JOANNA ELM, Author, Journalist, Attorney

November 18, 2017
by joanna
0 comments

So You Think You Can Be A Journalist? It’s Not That Easy

Twice this week I was flummoxed, maybe even a little miffed, by things I heard about the craft of writing (specifically screenwriting) and journalism (specifically investigative journalism.) In the latter case, I received an email from Brad at MasterClass and this is what it said: “Bob Woodward Teaches Investigative Journalism.” In the email trailer, Woodward promises to teach students how to research,  gather information, interview people, and how to find the story and build the story. Wow!

World Experts

James Patterson

For those scratching their heads over the proper nouns peppering the last paragraph: MasterClass is an “online education platform bringing worldclass experts to students globally.” Thus, Helen Mirren teaches Acting; Thomas Keller teaches Cooking, Shonda Rhimes (of TV’s Scandal) teaches Writing for Television, Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) teaches Screenwriting, and James Patterson teaches Writing. Each MasterClass costs $90 for a series of video classes, a workbook and feedback from the class. In the interests of full disclosure, I took the James Patterson MasterClass and loved it. What the heck, it was only $90, and if I’d wanted to try out for a Patterson co-authorship, I could have also submitted a line or two from my current WIP (work in progress.) More to the point, anyone writing, or trying to write commercial fiction these days really should listen to what the master has to say when he is willing to share his insights. Patterson, after all, is the world’s bestselling author. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Anyone Can Be A Journalist ?

Bernstein and Woodward in the WaPo offices

Oh yes, the other proper nouns in my first paragraph are Bob Woodward who is an authentic investigative journalist and one of the best in this country (along with Carl Bernstein, he broke the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as President of the U.S. in 1974)  and Brad. I don’t really know who Brad is but he is associated with the MasterClass program in some way, and he sends me emails from time to time letting me know about new MasterClasses.

In any event, what got me somewhat hot under the collar about Brad’s latest email offering the investigative journalism Masterclass was the small print quote from Woodward (see photo.) This is what it says: “Anyone can be a journalist. All you need is a desire for the truth.” -Bob Woodward.

Utter nonsense

Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford portray Bernstein and Woodward in the movie

This statement, of course, is utter balderdash  (an old English expression meaning nonsense.) As a former investigative journalist myself, I can tell you, and as any truly legitimate reporter/ journalist will tell you: You cannot become a journalist, never mind an investigative journalist just by tuning into an online video course.  It takes months and months, maybe years, of on-the-job training to figure out how to best gather facts, how to verify them, and how to communicate them — and even then many realize they simply do not have what it takes to be reporters or journalists.

A “desire for the truth” may be a start. It certainly will be a requirement, but it is not sufficient in and of itself, not even close. That is why, reporters, if they are on newspapers or work for media organizations who are serious about their role in a democratic society, usually start by covering small events, by writing short news stories in which they show they’ve answered the who, what, why, where, and when questions of any story.

Paying One’s Dues

Woodward himself had to pay his dues before he was accepted on the Washington Post (where he and Bernstein broke the Watergate story.) After serving five years in the U.S. Navy and after admission to Harvard Law School, he got a two week trial at the Washington Post, but was not hired because of his lack of journalistic experience. It was only after a year’s stint on the Montgomery Sentinel, a weekly Washington D.C. suburbs newspaper that WaPo took him seriously enough to hire him.

And, Then There’s The Movies

Last week, I also attended a Palm Beach Writers Group lunch at which the speaker addressed the subject of What Makes a Book A Movie. Much of what Patricia Wakely Wolf, an actor and writer, said made sense: For example, “as opposed to books, movies can’t capture intricate detail; movies don’t rely on the inner thoughts of characters, screenplays are formulaic, structure must be adhered to; authors can spoonfeed detail to their readers, but movies have to communicate detail instantly in a gesture or a look, and protagonists in a movie must have agency, that is they have to make things happen rather than wait to have things happen to them.”

Simple Advice

Patricia Wakely Wolf

Her advice to novelists who are hoping not only to have a book published, but also to have Hollywood come knocking for the movie rights was to think in terms of frames and scenes (from Fade In to Fade Out) as they are writing their books. Sounds simple.

Too simple, in my opinion.  It’s difficult enough to master the basics of writing a novel, never mind to be thinking in terms of writing it as if it was a movie unfolding in front of your eyes. A skilled storyteller like James Patterson (see above) might be able to do it. Elmore Leonard, a master of dialogue, is another author who can do it.  But I don’t think most novelists multitask in that fashion. Not even accomplished bestselling authors like Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame.

In fact, it is instructive to read some of the interviews Flynn gave about being signed up to write the screenplay of her own book — a rare event by Hollywood standards.

 

Studied Screenplays As A Child

Rosamund Pike, star of the blockbuster movie, Gone Girl

For starters, Flynn did not acquire her screenwriting skills overnight.  In various interviews, she revealed she had studied screenplays from an early age. “I read film scripts at the age of 12, hunting down screenplays before the age of the Internet.” She said she had sent away for mail-order screenplays and read them while watching the movies. She read screenplay books, studied adaptations of books like A Simple Plan and The Talented Mr. Ripley,  and after David Fincher was named as director of Gone Girl, she re-watched every David Fincher movie.

Hazy Outlines & Hot-Pink Stickies

Back then, Flynn also told the Los Angeles Times: “I had a number of abandoned screenplays on my laptop so I understood the form. But understanding the form only takes you so far.” Flynn described how she listened to an audiobook version of her novel and wrote down the story lines that were absolutely necessary. It was a “masochistic challenge to look at this 500-page book, and say ‘well, I’m going to have to lose about 2/3 of it.'”

Finally, when she had a “hazy” outline of what the movie might look like she slapped a hot-pink stickie onto her laptop which read: It Is a Movie. “It was a reminder not to be slavishly faithful to the novel,”  she said. “A film is not a series of scenes from the book.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 11, 2017
by joanna
6 Comments

A Week (of edits and revisions) In The Sun

Sometimes, it’s good to have a change of scenery — even if your writing has to come with you. I’m into edits and revisions on Book 3 at the moment. It’s a stage that lends itself particularly well to lounging around with your pages on a beach chair under a shady umbrella with an ocean breeze wafting in to keep the sweat from dripping off your fingers onto the paper. So here’s my week with pictures:

 

Sunrise over Palm Beach

 

From Shitty First Drafts

Early morning is a great time for collecting advice and tips on the editing tasks ahead

I like to start first thing in the morning (when it’s still dark-ish outside) by reading about the editing process for inspiration. Sometimes I google phrases like  “famous authors on editing” or I read my dog-eared copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, or I’ll read about the methodical, meticulous editing process of my former London Evening News colleague, now best selling author Ken Follett (no reworking of the first draft, he keys in every single word of the novel again incorporating suggested edits.)

I also read articles I find through my Twitter feed as well as on platforms like Medium. However, I was pretty astounded this week to read an article on a Medium publication, writingcooperative.com suggesting that you ask beta readers to read your very first draft.  REALLY!!!  I don’t know of a single writer (among those I personally know) who would inflict a “shitty” first draft on anyone they know, love or respect. I’m sure that writer meant the first draft you’re “reasonably” happy with — which of course is not ever the first draft you actually produce. Unless, you’re Ken Follett (see above) and you have an agent and an assigned editor to read your outline before you’ve even completed the first draft!

Amazingly Helpful Articles on Editing

This week, I found two really helpful articles on the editing process. The first in The Writer suggested there are seven draft stages an author must go through to produce a readable work. The first being the “kitchen sink” draft or “the vomit out” draft, and the seventh being the “I Love This Story” draft (“I feel I’ve hit my stride, I start to polish.”) The second article, Five Ways To Improve a First Draft focusses on the step an author has to take just before he/she actually picks up the red pencil or pen (“take a look at your novel in its entirety… question the structure…make sure [the] novel works as a story…do the central characters drive the story…is there sufficient conflict…what is [the] novel really about?”)

My own personal favorite checklist as to the entirety of the story is on K.M. Weiland’s website helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com.  It’s titled The Great Novel-Writing Checklist, and it’s an indispensable tool for any author writing commercial fiction. I used it most recently after I finished my first draft. It’s more useful then, I think, than when you’re starting the novel.

One Chapter At A Time

All the tools I need for editing (that’s coffee on the side, not a glass of wine)

My editing process continues with printing up one chapter a day from the first draft and then working on it by inserting edits, revisions –and marking up deletions– in pen. It also includes inserting additional information from notes I’ve made to myself along the way, or information that needed research. For example, in one of my chapters I refer to an old newspaper story about a serial killer executed in 1977, I needed to make sure that the term “serial killer” was already in existence back then. I’d made a note while watching the Netflix TV series Mindhunter set in the 70s that serial killers were described as sequence killers for some time during the 70s, so I needed to check that the term was being used at the time of my particular back story (It seems that it was.)

Exercise Is A Must

Pool at Breakers West — a community where every house has its own pool, so I had this one all to myself last Thursday

Tennis is a hot and thirsty workout in Florida sun

Once, my revisions and edits are complete for a particular chapter, I set them aside, and it’s time to get physically active. It’s a little easier to lose track of time when you’re working on edits and revisions than when you’re facing a blank, white page. And, sometimes you just don’t want to stop when it’s going really well. But if you’ve completed your quota for the day (one chapter), then it’s time to get one’s butt out of the chair or off the chaise lounge. I’m seeing many more articles about exercise and workouts for writers because even when you’re done with your novel writing for the day, there’s still an excuse to stay in your workspace to answer emails, read your Twitter feed, or catch up on the news of the day. Sure, it’s easier to exercise outside in nice weather — which is why I made the most of it last week: tennis, swimming — and a long walk over the new Flagler Memorial Bridge.

Completing the Process

The new Flagler Memorial Bridge has an eight-foot wide walking lane on either side

At Breakers West Grille Room, best BLT ever – topped with avocado slices and swirls of mayo. Yum!

After lunch, or at the end of the day,  I input the new edits and revisions into the manuscript on my lap top. I use Scrivener which is an unbeatable software for authors. For example, there is a snapshot feature that allows an author to compare the current edited version with the first draft without moving from the page or “window.” Comparisons can even be made paragraph for paragraph, word for word — although in my case that just makes for a nauseating sea of red with strikethroughs on every line of my first draft. I can’t wait for my next draft (Will that be called the second revised draft?)

And Then, There’s Hemingway

There’s no rule of thumb as to how many drafts are necessary in any editing process as this following snippet from a Paris Review interview with Ernest Hemingway in 1956 shows. The author mentioned that he rewrote the ending of A Farewell To Arms 39 times before he was satisfied with it.

“Interviewer: Was there some technical problem? What was it that stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.”

I’m happy I have something in common with The Great One.

 

 

 

 

 

November 4, 2017
by joanna
2 Comments

Why Literary Agents Asked For – Then Rejected – My Novel : One Author’s Story

You’ve finally typed “The End” on the fifth, seventh, tenth draft of your manuscript. It’s as good as you can make it. Now what? As most writers know, finding a literary agent is the necessary first step to getting a novel published traditionally. But finding an agent is as difficult, if not more so, than finding a publisher — as any literary agent will tell you. This week, Mandi Bean, an author I met at the Algonkian Author-Mentor workshop earlier this year, contributes this guest post describing in superb detail exactly how she found four literary agents to ask for and read her full manuscript — and what she learned from the torturous process:

Second Novel

Author, Mandi Bean

My first novel, Her Beautiful Monster, was published in October 2012 by Martin Sisters Publishing. It’s a publishing company so small it can be considered obscure, and so small it was unable to publish my second novel Moody Blue. So with a completed manuscript and without a publisher, I decided to turn all my efforts toward finding a literary agent. This notion had been validated by an agent at the Algonkian Conference who warned me the saddest tale was that of a writer trapped by a small publishing company, in a kind of limbo where work is being published but not sent out for awards or reviews, and as a result, never gets the kind of exposure that leads to word of mouth, which leads to breakout success (an idea literary agent Donald Maass also explores in his how-to, Writing the Breakout Novel.)

 Get A Literary Agent

Beach – two blocks from Mandi’s home -where she goes to relax and unwind

So armed with a completed manuscript and a well-written query letter, I started my search for literary agents via QueryTracker.net, using a master list from the Poets & Writers magazine, and through Writer’s Market. I looked for agents that accepted unsolicited material (meaning that it was okay that I didn’t have a reference and wasn’t recommended by anyone), were located in the US (because so am I), and that listed commercial genre fiction as their interests (specifically women’s fiction and thrillers). To find a specific agent for my query, and for the agency’s specific submission guidelines, I accessed agency websites, too. It was useful to complete this extra research so I could give my query letter an edge, to let the agent know I was serious, somewhat familiar with the business, and marketable.

Query Letter Gets Results

Mandi is a school teacher in New Jersey

Here’s the query letter I’ve been using and will continue to use because it gets results:

Name of Literary Agent
Name of Literary Agency
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code

Hello (include the name of the specific agent if possible; if not, a generic greeting is fine):

My 70,700-word novel,MOODY BLUE, is a devastating study of relationships affected by mental instability in the tradition of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins (comparables are important!).

Novels that offer a refreshingly realistic glance into the turbulent human heart and study the inexplicable elements of human nature have garnered high interest among readers lately, particularly with authors such as those mentioned above and Ruth Ware.  MOODY BLUE is arguably cut from the same cloth, but with more of an edge that would welcome a more inclusive readership.

The novel follows the lives of Adam Petersen, a troubled man trying to reclaim his sanity after suddenly losing his fiancée, and Melanie Taylor, a young woman who embarrassingly admits to being normal.  When the two meet at a writers’ workshop for survivors of traumatic events, Adam reveals that he discovered his fiancée dead in their bedroom.  The police categorized the death as a suicide, but Adam is convinced it was homicide, and is desperate for empathy and support.  Melanie, young and dumb and afflicted with a flair for the dramatic, readily accepts the role.  She soon discovers that she is woefully unprepared.

As their relationship evolves and more is revealed about who they truly are, one moves closer to sanity while the other spirals into an unsettling state of delusion.  The aftermath is devastating and both are left broken, bruised and unsure of what comes next.  This work examines the riotous excursions of the human heart in different ways.  I believe my talent (if I may be so bold) and tenacity will be a perfect fit with your agency.

My first novel, Her Beautiful Monster, was published by Martin Sisters Publishing in October of 2012, and has received positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads alike. My short story, “Cover Me,” was published online via the Cynic Online Magazine. I was also recently selected to and then attended the Algonkian Writers’ Conference.

I’m hoping you’ll take a chance on a young writer.

Thank you for your valuable time, and for considering MOODY BLUE.

Sincerely,

Mandi Bean
My Street Address
City, State, Zip Code
My E-mail Address

No Editing?

In Mandi’s workspace

Four literary agents requested full manuscripts, and two requested more material (the first one to three chapters.)  I was ecstatic! Over the moon! I really felt that my big break was at my fingertips. This second novel is especially important to me; I feel like the writing is more mature and engaging, and that I’m developing important and universal themes. The fact that agents were asking for the full manuscript made perfect sense to me, because I was so proud of what I had written. I had used experiences from my own life as inspiration. A recent heartbreak had knocked me flat on my ass, and it’s been said the best way to get over something like that is to write your way through it. This may also explain why I did no editing; I was too close to the manuscript and made the bold and stupid move of sending it out as is.

False Confidence

Mandi’s faithful pet shared her dejection

I don’t know why I thought this was the best course of action. Even though my first novel gained a publishing contract, it was only after I had done serious editing and revisions. I suspect I had a false sense of confidence from the conference and the requests, and thought I knew better than the experienced professionals who had been so kind as to give me advice.

My manuscript was soundly rejected by all the agents. I was devastated and self-medicated with nicotine and alcohol and greasy food for a week or so. Then I went back and re-read the rejection e-mails. Most were form letters that use vague language like “…the manuscript didn’t grab me the way I had hoped.” One agency, the Charlotte Gusay Agency, charged a $35 fee. Normally that’s a red flag, but the letter (and enclosed critique) was detailed and helpful. Here’s part of the rejection letter:

“[A] major concern was the piece had a lack of tension. However, we enjoyed the strong female characters of Melanie and Melissa, and your raw, relatable depiction of them […] please remember that this is a highly subjective business. I encourage you to query widely, and wish you all the best in finding a good home for Moody Blue. You have been such a wonderful and pleasant person.”

Killing Your Darlings

Another, Jessica Faust, President of BookEnds Literary Agency, wrote:  “While I was intrigued by your idea, I’m afraid I just didn’t warm to the writing like I might have hoped. ” All this revealed to me that I had a great idea that I was not effectively executing.The requests for more material were enough to give me confidence that the idea was intriguing. However, the rejections were enough to let me know the manuscript was lacking; that it was not “grabbing” and “holding” the interests of readers.

Editing and revisions are a must. I have to get comfortable with “killing my darlings.” For example, some of the structural choices I’ve made in the narrative eliminate tension. Using flashbacks at multiple points allowed me to adopt different character voices, and explore different themes. However, it interfered with the fluency of the narrative.

Raising The Stakes

The manuscript will benefit from renewed passion and interest. I’m asking more people — those who are capable of brutal honesty — to read my manuscript. I don’t think aspiring writers looking for an agent should pay for their submissions. The detailed response from the agency that charged a fee did contain valid points, but my beta reader (a copywriting friend from college) was more thorough.

I’m also garnering ideas from Donald Maass’ how-to (mentioned above.) He devotes an entire chapter to “Raising the Stakes.” He explains that readers keep reading because they care about the characters. To develop that kind of relationship between reader and character, the characters must be likable, and have much to lose. Readers will root and worry and keep turning pages. I know I need to raise the personal stakes for my characters, and that I cannot shy away from putting them in danger.

Photos Courtesy of Mandi Bean

 

October 28, 2017
by joanna
8 Comments

The Year I Earned More Money From Gambling — Not Writing

It was 1991. If memory serves correctly, it was March of that year when my husband, Joe and I won $28,000 in one night of playing blackjack at the Mirage in Las Vegas. I had just started writing my first novel, Scandal because “isn’t that what you’ve always dreamed about doing?” my husband had asked pointedly as I rattled around our new Boca Raton mansion. It was the first time in my journalistic career I was without a regular staff writing job, having quit my associate editor position with TV Guide to move with my husband and son, Danny to Boca.

Not Writing

And why am I remembering this now? Because it’s a day for reminiscing about the good times I’ve had with Joe who is 81 today. Yep. Another birthday. It seems like it was only a short while ago we were celebrating his 80th. Back then, I wrote on this blog that the days when he would sail singlehandedly off the Florida coast were a distant memory, and I mentioned in passing that our boat was named the Mirage after the casino in Vegas where we won the money to buy it. So, this year here is the rest of the story :

One of the reasons it took me about five years to get Scandal published was because back in those days Joe travelled frequently to work-related conventions– and I travelled with him to fun places like Vegas, Atlantic City, the Bahamas, and Monte Carlo. See the common link? Yep, exotic, hot — and all of them, gambling meccas (even our not-so-hot Helsinki convention hotel offered Finnish blackjack : no doubling down, and dealer takes all pushes!!!)

And Tigers, Oh My!

The Mirage White Tiger

The Mirage had barely opened in Vegas when Joe and I descended on the place with our three year old son in tow.  Danny insisted on coming after seeing photos of Siegfried & Roy and their amazing showcase act with tigers. The way I recall it, we started our “winning” evening with dinner in one of the hotel restaurants. (Danny’s recollection is that we were in such a hurry to get to the tables after Siegfried and Roy’s show that we asked a passing cocktail waitress to take him back to our room to  baby-sit. In truth, that was a different evening — and she wasn’t a cocktail waitress but a former “showgirl” who was employed by the hotel as a licensed babysitter!!)

Cocktails With Owner

Wynn with Siegfried & Roy at the hotel grand opening

At dinner, we were joined for about five minutes by Steve Wynn, the owner of the new hotel and casino who was nursing his cocktail with a hand wrapped in bandages. He told us he had shot through his fingers while playing around with his guns. We considered it a good omen (cocktails with the owner, not the shot fingers!) and moved to the tables, starting at a $2 table meaning that placing $2 on one bet was acceptable as opposed to other tables that required higher bets.

Winning Strategies

Let me say that Joe and I love playing blackjack (otherwise known as 21) and we have a system that works — some of the time — for playing and for betting. By which I mean, we adhere strictly to somewhat tried and tested rules which take into account that dealers have no discretion in their play but must stay on 17, and deal themselves another card if they have 16. We also adhere strictly to a 1-3-2-5 betting strategy (key phrase here: “adhere strictly.”) This was Joe’s idea: say you start with $10 and have a winning hand, you then bet $30. If you win that hand, you bet just $20. If you win again, you bet $50. Any time you lose on a hand, you return to betting $10 which theoretically means that most of the time, after the first couple of hands, you’re gambling with the casino’s money.

Salmon Chips ?

Joe and I started by cashing in $100 each for chips. A couple of hours into the playing, we found ourselves alone at the table, playing all seven hands between the two of us, in $100 units  — and no “bugging out” allowed at times when we had to up our bets to $500 (for a bad hand!) even if that applied to three or four different hands at the same time.

At one point, on my way to the ladies’ room, I scooped up all our winning chips, and cashed them in, and brought the dollars back, placing them in front of Joe on the table.

“Where did you get all that?” Joe asked me, eyeing the pile suspiciously. “You know those salmon colored chips? Well, it turns out they were $500 a piece, and we had about eight of those…” The pile of cash was our first $5000.

The only other event I recall was getting paged for a phone call. It was Danny’s babysitter. “Everything’s fine,” she said immediately I picked up the phone. “I just wanted to remind you that you promised Danny you’d bring something back for him.”

 Nine Lost Hours

“What time is it?” I asked, figuring that she was telling me politely that she was ready to clock out. “It’s 5,” she said.

“Five?”  I thought. “It can’t be five. We didn’t finish dinner till 7.30.” And, then it dawned on me. We had been playing, at the tables for more than nine hours!  We had won $28,000 between us by the time we left the casino, escorted to our room as a courtesy by hotel security. And yes, we brought a gift for Danny; a big, big tip for his babysitter — and when we returned to Boca, Joe bought the sail boat he wanted, a 34-foot Newport.

Trademark Infringement?

We named it Mirage, and had the name painted onto the boat in the same font and style as the hotel-casino used. Joe also had baseball caps printed with the name and logo of the Mirage hotel (see photo.) Of course, that was many years before I became an attorney: So, what trademark infringement?

I doubt Steve Wynn would have cared about the use of his trademark multi-colored palm trees and name on our caps. They always prompted questions from other boaters, and therefore we were always telling our story about how we had won the money to buy the boat. And, casinos — believe it or not– love winners because winners attract more gamblers, most of whom then tend to lose.

To the biggest winner I know: Happy 81st Birthday, Joe.

 

Photo Credits include: Las Vegas News Bureau

 

October 21, 2017
by joanna
4 Comments

How To Get You (And Your Novel) Into The Headlines

In all the chatter among self and traditionally published authors about how to get your novel noticed by the book-reading public, one method has gotten short shrift lately. I’m talking about getting some media attention as in getting your novel into a headline in a newspaper or magazine, or even a short feature on TV News.

Advice dispensed in thousands of blogs and websites tends to focus on how to get reviews on Amazon, and Goodreads, and on top quality book blogs. Or how to best use Twitter or other social media to promote your novel without looking as if you’re spamming your followers. But little is actually written on how to get your novel noticed by the media.

Novel Headlines

Maybe it’s because a lot of young people think that newspapers, magazines and the Six O’Clock local TV news are a thing of the past. Yet, readers of books will usually read at least one newspaper or magazine, and usually a local one at that. And, they’ll watch the local TV news. Even so, when the new lineup of speakers for the Palm Beach Writers Group was published online recently, I looked at the first speaker, and thought: how quaint!

The speaker, Michele Dargan was scheduled to talk about How To Write a Press Release And Get It Noticed. Truth be told,  I hadn’t heard the term “press release” since leaving the noble profession of reporting for newspapers and tabloids a couple of decades ago.  I definitely had not thought about it in connection with promoting one’s novels — even though it was a press release from a bookstore about an author signing event  (mine) that got me this giant headline in the New York Times when my second novel, Delusion, was published.

Email Reporters Directly

Left to right: Marcia Chellis (co-founder PBWG), speaker Michele Dargan, & Cathy Helowicz, PBWG executive director

The crazy thing is, that it’s easier than ever these days to e-blast your press release ( news about your book, or an event associated with your book)  to dozens of reporters, editors and photo editors — without the need to hire a publicist or public relations company.  As Michele Dragan observed “all the people you need to contact are available through email on the internet.”

Michele, who was a journalist for 28 years, twenty of them on the Palm Beach Daily News (also known as the Shiny Sheet) and now runs her own public relations company, Michele Dragan Media told the writers’ group that she has created a list of newspapers and magazines together with the emails (and phone numbers) of reporters, editors and photo editors whom she has gotten to know personally on those publications.

 

Masthead Info

For authors who have no personal media contacts however, it is perhaps wisest to start with local press. For example, in my neighborhood on Long Island, I can pick up any number of local newspapers and many glossy giveaway magazines and look up the pages, known as mastheads, where they list the names and emails of their staff reporters and photographers. Pictured here are the mastheads of the Southampton Press, the local newspaper, and Dan’s Papers, a giveaway that covers all facets of life in the Hamptons. The mastheads show the emails of editors (senior, associate, features and photo.)

Most newspapers these days also include the emails or Twitter handles of their reporters or staff writers at the end of a news story or feature by that reporter. Local TV news stations also have links on their websites where you can share a story idea with their assignments desks.

7 Tips To Get Noticed

However, and this is a big however: Reporters and editors on publications get hundreds of emails with press releases daily. As Michele told the writers’ group, “you get so many press releases, you generally whip through the subject lines and go, delete, delete, delete.” So, what do you need to do to get noticed?

A catchy headline that tells a good story: Is there a story behind the writing of your book? Did you overcome a debilitating illness or disability? Is your novel based on the real-life experience of you or someone in your family? Did you fly to exotic destinations for research — and use them as a tax write-off? C’mon, you’re a writer. You can do this.

Know your territory and geographics: If you’re a Wellington author selling a local newspaper or magazine on a “local boy/girl makes good as mystery author” story make sure you contact the Wellington beat reporter of the Palm Beach Post and not the features editor of the Miami Herald.

Don’t bury the lede: “Get the facts up top: Who, What, Why, Where When,” says Michele. “Don’t tell me about a book launch and start with the weather at the location, or how the room will be decorated. A reporter who gets your email is not going to call you to get crucial information as to where the event is taking place.”

Keep it short: “A general rule is keep the press release to just one page.” Again reporters and editors don’t have the time to read pages and pages.

Include press release in body of email: Copy and paste your press release or flyer into the body of the email so that a reporter or editor does not have to open a Word document or click on a link.

Try to make it “timely or significant” : “Newspapers love anniversaries or events that are tied into other news stories,” said Michele.  For example, the capture of Florida’s clown killer a month ago could be linked to the launch of a thriller about a female murderer. Or tie your book to a specific local event or holiday.

Include contact info: Email, phone number and a website link are the most important.

Photo Credits: Cathy Helowicz