Book reviewer and freelance journalist Maureen Eppen highlights the importance of taking a professional approach to promoting your book.
If you want to be taken seriously as a published author, you should prepare a professional-looking, single-page Media Release to accompany your book when you send copies to book editors of newspapers and magazines or to writers of blogs about books.
It is a relatively straightforward document, but it’s surprising how often even the most highly regarded publishers and authors forget to include some of the key pieces of information that journalists or bloggers might need when writing about their book.
The most obvious details to include are – of course – the name of the book; the name of the author (your name); the name of the publisher; when it is being published (or was published); the formats in which it is available (such as Trade Paperback, Hardback, eBook etc); and the recommended retail price for each separate format.
It’s also a good idea to include contact details – the name of the best person to speak to (either yourself, or your publicist, if you are lucky enough to have one); phone number or numbers (including international and national area codes); and email address – in case the editor or blogger wants to touch base for more information, to ask questions about the book, or to arrange an interview. Don’t forget to include details of your social media presence, if relevant.
Some publishers and authors also include the genre of the book (this is something I really appreciate in a media release), and others include the ISBN, which probably isn’t necessary, but it never hurts to provide more information than might be needed — up to a point. You definitely want the remaining information to be concise yet informative; short, sharp and to the point. Many editors and bloggers are very busy people, and most are bombarded with requests for reviews or other publicity every single day.
I recommend that your Media Release includes an image of the book cover and, if possible, a recent image of yourself. For the author photo, try for a look that reflects the type of writing you do – although I’m not suggesting you be photographed in bondage gear if you happen to write BDSM erotica.
For example, if you write children’s books, you should aim for something fresh, colourful and cheery; if you write thrillers or spy novels, perhaps consider a slightly broody or enigmatic look and a degree of formality in what you are wearing. You don’t need a suit and tie, but a jacket and collared shirt might be worth considering. If you write about mathematics or science you could have your photo taken with a smart board in the background (although make sure any equations or text on the board are appropriate and accurate).
If you write romance, take inspiration from the publicity photos used by romance authors Claire Boston and Shona Husk: Claire’s photo is bright and pretty, full of hope; while Shona’s has a decidedly sensual edge – yet both are definitely professional looking, and are likely to inspire a degree of interest from potential readers.
Above all, ensure the author photo that you use is one that you are happy with – the hope is that you will see it make regular appearances in newspapers, magazines and online.
The image of the book’s cover should be sharp and of high resolution, to ensure the title and author’s name can be clearly read. If you are emailing your Media Release and request for a review to an editor or blogger, make sure you include high-res versions of both photos, so that they can publish them, if needed, with a minimum of fuss.
Now, getting down to the text of the Media Release, you need to start with a brief, tightly written grab line about the book – something to immediately attract attention and inspire the editor or blogger to read more about your book and, from there, hopefully read the book itself.
This is not necessarily the 10-word teaser line that you might use when approaching potential publishers, but it could be something similar. This line could be a quote about your book from a well-known published author (preferably one who writes in a similar genre or for similar readers to those you are targeting); or it could include a reference to other books you have previously published.
If you’ve won awards, you might want to mention that. Or it could simply be a summary sentence about the subject of the book. Whatever you do, make it intriguing; keep it short; and make sure it accurately reflects your book.
Examples I’ve received in releases from various authors and publishers include the following:
“From the prize-winning author of Room and The Sealed Letter comes a fascinating collection of short stories.” (Astray, by Emma Donoghue)
“Six lives, six loves, and a precious garment that binds them all…” (Saree, by Su Dharmapala)
“A startling, inventive novel by one of Germany’s most original young authors.” (The Giraffe’s Neck, by Judith Schalansky)
“The first contemporary thriller from Echo Publishing. Something is Rotten is a page-turning and suspenseful morality tale.” (Something is Rotten, by Adam Safaris)
“The eighth novel in the bestselling phenomenon that is the Outlander series.” (Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, by Diana Gabaldon)
“A heart-warming debut by a remarkable new Australian talent. Perfect for those who loved The Rosie Project.” (Lost & Found, by Brooke Davis)
As you can see, these are almost like sound bites – a little titbit about the author or the book, designed to pique our interest and encourage us to learn more about the writer and what they have written. Some are more successful than others… Some media releases I’ve been sent with books for review don’t include a grab line, but I have to say I like to see them included and find them useful.
After this grab line, you should include a slightly longer description of the book – something along the lines of the information provided on a back cover or inside cover blurb. Provide a little bit of information about the protagonist and the plot, tell us where and when it is set, and try again to entice us by giving away just enough information to make us want to read more, and to make journalists and bloggers think their readers might want to read about the book.
This section could be two or three paragraphs, up to about 100 or 120 words. Don’t try to cover every single aspect of your book – and try to imagine what you would want to know about it if you picked it up in a book store. Without giving away plot twists or surprise revelations, try to think of the main idea of the book, the hook for your story – whatever it is that makes your book unique.
If you think your book might tap into an existing market that is currently in demand, don’t be afraid to compare it to the works of another well-known writer in a similar area… There were so many erotic fiction novels published in the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and authors of these books unashamedly tapped into the popularity of the originals.
If you’re writing a thriller in a style similar to those written by John Clancy, for example, don’t be afraid to say so: “If you are a fan of John Clancy, this debut by Peter Smith is certain to appeal.” If you have written a sentimental coming-of-age story targeted at female readers of a certain age, try something like this: “If you loved Anne of Green Gables, this contemporary coming of age tale with another feisty red-headed heroine is likely to delight you.”
Ask yourself, what other books on the market are like my book? Can you say that it combines elements of two or more other books? If so, you are potentially attracting the attention of people who bought one or more of those titles, and the reviewer or blogger will recognise that you have a target market in mind. If your book is similar to the work by a specific author, you may also appeal to people who enjoy his or her books.
Of course, you also need to include some brief biographical details – but the journalists and bloggers don’t need your whole life story. What we do need is information that makes you stand out from all the other authors pitching their books for review or interview. Tell us something about yourself that is unique; something that is intriguing or unusual; something a bit quirky, if that’s at all possible.
But we also need to know what it is that qualifies you to write the particular book that you have written. If your story is set in a small industrial town in the 1970s, for example, and you grew up in a similar town, then make sure you mention this in your biographical information. If you teach computing at the local TAFE and your book is about hackers taking control of a bank’s database, use that area of personal expertise to indicate you are qualified to write on this subject. If you are writing about a boy who was too short from the local basketball team and spent every season on the bench dreaming of the chance to shine, and you grew up as the water boy for your local team, then tell us.
This isn’t a resume or Curriculum Vitae but if you’ve won prizes for your writing, try to incorporate that information into your biographical notes. And if you have an unusual hobby or interest – particularly one that seems to contradict any potential general impressions about you — then add that to the mix, too. This is particularly useful for authors who are completely unknown.
For example, I have read To Kill A Mockingbird every year since I was 15, and I still cry at the sad parts; and in my mid-40s I discovered the joys of marathon running – these are details about myself that I include when I submit articles to magazines.
Try to think what it is about you that might make your book stand out, or that might entice an editor or blogger to consider interviewing you. I interviewed an author last year who was one of the first women to become a commercial airline pilot in Australia. That fact had nothing to do with her latest book, but it was still interesting enough to justify further exploration – and to compare her life as a pilot with her life as a writer of romantic thrillers.
What is it that makes you special? What can you share about your life or your personal history that just might intrigue an editor or blogger – and from there, his or her readers…?
Finally – and this really is vital – please make sure that the information you provide is accurate, up-to-date, and that there are no typographical or grammatical errors. Check your spelling; check your sentence structure; check the contact details; check the pricing. Believe it or not, I have been sent Media Releases that have the title of the book wrong; and others that have left a series of question marks where the pricing should be typed.
Try to look at yourself and your book through fresh eyes when you are preparing your text – and aim for information that is tantalising and appealing. Avoid boasting, but don’t be shy about positive comparison.