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Your Books Calling Card: The Press Kit
by Mitchel Whitington
I recently had the pleasure of walking through
the beautiful Haas-Lilienthal House in San Francisco, a restored old Victorian
dating back to the 1880s. I should have been soaking up the history and
enjoying my vacation, but as the tour started I just couldnt help thinking
about press kits. Sounds a little strange, I know, but let me
Our docent for the tour asked us to gather in a
small receiving area just inside the front door. It was a rather plain room,
with chairs and a small table, and could be separated from the rest of the house
by large doors. She went on to explain that the original owner of the house,
William Haas, was a businessman in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and people
would often call on him in the evenings. Such a visitor would present a calling
card to one of Mr. Haas staff, who would seat them in that receiving area and
take the card back to Mr. Haas, who would then decide whether or not to receive
the guest. As everyone else was listening to our tour guide continue on, I just
smiled and shook my head that mapped so well onto how we use press kits, it
was perhaps the best analogy that I could possibly imagine.
And think about it wed all love to place our
books in the hands of the editors, reviewers and producers that could provide us
so much promotion, but they are sequestered inside of their offices, hidden away
from our view. Our best chance to reach them is by sending in a press kit, which
will be opened by one of their assistants and then presented for consideration.
A book review, guest appearance, interview, or polite rejection all are
decided in a matter of minutes as the press kit is examined. The press kit is
indeed a calling card for a book. Press kits transcend all genres: fiction,
non-fiction, poetry, any form of writing that you can imagine. If you are
promoting your book, you must have a press kit.
While researching press kits several years ago,
I picked the brains of the people who read our press kits: newspaper editors,
segment producers for news shows, magazine editors, etc. The vast majority
shared a common complaint: ALL PRESS KITS LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME! Everything that
you will hear or read concerning book publicity provides the same instruction
for building a press kit: Attach your book cover to the front of a folder, then
stuff a black & white photo inside, along with a rigid press release. The
people who read our press kits are humans, though! They have good days and bad
days, get a little bored when their job becomes monotonous, and crave any splash
of creativity that comes across their desk. That is exactly what you have to do
with your press kit.
To achieve that goal, lets start by looking at
the press kit folder the first thing that the reader will see. If you simply
glue your book cover to the front, then your press kit will appear exactly the
same as every other one in the pile. Look at it from a different angle, though:
no matter what your genre or topic, as a writer you know that your opening
paragraph has to hook the reader into wanting to buy your book to read more. In
fact, studies show that when someone picks up our book in a bookstore, we only
have a matter of seconds to grab their attention before they return it to the
shelf and take another. Why should your press kit be any different? Put
something on the front cover that will draw the reader into the press kit
something that will make them want to open it and examine it further! My last
book, Uncle Bubbas Chicken Wing Fling is a humorous look at life in
the small Texas town of Cut Plug. Instead of slapping the cover on front of the
press kit, I chose a glossy, 2-pocket folder with a maroon marble pattern. On
glossy paper, about 3 x 6 inches, I printed the title, "Honorable Order of the
Armadillo: New Members Manual", along with a cartoon of an armadillo. At first
glance, no one would know that the Armadillo Lodge is the secret organization
that all the men in Cut Plug belong to, or that the ladies of the town just
shake their head and think that theyre all crazy for doing so. But the cover is
so different from all of the other press kits on the readers desk that he has
to open it up to find out what is inside many editors who did stories on the
book told me just that. Other authors have successfully used the same technique.
Dorothy McConachie, while promoting her book Our Texas Heritage: Ethnic
Traditions and Recipes, used a press kit that had a royal blue folder with
a beautiful bluebonnet on front. No mention of the topic of her book, genre,
etc. Still, the reader could speculate that it had something to do with the
state of Texas, since that is nationally recognized as the Texas state flower.
Of course, curiosity is a wonderful creature, so the reader was drawn to open
the press kit and find out more.
Now that weve taken a look at the press kit
cover, its time for a peek inside. Here is a list to get you started with some
useful items to include:
Synopsis: Long before a reviewer or interviewer
gets your book in hand, someone is screening incoming queries for them. This
person will be sorting through a heap of mail on their desk, and will only be
able to give each item a few moments consideration. If your book comes clunking
out of an envelope, it may be easier just to ignore it than to try to sift
through the story and decide if it merits further consideration. A one-page
synopsis in your press kit, on the other hand, is easy to read and takes very
little time -- something that will be greatly appreciated, and will be a mark in
your favor when the book is being considered.
Author Biography: A short biography one page at
the most should be given to tell the reader exactly why you're interesting. If
you are being considered for a radio interview, it doesn't matter if you got the
attendance award in third grade, but if you've just completed a perilous canoe
trip down an Alaskan river to research your new book, then you've just given the
program a slant that they'd love to feature! Stick to the relevant facts, and
add as much color as possible.
Clips: If your book has been reviewed in
periodicals, be sure to include photocopies of the favorable articles. Quotes
from radio and television interviews or reviews should also be included. Be
prudent with what you include, however. Fifty photocopied reviews will turn off
the screener, while two or three interesting ones will help to pique their
Reviews/Quotes: Many books contain quotes from
other authors on their jacket. Whether yours does or not, it's worth contacting
some of your writer-friends for a sentence or two on your book. List several of
these on a 'What They're Saying' page, and be sure to credit the author with
their latest book. It helps them out, but it also lends credibility that a
published author is commenting. These should be in the form:
"Riviting. A fantastic read. The best action
tale on the market today!"
- Mitchel Whitington, author of the new novel
Uncle Bubba's Chicken Wing Fling
Author Interview: Many interviewers will state
that they don't use scripted questions, but this item is still a must. It gives
the reader a flavor for the kind of responses that you might have during an
interview. It provides background to use in an article, and it gives them
questions to ask whether they admit it or not! Stay relevant and interesting,
and keep the questions and answers to a single page.
Unique Information: If there is anything unique
about your book, be sure to incorporate it into your press kit. If you have a
cookbook, for instance, you may want to include a representative
Send-A-Book Cards: You can give the reader an
opportunity to request the entire book by including a self-addressed, stamped
postcard to return to you. If your book doesn't fit the venue that you've
targeted, then the price of a promotional copy would have been saved by
sacrificing a stamp.
Don't take these examples as a finite list for
your press kit. Be creative, and include the items that make the most sense for
your book. Its not enough, however, to simply print off the materials and put
them in your press kit folder. Each item needs to carry the theme of your press
kit forward. Id mentioned Dorothy McConachies book earlier since her book
dealt with various ethnicities that had settled in Texas, she used map and flag
themed paper as accents. For Uncle Bubba, I made letterheads from different
organizations in cut plug to print the items from the press kit on: the police
department, garden club, etc.
With a little work, you can make your press kit
interesting and unique. It will catch the attention of the reader, and draw them
into the world that youve created in your book. By doing that, you will have
made your books calling card a promotional tool that will get you through any
door, and springboard your book onto the next level!
© Copyright 2001, Mitchel Whitington
Mitchel Whitington is the author of the The Press Kit Constructor. His web site is www.Whitington.com.
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