Author Press Kits: A Few Ideas on How-To Make One and Why and When You Need One

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Author press kits. (Insert sigh here.) Of all the things a writer needs to do during a day! Tweet, Retweet, touch base on Facebook, pop into our respective writer’s groups, check and answer e-mails, blog, make sales charts, prepare a marketing strategy, do interviews, huff, puff, drink coffee, have five random nervous breakdowns, research, query, edit, publish and…oh, I almost forgot, actually WRITE…who has time to even figure out what a Press Kit IS, much less put one together? And it’s not like it’s really easy to find the information you need to put one together. I mean, it’s out there, hidden in the slush of all the other half-cocked information you find after an hour of digging. So I thought I’d write a blog covering the dreaded Press Kit – what it is, what it’s not, and when to use or not use one. When I’m done, the information will be yours to do with as one suits your goals and needs.

Q: So, what is a Press Kit?

A: Well, in short, it’s just a packet of information that represents an author. Not necessarily even a particular body of work, just the author themselves. Of course, bodies of work, professional experience, etc., are all included in the Kit.

Q: Why do you need a press kit?

A: Honestly, it’s debatable that you would. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are seeking to be seen. In the life of an author, you will need a full bio almost constantly, but a press kit is a little different by nature. Remember the blog I wrote about branding and how once you publish a book, you become as much a product as your stories? That’s where a Press Kit comes in. For the times when you want to use it because you need to establish a complete package of yourself as a product or service. For instance, you might present an entire Press Kit to a publisher. Maybe, but probably only if they ask for one. But you would most likely want one if you were trying to land a speaking engagement or in the event that you were going to do a television and/or radio appearance. In my experience, they are not something you pop in the mail to somebody you’re cold querying. They are things that are delivered personally and almost always at the request of the recipient. 

**Note! A Press Release can be cold sent. A Press Release is just a page from your Press kit, however, and the two should not be confused. I’ll talk a little about Press Releases later in this blog.

Q: How should a Press Kit be packaged?

A: That’s a personal decision. I’ve known authors who had slick, glossy pocket folders made up with their book covers gracing the front, the inside stuffed with glossy photos and color printed bios. And that’s perfectly all right if you have the money to invest and you’re going to be handing them out on, let’s say, a book tour circuit. Certainly, you can go all out if you wish, but the quality of Press Kits can vary from the elaborate to a simple black and white printed sheets of paper with the information pertinent to the situation you’re trying the enter. It’s a matter of your personal taste, economic position and what you’re trying to achieve. Remember, creativity is a wonderful thing, and so is flair, but the Press Kit is about relaying information to the person you want to read it. Don’t be annoying and time consuming. Most people in the press are busy and until you’ve established a relationship with them, being over the top might work against you more than for you. Don’t distract from your point, which is to display your excellence, not your flamboyance.

Q: So what goes in a Press Kit?

A: Again, how you want to design your kit is a personal thing and there is certainly plenty of room to wiggle. There’s no real clear cut answer for that. There are two basic kits that I have used, both similar, and for the purpose of this blog, I’ll map the two of them out so you can see how you can switch them up. Also, don’t be afraid to redesign them as you go along to target a specific person. You should always research who you are contacting and make sure that you are speaking directly to THEM and the needs of their service. Then you can mutually benefit each other. It’s just good business.

 

So, getting to it, this is what goes in my PRESS KIT #1:

  1. A basic bio.

We’ve discussed author bios in previous blogs. You need three. You need a short one, no more than three lines and a medium one, no more than a paragraph. And then you need the big daddy one that gives all kinds of interesting tidbits on who you are. (Remember, the Author Bio is exactly that – an AUTHOR’s BIO – and has little to do with a particular book or project. It’s your opportunity to put a shine on yourself and catch the attention of the person you are trying to impress.

 

The Bio you choose to use in your Press Kit should unquestionably be angled for the specific person you are targeting. Don’t be afraid to write a new one or change it up depending on who that person is. For instance, if you are sending the material to an editor at your local paper, who you know is pressed for time; don’t hit him with a full page bio. Send him the blurb or short version. If you know the person you are soliciting is a bleeding heart radio host who likes to get to the core of creative people’s hearts, send her the long one. But always make sure you know something about the person you are contacting before you do it. You can’t get a piece of a busy person’s time by proving you’re willing to waste it to begin with.

Oh! And always include your contact information on your bio. This would include e-mail addresses, phone numbers, Twitter handle, Facebook, etc.. You can always drop a business card with the Press Kit, but those get lost in a heartbeat. It’s best to keep it all in one place, on one page, just in case.

 

**NOTE: REPEATING! ALWAYS KNOW WHO YOU ARE GIVING YOUR PRESS KIT TO. YOU DON’T WANT IT IN THE GARBAGE THE MINUTE YOU TURN YOUR BACK.

 

  1. A Professional Looking Author Headshot.

 “But…but…but…I’m a freaking writer! I don’t need to look good!”

Au contraire! You WANT to look as professional as you can. You don’t have to be gorgeous, but nobody is going to invite a greasy haired, mustard stained shirt wearing hobo dude to their television station for an on-air interview! And the truth is that they probably aren’t going to want you in their radio station, either, if they think they’ll probably smell you from the sidewalk. Nor will they invite you to speak at their Author’s Night or ask you to be a guest at one of their Book Discussion Dinners. It’s OK to write a novel in your jams. Gosh, we all do that! But put on at least a nice shirt and comb your hair for your head shot. And don’t hide your face behind your hands or a book. People want to see who they’re going to be talking to. It’s sad that the world is so judgmental and will ignore brilliance over cosmetic appeal, but they will. Give yourself every chance you have to succeed.

**NOTE: It’s usually all right to have your Headshot right on the same page as the bio, printed out flyer style. Rarely will anybody ask for an 8×10 glossy from an author and it might be laughable if you put one in. If you have one printed separately, that might be all right, depending, but keep it on regular paper.  Nobody expects you to be a model, unless you are.

 

  1. Book information.

Chances are that you are promoting your latest title. You, of course, want to sell this information. It’s your product, after all, and your ticket to glory, fame and fortune! So make sure you have the right information included. This would include anything and everything someone would need to know to find your book…ANYWHERE…i.e., full title, author’s name, publisher (if you have one), publishing date, and your ISBN.. It’s a really good idea to have a photo of the book cover on the book information page. Color is magnificent, but if you’re pinched for pennies, black and white will do.  You can also include reviews and editorial endorsements, other press releases and links or locations to where your work can be purchased.

 

**NOTE: Be sure to include your contact info on this page as well. In fact, thinking about it, it’s not a terrible idea to add it to EVERY page, as long as it’s not obnoxious.

 

  1. Other Public Information.

This is the page where you can add the other things you do. Do you do seminars about writing or another subject? Do you edit? Do you teach? Do you have professional endorsements? Satisfied clients? This is the place to tout them. It’s also the place to tout any other accomplishments you have and any other work you’ve produced. Be sure to include previous publishers, pending contracts, etc.. Remember, you are a product, just like your books. Sell yourself every chance you have. Charm their little socks off their tiny feet.

 

  1. Bookmarks and/or postcards.

I have heard mixed reviews on these two things being included in a Press Kit. Bookmarks are always nice for readers. They’re fairly cheap to print and you can get a ton of them. They’re nice to pass out, but do they buy you air time or a speaking engagement? I don’t know. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer, but they are a bit of swag that could be considered generous. Postcards, on the other hand, you can pre-address to yourself with postage, requesting that the recipient respond to you via the “enclosed postcard”, giving them the opportunity to jot a note and not leave you waiting forever, wondering if they even opened your kit. They may send it back to you, they may not. Of course, you can treat it like a throw away post card and just consider it a gift to them for taking a few moments of their time. Again, I can’t speak to the effectiveness of post cards with a Press Kit, but it’s something to consider if you’re inclined in the direction of having them. Most postcards have the book cover on one side. Many are not intended for mailing at all and simply have the book/author information printed on the non-picture side. And some, especially for authors who have a lot of public speaking engagements, sport the author’s photo as opposed to any book cover. Again, it’s a matter of what you’re trying to achieve.

And this is what I put in my Author Press Kit #2:

  1. Table of Contents

 This is exactly what it sounds like, a quick reference for the recipient to use if he/she is only looking for specific information.

 

  1. The pitch

The dreaded pitch! Ugh! This is your letter, tailored to the specific person to whom you are sending your kit. Be so, so careful with your pitches; make sure that you are touching on the very specific things you can offer the individual or organization you are contacting. The pitch you send to a radio station will not be the same as the one you send to a television studio, nor will the pitch you write to a book store be the same as the one you write to a Writer’s Group seeking speakers for their annual convention. Take your time with these. They are your ticket through the door to exposure or a one way crapslide into oblivion. One thing you can find plenty of good advice for free on the internet is how to write a decent pitch, so do your research. Practice. Find your groove and go get ’em.

    3. Biography

For this kit, I tend to use the long biography. Really sell yourself, make the person looking at your material see you as somebody they want to know, somebody interesting that they’d like to introduce to their friends.  Be sure to tout your credentials here, too, and make yourself as authentic as possible. Don’t show off, but be confident and let them know who you are and what the stuff of what you do is all about and made of.

    4. Book Excerpt

Showcase yourself. I wouldn’t put a chapter in here, but a nice chunk, a couple of paragraphs where your writing is sharp and eloquent. Give them a taste of what you have to offer. Hook ‘em.

  1. Q and A’s

If you’ve ever had a Q and A session, say on Goodreads, they’re great when you’re doing an expanded Press Kit. Print one off and add it in. Why not? It shows you’re active and have established a rapport with your readers…and that your readers care to discuss what they’ve read of your work with you.

 

  1. Book Reviews

ONLY THE GOOD ONES! Put them here! The glorious, the shining, the over the top, the best of the best…the ones written by your drooling, maniacal, screaming public, the ones by fans that pull on your clothes as you try to make your way through the supermarket aisles… THOSE REVIEWS! Forget the balance between good and evil, forget any modesty on this page. GLORIFY!!! But keep it to a few. After about three, your recipient gets the idea that you are, indeed, a literary God, and needs no further proof.

    7. Your latest Press Release.

This kind of opens a whole new can of worms, since I really didn’t talk about press releases, so I’ll write one up real quick for you to give you an idea of what you need:

“JoJo “Biggie” McSqueaky’s career in literature began in 1976 with him taking over the school newsletter. This led him to a position at the local paper writing columns and reviews, eventually leading him to Northwestern University where he studied English and Computer Graphics, as well as Art and Photography.

Teaming up with three of his classmates, he went on to write the Screenplay for the smash underground hit film “Heads up, 7 Up!” and after graduating, went on to work for the New York Times as a proofreader, later working his way up the ladder to Editor in Chief.

He is a freelance author and is currently releasing his first novel, Cheetah’s on Crack, in August, 2014.”

OK, so that’s a crappy press release, but it’s 5 in the morning and I’m out of coffee. You get the idea. Examples of Press Releases are also all over the internet. They’re easy to find and show templates of how to put them together. so if you want a good one, do a google search and you’ll see how they’re done for real. They’re honestly a piece of cake. 

    8. Author Photo

Again, don’t shy away from a professional photo. I’ve had editors run an immediate article on me, using the photo from my kit. Of course, the photo can be either black and white or color, glossy or not. But if you do have a sort of lower quality kit, make sure that your contact information is on the page with the photo so if they want a better copy you can be contacted quickly. And, respond quickly! Editors are busy people and they are always being contacted. Believe me, they will pass you by and go on to somebody else if you make them wait too long.

      9. Book Cover Photo

Follow the same approach with your book cover photo as you did your author photo. It’s all really simple stuff. 

 

OK, so those are the two kits that I have used in my career. You can switch them up to suit you, of course, but you get the basic idea. It’s a good idea to keep a hard copy on disk of everything you’ll need. That way in the event that a Press Kit is requested or you have use of one, you can run over to your local Kinko’s and print one off in a couple of minutes. It’s also not a terrible idea to have a copy for download off of your website. Don’t be afraid to walk into a print shop and ask the guy behind the counter what other people are doing, either. Ask around. Look around. Do your research. Put together a masterpiece deserving of your time and attention. This is about you and your work. Don’t sell yourself short with your Press Kit or anywhere else in your career. You worked hard to write you book. You deserve success. Go get it, but do it the right way.

I hope this little blog helps clear up some questions or confusions. There are also many services that offer custom made Press Kits, so I wouldn’t suggest shying off of them if it’s in your budget to have somebody put something together for you. Another blog to check out for good information and a different take is http://www.girl-who-reads.com/2013/08/author-media-kit-components.html.

Keep in mind, while a Press Kit isn’t something that you might use every day, it’s another very handy, professional tool, and it’s another weapon in your arsenal. It can be time consuming and expensive depending on how you do it, but if you’re ever asked to produce one, it is also priceless to have on hand.

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