7 Myths of Using Press Releases to Promote Your Books

by | Feb 28, 2019

By Joan Stewart

When an author plans a book launch and hires me to write the press release, I often learn fairly quickly that she has no clue about the kinds of results to expect.

That’s because she asks questions like these:

  • “How many books do you think I’ll sell from the press release?”
     
  • “How many TV and radio shows will schedule me to appear as a guest?”
     
  • “How many newspapers and magazine do you think will print the release?”

Most authors believe the press release will result in phone calls from eager journalists and an onslaught of orders. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By itself, the press release lacks the power to skyrocket sales.

But combine it with other marketing tactics like a compelling email or phone pitch, and you can help journalists learn about your book and take the next step: schedule an interview with you or invite you to be a guest on their show or podcast.

The pitch can be a timely hook that ties into winter spring, summer or fall. You can tie your book to one of the four seasons of the year. Or choose a sex angle. For local media, choose the local angle.

Why You Need a Press Release

Why, then, should you even write a press release?

Because regardless of what angle you pitch, you can link to the same press release that summarizes your book.

It’s the one document that tells people almost everything they need to know about your book including:

  • What it’s about
  • Why you wrote it
  • The price
  • Where it’s sold, including links to online retailers
  • The publishing company
  • Quotes from you
  • How to order in bulk
  • How to contact you for interviews or speaking engagements
  • Your short bio
  • A synopsis of the book
  • An excerpt from a review
  • Statistics about a problem your nonfiction addresses

You can use the release in many ways: in your book’s media kit and at your website. You can also fold a printed copy and tuck it inside the front cover of a book you send to a reviewer.

The Seven Biggest Myths of Using Press Releases to Promote Your Books

Myth #1

The press release is dead.

Crappy, rambling press releases are dead. So are press releases that sound like free advertisements for your book.

Well-written releases that share information quickly with readers, and explain why they should read the book, are very much alive. They’re one of the most important elements in your publicity campaign, especially when used in tandem with a pitch.

Myth #2

We write press releases primarily for journalists.

That was true 30 years ago, before the Internet.

Today, however, we write press releases mostly for consumers. They can find our releases online, via search, and learn everything they need to know without relying on the media gatekeepers!

In other words, if the media won’t write an article as a result of the release, it can still reach people who buy your books.

Myth #3

The inverted pyramid style is best.

The inverted pyramid style includes the “who, what, where, why and how” details at the top of the release. That was how we wrote releases two decades ago when we were writing only for journalists. If they needed to trim the release, they’d cut from the bottom where the least important information was located.

Today, however, we’re writing mostly for consumers. It’s far more important to place keyword-rich phrases in the press release headline and throughout the body copy so the search engines can find the release and pull traffic to it.

You can start your press release by telling a story of why you wrote the book, or the story of the main character in your novel.

Myth #4

There are dozens of free press release distribution services available so you don’t have to spend money on the paid services.

Most of these free services don’t distribute anything. They park your press release on their website where—horrors!—you might later learn that it’s right next to a pay-per-click ad bought by one of your competitors.

The other problem with free sites is that if you discover a major error in your release, and it’s already on the free site, it’s usually impossible to contact the website owner and make a correction. The mistake lives on forever.

FitSmallBiz.com reviewed more than 90 of the free options and found only five reputable choices. Read more about them here. They then reviewed those five on criteria such as the size of their distribution network, level of customization, and ease of use. I haven’t tested any of these but you might want to.

If you use one of the free services, that’s fine. But for a book launch, you should also use one of the paid services that actually distribute your release.

I recommend my clients distribute their releases through Dan Janal’s Guaranteed Press Releases service. Dan, a former journalist, makes sure the release has all the elements needed for excellent search engine optimization.

Dan distributes your release through PR Newswire. It’s sent to more than 30,000 reporters at more than 17,500 media organizations, and to a custom list of websites, based on your industry, niche, geographical location and book topic.

This bears repeating: Major stories about your book will usually be generated from a customized pitch with a specific hook or angle. The pitch can link to the release.

Myth #5

Journalists love press releases.

Most journalists despise them because most press releases are written poorly. And writers and editors don’t want the same news that everyone else gets. They want their own idea or angle which you describe in your pitch.

I recommend sending a pitch of no more than three or four short paragraphs via email, and including a link to the release that’s been published through one of the paid or free press release sites, or at your website. Don’t attach the release to the email because people are leery of opening attachments and getting a virus.

Myth #6

No publication will ever print my press release exactly how I’ve written it.

Smaller publications like weekly newspapers and “shoppers,” the free weeklies that show up in your mailbox, will often print your press releases exactly as you’ve written them. They don’t have reporters to rewrite your releases or call you if they think there’s a missing fact or two.

That’s why you want your releases to be as complete as possible and written in such a way that it sounds like a journalist wrote it. No gushing. No mentioning that the author is “thrilled to announce” her new book.

I’ve written press releases of up to two pages that promote events, and my local weekly newspaper has printed them almost word for word.

Myth #7

Google will penalize me for writing too many press releases.

Google doesn’t keep track of how many releases you’re writing, nor does it care.

Other than your book launch, there are dozens of opportunities to write releases. Those include when:

  • you win an award
  • speak at an event
  • schedule a book signing
  • make a charitable contribution
  • start a crowdfunding campaign
  • comment on a breaking news story that’s tied to the topic of your book

My Press Release Masterclass tutorial and 15 handy, done-for-you templates, will help you write perfect press releases every time. Learn more about them here. Or try writing releases on your own. But don’t forget to take the next step with that all-important pitch that includes an interesting hook or angle.

If you’re confused about when to use a press release and when to use a pitch, I’ve written two blog posts that can help:

The pros and cons of press releases and pitches

When to use a press release and when to deliver a pitch
 
Photo: BigStockPhoto

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

8 Comments

  1. Steve

    I’m a bit surprised at reading the terrific results from PR Newswire and PR Web. We used to use them fairly often, the packages in that same price range. The majority of pickups were by TV station websites, linking to pages that were difficult to find on those websites and a slew of small “aggregator” type news sites that had little audience. It was the very rare occasion where a journalist actually reached out after receiving a press release from one of the services.

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Steve. Sometimes excellent search ranking is of greater value than “media pickup,” assuming you’ve optimized the press release for search, using relevant keywords. For example, A. Michael Bloom, an author and elder care expert who lives in Boston and does business locally, wanted good search ranking for the phrase “Boston elder care expert.” I just did a quick Google search incognito for that phrase and he comes up in the first five listings in Google’s organic search results. All his releases have that phrase in the headline or in the first paragraph. I know he was featured on at least one Boston TV station. As mentioned in the article above, it’s usually a killer pitch accompanied by a press release that’s responsible for major publicity.

      Reply
  2. michael n. marcus

    Also: releases belong on authors’ websites. They may be used by journalists, and I’ve had parts of my releases copied-and-pasted into book reviews. Don’t put dates on releases stored on websites. Don’t let them seem stale. Update when you can add things like bestseller status, sales milestones, important praise, etc. Include cover images, too.

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Michael, you’re correct that an author’s press release belongs on the website along with the cover image. But I advise always dating press releases. Here’s why. When I’m searching for information and land on a blog post, article or press release that gives me what I need, I look for the date to make sure the information is still timely. If I can’t find a date, I don’t know if it was published seven years ago or seven hours ago. This point is particularly important when the content deals with technology which changes by the hour. If you don’t want the press release to look stale, simply update the one at your website with new information and a new date.

      Reply
  3. michael n. marcus

    Writers considering paying a ‘self-publishing company’ for publicity work should be very careful. The press releases may be awful.

    Outskirts Press is probably the worst offender, using a poorly written me-too template for every book. It includes promo text for Outskirts and irrelevant material that wastes space and time.

    One book is described as “Deftly constructed at 352 pages.” Another Outskirts book is “Deftly constructed at 52 pages.” Perhaps it’s much defter.

    https://www.bookmakingblog.com/2009/12/outskirts-press-idiots-show-how-not-to.html

    Also:

    In the past I used PR Newswire to distribute releases, and was quite pleased with the results.

    I used the service to distribute a phony April Fools news story. It got tremendous “pick-up” on websites around the world.

    Unfortunately, it also got me banned from PR Newswire.

    Since I could not use PR Newswire (which I had regarded as the number-one in the field) for other books, I decided to use PR Web. I’d used their services in the past for less-important news when I wanted to save some money.

    Both companies offer various packages with different prices based on distribution and the included photos, audio or video. PR Newswire can even display giant photos in Times Square in Manhattan. When I last checked, the prices at PR Web range from $80 to $360. At PR Newswire, you can spend from $680 to several thousand bucks. If you are only interested in state or regional coverage, you can pay less.

    I chose the top-level $360 package from PR Web and was amazed by the performance. Within an hour of the distribution, Google showed many news websites picking up the story about my book.

    After a week, there were about TEN THOUSAND links in media all over the world. Some of the links were on my own websites or on the sites of stores selling my book, but the vast majority were the results of my $360 payment to PR Web.

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Thanks for your caution, Michael, about “publicity services.” One of my clients chose a small publishing house that promised to help with publicity. The publisher sent the client an Excel spreadsheet with the names and email addresses of more than 500 podcasters. The incompetent company left it up to the author to research those podcasts and pitch on her own. I saved her weeks of time by telling her how to find out which podcasts were best for her. I even wrote a short pitch she could customize. Know exactly what you’re buying. Ask for names and contact info for other authors who have used a company’s service and CALL the authors to find out what they did and disdn’t like working with a certain vendor.

      Reply
  4. Ernie Zelinski

    As for me, I have never used press releases and never will. They are a waste of precious time and I don’t “need” them. Because I am a lazy person, I place my marketing efforts into the areas that will bring me the most significant results. This approach has helped my books (mainly self-published) in September reach the milestone of having sold over 1,000,000 copies. As I have said many times before, this bit of advice from one of my favorite writers has helped me attain the success, freedom, and prosperity that I enjoy today.

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job on the right project than an excellent job on the wrong project.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    One last note: I have found that the best marketing techniques are those that I come up with and no one else is using. For example, I have just brought out my new book “The Joy of Being Retired: 365 Reasons Why Retirement Rocks — and Work Sucks!” It’s a lot harder to market it than I thought it would be mainly because Amazon has changed so much compared to when I brought out “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” which has now sold over 375,000 copies. Thus for “The Joy of Being Retired”, I started out by thinking that I have to send a signed copy to all retirement and financial writers/bloggers “who are likely to like the book.” But I immediately thought that I should also send it to all retirement and financial writers/bloggers “who are likely to hate the book.” That’s exactly what I am doing — sending it to all the retirement and financial writers/bloggers “who are likely to hate the book.”

    Reply
    • Joan Stewart

      Ernie, if this works for you, great. Keep doing what you’re doing. I review books occasionally and when an author sends me one unsolicited (never do this!) and I’m curious about the title, I open the book expecting to find a press release that will summarize what I need to know before deciding whether to read it. If there’s no press release inside, I’ll toss the book in a cardboard box to be donated to my local library or consignment shop.

      Reply

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