A strong press kit is crucial for effective book marketing. Without it, all your promotional efforts could be wasted. You may be able to talk a good game and get people excited about your book, but when they ask for your press kit and see a measly, uninformative packet with a few clippings and nothing more, your buildup will fall flat.
While kits vary in complexity, the overall goal of each one is to highlight what a book is about, why its message is important, who the author is, how it will help readers, and how you’re marketing it. Kits are important for three different kinds of recipients: media people (including magazine editors, book reviewers, and radio and television producers), book distributors (including wholesalers such as Baker & Taylor, Bookazine, and Ingram), and niche marketers (including selected bookstores, specialty shops, and organizations). You will probably need several versions of your press kit, each targeted to a specific audience.
The Eight Ingredients
Regardless of its slant, each press kit you create should have eight basic components:
1. Cover letter. This one-page letter should highlight why you’re contacting this particular person or organization and explain why the contact is justified. It should not give details about the book–that’s the press kit’s job. A good cover letter will include:
- A reason for the correspondence in the first paragraph, such as, “Because the author is an expert on a subject you cover so well, I am writing to propose an interview with . . . “
- A brief overview of the book. In one paragraph, state what the book is about, who the audience is, and how the book will help them. Stick to the facts. Using words such as greatest, most informative, and revolutionary will raise red flags and signal that you’re exaggerating.
- Information about the author. Again, facts sell. State the author’s name and explain why the author is qualified to write this book. Mention any career highlights or awards.
- A compelling call to action. What do you want the person reading the letter to do? State it here: “I would like you to review the book in an upcoming issue . . . “
2. Press release. Usually one page long, the press release describes the book and the angle you’re pitching in two or three paragraphs. It also includes the book’s price, page count, ISBN, and your contact information. Write a compelling headline for the press release and use blurbs liberally, as well as short excerpts from the book.
Ideally, you’ll rewrite your press releases every month and update the other elements of the press kit as well. The typical press release cycle starts with the initial release, which announces the book’s publication; continues with a second release pointing out a current societal or industry problem and showing how the book addresses it; and then moves on to monthly releases relating the book to specific incidents in the news or in relevant industries or professions as they arise.
3. Mock book review. If you supply a publishable book review, many reviewers will pull material from it. A good book review gives all the pertinent details in a maximum of seven paragraphs–six paragraphs about the book plus one paragraph about the author. It also includes the book’s full title, publisher, price, and other pertinent details (for example, “Available online at www.yourwebsite.com”).
4. Author biography. This one-page document introduces the author’s credentials for writing the book and provides relevant background material along with “nice to know” information such as names of groups or organizations the author is affiliated with.
A good bio highlights the author’s accomplishments in an authoritative way without bragging or exaggerating. To make the author more real to readers, add a few personal details, such as favorite hobbies or types of pets–but don’t get too personal.
You can include a photo if you’d like, as photos help build trust. If you do, be sure it’s professionally taken and tasteful (no snapshots from last year’s birthday bash).
5. Sell sheet. Think of the sell sheet as a book’s birth announcement, giving all the particulars of the newest addition to your list of titles. This one-page piece should be attractively designed and should include:
- The book’s cover image (in color if possible)
- A short author bio
- A brief overview of the book. Many times, the book’s back cover copy will suffice for this section.
- Technical information, such as the book’s page count, dimensions, subject category, year released, price, ISBN, and distribution arrangements
- One or two key endorsements, preferably from well-known and respected leaders in the relevant industry or profession
- Information on ordering the book via phone, fax, mail, and/or the Internet. The sell sheet can pull double duty as an order form if you sell direct to readers at conferences and conventions.
6. Catalog sheet. Don’t let the name confuse you. A catalog sheet does not refer to sales material for book catalogs. It’s the sheet that data-entry people use to catalog information in their databases, and therefore it’s the one piece of the press kit that is entirely information oriented, not sales oriented. Restricted to one page, it includes a one-paragraph description of the book, technical specifications, and information on marketing activities, unique selling points, target audiences, major endorsements, and any extra sales materials. Keep the data formatted in simple bulleted-column lists for easy scanning.
7. Novelty item. You can put various giveaway items in your press kit. The more popular items include:
- A postcard that reproduces the book’s cover image on the front and provides a description of the book with ordering information on the back
- A book cover, dust jacket, or cover art sample to show off the book’s cover design
- A bookmark, again with the book’s cover image on the front and ordering information on the back
- Book reviews from outside sources
- A sample chapter to show the author’s writing style and the book’s interior layout
- An annotated table of contents that gives details about each chapter
8. Article. Many magazines don’t have book review columns but do accept articles, so it’s wise to supply a bylined piece that runs between 1,000 and 1,500 words. Each article should, of course, be geared to a specific magazine’s style and readership. Some authors write overviews; some focus on themes from particular chapters or sections; still others transform excerpts from their books into articles.
Putting It Together
Now you’ll need something to house all the pieces of the press kit. The best and most economical outer package is a standard two-pocket folder. Choose a color for the folder that complements the cover’s main color. And once you choose a certain color or style, stick with it; you want to convey a consistent image.
Jazz up the folder with some identifying marks or an image. You might use stickers of the book cover or simply glue a postcard of the book cover to the folder. Or consider having custom folders made that resemble the book cover.
The right pocket of the folder should contain (from front to back) the sell sheet, the catalog sheet, the press release, and the book review. In the left-hand pocket of the folder place (from front to back) the novelty item(s) and the bylined article, plus other articles that feature the author or book. Include no more than five articles and make sure they were published within the last four months. Anything beyond that is outdated news.
The cover letter always goes outside the folder on top. In general, it’s not a good idea to send the book with the press kit. If magazine editors, meeting planners, or others are interested in the book, they’ll contact you and request a copy or ask for one when you make your follow-up calls.
Remember: The book you’re promoting is in competition with hundreds of thousands of other titles, many of them also new, so you have to do more than sell the book’s idea to potential readers. You have to sell the fact that the book is worth readers’ precious time. A powerful press kit will help you make the point.
Copyright 2004 by Dawn Josephson.
Dawn Josephsonis president of Cameo Publications, LLC, an editorial and publishing services firm based in Hilton Head Island, SC. You can reach her by phone at 866/372-2636 or via e-mail at email@example.com. This article is excerpted with permission from Putting It on Paper: The Ground Rules for Creating Promotional Pieces that Sell Books (Ground Rules Press, 2004).
All books need a press kit tailored to the intended recipient. To get a recipient to take a press kit seriously, follow these basic ground rules.
Forget the fancy fonts. Stick with a simple one, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in 10-, 11-, or 12-point type.
Always double-space the text and use one-inch margins throughout. If you have to single-space the text or decrease the margins to make everything fit, you’re saying too much.
Use only white or off-white paper. Using outrageous paper colors, such as neon yellow or fuchsia, is not the way to gain attention. Your kit will stand out based on its content.
- Make it easy to contact you.
Prominently display all your contact information on each printed piece. This includes phone, fax, e-mail, Web site, and snail mail.
- Present it professionally.
Present all the materials in a two-pocket or presentation folder. If possible, customize the front of the folder with the book’s cover design.