Welcome to Tools of Publicity for the Romance Writer. Allow me to arm you with the essentials you need to persuade journalists to write stories about you, editors to publish them, and radio and television personalities to invite you on their shows.
First, you need a press kit, which is a folder or other package containing public relations materials. The package should be eye-catching and at the same time project a professional image. Early in your career you might choose a brightly colored Mead folder with your business card stapled to the front. As your career and budget grow, you might create a bound kit and use the top sheet of paper to scan a copy of your book cover onto the paper, or you could have folders specially printed with cover art or a photo of yourself, or whatever your creative writer’s mind can come up with.
Inside this folder or kit, you must include a biography. Now is not the time to be modest. In third person narrative include your publishing credits (briefly! Your complete list of books can be a separate sheet), awards, organizations and memberships, education, hometown, current city of residence, how long you’ve been writing, and writing related activities, such as teaching or giving seminars.
Add a black and white 5×7 professional photo of yourself. A professional photo does not come cheap, but it is worth the investment. This is not to say the pricier the better. Compare a few professional studios to familiarize yourself with the rates and see what you can negotiate.
Do not be tempted to skimp on this aspect of your press kit. Newspapers will shy away from reprinting your color photo from last weekend’s camping trip in their paper– too much work to make if fit their specifications. And you definitely want your photo to run with an article about you wherever and whenever possible because it will draw more readers to the story. Even if they do not read the piece, they will look at the photo and your name.
Next, write a press release. This is the element of your kit that will draw the editor’s eye. Pick up a book at the library on how to craft a press release before you begin. Editors at newspapers and magazines are as particular as book editors about the format they want to read material in, so when in Rome… The press release should relate something of news value. Think of this document as a sample article that could run in the paper about you or your book. Examples: “Local Author to Speak at Fiction Workshop,” or “New Book Set in Omaha” (if you are sending to the Omaha paper). Write a story in newspaper style to fit the headline. Sometimes papers or magazines with small staffs will run your story verbatim.
The final must-have element is a cover letter. This should be brief message to a specific editor (never send a “Dear Editor” letter) explaining what you are sending, why, and how it is relevant to the publication, television, or radio station you are submitting it to. For example, you submit your press kit to the school newspaper at the University of Louisville. In your cover letter, explain that you are a graduate, or a former teacher, or a frequent guest speaker, etc.
Once you have compiled all of the previous elements, you have a little room to
individualize your press kit. If you have more than one or two books to your credit, include a list of your works. Anyone could include a fact sheet in their press kit. Romance Writers of America has a nice fact sheet about the romance industry that might be of interest to editors and potential interviewers that includes the percentage of books purchased in the U.S. that are romances and a little bit about the average romance reader. If you have written a historical, you could do a more whimsical fact sheet on the Regency period or the Middle Ages. Be creative. The purpose of a fact sheet is to catch the reader’s eye with snippets of information.
Other options for your press kit: articles that have appeared on you or your books; a bookmark or other promotional item; an except from your book; a reprint or postcard of the cover art; a copy of your most recent newsletter; a list of testimonials or “what’s being said about (insert your book or your name here)” with quotes from well known authors or personalities familiar to the region.
Now that you have a wonderful press kit, what do you do with it? Send it to media where you have a direct connection: your hometown paper, your college newspaper, the newspaper in the city you live today; local television shows that have a book segment or a show in which area people are interviewed, radio stations that broadcast local talk shows, the writers group you just agreed to conduct a workshop for, and your publisher’s public relations department so they can see how devoted you are to promotional efforts. They may, in turn, request extra kits to give to their contacts.
Be prepared to spend some money on a press kit. Depending on how elaborate your
packaging is and how favorable a deal you wrangled with a photo studio, you could spend $50 to $300 or more to produce 25 kits. And then you have to pay postage to mail them out. Even so, press kits are cheaper than advertisements and they generate valuable press coverage on you and your book. The public looks upon advertising with a jaundiced eye– they know ads hawk their product in the most glorified terms possible. However, a reader has more trust in the press. The information the public receives is filtered by an objective media machine– therefore if the reviewer (or journalist, or interviewer) says the book is good, it must really be good. You just can’t object to that kind of endorsement.