type of marketing an author could expect. Because of that, it can take up undue prominence in modern marketing plans, with self-publishing authors considering it the highest possible echelon of acknowledgment.
That’s no longer the case, and it’s better to consider press attention just one possible tool for spreading awareness of your book. Make time for it, learn to do it well, but don’t pursue it to the exclusion of other methods like live readings and a healthy social media strategy. Of course, it’s still really satisfying to be the subject of an article, so don’t forget to save your clippings!
Have you managed to arrange some press coverage for your book? How did you do it, and were you satisfied with the results? Let me know in the comments, and check out Everything You Need To Know About Guerrilla Book Marketing and How To Get Reviews When You’re Just Starting Out for more great advice on publicizing your work.