One of the big goals of most entrepreneurs writing books is to get featured in the media – newspapers, TV, radio, blogs…
But how do you do it? There’s not much point in publishing a book if no one knows about it.
Enter the media release! A media (or press) release is a page about you and your book that you send out to journalists and publications in the hope that they will either republish it, or contact you for an interview or to comment on another story.
Because my editors and I are so heavily involved in shaping the books we work on, often our authors ask for feedback on their media releases. Yet, other than ‘I’ve written a book!’, they struggle to find something to write about.
So they go back to the basics – the problems their readers are struggling with and how their book will help solve these, followed by the details of their book launch.
While this is a great approach for most of your marketing material – after all, explaining the problems your book will solve is the greatest selling point for potential readers – it doesn’t make for effective media releases. Why? Because the audience of your media release isn’t your potential audience – it’s the journalists who choose whether or not to publish your story.
So how can you write a media release that journalists can’t wait to print? You need to answer three questions – what does the media want, what makes your story newsworthy, and who actually cares.
What does the media want?
When you wrote your book, one of the first things you thought about (or should have thought about) was your target readers. Who they are, what they want and the problems or niggling issues they would pay anything to solve. This helped you write a valuable and highly marketable book.
You need to do the exact same exercise when working on your press release.
Who is your target audience? Is it the media in general? Or are you reaching out to a specific publication, program or journalist?
Then, what are they trying to get done? What is the problem they’re trying to solve?
In most cases, what a journalist wants is to find a newsworthy story before their 500 words is due to their editor.
Therefore, you need to find a way to make your book newsworthy.
What makes your story newsworthy?
Unless you are already a newsworthy personality (as in, you’re Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah), the fact that you’ve written a book isn’t newsworthy. Sorry.
So what is newsworthy?
If you ask any journalism student, they’ll also mention criteria like timeliness (news need to be new!) and proximity (we care more about what’s happening locally than internationally), but these tend to be much stronger when paired with one of the above criteria. For instance, the fact that you’ve just written a book is timely, but it doesn’t become newsworthy until it also addresses one of the above criteria.
How does this work in practice? Let’s go back in time to 2010 when I was working as an SEO copywriter for a derivatives trading company (feel free to jangle some chimes and pixelate the screen to make this transition). Part of my job was writing press releases and submitting them to an online service for distribution in the hope that some news outlets would pick them up and distribute them further.
While these releases didn’t often get picked up in traditional media, they were often republished online on industry websites, meaning that these publications found them newsworthy. Why?
But what happens if you aren’t the market leader or you haven’t invented something new? What if you’ve just written a book?
Then the best way to make your book newsworthy is to either address an existing issue, or to demonstrate that your book could have a measureable impact on a significant number of people.
Let’s look at these two areas in practice.
Finding an existing newsworthy issue
If you have specific publications that you’d like to pitch, head to their websites. If you’re unsure, start with the major media outlets in your area.
Look at the stories on the front page. Then look at the stories on the front page of whichever section is relevant to your business (e.g. if you work with corporates, then head to the Business section. If you work with start-ups, then Tech might be more up your alley. If you’re in health and wellness or personal development, then try Lifestyle.).
What’s currently in the news? Try to focus on specific issues rather than general topics. For instance, ‘there’s a lot of news on start-ups at the moment’ is a general topic. ‘Trump is the republican candidate for president’ is a specific issue. Your thoughts on a general topic don’t help your market (journalists) achieve their goal (writing a newsworthy story). Your thoughts on a specific issue will help them with this (and, in fact, may fit into an article they’re already working on), so this should be your focus.
As you’re going through the news, ask yourself if there’s anything you can comment on. Is there anything directly related to the subject of your book?
If so, great! What specifically do you have to say? Is it unlike anything else in the debate, or does it contribute to what’s already being said?
Then, do you have facts or statistics to back it up? (For more on finding relevant facts and statistics, check out How to gather evidence for your book.) This will be the focus of your media release.
If not, let’s move on.
Demonstrating a measureable impact
Not all books relate to existing issues. Mine certainly doesn’t.
If you find yourself in this bucket, instead think about the impact the content of your book may have – on the typical business you work with, on your industry, or on the economy.
For instance, one of my clients is about to launch a book on change management, and one of the statistics she shares in the book is that 70% of large-scale technology changes fail or don’t achieve their business objectives. As she shares a four-step framework to help senior executives effectively manage change, this is a great place to start – it demonstrates a measureable impact and is directly related to her book.
However, it could be even stronger. What’s the true cost of these failures? How much do these failed change projects cost the typical blue chip company in time, dollars and staff turnover? How much do they cost the Australian economy every year?
If she writes a media release sharing how much these changes cost the Australian economy on an annual basis, it is far more newsworthy than writing a press release about the fact that she’s written a book. As a result, if she introduces her book as a solution to this issue later in the media release, it will receive far more attention from journalists and be more likely to be published for her potential readers to see.
So ask yourself, what problem does your book solve? And what’s the impact of solving that problem? If you can put a (large) number on it, you’ve found your angle.
Who (specifically) cares?
Now that you have an angle, it’s time to think about who you’re pitching.
Which publications and/or programs do you want to target? Are you reaching out to national news outlets, morning shows, entrepreneurship blogs, lifestyle magazines, industry journals or something else? And, within those publications/programs is there a specific department, or even a specific journalist or personality, you want to target?
When you’re choosing who to target, it’s best to get as specific as possible. By knowing exactly who will (or won’t) be publishing your story, you can tailor your media release to speak specifically to them.
In fact, earlier this year I interviewed my client Clarissa Rayward, the author of Splitsville: How to separate, stay out of court and stay friends, who shared how she handpicked 30 journalists who might be interested in her book. Because she had such a targeted shortlist, she was able to write personal pitches to each of them, and she sent each one a mini care package with a copy of the book, chocolates, bath salts and more. Rather than just sending through a media release, she wanted it to feel like they were opening a present.
The result? She has appeared on the Channel 9 news, ABC Radio, The Courier Mail, MX Magazine and more.
Knowing who you’re targeting may also help you find your newsworthy angle as, by looking at a particular journalist’s past stories, you will get a better idea of what they feel is newsworthy.
Ultimately, by focusing on what your market cares about, they will be more interested in your book.
Putting it all together: how to write your media release
Now you have the foundations, but how do you put it all together in a media release?
Journalists work with the inverted pyramid structure, which means they start with the most important information and work their way down through information that’s less important.
There are two reasons for this. First, it’s more interesting to read, which means they get more readers. Second, it’s easier to edit. If a journalist is writing a fluff piece for a slow news day, and then a big story breaks (the financial markets collapse, Queen Elizabeth II is assassinated, Beyoncé has a baby…), the publication needs more space for the more important story. To create that space, they will cut other articles, working their way up from the bottom. By including all of the important information first, readers will still get most of the story even if the bottom half of it is cut.
What does this mean for you? You need to start with the information that is most important to your audience, or the journalists you are pitching.
To get started, use the following structure for your draft:
- 1Headline: Headline about your angle (so the newsworthy issue/demonstrable impact you are focusing on)
- 2Paragraph 1: Share your angle. Try to cover the 5Ws and H (What is the issue? Who is affected by it? When did it happen/when will the effects be felt? Where did it happen/where will the effects be felt? Why is this happening/why is it important? How did it happen?), or whichever of the questions are appropriate to your story.
- 3Paragraph 2: Elaborate on your angle. This might be elaborating on why it is important (what are the consequences of this?), or why this issue is happening (what is causing this problem – you could argue that it’s not what most people think).
- 4Paragraph 3: Share a quote from you about your angle. You may introduce the solution to the problem here. (Make sure to mention that you’re an author and the title of your book!)
- 5Paragraph 4: Introduce your book as a solution to the issue, including the title of your book, your credibility as an author (how many years of experience do you have? Who have you worked with?) and the solution it provides (e.g. it provides a five-step framework to help readers achieve X, Y and Z benefits).
- 6Paragraph 5: Share a quote from an industry expert/well-known persona endorsing the book.
- 7Paragraph 6: Share call to action. If you’re announcing a book launch, share the date, time and location of the launch as well as where readers can get tickets. If you’re announcing the release of the book, share when it will be available and where readers can find it.
- 8Contact information: Share your name, phone number, email and website (or that of your publisher/PR and marketing person, if they are handling your marketing).
Paragraphs 2-5 can be a bit flexible, depending on how much information you have to share/how many quotes you have from well-known people. The key is to keep it to a single page – journalists are getting pitched constantly, and if yours feels like too much effort, they’ll move on to the next one.
And there you have it – three questions and six paragraphs to a media release that journalists can’t wait to print!
Over to you
Now it’s your turn – what’s your newsworthy angle and which publications will be interested in your book? Share your answers in the comments below!