Hey! You’re a Writer, You Can Do Publicity

Ever heard that one? Writers are always getting asked to do PR, whether it’s for the school carnival or the local art show. Or maybe you want to promote your new book. So let’s talk about press releases.

Every publication gets bombarded with press releases, articles written to promote a product, service, person or event. These articles are produced by writers working for the entities they’re promoting. These can be good-paying jobs, and press releases are often as well written as anything you see published in commercial publications. The thing that makes them different from advertising is that no one promises to publish them. Once they arrive on an editor’s desk, that editor can choose to toss them in the recycle bin, run them verbatim, publish just a few lines, or assign a writer to use the press release as the starting point for an article. If they have the space and feel the subject deserves a spot, they will welcome the press release, especially if it comes with good photos.

Of the dozens of press releases that arrive every day, maybe one-fourth are relevant. The rest don’t fit the publication’s subject matter or readership at all. Others are just looking for free advertising. The public relations people who produce the press releases can be a great help to editors or drive them crazy. Calling every day or sending odd gifts or boxes of confetti does not help. But a good solid press release makes the editor’s job easier and gets your story published.

So, you’re been asked to do PR. Publicity has many aspects, including flyers, posters, email blasts, and listings in various publications, but the basic tool is the press release, which is emailed to all print and online publications, as well as radio and TV outlets that might be interested.

Here, quickly, is the formula:

* Keep it to one page.

* Start with name of organization and complete contact information.

* Date.

* FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—or a date when you want the information released.

* A headline.

* A catchy opening paragraph.

* Describe what it’s all about, giving the who, what, where, when and how much.

* More details, emphasizing the connection to the publication’s readers.

* General info about the organization.

* Links, names and numbers for more information.

* High-resolution photos if at all possible.

* You don’t need to include a letter. The editor will recognize that it’s a press release and will contact you if he or she needs more information.

Just as you should tailor your query or cover letter to the publication and address it to a specific editor, you should do the same with your press release. As with any kind of writing, be specific. Provide facts, not fluff. And do not tell the editor what to do. For that, you have to pay for an ad.

I welcome your questions and comments.

Now go write that press release or anything you want.

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Some of the best essay advice ever

I have been looking for places to send my essays. Marketing never ends in this business. There are several challenges: I want to submit to publications where the chances of acceptance are good; I want my stuff published in places where both regular people and important people in publishing will read it, and I would love to get paid. Also, I don’t want to write junk. Compared to finding homes for my stories, writing them is the easy part.

Sending out essays is a lot easier than it used to be because most publications take submissions online. No more packaging perfect copies, letters and self-addressed stamped envelopes in 9 x 12 envelopes and taking them to the post office. But that easiness should not fool anyone into thinking marketing still doesn’t take some serious work.

It is vital to find the right publications, read them to make sure what you’re sending is a good fit, and follow their guidelines down to the last keystroke. And proofread. I almost sent out a letter today with the name of the magazine spelled wrong. Yikes.

But what do they want? Most publication guidelines are pretty vague about content.  I was thrilled to find the guidelines for the New York Times Magazine “Lives” section. It’s the best advice I’ve ever seen for writing an essay. Among the tips: “More action, more details, less rumination” and “don’t try to fit your whole life into one Lives essay.” Click here for the whole list in “How to Write a ‘Lives’ Essay.”

After reading those suggestions, I’m going to take another look at what I’m sending out. You should, too.

Then, as always, go write.