Whether you have a publisher or you’re on your own, most of the time the burden of creating an effective press release–or, better yet, a series of press releases–falls on the author. (If you’re looking for a traditional deal and want the publisher to handle it–I can tell you from experience, it’s not likely to work out for you.)

You’re already writing your stories. Or your thought-leadership articles. Or your column. And now you have to start writing press releases?

It can be hard for writers to switch from one part of their to the slightly different part of the brain that makes news releases. In fact, you may be wondering how to even get started. We’re here to help. Let’s start at the top:

WHAT IS A PRESS RELEASE?

In the past, a company or organization would create this sheet of paper that went out to all the news outlets: Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, what have you. These press releases included announcements that were then disseminated to the corporate media–sometimes to industry insiders, other times to the general public. In those days, the creator of the press release needed a great deal of resources, and had very limited access to the end consumer.

Of course, the Internet changed all that. The explosion of digital media–and the everyman access that comes with it–means that now a media release can be created and distributed cheaply by the private solopreneur (I’m talking to you, author) and then sent right to members of the general public.

From your perspective, the purpose of the media release is get your announcement out into the world and into the hands of the media–including local news, bloggers, websites, anyone else with an audience–and also, potentially, to your target readers.

(David Meerman Scott does an excellent job of explaining this new paradigm for media releases in his book The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly.)

Is there a right and wrong way to go about creating and distributing a press release? Yes, and this is why it’s so important to study press releases, including their proper formats and the best ways to get the targeted audience to read and/or view them.

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EIGHT CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EFFECTIVE PRESS RELEASE

1) Be Newsworthy

If a press release isn’t newsworthy, then there’s really no sense in distributing it. After all, why would a person want to read it if it doesn’t prove valuable and interesting to them? When it comes to being either a traditional or self-published author, to create a press release that’s newsworthy, a person will need to think from the viewpoints of the people he or she is trying to reach. Why is it that these people would want to read whatever piece of content it is that’s being promoted in the press release? How will the content bring value to these people’s lives? The answers to these questions will need to be included in a natural way in the press release.

2) Think of the Readers (Members of the Media)

For members of the media who are going to be watching/reading the press release, it’s imperative that they be able to easily distribute the press release. This means that content should be easy to understand so that the best word-of-mouth and print advertisement of the press release can be carried out. The members of the media should fully understand what it is that’s being promoted or stated within the press release without having to read it or watch it more than once. To accomplish this goal, the press release format should be divided into digestible chunks of content.

3) Tell a Story

A dry statement of fact is boring–so, you need to craft a story. When professionals write a news story (yes, “story”), they’re trained to work in the essential building blocks: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. (Notice how filling in those details turns a list of facts into a narrative?) The editor or journalist or blogger who receives your press release doesn’t care about you, or your product, or what you want out of the exchange. But if you tell an engaging story–don’t just tell about your book or event, tell the story behind your book or event–members of the media are far more likely to pass that story onto their audience.

4) Get to the Point

Of course, that story should be short and sweet. Most TV and radio media press releases do not last anymore than 30 seconds to five minutes. And print media releases are usually about 250 to 475 words long. The story that’s presented in the press release should have a beginning, middle and end. It should be easy to follow, and most importantly, it should be completely relevant to the purpose of the news release. In fact, the purpose itself should be made into a story. Doing this takes a bit of creativity, but with a professional and experienced press release creator, it becomes a lot simpler. The entire purpose of the press release should be stated within the first one to three sentences. Some people feel the need to explain themselves before discussing the meaning of the press release, but really it should be the other way around–state the reason for the press release and then do any explaining.

5) Have a Great Headline

As with any type of content, a press release needs an appealing, attention-grasping, make-you-want-to-read/watch headline. After all, if a person doesn’t find the headline interesting, there’s a good chance that he or she won’t read or watch the press release. Creating good headlines can be a bit of a challenge, however, for authors, bloggers and others in the content industry, it should be fairly simple to come up with one. And although the headline needs to be catchy, it should still at the same time incorporate the theme and purpose of the press release.

6) Be Brief

It cannot be stressed enough that a press release needs to be brief. No one has the time to sit around for extended periods of time to read through or watch a press release. And quite frankly, there’s no reason for the press release to take that long. It’s pertinent to simply inform the audience of the purpose of the release, explain the meaning behind the purpose, throw in a few lines of closure and then end it.

7) Be Clear

And just as important as it is to be brief, the person who creates the press release must be explicitly clear in what it is that’s being promoted or stated. At all times, only words that the audience is sure to understand should be used. Never should a press release make the audience feel as if they need to have a dictionary in their hands, or even worse, make them feel dumb.

8) Be Event-Driven

Press releases should be event-driven, meaning they occur when something particular happens. For example, when a new book has been completed by an author, a press release would then be created and distributed to promote the new book. Or, if a blogger was to create a blog posting that received state-wide recognizance, then this would be worthy of a press release. Event-driven press releases ensure that they are of value and would be thoroughly interesting to the targeted audience.

SAMPLE PRESS RELEASE FORMAT

There are many ways that press releases can be formatted; however, the gist of these formats tend to stay the same. It is of the utmost importance that a press release be formatted properly, which can usually be accomplished by using a press release template. Such templates are abundantly available online, and best of all, most of them can be used free of charge. The standard format for a press release is usually as follows:

a) [FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:]

b) [Headline]

c) [City, State/Country – Month Day, Year]

d) [Body]

e) [author info]

g) [###]

f) [contact info]

HOW MANY PRESS RELEASES ARE NEEDED?

Press releases can take place both before and after an event. For authors, it’s important to do press releases about their new and upcoming books, blog posts, etc. well in advance before they are actually distributed. For example, a book could be promoted via press releases anywhere from six to 12 months before it’s actually available for reading. The momentum that’s created through the press releases can be used to push the sales of the book.

For an in-depth blog posting or white paper, a press release should be created in advance too; however, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, when an author/writer creates a blog posting or white paper, he or she doesn’t know how successful it will be.

If it turns out to be of extreme interest to readers, then several press releases will be needed to give the content the maximum amount of exposure. Not all blog posts and white papers need to be promoted via press releases. Only the ones that qualify as newsworthy and of great value to the targeted audience should be.

Another instance in which doing a press release is highly advised is when a sequel is in the development to a previous book that was well-liked by readers. The readers will not only appreciate the fact that the author took the time to reveal the creation of a sequel, but it will also serve as a great way to promote the new book. The interests of the readers will build over time while waiting for the new book to be released, which will have readers lining up to buy it on the day it becomes available for purchase.

Lastly, the number one reason for authors to do a press release is to build a relationship with their intended audience. And because of this, at any point in time that an author thinks he or she has something to share with an audience that is of value, a press release should be created. This relationship with the audience, just like any relationship, should be well-nurtured.

Press releases should be kept to a minimum, with the releases taking place once every 4 to 6 weeks. However, this does not mean special and more frequent press releases shouldn’t take place if they are needed.

THE TAKEAWAY

Authors are great at writing, but many of them fail to be good at creating press releases. Today is the day to change this. Authors, bloggers, freelance writers and anyone in the content creation industry should start educating themselves on press releases.