Boost Online and Offline Exposure with Versatile Tip Sheets
by Sandra Beckwith
When I spoke at a writers conference some time ago, I was both happy and surprised when a participant thanked me afterwards for encouraging authors to send tip sheets to the press.
It turns out he was an editor for the Chicago Tribune’s Lifestyle section; he and his colleagues love receiving them.
“We need more of them!” he insisted.
He’s not alone. You might not realize it, but you see information from tip sheets in your daily offline and online newspapers, magazines, and blogs and hear advice pulled from them on TV and radio talk shows all the time.
In fact, USA Weekend, the newsprint magazine supplement found in Gannett newspapers coast to coast, runs a tip sheet–style article nearly every week. USA Weekend recently ran a tip sheet written by one of my Book Publicity 101 students. And my book-related tip sheet on how to get a good holiday gift from a man was the basis of my appearance on the syndicated Home & Family TV talk show.
Think of a tip sheet as a type of press release that offers tips or advice in a bulleted or numbered format. Like a press release, it’s written as a news or feature story so that a media person or blogger can run it as is without doing additional research or writing.
(Tip sheet is also, as you may know, the term for a document publishers use to let buyers—from corporate chain offices to local independents—quickly get a handle on the book’s subject matter, marketing plans for it, early reviews and endorsements of it, and ways to position it to consumers. See “Anatomy of a Tip Sheet” from the February 2011 Independent via Independent Articles at ibpa-online.org.)
Media people, especially at newspapers and magazines, sometimes pull just one or two tips to fill space. And sometimes they run complete tip sheets as submitted or use them as starting points for longer feature articles on the tip sheet topic.
Radio stations like to share the advice in snippets; both radio and TV talk shows build author interviews around tip sheet topics. Bloggers run tip sheets as new posts to save the time it would take to write something helpful themselves.
Authors and publishers who write and distribute tip sheets love them because they showcase a nonfiction book’s content or a novel’s theme while getting information about the book in front of the book’s target audience.
Successful book publicity tip sheets include six elements:
● an attention-getting headline that mentions the number of tips and the tip sheet topic
● an opening paragraph that describes the problem the tips address
● a quote about the problem from the book’s author
● a sentence that introduces the tips
● tips listed with bullets or numbers
● a concluding paragraph about the author and book
For many people, the hardest part of writing a tip sheet is coming up with a topic. For a nonfiction book, start by making a list of questions that readers and others commonly ask. For a novel, begin with themes. A novel that deals with grief and loss, for example, could yield a tip sheet on how to recover from loss. A memoir about a challenging childhood could be a source of tips on becoming more resilient. Chapter topics of nonfiction books often make good tip sheet subjects.
As for individual elements, the best tip sheet headlines mimic those you see on the covers of women’s magazines—“Five surprising ways to get a beach body fast” or “Six tips for keeping that stuffed inbox empty.”
When writing the opening paragraph to describe the problem you’re solving, use statistics whenever possible; they will give your content weight and credibility. For example, the author of a book about family caregiving writing a tip sheet about how to avoid caregiver burnout might use this first paragraph: “The National Association of Family Caregivers reports that self-care is one of the biggest problems among caregivers today. The association notes that nearly three quarters (72 percent) of family caregivers say they don’t go to the doctor as often as they should, and 55 percent say they skip doctor appointments for themselves.”
The author quote should always add something new, rather than repeat information stated in the opening paragraph. Use this opportunity to share an opinion. Remember to attribute the quote with the author’s full name and book title.
The set-up sentence for the tips is simple. Use this formula: “Here are [author’s last name]’s [number of] tips for helping [audience/group] with [topic].” For the caregiving tip sheet, this sentence could be: “Here are Smith’s six tips for helping family caregivers take better care of themselves, too.”
As you list the tips, using bullets or numbers, remember that your goal here is to offer advice, not talk somebody into buying your book. Start each tip with a verb to encourage action, and keep each tip to no more than three sentences.
The last paragraph should tie everything up with two or three factual sentences such as: “Family Caregiving: The Complete Guide from A to Z by Jennifer Jones is available in local bookstores and at online retailers. For more information, visit familycaregivingguide.com.”
Distribute tip sheets by email (copy and paste them into a message—never send as attachments) to media outlets that would be interested in the content. Add them to your book’s online press room. Turn them into free downloadable reports designed to entice people to sign up for your mailing list. Use them as the starting point for future blog posts. Attach them to article pitch letters sent to journalists.
Add tip sheets to your book marketing plan and you’ll have many new friends among media editors, reporters, producers, and bloggers. You’ll also get much more exposure than your competition.
Don’t Make Five Common Tip Sheet Mistakes
Every fiction and nonfiction student in my three Book Publicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz Premium e-courses is required to write a tip sheet as a homework assignment. The professional freelance writers know how to do this almost instinctively, but those who don’t write for a living often make the same mistakes:
1. Confusing a tip sheet with an ad. A tip sheet is a subtle, rather than an overt, book promotion tool.
2. Forgetting to study newspaper and magazine articles before writing the tip sheet. Newswriting style is informal and factual. There’s no hyperbole.
3. Neglecting to focus on what a tip sheet is designed to do—help people solve a problem. State a problem; then offer your solutions.
4. Offering a list of reasons to buy the book instead of a list of tips.
5. Missing connections between advice-giving and fiction. It’s true that it’s harder to come up with tip sheet topics for fiction than for nonfiction, but it’s doable for every book. Look for the themes in the novel; review what you learned writing it. There’s good advice in there, for sure.
A Sample Tip Sheet
Note: Because press releases should be sent as text pasted into a message box rather than as attachments or printed documents, formatting is much less elaborate than it once was.
Bear in mind that sending releases as attached PDF files is counterproductive both because most media people won’t open attachments and because most media people don’t like copying and pasting from PDF files, which often creates formatting problems for them. The best policy is to use a printed book-related press release only as an enclosure when you send a hard copy of a book.
Nine Tips for Writing Op-Eds That Get Published
[dateline] Op-eds—essays that appear opposite the editorial pages of newspapers—are powerful communications tools for nonprofit organizations working to influence public policy or initiate change. But one communicator says that too many local nonprofits miss some of their best opportunities to inform readers through these opinionated essays.
“National headline news stories give nonprofits the hook their opinion pieces need to catch an editorial page editor’s attention, but nonprofits don’t always take advantage of this because they can’t react quickly enough to write and place an essay when it’s still timely,” says Sandra Beckwith, author of Publicity for Nonprofits: Generating Media Exposure That Leads to Awareness, Growth, and Contributions (Kaplan Publishing).
Beckwith recommends having at least one op-ed written in advance to use when a news event brings the op-ed’s topic to the public’s attention. She cites recent headlines as examples: The latest celebrity starting a family before getting married creates a news peg for pro-family organizations, while a weather disaster provides a hook for groups helping businesses and individuals prepare for disasters.
Beckwith’s book offers these nine tips for writing effective op-eds you can update according to the news story for immediate publication:
● Introduce yourself to your newspaper’s op-ed page editor by telephone or email and request the publication’s op-ed guidelines. Then follow them.
● Determine your goal. What do you want to achieve through your op-ed? Do you want people to behave differently or take a specific action? Keep this goal in mind as you write.
● Select one message to communicate. Op-eds are short—typically no more than 800 words—so you have room to make just one good point.
● Be controversial. Editors like essays with strong opinions that will spark conversation.
● Illustrate how the topic or issue affects readers. Put a face on the issue by starting your essay with the story of somebody who has been affected, or begin with an attention-getting statistic.
● Describe the problem and why it exists. This is often where you can address the opposing viewpoint and explain your group’s perspective.
● Offer your solution to the problem and explain why it’s the best option.
● Conclude on a strong note by repeating your message or stating a call to action.
● Add one or two sentences at the end that describe your credentials as they relate to the topic.
“With this approach, when your issue is suddenly making headlines, you can write an introduction that connects the news to your essay and email it to the editor quickly,” adds Beckwith.
Sandra Beckwith is an award-winning former publicist who now teaches authors how to market their books. Her Build Book Buzz newsletter, offering a steady stream of tips and advice, is free at buildbookbuzz.com. To learn more: firstname.lastname@example.org.