Press Releases, A Primer

Yesterday a writing friend sent me a request for help in formulating a press release for a reading for her hometown paper. As I was writing the response I realized the topic might make a good post here. Hopefully Lyda will chime in on the topic to correct or expand on my points since she has more experience with these than I do.

First, a general note on writing press releases.

The main thing to remember is the goals of the press release in descending order:
1. Getting your name and its association with publishing in front of the maximum number of eyeballs.
2. Getting the name of the current publication in front of same along with purchasing information.
3. Promoting the specific event if there is one associated with the press release.
4. Including details that will help the people attached to the eyeballs remember the first three goals in the same order.
5. Everything else.

Now, on to the specifics of the reading release.

Do it in standard journalism reverse pyramid style. Start with the important stuff in the first paragraph, who, what, where, when, why. Something like:

Para 1, Hometown writer, your name here will be signing copies of the title[s] at bookstore x at date and time. If it’s a collection–the anthologies include name’s story title as well as stories by big name authors here. Publisher and purchasing information here with the more prestigious and easily available publications first. Make sure to note that the books will be available at the signing. Updated 2013: Per Lyda’s comments on the original post, it’s always better if you have an event of some kind attached to the press release as that makes it more newsworthy for most journalists.

Para 2, Any other professional awards or credits if you’ve got them. Otherwise go to paragraph 3.

Para 3, this paragraph should be optimized for the specific paper, in the case of the release I mentioned above it’s a hometown paper: Biographical information about your links to the area and how you got your start in writing there–this can be reading stuff, or writing stories for school or whatever. The key is to make the links between this town and your writing. If you’ve got some tie to the bookstore, mention it here. That will remind the readers of the where and make the store remember your name fondly.

Next paragraph on what you write and why.

Further paragraphs expanding on the above.

The key with these is to get the information that the reader needs to go to the event up front and to follow up with why its important in this particular venue and after that a half dozen or so paragraphs of filler and biographical info. When a paper takes a press release that’s the order they want to see things in. Also, finish each paragraph such that the article could end right there. Smaller newspapers are likely to run the whole thing, but big ones will only run as many column inches as they have space for and will stop when they run out whether the press release has ended or not.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog July 17 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)