By Nelson Taylor
A good press release can make the difference between an editor reading the first page of your book or throwing it in the slush pile. Besides the book jacket, the press release is often the first thing editors see. In its crudest form, a press release is a piece of paper—either one-sided or two—that includes a brief synopsis of the book, biographical information about the author, the publisher's name and address, an ISBN, the publication date, the price, plus how to contact the author (or publicist) to schedule an interview. While the press release needs to incorporate all of this information, its first job is to catch an editor's or producer's eye.
So you need a hook.
The hook needs to be at the top of the page in plain view. Don't save your big guns until the end of the release. An editor might never make it that far. Instead, make your headline as intriguing as possible, and make sure the opening paragraph follows up the sizzle of your headline with the meat of your release.
If the book can be tied to a news story, then by all means, play up the connection. At Cambridge University Press, I worked for an author who published a book on the Holocaust, which was released during the recent war in Yugoslavia. Her hook was: "Ethnic Cleansing—It's Happening Again!" Stay topical; it will definitely help. Here are some other variations that should help you get the idea:
- Uncut! Uncensored! The Movies Hollywood Didn't Want You to See!
- Ethnic Cleansing—It's Happening Again!
- The Winner of a 1997 James Beard Award!
Just below your hook should be the title of the book—in large font, boldface type, and centered—with the name of the author below it in a smaller font. If you have any reviews to blurb, either from this book or from a previous title you published, or even a testimonial from anyone you believe might help your cause, include the best lines here. Don't be afraid to include only the most flattering lines, such as "buoyant amusement—effervescent entertainment." And always credit the publication or person the quotation came from.
Like the hook, the first line of your press release should be a winner. Here are some great ones I recently came across. "It was the environmental success story of the decade …," "There's a war raging right now in America …," "Just as the runaway best seller Listening to Prozac intrigued a generation, so too will …"
You get the drift.
Now, fluidly lead into the synopsis. If your book is a novel, recap the storyline in 3 to 4 crisp paragraphs. If it's a business book, bullets might work better than paragraphs to get your points across. Whatever the case, make your prose crisp and lively.
Now, depending what kind of book you've written and what kind of budget you're on, making a nice press kit definitely has its rewards. Besides drawing an editor in, items in a press kit can serve as a springboard of ideas for editors to work from. The easier you make their job, the better chance you have of getting results. And remember that most TV and radio hosts don't have time to read the book before every interview. So the more information you can provide, the better the shot you'll have at landing that interview.
What else should the press kit include?
If you've got extra blurbs that didn't fit on the press release, you might want to toss in an extra quote sheet. A brief (no more than two pages) Q&A with yourself is also a good idea. Or try slipping in a copy of an article clipped from a magazine or newspaper that relates to your story in some way, especially if your book is a novel. This makes your novel more than just another piece of fiction. Even better is a copy of a glowing review or story about your book. Short quizzes are always fun, as are lists of interesting facts, statistics, or even charts. And if you're planning a book tour, make sure to list the dates and locations. Just remember that the ideas I've noted here are only a handful of the possibilities. What is essential, however, is to get creative, get topical, be concise, and use a good hook.