Headlines and Hooklines: Writing a Press Release

Yesterday morning I thought I’d do something nice for my book…so I sent out my press release to almost a dozen newspapers around my area, hoping someone will pick up my story and run with it.

I know this sounds a little intimidating to novice writers (and perhaps a few not-so-novice ones as well.) Press releases sound like terribly official and extremely elevated forms of publicity. Celebrities and experts and gala events get press releases…not us.

But did you ever try writing one? It’s really not that bad—and it can do your book a world of good.

A press release is free publicity.

Reporters for media outlets love them because they provide content. You, as a writer, should love press releases because they tell the audience exactly what you want them to know.

Even if you don’t need a press release yet, it’s a good writing exercise. We’ve practiced writing log lines and queries and elevator pitches. With that practice came ease and familiarity with simmering our 90k word masterpiece into pure concentrated glory. Use this as another writing exercise so, when the time comes to finally make an announcement, you can rip out a press release and send it to your editor so fast her head will spin.

Exercises like these often help writers find new focus in their manuscripts, as well. Writing a press release provides a sort of goal for the work-in-progress—how you want your book to be viewed once it’s released into the world.

A Press Release is NOT an Advertisement.

The key to writing an effective press release is to keep in mind who your target is: the journalist.

Weird, right? It’s not necessarily the publication’s audience. Just as a query letter is designed to snare the agent, a press release is meant to snare the journalist and get him to explore your story further. A press release is a huge billboard that says THERE’S A GREAT STORY HERE! and it lures all the news-hungry journalists over to see what’s going on.

Advertisements are for customers, not for journalists. Journalists aren’t looking to shop—they are looking to write articles for their publication.

Never exaggerate or hard-sell your book. Write the press release as if you are an objective reporter who found a news-worthy topic. Share an overview of the book and a general bit about the author. Keep it clean, keep it short, and keep it sharp. Don’t give a journalist the excuse to skim or, worse, pass on it.

Anatomy of a Press Release

Traditionally, a press release has a few main sections: the headline, the lead paragraph, the body, the boilerplate, and the close.

Headline: the title of your press release. This is the eye-catcher, the sparkling summary, the hook. Write it as you would a hook sentence. Inspire curiosity and an intense need to read further. You can also add a subhead, which is in smaller type below the headline. It’s another sentence or two providing more information—and more hooks. They aren’t always included but since this is an exercise for some of you, go the distance for extra credit. Make those hooks sharp.

Lead Paragraph: This should be informative, nothing more. This is the spot for the who-what-where-when of the press release. If you’re promoting fiction, you have a little wiggle room. Make it interesting but make it tight.

Body: Use this paragraph to elaborate and support your news. Provide examples and author quotes and remember: you are still trying to sell this story to a journalist so write like one. Keep it clean of adjectives and sales pitches and puffed-up claims.

Boilerplate: otherwise known as the biographical section. Write a bio for yourself, much the same way you’d write in an agent query letter. Say good things about yourself, your accomplishments, or your relevant qualifications. Direct the audience to a website or point to other resources that might elaborate on the subject of your book. Again, keep it short (but make it sweet.)

Close: Your contact information. That way a reporter knows who to call to get his next story.

Additional Essential Elements

The press release also has two more details to include in order to maintain proper structure. I’ll list the parts we already discussed and slip in the missing lines in bold face.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Headline

Subhead

Lead

Body

Biography

# # #

Close

Release Information: generally written as “for immediate release” but can also be altered to fit your needs by writing, for instance, “for release after XXX date”.

# # #: Tells the reporter this is where the printable text ends.
That’s all there is to it, folks. Use this template to plug in your information and away you go. You and your book are newsworthy!

Helpful Tips

There’s a few extra nuggets of wisdom to remember.
• Use your headline as your email’s subject line.
• Keep it to one page– 400 to 500 words is the sweet spot.
• Write it in third person.
• Research your target publications and tailor the release to keep it audience-specific.
• Keep it factual. You sell yourself by giving the facts and making them interesting. No one wants fluff unless they are shopping for pillows.
• Cast a wide net—approach newspapers, online news publications, and radio stations. Can you think of other places that might promote you by reporting about your book?

That’s really all it takes to write a successful press release. It’s a unique writing exercise that gives us the opportunity to create another effective marketing tool for our books. There is a world full of free press out there—and now you know how to grab some of it.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” in a frame over her desk. Visit Ash’s blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her newly released urban fantasy “Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde” (Pink Narcissus Press 2012).

This article first appeared on the Query Tracker blog.

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4 responses to “Headlines and Hooklines: Writing a Press Release

  1. Great post on how to write a press release. Thank you the clear anatomy to follow.

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