Go for trad media coverage like a pro
Image credit: Roman Kraft, unsplash
I likely don’t have to tell you that the world of traditional media has moved to an entirely new planet in the last perhaps 15-20 years. There have been significant challenges for a while, which hit hard during the 2007-2008 recession on the heels of the increasingly complex media environment caused by the Internet.
Its ostensibly “free” nature is the primary cause of the serious problems faced by traditional media. Facebook, Google and the other media giants have changed the landscape and not for the better; recently, this has become even more dreadful. Preaching to the converted or the perverted, depending, does not assist us in advancing democracy. Nor, necessarily, does it help us get our messages out there.
But that’s a different column.
Layoffs, slashed budgets, and reorganization have affected local newspapers, television and radio stations. Many newspapers have closed their doors. This does not horrify other people the way it horrifies me, but I still ask people to try to imagine a community without a daily newspaper or a local TV station. How does a community function without methods of disseminating information? I would argue that local media still have an extremely important role to play, both in reporting and in commentary.
One of those roles is telling your stories.
The downside of the recent media mess is that your message must be loud, clear, and compelling like never before. Even in the last few months I spent at the local paper years ago, the city editor and I made increasingly difficult decisions on what to cover and what not to cover. In the ensuing years, these decisions have become even harder.
Fewer reporters, travel restrictions, a smaller news hole – they all contribute to a crisis in coverage. People increasingly get their information from the Internet, but even the big boys steal trad media information, repackage it and load it up as original work. Without the main information coming from news gathering organizations, you have very little in terms of reliable news or commentary.
As for everyone, most authors have limited hope in getting their book news out there unless they begin with their local media. So, consider some of these basics and go in there like a pro.
1. Be sure you are available for interviews. I can’t tell you how often I received press releases only to find it impossible to reach someone in a reasonable length of time. Everyone is busy, but if you return a 9 a.m. phone call at 4 p.m., there is obviously less time to prepare a story for deadline. The writer is probably trying to do three things, and it’s important he/she/they can count on your call-back at a reasonable time.
2. Make sure your press release has a hook. “I just published a book!” is not a hook — unless, perhaps, you are already famous in some way. Instead, consider: Why is your book relevant? Can you offer a genuine and interesting back story? Is the content meaningful to an ongoing community news story? Do you have a special voice? Can your community benefit from reading your book? Think hard about why your book deserves to be in the news. Be sure to send your release well ahead of an event and follow up with a second send and a phone call. KEEP A MEDIA LIST HANDY! And just like your very first paragraph in your first chapter, make your first para in your release compelling.
3. Press releases are shockingly incomplete and inaccurate. I received one from a federal minister’s office for a press conference that was booked for 11 p.m. Yup. An hour before midnight and well past presstime. This is GOVERNMENT for heaven’s sake. Obviously, the minister’s office meant 11 a.m., but one still must confirm such things. It took a couple of extra phone calls and an hour’s wait on a busy day to check something that should have been a no-brainer. CHECK YOUR BOOK READING OR LAUNCH DATE AND TIME 80 TIMES.
4. Your press release should be no longer than one page. If you have more to say, add a “backgrounder” page and DO NOT FORGET TO SEND A COPY OF THE COVER and YOUR PHOTO.
5. Remember to avoid jargon and short-cuts, and for the love of God, do not EVER stretch the truth. Do not say you’re a bestseller if you can’t substantiate it. Be clear and write simply.
6. Going “off the record” is not a decision you can make alone. It’s unlikely to affect an author, but still, it could. Loose lips do sink ships; what if you inadvertently diss another book? There is a strict rule about this: you must get the reporter's verbal consent BEFORE going off the record. One of the biggest mistakes people make is telling a reporter a bunch of information, or expressing opinions, and then saying, “by the way, oops, that was all off the record.” Nope.
7. There is no point in asking if you can see the story before it is published. Respectable media outlets have strict policies about this.
Good luck, all you lovely authors.