When I’m about to launch a new novel and start dusting off my media contacts, my mind wanders back to the time I used to be on the receiving end, sitting in the newsroom of a daily newspaper.
Here’s how a conversation might go if the present-day, fortysomething me (the one promoting my book) were to make a call to twentysomething me (the one choking down second-hand smoke amidst the clickety-clacking of forty reporters’ keyboards):
FORTYSOMETHING ME: Hi, Christine. This is Christine. How have you been?
TWENTYSOMETHING ME (guardedly, eyeing the clock as a deadline beckons): Okay….
FORTYSOMETHING ME: Great! Hey, by the way, I loved your column Sunday about your Vegas jaunt. Kinda Hunter Thompson-esque. Speaking of writing, I’ve touched base with you in the past when I’ve launched a new book, and I’m about to….
TWENTYSOMETHING ME (relieved to finally glean enough information to pass the buck): Um, you really need to talk to our features editor.
FORTYSOMETHING ME: Cara? Actually, I’ve already contacted her and she referred me to you. She said your paper doesn’t do book reviews anymore, but that a feature article might be a possibility, so….
TWENTYSOMETHING ME (casting evil glance at Cara on the other side of the newsroom for being one step ahead in the buck-passing department): Yeah, you know what? So many people are writing books these days that we’re really cutting back….
FORTYSOMETHING ME (making mental note that Twentysomething Me is way more cocky than her skills merit): Right. Everybody and his brother are self-publishing these days. More power to ’em! Landing a publisher is brutal. But my publisher is Random House, and….
TWENTYSOMETHING ME (slightly more interested but still conveying studied indifference): Oh. A real publisher.
FORTYSOMETHING ME: Right. Anyway, my book is a tween novel called Talia Talk, about a middle-school girl who starts a commentary on her school podcast and….
TWENTYSOMETHING ME: Yeah, if you’ll just send me a press release….
FORTYSOMETHING ME: My publicist already has, so I’m following up with a phone call. Do you think I could stop by at your convenience and….
TWENTYSOMETHING ME (shuddering at the thought, what with newspaper people being introverts who avoid human contact at all costs): Maybe I can just ask you a few questions over the phone….
FORTYSOMETHING ME (triumphantly): Great! Is this a good time?
Morals of the story:
* The media are inundated with press releases and give most of them approximately as much attention as the gnat buzzing about in the newsroom. Follow up.
* The media (all media: print, digital, radio, TV, etc.) are busy and appreciate quick, concise pitches, although the occasional shout-out to their work doesn’t hurt.
* Because they’re inundated with pitches, the media are looking for reasons to quickly cut you off at the pass. Anticipate their brush-offs and stay one step ahead with information that makes your pitch distinctive and appealing.
* Be upbeat but not obsequious, persistent but not pesky. Above all, be professional.
* Mind your manners. Send thank-you notes for nice publicity. Seek out media contacts at social functions or community gatherings just to say hello. Ask about their lives, not because you’re trying to cultivate contacts but because you’re sincerely interested. (You’re a writer, so this comes naturally … right?)
* Handle brush-offs or bad reviews graciously. The air is rarified on the high ground.
Hope this helps. Oh, and one more note from Fortysomething Me to Twentysomething Me: You have SO much to learn. Get over yourself, will ya?