Story pitch v press release

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The age-old checklist of book marketing tactics always includes this: write a press release and send it to newspapers, broadcasters and others in your region and elsewhere.

But that may be the wrong approach.  I suggest you pitch a news story about your book to the press, rather than send out a conventional press release.

Press releases have long been a standard part of the book marketing process for good reasons.

They can be mass-delivered.  You can collect names and email addresses by scouting around the web – it’s practical, but it takes time – or you can shoot out broader blasts through a press release service.  Some of these services are inexpensive or even free, but others are quite costly.  BusinessWire, for example, considered one of the best in the business and used by many top corporations, will cost you: “US distribution begins as low as $415 for a 400-word press release.”  Many of the free services simply give you placement on the service’s web site, and an RSS feed from it, which may not generate much interest in newsrooms.

Most press releases are never even read by news organizations.  When I worked for newspapers and in television, I tossed out many more than I used, and the volume of releases has increased greatly since then, even as news space has diminished.

On occasion, though only on occasion, they are simply used as is or are slightly rewritten.  Don’t count on that happening.  If there’s much interest in your book, you’ll likely be contacted by someone who wants to write an actual story about it.  And if a release is used mostly as is, it probably will be chopped down to the length of a short news brief, which will do you little good.

If you do decide to write a release, focus on the subject matter of the book – not on the book itself.  The release should only be a single page and any specific references to the book should be made in the lower parts of the release.  News organizations dislike being put in the position of clearly promoting products, but interesting information is more welcome.  Lead with that interesting information about the subject of your book..

What’s the alternative to press releases?

Rather than focus on providing the raw materials for a news story, you might try to tell the news organization why it should take the time and effort to develop a story.  You need to pitch, in the form of a memo, the value of the story you tell in your book as something the news organization – and its audience – would find of interest.  That gets you away from being positioned as a barker for a product and into the role of someone with a newsworthy story.

The English book marketing firm PublishingPush, which reports having worked on 200 book marketing campaigns, strongly advises against press releases.  Instead, it suggests the author pitch them a good story, telling them what the contours of the story would be, what its news appeal is, what materials are available and how to access it (that is, provide contact information).

As PublishingPush put it, “Really dig deep about the newsworthy elements within your book.  What inspired you? What is your personal story?  Sell them on this.  We are all storytellers so sell them a story.”

How do you structure a story pitch?  Start, as you would in a press release, with the date and with contact information so the editor at the news organization can easily reach you.  If you have a web page devoted to your book, add a link to it.

Lead with the most compelling aspect of what your book has to offer, whether that’s a fiction story with an unusual hook, or your personal story, or a striking argument you’re making.  Get their attention with that – and give them, right up front, something they’re going to want to share with their audience.

Then provide more details supporting that first statement.  Tell them briefly how the book came about, and wrap up with a short description about what you can make available (yourself for an interview, video or pictures if you have them, or whatever else may be useful) and how the news organization can get access this information.  Keep it brief; edit your pitch ruthlessly.

What I’ve described is the subtle basis of a good news release anyway.  By converting it into a pitch, you hit the news organization closer to the center of their need for good new material.  And hitting the center of an audience’s needs is what good marketing is all about.

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