About a week ago, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I drove to Appomattox, Virginia. It was my first visit to the site of Lee’s surrender at the end of the US Civil War. I went there for another reason, though, not to see the historic sights. With Carolyn O’Neal, I was in Appomattox to conduct a workshop with local independent authors and other creative artists about the importance of making and maintaining an online media kit.
Noelle Beverly, the event’s inspiration, lives in Appomattox where she coordinates literary events with Baine’s Books & Coffee, a downtown anchor offering books, live music, baked goods, and barista-made coffees. When Noelle invited us to give a workshop there, the planning began.
Inspired by several recent conversations with author clients of mine, I proposed a session on the basics of putting together a media kit for the independent author. I built a workshop around the underlying principles that I’ve identified on the topic, and added a section on the various kinds of author bios that it’s good for a writer to have on hand. Carolyn contributed a section on some of her many successes with press releases and other forms of direct media outreach, and a course was born! I cranked up InDesign, got the workbook done and printed, and off we went to meet our workshop group.
Although I’ve done quite a bit of teaching and facilitating, as has Carolyn, the two of us were doing our first event together as co-facilitators. I expect we were each a little uncertain how it would go. I’m pleased to say it worked out just fine.
That’s largely because our host, Noelle Beverly, did such an excellent job preparing for the workshop. Noelle was able to invite writers and other creative artists whom she knew would benefit from the experience. She chose well. Among the group of writers in the quiet upstairs room at Baine’s were two songwriters, as well as a painter.
The room itself was welcoming, separated by French doors from the rest of the bookstore and painted a lovely deep chalky blue. After brief introductions, the delivery of freshly baked scones from the kitchen downstairs, and opening remarks, we got started. Our working environment felt lively and original, and, as we got better acquainted, the support offered within our group was particularly enjoyable to experience.
The Independent Author Media Kit
Why does a creative writer need a media kit? Most writers probably already know the answer: Because everybody’s their own self-promoter. Even if you have a contract with one of the five big publishers, you’re still doing much of your own marketing, and much of your own promotion, and you may still be drafting some of your own promotional materials including blogs and social media. We do it ourselves. It’s just part of the job. Even though it feels so different from much of the rest of the job.
You want to make it really easy for an interested stranger to find out more about you. That’s really the bottom line. You want to make it so easy. Reporters, columnists, bloggers, podcasters, interviewers, moderators, conference planners, and other representatives of the media always want new material. So think of what you’re doing as a favor. This isn’t shameless self-promotion. It’s helping somebody else share something that isn’t stale yet. In fact, we’re providing a public service! By the acts of putting a page on your website – call it Press/Media, or Media Kit, or some such name – and including your various bios and press releases, you’re several steps closer to becoming a quoted expert, or a better-known author.
- Perfectionism is not useful here. The way to do this work is to do what you can, evaluate as you go – identifying which activities that you can tolerate get results – and adjust your methods as you go forward.
- Attitude counts, a LOT. If I approach publicity with good energy and the will to share my excitement about a client’s project – or my own – that will be self-evident in what I draft. The opposite is also true. If a writer grudgingly throws some words together, slams them up in one social media outlet that they know is unsuited to their readership, the bad vibe and inappropriateness will only serve to reinforce the writer’s low expectations.
- When it comes to promotion, your bad attitude will show. This is a place where you can’t always badger yourself to do something. You may find it worthwhile to make yourself do creative writing on a predetermined timetable, but this stuff? The best you can do sometimes is draft something and intentionally not finish it. Know that you’ll come back to it when things look brighter and you feel more outgoing.
- Also, persist. This is not a meritocracy. The stubbornly dedicated are more likely to get good attention and name recognition than the brilliantly quixotic.
Public Persona and the Media Kit
The workshop next dug in to some exercises I designed to identify elements of each participant’s public persona. As I wrote about in more detail here, your public persona is a subset of the entire person you are – the subset you design specifically to assist in the marketing of you and your creative work.
“Writer Gets” and “Reader Gets”
Once the participants had collected ideas about their persona, we continued by looking at two categories of benefits that every written work can and should offer. I call them Writer Gets and Reader Gets. Both matter, in my view.
Writer Gets are the reasons you wrote that book, essay, story, poem, or other work. In other words, what was in it for you? What got you excited and happy about your writing? Reader Gets are the needs that your work addresses for the reader. Why does the reader want to read your work? What can the reader learn?
The answers are likely to be different, depending on what you’re writing. In my book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, I contrast nonfiction with fiction, from the point of view of the work’s ideal reader. “Writing to your ideal reader keeps your voice consistent and your content humming along, integrated and coherent. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, this exercise can prove its worth to you over time. And when you shift into marketing mode, you’ll be one step ahead at the start.”
Bios, Bios, and More Bios
Armed with reasons why self-promotion matters, and the factors comprising each writer’s public persona, we got to work analyzing several kinds of author bios, from tiny to long, and including the closely related author introduction – you know, the one you’d like the person introducing you to use, instead of the one they scrambled to compose on the back of a flyer five minutes before it was time for you to head for the podium.
Wait, There’s More to a Media Kit
After all that, my co-facilitator Carolyn O’Neal got everyone excited about the possibilities of using press releases and direct outreach to media reps. Drawing on her own experience as an independently published novelist and short story writer, as well as on promotional work she has done for others, she provided models of a variety of methods that got her great results.
Victory for All
The participants then had quiet workshop time to draft either their bio(s) or a press release for their media kit. Several participants shared their drafts and gave us interesting, creatively conceived work, with a few laughs and appreciative sighs from the group, followed by applause. Our conversation, as we reviewed our afternoon together, was upbeat and encouraging, filled with energy. I drove back to Charlottesville content. At Baine’s in Appomattox on this St Patrick’s Day, no one surrendered. I like to believe everybody won.
— A M Carley