Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Nuts and Bolts of Writing a Press Release

I find in my discussions with new authors that many of them are unfamiliar with what a press release is or how it can best be used. So, I thought I’d provide a brief (okay, maybe not so brief!) overview of important considerations when writing and distributing releases.

Think of your press release as a newspaper article. It should be written so that anyone you send it to can take it as is and publish it in a print publication or blog with minimal changes (and since most of the media are busy people, they will love you for making their job easier!). That means that it should be professional and succinct and should be written in a journalistic (i.e., focusing on the who, what, when, where, and why), third-person style.

Your press release should begin with the line: For Immediate Release, which tells your reader that s/he is free to use the information that follows right away. Immediately following should be the date, written out in full, with the current year included (e.g., November 28, 2010).

Next is the headline, which should always be as succinct and intriguing as possible. Center your headline and be sure to include what’s important, stating what is most exciting or unique in as few words as possible. Here’s an example from a release about my book:
San Diego Publicist Paula Margulies Weaves
A Graceful Tale of Love and Redemption
in Coyote Heart
The body of the press release should follow the headline. I like to use a five-paragraph structure for my press releases:

1) The introductory paragraph. Many PR professionals recommend starting with an intriguing lead-off or hook in the first paragraph of your release. Since I tend to make my initial pitches by phone, I usually forgo the hook and instead open with a journalistic introductory paragraph that gives the who, what, where, when and why of the release. The first paragraph should be prefaced with the city and state where the event or content of the release is taking place. Here’s an example of an introductory paragraph:
San Diego, CA – Book publicist Paula Margulies announces the release of her debut novel, Coyote Heart (ISBN 978-1-933794-16-7), a multi-cultural love story set against the backdrop of the Pala Indian Reservation in San Diego, California. Prior to publication, Coyote Heart received numerous awards, including an Editor’s Choice Award at the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference. Coyote Heart was also a finalist in the Santa Fe Writer’s Project Literary Awards Program, a worldwide competition that included over 350 entries.
2) An informational paragraph or two. In the second and third paragraphs of the release, I like to give a succinct overview of general information about the subject of the release. This should be supplemental information to what you presented in the first paragraph. An example of two informational paragraphs follows:
Coyote Heart tells the story of Carolyn Weedman, a forty-year-old librarian trapped in a troubled marriage with a disabled husband. After a chance encounter with a widowed Pala Indian professor, Carolyn finds herself drawn into an unexpected love affair. Torn by conflicting feelings, she discovers a secret about her husband’s past that forces her to confront her divided emotions and choose between the two men that she loves.

Set against the backdrop of local politics on the Pala Indian Reservation, Coyote Heart explores the intricacies of illicit love and marriage, the strength that comes from sacrifice, and the courage to forgive the injuries of the past. The novel calls on several San Diego landscapes, including the Rancho Penasquitos preserve and the Pala Indian Reservation, to give the story a unique local flavor. Written with haunting natural imagery and lyrical prose, Coyote Heart tells a compelling tale of love and modern Native American culture.
3) Include a quote. Since many in the media will, hopefully, use your press release verbatim, you want to include a quote in your release (so it looks as if you were interviewed by the publication running it). I like to keep quotes to one or two sentences. If you’re writing about your book, a good topic for a quote is what inspired you to write the book. When quoting, always use tags in the past tense (i.e. “said Margulies,” rather than “says Margulies”). Here is a sample press release quote:
“I wrote this novel, in part, because I’ve always been fascinated by what makes a marriage work,” said Margulies. “My sense is that many marriages survive not because the two individuals involved are meant for each other, but because the losses and hardships that they’ve endured forge a bond that is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to sever.”
4) Include a brief bio. The final paragraph of your release should include biographical information about you, but remember to keep it as succinct as possible. Summarize your history as a writer and include information about awards, other publications, media appearances, and any other information that positions you as an expert. I usually end the bio paragraph with a sentence about where the author resides and/or what the author is working on next. An example of a bio paragraph:
Paula Margulies is the owner of Paula Margulies Communications, a public relations firm for authors and artists. She has received numerous awards for her short stories and novels, and her essays have been published in a number of professional journals and magazines. She has been awarded artist residencies at Caldera, Red Cinder Artist Colony, Vermont Studio Center, and Centrum. Margulies resides in San Diego, California, with her husband and two teenagers.
You can also include a final line about where to find more information about you and your book:
For more information on the author or Coyote Heart, please visit or Kirk House Publishers at
5) End with contact info. At the end of your release, be sure to tell readers who they can contact for more information about you. You should include a line that reads: For Further Information, and follow it with your (or your publicist’s) name, address, telephone numbers, email and website information:
For further information, please contact:
Paula Margulies Communications
8145 Borzoi Way
San Diego, CA 92129
T: 858-538-2047
If you are sending a release yourself, you may want to include your book’s cover art in the upper left-hand corner as letterhead. Try to keep your release to one-page; if you have to use a second page, be sure to label it as such with your last name and page number.

If your publicist has written the release, be sure to ask permission before changing its content and/or distributing it yourself (if it’s written in her name, then it should come from her).

You will want to use your press release as a follow-up tool when pitching booksellers or the media. Send the release as an attachment, along with your headshot and book cover art (front cover only, in jpg format) after you have made an inquiry for a signing event or media interview.

Once you have a general press release written, you can use it as the basis for announcing new events (media and book signing appearances, awards, re-releases, etc.). You will need to change the release date, title, content paragraphs, and quote (and update your bio paragraph as information changes).

It’s easy to distribute your releases on free press release distribution websites. My favorites are and Some of the free sites will require registration and many of them will offer fee-based advanced exposure services. Some will provide email tracking, showing the number of views your press release receives once it’s on the wire.

Finally, if you have any questions about your release or feel uncertain about writing one yourself, consider asking a publicist or PR specialist to write one for you. Many PR pros are happy to provide this service for you and should be willing to do so for a nominal fee.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Get Self-Published Books into Bookstores

A self-published author recently sent me the following email message:

"I conducted a book signing at my local Walden bookstore and when one of my friends tried to purchase my book a few weeks later, she was told that I was not
in their database. How can I get my self-published book stocked in a real bookstore?

This is the dilemma for self-published authors -- most booksellers do not want to stock self-published books in their stores, for many reasons: 1) booksellers order thousands of books per year and don't want to have to order from individual publishers. Instead, they order through wholesale distributors like Baker & Taylor or Ingram, where they can place one order for all the different books they want at once; 2) booksellers don't like having to wait for POD books to ship; they would rather order from a distribution company, which has the books already there in its warehouse; and 3) many print-on-demand books are, to put it kindly, subpar -- they have not been edited and/or reviewed before they are printed, so some booksellers feel that self-published books, in general, are not high quality (whether that's true or not, they have that stigma attached to them).

So, what can be done if your book is self-published?

1) If you want to get your book into stores, it's important to have it listed with a distributor. There are a number of independent distributors, like Pathway Book Service or Greenleaf Book Group, that handle distribution for self-published authors. Some of the wholesale distributors, like Ingram, also have divisions for self-published books. If your book is listed with a distributor, you have a much better chance of getting it into independent and chain bookstores. And, in addition to warehousing and shipping your books, distributors can help with other aspects of marketing including sales promotions, negotiating with buyers, order tracking and reporting, and mailing list maintenance.

2) Some of the bigger booksellers, like Barnes & Noble and Borders, have their own distribution centers. To get into those, you have to approach their small press divisions and ask if they are willing to sell your book in their stores. Both of these companies require that you send a marketing plan for your book, along with one or more copies of the book and a cover letter, to the small press division. You’ll typically receive an answer within a few weeks.

3). Even if Barnes & Noble and Borders won't accept your book through their small press divisions, individual store managers can still order from you directly, if they choose to do so. That's why it's so important that you still try to do signings in as many bookstores as possible. If you hold a successful signing in a store, the bookseller may be willing to order copies (although Borders assigns its own numbers, called "BINC" numbers, to books that it carries, so if your book is not in the Borders system, a store manager may not be able to order it).

If you don't do signings, it's difficult for individual booksellers to know about you or your book -- that's why making appearances at bookstores (even with a low turnout) is so important, especially the first six-eight months after a book is released. Booksellers are willing to have self-published authors in their stores, but only if there is a perceived demand for the book and the author is willing to promote the signing and help draw customers to the event. A good publicist can help convince bookstore managers that your book is worthy of a signing appearance and can be instrumental in booking you for print, radio, and television spots that will drive traffic to your event.

If you do land a signing event, many bookstore managers will ask you to bring copies of the book with you and will purchase an agreed-upon number of those books from you the day of your signing. In some cases, you will have to wait to be paid, since the checks come from corporate offices, rather than the individual stores.

4) Consider offering your books on a consignment arrangement with independent bookstores. Most indie booksellers will take a few copies (usually about 5-10) and will want to keep a percentage of the sales (the typical consignment arrangement is 40-60). If your books sell well, you may be able to convince the store manager to stock them on a regular basis.

5) Finally, don't forget that as a self-published author, you have the advantage of being able to control how your book is marketed. In addition to selling in bookstores, you'll want to explore making your book available in as many ebook formats as possible and consider other venues beside bookstores for sales opportunities.