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Writers can never have too many marketing outlets. From websites and monthly e-newsletters to a robust social media presence and regular interaction with readers and clients, most wordsmiths have the digital marketing landscape covered. But a press kit, perhaps an “old-fashioned” marketing tool, is still effective. A press kit is basically a packet of materials contained in a folder or envelope that a writer uses to promote themselves and their work. Think of it as a tangible website. An author can use it to publicize a new book, and a freelance writer can use it to market their writing services.
A press kit is a great way to introduce yourself and your work and literally leave a lasting impression in the form of promotional items. “The general public – and industry specialists – may never have heard the writer’s name before or may be unfamiliar with their work. A writer’s press kit, containing his or her bio and work highlights, introduces the writer to the public or to a targeted company or individual,” explains Stephanie J. Beavers, owner of Stephanie J. Beavers Communications, a writing and editing firm, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. “Even writers who have had success in getting books, articles, blogs, etc. published may be better known for the title of their work than for their own name, and a press kit connects the writer to their respective work(s). Press kits are also versatile and can be customized for use in a variety of settings, such as author events, presentations, book fairs, industry-related conventions, networking, and job interviews.”
When assembling a press kit, think about how, when, and where it will be used and customize its contents based on your needs. A basic kit typically contains a copy of the author’s bio, a flattering head shot, a summary of published works (books or articles, as well as any other notable writing projects), and other ephemera such as bookmarks, fliers, or postcards related to a specific project (such as a new book). Freelance writers may also include a list of testimonials from satisfied clients or copies of sample articles.
Although the packet is meant to promote your work, it should also be a positive reflection of you as a person and show some of your personality. Take the head shot, for example. Invest in a session with a professional photographer who can make you look your best. “One photographer I used had me laugh as she took pictures. Did I feel silly? Yes. But those were the best photos of all,” Beavers says. “Please, no selfies or photos with other people or distracting background images. A good photo will get lots of mileage, as it can also be used on your website and social media, as well as your books and publications.”
Your bio should also say something about you as a person and not just be a bulleted list of publishing credits. “You want to write something that creates more intrigue,” says Rita Guthrie, owner and “Idea Lady” at Open Door Public Relations, based in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. “It doesn’t have to be the standard stuff – where you live, what you’ve studied, where you’ve worked. Even one little paragraph that tells you something about the author should be creative and intriguing.” As always, check each item in the kit multiple times for any typos or printer blemishes before you hand them out.
For authors, particularly those who are new, self-published, or both, press kits are a relatively easy way to help generate some buzz about you and your work. Most of the time, the responsibility of creating that initial buzz falls to you, particularly for promoting events, Guthrie explains. “I know that many self-published authors rely on the venue to do the marketing for them. Authors need to promote their book signings and events on their own. You also don’t have to wait until your book is printed to start creating a buzz. Don’t wait until everything is perfect to start promoting yourself,” she says. Besides the basic information in the press kit, Guthrie suggests taking the promotional items a step further: “Add a bookmark or get a banner created with a design that’s consistent with your book’s cover art. Think of yourself as a small business owner, and as with any small business, you need to say, show, or do something that will grab people by the shirt collar. You have to create some of the excitement yourself.”
Journalist-turned-thriller author Geoffrey Mehl says although he relies more on his virtual presence to sell books, he still uses tangible marketing materials and takes a few copies of his press kits to industry events. “Because they are the same, I have a basic kit handy and carry a hard copy with me when being interviewed or at appearances. Talks, panels, etc., sometimes have a reporter or two in the audience, so I have it ready to hand out as a convenience to them,” he says. “Most often it is sent electronically (.doc, .txt formats), but now and then a handout is requested, so it is printed as needed. I keep mine handy on my home computer but often carry the same files on a USB stick.”
Although it’s tempting (and certainly more convenient) to hand out business cards and/or refer new contacts to your website, giving them a press kit as a takeaway can help to set you apart from other writers in a few important ways. First and foremost, Beavers says, it shows you are ready for any opportunity to promote yourself or your work.
“The reasons for having hard copies of press kit materials are many, including to show professionalism and preparedness when networking with publishing professionals or in front of potential clients; to use and hand out at trade shows, book fairs, conventions (when exhibiting); to have relevant information prepared to hand out during an interview, and mail to potentially interested parties – marketers, bookstores, publishers, event promoters,” she explains.
Self-promotion is a big part of being a writer, and having marketing materials readily available just makes everyone’s job a little easier, Mehl says: “Unless you’ve done something scandalous, media people are very much your friend and trying to get their jobs done as effortlessly and accurately as possible. Be cordial, be prompt, and consider queries a priority. Having a professional packet that can be instantly provided (they are always on deadline) is good PR, and a follow-up thank you note after publication is always appreciated no matter how it turns out.”
Sara Hodon has written for over two dozen print and online consumer, trade, and custom publications. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family.