For today’s guest post, I interviewed Rebecca Whittington, a former editor of various newspapers under the Johnston Press brand. Having dealt with thousands of authors’ press releases, human interest stories and items of local/community news during her career, Rebecca knows more than most what makes a good story, and how authors should approach the media. Below, she shares her views and proffers advice from the other side of the ‘promotional fence’…
Rebecca, how many press releases did you have to wade through in a typical week?
As editor of two weekly titles I saw hundreds of press releases every week, but when I went to the newsdesk of the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, I saw thousands. Hundreds of emails would flood my inbox and the newsdesk inbox every day, meaning relevant items really had to stand out to be noticed.
How many releases were subsequently rejected, and why? What did you look for – what made a good story?
The best press releases have the following formula: relevance to the local area of the newspaper, a good human angle, which includes a real person from the area who has experienced something they’re willing to talk about; ideally, two publishable pictures to go with the release (one landscape, one portrait, both high resolution, and well constructed, uncluttered images); direct contact details for the people involved, so a journalist can follow up on the story, and, most importantly, a new/fresh angle.
Press releases also need to have a clear, succinct description in the subject line of the email. For example, ‘Pontefract mum’s dramatic boat rescue retold in a gripping new novel’ will catch more eyes than ‘NEWS! Woman publishes first book’, because it’s relevant to the news provider and sums up the story.
As many press releases follow the second subject title style rather than the first, they’re often not even opened before being deleted. It’s an incredibly busy job on the newsdesk, and with more and more emails pouring in all the time, editors don’t have the chance to look properly at each one.
Have you any further tips on how an author can approach/appear in the press?
Picking up the phone is always a good idea! If you can do some research, and work out which news providers might be interested in your story, give them a call – you might find yourself talking to a journalist who can become your contact at that organisation.
It’s always worth trying to establish contacts, as having a named person to ask for makes life much easier, and means you bypass the initial filtering from newsdesks in the future. The other thing to bear in mind is that if ‘news’ don’t want the story it might make a good feature, so call back and ask for the features’ desk. There are ways round the difficulties, you just have to be persistent!
How have newspapers and other media changed over recent years? How can an author become a media darling, given the way the industry has shifted?
It’s difficult. There are so many authors out there trying to get their stories heard and, unfortunately, unless you’re JK Rowling, there are no guarantees your story will make the cut. All news providers have been subjected to savage cuts over recent years. This, combined with an increase in workload due to digital media, means journalists are increasingly stretched for time. A great press release could be your best friend when it comes to getting your name out there, as journalists have less time to rewrite and follow-up, and therefore, rely more heavily on well written releases.
It’s worth looking at news styles when you write a release; try to mimic the style and make sure you include all vital information: who, what, where and when – AND an all-important daytime contact number!
Has being an editor inspired you to write your own book at some point in the future?
I started out in journalism because I wanted to be a writer for a living. I’m very lucky to have worked in an industry where the written word is monarch, and where I was able to write practically every day and get paid for it! Now I’ve changed roles and I’m doing a PhD and teaching, so the writing style has changed but I do still get to write regularly. I also do freelance writing, including blogs, website copy, SEO writing, and features, so I’m still doing what I love.
I’ve always wanted to write a book at some point, so once the PhD is out of the way that might be something I explore further. One of my greatest pleasures is immersing myself in a great story – I’m always envious of the author who can tear my thoughts away from reality with such skill. One day, I’d love to be the teller of such a tale!
Rebecca Whittington is a journalist with ten years’ industry experience, working as a reporter, news editor, editor and video journalist for some of Yorkshire’s top newspaper and digital titles, including the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post. She now specialises in media consultancy, advising small to medium-sized businesses on media strategy, social media, and giving the inside scoop on what makes a modern newsroom tick. She is also available for one-to-one media training, advice, writing and editing commissions. Rebecca currently works as a graduate assistant and research student at Leeds Trinity University, where she’s undertaking a PhD into the impact of digital tools on local newspapers. For more information, or to read Rebecca’s blog, go to http://rebeccawhittingtonmedia.com/
Developmental editor and publishing consultant Diane Hall is the author of three books; she has also ghost-written books for others and created a plethora of content, on more subjects than you could care to imagine, for numerous clients since the beginning of her career. She is proud to have fundamentally shaped series of books and more than a hundred individual titles over the last decade with various authors, nationally and internationally.
Among her editing qualifications, she holds a linguistics diploma, which involves the study of language and speech. Diane employs this knowledge in the forensic linguistic work she sometimes undertakes.
Diane has seen the introduction and subsequent rise of self-publishing, and passionately keeps abreast of its disruption of the publishing industry. She is a thought leader when it comes to the future of book marketing, fuelled by the poor results authors see when employing traditional techniques.