Three Critical PR Mistakes to Avoid as an Author
You can’t sell books without an audience. It really comes down to this. But how do you build your audience? That’s one of the questions the Wisdom House Books PR team works to help authors answer every day. Here is an inside look on some of the ways we approach this question and help our authors create a presence both on and offline.
Defining your audience doesn’t mean build it from scratch.
One of the fastest ways to find new readers is to get in front of an audience that someone else has already built. This includes bloggers, podcasters, social media influencers, and anyone else who has built an audience that knows, likes and trusts them. In order to adequately accomplish this you need to define your audience and make sure this matches with the readership of the outlet you are considering.
When that influencer puts you in front of their audience, you’re leveraging their platform to build your platform. You want to create a symbiotic relationship with these outlets; You alleviate the stress of content creation by providing a relevant and thoughtful resource for content and they establish a connection to their audience for you through their following, personality, and voice.
However, as with all things in life, there’s a productive way to go about it—and an inefficient way. Sloppy author PR tactics is a sure way to waste your own time and burn a bridge with an entire potential audience. Avoid these 3 mistakes and you’ll be on the track to editorial coverage.
No matter how thoughtful and unique your pitch is, timing can be the difference between coverage and getting sent to the trash folder. Every kind of media has a production schedule and an editorial calendar. They are working way further ahead than you might think. If you show up too late, then it doesn’t matter what they think of your pitch: That slot has already been filled.
The Early Bird Gets the Press.
With topics that have time constraints, you want to start that conversation at least three months ahead of whatever issue or blog you’re hoping to be included in. This varies with every outlet. Some magazines require 5 months while some bloggers only require a couple of weeks. Knowing this information goes a long way in timing your pitch and starting a good reputation with outlets.
Take out a calendar and look ahead a few months. Think about how the theme of your book or certain aspects of you as an author fit into the calendar. Maybe your topic is inherently perishable, or you’re leveraging an upcoming event (like child abuse awareness month) or season (like Summer for a children’s book about surfing).
Figure out when that issue or blog would be published, and then work backwards. It doesn’t hurt to simply ask someone at that outlet how far ahead they want to be pitched. They’re booking guests, scheduling topics, and filling up editorial slots way ahead and lining yourself up early, not only benefits them but allows you to begin to establish a good working relationship.
Some things are always relevant.
If your topic is something that is always relevant—no matter when it runs—then you don’t have to stress about when they publish it. This is called being evergreen. This provides a lot more flexibility about when to schedule your story.
By “evergreen topics” I’m referring to ideas that don’t have an end date and are always relevant. Not time-sensitive topics, breaking news, statistics that may soon change, seasonal materials, or fads. You can use these kinds of topics to get media coverage—but they’re not examples of evergreen topics.
So, what are some topics that always capture the interest audiences?
Love and Relationships
Jobs and Careers
The key is to make sure that you have a unique spin or expertise on the topic – and more importantly, that it is relevant to what you write. You can always pitch a thoughtful evergreen topic. They’re relevant now, they’ll be relevant in a few months, and they’ll probably still be good in a year. If you are a fiction writer, try looking for nonfiction topics inside your writing.
Another way to deal with the production cycle is to go the opposite way—and piggyback on a trending topic. When you have a relevant addition to something that’s getting wide coverage, this can be your shortcut to get into the media much faster. If you have something valuable and timely to add to that conversation, most of the time, they’ll want to hear about it!
This may not be the case for every media outlet. For example, a publication, show, or site that produces new content on a weekly, daily, or hourly basis is more likely to be dealing with current topics. As you can imagine, there are only so many ways to report on the exact same topic without fresh information. If you can provide a fresh angle for a story they must cover anyway, that will make a huge impression.
Mistake #2—You Sent It To The Wrong Person
You hear this often when addressing a cover letter so why would it not apply to sending a pitch for a book that you’ve likely spent years writing and refining. Sending a pitch to the wrong department or person will make you come off as someone who has no idea who they are, who their audience is, or what they cover. An otherwise thoughtful pitch may be sent to the trash folder before they have a chance to read past the first line.
Sending out random pitches to the media is like throwing a brick with a note through a random window and hoping someone reads it. You may not even be aiming at the right building. If you want to get results, don’t call random strangers. Don’t send mass emails to a faceless list. Don’t fill up a mailbox with copies of your manuscript.
Finding the right contact may take a little research.
Look for bylines. This would be the name of the writer as it appears in recent posts or articles. This can sometimes include a direct email address or social media outlet they prefer to be contacted through.
Look for a Contact or About Us page. The website might have an email address or a contact form you can fill out. Filling out a contact form can be just as impactful as an email so be thoughtful with this.
Look for a staff box. Most print publications have a box near the front or back of the issue that includes a list of staff and contact information. Though you may have a firm address I would always recommend getting in touch with someone before sending out cold copies. You want to make sure you know exactly who you need to send it to and when.
Look them up on social media. Not every blogger or journalist has a contact form directly on their website or even a website. But if they regularly write articles for that magazine or site you read religiously it’s worth looking them up. Don’t be afraid to look up their Instagram or Twitter. If they want you to be able to find their contact info, you will find it. Be careful not to overstep personal boundaries and avoid private or personal accounts that make no reference to their writing.
Depending on the size of the staff, you might be looking for an editor or department editor. For a smaller operation, like a podcast or a blog, you might be contacting the host or writer directly. Make sure you do your research, it’s much harder to find a name when you aren’t even sure who you are looking for.
You want a specific name and title. Don’t randomly email “To Whom It May Concern.” If you can’t say whom it concerns, then it concerns nobody, and your pitch will likely be ignored or deleted. When you take the simple step of addressing someone by name—with the correct spelling—that goes a long way toward getting a journalist or blogger to pay attention.