Although I’m a HUGE proponent of social media with regard to successfully self-publishing a book — seriously, there is no other marketing tool that lets you reach so many people so affordably — in the class I’m currently teaching at Hofstra University there seems to be some (gasp!) resistance to the idea of using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to market novels. Is social media the ONLY way to market a book? Of course not. Is it the BEST way. I say yes. However, I put together some non-social-media tools that novelists can use to boost their visibility and help increase sales. Here’s one of them: the press release.

What is a press release?
A press release is a “news story” that you write about yourself — it is written in a professional manner and in third person. The goal of a press release is, first and foremost, to gain editors’ or reporters’ attention so that your news will be placed in their publication or on their website. You do that by conveying newsworthiness, which means your press release should include the five Ws and one H:

•    Who is this news release about?
•    What has happened that is newsworthy?
•    Where did the newsworthy event take place?
•    When did this happen?
•    How is this newsworthy?
•    Why should I (or my readers) care?

How are press releases sent?
Nowadays, most press releases are sent by email, but you can also use snail mail or fax.

What is the proper press release format?
There are various acceptable formats, but all press releases should include a header, dateline, a paragraph or more of news, and contact information.

Where should I send my press release?
Think of all the news outlets that would be interested in learning about your novel: Local newspaper? Trade journal? Website? Alumni magazine? In the cover letter to your press release (or in the body of your email), you can detail why this news is of relevance to its intended recipient.

When should press releases be sent?
You should consult each news outlet’s website. Often, the website will let you know the publication’s news cycle and how far ahead you should send your news. If you are appearing at a bookstore on October 5, you should NOT be sending your press releases out on October 1. News organizations need lead time. How much lead time they need varies. For local newspapers, which often publish weekly, a good rule of thumb would be to send news no later than a month before you want your news item to be published. For consumer magazines, it’s more like six months before—so if you want Good Housekeeping to consider publishing news about your book launch taking place in November 2013, you will need to contact that magazine in spring 2013.

Should I follow-up to make sure the newspaper or organization has received my press release?
Yes, you can. But give the editor about two weeks before following up, or check their websites for follow-up etiquette.