Whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, part of your marketing and promotional efforts should include as much press coverage as possible. If you’re working with a publisher, it’s likely this will be sorted out for you or you’ll at least have some help. (Hooray!) If you’re self-publishing, however, it’s up to you to either hire a publicist or become your own.
Important announcements—like the publication date of your new book, a major award, a significant milestone (bestseller status or jaw-dropping book sales), an endorsement by a publicly recognized person (like a well-known politician or celebrity), or even a tie-in of your book to a current event—warrant press coverage. While this may not necessarily directly lead to more book sales, press coverage can increase the exposure of your book and of you as an author, which can in turn boost sales and create additional PR opportunities (such as appearances or interviews).
The best way to get the attention of newspaper and magazine journalists, bloggers, and TV and radio producers is to make their job (in this case, writing or talking about you) as easy as possible by providing them all the information they need in a press release.
So how do you craft an effective and well-written press release? Let’s get started.
Press release basics
An effective press release doesn’t just make an announcement; it gives media professionals the background and detail they need (ideally in the space of one page) to:
- Evaluate if your story is appropriate for their audience
- Determine if your story is a brief piece or could become something more in-depth, such as an interview, feature, or television appearance
- Create the piece by themselves with no further research, if they determine it will be brief
Every good news story requires answers to the classic 5 Ws, all of which should be answered by your press release:
How to write and format your press release
There are times that call for creativity—this is not one of them.
When it comes to press releases, always opt for a standard, professional format. Your writing should be crisp, simple, and informative without sounding “sales pitchy.” Media professionals need to scan a press release quickly to determine if what you are offering is newsworthy and if you’ve included enough relevant information for a story. Much like descriptive copy for a book’s cover, you have a just few seconds to grab their attention, so you need to ensure that you’ve formatted your press release in such a way as to give them everything they need succinctly.
Keep in mind: Think about creating some key words and phrases to repeat and reinforce throughout your press release for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
Font: Opt for simple and straightforward. The font should be 12-point (14-point for headers) in a professional, standard choice such as Times New Roman or Helvetica—nothing stylized.
Here's the basic format:
Header One (bold, all-caps, use exact wording): PRESS RELEASE
Header Two (bold, all-caps, use exact wording): FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Headline (14- or 12- point, not in bold): Imagine this to be your news headline. It should be tight and attention-grabbing—and less than 20 words. Most important, it should highlight the most important facts in a way that emphasizes why this is a story that merits attention. It should answer the question, “What are you announcing and why is it important?” in a way that is compelling, for example “Local Author Earns Top Mystery Writers’ Prize” or “Area Librarian Releases First Picture Book with Major New York Press.”
Subheading (optional, smaller font, not bold): You can use this to build on and augment your headline. Keep it short.
Paragraph One: Give the location and date, followed by an introduction with as much relevant information as possible, stated cleanly and clearly. It should look like this:
(CITY, State) Month, day, year ― [First sentence starts here.]
Like any marketing effort, ensure you highlight any accolades or major selling points of the book or author, as well as tailoring it in such a way that your audience is clear. Answer as many of the “5 W” questions as possible, and keep the paragraph to only two or three short sentences.
Paragraph Two: Give a quote or sound bite.
This quote (with full attribution) should be something that can be used in a news article and should highlight and augment the announcement in a way that sounds natural, specific, and gives the press release a little more depth and color. Aim for two or three well-thought-out sentences. If you’re not sure what to say, take a look at a magazine or newspaper feature about another author or creative. How did the first quote from the subject punch up the story? What made it engaging?
Paragraph Three: Here, you have the opportunity to provide a bit more background information.
This paragraph should answer any of the remaining “5 W” questions you haven’t already covered. You’ll also want to include more information about your book. This can also be where you include accolades for your book/writing; relevant background information about you or the book that adds additional context to the announcement, such as any major credentials that might suggest your expertise on the subject; book awards; praise from reviews (like a great blurb); and why your announcement might be timely and important. You may choose to include a short bio (only a sentence or two) here as well.
Paragraph Four: This optional paragraph provides an additional quote from you.
Short and colorful, this can be a great way to end your press release with a little extra “oomph” as well as allowing an additional quote that can be used by the media.
Hashtags: This formatting indicates the “end” of the press release. Use 3 hashtags and ensure they’re centered:
Website (bold): For more information, please visit [your website].
Contact Line (bold): For press inquiries or for high-resolution images, please contact [Your Name] at [email address] or phone [phone number with area code].
About [insert author name] (italicized 10-pt font): If you haven’t already, this is a short paragraph that includes your current bio. It should not be longer than 2 or 3 sentences. Depending on what your press release is about, you may choose to include an additional “About” for other companies/individuals who are included in your announcement, such as an illustrator or your own personal publishing company. Make sure you also include the contact information and website for additional persons/business entities.
What to do with your completed press release
Once your press release is completed, walk away from it for a couple of hours, then come back and do any necessary revisions. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to edit it for any glaring errors or mistakes.
Once that’s done, you’re ready to send it out. But where should you send it?
Free press release services: There are a number of free services where you can send your press releases. (You can get started by checking out Free Press Release Sites for Authors.)
Paid press release services: Used by most professional media companies, these services have the eyes and ears of major newspapers, news sites, magazines, radio stations, TV stations, and more. Sites such as Newswire have access to over 100,000 journalists. But these services can be very expensive, starting at $150 for basic services for one press release and charging upward of $800 to offer additional services and special features. Read through your options carefully.
Local media and known media: It never hurts to send a press release directly to editors, journalists, writers, reviews, and bloggers—especially as this is a great opportunity to create a networking relationship. Ideally, it’s worth making a separate media-only mailing list that includes the names and email addresses (along with their respective publications and category) for future publicity communications.
Your mailing list: Hopefully you have a newsletter and a mailing list of readers and fans, along with family and friends. Make sure they see the announcement, because while these people may not have their own media companies, they can spread the word within their own communities and social media sites.
Your social media: Don’t forget to share your press release through your own marketing and publicity channels, and that includes any social media you maybe be using. You’ll likely need to shorten the announcement significantly, so it’s a great idea to publish the full text of your press release on your website, so you can link your social media posts to it.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.