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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 book.

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 published.

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 news pegs:

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 community.

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 be used.

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 the event.

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 recommend them.

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 buy increase.

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

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