LivinginCyn.com’s e-interview feature for October welcomes Icy Sedgwick, traditionally- and self-published author of several short and regular-length novels.
This time of year, I think of pumpkins, Halloween and ghosts, so having Ms. Icy Sedgwick join us and share what she’s up to is particularly exciting for a wimp like me. Visits to her website will quickly reveal that she is almost like the author expert in all things paranormal.
If you haven’t yet decided on a good book to curl up with during the transition from All Hallow’s Eve to the Day of the Dead, you might swing by Icy’s website for some inspiring reads. She entertains and educates with such blog posts as, 3 powerful people to meet at the crossroads: Papa Legba, the Devil & Hecate! (Did I mention I was a wimp?)
Have you been reading my book, The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy?
Whether you have or haven’t, here’s a little supplement to get you ready to develop your marketing messages: Figure out who your messenger is! Visit www.SachaBlack.co.uk to find out more. That content is exclusively available there. (That’s right! It’s not even available in the book!) If you want to see everything else, check out my book on Amazon! (Amazon UK, here)
LivinginCyn.com announced the series’ cover redesign in August. We also interviewed the author earlier in the year. And now we’re pleased to see readers are getting in on the literary action! Her book, Sanyare: The Last Descendant (US | UK) recently topped Amazon’s sales charts and is enjoying Amazon’s highly coveted “Best Seller” flag. Make sure you visit Amazon and start reading this delightful fantasy series!
Ah! Writing press releases… They are foundational marketing communications documents that lay out the core elements of your story: your accomplishments, your discoveries, your new products, your news. When handled correctly, writing press releases can save you a lot of time and energy when relating with various audiences.
I write a press release when I’m ready to get serious about implementing my communications strategy. I usually begin drafting a press release right after I’ve established my marketing strategy, because with it, I can expand or support all my other communications messages.
Some people will adamantly tell you the press release is dead. I would politely disagree. It’s not, its purpose has just evolved. I write press releases mainly because they save me time when I’m asked to provide a summary of my news, company or update, etc. More importantly, a press release contains your “official” language–the wording that you want media (journalists, producers, podcasters or bloggers) to copy-and-paste into their text, so they don’t miscommunicate your main messages.
Let me be clear. I don’t think press releases will improve my ROI. It won’t–not directly, anyway. I don’t think journalists are hanging around just waiting to hear my news. They aren’t–no delusions of grandeur here!
Rachel Sprung wrote a lovely roundup for Hubspot of “When Press Releases Do (and Don’t) Help Your Marketing” in case you’re still not sure whether it’s worth your time to write a press release.
If you know you are ready to write a press release, but still need some pointers on what to do and what not to do, you’re at the right place. So, without further ado…
Do consider your audience when writing press releases.
Let’s consider first that a press release is a news release for the press. When I say “press” here, I am referring to those who consider themselves part of the fourth estate, such as reporters, journalists and freelancers for print media, producers for broadcast media, show hosts for podcasts and also bloggers. (Pretty long list!)
Knowing that, make sure you communicate the “news” in your press release clearly and prominently. Segment your long list of media so that you can target your press release with the hooks and angles that will grab their attention.
Also, news media (should you be so lucky to get their attention) are strapped for time, so keep your press release succinct. Try to stay between 200 and 500 words. If your press release is longer than this, you’re probably juggling two or more news messages worthy of their own releases. Or you’re trying to communicate to too many audiences with one missive.
Don’t write your press release in the first person.
In my many years freelancing, I have proofed and edited too many client press releases written entirely in the first person. This is a no-no for your press release. Blog posts? No problem. Formal letter or a personal email? Have at it. But for a press release: do not pass go in the first person.
If there is only one lesson you take away from this blog post, please let it be this: Do not ever write a press release entirely in the first person singular (“I”) or plural (“we”). Write your press release as if you’re on the outside, looking in. Write it as if you were a reporter for your favorite national newspaper and your editor gave you the assignment of writing the news article (between 200-500 words) about your latest book.
Remember how time-strapped I said journalists are? Say you just sent out a press release that included some interesting data supporting Joe Journalist’s upcoming story. He tried to phone you, but you were on a flight to a seminar. He might just swipe a couple lines from your press release and cite that it was your official perspective. After all that’s what a press release is: an official announcement of your news to the press.
Do tailor your press release for your audience and front-load your news angle.
Even when you intend to release your updates to “the press”, you will still need to cherry pick your reporters, producers and bloggers by beat. Then tailor your news release to their focus. If you wrote and published a book about beauty tips while traveling, for instance, members of the media that focus on travel and/or beauty might be interested.
Don’t forget local media, associations, alma maters, and niche bloggers.
While we’re on the subject of your audience and the media… Don’t forget to add audiences that are more interested in what’s happening in their backyards than in world news. So, think locally. Is there a used bookstore that hosts local writers? Have you shared your news with your schools? What about your local church? Or your neighborhood newspaper? Your university’s alumni association often manages some form of newsletter or means of informing your former classmates. Your “Libatiously Looping Ladies” get-together might surprise you! If any of them ever say, “How interesting! I’d love to share your news with my network,” give them your official press release. They will pass it on.
When writing press releases, do keep the inverted pyramid in mind.
Make sure the first two sentences of your press release are crystal clear. This means, come out with your news first and don’t keep your time-strapped news-hungry readers guessing. I use the Who-What-Where-When-How-Why model. Usually, it boils down to:
- “Who is doing what” in the first sentence.
- “When, where and how” can the release’s readers (or the media’s readers) benefit from the news in the second sentence.
- And the third sentence (if you haven’t suavely integrated this in the first two sentences) handles why is this news relevant to the recipients and their readers. This is usually a reference to the newsworthiness of your release. For instance, you might write, “This is the first book to combine travel and beauty tips for black women traveling south of the equator”.
Here’s the idea behind writing a release with the inverted pyramid in mind: If a publication wanted to swipe your copy and publish it in their paper, they could simply hack off paragraphs from the bottom up without losing the meaning or context of your news. Technically, the first paragraph (the lead paragraph) should be sufficient information for the essence of the release’s news. Following paragraphs elaborate on key components, or provide color to your release.
Do include a quote or two.
Here is where you can use the first person. Include a quote by you, and make it count! Let’s say a blogger decided to write a post on beauty tips while traveling and stumbled on your recent press release through the internet. All she was looking for was a good quote from an expert on the subject matter. And she found your press release! Aren’t you glad you didn’t write, “We think make-up that travels well is great!” Instead you said something informed and knowledgeable. You might have said something like, “Our studies showed nine out of 10 women freshen up their make-up before landing. We were surprised to learn that mascara was the number one beauty product in women’s travel bags.” This is your chance to show your expertise. The blogger might swipe the quote, or might want to find out more about your studies and interview you.
Don’t play hard to get.
Assume your press release will be distributed and published far and wide. So, even if you don’t want to be stalked, do provide some means of contact for people who are interested in your news. Include your publishable and public business details, such as an email and web address.
Back in the day when press releases were submitted by telex, fax and mail, PR people used to include their contact information at the top of the page–after “For Immediate Release” and the date. Today, most media want their press releases by email. Don’t lose precious “preview language” (your awesome lead paragraph) with that language. Make sure you keep your contact information at the end.
That’s it — my top seven Dos and Don’ts for writing press releases.
No blog post would be complete without me sharing an example of one of my own press releases. Here is one I wrote for my alma maters, regarding the publication of The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy. I tailored this press release for each school I graduated from–so it included the name of the school, the college I graduated from, and my year of graduation. For my blog, I decided to leave this information a bit more general. Last, but not least, as a rule, I never email a press release without a pitch. So, usually, my customized release is copied and pasted at the bottom of my email and accompanies a pitch. This “alum release” was reposted (with a quick comment) in LinkedIn.
How’s that for a teaser headline to introduce a recently (traditionally) published author?
Hannah McKinnon actually finished that statement with less provocation: “…without being able to cope with critique”. As someone who wrote a book, found an agent to represent her and then scored a deal with a publishing house, she should know. Whether you’re an indie or traditionally-published author, critique is unavoidable–and perhaps entirely necessary, not only for being in this business, but also for success.
Some of you might recognize Hannah McKinnon’s name from her #WhatIf blog tour in June: Living in Cyn hosted a chapter from her debut novel, Time After Time. Now, we get to hear a little bit about who she is and her experiences becoming an author!
As usual, our questions are in grey and Hannah’s responses are in regular, black type. Read on!
Name/ Age/ Website… Hannah McKinnon, age 45, www.hannahmckinnonwriter.com
Where do you currently reside? I’ve lived in Oakville, Ontario (Canada) since mid-2010.
What’s your hometown/origin? There’s no short answer to that ☺
I was born in Stockport, near Manchester in the UK. When I was one, my parents moved the family to Switzerland (where my dad was born) and we lived in Interlaken for a number of years. When I was eight we moved to the Lake District in the UK, then back to Interlaken when I was eleven, where I stayed until I finished school. After that I lived in Geneva and Neuchâtel before moving to Canada in 2010.
So am I British, Swiss or Canadian? Well, my sense of humour is definitely British. I’m as timely as a Swiss train (oh, I love cheese too). And I like to think I’m as open and friendly as the Canadians. So that makes me all three!
You mention on your website that you “decided to follow [your] oldest passion” and started writing at some point in your forties. Can you remember when you first re-discovered this passion? How did that happen? How did you know? I’d thought about writing a book for a number of years and had a couple of one-page drafts and outlines, but never found the time to do anything with them. The idea for Time After Time literally popped into my head one summer. The concept was so clear, I wrote the entire outline in under three hours. And that was it – I was hooked and knew I had to finish the novel.
Your debut novel, Time After Time, was just recently published (June 2016). Congrats! Can you share a synopsis? Thank you! It’s such an exciting time.
Time After Time (Amazon US, UK) is all about choices and the paths not taken. The protagonist, Hayley Cooper fantasizes about what her life would be like if only if she’d made different choices. It’s understandable; the past two years have been hell. She barely sees her kids, her boss is trying to sabotage her, and her marriage is falling apart. Burnt out, Hayley goes to sleep wishing for a different life. When she wakes up married to her first boyfriend, one she has not seen in over twenty years, she realizes there might be some truth in the saying “be careful what you wish for”.
So, over a single weekend, and just like Ebenezer Scrooge, Hayley gets to see her life on other side of the white picket fence – not just with her first ex, but with each of her past loves. The question is, is the grass always greener? And will she ever want to go home?
Many of my readers are writers. Some of them are self-publishing their works, while others are going the traditional route to publishing. It appears you have lucked out with the latter. Do you have any secrets to your success in landing a publisher/ agent? My writing course teacher, Brian Henry, once said, “There are three keys to getting published traditionally. You need a great manuscript, a healthy dose of luck, and buckets of perseverance. The good news is that, most of the time, two out of those three will suffice.”
Personally, I’d add a fourth item to the list; dealing with feedback. It’s almost impossible to be in this business without being able to cope with critique. At times it can be incredibly difficult to hear and accept, but when you do, it will make your writing stronger.
So what worked for me? I think my perseverance definitely paid off. I was absolutely determined to get an agent, and just as unwavering about getting a publishing deal. It was tough, I can’t deny it – the rejections, the waiting, the seemingly endless rounds of edits … But I didn’t give up because so many people had said the concept of Time After Time was a great one. Their encouragement kept me going.
So what about the other key, ‘a great manuscript’? I’d like the readers to be the judge of that.
Looking back on the process of getting representation, could you say there was one thing you would do differently if you had known then what you now know? I wish I’d taken some writing courses earlier, and that I’d had my manuscript assessed by an independent editor before I submitted it to agents the first time around. To be honest, I was pretty arrogant in my “I read therefore I can write” attitude. Looking back, I’m not surprised in the least by the rejections I received. Actually, I cringe a little when I read the first draft of my manuscript.
On the other hand, ignorance can be bliss. If I’d known how long it would take to get this far, how many rounds of rejection – revision – rejection I’d go through, maybe I wouldn’t have had quite as much drive to persevere.
My readers and community are also very much interested in the writing process. How do you go about getting words on a page? Do you take a freestyle approach, just sit down and write–or are you methodical? A little bit of both. With the exception of Time After Time, I seem to come up with the beginnings and endings of stories, but am not entirely sure what will happen in the middle (and sometimes the endings change too).
I like to write a short outline, maybe a page or two, then jump right in. I’m not the most patient of people, so writing pages of detailed outlines really isn’t for me. If I get stuck with the story once I’ve started, then I’ll go back to the outline and work on it some more until I find the right direction to move in. And sometimes the characters take over, and lead me to plot points that hadn’t occurred to me, which is so much fun.
Some writers say they already know the story they want to tell before they’ve even written the first word. Others say writing the first draft of fiction is a process of discovery every time they sit down to write. How did Time After Time come about? The idea for Time After Time was crystal clear. I knew exactly what I wanted Hayley’s journey to be, and how the story should end. Having said that, if I compare the first draft to the final version, the essence of the story is still the same, but I added more layers, depth and complexity to the story and Hayley’s situation. I also interwove the past and present chapters far more for better pacing,
All of this wasn’t done alone, far from it. I had input first from family and friends, then my writing group, beta-readers, an independent editor and my agent. Everybody’s feedback shaped the story in one way or another, and I’m so grateful to work with such amazing people who share my passion for this book.
Could you describe a typical day for you? … And when in that day to you squeeze in writing time? I’m fortunate in that I work from home, and therefore have a lot of flexibility. During the week I’m up around 6am, preparing lunches for our three sons. Once they’ve left for school I’ll sort out pending correspondence, anything administrative, whether it’s for my husband’s electrical company the kids’ schools, personal finances, etc. I like to get all of that out of the way before I write – which sometimes means I don’t get to write anything!
I’ll stop writing when the boys come home in the afternoon, and will often continue once they’re in bed. I like to keep the weekends free for family time.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? What do you recommend to aspiring authors dealing with writer’s block? Oh, I’ve definitely been stuck a number of times. Various things have helped, such as going to the gym or out for a walk, skipping the chapter that’s proving to be difficult and working on the next, writing something completely different (a short story, for example), setting a timer for thirty minutes and writing without editing – even sleeping on it can help sometimes. It’s amazing what your subconscious will do for you if you simply let it be.
Do you have any new projects brewing at the moment? My second novel, working title THE SECRETS THAT MAKE US is with my agent and will be submitted to publishers within the coming weeks. I’ve also finished the first in a series of children’s early-grade chapter books (ages 6-9). Right now I’m working on two things – a middle-grade book (ages 9-12) and the outline of my next adult fiction novel.
Coffee or Tea? Tea with milk and 1 ¼ teaspoons of sugar (the ¼ is what makes it perfect!). Although a frothy, decaf cappuccino or an iced coffee are very welcome too.
Any questions you wish I’d ask you? I think you covered a lot of ground. Thank you! ☺
Connect With Hannah McKinnon!
You can connect with Hannah through the following links, or you can say Hi to her in the comments!
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