9 Most Frequent Mistakes in Author Press Releases

From the Nonfiction Authors Association:

When an author snail-mails me a new book, whether or not I’ve asked for it, I page through it to see if I can find a press release that will help me decide if I want to read it.

Nine times out of 10, the release is missing.

But if I find one and it includes seven tips from your nonfiction topic that interests me, or tells me about the wild adventure thriller your novel is going to take me on, chances are good I’ll set it aside to read later.

Seldom does a press release perform that important duty.

Too often, author press releases land with a thud. They’re boring. They lack the important details that explain what the book is about. Almost always, the author or publicist fails to include information that helps make the author make money aside from selling the book.

. . . .

Mistake #1:
Not taking advantage of the many opportunities to write releases.

Your book launch is just one of many events that warrant a press release. Others include book awards you’ve won, speaking engagements and book signings, a second edition of your book, getting a celebrity endorsement, convincing a celebrity or influencer to write the foreword to your book, library appearances and classes you’re teaching.

. . . .

Mistake #2:
Cutesy headlines that offer no clue what the release and book are about.

The writer relies on a pun or bad alliteration to be clever but only confuses the reader. A confused reader does one thing. Leaves.

Don’t worry about writing headlines that are too long. One of the new rules of today’s press releases is that we can bypass the media gatekeepers and write for consumers, not only journalists.

. . . .

Mistake #7:
No links to high-resolution photos of the book cover and the author.

Magazine editors are practically begging for high-resolution (300 dpi) images of book covers. Editors have told me that they’d love to feature books in their “New Products” section but can’t if they don’t have an image that will reproduce well. Again, a missed opportunity!

Link to the rest at the Nonfiction Authors Association

6 thoughts on “9 Most Frequent Mistakes in Author Press Releases”

  1. “Magazine editors are practically begging …”

    Yes, they phone me day and night – oh wait, those are the vanity press jokers promising me my book ads will be in a magazine – a magazine that nobody buys in the first place!

    And I do guess ‘press releases’ sounds lots better than ‘blog’ to the Nonfiction Authors Association …

    Na-a 😉

  2. Number 7 reads true. When someone was running for office or putting on some kind of event, if they didn’t make available a high-res image in their press kit, that was a clue it was amateur hour.

    Always look at your materials from every angle you can: on your phone, on your tablet, on your desktop. For images it’s easy to go from big to small, but it’s hideous in the reverse direction. If you test it for yourself, you’ll notice “artifacts” when going from small to big. You don’t want those.

    Even if you’re like me and you avoid being photographed, don’t shortchange your book. If a photo of yourself is necessary, then at least have press-ready photos on hand.

  3. A comment on one item:

    No, do not link to a “high-resolution photograph of the author.” In all probability, the author doesn’t have that right anyway (take a very, very close look at the written terms of use for that photograph… and if you don’t have those written terms, you as the author are disrespecting the rights of the photographer and technically committing copyright infringement). Even if the author does have those rights, putting a link to a hi res version is more than vaguely disrespectful…

    It’s probably counterproductive.

    There’s a lot of mythology out there about selling “the author him/her/theirself”+ as part of a package. It’s marketing mythology — opinion of marketing gurus who have seldom had to actually rely upon the success of what they advocate. Despite looking for more than a quarter of a century, I have yet to find any replicable data supporting the assertion that providing a reproduction-ready photograph of the author with a mere press release results in greater sales of the work that is the subject of the press release for anything except celebrity-centered works (bios, memoirs, tell-alls by personal assistants), and even that was just barely statistically significant and may be restricted to a subset of potential targets of press releases.

    And then there are the privacy issues. Not to mention the gender/race/ethnicity/ageism issues. Not to mention body-type/fashion shaming, etc. Basically, no author who isn’t ashamed of his/her/their prose and is instead relying on “looks” to sell his/her/their books should bother with a hi-res photo of him/her/theirself in any way that takes attention away from the book itself, and especially in marketing materials that are separate from the book (that is, not bound in with the book). This isn’t even an instance of using sizzle to sell steak (or ImpossibleBurgers if that’s your preference); it’s using sizzle to try to sell the wine list. And if you’ve been to a high-end steakhouse in the 1990s and paid attention to the disparity between the steaks and the wine list, you’ll understand that all too well…

    + Nothing is implied by this order except the established dominance order of gender in my native language and my inability to make myself see a different order as “looking right” (or make it work consistently with my custom spellchecker dictionary in my word processor). Except, perhaps, that the overfocus on the author’s identity is by itself a marketing problem.

    • This.

      I’ve read many a book not knowing the sex/race/orientation of the writer, they wrote so well it never interfered with me enjoying their story.

  4. Even if the author does have those rights, putting a link to a hi res version is more than vaguely disrespectful

    Emphasis mine. To whom is it disrespectful? Why would the author benefit from putting an unusable lo-res version in their press kit? Normal press kits include hi-res photos, because the point is publicity. I’ve never seen a professional outfit or politician or media personality deliberately provide the media an unusable lo-res photo. That’s a clueless amateur thing.

    There’s no disrespect to the photographer, unless the photographer was unaware that the photo was for the author’s press kit. Or if this was say, a “Sears Portrait Studios” photo. But in a professional scenario, this shouldn’t be an issue.

    Whether or not an author photo sells extra books isn’t the point. The point is that if someone is going to do a thing — in this case, provide promotional materials — then they should do it properly, not slapdash. The proper response to a philosophical objection to author photos is to not offer them to begin with. Not be haphazard about it.

    And yes, lo-res is slapdash. From a production standpoint, lo-res limits what can be done with the photo, and where it can be placed, and in what format it can be used (print vs. web). Hi-res images can be used in print and on the web, and can slot attractively into the spaces where they’d be used.

    In the OP’s scenario, they’re discussing print media, so lo-res is unsuitable. The OP specifically references magazines, which indicates that there will be a story about the book and author, not a press release. Press releases are used to attract media attention, not reader attention.

    Author photos are bog standard in the non-fiction realm. Columnists always have them in the paper. My old paper’s head honchos had some metrics to prove that photos were necessary, but I no longer recall what they were.

    Even our CMS required that every story have a picture with it. Why must we have photos? Because our metrics showed that in print and on the web, photographs with stories = people read the stories. Wall of text = people don’t read. Echoing in my nightmares are a senior editor’s complaints about the lack of “art” in stories. She was always shouting for art.

    And I know you might say, “just use the book” … except that on the web, the book photo can be taken for an ad. Whereas, an author photo is clearly not an ad. Web metrics reveal in real time when readers think a graphic or a photo is an ad. Surprisingly, readers often get it wrong, which obliged us to be careful where we place such assets.

    Speaking of columnist pictures: for our food critic, who obviously couldn’t work if her face were known, we used a photo that carefully obscured her face. Any other author could easily do similar. Especially if the author is writing about life as a spy, or the witness protection program, etc.

    The bottom line is that promotional materials intended for the media must be in a media-usable format. Otherwise, there’s no point in providing them. Be professional, which is the OP’s point.

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