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Thursday, June 30, 2005

HOW TO FATTEN YOUR PRESS KIT

by Lorna Tedder


I sat in the front row of a seminar called something like "How to Create a Jam-up Good Press Kit" and drooled over the examples on the speaker's table. Each kit contained a current press release, a 5x7 black-and-white photo, a cover flat, and a couple of dozen select clippings from newspapers and magazines from all over the country.

"Make sure you put everything that's ever been written about your writing into your press kit," the speaker informed us. "Whether it's a review of your last book, an announcement of an award, a booksigning, an interview--put it in there! When you have a stack of clippings, then you can pick and choose the best ones to convey the image you want."

I glanced around the room. The other attendees, all multi-published authors, were nodding.

Slinking down in my chair, I raised my hand. "My first book comes out next summer. What about me? I don't have any clippings."

The speaker smiled indulgently. "Don't worry. I'm sure you'll have a fatter press kit for your NEXT book."

Arghhhhh!

Mama always said, "If you want something done, you better do it yourself."

She was right. I can't depend on the press to show up at my front door, clamoring to interview me, Little Miss First Time Author. I can't even guarantee they'll print a two-paragraph press > release that I hand-carry to the newspaper office across town. So I've launched a campaign that, I think, will work for other first timers as well as multi-published authors who already have lots of fodder for their press kits.

1. First, become a group. Most authors find it relatively easy to promote other authors' work (like re-arranging shelves in bookstores to give a favorite author a face-out position at eye-level) but find it really hard to say, "Hey, look at this fabulous book I wrote! Buy it! Heck, buy a dozen and given them away as Christmas gifts!" It's so much easier and less embarrassing when a group sponsors you.

You also get better coverage and more credibility than when you're acting alone. Unless you tell them, the press won't know if your group represents three authors or five hundred.

How do you find a group? Maybe you already have one. Your group could be your local RWA chapter, your critique group, or a circle of writers with similar interests. You could be geographically close, or you could meet on-line on a computer bulletin board every night.

Give your group a professional-sounding title if you don't already have a good name. If it's a new group, elect officers and establish your goals for the group. Extra benefits of a group include the social interaction, critiques, support at booksignings, and shoulders to cry on.

Elect someone in your group to send out press releases on EVERYTHING. It's even better if your press release mentions kudos for several local authors because this will help establish the group as a professional, credible organization. Be sure to use quality letterhead and be consistent with your point of contact, > address, and style.

2. Write, write, write! And not just your book. Write articles on plotting techniques, time-saving tips, where to get ideas, the best software to use, market news, research guides, or even tearjerker essays. Then get them published. Granted, it may take longer and be harder to publish an article in a more mainstream publication like Writers' Digest, but there are dozens of other opportunities.

Check your current Writers' Market for names and addresses of periodicals interested in hearing writers' tips and techniques and send for sample copies and tip sheets.

Write the Romance Writers' Report (RWR) for guidelines and needs. If you're an RWA member, send a fabulous column to your chapter newsletter or any of the other chapters, including the Outreach Chapter. You get the benefit of the publicity, and you collect yet one more clipping for your press kit.

3. Get advance reviews. If you wait until your review is actually published, it may be too late to include in the press kit for that book (although a fabulous review could certainly improve your press kit for your next book).

Send manuscripts or galleys to Romantic Times, Rendezvous, Affaire de Coeur, and Heartland Critiques. If you write romantic suspense, send your book to The Talisman and Gothic Journal. If it's a historical, it might be suitable for The Medieval Chronicles. These are just a few of the potential reviewers. Keep your eyes open for other publications. Ask published authors where they got their best reviews.

Once you get an advance review, print it up and include it in your press kit or cull some of the better phrases for quotes. You'll also be able to use the reviews for advertising, too--and if you're fast enough, maybe even for your book cover.

Let the reviewers know you need an advance quote and send your material early so they'll have plenty of time. I had two great quotes eight months before my book's publication date!

4. Make yourself a household word with press releases.

Anything and everything counts!

Were you a finalist in a writing contest? Then you're an award- winning author. Write it up!

Did your book make the Waldenbooks or B. Dalton bestseller lists? Write it up!

Are you scheduled to attend (or better yet--speak at) a national or regional conference? Write it up!

Has the local Rotary Club asked you to give a speech on "So You've Always Wanted To Be a Published Author"? Write it up! Nothing is too small. And if it is, maybe the paper is having a slow news day and will print it anyway.

And remember to include a photo. Nothing will draw the eye to your meager paragraphs of praise like a picture will. You don't have to look glamourous, but the photo should be...charitable. If you wouldn't want it on your driver's liscense, don't send it to the papers.

5. And the most important for last: self-interviews.

You can either "interview" yourself or have a member of your group do it for you and then send it to the newspaper as a special contribution from your group. These are the only interviews you'll ever be able to control, say exactly what you want readers and booksellers to hear, give personal background information that makes you look like a saint (or sinner, if you want), and portray the image you want to cultivate for the Public You.

Now here's the problem: if you send such an interview to a large newspaper, they'll probably ignore it or rewrite it. At best, they'll use it as background for their own interview.

To get in print, concentrate on newspapers who'll be tickled pink to get a free, well-written, thought-provoking story. These are usually small papers, published once or twice a week. Generally, their writing staffs are small or part-time. Amid the school news and recipes, they've got space to be filled--and have you got a story to fill it !

Pick newspapers or small regional magazines whose readers will have an interest in you beyond their choice of literature. If you were born in the town, went to school there, worked there, married the local bad boy, or did anything that will connect you to the area, consider that town's newspaper a candidate for a fascinating interview written with them in mind.

Slant the interview toward something unique about you and that location. Here are examples of feature articles my group sent to papers in five small towns to announce that I'd sold my first book (new articles went out a week before A MAN CALLED REGRET hits the stores):

Newspaper A was the hardest. My hometown paper. Almost guaranteed to make the front page though. Since it was my hometown for twenty-something years, I used the old "local girl makes good" slant. Then, since I'd used a lot of local Southern history in the setting, I talked about that local history, how it fit in the book, and how much research it required. I included how I had a fighter pilot friend fly me over my hometown in a 4-seater Cessna so I could get the opening scene just right and how I talked to several pilots to make the crash as realistic as possible.

Newspaper B was the county paper I wrote for during my senior year of high school. Mostly I did school news type columns, but I was sixteen and had my picture in the paper every week. When I graduated from high school, the editor gave me a dictionary/thesaurus set. In that interview, I mentioned how I have every kind of fancy dictionary you can imagine, yet I still use that reference set--even though I've had to tape the covers to keep them from falling off from overuse.

Two local gourmet kitchens produce mayhaw jelly--the same as Trudy and Regret make in that oh-so-hot kitchen scene--and since the berry is native to that county, I discussed the role of the mayhaw berry in the book.

Newspaper C is the official organ of the county where I went to high school. Since many of my classmates' parents still live in the area, I talked about my high school dreams and how, after my first class reunion, I reclaimed my dream of writing when my old chums told me they had been looking for my name in bookstores for ten years. I also stressed the difficulties of finding time to write while juggling a full-time job, two babies, and a husband.

Newspaper D is published in the county where I went to a controversial private school between the third and eighth grades. I opened the interview with my memories of that school, where I first started writing, and how writing was my salvation during a difficult adolescence that knew no sense of belonging.

Newspaper E is in the town where I earned my undergraduate degree. I asked the same question I was repeatedly asked there ten years ago--"So whatcha gonna do with that there English degree if you ain't gonna teach?" My answer was tutor learning disabled students, edit newsletters, write public relations brochures, negotiate contracts for the Department of Defense--and finally, become a published author.

I sent five larger, regional newspapers a three-paragraph press release and a picture--just the basics plus a few words to tie me to that community. In one case I'd worked on special projects at a well-known local company. In another city, I'd earned a master's degree from a local college. I used those tidbits in the headlines, too. ("Local Graduate....) So now I have my own set of clippings for my first press kit--and enough clippings that I can be choosy. The interviews say exactly what I want them to say and what I want future interviewers to know about me, and not a single one of them asks that tacky question about where I get my inspiration for sex scenes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
© 1995 by Lorna Tedder

[Note from Spilled Candy: some of the periodicals mentioned in the above article are no longer published, but the point remains: find related markets for article-writing and reviews, even if they're small publications which tend to be hungry for news.]

Dr. Lorna Tedder is an award-winning, best-selling author who routinely shares her writing and marketing expertise at national writers' conferences, online, and through her writing guides. Her non-fiction guides for writers include BOOK PROMOTION FOR THE SHAMELESS, BOOK PROMOTION SAVVY, and RECLAIMING THE MAGIC: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO SUCCESS. All three books are available at www.SpilledCandy.com.

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