How working with local media & organizations can boost your book’s visibility and sales
By Dayna Reidenouer
Content is crucial in the realm of social media. Reusable—evergreen—content is strategic. For authors who’d rather do something than fool around with Canva or the latest TikTok trend, thinking holistically but marketing locally can be ideal for generating interest in themselves and their books.
Define the Terms
It’s important to know what we’re talking about before we go further. (All definitions are from Merriam-Webster.com.)
- Marketing: the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service
- Advertising: the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements
- Publicity: an act or device designed to attract public interest; specifically, information with news value issued as a means of gaining public attention or support
- Press release: an official statement that gives information to newspapers, magazines, television news programs, and radio stations
- Evergreen: retaining freshness or interest: perennial; universally and continually relevant: not limited in applicability to a particular event or date
Apply the Terms
Marketing is the broad process by which an author promotes, sells, and distributes a book. When I was a child in the 1980s, traveling inspirational speakers would visit area churches, performing up front and selling books in the back. In those instances, two prongs of marketing—sales and distribution—took place in person. Forty years later, sales and distribution of books most often occur online, through services like Amazon, IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, and Chirp.
Promotion—the third prong of marketing—is primarily conducted online as well. Advertising and publicity fall under this umbrella. In the publishing world, advertising is most often spoken of in terms of Facebook and Amazon Marketing Services ads because they cost money.
Podcasts, blogs, and articles produced by magazines, newspapers, television, and radio are viable, often free, alternatives to paid advertising. Specific numbers for how many newspapers exist in the US vary according to source, but the reports average around 1,200 dailies and 5,000 weeklies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has licensed 33,570 broadcast stations as of Sept. 30, 2022, with about two-thirds dedicated to radio and the remainder to television. That’s a lot of outlets looking for content. Most authors won’t have any success pitching the arts and entertainment desk at the New York Times or iHeartRadio, but they might make headline news from their local or regional media companies.
Why Go Local?
At first glance, it seems odd to focus on local news to sell a book nationwide. Here’s the thing, though—everyone is an influencer. The way the world is connected digitally and socially, information shared during a conversation with the person next door might make its way to the other side of the country in no time. Additionally, working with local media provides authors with practical experience, résumé entries, and social media content.
I’ll cover how to write a press release next month, but before you contact news agencies, you need a plan. What will you pitch? That is, what will you offer as the basis of a news or feature story? Keeping in mind the following definition of news: News should be timely; new or different; of interest to viewers, readers, or listeners; and have some sort of connection to the region.
Here are some guidelines for planning for a pitch.
- Don’t pitch your book. A book release is essentially a one-time story. And depending on the publication or broadcaster to which you’re pitching, it won’t qualify for free news coverage. However, if you create an event out of the release—such as a launch party with a special guest or entertainer—you suddenly have an appealing offering for a journalist to cover.
- Form alliances with local organizations. Support them in a professional capacity. Your book will be mentioned in passing, yes, but the coverage of your alliance and activities with that organization will be evergreen. Save all links to articles and clips posted online, and download those items whenever possible so even if they’re removed from the web, you still have access to them.
- Even when news agencies agree to cover an event, plan to gather photos and videos for your own use. That way, you’re prepared to submit photos, video clips, and a press release afterward in case you’re pre-empted by a more significant event on the other side of town. Also, having your own digital content will enable you to create stories, reels, and posts for your social media accounts.
While professional photography at your event would be nice, you don’t need to hire a professional for image-related content; the goal is to free yourself to interact with others, not worry about capturing photos and video. One caveat: make sure the person with the phone or camera knows how to capture clear, well-framed and focused photos and to shoot vertical videos. TikTok is a stickler for vertical, not horizontal, reels and pictures.
After the event, don’t post all your content at once. Post a reel and use the caption to point viewers to your timeline or website for more photos and information. If you have an especially saucy or collectible photo, tease it on your social media timeline, but reveal it only to newsletter subscribers. (Lead magnets don’t always have to be novellas or short stories!)
Time your content to release on related holidays or national celebration days. For example, if there’s a golden retriever in your book and you visited a golden retriever rescue, post a photo or video from your visit on National Golden Retriever Day. (It’s annually observed on Feb. 3, by the way.)
Reuse photos/reels with fresh captions. Evergreen content is relatable long after the original event has passed. Repost a picture of the first article about your book or new profession on the anniversary of its publication. Commemorate the publication of your fiftieth book with a memory from your fifth. Make a time lapse or “glow up” reel showing your book-related volunteerism then and your volunteerism now.
Identifying Allied Organizations
Writing a book can sap even the best author’s creativity for a time, so don’t sweat it when local publicity ideas don’t come to you immediately. Sometimes it’s easier to identify alliances in books other than your own. In a lot of ways, this phenomenon is similar to writing back cover blurbs. When you’re a degree of separation removed from a book, it’s easier to be objective. So perhaps you and an author friend or critique partner can swap books for less fraught brainstorming.
Whether you’re assessing a book for potential alliances for yourself or a peer, several writing tools are your friends.
- Who are your characters? List the demographics and other biographical facts you know about each main character. Sometimes this information is collected by your copyeditor for the book’s style sheet, so make sure you check those entries too.
- What’s the goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC)? Create a list of your characters’ goals, their motivations to reach those goals, and the conflicts within each person and their relationships.
- Who are the significant supporting characters? List their notable characteristics and relationships.
- What themes resonate throughout the story?
- What seasons and holidays are marked in the book?
Once you have your lists, you can find organizations—typically nonprofit, but for-profit can sometimes work—relating to each facet. Start by identifying the keywords (typically nouns) in each statement.
For example, Sally is a big-city lawyer who’s come home to help save her family’s pumpkin farm. “Lawyer,” “family,” and “farm” are the significant terms. Organizations related to those include, respectively, the local bar association, Legal Aid, and the public defender’s office; Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), AdoptUSkids.org, YWCA, and the Y; and No Kid Hungry, food banks, and farm preservation/conservation.
Perhaps Sally’s love interest, Jo, carries emotional wounds related to their gender and sexuality and ultimately finds healing with the assistance of a professional counselor. Ideal organizations to partner with include local PRIDE or LGBTQ+ coalitions and queer-friendly, trauma-informed professionals who provide no-cost, low-cost, or sliding-scale counseling and mental health care.
Once you have several organizations identified, initiate contact. If you’re able to get in touch with the director of development, do so. If the organization doesn’t have someone in that position, speak to the person in charge of fundraising.
I don’t recommend leading with “I’d like to sell you my book.” Instead, introduce yourself as an author who lives locally and explain that you would like to collaborate with the organization to raise support for them. Disclose up front that you’d like to use photos and footage from any joint events or activities in communications with your readers—and potential readers. (Make sure you’re building goodwill with the organizations by sharing their missions and promoting their events and products without mentioning your own every time.)
If you like to plan events, ask if you can host a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to the organization. If you’d rather be writing, find out what sponsorship opportunities are available. Remember, any costs associated with this part are probably tax-deductible, but contact your accountant or tax adviser to confirm.
Planning events isn’t limited to galas and book launches. Look at your list again. What elements did you have to learn the most about? Which aspects do you have the most personal experience with?
Our example main character, Sally, might imitate the author’s life by having played French horn in college. Naturally, then, the author can partner with a college ensemble, a music school, or a community orchestra. This partnership could look like joining the band auxiliary, volunteering to organize the music library, or overseeing the refreshments served at recitals or during concert intermissions. The author might also give a pre-concert talk about the interesting tidbits she learned about the French horn during her education and while researching for the book. Perhaps the talk would include examples of how French horns have shown up in various forms of entertainment, including her own book.
Turning Alliances into Content
Other ideas include the following:
- Sponsor the dessert course at a fundraising dinner. “One sweet treat deserves another.” If you attend, take a photo of the dessert, perhaps with your book cover. Shoot a time-lapse reel of bites of cake disappearing from your plate. Do a page-flip video of the program, ending on the page where your author name is listed as a sponsor.
Clean out your closet and donate to your area Dress for Success in honor of your heroine who escaped a bad situation with only the clothes she was wearing. Reels could include you or a friend or family member modeling the clothing to show styling variations or collecting the garments from the dry cleaners, filling the vehicle trunk carefully, and handing off the items to the Dress for Success coordinator. If you’re able to donate a check for undergarments and hosiery—I suggest a minimum of $200 for this part—ask your photographer friend to take a horizontal photo of you presenting the check to the coordinator. You can submit the photo and a press release to your local newspaper to run afterward as space allows.
If you have a background as a dog groomer, reach out to the veterinary technician training program at your area’s career and technology center (CTC). Some vet tech programs host grooming events to raise funds to offset the cost of attending high-level dog shows where students learn more about dozens of breeds. If your CTC doesn’t offer a grooming event, you could organize one, with the students doing most of the canine care and you providing professional support and guidance alongside the program instructors. For that event, you’ll want advance publicity to attract attendees. But don’t forget to take pictures and video on the day of. Fido jumping out of the dog bath while covered in soap suds is sure to draw lots of likes and comments.
Did you benefit from a mentor during your childhood and can attest to their positive influence in your life? Partner with an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. My local affiliate likes to have program veterans and volunteers who can talk with potential sponsors and supporters or appear in news coverage.
I hope you’ve realized by now that news coverage works best when it’s plotted, not pantsed. To ensure you have the best chance of working well with the news media, look out for next month’s RWR
. In that follow-up article, I’ll get specific about press releases, requests for news coverage, media kits, photography for print news, and where to find podcasting opportunities.
Dayna M. Reidenouer (they/she) launched True Love Editorial Services LLC after a 14-year career as a feature writer and photographer for a group of weekly newspapers in Lancaster County, Penn. Dayna thrives on solving problems, finding the smallest of typos, and providing feedback on everything from blurbs to websites for romance authors. To learn more, visit https://www.TrueLoveEditorial.com.