Murder Must Advertise
Sponsored by Jeffrey Marks
Taking the Mystery Out of Press Kits
A Guide for Authors and Publicists
© Lisa M. Dellwo
A press kit (also called a press packet, information packet or promotion pack) is a tool used by authors, publicists, and publishers to help in getting media coverage and bookstore appearances. Here I'll describe the basic contents of a press kit as well as some extras that may well help make your press kit stand out. I'll also discuss whether or not you should include a book with the press kit and how you should package it.
Press kits are best used for securing broadcast interviews, newspaper and magazine features, chats, and bookstore or other appearances. It is really not necessary to send a complete press kit to book reviewers; what they need is the actual book (or, for major reviewers, an advance reading copy followed by the finished book), the basic press release, and perhaps an author photo.
The Basic Press Kit
Let's begin with a few ground rules. First, and most importantly, Thou Shalt Not Be Annoying! This is not the place to try out all the neat typefaces that came with your new computer. Stick with something basic, like Times New Roman, using 11- or 12-point type, and double-space if possible (some programs allow 1.5 spacing). Copy your materials onto fairly neutral paper--no dark reds or greens. I once sent a press release on neon yellow paper so that it would stand out. I was horrified when one editor told me that she kept covering it up because it hurt her eyes!
Next, make it easy for the recipient to contact you. Every sheet of paper in the press kit should have contact information: name, phone number, and email address. It's perfectly acceptable to include two contact names; for instance:
Media contact: Jane Blue, 202-555-5555, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bookstore contact: Joe Scarlet, 212-555-5555, email@example.com
In fact, it's a good idea to create press kit letterhead with this vital information on it: Title, author, publisher, price, page count, ISBN number, website url, and contact(s). That way, if your author bio gets separated from the press release, the recipients will still know whose bio they are reading!
Press Release. Usually one page long, the press release describes your book in two or three paragraphs and also includes this important information: price, page count, isbn number, publisher, and contact information. I prefer press releases written in straightforward, journalistic language rather than the hard-sell approach of some advertising. You can include an advance quote or two in the press release, at the very beginning or end. I always include a brief author biography at the end of the press release, even though the press kit should also include a separate biography (see below).
Author Biography. When you're writing this, imagine that it will be used to introduce you by radio or television interviewers, by booksellers at autographings, or by moderators at conventions. Use the biography to introduce your credentials for writing the book: previous books, any related professional or educational experience, and so on. Be sure to mention where you live--critical information for booksellers and media who like to support local or regional authors. If your background includes radio or television experience, mention this so that interviewers will know that you're not green.
Blurbs and Review Quotes. There is some disagreement on the value of advance blurbs. But if you've got them, use them, on a sheet entitled "Advance Praise for Book Title." As you start receiving reviews, add favorable quotes from them to the top of this sheet (because these are taken more seriously than blurbs). This may sound self-evident, but be sure to attribute the blurbs. I recently came across a press kit with several laudatory statements enclosed in quotation marks, anonymously. It turned out they were drawn from the publisher's jacket copy. Although I believe the author didn't mean to be deceptive, I found this practice questionable.
Copies of Important Reviews. In addition to adding review quotes to your blurb sheet, also include photocopies of complete reviews from several publications, especially the most prestigious ones. It's a good way of reinforcing the critical reception your book has gotten. When my own book was reviewed in Southern Living, I included a photocopy in the press kit I sent to two bookstores that were hosting me for autographings. At both events, my bookseller hosts mentioned the review and circulated it to the people attending--who were very impressed. I doubt that a "blurb sheet" would have received this same attention.
Author Photo. Booksellers in particular will want to have a photo to use when they are promoting your event, and many newspapers will include author photos with reviews or interview stories. Black-and-white was once the norm, but color is being used more often now (for color, use slides instead of not prints). Consider having both available, and also having a scanned version of each that you could email to people who can use electronic files. Put a label on the back or border that identifies you and your book title and that gives a contact name and phone number.
Avoid using casual snapshots, and think twice about getting your spouse or best friend to take your author photo. Because this photo will be reproduced, it needs to be high quality.
If you want to avoid the expense of reproducing multiple copies of your photograph, make a photocopy of it to include in the press kit with a note that a print, slide, or electronic version is available upon request.
Book Jacket. People do judge books by their covers, so go ahead and include a jacket (or a postcard or photograph depicting the jacket) in the press kit. Some newspapers and bookstores will want to reproduce it as well. Better to include it than to wait for them to ask.
Tour Schedule. Include a list of appearances and interviews to your press kit, and keep it up to date.
Pitch Letter. The pitch letter appears last on this list because it should be composed after everything else has been written. But it should appear at the top of the press kit. Think of the pitch letter as the cover letter that accompanies a resume. This letter needs to sell the recipient on reading further and it should make very clear the result you want: an interview, an autographing, or a "drive-by." If you've spoken to the person already, be sure to mention that in the letter, preferably at the beginning: "As we discussed Saturday, I will be in Jacksonville in early March and would be available for a booksigning in your store on the 2nd, 8th, or 9th."
Optional Press Kit Enclosures
Author Q&A. Think of questions you've been asked--or would like to be asked--and then write down the answers in a mock author interview. I particularly like these because they suggest questions that an interviewer might profitably ask you. (Some people simply include a list of suggested interview questions, but an author Q&A is a more subtle approach.) This document also gives you the opportunity to cover information that doesn't fit into your press release--interesting background, your favorite scene, your special qualifications for writing such a book.
Articles you've written. Again, if you are an expert on a particular topic, you can help establish your credibility by including one or two articles that you've written on the subject. For instance, if you write gardening mysteries and you are a gardening journalist, definitely add one or two of your columns (and be sure to send a few press kits to radio shows on gardening).
Novelties. It's fun to include a memorable novelty--if it's related to your book's topic. For the Thomas Wolfe novel The Party at Jack's, I had balloons and cocktail napkins printed with the book's title and artwork. Some other ideas: recipe cards for food-related books, seed packets for novels with a gardening milieu, temporary tattoos for a book that highlights tattoos. I've also seen--and used--notepads, magnets, lapel pins, and even coasters imprinted with book information, but these ideas seem stale and generic to me compared to novelties that directly tie into the book.
What About Including the Book?
Whether you should include a copy of your book (or a galley or advance reading copy) with your press kit depends on a couple of factors, including your budget, the scope of your campaign, and your willingness to follow up quickly. If you are doing a mass mailing (more than 25 copies) to contacts who are mostly new to you, skip the book, but do include an excerpt. (My bookseller friends tell me that this is extremely helpful. Even if you don't end up having an autographing party, it helps them to hand-sell your book.
If your contact list is pretty targeted, and if you've made prior contact and already established interest, go ahead and enclose a book or galley.
Anyone who is seriously considering an interview or author event legitimately deserves to receive a copy. If you don't enclose a book, be sure to offer a copy in your pitch letter.
How to Package Your Press Kit
Traditionally, the components of a press kit are divided between the two pockets of a basic-issue pocket folder from any office supply store. It's a good idea to rubber-cement your book jacket (or a postcard depicting the jacket) on the front cover. I also like "slash jackets," which are basically one-half of a two-pocket folder but are harder to find.
Some publishers have fancy folders imprinted with their name or the individual book information. And some get even fancier--the publicist for a guidebook to historic cemeteries sent her press materials in small coffin-shaped boxes. While this fancy packaging can be attention-getting, it really isn't necessary.
You can also convert your press kit materials to HTML and add them to your website.
If you'd rather spend your time writing books than press releases, I can help by writing your press kit and helping to develop mailing lists for press kits and review copies. I also have experience in online brand awareness campaigns. Email me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa M. Dellwo is a book publicist and copywriter with 15 years of experience. More recently, she has begun exploring the power of the internet for marketing books. Lisa reviews mysteries for About.com and is the coauthor of Romantic North Carolina: More Than 300 Things for Southern Lovers to Do. In September 2000, her "mysterious" expertise will be showcased in The Mystery Lovers Crossword, a book of 55 puzzles for which she is compiling more than 2000 clues.