May 22, 2015
If finding the right contacts is half the battle of winning a media campaign, then knowing what to say is, of course, the other half. What you need to know here is that you don’t usually have a lot of leeway in your approach. It has to be spot on (to media sensibilities) to even compete with the tens or hundreds of other pitches they are receiving daily or it goes into the ‘round file’ (waste paper basket). Fortunately, unlike many of the ‘pitches’ they will be receiving, a local resident publishing a book is a newsworthy item in and of itself. What will secure their interest further is your upcoming reading and talk at your local bookstore. This works on multiple counts: Firstly, events, like publishing itself, are also considered newsworthy items—so to publish and then give a reading is in effect a double whammy of impact. Secondly, an event at your local bookstore operates as a subtle branding in your favor by aligning you as an author with the already established brand of your local bookseller. In essence the sheer fact of it conveys a sense of instant legitimacy to you and your work. The fact that there is an event also implies the interest of others and is yet another potentially impactful perception.
The key to writing a successful letter to your media contacts is to let the above facts do the work for you. You simply need to report on them. Add some personal touches, a dash of humility, a dash of boldness where you ask for you want, and you have the basics of a winning formula. For example, here is a letter that contains all of the components just mentioned. Note the absence of hyperbole while still covering a strong sense of the book’s importance: (The letter is just make-believe.)
“Dear Ms. Media Contact: My name is Paula Cohen and I am a longtime Hudson Valley resident. In fact I grew up here and went to school at Rhinebeck Central. As you may know I completed my Masters at Bard a few years ago and now teach there. I am so delighted to be able to tell you that I have finally published the book I have been working on for the last ten years. I will be giving a reading and talk on May 10 at 7pm at Oblong Books. It would be lovely to see you there if you can come.
I am, of course, enclosing a copy of my Stealing Our Water. I so hope you will review it. The book’s subject matter is of great interest to those living in our Hudson Valley. Stealing Our Water deals extensively with our local water rights and the legal and commercial pressures that are being brought to bear on this vital resource’s future. Stealing further explains how we got to the precarious place we are today, and what we can do to assure a positive future. Please know that I am available for interviews or any questions you may have. Thank you so much for your consideration. I am a big fan of your literary coverage for Chronogram Magazine.
Paula Cohen, email address, phone number”
When writing your own letter, relax and be yourself. You are a local, you have just published a book, and you are having a local event. You will get coverage unless something in your letter puts them off. An opening letter is not the place to take risks. Stick to the facts, and let your publishing facts do the influencing for you. If you have trouble relaxing in this situation, imagine you are talking to a sympathetic family member, as indeed you are when it comes to local media.
Lastly, there remains the question of how and when to transmit your communications. As soon as you have a set date from your bookseller, mail a copy to your top print accounts with a personalized copy of your book. Simultaneously email them notifying them that you have just mailed them a copy of your book and that you can be reached at this email. If you have not heard back within ten days or so, it’s OK to send another email asking for confirmation that they’ve received their review copy. Usually through this kind of process someone will respond and give you sense of their level of interest. If they are interested, be prepared to follow up multiple times. Media folk are very busy and a tentative commitment based on an initial enthusiasm can fail to materialize without such follow up. If they have expressed a sincere interest in the beginning, and they are a venue that is significant for you, it is not pushy to follow up, but rather a needful tenacity that is often appreciated by the venue as a mark of both professionalism and humility.