Five Ideas Writing

Creative Content & Content Strategy

Author: Sarah Aswell

Five Ideas: What Content Writers Can Learn From Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One of the greatest writers of our time, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, died yesterday at the age of 87. While many people are familiar with his great novels, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, fewer people know that he was an innovative journalist, editor, and magazine publisher.

I first read Marquez when I was earning my MFA in creative writing at the University of Montana. It was for a fiction techniques class called, “Time and Trouble.” Little did I know that I would use many of Marquez’s celebrated fiction techniques in my non-fiction writing, including my marketing copy, for years to come.

Without further ado, here are five Marquez-inspired ideas for content writers:

  1. Embracing New Journalism. In the late 1950s, a handful of journalists began applying fiction-writing techniques to news stories. For Marquez, the first result was The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor – an in-depth look at a man who survived at sea for ten days after his ship sank (perhaps because the Colombian Navy had so much contraband aboard the vessel). The story exposed government negligence and faulty reporting,  but all through a gripping narrative and with the use of traditional fictional storytelling methods. Bottom line: fictional techniques are for non-fiction writers, too – and they grab readers in the exact same way.
  2. Learning from magical realism. Marquez is certainly most famous for his magical realism: the small, fantastical aspects of his fiction that live comfortably next to real-world settings, real-world characters, and real-world conflicts. But how could magical realism possibly have anything to do with non-fiction writing and marketing writing? Understanding how the juxtaposition between fantasy and reality affects readers can help you use both to inspire emotion and action.
  3. Never forgetting about plain old realism. Marquez might have been known best for his work with magical realism, but he understood what all great fiction writers know: that great fiction is all borrowed from reality, too. His New York Times obituary shared this telling quote: “I’m a journalist. I’ve always been a journalist. My books couldn’t have been written if I weren’t a journalist because all the material was taken from reality.” The lesson? If you are looking for inspiration or ideas, look to your own life. If you want to connect with your readers, look to the universal experience.
  4. Writing what you know. What do I think about first when I recall Marquez’s work? It’s not the magical realism or the literary techniques. It’s the colorful, flamboyant, intense, and sometimes sorrowful world of Latin America and his home country Colombia. Although he traveled the world and  although he used his imagination to the fullest, the true spirit of his work came from what he saw and experienced during his boyhood years in Aracataca.
  5. Having confidence in your work. When he was writing his seminal work,  One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez sold everything, including his car and furniture. After everything was sold, he went into debt to finish the book. His wife pawned their last items – an electric heater, a blender and a hairdryer – just to mail the manuscript to a publisher. He believed in his book so deeply that he bet everything on it.

Want to read a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez to get inspired for your next writing session? Try this quick read, Eyes of a Blue Dog.

Your Press Release is Written. And it is awesome. Now What?

Writing press releases is a true art – and it is one of my favorite assignments. They are succinct. They are exciting. And they don’t allow room for any of the marketing bullshit that you run into when writing content for websites and blogs. As a former journalist, I have read thousands of press releases, and I’ve seen it all. I know what gets your release into the hands of an editor and what gets your release mocked by the entire press room and then unceremoniously recycled.

While I am happy to help you craft the perfect press release for your business, once it is out of my hands, it is up to you to distribute it correctly. This can be just as hard as writing it in the first place, and one mistake can mean that you don’t get the coverage you deserve. Below, I’ve written up my seven steps to distributing a press release, plus a few bonus tips for anyone who wants to graduate to Press Release Distribution Master.

  1. Conduct a final approval and proof. Before sending out any release, have the contents checked thoroughly for factual accuracy, formatting mistakes, and typos one last time. Be aware that mistakes can be edited into a release during the drafting process and that any factual errors in the release will likely appear in subsequent press coverage. Specifically, check any proper nouns, names, and titles in the release for spelling and accuracy; check the date of the release; check the contact information listed in the release; and check any other vital details that might appear in the release (such as the date and time of an upcoming event). If there are hyperlinks in the release, click on them to make sure they lead to the appropriate web pages.

 

  1. Write a press release cover letter if applicable. Some news outlets and publications prefer to receive a concise cover letter accompanying the press release. A cover letter (which is often emailed) should be extremely brief – one to two sentences explaining the main thrust of the press release as well as a kill date (a date in which the press release is no longer newsworthy). The press release cover letter should always be addressed to a real person, usually an editor. If you do not know who to address the cover letter to, call up the publication and ask them who you should send press releases to. Then talk to that person directly. This is also a good time to ask that person how they prefer to receive releases (email, link, even snail mail for some press kits) and whether or not they prefer to receive cover letters. The better you know the editors, the more likely you will get press.

 

  1. Pick an appropriate time to send out the release. In general, the rule for press release distribution is, “early in the day, early in the week.” Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. The 24-hour news cycle and the ever-increasing popularity of online news means that these rules are less hard and fast than they used to be, and press releases announcing negative company news (layoffs, bad quarterly reports) are ideally sent out on Friday afternoons. Be sure to know when print publications like monthly or biweekly magazines go to press, and note that date on your distribution spread sheet. Any releases sent around deadlines will likely be ignored and then forgotten. If you are sending a press release out in anticipation of an approaching event, distribute the release as soon as possible and no later than a week before the event, especially if you want reporters to attend the event themselves.

 

  1. Distribute the releases to industry magazines, local press, and other targeted publications. Create a simple spreadsheet where you can list the publications that are of interest to your company along with any pertinent information. Every publication is different, so be sure to list any special instructions from the editor in a notes section. Also be sure to update your spreadsheet quarterly, as journalists have a high turnover rate and you don’t want to send releases to someone no longer at the publication. Avoid sending all press releases to the same exact distribution list – if one release won’t interest some of the listed publications, it’s a good idea not to flood them with releases that don’t pertain to what they publish. In the same way, if a press release might interest a publication that you usually don’t send to, add them to the list! Even if this age of electronic news and the World Wide Web, don’t forget about traditional local news sources, especially if your business is a local one.

 

  1. Distribute your press release over the web. Using online press release distribution sites is becoming increasingly popular, and it can be very effective especially if your releases are written with search engine optimization in mind. Popular sites like PRWeb.com, however, do ask that the releases pass a number of requirements (such as length). It’s  extremelyimportant to know which distribution sites have specific rules and regulations. You may have to edit the original release for length or take out certain words or phrases (for example, PRWeb does not accept the overuse of the word “you” or the use of the word “free”). Your trusty press release writer should be familiar with most of the most common restrictions and will avoid them, especially if she knows beforehand where the release will be distributed.

 

  1. Post your press release on your website. Having a space reserved on your website to regularly post press releases helps you in several ways. First, it ensures that your website is regularly updated with unique content, which improves its search engine rankings. Secondly, it’s an easy way to keep visitors up to date on your latest achievements. Thirdly, it adds relevant content and authority to your website. After you post your release online, start your social networking. Link to your press release on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and watch your followers share your news.

 

  1. Make one or two calls. I do NOT recommend that you call every publication every time you send out a release – in fact, calling an editor too often is a good way to get blacklisted at a lot of places. However, if you have a release going out that you sincerely think will be of particular interest to a particular publication, don’t hesitate to give them a call a day or two after distribution and ask if the release has made it to their desk yet. Keep your conversation brief, but be sure to mention why you think your news story would be of interest to their audience. If appropriate, offer them access to your CEO, President, or spokesperson for a short interview. Don’t call near the publication’s deadline days, or you may finding yourself speaking to a very distracted and annoyed editor.

 

A few extra notes:

  • Get subscriptions (or feeds) to every publication on your media list – and read them! For your online publications, create a folder of links and check the websites often. Half the battle is knowing what your targeted publications look for in a news story and what they do not have interest in. Get familiar with the different features they run each issues (business briefs, guest columns, etc.).
  • Regularly add (and subtract) media contacts to your list. Keeps your eyes and ears open for new publications and websites to send releases to. Read your competitors’ websites and note where they are receiving press. If a publication never uses your releases, give them a call and ask if you can do anything differently. If they continue to ignore your releases, take them off your list and save yourself some time and effort.
  • When emailing press releases, make the subject line simple and direct. Be sure the first two words are “Press Release.” In nine out of ten cases, do not attach your press release into the email, cut and paste it into the body of the email. Never send mass emails! Make each email personal.
  • Remember: a journalist’s job is not to market your company! If you want to get an editor really, really angry, mention to them how important it is for your business to promote a new product or a new service. If you want to advertise something, buy ad space. If you want your story to appear in a publication, make sure that you are helping readers, not just yourself.
  • Forge a relationship with the editor without becoming pushy. The goal here is to make the journalist’s life as easy as possible. Send the release in their preferred form, at their preferred time, in their preferred format, addressed personally to them. It takes a little extra time, but it makes a world of difference. In the long run, the goal is to have a few journalists and editors that you can pick up the phone and call whenever you have some newsworthy information or a breaking story.

Want a free tool for your press release distribution? Request my press release distribution spreadsheet.

Want help writing your next awesome press release? Contact me today.

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