Saturday, 30 August 2014

How to find and approach journalists - guest post by Alice Furse

What the hell do I know?

I’m very new to the literary world and only mid-way through publicising my first book so it’s a valid question. I’ve been the press officer for a national media company for the last four years, and I’ve sent out my fair share of press releases and also seen quite a few come in from other companies who are trying to get on one of our stations/magazines. I’ve witnessed plenty of PR slip ups from other people and, sadly, my own – so hopefully I can give you the benefit of some of that experience here!

Generally speaking, I’d say PR is about people. Journalists and editors aren’t just mindless robots that turn press releases into articles; they’re real people, and usually very sharp. This article is about how to find them and build a relationship that works for you both. 

I believe that PR is an art and not a science. You might disagree with things that I say here and that’s cool – it’s not gospel. It’s just like, my opinion, man. 

A few notes on etiquette

Start your PR campaign six months before the publication date to make sure you have time to focus on who gets a copy of your book and that they have plenty of time to read it before publication day.

If you’re just starting out, no blog is too small for you to consider approaching for a book review or a feature pitch. You might be the best thing since Dorothy Parker, but nobody knows your ass from a hole in the ground.

Don’t hassle. One polite follow up email is fine – more than that is probably pushing it. If they haven’t replied, they’re either not interested or bogged down in something else. Move on.

Never write tweets for a journo to pump out. As they write for a living, my guess is that they don’t like people telling them what to say and the same goes for hilarious ‘creative’ headlines on press releases (more on that in a sec)

Never lie.

Press release me

A punchy press release is essential. Yes, you’re a writer – but resist the temptation to embellish it with lots of unnecessarily flowery language, or wanky waffle. That doesn’t mean it has to read like an instruction manual, but it needs to stick to the facts. 

It should include: the facts (the publisher (if any), date of publication, book title, author), a paragraph of enticing blurb (I think most writers agree that this is harder to write than the novel you just slogged through), and your contact details.

The whole release shouldn’t be longer than a page of A4. Journalists will probably spend about one hot minute reading it, so use your minute as best you can by encapsulating exactly what the book is about and why someone would want to read it. The two first sentences are essential in getting across what you want to say, so focus most attention on them and make sure they’re working for you.

Proofread it. Proofread it again. Get someone with an excellent grasp of English to proofread it. 

Proofread it again.

This blog is written by a tech journalist in US, but gives a great insight into pitches and their various ills. It’s a good laugh to read and gives you a good idea of what mistakes to avoid.

Copy cat

Find a recently self-published book that’s similar to yours in the main themes, where it is available (i.e. UK/US), and the target market.

Read the book.

Then find out about the author and their journey to self-publishing. Preferably, they are now where you would like to be in about six months or a year’s time. 

Check out their website – does it have a press section? If so, you’ve hit gold because you now have access to a whole bunch of people and publications that are writing about a book that’s just like yours. 

See where they have focused their PR efforts. Are they doing radio slots, festival gigs, magazine features? What do they tweet about, and who else do they regularly talk to on Twitter? Do they have a blog? A really active Facebook page? Do they do lots of stuff on Goodreads?

Spread ’em

Start a spreadsheet. If that sounds daunting, it really isn’t. Mine is nothing more than a few columns keeping track of names, contact details and the dates I approached them. Make sections for different areas of the media you want to hit: monthly magazines, newspapers, review sites, radio shows, etc.

Man bites dog

Journalists tend to like things that are topical – things that get people talking, or something they’re already talking about. Is there a news angle in your book? Suppose your book is about the adventures of a superhero who happens to be a woman. Great! So who’s writing about feminism?

Read up

When you come across someone who you think would be a good fit for writing or talking about your book or the themes in it, read as many of their articles/reviews as you can lay your paws on. 

If they have a Twitter account that might help you to get a sense of the type of person they are. Do they live in your area? Are there events that they go to or host that you can gatecrash? What can you tell them about your work that might pique their interest, and that of their readers/listeners? 

The more research you do, the better you’ll gauge their level of interest your book, the best time to approach them, and also the more personal your contact with them can be.

Charlie Big Potatoes

To take the woman superhero example above, The Guardian is great on writing about feminism as it’s a topic that interests their readership. However, they’re a national newspaper and all of their writers will receive an avalanche of mail and pitches and ideas every day. No harm in still approaching them – I’m a massive fan of aiming high – but are there any smaller publications you can target as well? How about local press or events that you might be able to get involved with? Once you start being open to ideas on who you can approach you’ll be amazed at how many opportunities you can spot. 

Being and Time

If all this sounds a bit time-consuming, that’s because it is. It’s your new full-time job. But hey, no one said it was going to be easy. And so you’re going to do it anyway. Good luck!

My first novel, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, is out in October – you can pre-order it from Amazon. I also have a blog on literary events in London and learning how to stand up and spit. I tweet at @alicefurse

7 comments:

madwippitt said...

Thanks for this! Very helpful!

JO said...

Really useful advice, this.

Lydia Bennet said...

Thank you for all these points. Interesting 'how to' post and an informative slant on a useful skill - now if someone could just slow down Earth's rotation to give us enough time to do all this and write the books... it's not much to ask!

writinginthehouseofdreams.com said...

Nice article - thank you. I'm intrigued - how have five readers managed to review your book when it doesn't come out till October?!

Debbie Bennett said...

netgalley?

Lydia Bennet said...

virtually all 'dead tree' books from big publishers are reviewed before publication, as the publishers send out proofs to reviewers, so it's not surprising if the same thing happens with ebooks, in fact it's even easier with mobi/pdf/Word versions.

Alice said...

Thanks guys, so glad you found it helpful.

That's a fair question about the novel! I self-published it in January and so got the reviews from hassling people back then, but since then I've got a publishing deal so it was taken off for copy-editing etc and will be out again in October.