At last your book is finished. It’s edited, the layout is complete, and it’s ready to be sent off to press. You’re so amped to get the first printing back and smell the ink on the first copy. Whether you know it or not, it’s at this crossroads that you’re faced with a crucial part of the self-publishing process that is just as important as the book itself. Many self-publishers merrily move forward without this component only to condemn their book to a fate that can be described as launching a multistage rocket that fails to burn to the second stage. This component isn’t necessarily the Holy Grail to fame and fortune although it’s arguably the next best thing. We’re talking about The Press Kit.
The best time to start putting this together is around the time that you’re nearing the end of editing process, optimally between 3 and 6 months prior to sending the book off to print. A few of the reasons for this:
- The obvious — you must put your best foot forward. No room for noticeable content changes, grammatical errors or even typos. Past experience has taught me that changes will continue happening right up to the night before the book goes off to print. Again, you’ll want plenty of time to make sure the excerpts from your book are perfect.
- it’s much easier to pull excerpts from the book to include in the kit. Few things are more annoying than sending out a bunch of Press Kits only to realize that the excerpts you chose would’ve been much better had you waited.
- when it comes to obtaining book reviews it can take up to three months to get a response. NOTE: Don’t be discouraged if it takes that long to get a ‘No Thank You’ letter — it happens. You’ll want to use blurbs from the reviews for inclusion on the Book Sheet (Synopsis), Sell Sheet and/or Press Release.
When it comes to impressing book reviewers, interviewers and even movie producers, the way to do it (without spending thousands of dollars) is through a world-class press kit. Crisp, clean design without outrageous use of a ton of fonts or sloppy graphics. There’s no way to stress how much neatness counts because this kit is essentially all your countless days of passionate writing wrapped up in a sleek, sexy package. A simple yet effective rule of thumb to work by is this: if any part of your package doesn’t look like a page out of a major newspaper or magazine that’s a sign it should be reworded, redone, or completely omitted.
Your press kit should include the following sheets:
- Press Release: a one page article that explains who you are, what the book is about, and important information about the book’s publication. NOTE: if there are any relevant ties between your book and current events this should be the focal point of your article. The more newsworthy your article, the greater the chance it will get picked up for media distribution — including interviews. This sheet is best printed yourself because it’s subject to change.
- Book Sheet (Synopsis): a one page summary of your book. If it’s fiction it should include the plot and major themes. The key here is to sell the book with an engaging synopsis yet using as little “fluff” as possible. Most writers tend to be oblivious to the fact that the people receiving their press kit see hundreds of them in a week. They catch onto fluff as if it was a baby in need of a diaper change. The more fluff there is, the less they’ll take you (and your book) seriously.
- Author Biography: a one page life history. This should be an engaging summary of who you are; mostly interesting highlights of your life accomplishments with a splash of professional and academic achievements (e.g. — you backpacked across Germany, studied tribal tattoo art from Maori elders in New Zealand, parented three kids and wrote the book while also attending law school, and etc). This should particularly include those experiences you’ve had that make you an expert on your topic. This sheet is best printed yourself because it should be considered a ‘living document’, subject to change as you gain new accolades.
- Promo Photo: This is a bit of a toss-up because ultimately it’s a call best made based on the type of book you’ve written. With some schools of thought, a promo photo of the author isn’t necessary. Still, some publishers will include the promo photo as a 3.5″x2.5″ (or smaller) on the Sell Sheet. Others will say it is imperative, particularly if the author’s image can further perpetuate an appeal that is already part of the book (e.g. – a Playboy playmate writes a tell-all book about her life as a Bunny). If you decide to include a promo photo in your press kit, I would highly recommend paying a professional photographer to take these shots; be sure to get full-size digital copies of the images at 300dpi or higher. You’ll want to get the 8″x10″ so you can resize copies of the file for use of the Sell Sheet, Bio and even a poster (see the Image Processing section for the software necessary to resize images).
- Sell Sheet: a flyer that includes all the important information about your book; title, cover image, publication date, page count, ISBN, retail price, a paragraph book summary, a paragraph (summary) from the Author Biography, and blurbs from at least one or two reviews. If possible, this should be full-color, professionally printed on 100lb Text-Gloss paper.
- Endorsement Sheet: This sheet is definitely optional, mostly because it is only worth making if you’ve got more than four or five “celebrity” endorsements. By celebrity I mean any person whose name has a level of brand awareness to it that lends credibility to the subject of your book. For example, if you’ve written a book about 80s Rock and you manage to get a blurb from a Road Manager that once worked for Motley CrÃ¼e, this would definitly be a good celeb endorsement whereas Jimmy, the “80s-Rock-Guru at your local record store” wouldn’t quite be celeb enough. On that same note, someone like a Bret Michaels or Neal Pert would be fantastic. Overall, celeb endorsements are tough to get but if you’re lucky enough to get some, run with them like your life depends on it.
Here’s the point where things get interesting — production. The software and design part of putting together the Press Kit is where everything can either come together nicely or get hairy real quick.
- Software: This is by far the trickiest part of putting together your Press Kit. These disciplines can be divided into Content Processing, Image Processing, Illustration and Desktop Publishing. All four of disciplines are worthy of their own textbooks, not to mention that each software package has its own learning curve. Each can be handled in one of two main ways — do it yourself or hire a professional. Both would have been potentially costly. This is because you’d either be buying all the software and learning to do it yourself or simply paying for the professional’s labor and letting them do the bulk of the work. Aside from software piracy, the main thing that changed this playing field was the advent of Free Open Source Software (FOSS).
- Commercial Printing: Using online printing services like www.uprinting.com, for an 8.5â€x11â€ slick, 2-sided full color, expect to spend between $160 and $260 for 500 pieces (depending on shipping).
- Home Printing: For the most part this refers to any off-the-shelf printer that prints in color and is a Inkjet, Deskjet, LaserJet, or better. I personally prefer the All-in-One printers, also referred to as the Printer-Scanner-Copiers. Prices start at about $200 dollars USD retail. My general rule of thumb is that if you own a color printer made after 2003 you shouldn’t run into any problems with making quality prints for the press kit.
- Paper: HammerMill 32lb (between $12 and $20 USD for a 500-sheet ream). For photographs, consider HP Premium Plus Photo Paper, Matte, 8 1/2″ x 11″, 11.5 Mil, 90 Brightness, Pack Of 25 Sheets for about $18.00 dollars USD retail. You can probably find something comparable online for a better price. The reasons for this photo paper instead of others are:
- Matte finish reduces reflection, making your photos easy on the eyes — no light “bounce” to detract from the detail and color quality.
- 11.5-mil thickness rivals professional photo stock. Extra-thick paper is designed to accommodate greater ink coverage and stand up to the frequent handling. The weight of the paper will give your photos a professional feel, too.
- Special back coating keeps prints from sticking.
- The acid-free paper won’t yellow or disintegrate over time.
- Labeled Folders (optional): Avery duo-tank folders — roughly $8.75 for 25 folders retail but as low as $117 per 100 wholesale (not including shipping). Labels (or a generic brand knockoff) 5164 — 3.5″ x 4″ Self-Adhesive Laser Mailing Labels. One pack goes a long way with 600 labels (6 to a sheet). Label maker software ranges from free to about $30, depending.
For those of you that don’t know, FOSS packages are generally functional clones of some Commercial software equivalent except developed and supported by “meritocratic teams of individual developers, associations of companies, businesses that provide value-add support and services, non-profit foundations, and research and academic institutions. It is increasingly seen as the global standard and lowest-risk choice for operating systems to applications, helping individuals and organizations reduce costs, increase deployment, improve standards compliance, enhance security, and avoid vendor lock-in, which means long-term software investment protection”. In plain English, FOSS came about as a result of groups of people that got together to create their own versions of commercial software, often because they were fed up with paying outrageous licensing fees, some of which even require annual payments throughout the entire time that package is used. I’ve included this information because the output of these packages is just as good as their commercial counterparts — and although the learning curves tend to be about the same, using the FOSS versions of the commercial packages can save you literally thousands of dollars in software purchases. Regardless of what packages you choose, these are the tools you’ll need to put together a professional-quality press kit.
* NOTE — All price ranges shown are dependent on which software version you purchase and the source.
- Content Processing — Microsoft Office (Commercial, from $200 to $800 USD*) or Microsoft Works (Commercial, between $20 and $130 USD*). OpenOffice (Free, download from http://www.openoffice.org ). It’s hard to find any mildly computer literate person who isn’t familiar with what Microsoft Office is, or at least used one of it’s software packages. OpenOffice is a clone of Microsoft Office that is distributed for free. For those writers that aren’t too computer savvy, one of these software packages is what you’ll need to write and edit all the content for your press kit. I had considered omitting this ‘Content Processing’ paragraph until I went to the P.O. Box earlier and pulled out a special pickup slip. After presenting it to the clerk she came back with a manuscript-sized box that contained a handwritten manuscript spread out over two 180-page spiral notebooks. Some writers either prefer to live like the Uni-Bomber or they truly have no idea what tools to use. If this applies to you, don’t bother reading any further — hire a professional.
The next three sections are included just for the sake of continuity, mostly because those who don’t know the basics of graphic design can take a look at what software is involved and make a judgement call as to whether or not to hire a professional. Those who have some experience with digital photo touch-up or graphic design will already know these programs well and will be fluent in what they need to use. For those who lack practical experience, it should be noted that each area also has dual learning curves involved. The first learning curve involves the discipline itself (e.g. – Image Processing requires a basic working knowledge of manipulating graphics). The second learning curve involves the software package you decide to use (e.g. – Although Photoshop and GIMP are functionally similar, gaining mastery over one package will only make it mildly easier to learn the other).
Image Processing — Adobe Photoshop (Commercial, from $160 to $700 USD*). GIMP (Free, download from http://www.gimp.org ). For handling raster images (e.g. – photos, scans, etc.). You’ll need this for resizing book covers, photos, and other related images so they’ll fit well within any of the press kit’s sheets.
Illustration — Adobe Illustrator (Commercial, from $100 to $700 USD*). Inkscape (Free, download from http://www.inkscape.org). For handling vector images (e.g. – scalable line art logos, etc.). If you’re not sure whether or not any of your artwork is vector, you might want to read my other article discussing the difference between raster and vector images.
Desktop Publishing — Adobe InDesign (Commercial, from $200 to $900 USD*). Corel Draw (Commercial, $xxx USD*). Scribus (Free, download from http://www.scribus.net). Somewhere in between those choices (functionally and price-wise) is Microsoft Publisher (which comes with most versions Microsoft Office).
There should be two versions of your press kit. Both should be PDFs:
- A web/email-friendly version between 72dpi and 96dpi, less than 5 megs in total file size, RGB (full-color video) ,
- and a print-only version — between 150dpi and 300dpi or higher, CMYK (4-color print).
You should create the printed version first because it will have the largest combined file sizes and it’s for printed mailing. Next you create the email-friendly electronic version for emailing to the media. Use the printed materials for the top book reviewers, newspapers, websites, or other promising media, while sendng electronic versions to those sources lower on the list. The other alternative is that you can email out the electronic version if you don’t have money to spend printing and mailing press kits. My advice is to do both as your budget allows.
When it comes to printing out hard copies of the entire kit, I’d only recommend doing so if you’ve got the design skills to make it look professional. Be forwarned that if you decide to use your home printer to print any sheets other than the Author Bio and Press Release, you’ll definitely want to make sure your layout, print quality and paper are top-notch. Doing it yourself might save you some money in the short term but if the average person can tell you printed it all yourself, the reviewers will too. Anything the looks amateur runs the risk of being disregarded as inferior — costing you credibility which will cost you reviews, media coverage and ultimately book sales.
On a last note, at the risk of sounding like a blatant commercial plug I have to say this: You can find many designers, book coaches and book-oriented publicity firms to create some (or all) of the components of your press kit; often saving you time and usually being worth the money. If you’ve got the skills (or the drive to teach yourself) and are willing to do the leg work of contacting media sources yourself, developing your own press kit is the way to go, too. Whichever route you take to make it happen, just remember that attempting a book publicity campaign without any kind of a press kit is almost a sure-fire way to condemn your book to failure.
Good luck on the quest… hope this helps.
— Max Nomad