All writers should know how to write a press release. No matter how big or tiny your local paper is, you will want to let them know about writerly things happening in your area. Writers tend to be skittish things, hanging out in coffee shops and caves, keeping to themselves, but writers need to know other writers for help and advice … or just in case they need a drinking buddy for that rejection letter party.
As an editor, I was constantly amazed that there were events happening all over but not one bothered to notify the newspaper. Press releases are generally free. Why wouldn’t you want more people at your event?
The press release is a short statement published in the newspaper (and other publications) to give the public information: church activities, government or community meetings, charity fundraisers, business openings, open houses, etc. When writing a press release remember: Who, What, When, Where, Why and contact information. Example:
The Rotary Club of Galion (who) will hold an art auction (what) May 15 from 5-8 p.m (when) in the Galion Community Theatre (where) for the purpose of raising funds for its Third Grade Dictionary Project (why). Call Dennis at 555-555-5555 (contact) to reserve a spot. *A silent auction will open from 5-6 p.m with goodies donated by local businesses. Space is limited. Call John Jones for more information at 444-444-4444.*
If space in the paper is limited (and it usually is) the portion between the ** might be cut.
Get it all down
Press releases look easy to write but they are not. When you write a press release, the first draft should include everything you think is important. Once it’s all down on paper you can begin to condense the information to fit into the paper’s word count.
When you are ready to send a press release to a local paper, first check to see if they have an on-line form to fill out. Depending on the paper’s tech department and webmaster, this form may be easy to fill out or utterly frustrating. Be prepared to be frustrated. Fill in all the blanks, submit and pray. You might also call the paper and give your information over the phone. They may have other requirements as well like more contact information or even a fee. Be polite. Newspapers get the brunt of all the complaints in town. If you are polite and pleasant, they will remember you as being “one of the nice ones.”
Make yourself useful
If you get proficient at writing and submitting press releases, consider hiring yourself out (or offer your service for free) to local groups. Some writers have gotten paying jobs at the paper by starting small.
Most important of all, love the editor. The editor is the most scorned of all public figures. The editor is usually a writer with languishing novels and plays in his closet awaiting the day he can retire from the rat race. Of course, the opposite is also true. There are editors that are full of thorns and poison, hard-boiled and crass, caring little for public opinion. Remember, no matter how the editor treats you (or his staff), you must remain pleasant and helpful. Once you lose an editor’s good opinion, it is gone forever (kinda like Mr. Darcy).
Once there was a gentleman who thought he was the most important man in town. He came into the paper frequently to let me know what was going on and how he thought the paper should write about it. I thanked him for his input and pleasantly went about my business following our normal rules. It became evident that he was greatly offended every time we didn’t do as he suggested. He would come in and follow up on his request. “Why hasn’t such and such run in the paper yet?” He tormented the front desk staff if I wasn’t there and tormented me if I was (I frequently brought in baked goods the day after one of his visits). My publisher begged me to make him happy somehow. I told her that was not possible because he wanted free advertising. Newspapers do not do free advertising. Then I had a brainstorm and found a way to place his information in the community calendar. It was still free advertising, but it was only a half-inch of information. He came in and complained how small it was, but he left me alone after that.
It is pointless to argue with the editor. The paper has strict rules and the editor has to keep publishing happy, advertising happy, and the community happy. Think middle management. If they break rules for one, they will have to break rules for all, and then that rule no longer exists and the paper loses money.
There was another gentleman who ran a local community event every year. Every year he would send us press releases that were as long as the feature story on page one -complete with quotes from other news sources, website, history, and high praise from attendees. Every year, I had to cut the press release and every year he complained. Finally, with a little rewriting, I was able to run his “press release” as an article. This made him happy.
Some editors will work with you. Some will not. Some editors are invisible with staff trained to make the basic decisions. It’s best to know how to write a press release that is short with only the most important information. This is your best bet for getting it published in the paper.
P.S. Every editor is different. All the information I just gave you may be completely the opposite of what you need for your local paper. Be prepared for the unexpected.
Rachel H.T. Mendell
Rachel H.T. Mendell writes freelance from home in her office that she grabbed when her sixth child moved out, which is much nicer than the converted closet she wrote in for almost 20 years. Rachel writes novels, poetry, plays, essays, columns, articles, short stories, long letters, devotionals and experimental allegory. She has been published in various magazines as well as the Galion Inquirer, The Morrow County Sentinel, the Crestline Advocate and online at Richland Source. You can find a few of her articles in Heart of Ohio Magazine and floating around cyberspace. She keeps a blog, Domestic Mobility (http://domesticmobility.blogspot.com), and has recently started a website (http://www.rachelhtmendell.com). Rachel happily answers emails at email@example.com. She is married and has seven children and one grandson. When Rachel is not writing, she’s gardening, caring for chickens, rabbits, and cats. She lives with her family in Morrow County, Ohio.
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