by Howard Lovy
You devoted a couple years to getting every word just the way you want it and now, finally, it’s time to tell the world about your masterpiece. Except… the writers and editors at most media outlets don’t care about your book. Seriously.
Fortunately, here’s what they do care about: your expertise, your relevance, and where you live. They care about how newsworthy you are, and if you can break through that barrier, you’ll end up with something better than a book review. It will be about you.
As the executive editor at Foreword Reviews, I decide which authors or publishers might be worth considering as a topic for a news story above and beyond a possible review we might run about the book itself.
I’ve spent my career as a gatekeeper, making decisions about who is “newsworthy,” which person has the expertise, credibility, and connection with my audience to be worth interviewing. Because many, many news releases cross my path every day, most of these decisions need to be split-second.
However, there are ways to increase the chance that a member of the media will want to care.
One of the first words I learned as a reporter was “localization.” Local media (TV, radio, print, online) are all looking for their own take on a national or international story.
A conflict flares up in a foreign country, and you’ve written a travel memoir about how you hiked through the countryside and got to know the land and people before the disturbance. The national media won’t necessarily talk to you, since they have a world of experts and boots on the ground from which to draw. Your local media will, if you emphasize immediately that you are local and have something important to contribute to the debate.
You’re not hawking your book right away. The fact that you have just released a book on the topic, though, gives your story just one more news hook that might tip the scales for an editor or reporter.
Make the right pitch to the right publication. Tailor your news release. This takes more time, but it is worth it. “Local” is not necessarily confined to physical location. Local can simply mean “relevant.” There are communities that are tied together by interest, but are physically scattered around the world.
From 1999-2001, I was managing editor for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a kind of wire service for Jewish newspapers across the country. A “local” story for us was anything that had an impact on the Jewish community, or featured Jewish newsmakers, including authors. From 2001-2004, I was a founding editor for a magazine that covered the emerging science and business of nanotechnology. “Local,” for us, was any researcher or businessperson ready to take cutting-edge scientific research out of the lab and into the marketplace.
Is there a local community that would be interested in your book? Odds are, there are publications devoted to it. Beginning locally is how you build your brand and establish credibility within your own community. Show that you’ve been quoted, interviewed, and sourced as an expert on your topic, then you can move on to the big leagues to see if you can get the attention of the New York Times or Good Morning America.
Stay alert to what’s happening in the news right now. What is trending? What issues are being discussed on Sunday morning talk shows? Is there a bill pending in Congress that will address an issue you discuss in your book? Was there a recent news event in the country you write about? Has a celebrity recently revealed he or she suffers from a condition you cover in your book?
There is a fine line between opportunism and exploitation. Remember it’s not about you. It’s about the topic with which you have expertise.
This is not only confined to nonfiction, of course. If pitched correctly, your novel can find a news hook. Does your novel raise an issue that goes beyond your book? Does it question assumptions? Does it rethink an historical figure? Does it feature a dilemma that is universal? Is it in a genre that is being discussed in the larger literary world? Are you donating a percentage of the proceeds of your book to a charity you believe in? These elements, especially ones that seem counterintuitive, will get the media’s attention.
Perhaps this paragraph should have been moved to the top of this blog. Cut to the chase. From the very first sentence of your news release, there needs to be information you are certain an editor would be interested in. Odds are, nobody is going to even get to the second paragraph of your release. Place yourself in the shoes of the editor or reporter you’re pitching to, think of what she will likely be most interested in, and dive in directly.
So, as you pitch coverage of your book, you’ll be frustrated, you’ll feel unfairly ignored, you’ll need to try many different tactics. But if you keep these general rules in mind, you’ll find that the media will care about you. And, through news coverage, perhaps everybody will care about your book.
[Howard Lovy is executive editor at Foreword Reviews]