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16 Ways to Get Free Publicity
by Carolyn HowardJohnson   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2003

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Especially For Authors But Others May Peek: Practical Publicty Tips for All

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of "This is the Place" and "Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered"

A huge retailer once said that advertising works, we just don't know how, why, or where it works best. What we do know is that advertising's less mysterious cousin, publicity, works even better. It is the more reliable relative because it is judged on its merit alone and carries the caché of an editor's approval. It also is surrounded by the ever-magic word "free." The two are easily identified as kin. These two often walk hand-in-hand and yet they can be incompatible. The editors of good media outlets will not allow the advertising department to influence them. Still, in an effort to be completely impartial they reserve the right to use advertiser's stories editorially if they deem them newsworthy. That is why it is helpful to use advertising in a vehicle that plays to the audience you would like to see standing in line for your book. This paid-for exposure then becomes an entrée to the decision-makers. A contact in the advertising department may be willing to put a news release on the desk of one of his editors, maybe even encourage her to look at it. There are no contracts, but it does sometimes work. If you're going to try this route, choose a "little pond", a bookish brochure or an "arty" weekly so that the dollars you spend will be noticed. Sometimes a magazine or newspaper will run a special promotion called advertorial. These are sections where you pay for an ad and then the newspaper assigns a reporter to cover the story you want told. The article carries some of the prestige of editorial copy-that is the general reader may assume the article has been chosen only on its merits because of its copycat character. The writer or editor you meet will can be approached when your have something exceptional. Debra Gold of Gold and Company handles consumer publicity and consults on advertising strategies. She knows that her clients hire her-at least in part-for her "great database." It is something that, over time, you can build for yourself. Still, advertorial isn't exactly FREE. If FREE sounds more like the fare that will serve your needs, carve out some time to do it yourself and follow these 15 commandments for doing it:

1. Educate yourself: Study other press releases. Read a book like Publicity Advice & How-To Handbook, by UCLA Marketing Instructor, Rolf Gompertz, a SPAN member. Order it by calling 818-980-3576. Join publicity oriented e-groups.

2. Read, read, read: Your newspaper. Your e-zines. Even your junk mail, a wonderful newsletter put out by the Small Publishers of North America ( and one called The Publicity Hound ( My daughter found a flier from the local library in the Sunday paper stuffed between grocery coupons. It mentioned a display done by a local merchant in the library window. Now we're going to have one for my book, too. Rubbish can be the goose that laid the golden egg. So can SPAM, that e-box clutter that everyone despises.

3. Keep an open mind for promotion ideas: Look at the small details in your book. There will be angles there you can exploit when you're talking to editors. My book, This is the Place, is sort of romantic (a romance website will like it) but it is also set in Salt Lake City, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics © and, though that's a reach, found sports desks, feature editors open to it as Olympics © fervor grew and waned.

4. Cull contacts: Develop your Rolodex by adding quality recipients from media directories. The website has an All-in-One Directory that gives links to others such as Editor, Publisher Year Book, and Burrell's. Some partial directories on the web are free and so are your yellow pages. Ask for help from your librarian-a good research librarian is like a shark; she'll keep biting until she's got exactly what she wants.

5. Etiquette counts: Send thank-you notes to contacts after they've featured you or your book. This happens so rarely they are sure to be impressed and to pay attention to the next idea you have, even if it's just a listing in a calendar for your next book signing.

6. Partner with your publicist and publisher: Ask for help from their promotion department-even if it's just for a sample press release.

7. Publicize who you are, what you do: Reviewers aren't the only way to go. E-books are big news right now. Katy Walls, author of "The Last Step," coordinated an "anthology" of recipes from authors who mention food in their books (yes, some my family's ancient recipes from polygamist times are in it). It is a free e-book, a promotional CD, and great fodder for the local newspapers. You can download it for ideas at:

8. Think of all the angles. What if you're very young? What if writing a book is a new endeavor for you? Several editors have liked the idea that I wrote my first book at an age when most are thinking of retiring, that I think of myself as an example of the fact that it is never too late to follow a dream.

9. Develop new activities to publicize: Don't do just book signings. Use your imagination for a spectacular launch. Get charities involved. Think in terms of ways to help your community.

10. Send professional photos with your release: Request guidelines from your target media. But local editors won't mind if you send homey Kodak moment--properly labeled--along with your release. Some will use it; it may pique the interest of others and they'll send out their own photographers.

11. Frequency is important: The editor who ignores your first release may pay more attention to your second or twenty-fifth. She will come to view you as a source and call you when she needs to quote an expert. This can work for novels as well as nonfiction. I received a nice referral in my local newspaper because I am now an "expert" on prejudice, even though my book is a novel and not a how-to or self-help piece.

12. Follow Up: Shel Horowitz, author of Marketing Without Megabucks (, reports that follow-up calls boost the chances of a press release being published. Voice contact builds relationships better than any other means of communication.

13. Keep clippings: Professional publicists like Debra Gold do this for their clients; you do it so you'll know what's working and what isn't.

14. Evaluate: One year after your first release, add up the column inches. Measure the number of inches any paper gave you free including headlines and pictures. If the piece is three columns wide and each column of your story is six inches long, that is 18 column inches. How much does that newspaper charge per inch for their ads? Multiply the column inches by that rate to know what the piece is worth in advertising dollars. Now add 20% for the additional trust the reader puts in editorial material.

15. Set goals: You now have a total of what your year's efforts have reaped. New publicist/authors should set a goal to increase that amount by 100% in the next year. If you already have a track record, aim for 20%.

16. Observe progress: Publicity is like planting bulbs. It proliferates even when you aren't trying very hard. By watching for unintended results, you learn how to make them happen in the future. OK. I know. I gave you more than I promised. That's another good way to cull the favor and friendship of editors who can make or break your publicity campaign.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson's first novel, This Is The Place, is a story about love, prejudice and redemption set in Salt Lake City in the 50s. It has won eight awards. Her new book, "Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered," has won three. Both are available at and The author has nearly three decades experience publicizing her own retail business and was a fashion publicist in New York where she wrote releases for celebrity names like Christian Dior, Pauline Trigere and Rudi Gernreich.. This article was originally published in SPAN's newsletter and is reprinted with their permission. Learn more at: 

Reader Reviews for "16 Ways to Get Free Publicity"

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Reviewed by Mary Lynn Plaisance 7/18/2005
Thank you so much for sharing this and other articles.
Reviewed by Karen Cino 6/23/2005
Thank you for sharing your ideas with us. It has already been printed and put into my marketing binder for future reference.
Reviewed by Judy Lloyd (Reader) 2/21/2005
An interesting read indeed and one to save to my library.
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 6/20/2003
enjoyed the read
Reviewed by Coach Foster Smith 6/14/2003
Very informative and helpful.
Well written.
Reviewed by Annette Gisby 5/14/2003
Yet again, excellent ideas, Carolyn! Now to find the time to put some of them into practice. :-)
Reviewed by Dallas Franklin 5/13/2003
Excellent, Carolyn..very informative and some innovative can I add this to the SWO Website too? *~;))
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