Ask the Expert: Mo Walsh on Press Releases

NEWS FLASH: Kim Heniadis is the randomly selected winner of yesterday’s gift pack!

Edith here, enjoying a warm end of winter. I invited Sisters in Crime pal and journalist Mo Walsh to tell us about how to write a press release. I’ve used her template several times with good results. She’s also a crack photographer, and always wears her grey reporter hat when she snaps photos at the New England Crime Bake. What I love about today’s post is that it’s … a press release!Headshot3b

Authors advised: ‘Your news release is not about you’

WEYMOUTH, MA—March 11, 2016—Authors looking to publicize their books and public events have more success with news releases that connect with their target readers and make it easy for editors to say Yes, according to mystery writer and veteran news reporter Maureen “Mo” Walsh.

“Your news release is not about you—it’s about why readers should care about you and your book. That’s what news or features editors think when deciding whether to use your release or, even better, assign a reporter to interview you,” said Walsh in a March 11 blog post at www.wickedcozyauthors.com.

Walsh has published short crime fiction in Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, and five anthologies of Best New England Crime Stories from Level Best Books; and is a coauthor of the mystery trivia book A Miscellany of Murder (Adams Media, 2010). Walsh worked in advertising and public relations and now writes features for the Gatehouse Media New England newspapers.

She outlined three steps to writing an attention-getting news release:

  1. Create a Publicity Profile for your own use, listing everything you can think of about you, your book, your characters (they have connections, too); local, regional, and major media. Include a short bio (75 words) and a longer one (200 words), plus book cover blurbs and reviews. Walsh provided sample questions to create your profile.

From this, create the guts of your news release:

  • Paragraph on notable award(s), brief description of series or protagonist, latest book title and plot.
  • Paragraph quoting notable review(s).
  • Paragraph with interesting author quote.
  • Paragraph with brief bio, hitting most intriguing highlights.
  • Author’s website.

After your news release, not in it, include:

  • Hi-resolution author headshot with photo credit; JPEG photo of book cover(s).
  • Not-for-publication phone numbers and email for media to contact.
  1. Learn Basic Newswriting Style and the upside-down pyramid structure. “Newsrooms are short on staff and time. Less work for the editor means a better chance your release will be used,” said Walsh. “Learn to layer news from the must-know details down and how to write a headline, a lead (or lede), and a nut graph, plus how to use quotes effectively.”
  1. Start with Connections You Have: hometown, alumni, employer or industry, special interests, religious or service organizations, military service, etc. What publicity outlets can you tap through these connections? “Frame your news in terms news release connections graphicof these relationships,” said Walsh. “You are not just Author X, you are ‘Long Beach native’ or ‘Gardening enthusiast’; ‘Clinical psychologist’ or ‘member of the Hull High School Class of 1996’. And be prepared for follow-up questions or interviews with details about those connections.” She provided a colorful graph of such connections.

This can all sound like very dull stuff, Walsh admitted. “It comes alive when you fill in all the blanks with lively description of your book and characters, interesting details about your life and interests, and quotes from reviews and your primary reader—you!” Walsh kindly provided some real-life press releases.

Mo will check in today to answer any questions or comment on any sample graphs you’d like to post. A past board member of Sisters in Crime New England, she is current VP of Mystery Writers of America-New England and works on publicity for the New England Crime Bake conference.

Readers: How did it go when you wrote a press release? Have you read or used good ones – or bad ones? What did you learn? Do ask Mo questions – she’s an expert!

30 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: Mo Walsh on Press Releases

  1. Thanks for this great post, Mo. Writing a release used to seem daunting to me – until you shared your Crime Bake template with us. I saved it and have used the bones of it several times since!

  2. Hi Mo, Thank you for your tips on writing press releases. You’ve inspired me to tackle a task I’ve dreaded and kept putting off. BTW, I have a well-thumbed copy of A Miscellany of Murder, which I like both for the content and the engaging layout.

    • Once you set up the profile, it’s much easier to crank them out as needed, Maya. I’m glad you’re enjoying “Miscellany”–there’s a lot of fun stuff in there. We’re not too proud to call it “the bathroom trivia book of mystery.”

    • Congratulations, Sherry! You’ve come a long way, baby, since Friday night before Crime Bake 2005, when we were two newbies sharing dinner in Lowell. I’ll catch up!

  3. Mo, thanks for such great advice — and samples– on press releases. I wrote my first press release about three weeks ago, and had to use online samples as a guide. I made it fairly short, and I think it was decent, but after reading this post I feel sure that I can make my next press release ever better!

  4. I’ve never created a press release, but if I ever do, I will refer back to this press release. (And I love how you created the post as a press release.)

    • You will need one some day, Mark, so you can start working on your profile meanwhile. then it won’t be such a big job when the time comes. Good luck!

  5. Mo, thanks for the great information. I’m on deadline for Aggie Mundeen Mystery #4 (too early to announce), but an earlier book won an award. Is that appropriate for a press release?
    I was eager to read “sample questions” but the link goes to “real-life press releases.”
    Nancy G. West

    • Nancy, absolutely include the award(s)! You would start out with “Award-winning mystery author and (Connection, such as ‘hometown native’ or ‘Book Publishers of Texas founder’) Nancy G. West launched the fourth book in her Aggie Mundeen series, “Dead Whatever” (Publisher, Year).” You could also move the Connection to the beginning and then say “award-winning Aggie Mundeen mystery series.” The important thing is to get it at the top of the Inverted Pyramid and then layer in the details in the third or fourth paragraph. The amount of detail you give on each award depends on the publication and how much they are likely to print of your release. Always include the most prestigious or best-known to the audience for your release. You may want to briefly describe lesser-known awards, such as “the Gold Award from Blether Book Reviewers.” If it doesn’t make your release too long, you can include more award or career details near the end of the release, or, as you always, always, always should do, say “For more information on West’s award-winning novels and professional achievements, visit http://www.nancygwest.com.” Congratulations!

  6. What a helpful post! Thank you, Mo and Wickeds! I have written countless press releases for others (non-authors), but this focus on publishing was wonderful. By the way, I had the same problem with the sample questions link that Nancy mentioned. Would love to see them, too.

    • The link is in my comment below. Sorry about that, Susan. As you mentioned, there are different types of news releases for different purposes, but one principle is the same: Why would someone reading THIS publication or website want to read it?

  7. Oops! So sorry, everyone. I sent the same link twice. Here is the Dropbox link to the publicity questions. This one is geared to Crime Bake, but the principle is the same for any “news peg.” And you should have news! What details can you include about your book, your launch (where and when, etc.), author appearance.
    https://www.dropbox.com/home?preview=PUBLICITY+Questions.doc
    Perhaps one of the moderators can substitute this for the wrong link above? Thanks!

  8. I asked my last publicist to write me a press release and she said (despite the big bucks I was paying her) that no one used press releases anymore. I asked her write a brief something I could send to libraries and bookstores. She said it was all social media now. I am so glad to have this primer so I can write my own press releases–though I would far rather have Mo write them for me. Are you available, Mo?

    Thanks, Wickeds, for sharing this.

    Kate Flora

    • Hi Kate – You point out something I should mention. Today’s “news release” is not sent by mail but by email, primarily to print media or to the producer of a radio or TV PROGRAM. Few broadcast programs feature writers, and those will be on local stations. Do your research! You can include a short message before the release itself, indicating your familiarity with the program and what you’d like to share with listeners/viewers in terms that apply to that program. Then refer them to the release below and include your contact information in the note.

      Your most likely personal response will come from a hometown newspaper, probably a weekly; alumni, employer, or special interest publication; or local AM radio or community access cable TV show. These may not reach a big audience in themselves, but they will be more detailed and you can post links to them on your website or blog. Here’s another link to an article I wrote in 2005 for the Weymouth News after hometown native Heather Webber contacted us: https://www.dropbox.com/home?preview=So.+Shore+Webber+Author+article.doc

      Sorry I can’t go into the release-writing business–too little time for fiction now!

  9. I chanced on both the Wickeds site and your post by accident when checking it out for a joint blog of which I am to be a part. So useful – thank you. In the UK we have far fewer local radio and tv stations, and local newspapers – most are online. I used to write press releases for musicians and the theatre, but now in the age of social media they aren’t needed so much. Wondering now if I should relocate…!

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