Are Press Releases a Thing of the Past? 3 Challenges

Thursday, May 17, 2012
No. Authors still need them, but with a different spin.

Pig Goes National

In late June, 2009, a traffic accident sent an 800-pound pig on an unexpected journey toward a new life. A truck flipped on the way to a slaughterhouse and killing about 30 of the 90 pigs it was carrying. 59 pigs were easy to catch; but the 60th found its way to fame. It wandered into a residential neighborhood and took up residence in a swimming pool. When the surprised home owner found the pig, it took a couple days to sort it out. Dubbed Wilburette, no one was willing to send this roaming pig to the slaughterhouse. The story broke locally, but within two days, it was carried nationally.

Here's a little known fact: most online media picks up information from local sources or other online sources. You know how the publisher is always telling you to ask your local newspapers to write about you and your work? Turns out this is very wise advice. It even has a name now: Starter Publicity.

Local stories can be picked up anywhere from 1-10 days after the initial report or article. For every book release, major website upgrades, book signings, or other newsworthy events, you should write a press release and send to every local newspaper, community publication, radio station and TV station. Follow up 2-3 days after the press release to answer any questions and push to schedule an interview. Often a publisher will help you write or proof the press release, but just as often for local events, you’re on your own. Here's an example of a short press release by a local PBS station about an interview on a local show.

Online Delivery of Press Releases

Websites such as are designed to help you distribute your press releases online. It gives you a chance to read customers directly as they browse online news organizations; it also reaches bloggers, who could pick up an interesting news item to feature.

The most common way of measuring success of an online press release is counting how many times it is reprinted by news sites such as Google News, aggregate sites such as Topix and finally social media sites. Part of this success is links to your site, which improves your ranking in the search engines, which leads to more website visitors—an indirect benefit of a press release.

Many sites distribute press releases, with a variety of services and range of prices. To get you started, here are three such sites:,,

Here’s a handy chart of steps in creating a press release:

3 Challenges in Using a Press Release

  1. Cutting through the clutter. It’s the buzz word these days, “discoverability.” How do people find you? The press release should help, but only if the headline catches attention and pulls in readers. Work hard on these crucial elements.
  2. Targeting and distribution. How do you decide on the best category for your press release? Is this related to politics, education, or entertainment? Sometimes, it’s hard to categorize your book and you need multiple press releases, one for each audience or category. Otherwise, target the best you can and just move on.
  3. Measuring results. You know that it was seen by 1000 people from the stats provided by the distribution site. But of those 1000, how many read the whole article and how many did what you hoped? (Read or bought your book!) Unknown. When you evaluate distribution services, pay special attention to any analytics or statistics that they offer to evaluate the effectiveness of the press release.
Press releases may feel like a shot in the dark, but it’s a time tested way of getting information to the right people. And a shot that can be the start of a wider distribution than you first expected. Just ask Wilburette--she found a new home on a local farm.

Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes.


Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Thanks for sharing this information. You are right, sometimes it feels like you just toss out press releases into an abyss, but one never knows where they might lead.

Lisa Hayes said...

Thanks, Darcy. A great reminder that the big picture can be born from the small one.

Margo Dill said...

You know, this doesn't relate to my books per say, but you are so right about the bigger markets using smaller market stories. I wrote an article for The News-Gazette, which is a Champaign/Urbana IL newspaper, about a man who basically had an old-time Phillips 66 gas station as his shed and a lot of other old time stuff. Anyway, it was a cute, interesting article about a guy in an IL town of about 450. The Chicago Tribune picked it up and published it--with my byline. I didn't get paid, but I got another credit and a good one. So, you are right--you never know what those newspapers are going to pick up.

WOW! said...

Great post. So true, Darcy!

We have a sponsor for our next issue that offers affordable distribution services for authors. Some of those you mentioned above can be pretty expensive or require a membership fee, so here's another option:

They have low rates and are real people! They can write it for you or make suggestions (for free), distribute it (they have state, regional, and national packages), and they give you an excel file of where it was distributed.

LuAnn Schindler said...

Excellent advice! I haven't had to use PR distribution, but I'll echo Margo's comments. I write for local daily and a lot of those stories are seen by larger newspapers, who snag them and give us bylines.

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