Free Mass Publicity:
Press Releases That Get Published
By Cheryl Bolen
This article is not geared to those romance authors who get six
and seven-figure advances. They can afford publicists. This article is
aimed at the other 95 percent of us with slender promotion budgets.
Since conventional wisdom says to spend 10 to 20 percent of the book
advance on promotion and since the average romance advance is around
$5,000, that leaves less than $1,000 to spend promoting a typical
romance book. It is the savvy author who finds free ways to tout her
One of the best free resources is the press release, but just
because you send out a press release does not mean your article will be
Over the 12 years I spent as a news editor of a community
newspaper in a metropolitan area, a foot-high stack of releases crossed
my desk every day. Most went directly into the trash.
What determines your likelihood of publication? News value.
Timeliness. Slant. Can it be used without having to be rewritten? Here
are the considerations in the evaluation process:
Finding the "News Peg"
In order for a newspaper to run an article on an author, there
must be a news peg. A news peg is something about the article that gives
it immediacy. If the information is old, it is not news. Here are some
Author will be giving [gave] a talk in the community
served by the newspaper.
Author who lives in the community will be autographing
books in the community.
Author who lives in the community has won an award.
Author who lives in the community has signed a contract
for her first book.
Author has donated [x] to a local charity.
To promote an "event" beforehand, be sure to know how early the
newspaper needs to have it. For a weekly edition, news items need to be
in up to three weeks ahead of time. For example, if the event you wish
to promote occurs on Friday the 13th, and if the publication comes out
on Thursday, the 12th, the deadline could be Friday, the 6th. If you are
mailing, that means you should mail it before the end of the previous
month. (Only late-breaking news actions can be considered for printing
at the last moment.)
Don't send items too early. Many newspapers only schedule up to
three weeks ahead of time.
Slanting Your Release
The article must have a local slant, which must be included
in the article. Here are some local slants:
Author is a member of the community.
Author's [pick a relative] is a member of the community.
Author is a former resident of the community.
Author is a former student at [pick an institution] in the
Author will be autographing her/his book in the community.
Author will address a local organization.
Writing the Release
This is not the place to be creative or cute. It is not a
cliche that newspapers still use the 5 W's:
and sometimes Why
Here is an example of a news "lead:"
Cheryl Bolen, sister of Modesto Civitans president Colleen
Sutherland, will be autographing her historical romance novel, A
Counterfeit Countess, at the Modesto Barnes & Nobel Thursday, May 9,
at 7 p.m.
(Since I live in Texas, I had to give the article a local slant
for a Modesto, California, newspaper.)
I recently read a news release from an author’s publicist that
promoted a literacy luncheon at which the author was going to speak. The
article began with generalized (meaning non-local) facts about
illiteracy, and the lead (who was going to speak, when, where, why) did
not appear until the fifth paragraph. Most news editors do not have the
patience to read that far for the lead. The article would likely have
been pitched into the trash. (Beware of publicists. Yes, they have great
resources for directing releases and can package an author attractively,
but most do not have a clue about how to prepare a true "news" release.)
The Use of Photos
My experienced estimate is that an accompanying photo will be used
in only about 15 percent of the cases. Still, it is perfectly acceptable
to submit a photo. For inside photos, usually black and white will be
used. All newspapers can now make a color photo black and white. If your
item has a chance of being on a cover page, color photos will generally
Normally, mug shots will do. Sometimes there is a better chance of
getting your photo used if it includes people in the community where the
newspaper is published. (For example, a picture of the author with
members of the community at a book signing) Unfortunately, these are
used "after the event" and are of little help in promoting attendance at
Most newspapers now accept photos (and news releases) digitally
submitted, but you must first check with the newspaper to see what its
policy is on e-mail submissions.
Many newspapers will not return photos; so, it's a good idea to
have a photographer's release and get large quantities reproduced
cheaply. Some of the neighborhood presses are good about returning
photos once they're scanned--if you provide an SASE.
Submitting your release
You need to maintain your own media directory, which is a list of
publications to which you plan to submit. This list needs to include the
paper's deadlines, contact person, whether the publication prefers
e-mail, faxes or snail mail and the appropriate addresses/e-dresses/fax
number. You can get this information with a few phone calls.
Subscriptions are available for printed and online media
directories. An advantage to subscribing to one of the internet media
directories is that the information is, presumably, updated regularly.
Unfortunately, these online directories can cost up to several hundred
dollars. Since this article is about free publicity, I don't
A free, web-based directory is www.publist.com,
which has a database of 150,000 magazines, newspapers, journals,
newsletters and periodicals worldwide. This gives addresses and
frequency of publication, but does not include information on submission
guidelines. Also, it does not give e-mail addresses (which almost all
newspapers now use for submissions), nor does it include a lot of
community newspapers. I suggest using Publist to get the contact
information, then call them to learn how to submit.
When I published my first book in 1998, I spent $30 for a Texas
media directory. By the time my second book came out, the information
was outdated because of changing personnel and because many of the
publications had begun to allow electronic submissions. Now, to get the
e-mail addresses I usually make a few phone calls.
What’s not news
So, you exercised timeliness, gave a local slant to your article,
wrote it in news format and submitted it appropriately, but your article
still was not published. Perhaps you did not hang it on a "news peg."
There is a very fine line between what constitutes legitimate news
and what is blatant advertising. A metropolitan newspaper might give a
third of a page placement to the announcement of a multi-million dollar
retail center, but when that center actually opens, the paper will
require that same business to purchase ads to promote the opening. The
announcement was first-time news that impacted a great number of
readers; the opening was no longer news.
Unless you are giving away a million dollars in your latest
website contest promoting your book, your contest is not news. Why
should the newspaper tout your contest when the neighborhood dry
cleaners is giving away free balloons to kiddies, and the new Italian
restaurant is offering two-for-one dinners? Get the point?
An exception is a web auction on the lines of the one done by
author Brenda Novak, whose on-line auction (at the website which,
incidentally, promotes her books) raises thousands of dollars for
juvenile diabetes. Newspapers in Novak’s California neighborhood
should announce her auction. It is an innovative idea that benefits
many people in the community. But newspapers in my Texas community
should not announce the auction. Novak is not, after all, local.
Just because the likelihood of getting your release published may
not be good (because of the aforementioned), go ahead and give it a try.
Since most newspapers nowadays take electronic submissions, you have
zero investment to lose. Remember the rule of seven: A reader must see
or hear your name seven times to establish name recognition. And –
hopefully – once there is name recognition, the chances of promoting a
After earning a journalism degree from the University of Texas,
Cheryl Bolen spent nearly two decades as reporter and editor for an
award-winning community newspaper. Her focus switched to novel writing
in 1998 when Harlequin Historical published the first of her nine books
— all of which she’s blatantly promoted for free.
--This article first appeared in Romance
Writers Report in September, 2006