Back to PR for Writers



Press Kits and Pitch Letters

Perhaps the most basic tool in a publicist's arsenal is the press kit. Remember that media people receive thousands of these a week (no exaggeration!). To stand above the crowd you'll need to spend a little money to make these as professional looking and eye-catching as possible.

Even if you don't have an eye for designing your own, catalogs such as Paper Direct (you can get a free catalog by calling 1-800-272-7377 or clicking on the link provided) have wonderful coordinated materials from letterhead, business cards and envelopes to special folders and presentation packets. The "look" you select should be in tandem with your message or a special aspect about you and your work.

Once you've selected your materials you can begin creating the contents of the press kit. In general the basic press kit should contain the following:

  • A cover letter (often the pitch letter)
  • A short one or two page press release
  • A Question and Answer sheet
  • A one page biography
  • A color copy of your book cover or a cover flat
  • A 5X7 professional photo
If the list seems daunting, let's take it one step at a time.

The Pitch Letter

Writers have an advantage over most other business people when it comes to promoting their work because many of us are all too familiar with the query letter. In the PR professional's handbag, is a tool known as the pitch letter. Very few people understand that the pitch letter is even more important than a press release when it comes to author PR.

Very similar in purpose to a query, the pitch letter is meant to gain a media person's attention and make him or her ask for more. Unfortunately, there are plenty of books on how to write a killer query and virtually none on how to write a perfect pitch letter. Most PR people learn how to craft a pitch letter from trial and error (and advice when they can find it).

First things first - format: A pitch letter, like a query, should be limited to a single page. Limit your prose to three paragraphs and keep them clean, concise and direct. Use one inch margins and print it on letterhead or nice quality stationary. Make sure you have called ahead of time and gotten the correct spelling of the person's name and his or her title. If you aren't sure whether the person is a Mr. or a Ms., ask. If you don't know who you're looking for, ask. It is perfectly acceptable to say, "Could you tell me who books talent for the Leeza show? Do you know how far in advance they book a show?" It is better to play dumb and ask lots of questions than send your material to the wrong person. If you think the slush pile at a publishing house is ominous, it is nothing compared to a producer or editor's collection of daily pitches and press packets. A pitch letter can be sent alone or as a cover letter to your press release/press packet.

Content: The first paragraph should introduce yourself and the subject. This is where you need a hook, but one that explains exactly what you have to offer, who you are, when the event is happening and where it will be. These are known as the five W's of journalism and should be included in every pitch letter and press release you write.

The second paragraph should explain why the producer or editor/reporter should have you on the show or include you in an article in their publication. For city and regional media, give them a local angle. It can showcase you as a local person, give a local example of a national incident or trend, or be related to the community. An example would be if you saw an article in the Wall Street Journa on how writing a book can be a quick road to success. Copy the article and attach it to a pitch letter that offers to give the reporter an inside look at what really happens to authors from a local source.

For national television, radio and print media, tie yourself to a national trend or incident. If you have a book coming out and want to get on the radio, tie the controversy of America's obsession with the Clinton "sex" scandal to the misinterpretation of romance books as "sex" books as a comment on our society. Remember that reporters are always looking for material that can be tied to a holiday, is timely or gives a new slant to a current trend or issue.

The third paragraph explains how you can be reached. Give them phone numbers and voice mail even if it is already printed on your letterhead. Always end your pitch letter by saying that you'll be contacting them and tell them when (such as next week, the beginning of the month or you can be specific and say a day.)

Above all, make sure that what you are pitching is what the media person needs. Don't pitch your book signing to the gardening editor or the financial editor, you'll only make enemies. Research is important. Look at back issues of a publication or watch/listen to a show before you pitch. Get to know what types of people they interview, what topics seem to repeated often and which journalist is the one reporting. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. But thorough investigation will pay off in better responses from the media. Their number one complaint is that they receive material which is not suited to their publication or show.

Media people need and want fresh ideas for their publications and shows. If you give them what they need, and make it easy for them, the more likely they will be to use your material and possibly interview you. Remember to think like a journalist on a deadline when you're writing a pitch letter.

The Press Release

Again, you as a writer have the advantage. Although a press release has a definite format, you are essentially trying to tell your message in a short story form.

Format - Again this should be on nice quality paper or letterhead with one-inch margins. In the upper right hand corner you should write For Immediate Release in bold or all capitals. Immediately below it put the date you are sending out the materials or the date on which you are allowing the information to be available to the public (this is useful if sending the information in advance by several months for magazines and lets them know which issue it might go in). In the upper left hand corner write Contact Information in bold or all capitals. Immediately underneath that put your publicist's name, phone number, fax number and e-mail address. If you are acting as your own publicist put your name, phone, fax and e-mail address.

Content - Just above the first paragraph write a short, snappy headline that will grab their attention. For the first line, you'll also need what's called a dateline (usually the city and state where the press release is originated followed by a dash the date and two dashes). It should look something like this: Seattle, WA-Date--.

Start your first sentence immediately after the dateline. Your first paragraph needs a hook, just like your books. If you're not sure how to write a journalistic hook read several article out of the newspaper to get a flavor for the writing style.

You should try to incorporate the who, what why, how and why as early on in the release as possible. Journalists like facts and figures. If you can weave these into your press release, so much the better.

Your middle paragraphs should be the message you decided on earlier wrapped around a news time window event such as the release of a new book, a book signing, local book tour, visit to your hometown or speaking engagement at your alma mater. You can also create events, such as contests that can be considered news (e.g. announcing a contest for your readers or a local person winning the contest).

The final paragraph needs to give the event information in a concise format and contact information. Again, even if it is printed on the page as letterhead, repeat how they can contact you.

The Question and Answer Sheet

Know as a Q and A, this is usually a one-page sheet containing some of the most frequently asked questions you receive and their answers.

Format - Limit it to one or two pages at most. Use one-inch margins and the same letterhead as the rest of your press kit materials. Label it at the top FAQs or Author Q and A. For each paragraph bullet-point and write out the question then write the answer below it. Keep your response to each question limited to a single paragraph.

Content - If you've never been interviewed before consider creating answers to the following:

  • Why do you know about....? (This should be a lead into your key message points)
  • Why/When/How did you start writing?
  • What is your typical day like?
  • How many books have you written and where do you get your ideas?
  • How do you research your books?
  • Why do you write (whatever genre or type you write)?
  • How long did it take you to write this book?
  • Aren't all romances, mysteries, true crimes, suspense, action-adventures the same?

This sheet is also an excellent place to list the facts and figures for the book industry for your genre including statistics on sales, the percentage of paperback fiction that your genre represents, the number of members in your professional writing organizations, such as RWA, etc.

The Biography Page

This is intended to give some small personal facts about you and your background to give the reporter the material to pull together a very short introduction or note about you.

Format - Again one-inch margins and press kit letterhead are used. Label the top Author Biography and limit it strictly to only a few paragraphs (usually no more than three).

Content - Try not to duplicate information you've already used in the press kit if possible, but don't leave anything out either. You may have to use this piece separately or in combination with everything else in the press kit for different situations. You'll want to give information such as where you grew up, your education and degrees, where you live now, your family facts (pets, kids, married or not etc.) as well as how many hours a day you write, which number book this is for you, etc.




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