How to Write a Press Release—A Mini-Tutorial

by Joel Friedlander on March 16, 2011 · 17 comments

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One of the key components of your effort to let people know about a new book being published is the press release, or media release. In an earlier article I talked about how important your book pitch is, since it’s job is to communicate quickly what a reader will get from your book.

The media release performs a similar function. In fact, an effective release will be written around the pitch idea you’ve perfected for your book. Although during the marketing life of any book it’s possible to send many releases to the media, here we’re talking about the initial communication you do when launching the book and establishing it’s place in the market.

These releases are the subject of a great deal of study, and it can cost thousands of dollars to have a master of the form craft one for your company. As self-publishers, this is another task that falls to us to get done. Whether you do it yourself or outsource this project, you still need to know what to look for.

Ideally your release will be accompanied by other elements of your media kit, like full publishing information on the book, photos of the book and the author, and a cover letter. The release itself should attempt to imitate either a news story or a book review that you would find in the kind of publication you’re submitting your news to.

Once you have your press release put together, you submit it to either a free or a paid distribution service that makes it available to editors and writers at all kinds of news media for use in reporting or feature stories. If they like your story and think it will appeal to their readers, you’ll get published in their newspaper, magazine, featured on a report on TV or perhaps asked to sit for an interview. This is great media exposure for you and your book.

Here are the main elements you want to see included in your media release.

  1. Headline—The single most important part of your release. Let’s face it, if people aren’t attracted by the headline, they won’t read the rest. The headline needs to hook the reader’s interest and make them want to know more. Its job is simply this: to get a reader to want to read the next paragraph. PRWeb recommends that headlines be kept to 80 characters or less.

  2. Contact information—Provide complete contact information for editors who want to know more, or to request a copy of your book. If you hope to look like an actual publishing company, don’t use the author’s name as the contact.

  3. Release information—Most press releases say somewhere near the top “For Immediate Release” because they purport to deal in real news. If you don’t want the item to appear until a specific date, make sure that’s plain right at the top of the page.

  4. Length—Many authorities claim the best press releases are 300 to 500 words, and no more than two sides of one page. You can go longer if you need to tell a complex story, but make sure you’re not repeating yourself or inflating your language.

  5. Summary—Some people include a two- or three-sentence summary just under the headline. This can be handy when the release is shown in a listing where the summary offers a quick look at what you’ll find inside.

  6. Links—It seems to be good form to include only one link in your online press release.

  7. About the Author—Since this is a book release, include your standard author bio that’s under 100 words.

  8. Dateline—Have you noticed that stories in the newspaper always start with a dateline? You need one too right at the beginning of your release. This is simply to specify the location of the story you are telling.

  9. Keywords—Remember to include the keywords you want to try to get traffic from. Use them naturally once or twice in every release.

The most important thing to remember when you’re writing your press release is to try to become a reporter. Instead of the author of the book, or the publisher, you should write as if you are writing a news article.

This means that the impact of your story, your ideas, or the instruction in your book is the lead. People want to know what the news you’re offering can do for them. Why is it important? What benefit will it bring to them, what question will it answer?

As with all our marketing, we want to talk about what you get from reading the book, not the book itself. People don’t buy books just to own them and admire them. We buy books to educate or entertain, or to solve a specific problem. Focus on the benefits to the reader.

Why Bother Writing Press Releases?

Press releases are an inexpensive form of publicity that’s vastly underused by most self-publishers. Not only that, they have the potential for big payoffs. If your headline is magnetic and your story compelling, your press release can multiply your exposure exponentially.

Here’s a true story: When I first started learning copywriting I found out that large parts of our newspapers and many magazines are written by press release writers. Once you move past the main stories, virtually all of some newspapers are simply press releases an editor has grabbed, re-written the lead, and published.

I was writing press releases for our publishing company and decided to test this out. I included some language I really wanted to say about a particular book, something like “it will soon be a modern classic.” Sure enough, after sending out a couple of hundred press releases, I was excited when a magazine in our niche simply reprinted it verbatim. I was now able to put my own quote on all our advertising, with the magazine’s attribution.

Remember that after the launch of your book, you can still send out newsy press releases any time there’s a milestone to report, a tie-in to your subject in a larger news story, or if your book has won an award or achieved some other notoriety. Make it a habit to keep sending them out, particularly to your local papers, and through the free or paid online distributors, a few of which are mentioned below in the resources.

In a nod to a long-standing tradition dating back to the days of manual typewriters, it’s still customary to end your press release with three hash marks, and that’s how I’ll end this article.

# # #

Resources

For free press release distribution, try BiblioScribe or Free Press Release

For the industry-standard in paid online press release distribution, try PRWeb, with prices starting from $80. PRWeb also has an extensive help and documentation section with lots of articles on the best ways to create and use press releases. You can access this for free by simply opening an account there.

Press Releases: Top Tips and a Success Story by Joanna Penn

Book Publicity Tips and Resources for Authors from Dana Lynn Smith

How to Write a Press Release that Gets Attention by Frank Strong of PRWeb

How to Write a Great Press Release with some good advice from Publicity Insider

An extensive article on How to Write a Press Release from WikiHow

Photo by Jewell Willett

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    { 13 comments… read them below or add one }

    Roemer McPhee March 16, 2011 at 5:10 am

    CreateSpace does a good job on this score.

    Reply

    Ed Gray March 16, 2011 at 5:56 am

    “The headline needs to hook the reader’s interest and make them want to know more. It’s job is simply this: to get a reader to want to read the next paragraph. ”

    Its job is made easier if it’s grammatically correct…

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Good point, Ed and thanks for the free proofreading, too.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus March 16, 2011 at 6:06 am

    There are dozens of different companies that you can use to distribute press releases. Some are free. Some have different prices for different “packages,” typically up to $1,000. You can spend more, but it should not be nec­essary.

    I’ve used PR Newswire and PR Web to distribute important releases and have been quite pleased with the results. I use PR.com for less important releases and to supplement releases sent with the other two. BusinessWire is also in the top tier, but I have not tried its service.

    The package prices are based on distribution and the included photos, audio or video. PR Newswire can even display giant photos in Times Square in Manhattan (a great ego-builder, and they send you a photo to use).

    At PR Newswire, you can spend from $680 to several thousand dollars. You can pay less for state or regional coverage. The $680 PR Newswire package costs just $399 with eReleases.com, which offers a discounted path to PR Newswire. The prices at PR Web range from $80 to $360. PR.com prices range from $30 to $100.

    Some release distribution companies, and therefore the “news” they carry, have more credibility than others. In general, the paid-for services get better pickup than their freebie competitors and are more likely to generate “real” news stories.

    Self-publishing companies generally use the less-effective free distribution for their public relations and marketing packages, but they seldom reveal the details.

    Even if a freebie release is not picked up by the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, it will still reside on the web, and its contents — with a link to your book — will turn up in a web search.

    I’ll sign off with another “the end” indicator, commonly used in journalism and ham radio, and which goes back to Civil War-era telegraphy.

    — 30 —
    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.Self-Pub.info
    – Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    – “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 16, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Great info, Michael, thanks for that. I’ve used PRWeb, I’ll have to take a look at some of the others you’ve mentioned.

    Reply

    Michael Mullin April 20, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Great info. Thanks for the links!

    Reply

    Cathi Stevenson March 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

    When I was first moved to the newsroom, I got the desk next to the fax machine and it was part of my job to “weed” through news releases.

    I’m sure many people are writing news releases assuming that in today’s online world, they’ll go directly to the end user, or they don’t think much about it at all.

    One of the best things that can happen to your news release is that it will be picked up by another publication and ran as a story or just plugged in as a release.

    Although print pubs aren’t as popular as they once were, some still exist and there’s often a “hole” left that needs to be filled in a hurry. Ads get pulled, stories, cut, people measure wrong.

    Both during my time by the fax machine (back in the late ’80s and early ’90s) and later when I was page editor, there were things I’d look for when frantically filling holes with press releases:

    1. The section it’s going in. If your book is about gardening, send out press releases when newspapers and pubs, even those online, are likely to run a “Spring Gardening” feature section. You can contact local papers and ask for a features’ schedule.

    2. Nice images, that don’t look staged. It’s far easier to fill a hole with an image than edit an 800-word press release down to 300 words. A good image with a cut line will probably garner you more traffic. So, if you have a gardening book, make available (via online media kit) an image of someone gardening, not someone standing there like a gnome holding a bulb up by her head.

    3. Heading and lead-in. Be creative, get to the point, and follow news style (Chicago Manual of Style, Canada Press, American Press, etc.). Do not start the release with: “Mr. Smith, owner of ABC Cleaning Services would like to announce that on May 17, 2011 he plans to change the doorknob on the front of his store.

    “We held several focus groups (yawwwn) and decided that since we’d lost all of the keys that fit the lock for that handle, and since that lock was so old, and since a raccoon broke into the store and since my mother-in-law…”

    You get the idea.

    Make sure you link the press release to your media kit. The media kit should include both high and screen formatted images, and editable copy.

    Do not put, “this copy cannot be edited…” or anything of that nature. All publications have particular styles that need to be followed and editors don’t have time to write you and wait for an answer, if your story doesn’t fit the style.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 16, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Wow, great advice, Cathi. Yeah, I’ve read those “we changed the doorknob,” releases and they are deadly. Thanks.

    Reply

    Gil Michelini July 21, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Cathi,

    To whose attention should we send a news release? Who should I contact at a paper/radio/tv to find out who to send it to?

    Thank you

    Reply

    Lizzie January 24, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Why people still use to read news papers when in this technological world the whole thing is accessible on
    web?

    Reply

    morden man and van services February 24, 2013 at 11:54 am

    You’ve opened up my eyes currently on this thx

    Reply

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