Way back in 2017, I wrote about the four basic elements of a good press release. In that post, I discussed how the headline and sub-headline should be used to hook a potential reader into actually reading the rest of your press release.
But I don’t think I emphasized enough one simple truth about press releases:
If your headline and/or sub-headline are not eye-catching, no one will read your release.
Like most online content, the audience for your press release is not going to see the entire release webpage with your awesome image and contact info so they can reach you right off the bat.
They will most likely get word of your release through an email list, an RSS feed, or a listing page. If you’ve ever looked at an RSS feed, you know they are not pretty. It’s easy for a single release to get lost among that wall of text.
Unfortunately, this means that the headline and sub-headline are your one shot at catching your reader’s attention. So you have to make them count.
Writing Good Headlines and Sub-Headlines
Press releases should answer the five W’s about a given subject. Has anyone out there taken Journalism 101? I haven’t, but I’ve read enough press releases to know what those are:
The headline and/or sub-headline of your press release should address as many of these W’s as possible, while still being well-written and easily digestible.
The When and Where of a news announcement don’t have to appear in a headline or sub-headline. In fact, packing your limited headline space with a date or an address is a waste of characters.
But the Who, What, and most importantly, the Why should be front and center.
Who are you?
What genre do you write in? What is your book about?
And Why should I care enough to read your press release?
Those are the questions that any media member would be looking for you to answer as concisely as possible.
Have a look at my last press release for The Warden of Everfeld: Memento.
The headline reads:
New Fantasy Novel Explores How Two People Find Meaning in their War-Torn Society
Immediately, the reader knows three things:
a) That this is a new book (What)
b) The genre of the book (What)
c) A prominent theme of the book, or Why it would be interesting to readers
Now, I did not include my name, the book title, or the publishing imprint (the Who elements) in the headline for several reasons:
- No one knows my name or cares. George R.R. Martin is a big enough name to grab someone’s attention. Steven D’Adamo is definitely not.
- The title of my book would take up way too much space, space which could otherwise be used to entice the reader to keep reading.
- No one knows what Evening Satellite (my imprint) is, and again, they won’t care. Evening Satellite has exactly one book to its name, meaning it basically isn’t a real imprint yet.
- All of these extra elements can be included for the reader’s information later in the release. The headline’s goal is to entice the reader to click on it. They will find out all the details about the book if they’re interested. I just need them to read the damn thing first.
Now for a look at the sub-headline:
“The Warden of Everfeld: Memento”, available for purchase today on Amazon.com, is a new fantasy adventure novel from Evening Satellite Publishing. Based in the fictional world of Everfeld, this story delves into the complex themes of honor, memory, and loyalty.
A few things to note about the sub-head:
- The title and imprint appear here. Naming the imprint under which the book is published lends some credibility, since there can still be some bias against self-published books.
- My name doesn’t appear, again, because no one knows who I am.
- I say where it is available for purchase and provide a direct link to Amazon. Even if a reader goes no further than this line, they know where to purchase my book.
- I provide some more details about the genre and major themes of the novel. The reader now knows that this is an adventure story based in a fictional universe (for those who like world-building), and touches on real, complex, human themes.
- Sometimes, the information omitted from a headline or sub-headline is just as important as that included. I did not mention that this was also a bit of a love story between the two protagonists. I didn’t want my book pigeonholed into the fantasy romance category, because that’s not what it is. It is primarily an adventure story, so I focused on that aspect.
I’m not saying this is the best headline and sub-headline ever, but I think it did its job. I received one inquiry from the editor of a literary magazine about my book, because they had seen it in an RSS feed or an email blast. That doesn’t sound like much, but this person sifted through dozens–even hundreds–of press releases and singled mine out to contact me directly. That made this press release a success.
Poorly Written Headlines
The main reason I am writing about this now is because I want to be sure that any authors out there who are sending press releases for their book understand one thing:
A bad headline can kill your press release before anyone even looks at it.
I’m subscribed to an email blast for new book releases. I see a lot of bad headlines. I edited press releases for three years for a leading online distribution service, reviewing 10,000+ releases. I have read a lot of bad press releases.
But I don’t just want to tell you what not to do. I want to provide examples. So I’m going to start collecting headlines and sub-headlines I come across, redacting any personally identifiable information from them, and discussing how they achieve their promotional efforts, and how they come up short.
Look out for the first of these tomorrow.