One of the complaints I often hear from authors is that they can't seem to get their signings and book info into the pubic eye through the local newspapers. I don't have that problem and I have taught several organizations in my area a few ideas on how this is accomplished.
I once was a lowly paid newspaper reporter. I remember days of looking for feature pieces to fill up the pages and make my editor happy. I also remember getting excruciating “press releases” from the public. Sometimes it was more work to rewrite them than to use them.
Now I work with newspapers in 4 counties in my area, as well as TV and radio. I'm instrumental in putting together the local authors program for the local library, so PR is a must. I learned a lot of techniques while doing PR for the local Sisters in Crime group. Here's my methods:
First, make a list of all media outlets in a 40 mile radius of the area where you will be speaking or signing. Call local libraries to find the local papers, use the Internet.
Call each outlet, ask for the name of the Features Editor. Hopefully, they will put you on the line with that person. If not, ask if Community News has a FAX number or email where they would like to receive announcements. If you send a FAX, have letterhead stationary. The library letterhead I use always gets a positive response.
When you send a FAX, never let it fall into the hands of whoever goes by the FAX machine. It can wind up in the general file or the trash. ALWAYS put the name of someone on staff so they will receive the paperwork. It may get lost on their desk, but at least it will make it there. Make the effort to change the name on each FAX you send. No generic “Features Editor” in the routing.
Even a small paper will feel good that you even think they HAVE a designated person as a feature editor. Small papers struggle and deserve respect. NEVER make demands or be pushy or overbearing. But, remember, they need to fill their paper and you can make their job easier by knowing how to write an effective Community News release. Here's a sample:
TO: (insert editor's name)
Local author Sunny Frazier will speak on January 15 at the Kings County Library, 401 N. Douty, Hanford. The event begins at 6:30 pm until 8 pm.
Frazier is the author of a mystery novel, Where Angels Fear. This is a free event. Refreshments will be provided by Friends of the Library. Books will be available for purchase and a book signing with the author will follow.
This event kicks off the 2009 Local Authors Program conducted by the Kings County Library. The public is invited to enjoy an evening with authors who reflect the rich literary tradition of the San Joaquin Valley.
For more information, contact (name & e-mail addy).
Offer (but don't insist) that you are available for an interview if they have room for a longer piece. Or, create your own piece (write in 3rd person and try not to be too self-serving). ASK if they have room and would care to run it. Don't push a press packet on them or make them feel like they are there to do PR for you.
Ask about deadlines. I have papers that want info 3 weeks in advance, some only a week. Cozy up to the librarians. Make flyers and FAX or mail them to the library. Ask if they would like you to make an appearance.
Always act as if the media people are doing you a huge favor--because they are. Give the feature editor a copy of your book as a thank-you. I also make sure the local library has a copy. Libraries are forced to cut back on book buying.
My info always makes it into the newspapers, TV and radio. The news people know my name and my credentials. I keep my contacts current by checking every six months to see if there have been staff changes. I write a nice thank-you note and praise for any article written about me (even if they spell my name wrong). By doing my end of things, and doing it well, they are more than willing to give me publicity for my next project.
Remember: the Information Highway is a two-way street.