You can’t sell books without an audience. It’s that simple. But how do you build your audience? One way is to cultivate some author PR. So let's talk about how to go about it...
One of the fastest ways to find new readers is to get in front of an audience that someone else has already built. This includes broadcasters, podcasters, bloggers, and anyone else who has built an audience that knows, likes and trusts them.
When that influencer puts you in front of their audience, you’re leveraging their platform to build your platform.
However, as with all things in life, there’s a right way to go about it—and a wrong way. Over the course of this three-part series of articles, I’ll share mistakes that authors often make when presenting themselves to decision makers in the media. In each case, I’ll also clue you in what works better.
I’ve seen this process from both sides of the desk: I've been working in the media for more than 30 years, and a published author for 13 years.
Believe me when I say that these sloppy author PR tactics drive us journalists crazy. Avoid these mistakes and you’ll have a better chance of getting editorial coverage.
Author PR Mistake #1 – You Sent It Too Late
Every kind of media has a production schedule and an editorial calendar. They are working way further ahead than you might think. If you show up too late, then it doesn’t matter what they think of your pitch: They’ve already filled that slate.
There are three ways you can get the timing right:
If the topic you’re suggesting is time sensitive, you want to start that conversation at least three months ahead of whatever issue or episode you’re hoping to be included in. (Some magazines might an even need a longer lead time.)
Take out a calendar and look ahead a few months. Want to pitch a segment or article that needs to run at a certain time? Maybe your topic is inherently perishable, or you’re leveraging an upcoming event (like the Oscars or World Series) or season (like Spring Cleaning or Halloween).
Figure out when that issue or episode would come out, and then work backward at least a good 90 days. It doesn’t hurt to simply ask someone at that outlet how far ahead they want to be pitched. They’re booking guests, scheduling topics, and filling up editorial slots way ahead of whenever that’s going to be put in front of the public.
Pitch an Evergreen Topic
If your topic is something that is always relevant—no matter when it runs—then you don’t have to care when they publish it. This gives them a lot more flexibility about when to schedule your story.
Now, by “evergreen topics” I’m referring to ideas that never go out of date. So—no time-sensitive topics, breaking news, statistics that may soon change, seasonal materials, or fads. (Yes, you can use these kinds of topics to get media coverage—but they’re not examples of evergreen topics.)
What are some topics that audiences always want to know about?
The key is to make sure that your topic—or unique spin on that topic—is relevant to what you write. It doesn’t do you any good to get interviewed about gardening if you’re a mystery writer. Unless, of course, your latest mystery has an obvious connection.
What’s great about coming up with some evergreen pitches is that you can always pitch them. They’re relevant now, they’ll be relevant in a few months, and they’ll probably still be good in a year.
Are you a fiction writer? Look for nonfiction topics inside your fiction.
Pitch a Trending Topic
Another way to deal with the production cycle is to go the other way—and piggyback on something they’re already covering right now. When you have a relevant point to add to something that’s breaking in the news, this can be your shortcut to get into the media much faster. If you have something valuable to add to that conversation, they’re desperate to hear about it!
Whether this will work at a particular media outlet depends on their production cycle. For example, a publication, show, or site that produces new content on a weekly, daily, or hourly(!) basis is more likely to be dealing with current topics in the news. That’s not to say that an outlet with a longer cycle won’t cover current events, but they can’t deal with these kinds of stories in a “this is what’s new” kind of way.
When something breaks, the news outlets jump on it. You see these kinds of stories in the news all the time:
- a large company announces that it’s laying off a bunch of people
- a politician is caught in (another) scandal
- a natural disaster has devasted a community
For an ongoing story, news outlets need to cover it for as long as 1) it’s going on, and 2) the audience still wants to know what’s going on. But, as you can imagine, there are only so many ways a news department can report on the exact same topic without fresh information.
If you can bring a new perspective to the conversation—discussed through the prism of your expertise—the news people are desperate to hear from you. If you can provide a fresh angle for a story they must cover anyway, that will make a huge impression.
Going back to the example of the company layoffs, examples of relevant pitches might be: a timely segment or article about financial preparedness; teaching children how to process when a parent loses a job; or how to future-proof your own career choices.
Wondering how a novelist might pitch a relevant topic? A science fiction author might discuss relevant technological or societal changes we can expect in the future. A romance author might share the relational issues associated with job loss. A historical author might bring be able to put the company’s woes into a larger historical perspective.
(More on Media Pitches: Pitch Perfect: Author Media Pitches That Get Results and The Art of the Media Pitch for Indie Authors)
Author PR Mistake #2 – You Sent It To The Wrong Person
Speaking on behalf of the media, it is quite annoying to receive a pitch from someone who clearly has no idea who I am, who my audience is, or what I cover.
To share one personal experience: Once at a media company with several different brands, I received a phone call from an author trying to pitch me. “I know that your company does all these different things. This is what my book is about…”
First of all, I was the wrong person to call. I did not work at a media outlet, I was in management at the company that owned them.
Second of all, none of our brands covered what he had. He was pitching a memoir about his recovery from addiction. It might have been an amazing book, but it wasn’t for any of our audiences. None of them.
Sending out random pitches to the media is like throwing a rock through a window and hoping for the best. If you want to get results, don’t call random strangers. Don’t send mass emails to a faceless list. Don’t fill up the mailbox of some mailing address.
How do you find the right contact person?
- Look for bylines. This would be the name of the writer as it appears in recent posts or articles. They may also include a direct email address.
- Look for a Contact or About Us page. The website might have an email address or a contact form you can fill out.
- Look for a staff box. Most print publications have a box near the front or back of the issue that includes a list of staff and contact information.
- Look for the credits. At the end of a show or on the show’s website, you should be able to find out the names of the people who made that show.
Depending on the size of the staff, you might be looking for an editor or department editor, or a producer or segment producer. For a smaller operation, like a podcast or a blog, you might be contacting the host or writer directly.
You want a specific name and title. Don’t randomly email “To Whom It May Concern.” If you can’t say whom it concerns, then it concerns nobody, and your pitch will be ignored or deleted.
Author PR Mistake #3 – Your Email is Impersonal
And when you do have the correct person figured out, write a specific email to that specific person. By name.
When people like me receive an email that was clearly written for nobody in particular, it gets ignored. Or deleted. Or blocked.
If you want them to take you seriously, don’t send cookie-cutter, copy-and-paste emails. When you take the simple step of addressing someone by name—with the correct spelling—that goes a long way toward getting a journalist or media producer to pay attention.
One of the best record label publicists I ever worked with figured out that whenever she brought a band or recording artist into our offices—so we met them in person, as people—it made it so much harder for us to pass on giving them editorial coverage.
That meeting changed the dynamic entirely. Now it was personal.
Granted, for most of your media contacts, you won’t be able to look them in the eye. But if you send a personal email that feels like a real conversation with a real person, that’s pretty close.
When I receive an email that feels like it was sent to a list, it’s easy to ignore. When I receive an email that reads like it was to me personally, I’m going to feel like I should click reply and write a response.
What Are You Going to Do Now?
Do you want the media to pay attention to your book? Send your pitch for an article or segment early enough for them to consider it. Send it to the right person. And, for Pete’s sake, make it a personal email!
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