How to Turn Publicity Into Profits
By Brian Jud
You can generate more publicity, sell more books and become more profitable if you follow several simple techniques for writing press releases.
Publicity is the least expensive and perhaps most productive of the promotional strategies used by independent publishers to generate exposure for their books. And a press release is the tool most commonly used to stimulate publicity. However, too many publishers' press releases go unheeded because the publicity copywriters make one major mistake--they write their press releases about their books.
Unfortunately, people in the media are not interested in helping you sell books. They are concerned with increasing their circulation and ratings by informing their readers, viewers or listeners about topics of importance to them. According to Rita Thompson, Field Producer for CNBC and CBS News, "I have to think of my viewer first. It's not my job to sell books, but to make interesting television. If a book helps me get interesting television, that's good."
Producers and editors are bombarded with hundreds of press releases every week and they do not give equal consideration to all of them. They will not take notice of something they think holds no relevance for their audiences. So, your first objective is to get their attention with a provocative headline that quickly points out why your information will be of interest to a large percentage of their readers, viewers or listeners. However, it cannot be written just for its attention value. Your stopper must lead logically into what you have to say and precondition the reader to be receptive to your selling points.
There are two general categories of headlines that will intrigue your reader and build anticipation for your body text. A direct headline uses one or more of the primary sales features of your book as the attention-getter (50 Easy Ways to Make More Money). An indirect headline attempts only to stop the readers and get them to look past the headline (Do all vampires have fangs?).
Here are several types of direct and indirect headlines. Practice writing headlines using all these or combinations of them to draw readers into your release and take action on your recommendation.
This is the most common method of direct selling. News headlines feature your title in the same manner as if it were a noteworthy item of timely interest. Simply select the outstanding feature of your book (from the perspective of the reader's audience) and present it clearly and quickly: TV Violence: Shocking New Evidence.
Whenever a new book arrives on the market, you should announce that fact with a news headline (Announcing the First Book to ...). People are interested in announcements and these headlines have high readership. Similarly, you can begin your headline with words that have an announcement quality such as Introducing .... , Just Published..., Presenting the Latest ..., At Last ... . Headlines beginning with the words New and Now typically have the same effect. Combining these formulas can have a positive impact on the reader: Just Published. A New Book About an Amazing Way to Grow Hair.
Do not use this technique unless you really have a news story. Once hooked, readers will continue on, looking for additional facts. If you disappoint them they will stop reading and never trust your releases in the future. And do not use exclamation points for added emphasis. Let your statement stand alone on its news value.
2) Primary Benefit
This is a simple statement of the most important benefit offered by the author: A Hassle-Free Vacation. Guaranteed. It is not necessary to be cute since a straightforward statement can be a powerful attraction. Some people choose to use the title of the book in the headline on the premise that it will result in higher recognition. Others elect to use a subhead to strengthen the headline, drawing the readers into the body copy where use of the title is widespread.
One of the most important benefits of a book in a competitive segment is good value. If your release is directed to retail stores, you might want to feature a reduced price or a special merchandising offer. The word free is always an attention getter.
Make your message clear and compelling by beginning your headline with the words How To... (How to End Money Worries or How to Get A Better Job), Why (Why Your Feet Hurt) or Which (Which of These Five Skin Troubles Would You Like to End?). These types of headlines are interesting and address the reader's major concern: "Will this be of interest to my readers, viewers or listeners?ö
A technique that has been proven effective is to offer advice (Advice to a Young Woman Traveling to Europe). The word advice suggest that the readers will discover some useful information if they read the copy, the knowledge of which they in turn can pass on to their audiences.
A common approach is that of capitalizing directly upon the emotions of the readers: New Help for the Lost Children of Kosovo. Typically the headline has no direct-selling value, but simply makes an emotional appeal to involve the reader. This approach can be used well with testimonials. An emotional quote from a well-known person in your field can add credibility to your message ("I was Going Broke Until Read ...").
An effective emotional headline tells the reader that you understand his or her audience (For the Person who is 35 and Dissatisfied). Keep in mind that certain books lend themselves to emotional approaches, while others do not. Make sure your title and topic are conducive to this appeal or it will be looked upon as frivolous.
It is not always necessary to take the sane, sound, common-sense approach to snagging attention. There are times when a light opening is appropriate, one in which there is no apparent relationship to the title or content of the book. However, it is important for credibility's sake that you make this connection eventually.
A gimmicky headline is most effective when your title has few important competitive advantages to shout as news or a direct benefit headline, and lacks the sales appeal of an emotional one. For instance, a gimmick headline addressed to librarians might declare: This Book is Two Years Overdue.
One intriguing technique is to offer a challenge (Can You Pass This Memory Test?). Another gimmick is to use a headline of only one word. This method is most successful if the single word is meaningful, selects the right audience and asks a question (Nerves? or Bashful?).
Your gimmick might reveal the unexpected. For example, most headlines urge some form of positive, immediate action. Therefore, a headline advising the reader not to buy something is an effective stopper (Don't Buy Car Insurance Until You Have Read All These Facts).
This technique arouses curiosity about your book by, in most cases, asking a question: What Ever Happened to Sex Education? However, it could make a curious statement: Three Inches From Life.
Both curiosity and gimmick headlines are methods of indirect selling. If you are selling a title that fails to offer any attention-getting appeals, then you could try these techniques. However, it is generally better to use a logical, believable approach to the reader's interest through a straightforward presentation.
This type of headline is most useful when you wish to get an immediate action from your reader. Directive headlines begin with words such as Go Now! or Call Today... and therefore are better used when addressing your ultimate customers. On the other hand, these tend to work well with broadcast media whose producers are looking for an immediate reaction, such as on a radio call-in show: You Can't Stop Drunk Drivers.
There is no absolute formula by which you can determine when and where to use directive headlines. However, they do get people to stop and read because they are direct, concise and forceful.
When you can be specific, do so. If your title has outstanding selling points, take advantage of them in your headlines. But if you can find no such appeals in the book you may find it advisable to lure the reader with a headline that speaks in general terms about the merits of it. These are called "hornblowing" headlines: The World's Most Definitive Book on ... .
This approach is useful in other circumstances, such as when your title compares favorably with competitive books but still lacks a unique point of difference. It may actually have some advantages that, for one reason or another, are not important enough to build an entire release around.
The rest of the story
Once you hook the readers with your headline, you must deliver on their expectations or they will stop reading immediately. Use the body of your press release to continue the momentum started with the headline and get the readers to take the action you recommend.
Body copy falls into a few well-defined categories, each used in accordance with the general format and theme of your headline. The style of copy you use in the body of your release must follow the pattern and pace established by your attention-getter. If you use a direct, factual headline, your body text will usually be most effective if it, too, is factual. Likewise, if you employ a gimmick headline your body copy should explain the connection to your book.
1) Straight-line copy. Here, the text begins immediately to develop the headline. This is the most frequently used type. It is like a white shirt, red tie and blue blazer--correct for almost any affair. It directly follows the headline and proceeds in a straight and orderly manner from beginning to end. It does not waste words, but starts to sell the benefits of your book immediately.
2) Narrative copy follows the headline with a story that logically leads into a discussion of your book. Your text sets up a situation prior to getting into your selling copy. This can be a dangerous style to use because you must construct an interesting story that will keep the readers involved long enough to make your point.
3) Institutional copy sells an idea, organization or service. In many cases this is narrative in style because you are not trying to sell the value of a specific book. You may be announcing your 10th year in business or a new service for your customers. Your copy must create confidence in the company that sells the books, not your books themselves. The difficulty is not to get so wrapped up in the traditions of your publishing firm that the copy becomes boastful and the you approach is entirely replaced by the we. This will quickly turn a reader off, especially if you use this style following a hornblowing headline.
4) Dialogue and monologue copy permits the person giving the endorsement in your headline to do the selling in his or her own words. The trick is to retain the attention-getting power of the testimonial and at the same time sound natural and convincing. One way to do this is to let your endorser do the complete selling job throughout, or by including a few additional supporting remarks in your own or others' words.
5) Gimmick copy depends upon humor, poetry, foreign words, great exaggeration, gags and other devices to create selling power. This is rarely used because in most cases you are writing a press release to tell a straight, informative story.
Use these techniques as guidelines, not as rules. Write for the audience of the recipient, not about your book. Practice writing headlines in several different styles and then write supportive body copy for each.
If you are the copywriter, become the copyreader. Read what you write with a red pencil in your hand. Be brutal. Cut out meaningless words and useless phrases. Combine some sentences and eliminate others. Give your readers a long flowing sentence that combines several thoughts and presents important facts. Then use a shorter sentence to quicken the pace for the reader. Mix and match your text with different headlines until you spark an idea that is truly creative, powerful and designed to accomplish the objective of your press release.
Write headlines and body copy with the needs of the reader in mind. Look back to the headline and first sentence of this article which were written to quickly gain the attention and interest of an independent publisher. They must have worked because you read the article.