I spent a long couple of years as the part-time Public Affairs director of a Chicago radio station.

Among other things, I hosted a weekly public-affairs show which spotlighted various civic activities, community issues and, yes, authors with new books. The latter subject was entirely self-serving. I didn't have a book out but I figured I might learn something from those who did. I produced the show. Directed the show. Recorded the show. And...opened mail for the show.

A lot of mail.

I had two basic rules. I required everyone to provide two to three weeks advance notice of whatever they were promoting(no more, or my walnut-sized brain couldn't handle it) and the better the cookies included with the press kit, well, I won't admit to playing favorites, but . . .

Of course, the "press kits" came in various forms and they weren't always ready for prime time. Or even public consumption. The smelly ones were the worst. Sometimes written on lavender-scented paper like a love note, other times containing air-fresheners, once even a green pepper. Why a green pepper? To promote a new Mexican restaurant, of course! Unfortunately, that one came while I was on vacation for two weeks. My office mates told me they went through my desk twice trying to find remnants of a past lunch.

One of my favorites was the press kit in which everything was blurry. News release, pictures, everything. I opened it and was convinced I was having a stroke or a brain aneurism or, at the very least, going blind. Nope. Finally fished out a small card that read: "Having trouble reading our message? Lasik Surgery could help!" When the doctor's publicist called a couple of days later wanting me to interview his client, I pretended I couldn't hear him. Drove him crazy.

Point being, I learned a few things to do, and not to do, when promoting yourself to the media.

Be professional. Lemon air fresheners and sexy perfume sprayed on the pages send the wrong message and, these days, may result in the station calling out a fire department haz-mat team if the smell is too obnoxious.

A concise news release, computer generated and printed on plain white paper is a good start. Include your name, book title, website address and a phone number where you can be reached at the top, and bottom, of the page. Be absolutely certain your publisher's name, ISBN, and release date (thanks Clea!) are a part of your release as well. Sticking in a business card is a good idea, too. Use only one page, double-spaced to make your point. If you don't know how to write a news release, go online and learn.

Avoid the cute font styes that look like cursive printing. And, whatever you do, don't send anything written in longhand. You may think people are able to read your writing but most doctors think pharmacists can read their prescriptions, too (hint: the reason your allergies remain, but you go to the bathroom lots more after you get your prescription filled is because sometimes they guess!).

Provide a copy of your book but don't expect anyone at a radio or TV station to actually read it. They may, of course. Or they may skim it (or they may give it to the janitor, receptionist or, arrrghhh, consign it to the circular file). As a writer, I always skimmed other authors' work but appreciated any material that boiled down the plot or contents for me. While a reporter may tell you she would never in a million years ask questions prepared by an author or publicist, an overworked public affairs director will suck that stuff up. Suggest questions; they may get used. For my first book, I included on my website and in some of my press materials an interview I had done with myself. Now I include what I call a "chaplet" in my media kit that contains a partial synopsis of the book and some excerpts to provide potential readers a glimpse of the action.

I also use a "sell sheet" which is, essentially, a glossy one-page advertisement that has the book cover, my picture, a bunch of my favorite blurbs and all the publishing data. Take a peek at:

Absolutely include any articles that have been written about you and especially reviews that highlight your work, past or present.

Don't get carried away sending extras. Pens are always nice but save tie clips, paperweights, sticky notes, paper-clip holders, bumper stickers and even book marks for use at book-signings or elsewhere. Food is iffy. Much as I liked the occasional home-made cookie, a smart radio or TV person nowadays would probably trash anything like that, just to be safe.

Make certain you send your information to the person who can accomplish what you would like them to do. Our traffic director used to get regular updates on expressway closings. Unfortunately, at a radio station the traffic director is responsible for internal logs and placement of commercials. A traffic reporter keeps track of the accidents. A friend of mine sent his press kit to a local radio station and was surprised he never got a response. If he had listened to the station, he would have discovered their news/talk format had changed to "all Polish, all the time." Sending a note to your favorite personality or on-air reporter about the book you're promoting may be helpful but, chances are, she will pass it along to a producer or assignment editor, anyway. Know where your press kit should go.

Keep your materials snappy and smart, informative and brief, avoid including anything cute or that smells (good or bad), send them to the right person and your promotion will often bring you surprising results.

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Comment by Tina on April 29, 2008 at 3:15am
Believe me, I have been thoroughly impressed with the incredible composure of my clients. I would have been very nervous in the same situation! I asked one of my calmest ones and she just said she concentrates completely on the interviewer and pretends they are in her living room, so that it is just a conversation. She completely tuned everything else out. Great if you can do it!
Comment by Doug M. Cummings on April 29, 2008 at 12:20am
What a wonderful business to be in as a writer! I find my media background helps but only to a point. Which is why I'm going in for a day of media training tomorrow.
I learned very early in promoting my first book that the perspective is certainly different when I don't have control of the microphone or the questions. I've done hundreds of different kinds of interviews, some in the worst conditions you can imagine, but being a guest the first time gave me the jitters..and I was in what had been "my" studio when I previously worked at that station. The toughest interview by far, though, was with the Wall Street Journal. They don't back down or try to make you feel comfortable, even a little bit.
Comment by Tina on April 28, 2008 at 4:16pm
I work as a publicist, taking authors to radio and TV stations and signing events. I have been lucky enough to have very professional clients. But I have seen other guests, especially for radio that seem to think they don't need to dress up as no one is going to see them. But the host sees you, the staff, producers etc. It reflects on how seriously you take the opportunity. I can say the same for other events, every time you are out and may meet others in the industry it is best to dress professionally. You may write your book in seclusion, but you don't promote dressed for the keyboard. Writers love their sweaters, but pull out a nice blouse or shirt instead. It is also important to find out how long you have to speak. If the interview is only 6 minutes, don't spend 2 minutes on the question about your book title. Keep the warm up answers shorter, and save your time for the meat of your book. Thanks for the great info Doug.
Comment by Doug M. Cummings on April 18, 2008 at 8:14am
Aging eyes? AGING? What's a 25 year old have to worry about aging? You're not foolin' me...
Comment by Doug M. Cummings on April 18, 2008 at 6:46am
Oh, good idea. Yep, I'll add that. Thanks.
Comment by Clea Simon on April 18, 2008 at 5:58am
D'oh! Also ISBNS and release dates. A friend made up his postcards without those and I had reminded him! Ah well...
Comment by Doug M. Cummings on April 18, 2008 at 5:55am
I used to get a few of those, too. I saw a postcard just recently that prominently mentioned the book title but not the author's name!
Comment by Clea Simon on April 18, 2008 at 5:48am
Don't forget to include contact info for yourself and/or your publisher. You'd be surprised how many postcards and notices I get that tell me about a new book but not how to get a copy or get in touch with the author.

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