How to Write a Press Release - Part One: Headlines

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Book publicity is the least expensive and perhaps most productive of the promotional strategies used to generate exposure for books. And a press release is the tool most commonly used to stimulate publicity. However, too many publishers' press releases go unheeded because of one major mistakethey write their press releases about their books.

Part One in this two-part series describes writing eye-catching headlines, and Part Two tells how to write body copy that leads the reader through your release.

Unfortunately, non-retail buyers, such as companies, associations, and the media, are not interested in purchasing your books. They are concerned with solving a problem. It's not about the book as a product, but the story tie-in, the expertise of the author, or the solution the book presents. Retail book buyers (such as bookstores and libraries) and non-retail buyers alike are bombarded with correspondence every day. They will not take notice of something they think holds no relevance to their brand, their problem, or their customers, employees, or members. So, your first objective is to get their attention with a provocative headline that quickly points out why your content can solve their problems. 

How to Write a Headline

There are two general categories of headlines that intrigue recipients and build anticipation for your body text. A direct headline uses one or more of the primary sales features of your book as the attention-getter (10 New Ways to Motivate Employees). An indirect headline attempts only to stop the readers and get them to read more (What are your Members Saying About Your Association?).

Here are several types of direct and indirect headlines. Practice writing headlines using all these or combinations of them to draw readers into your press release and encourage them to take action on your recommendation.

1) Be Newsworthy

This is the most common method of direct selling. News headlines feature your content in the same manner as if it were a noteworthy item of timely interest. Simply select the outstanding feature of your book (from the perspective of the reader's audience) and present it clearly and quickly. Things are newsworthy when they're timely. There are several words you can use to trigger this impression, such as: Introducing, Just Published, Presenting the Latest, At Last, New, and Now. Combining these formulas can have a positive impact on the reader: Just Published. A New Book About How to Increase Employee Productivity.

Do not use this technique unless you really have a news story. Once hooked, readers will continue, looking for additional facts. If you disappoint them they will stop reading and never trust your releases in the future. And do not use exclamation points for added emphasis. Let your statement stand alone on its news value.

2) Communicate the Primary Benefit

This is a simple statement of the most important benefit of your content. It is not necessary to be cute since a straightforward statement can be a powerful attraction. Make your message clear and compelling by beginning your headline with the words How to... (How to End Revenue Worries), Why (Why Your Employees Call in Sick) or Which (Which of These Five Sales Troubles Would You Like to End?). These types of headlines are interesting and address the reader's major concern: "Will this be of interest to my customers, members, or employees?"

A technique that has been proven effective is to offer advice or tips (Advice to a New Marketing Manager). These words suggest that the readers will discover some useful information if they read the copy, the knowledge of which they can then pass on to their audiences.

3) Tap into Emotion

A common approach is that of capitalizing directly upon the emotions of your readers. Typically, these headlines have no direct-selling value, but simply make an emotional appeal to involve the reader. This approach can be used well with testimonials. An emotional quote from a well-known person in your field can add credibility to your message.

An effective emotional headline tells the reader that you understand their audience (For the Teacher Who is 35 and Dissatisfied). Keep in mind that certain books lend themselves to emotional approaches, while others do not. Make sure your title and topic are conducive to this appeal or it will look frivolous.

4) Use a Gimmick

There are times when a light or humorous opening is appropriate, however, it is important for credibility's sake that you make this connection eventually.

A gimmicky headline is most effective when your title has few important competitive advantages to shout as news or a direct benefit headline, and lacks the sales appeal of an emotional one. For instance, a gimmick headline addressed to librarians might declare: This Book is Two Years Overdue.

5) Trigger Curiosity

This technique arouses curiosity about your book by, in most cases, asking a question: What Ever Happened to Sex Education?

Both curiosity and gimmick headlines are methods of indirect selling. If you are selling content that fails to offer any attention-getting appeals, then you could try these techniques. However, it is generally better to use a logical, believable approach to the reader's interest through a straightforward presentation.

6) Give a Directive 

This type of headline is most useful when you wish to get immediate action from the reader. Directive headlines begin with words such as Go Now or Call Today and therefore are better used when addressing your ultimate customers. On the other hand, these tend to work well with sales managers who are looking for quick sales: You Can Sell Moreand in Less Time. These tend to get people to stop and read because they are direct, concise, and forceful.

7) Blow the Horn

When you can be specific, do so. If your title has outstanding selling points, take advantage of them in your headlines. But if you can find no such appeals in your book you may find it advisable to lure the reader with a headline that speaks in general terms about the merits of it. These are called "hornblowing" headlines: The World's Most Definitive Book on... .

This approach is useful in other circumstances, such as when your title compares favorably with competitive books but still lacks a unique point of difference. It may actually have some advantages that, for one reason or another, are not important enough to build an entire release around.

Headlines stop the readers and entice them to read more. These could also be used in the subject line of your emails. In any case, once you get the reader’s attention you have to deliver on your promise, and that is the topic of Part Two in this series.


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Brian Jud

Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and President of Book Marketing Works. He has over 25 years of publishing experience as a speaker, book marketing consultant, and the author of hundreds of articles and several books about selling books to non-bookstore buyers, including How to Make Real Money Selling Books and Beyond the Bookstore.