With the falling leaves and the crispy air comes a fresh crop of school visits. Of course we all know this is a great way to promote our books, but there is a not-so-hidden avenue for promotion in conjunction with school visits that few authors take advantage of, including myself...until this year.
Recently I started sending press releases to all the local media in any town I was about to visit (a "how to" follows). I send them to the local newspapers, radio stations and cable stations. I also send to the network affiliates, on the long-shot hope that I'll get a reporter interested in doing a community interest story. This is a great way to plant the seed that will hopefully bloom into great press coverage. I am convinced this is a great habit to get into, despite the time it takes. Here is my anecdotal evidence.
I had a residency scheduled in Connecticut for the beginning of October. I sent my press release out to the usual suspects, having gotten a list from the visit coordinator. The second day I was at the school a reporter and photographer showed up. I was interviewed along with some students and the coordinator. The photographer took lots of shots during my workshop, and the next day there was an almost full page article, full of pictures of me and the kids working on our writing and illustrating skills. A reporter from another smaller paper -- a weekly -- interviewed me and got quotes from some of the students, too. The next week the paper printed my release in full, which is what often happens, but I was surprised since the reporter had asked such detailed questions. However I later found out that an additional article is planned, based on her reporting.
I got no response from the local cable show, but while I was there, I did get an email from a producer at "Your Weekend," a weekend morning show on the ABC affiliate. The show is seen throughout the state of Connecticut, as well as Long Island, since it's right across the sound from the studio.
The producer wanted to know if I could come on the show. I thought about it for a nanosecond and said in my blase´e world-weary voice, "OKAY! YES! OUI! SI! DA!" and it was booked for the following month. I went, and was interviewed for 3.5 minutes (imagine what that's worth in advertising!) My latest book was splashed across the airwaves multiple times, and my web site was linked to theirs.
After the interview, while the producer was telling me how much she liked my segment, I had an idea, and figured what could I lose? I asked whether she was interested in my coming back to do a segment recommending children's books. She said she'd love it, booked me for December 6th, and said if it went well, maybe I could do it on a regular basis.
So from sending out a press release on a school visit I got three articles, and at least two television appearances with the possibility of a regular monthly segment on a network affiliate.
How to Write a Press Release
When writing a press release, remember that many newspapers will print it in its entirety, so write it as though it is an article. Don't write just about you and your book, or your visit. Make it more global. Get quotations from the people involved in the visit about how they prepare for authors and illustrators and how the students are reacting to those preparations.
I asked the "Your Weekend" producer what grabbed her about my release and she said, "It was a combination of things. I was intrigued by the word 'residency', so I googled you. I checked out your web site. I was a big reader as a child and never had the opportunity to meet an author. I had never heard of an author residency and I was intrigued by the idea because it related directly to my own interests."
So I got lucky that the producer who received my press release was personally interested in what I had written about, but she was also hooked by the title of my latest book and said so in an email to me. In case the person who receives your release isn't a reader and doesn't give a hoot about books (huh?!), make sure to make the content interesting to the public the media is serving. Figure out how your visit benefits the community and focus on that.
At the top, in the right hand corner, it should read: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, and have contact names, emails and phone numbers for the press contacts at your publishers, or for yourself, if you're the only contact available. In the upper left-hand corner, type in "Press Releas." Include a headline, and at the bottom, put the name of your most recent book, the pub date and ISBN.
Of course it won't always work out the way you want it. I just had another residency, sent out my release and had absolutely no takers whatsoever. But I still think it's worth it.
Author Jane Kurtz agrees. "The S&S publicity person sent out press releases when I was going around on a regional speaking and signing tour for RIVER FRIENDLY RIVER WILD, when it was new. Both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Tribune did feature articles; I was interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio and on a TV show. And the turnouts at the bookstores were great in response.
For a recent Chicago trip, I hired Rebecca Grose, a former publicity person at Harper and now a freelancer who lives in California. I was filmed for two local cable programs (in Evanston and Des Plaines), was on WLS TV, the ABC affiliate (albeit at 6:20 a.m.), and was on two radio shows, one for 5 minutes and one for 15. There was also a meaty article in the weekly Evanston paper. I consider it good seed planting!"
The icing on the cake is that the community gets to find out where their taxes are going, therefore confirming the value of author visits. Plus, you and your books can get some press and you never know what will blossom.
To learn more about Katie and her books visit www.katiedavis.com
Rebecca Grose, who is mentioned in the article above, can be contacted at:
SoCal Public Relations
Literary P.R. Services/Media Escort
San Diego, CA 619/460-2179