Writing Press Releases: 7 DOs and DON’Ts

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.

a press release contains your official language. Cynthia T. Luna 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.

Think locally when writing press releases. Cynthia T. LunaRemember 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.

Don't play hard to get.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.

Writing Press Releases: 7 DOs & DON'Ts / Cynthia T. Luna / LivinginCyn.comNo 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.

Giveaway on InstaFreebie! The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy & Other Non-Fiction and Fiction Titles

You can imagine my delight this weekend, when I discovered that The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy had been featured on InstaFreebie! There’s still time to download this and a range of other books in the InstaFreebie #FreebieFriday offer, so don’t delay if you see something that appeals!

freebiefridayfacebooksizedAre you a reader?

If you’re an avid reader, then make sure you sign up to receive new releases from InstaFreebie regularly. You can choose your favorite genres and discover new authors. All you need to do is click and read!

Are you a writer?

If you’re a writer, or an indie author, make sure you bookmark this site! InstaFreebie helps you promote your work to new readers, and it also helps you build your author platform! There are free and paid options for authors to feature their works.

Run Don't Walk for Your First 10k Readers à la Nick Stephenson / Cynthia T. Luna / LivinginCyn.comYou may have seen my blog post on setting up your mailing list à la Nick Stephenson. If you haven’t make sure you give it a quick read! It’s a useful precursor to getting your email management account primed for handling all your new subscribers.

The Aspiring Author's Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy by C.T. Luna, featured on Instafreebie

My book was featured under “Business” and overnight there was a bump in new subscribers to my mailing list.

Okay, maybe bump is an understatement. My list grew by 700% in 24 hours!

My book is about marketing strategy, and how it’s important to be clear on what you want to accomplish with your book marketing efforts.

In my case, my goal has been to reach out to other writers and help them in the way that I can: by sharing my marketing knowledge while learning from experts of the writing craft. Believe me, I have met some really talented people: from bestselling and newly published authors to successful indie and aspiring authors. That’s been the ultimate win for me so far: I’m crafting my dream job!

Marketing Tips #TacticalTues Living in CynBut I digress…

And now I’m curious. As a reader or a writer what are your favorite book giveaway sites? Which one’s have you found turn up the best books, or have the best readers? Leave your comment below…

Run, don’t walk, to get your First 10k Readers… (Or, How I set up my Author Platform à la Nick Stephenson)

The Aspiring Author's Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy by C.T. LunaOkay, I rarely say things like this, but I have a huge marketing crush on Nick Stephenson. Why? Well, first a little back story…

Shortly after I finished writing my first book (pictured right) I realized I needed to build an author platform. Basically, I needed to build an email list of people who enjoy reading, who like to read my work/words, and who would be interested in hearing more updates from me.  Continue reading “Run, don’t walk, to get your First 10k Readers… (Or, How I set up my Author Platform à la Nick Stephenson)”

My First Book! Write Your Marketing Strategy

This won’t be the last time you hear about my brand new book, The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy.

It’s written with the aspiring author in mind, who is so focused on writing her debut book (fiction or nonfiction) that by the time she’s ready to self-publish she doesn’t have a marketing strategy in place.

The Aspiring Author's Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy by C.T. Luna

It is now available on Amazon for USD $6.99, but if you’re willing to give it an honest review, I’m happy to share a review copy with you. (Just send me an email at cynthia[at]livingincyn[dot]com and I’ll make sure to get a review copy in your hands.) Continue reading “My First Book! Write Your Marketing Strategy”

Marketing 101: Aspiring Authors! Avoid Scammy Marketing Tactics. Define Your Readers

This blog post is part of a series for aspiring authors who are in the process of writing a book, know they will have a book in the near-ish future, and are wondering how they can get their author platform started. While you may simply begin here to develop a strategic approach, you might find it helpful to read my earlier blog posts about taking stock of your digital assets or establishing your goals first.

Without further ado, let’s move onward with setting strategic goals for building an author platform before your novel is out!

If You Know Whom You’re Selling To, Marketing Does Not Have To Be Scammy

I think it’s worth taking a moment at this point to touch upon an issue that anybody who has created a product for sale butts up against: the concern that they are the annoying, scammy, sleaze ball sales guy who speaks of nothing other than the “product of the century”—or worse, the lack of concern!

Marketing does not have to be slimy. Appeal to your audience. via @CynthiaTLuna | LivinginCyn.com

We all know the feeling of being that customer locked in the crosshairs of a desperate sales guy. Usually, when marketing messages revolve around me, my product/ my book/ my method, you’ll notice that your sales pitch falls flat.

You’ve become that guy who hasn’t yet realised his date has walked out the back door, never to return.

It doesn’t have to be that way, if you approach marketing with an understanding of the relationship you want to develop with your audience(s), you are shifting away from a one-way (beg-and-be-ignored) communications model, to a  two-way model. You are now able to communicate from a place of passionate enthusiasm with others who are also passionate and enthusiastic too. Your stand is the one at the market that’s responding to shoppers’ curiosity, questions, needs and wants. No need for scammy bait and switch tactics, you’re making yourself available for a dialogue. You’re throwing a party that even you want to party in too.

Who Are Your Readers? Define Your Audience

No marketing strategy can be developed without this step. It is absolutely imperative that you narrow down your audience, know your readers.

“But my masterpiece will benefit everyone! This work is for the general public!”

When was the last time you defined yourself as “general public”? Unless you consider yourself absolutely unoriginal and completely bland, my guess is that you have never referred to yourself in this way. Members of the general public don’t refer to themselves in this way, either—so, if you’re gearing up to offer them anything, your product, your service, your masterpiece, you’re best off communicating with the market most likely to purchase from you.

Marketing 101: When did you last refer to yourself as the general public? via @CynthiaTLuna | LivinginCyn.com

Beginning with Heart

My process always begin with me, the creator of my work.

You are the Creator of your work—whether it’s fiction or non-fiction—you are the heartbeat, the life-giver of your work. So, we’re going to develop a Character File on You, because, ultimately, you created your book for you. So, the first exercise in this section is:

Character File: You, the Creator.

The first step is to describe yourself without mentioning your name. You’re a writer, so describing yourself shouldn’t be hard. But you’re best off starting with the basics. In marketing lingo, this is usually described as “demographic information”. Most of this information is usually available in a national census or some other public information source. Because we’re talking about you here, you should know this information.

  • Name of Subject: (leave this blank to start)
  • Gender:
  • Age:
  • Main language (language your book is written in)
  • Education (highest degree). And educational reference to your work.
  • Nationality/ Cultural identity/ Religion. This is especially important if this is relevant to your book or the market it is being presented to.
  • [Fill in the Blank]. Depending on the nature of the book you’re writing or the product you’re creating, you may want to have a qualifier that helps define you a little more closely. Suggestions for this might be something like, “Pay Range”, “Home Owner”, “Three-time Spelling Bee finalist”, “President of the Lady Loopers, Knitting and Crochet Membership Association”, “New Yorker/City Dweller”, “Trekkie”, “Foodie” or “YouTube vlogger” or any other category that is particularly interesting to you. You might be presenting a certain expertise in that area, which is also represented in your book. This may or may not be applicable in fiction, but JK Rowling (when she was an aspiring author) could have written something like “single mother who reads to her children” here, or a sci-fi/fantasy writer could put “former rocket scientist” or “sandwich artist” in this category.

Okay, now that you have that sorted, you can release your inner creative with what is commonly referred to as “psychographic information”. You probably have noticed that we already started doing this above.

Create a character file on yourself: The creator of your work.

What makes you tick? 

Have you ever watched the television series, “Criminal Minds”? The show is about a team of FBI agents who work for the “Behavioral Analysis Unit”. Every time they take on a case, they have to create a criminal profile of the unknown subject (“unsub” for short). Basically, I am asking you to be the behavioral analyst for yourself. Your job is to turn the Creator into a character that exhibits habits that make her believable, predictable and likeable.

Start by writing a small paragraph on the Creator. You might find it easiest to de-tach yourself from your idea of yourself and write your file notes in third person (i.e., “The Creator wakes up daily before the crack of dawn” or “The unsub never skips a meal”).

Here are some ideas to get your thoughts flowing to develop a paragraph about the Creator. Some things you might consider:

  • Does the creator wake up at the same time every
  • Cake or eggs for breakfast?
  • Does the creator have a day job she loves, hates, both? Why?
  • How does she like to consume her information? On paper, in an e-reader?
  • What kind of fiction/ non-fiction (depending on your work) does the Creator consistently turn to?
  • What other writers/ authors/ bloggers does she turn to again and again? (Name two to five)
  • What social media does the creator “play” in when she’s not working? Does she follow some folks on a regular basis? Why? (Name two to five)

Now, for the pièce de résistance, give this “Creator” a fictional name. Ideally, this is a code name that will help you remember some of the standout characteristics for this character. When you’re developing your messaging, you’ll be using this as an authenticity-check to ask yourself, “Does this sentence really sound like [code name here]?”

For example, maybe you are writing a book about the numerous benefits of eating eggs. As a result, you look and feel better than ever, and you want to share this news with everyone. Fortunately, you already know better than to tout your method to the “general public”.

You’ve developed a code name for the Creator, and it’s Crafty Carol Benedict. Before you write your next blog post, you might ask yourself, “How would Crafty Carol Benedict write a blog post to busy moms about the health benefits of eggs instead of cake for breakfast?”

Your Voice Comes Straight from the Heart

As a writer, you have most probably heard about “finding your voice” and having that come across in your writing. I think this means, “writing from the heart”.

By developing a Creator profile, you have established the innermost circle of your audience targets. In fact, this audience is in essence the core (cœur) of your audiences, and the next concentric circles expand on this core.

Your Inspiration Expands from the Core

As you continue to think about your code name. Think authors who have inspired Crafty Carol Benedict, these are authors to whom you, the writer, refer again and again. Crafty Carol would also refer her readers to these authors, because of the knowledge and inspiration she gained from them. This concentric circle would be “Similar Authors”.

In the world of business marketing, these people would generally be called competitors—though, in the world of books, entertainment, education and knowledge, I see these people more as a source of inspiration, rather than competition.

Identify at least three authors who inspired your work. Now, picture your book standing next to theirs on the bookstore shelves. Find out the main categories (bookshelves) on which these authors’ works are found.

Under each Inspiring Author’s name, jot down notes with some of the below questions in mind. Of course, use these questions only as a means towards guiding your note-taking, and not as a must-respond for each:

  • What’s the title of their book that’s most similar to yours? Why?
  • What problem of yours did they address?
  • Is the Creator (i.e., Crafty Carol Benedict) their primary audience? — As a side note, answering “no” to this question can be a very powerful indication as to the need your book is filling. For example you might say that the Inspiring Author’s work was a protein diet book, written by a male triathlete for other young, athletic males. Crafty Carol speaks to and for moms who are looking for health solutions for parents and kids (growing bodies).
  • Are you their primary audience? Continuing with the example above, you might have expertise in food and nutrition, but you didn’t write your book for fellow nutritionists, so “you” as the expert are not your primary audience for this book.
  • How did you discover your Inspiring Author?
  • What is a primary frustration for the Inspiring Author’s audience?
  • What does your book offer that theirs don’t?

Your Inspiring Authors occupy the space immediately surrounding the Creator’s (your) inner-most circle. A lot of what they do will inform your marketing decisions—but not everything. You will quickly see what will work for you, and what won’t, because in this next, last step, you’ll be identifying your primary reader’s persona.

Your readers are looking for you

Your readers (or “customers” in marketing speak) occupy the circle surrounding your competitors. By this stage, we have drawn a three-ringed dartboard with the “Creator” character in the center, Inspiring Authors in the middle circle, and “readers” in the outermost circle.

Now, I’m not a very good darts player, but I’m good enough that most of the time, I’ll at least hit the board—even if I don’t come close to the bull’s eye. That’s sort of the principle here.

What if we put a powerful magnet behind the bull’s eye on the dart board? The iron-tipped darts would be almost magically drawn to the bull’s eye! So far, in defining your target audience you have already identified the bull’s eye, we’ve also widened the board by identifying the Inspiring Authors. And because of these two rings, we have a pretty good idea of the kinds of readers would be drawn by both rings.

Understanding your reader

Now, you’re going to define your readers. You’ll note that the process for defining this target is upside down.

We’ll tap into the creative writer in you, and delve right into the psychographics of your primary reader.

Start with a one-sentence response to the following question:

  • What does a typical day look like for your reader?

Don’t read more into this question than you need to. Basically, why does he get out of bed every morning and what’s the first thing he does? Some readers drive to work every day, while others take public transportation. Some are female and some are male. Some have kids. Some stay at home and don’t wake up at the same time ever. Some go to college or high school. This one sentence snapshot applies whether you’re working on fiction or non-fiction.

  • Now, think about this reader’s primary frustration or problem, and what your book does to address it. (You can write one, two or three sentences. But keep it simple.)

For those fiction writers among you, rolling your eyes, this question applies to you too.

Write a letter form the heart. Gather emotional intelligence on your reader.

REader Character file: Gathering emotional intelligence on your readers

Put yourself in your readers’ shoes, and imagine them at the moment that their frustration presented itself. Where are they? Are they sitting at their desks? Back at home? Do they need to learn something quickly?

Or maybe they’re already home—and the children have heard all the story books that are on the shelf. Your readers need another age-appropriate book to read to their children by writers they can trust. Something that’s not too scary, too distressing, or keeps their imagination going.

In fact, for fiction and non-fiction writers, this should be a piece of cake!

  • Now, compose your final sentence, based on this model: “If only [reader] knew, he wouldn’t have to worry about [frustration] anymore.”

Towards the bottom of the page, you’ll see that you can also complete their vital stats there. Your imagination—the images that flitted through your mind, will clue you in on these elements.

  • Gender
  • Age range
  • Language
  • Religion. Again, complete what applies to your book.
  • Hometown/Region. (If applicable.)
  • Education
  • Civil Status (Parents?)
  • Career track
  • Anything else that seems pertinent to your reader.

Now, go up to the top of the page and provide a code name for this Primary Reader (P.C. Polly, Daddy Worrywart, or Kash-strapped Kelly)—again, whatever it is that reminds you of their first frustration and reminds you of who your target audience is.

You may have thought of two types of readers for your books. If so, go ahead and develop another Character File on that reader type, but I strongly recommend, you limit your main readers to the two. Also, make sure you clearly identify which one of the two audiences is your primary audience.

The Aspiring Author's Guide: Marketing Strategy, by Cynthia T. Luna - BLOG COVER

Dear Aspiring Author, Defining your audience is the third step to developing your marketing strategy… And You’ve Just Taken It!

Congratulations! You’ve just done something a lot of people neglect, and wish (later on down the marketing road) they had done earlier. You took stock of your situationset your goals in reading the previous blog posts, and now you’ve defined your voice and your audience! All these steps give you clarity Both of these steps are necessary, because they not only give you clarity on how you will take the next step in promoting your book when it’s out.

You’re just beginning your book marketing journey — while you’re writing your novel or non-fiction book. You don’t have loads of time. So, you want to be smart while you start building an author platform, because every minute of your spare time counts!

You might be wondering why all this is helpful.

Setting a marketing strategy helps you set your priorities, so you’re free to move on. No more tinkering, reacting and spending ages barking up the wrong tree. Now you know whom you will be developing messages for and whose voice will be delivering that message.

Also, if you plan to outsource any of your marketing, promotional or design work, you’ll save yourself and your consultants a world of grief by preparing this for those people you talk to. If you’ve already defined the characteristics of your dartboard, then you can present these file notes to your book cover designer, website designer—or, in another example, you can see if it’s worth the time and expense to interview with Lance Armstrong on a radio show, or if it makes more sense for Crafty Carol to contribute a column for Martha Stewart Magazine.

Now you know who is looking for the itch you’re out to scratch, where they’re most likely to look, and you’re even keyed into what influences their decision to pick your itch-scratcher over that of another.

I am cataloguing and sharing my process for setting a Marketing Strategy with you in (almost) real time

The Aspiring Author's Guide: Marketing Strategy, by Cynthia T. Luna - BLOG COVERAt the time of writing this blog post, I do not have a published work for sale on the market. In fact, I am currently editing my first draft of a novel that I know I want to launch as an eBook in the Spring of 2016. Besides getting to the finish line with my novel, my goal is to start with laying the groundwork on my marketing plan and even implementing those parts of the marketing plan that I know I can.

Feel free to join me on my book-writing and marketing journey. If you have any thoughts, tips or comments in general, please let me know via comment, Twitter @cynthiatluna or email at cynthia[at]livingincyn[dot]com!

Bloggers Commenting BackIf you are already a published author, any comments you have to impart on your experience(s) will be gobbled up and appreciated by the rest of us. Please comment, and certainly let me know if you think a “karmic exchange” from aspiring author to another aspiring author, or aspiring author to accomplished author might be worthwhile! 🙂