Newspapers receive thousands of books a year — that's in addition to the other thousands of press releases, story ideas, phone calls, news tips, etc., they receive — all vying for limited space in the feature section.
So to get newspaper attention, it's not enough to have a wonderful book.
You've got to target your efforts. Like in real estate, location is everything. If your book is set in Akron, make sure the Beacon knows that. If you grew up in Albany and your first novel is coming out, contact the Times-Union. If your book is about cats, perhaps the right place to send it is not a community weekly in Texas but to a few cat fancier magazines.
Wherever you call home now, make friends with the newspaper's editors and the children's book reviewer (sometimes that person is not based locally.) Do this long before your book comes out. There's a lot of goodwill in an e-mail message that says "loved your column today," (if you did).
But, you say, when I call the newspaper, all I get is the run around. This happens a lot. Even to me! Calling my own paper! This is why you need to develop a relationship with somebody at the paper. One way to do that is to make friends with the reviewer — you have a mutual interest.
But a lot of papers don't have a children's book reviewer. So when you're scanning the local paper, be on the lookout for feature stories that "look" like the ones your book signing or appearance might generate. Make note of the byline. Send the reporter a note — read your story, loved it, hope I can send you my book when it comes out.
Think visually! You're already doing that as a writer, right? Now look at your newspaper. What story first catches your eye on a page? The one with the photo, right? Especially if there are adorable little kids in it, right? If you're going to a school or book store to promote your book on be-bopping cats, is there an activity the audience can do that will result in a darling photo op? Make sure the features or community news editor knows about that with a short letter covering the five Ws — who, what, where, when and why (the why is Your New Book!). Every time you're reading at Main Street Elementary, drop an e-mail or a short note to this person you've developed a relationship with to let her know about the potential for a photo of kids and a soon-to-be-famous author. Newspapers are often desperate for eye-catching photos and on a day when all the news is bad, I've known my paper many times to put a "soft" story on the local front because it had a heart-warming photo.
The idea is to develop a breezy, mutually beneficial relationship with key people at the key places that can promote your book for free. Don't waste a lot of effort trying to blanket the countryside with press releases — and keep it low-key (it is children's literature, after all, not a scandal at city hall.) The smaller the newspaper, generally, the larger the load on each staff person. What you want to do is make it effortless for them to cover your event.
A police chase or a four-alarm fire on the morning of your reading may wind up diverting the photographer who had been assigned to take your picture, but it's not the last author appearance you'll ever make, right? Let the editor know when your next appearance will be. She'll have a newspaper to fill that day, too.
If a reporter or photographer does appear, be gracious. Reporters tend to bristle at publicity seekers (and that's what we authors are in this role) trying to tell them what the "news" is. A better approach is to say, "Can I give you a review copy of my book to help with your article? Here's my number if you have any more questions."
It's fine to mention how genuinely excited you are to let the community know about your book, especially if you've got a long history with the town and this is your first book. If your personal story is interesting — 30 rejections before publication, inspired by true events, overcame rare arthritic condition by learning to type with your feet — write it up and hand that to the reporter, too.
Make sure there's a way of reaching you later, when she's on deadline but has a question. The reporters sent to cover readings at schools and author appearances, unless they are the book reviewer, will also, typically, be the greenest employees on the staff — or interns. The more sincere help you can give them, the more likely it will be the spell your name right.
© Sue Corbett
Children's Book Reviewer
Miami Herald/Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire