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When Fame Comes Knocking: Be Sure Your Author Website Has a Press Kit

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

by Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson), The Hot Sheet
While editing a story for Publishing Perspectives on the long-running popularity of dystopian fiction, I came across one of the best examples I’ve seen of an author’s press kit. It’s something every author should consider having ready and available.

Primarily intended for members of various news media, an author’s press kit is helpful beyond the press. Who else might make use of it?

  • Conference organizers who are considering inviting you to speak, or—having invited you already—are looking for a fast bio and headshot of you for their programs;
  • Book bloggers who have come across some of your work and want to write about it; and
  • Readers who want to know more about authors they like and share that information about them with friends.

Although we use the word “kit,” an author’s press kit is as simple as any other page on an author’s website. If you create one, however, use the phrase Press Kit for it on your site navigation tabs: that’s how media members will know it’s what they’re looking for.

Have a look at the example I referenced above. It’s been created by the author Aliette de Bodard, the Paris-based science-fiction author who has the distinction of having won the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Awards both in the “Best Novel” and “Best Short Fiction” classifications.

Let’s look at the elements of a good author press kit.

  1. Start with contact information. For this, de Bodard links to her site’s contact form. Note that she also adds a link for rights queries about her novels, leading to her agent. This is smart because interested publishers and others don’t have to cast about trying to learn who handles rights matters for her work. An author wants to capture that interest while it’s hot.
  2. Author photos come next. In this case all three images offered are by the same photographer, so de Bodard lists the photographer, Lou Abercrombie, above all three. If you have different photographers to credit, just place that information above or below each of your author photos. In her case, de Bodard has three shots to offer, two in black-and-white and one in color. Each is there in high resolution size. Notice that she’s providing images in both horizontal and vertical aspects. Be sure to file your photo(s) with meaningful file names. Instead of me.jpg, file an image as YourName.jpg or YourName-credit-Photographer.jpg. If you have a name shared with lots of other folks, try YourName-author.jpg, to help a harried journalist know they have the John Smith who is a writer.
  3. Now we come to several versions of your bio at varying lengths. De Bodard offers editions at 50 words, 90 words, 150 words and 300 words. For many writers, a 100-word and 300-word version will do, and either can be cut down quickly if need be. However many lengths you decide to offer, you’re making the choice as to how to edit them instead of leaving it to an editor on a deadline who may not know which bits you’d prefer to retain.
  4. Awards are great to list, as de Bodard does. Other such material you might want to consider are graphic assets if you’re an illustrator as well as an author, and links to sites at which you regularly appear as a blogger. If you’re teaching courses, those, too, might appear here.
  5. A category I’d add for your consideration, too, is a simple list of publications—like musical artists’ list of their albums—and book cover artwork for anything you have published. Yes, your site should have your books pictured on one or more other pages, but you want a journalist to use your press kit as a one-stop resource and not to have to go searching for your book covers.
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Remember, the press kit is a professional tool. It needs to be simple, clean, and useful. This isn’t the spot for your family vacation shots or those high school poems your mother discovered in your old bedroom.

And don’t feel it has to contain more than you can logically offer. Aliette de Bodard is an accomplished writer with a growing career. You may have no awards yet, no agent for rights, and only one photo. That’s fine, pull those elements together for now and expand your press kit as you gain traction.

One caution: As with anything on your site, updating becomes the potential drawback. Put a notification into your calendar so that at regular intervals you’ll remember to check your press kit and see if anything is outdated or needs adding.

A press kit on your site signals your professional intent in your work, and people who can help give you some visibility in the marketplace will be glad to find it waiting.

When opportunity knocks, make sure somebody’s home.

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Porter Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in book publishing. Formerly with CNN, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media, he is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, founded by the German Book Office New York, the magazine for the international publishing industry. With Jane Friedman, he produces The Hot Sheet publishing-industry newsletter, providing expert analysis and interpretation in a private subscriptionemail newsletter, expressly devised to give authors the news insights they need, free of agenda and bias. Anderson also writes the #MusicForWriters series on contemporary composers for Thought Catalog.