Book Promotion Tip of the Week #10: Turn Your Book Into A News Story

Book Promotion TipsAs we all know, all is not well in newspaperland: journalists are being laid off left and right, daily papers are getting smaller, quite a few of them have gone – or are slowly, painfully going – under.

People just don’t consume news the way they used to: by which I mean all at once, in one package, from one source, once a day. We no longer wait for the news to land on our front porches, or to arrive in a coin-release box at the end of the street: we go hunting for it on the Internet. Since people aren’t reading newspapers the way they used to, advertisers aren’t buying ads in them, which means that the papers have to cut and cut, and on it goes.

If you’re a writer (no one else much cares about this part), the situation appears to be particularly dire when it comes to books coverage. “Books editors” have all but disappeared, and finding a books page or even a single book review in a newspaper is less likely all the time. For those who have self-published, the situation seems even more discouraging (although we have to admit that no one forced us to self-publish): almost all of the books that do get reviewed are from traditional presses.

Perhaps A Silver Lining?

In considering the implications of the decline of the print media, I’ve made some observations that could perhaps add up to a window of opportunity for those of us who find ourselves promoting our own books at this particular point in time. The situation could be very different even two years from now, but at the moment, with a bit of creativity, we might be able to put these points to use in ways that may not only help us to sell books, but may also solve some problems for the people who are running the skeleton staffs of the world’s remaining newspapers:

  1. The print media have not disappeared completely. Lots of people are still reading newspapers on the subway, in coffee shops and doctors’ offices, on park benches and maybe even in their bathrooms.
  2. Most of us approach the papers we read differently than we used to. When I sit down with an actual newspaper these days, I tend to skim over items I’ve already read online (i.e., most of the news stories), and look instead for editorials and other opinion pieces, investigative journalism and those items known as “human interest” (to distinguish them from items of merely ferret interest, I suppose). I’m also more likely to read an article all the way through in print than online, because when I do sit down and open a newspaper, I’ve usually got a cup of tea at my elbow and have already mentally committed some time to checking out what’s inside of it.
  3. In addition to daily papers, there are weekly and monthly specialty newspapers, some of them subscription-based but many of them free: community and small-town newspapers, real estate papers, seniors’ newspapers, advertising flyers that break up the monotony with brief general-interest articles, etc.
  4. Since there are too few writers left on most newspapers staffs today, I am guessing that editors might be having a hard time generating items of local or general interest for the papers that do remain. Rather than ignoring it, if a compelling story falls into their hands that is already well written from a journalistic point of view (intriguing, apparently objective, answering the who-what-when-where-how questions, etc.) and that is about the right length for what they need, they might just sigh with resignation if not relief, and run it.
  5. Most people who are working on newspapers have an interest in writing and writers: many of them are would-be book writers themselves — even those who edit the automotives section or cover regional politics. An interesting subject line in an email might just attract such an individual’s  attention, and compel him or her to call you for an interview.
  6. A story about a book that appears in some section of the paper like “City News” or “Lifestyle” is going to reach a lot more potential buyers than is one that appears in a cultural silo, such as the Arts and Entertainment section or The Weekend Reader.

Two Plus Two = Just a Hunch

There has got to be a news story relating your book somewhere, even if it is only “Historic novel took took twenty years to write,” or “Nightmare inspired fantasy,” or “Author swears erotic novel is invention; husband begs to differ.” If there isn’t, maybe you can create one (“Book launch at swimming pool makes big splash”). (I’m sure you can be more creative: the more creative the better, in fact.)

Once you’ve written your news item, Google “daily newspapers Canada” or “weekly newspapers North Dakota” or “newspapers Roman Catholic” – whatever suits your fancy – and start sending out your story. In my brief experience with this type of endeavour to date, at least I feel as though I’m working on book promotion, even if it has so far failed to bring forth any fruit.

Who knows? If all else fails it might lead to another news story: “After 500 media releases without a single nibble, despairing writer seeks refuge in new novel.” Now that has a human-interest ring to it, don’t you think?

Update: After you’ve read this post, go immediately to the first comment below, from Marcus Trower, and read it. I was writing about my hunches on this issue in this post; he provides some genuine, practical advice from the field. THANK YOU, Marcus! (I’m hoping he’ll do a guest post at some point.) (I love the Internet.)


I am looking for someone to do a guest blog post on book promo blog tours. Experience (with blog post tours) necessary. We want to know: How you set one up. What you do. What you offer other bloggers in exchange. What the outcome has been for you. If you can write such a piece, apply within (i.e., at mary at marywwalters dot com)

I am also looking for a few people to talk to about their experiences with video book promotion (YouTube or other) – either as the focus of the video or as a consumer of author videos. What is most effective  format? How long should they be? What should they be about – the book? The author? Does anyone actually watch these things? If you can help, contact me at mary at marywwalters dot com.


5 responses

  1. This is definitely a very good suggestion. I can’t talk about the situation in the States, but I was a journalist in the UK and worked on national newspapers and magazines there for many years, plus I did try going down the route you suggest here to promote my own book a few years back. I would say you’re certainly right in number four — the writing staffs of publications have been cut dramatically — but there are still many, many professional PR people orbiting newspapers and magazines and handing journalists stories. Journalists may not go out and find stories the way they once did, but they have hundreds of stories coming to them, day in, day out. Journalists are pretty snowed under by press releases and letters from people looking to see their product or whatever get a little space in print, which means you really have to stand out here — and you’ve got to make an impact in the first few seconds. Many, many times I have watched editors of every sort — book editors, film editors and music editors included — opening letters, reading a line or two, then tearing the letter up and binning it and moving on to the next one. This was, of course, in the era before email submissions, but I’m sure the situation hasn’t changed.

    I would suggest authors not approach publications with what they consider a finished article. Better to write a press release, which is what journalists expect to be sent. There are lots of theories about what a press release should look like and say, and you can find that type of info online I’d imagine. The key is to make the press release relevant to that particular publication. Editors reject stuff all the time — both pitches for commissions for stories from journalists, and stories sent by PRs — because the person suggesting the story obviously doesn’t really get the publication and what it’s about and hasn’t spent any time doing his or her homework. Every press release has to be tailored to the particular publication to have any chance of becoming the basis of a story. Otherwise you’re wasting your own time as well as theirs.

    You need a good hook, of course. The few journalists remaining who are working on publications are looking for good stories. You need to look at your book and yourself and work out what the story is and who might like it and publish something on the basis of it.

    Maybe it’s time for a few book PR agencies to be established that work exclusively with authors who are self-publishing. Perhaps they are already out there. PRs build relationships with journalists over time, which means they are more likely to be listened to. The trouble with going it alone and taking a single shot, of course, is that you don’t have any networks already built up with editors. Doesn’t mean you won’t succeed — I got a few articles placed when I tried this myself, and found a lot of success with local radio, in particular — but it’s important to be aware that this is a difficult path to go down and requires a lot of research and your getting up to speed on how journalism operates. Good luck to those who try this!

    • Your response is so brilliant and helpful Marcus, that I’m going to add a line to my post that encourages everyone to read it. I was just going on hunches: you’ve provided some real, down-to-earth insights. Thank you so much!

      P.S. Do you want to write a guest blog called “How to Write An Effective Media Release About Your Book”? All I could pay you would be in plugs for your own book(s) or anything else you might be selling (well, within reason), but it would really help my readers (and me, needless to say). I think this is an easier task for non-fiction writers, who usually can come up with a “hook,” but it can be a real problem for fiction writers to see how their books can be made into news (and some creative non-fiction writers, and poets. Gah. Poor poets). (Half of the article is already written in the comment above. ;) )

  2. My pleasure, Mary. Glad to be of help. On the subject of the suggestion of doing a guest blog, I like the idea. I’ll send you a private message–or, if I don’t find your personal e-mail address here in a moment when I look for it, you can always message me at mbtrower at yahoo dot co dot uk.

  3. You may have a better chance with small, local publications. I live in the town of fewer than 10,000 people, and I’ve been profiled in the local newspaper several times. Usually I sent a press release. I’ve also been profiled in Albuquerque: The Magazine. It’s not that I’m so famous or successful, but that there isn’t as much competition here.

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