If you've ever distributed a press release to promote one of your books, chances are you did it wrong.

It's not your fault if you did. I've seen all the nonsense authors are exposed to online. This ranges from claims that press releases never work unless you're already famous (utter BS) to "advice" that equates to spamming your press release to every free distribution website you can find.

Here are a few free tips from an actual PR pro:

  • Never take advice about public relations tools from marketers. They're not the same.
  • If someone tells you a tool never works, it's only because they don't know how to make it work. Learn from someone who does.
  • Don't focus too much on mass promotional tools. If you're sending carbon copy versions of anything to a large number of people who haven't asked to receive it, it's probably going to be considered a form of spam. And nobody likes a spammer.

Now, let's get back to this week's official quick tip. If you're an author who wants to get more mileage out of your press releases, this one's for you.

Tip: Build your own media list. 

Skip the Cookie Cutter Media Relations

Far too many authors take a cookie cutter approach to media relations, and specifically press release distribution. They think the "right" way to handle things is to draft a release and post it to one or more distribution sites (PRWeb, PRNewswire, WebWire, etc.).

Is there anything wrong with using these services? Absolutely not. They can lead to valuable coverage, especially with online media outlets and bloggers you don't know yet. But these sites aren't a substitute to true outreach. And to do that, you need a custom media list.

Your media list should include only the best targeted outlets -- the people who would have the most interest in your book. For example, it should include your local newspaper. You might include the nearest major city's paper as well. It should include any key magazines (online or off), and also well-targeted bloggers. If you plan to pursue radio or television campaigns, you'll also want to include these local or regional outlets.

These are the people you'll reach out to on an individual basis so you know your news gets into the most appropriate hands.

How to Build Your Own Author Media List

Building your own author media list isn't complicated. If you already know the best local and niche outlets, it might be a simple matter of Googling appropriate editors' names and contact information.

Not sure where to start? Browse through free media directories. While there are plenty of premium ones PR professionals use, I don't feel they're worthwhile expenses for most indie authors, running hundreds to thousands of dollars for access. If you want to go the premium route, hire a PR pro to help with distribution or to put together a custom media list for you. It can be cheaper than paying for high-end database access for yourself.

Here are some examples of free tools you can use:

These tools will help you identify media outlets you want to build your outreach campaign around. But don't stop there. Spend some time on the sites (or pick up the phone) and track down more specific contact information whenever possible.

Remember, media relations is about building relationships with members of the media. It's not about spamming a press release to every contact you can find, under the assumption they'll care about your book news as much as you do. Get to know members of the media and what they cover first, and you'll be able to send more targeted pitches and story ideas to land better coverage.

If you do choose to use an online distribution service, remember you can take the manual approach too. Reaching out to even a handful of journalists who would be a perfect fit for your story can make all the difference in the world. So even if you aren't prepared for an all-out manual media relations campaign, let it supplement other tools you're using.

Does building a custom media list involve more work? Of course it does. But so does writing a book. Why would you invest so much time and effort into writing a book only to be lazy about promotion? Focus your media relations efforts on better targeting and building real relationships and you'll have an easier time getting your next book into the hands of more readers.

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