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How To Avoid the Five Biggest Press Release Mistakes

by Joe Vitale

I've been writing press releases since 1972. I've also been reviewing releases, and writing new ones, for several people on email discussion lists. Some common problems keep reoccurring, so I wrote them down and thought I'd share them here.

Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale is a marketing consultant who has helped over 200 authors and publishers write, publish, and promote their books. Joe's clients include small presses to large publishing houses, including Doubleday Books. He has also helped large companies, from The American Red Cross to Hermann Children's Hospital in Houston.

1. Focusing on your book, and not the news.
Face it, books are not news. Not when there are 2,000 published every week. What you have to do is sniff out the news story, create a news story, or tie your release to a current news story. A press release is not a book review. It is also not a flyer or ad for your book. Editors trash anything that even resembles an ad. You have to play the role of reporter and find the news. Often what I do is find the news angle and then plug the book within the story. Sometimes I quote the author and mention the book as evidence of the author's credibility. I rarely focus the release on a book.

2. Boring editors, rather than helping them.
Most releases written by authors are long, wordy, and boring. They write the release as if they are writing a chapter in their book. A good news release usually starts with a grabber first line. The next paragraph contains the essential story and the key facts. Following lines reveal added detail and offer quotes. The whole thing is short, direct, interesting, and to the point. Give the news and get out. Help the editors. Make them read your words and say, "I didn't know that!"

3. Showing friends, rather than professionals.
Getting opinions about a news release from your family and friends won't cut it. They don't know what a release looks like, let alone what should be in one. When I complete a release for a client, I show it to my media contacts before I give it to my client. If the press says, "I like this," I know I'm on to something. Sometimes I show releases to my cats, but you don't want to know how they respond. In short, get feedback for your releases from pros, not friends.

4. Using a weak headline, rather than a grabber.
Headlines on news releases are the most important part of the release. Most of the wire services I use list releases by headline only. That means if your headline doesn't engage the editor, you're out the door. I often spend more time creating a riveting headline than I do on any other portion of the news release. Again, saying "new book published" ain't news.

5. Writing with narrative only, and not using quotes.
My rule of thumb is to have a direct quote from a real person every other paragraph. Too many people send out news releases that are straight narrative, as if they were writing a business letter or a scholarly article. Add colour and life to your release by offering witty or informative quotes throughout the release. This is a great way to safely plug your book, because you can write, "Blah blah blah," said [your name], author of [your book title].

I hope these red flags help you write better releases, so you get the media attention your books deserve.