I got off the phone with the editor of Writer’s Digest magazine with my marching orders–two articles, one about 250 words, the other about 800. Because the subject was my book, that meant just editing a few excerpts, which took me almost no time. The smaller article went out in their e-zine; the second appeared in the magazine. Both generated nice traffic to my site AND they paid me a total of about $450. Can’t beat that.
One of the best ways to let the world know about your book is an approach that draws on your natural writing skills (as the author) or those of your authors or staff (as a publisher).
Here’s what you need to know and do. (Note: While the following ideas can work for any book, many are best suited to nonfiction titles.)
Editors of all publications–hard copy and electronic–have an ongoing need for well-written content relevant to their audiences. They’re looking for the kind of content that keeps subscribers happy, informed, and renewing. This brings up my first point. Make sure your story idea is a fit for their demographic. No faux pas is more common and irksome to an editor than the mismatched submission. So read a few issues of the hard copy edition (at least flip through one issue on the newsstand) or visit their Web site–whatever it takes to ensure you’re making an appropriate pitch.
Web sites and e-zines are generally more receptive to story ideas and more casual about submission rules than hard copy publications. But even the latter may loosen up if you’re a published author who has chosen your target publications well.
The Many Uses of FAQs
You have put together an extensive and easy-to-find FAQ section on your Web site, right? By directing editors to your site or, better yet, e-mailing them the FAQs in a form that they can use (e.g., with an introductory paragraph along the lines of: “We recently caught up with Peter Bowerman, best-selling author of ______,”), you’ve made their life easier–always your #1 job.
I’ve had editors use my FAQs as is, or they’ve picked a half-dozen questions and answers in addition to coming up with a few of their own.
Something else to ponder is getting several “hits” in one publication over time, which can give your message real punch. The best bets for “double-dips” are the Web-based publications, which may not be as inundated with content.
Deliver Quality & Value
An article could take several forms:
- A straight excerpt from the book (inform them if that’s the case)
- An adapted excerpt with intro and (so to speak) outro verbiage to provide context for the uninitiated reader
- Original work based on points raised in the book.
The actual wordsmithing of the piece shouldn’t be an issue, of course, since the book was good enough to publish. But that’s just one component of an effective article. Is it a compelling piece? Does it draw the reader in? Does it deliver valuable information that the reader can put to work right away to enhance the quality of some important sphere of life, regardless of whether they buy the book? Or does it scream “advertorial”?
A good rule of thumb: Don’t even mention your book at all in any article, except of course, in the “attribution” paragraph at the end.
Let’s look at the aspects of a good article one at a time…
Make It Compelling
A great way to get the piece off to a strong start is by sharing a good, funny, dramatic, or poignant story or anecdote. Ponder the last few articles you read through to the end. I’d wager that they drew you in quickly and effectively and that you had a personal interest in the subject. Well-written investigative, travel, or lifestyle features in your daily or Sunday paper should provide some good examples.
As for writing style, aim to sound conversational–as if you’re sitting and chatting with your reader. A great tip to improve your writing 100% almost immediately is to write the way you talk. And let me add “the way you talk–atyour best.”
Pick a Piece, Tell a Story
So what will your article be about? Well, what’s the premise of the book? What are the reasons this book would speak to someone? What makes it special and different from others in its genre? What are the key components–probably defined by chapters–that contribute to and build the overalionremise?
A self-help book will likely have a handful of core philosophies or strategies, any one of which might make a good article. A cookbook may be organized by different courses or categories of food; pick those around which you could build feature articles. A child-rearing book may address a whole host of specific parenting challenges, each of which could be turned into a juicy, anecdote-laden narrative. You get the idea.
No Advertising Accepted
An editor can smell a promo piece disguised as real content a mile away. Understand the quid pro quo at work here: You provide well-crafted, informative content which doesn’t hawk your book or services specifically in return for an “attribution” paragraph at the end that does. But you get even more. In addition to perhaps getting paid, with every article written, you get the opportunity to build your reputation by establishing yourself as an expert in your field.
Carving Pieces for Many Publishers
Want to take this idea to a whole other level? Create a “tool kit” of sorts. Come up with, say, four different article topics based on different chapters, core philosophies, key strategies, or other clearly delineated points raised in the book.
Write a long version of each one–about 1,500+ words. These may be ideal for Web sites, where space restrictions are less crucial. Then, for each of the four articles, create three or four shorter versions, perhaps 1,000, 750, 500, and even 250 words.
Now you’ve got as many as 20 pieces, one of which will undoubtedly be perfect for any relevant publication of any size. Not to mention, with different topics, you can deliver distinct content to similar sites that wouldn’t want to run the same piece as the competition. And you can deliver it instantly or perhaps after just minor modifications.
Given such a resource at your fingertips, think you might start getting a bit more aggressive about finding those “platforms” for your message? Remember, you might also just make a few bucks in the process. Hard-copy publications often pay fees into the hundreds, while with online venues, you’re more likely to earn in the $10-$25 range or nothing. But, of course, that’s not why you’re there.
Where to Look?
Here are a few ideas for zeroing in on the right publications.
In your local library, you’ll find a few media directory “bibles,” such as Gale’s and Bacon’s. And by the way, these are especially helpful for touring authors who are trying to zero in on all the media outlets (including TV and radio) in a specific city in the U.S.
A comprehensive source for hard-copy publications (and some online versions as well) is The Writer’s Market. It’s published annually and is also available in an interactive, fee-based online version at www.writersmarket.com. Check your library for the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters, the National Directory of Magazines, and others. These are also available as fee-based services on www.mediafinder.com. Looking for newspapers? Try www.newspapers.com or www.onlinenewspapers.com.
Interested in e-zines? Try www.ezine-universe.com, www.ezinedirectory.com, or
www.homeincome.com/search-it/ezine for detailed lists of electronic publications broken down by every possible category. And, of course, play the “guess-the-Web-site” game by plugging in educated guesses of Web addresses based on your subject matter. Got a parenting book? Try parenting.com, parents.com, raisingkids.com, etc. Chances are, if you can think of it, someone else has as well, and they used it as their Web address.
If you’re on a budget (who isn’t?), sharpen your pencil and make writing a key “high-yield” component of an overall book marketing strategy. Happy hunting!
PMA member Peter Bowerman is a freelance commercial writer and author of the award-winning, triple-book-club selection, “The Well-Fed Writer.” His commercial client list includes The Coca-Cola Company, MCI, BellSouth, IBM, UPS, Holiday Inn, GTE, American Express, Mercedes-Benz, Cingular Wireless, and many others. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at
www.wellfedwriter.com (click “Online Publicity” for a listing of promotional placements).