Press Release: Advertisement or Publicity?
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Press Release: Advertisement or Publicity?

You can pay to advertise your book. You have to earn your good publicity.  Please keep that distinction in mind when you create a new press release.

An advertising manager works in a newspaper office.  His job requires him to fill the empty spaces between the columns and the articles with offers that readers will not be able to refuse.  He will accept your ad for your new book happily, provided it is not obscene or offensive to the paper's paid subscribers.  He may even help you come up with those key words designed to bring you sales: amazing, must-read, best-selling, award-winning, non-stop action, page-turner. For a "slightly higher" price you can add color, illustrations, quotes, testimonials, exclamation points, stars, banners, everything but the flashing lights and loudspeakers. The fancier your ad, the better he will like it. And the return? Well, there are no guarantees.  All he can really offer is the chance to put your name and the title of the book in front of people, in the hope that they will pause on the page long enough to read what your ad says.  After that, it is entirely up to your own words to entice the reader to buy what you have for sale.

A newspaper columnist also works in the office.  Her job is to fill the spaces between the ads with interesting columns that will make readers stop, read, and remember what she has written.  On those days when nothing burns down, no one murders a spouse, and the dog doesn't bite the mailman, the columnist will be on a desperate hunt for eye-catching news.  No, she doesn't need a sales pitch, and she probably won't think it is important that you have a book for sale. She's looking for a human interest story, a tale of a struggling writer who finally wins an award, a librarian who makes a history-changing discovery, a visiting scholar with a story to tell, or an expert who has discovered the answer to someone's prayers. If you can couch your press release in those terms, the columnist will not only write your story but tell it in its most appealing format. And the return? Once again, your name and book title appear in the public eye. But now they are bathed in a much more favorable light. A column in a newspaper or magazine or  an interview on the local radio station brings you favorable publicity, not advertising.

A good press release has great potential for attracting readers to your book, but it requires several contributions from you.  It must be newsworthy.  Its details must be clearly and concisely described. More important, it must be formatted correctly so that the columnist sees it as a professional presentation.  Here are some suggestions on how to do that formatting, so that everything fits on a single page.

1. At the top of the page, put the words "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" in all capital letters. That gives the columnist permission to use the information that follows. Skip a line and give the release date and the city of origin: "July 4, 1776, Philadelphia"

2. Skip another line and write your headline. Keep it short and attention-grabbing. Type it on one line with the first letter of each word capitalized: "Patriots Declare Independence From England."

3. Next comes a summary paragraph of about free to five lines, answering the standard questions " Who, what, where, when, and why."

4. Further details appear in the body of the press release.  This is the spot for a plot summary,background information, and over relevant details.  Keep this section to two or three paragraphs, each no longer than eight lines and separate the paragraphs with a blank line to make them easier to read. Be sure to write this section in third-person point of view.  Imagine that you are the columnist, and see the information through her eyes.

5. End with contact information: the name of the publishing company, their media contact person (who is probably YOU!), a phone number, mailing address, and an e-mail address. A fax number or website may also be useful.  Make it as easy as possible for the reader to make contact you and get more information.

6. Close with one of the printing symbols that lets readers know they have reached the end:  --30--  or ###


Once you have  your press release written, the final task is to get it into as many hands as possible, but make sure that they are the hands of people who will have a legitimate reason to care about your announcement.  You'll find many offers from public relations people to handle your press releases and send them out to their standard lists of thousands of publications.  Such services are not cheap, but they are all too often worthless. Newspapers, libraries, radio and TV stations, alumni associations, and trade groups are all fair game for press releases, but only if you have some personal connection to them. If you live in Wyoming, a morning talk show on a Georgia TV station will probably not invite you as a guest. If you graduated from the University of Tennessee, the University of Florida does not want to hear of your accomplishments. On the other hand, your local high school or college newspaper may be looking for stories about alumni who have become famous. Your company headquarters may be proud to publicize an employee who has received an honor. Contact every news outlet within a hour or so's drive from your home, and make your availability clear.

Use your writing talent to gain that all-important publicity.  It lasts much longer than an ad.