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Who's Your Contact?

At this point, how many of you would like to have a professional publicist who works for free? You can easily develop your own alter publicity ego, in effect, a publicist who works for free. This person will act as your media contact and be listed on all your press kit materials.

To create the illusion that you have a professional public relations representative, give her a name and create professional-looking letterhead for that person. This should be no great feat for all of you who create characters everyday. Just don't go to far and start giving this person flowers on secretary's day. Place all your publicity materials on this letterhead including cover letters, press releases, pitch letters, question and answer sheets and biography pages.

When you answer the phone and there is a call for your alter-ego, you can handle it one of two ways:

  1. You can take the call as your alter-ego (which some authors say boosts their confidence in working with the media)
  2. You can say your alter-ego is out of the office and offer to help the caller in her stead.

Many authors find having an alter-ego helps them not only screen calls, but also track results of the publicity efforts by the number of calls they receive for their in-house publicist. Even if you have a publicist at your publishing house, how you handle the interviews once you get them requires that you act as your own publicist part of the time.

Getting Noticed

There are several ways to initiate contact with the media. Most of the time phone calls will suffice; however, if you intend to cover several cities (for something like a booksigning tour) you may want to use what's known in the PR profession as a pitch letter. If you've ever written a query letter you have a good start on your skills to build a 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 them ask for more. Most PR people learn how to craft a pitch letter from trial and error (and advice when they can find it.)

Pitch Letter Format:

  • Single page
  • Limit prose to 3 or 4 paragraphs - keep them clean, concise, direct
  • One inch margins
  • Print on letterhead or nice stationary
  • Call ahead of time and get the correct spelling of the person's name and his or her title.
  • If you don't know if it's a Mr. or Ms. ASK!
  • If you don't know who you are looking for ASK! It is perfectly acceptable to say "Could you tell me who books talent for the Leeza show?" or "Do you know how far in advance they book a show?"
  • It's better to play dumb and ask than send your material to the wrong person.
  • Send it alone or as a cover letter to your press packet.


1st paragraph - introduce yourself and the subject. This is were 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.

2nd paragraph - explain why the producer or editor/reporter should have you on the show or include you in the article in their publication.

For city and regional media, give them a local angle. It can give a local example of a national trend, be related to the community or showcase you as a local person.

An example would be if you saw an article in the Wall Street Journal 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 and how many people are swindled out of their money by vanity presses.

For national television, radio or 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 tied to a holiday, information that is timely or gives a new slant on a current trend or issue.

3rd paragraph - explains your qualifications, experience and background and how you can be reached.

Even with a pitch letter you will have to use the phone to initiate follow-up contact with the media. When you make your follow-up calls, there are some techniques which will make your alter-ego sound like a PR pro:

  • When you talk on the phone, SMILE. You can hear a smile! Standing up also changes your demeanor on the phone.
  • Immediately state your name.
  • Always check to see if you are calling at a good time. Some media are on deadline and will not be receptive no matter how perfect your material is for them. If they say no, ask them when would be better to call them back, then do it.
  • Get to the point by telling the producer or editor who, what, when and where.
  • Be enthusiastic, energetic, chatty, upbeat and personable. Talk passionately and freely, but keep it brief. Be sincere.
  • If you've got their attention with your hook, but haven't locked in an interview, tell them a story related to your hook. Ask them about the weather and compare it to where you live. If they seem interested, but not hooked, offer a no-strings-attached interview for five minutes.
  • Remember that no doesn't mean no. It may really mean not right now, or it isn't right for my section or show. Be persistent without becoming obnoxious. Don't give up until they say DON'T CALL ME. And even then don't take it personally.
  • Perhaps the biggest mistake professional PR people and authors alike make is not following up. It is critical that you follow up with every piece you mail out, otherwise you're wasting your money and the journalist's time and desk space.
  • If you get voice mail make sure you have a script written. Give your name.

You then have 20-30 seconds to pitch yourself and tell them why their talk show or magazine needs you and what you can offer. Tell them what you've already sent and then restate your phone number.

Here's an example of how to cram it all in:

Hi Michael. This is Theresa Meyers and I'm calling to discuss an interview exclusive for the Leeza Show. Do you know one of the biggest problem Americans have in their relationships is confusing sex with romance? Author Amy Gerret, can shed some light on why society is failing to keep relationships meaningful. She'll be in Los Angeles on August 25th on a book tour. Would you like to have her give your viewers her top ten ways to get romance back in a relationship? I sent you her latest book, In The Storm, and a packet of materials last week. You can reach me weekdays from 9-5pm pacific time. My name again is Theresa Meyers and my number is 602-555-7373.

Along with these there are some definite don'ts.

  • Don't pretend to be familiar with the producer.
  • Don't call multiple producers at the show.
  • Don't ever lie.
  • Don't attempt to keep the producer on the phone longer than three minutes unless they are actively asking you questions.


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