How to Send an Effective Press Release

Capturing a publication’s attention can be a difficult task. You are competing against a variety of other people, causes and events. To win this competition you must do two things. First, you must gain their interest. Second, you must present your story in a professional manner that will make it easy for them to give you the coverage you desire. Here are some tips to help you send effective press releases.

Know Your Target

Find out who the publication’s editor / reporter / blogger is for the section you want your press release to appear in. Include that person’s name on the press release, not just on the envelope or in the email address.

Pick One Person Per Publication

Once you’ve chosen the appropriate person, stick with them. If the article needs to be passed off to another reporter, the publication will make that decision. If you send your press release to more than one person, any problems that develop from duplicate coverage and effort will be blamed on you.

Don’t Just Send, Call

To increase your chances of getting coverage, call the intended recipient before you send the press release and call a few days later to make sure they received it. Making first contact by phone will also help you find the appropriate person to send your press release to.

Give it Time

Don’t email a press release the day before an event and expect your event to receive coverage. Give the maximum possible amount of time for the publication to decide how they want to cover the story. If you feel the event is so far in the distance that they might forget about it, then simply send another release as the time for the event draws nearer.

Know Your Deadlines

Magazines, even weekly ones, are planned months in advance. Seasonal events such as Christmas and Thanksgiving are great examples of this. Holiday issues are frequently developed in the heat of summer. For calendar items, know when the publication’s submission deadline is. Do your research.

Keep it Short and Informative

Reporters and editors are notoriously busy. Most press releases should be kept to a single page. Two pages is acceptable but not optimal. If the publications want more information, they’ll ask.

Write it in a News Style

Put the primary information (who, where, what, and when) into the lead (first paragraph), and avoid a heavy sales pitch. No exclamation points!!! Use short words and sentences. Make sure what you’re saying is very clear. Many publications will directly reprint a press release, as long as it is written in a professional news style. Buy either the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style, and learn the general guidelines for abbreviating words, writing numbers and capitalizing names.

Use Postal Mail or Email

You should check with each publication to find out their preferred system for receiving press releases. In general, email is acceptable and postal mail is fine. Faxes are hard to read or to include photos with, so avoid faxing.

Help keep it Together

For printed press releases, always include, at the top corner of every page, a two or three word description of the story, the name and contact information of key contact people (no more than two), the page number (if there is more than one page) and the release date (usually “for immediate release” or “please hold until ??/??/??”). For emails, include this information at the beginning of the email. Be aware that most people will hit the reply button to respond to an email, so send your press release from an email address that you will be able to follow up from.

Show and Tell

If you have good photos, send them or include the words “photos available upon request” with your information at the top of the first page. Only send high quality photos, however, and only when they add to your story. Place photos between cardboard when mailing. Don’t tape or paper clip the photos or you risk damaging them.

Make it Easy on the Eyes

When sending mail. use standard 8 1/2″x 11″ paper typed on one side only. Never break a paragraph across two pages. Leave wide margins for editors to write notes in. A 1 1/2″ or 2″ margin on each side is fine. Also, use a standard font. Fancy text may look nice, but it is hard to read.

Dress for Success

When sending mail, don’t fold your press release like a letter. You should fold it so that the headline and date will be the first thing the editor or reporter sees upon opening the envelope.

All Good Press Releases Must Come to an End

End a press release with either “###” or ” -30-” typed across the center of the page, three lines below the end of your text. If a release has greater than one print page, type “-more-”, centered at the bottom of the pages preceding the final page.

How to Write a How To Article

The podcast

My podcast addresses some mistakes writers commonly make when creating how to articles.

What is a how to article?

A how to article helps the reader to accomplish a specific task. This may be a technical task such as loading a new computer application, a mechanical task such as changing the oil in a car, an educational task such as writing a research paper, or a more esoteric task such as ending a relationship or meditating. How to articles are often called instructional or procedural articles. One of the oldest and most common types of how to articles is the recipe. A good recipe contains all of the key components to a good how-to article.

  • A well defined goal (bake a cake)
  • Necessary components (ingredients and tools)
  • Steps (mix sugar and flour, add eggs)
  • Conditional changes and options (Adjust for higher altitude, substitute brown sugar with molasses)
  • Expected result (cake should be moist and golden brown)


How to prepare for a how to article


Think about who is likely to use the instructions you’re about to write. Are they experts? Are they totally new to the process? Are they, like most of us, somewhere in between? Are you writing in their native language as well as yours or will you readers be doing some mental translating? You may not always know exactly who you’re writing for but keep your reader in mind as best you can; aiming at a specific type of reader will inform your article from beginning to end.


Defining a goal is not complicated, but it does take more thought than most people give it. The main thing to remember is that there is a direct goal and an indirect goal. The direct goal of a person who reads an article about “How to Brew Beer” is to brew a beer, but their indirect goal is to create something that they can then enjoy and be proud of. Most how to advice is a means to an end. The reader wants to accomplish the task, but their real goal is the result of that task. An article about How to eliminate the XyXIX virus from your computer will be used by people who want their computer to work properly. Getting rid of the virus is just the means to an end.


One of the reasons you should spend a little extra time thinking about the reader’s goal is because it will help you define your standard of success. The standard of success is the expected result of your how to article. You are defining the result that the reader will expect to produce by following your instructions. For example, if your reader is attempting to build something, the standard or success might be that the end result is:

  • Attractive
  • Functions properly
  • Required only the supplies and equipment specified
  • Built within economic expectations
  • Finished without personal injury
  • Holds up to the stress of use.


When creating a how to article, you should expect to do the task you are documenting. You don’t tell someone how to bake a cake unless you can bake a cake. The key to a successful walk through is to track each step you take and the result of that step. Steps should be broken down into small, clear actions that produce a result.

In some cases, it may not be possible to replicate the entire process. Due to exterior constraints, you may not be able to perform every step of a process. For example, when documenting software that is still in production, you may have to assume a result. This is especially true when working with dummy data (information created for simulation purposes) or with mock-ups (graphic representations of the expected final product).


There is more than one way to accomplish most tasks. For example, many computer commands can be accomplished with either the mouse pointer or with keystroke combinations (often called shortcuts). Additionally, part of the process might change based on your choices. Option A might have different steps than Option B. Depending on what you are writing about and who you are writing for, you will have to choose between telling your reader a single way to accomplish a task and discussing their other options. This is particularly true when you’re describing how to do something technical. Installing software often forces the user to either accept defaults or to make fairly sophisticated decisions. Building a shed would present choices such as where you put a door; that choice, when made, results in the need to be sure the right sized shelves go in the correct place, etc.


Writing a guide to a process you are not expert in can be a challenge. That is why it is important to find outside resources to help you write your article. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs, called smees) are a great resource in this situation. A SME is simply someone who has the information you need in order to properly write about a task. At software companies these are often product specialists, programmers, trainers and business analysts. It is certainly easier to write a how to article when you are the expert, but even when you think you know all you need to know, don’t underestimate the value of a second opinion. There may be a better way to do things and it’s almost always true there will be a different way to do things. Chefs, for example, often change a cake recipe to complement an entrée.


Additional research is always a good idea. No matter what topic you are writing about, there’s a good chance someone on the Internet has tackled something similar. In the software world, there are usually archives of supporting documentation such as functional specifications, business reviews, quality assurance scripts and usability testing results. Looking over the information that is out there can be a real help in making sure your article is a good one. You don’t need to read every article or brief though. The number of ways to bake a cake is astronomical. You could spend the rest of your life just studying cake recipes.

A brief style guide for how to writing


How to guides are written in a procedural format. That means that you follow a logical series of steps. Depending on the topic, you may or may not need to number these steps. In general, the less technical or mechanical a topic is, the less need there is to number steps. This article is not numbered because each step required considerable advice and discussion, and because the order of events is not fixed. While you can write a how to article following these topics in order, it is not necessary. There is no real problem is you consult an expert before you define the audience or examine the options. In fact, it may be the better way to do things in some cases.

There are often pieces of information that belong together even though they don’t have a specific order. A list of supplies or a list of resources, for example, does not need to be in a specific order but should still be grouped together.

Ordered list (numbered list)

Most ordered lists are numbered. In general, standard 1, 2, 3 numbering is best. Some documentation styles call for roman numerals or letters, but those are the exceptions. Lists tend to become more complicated, however, if you need to document sub-steps. This can happen if you have one or more options to choose from and need to describe how each option produces a particular result. A list with subsets is what is referred to as a nested list. For nested lists, letters are often used instead of numbers.

Try to keep the number of steps in an ordered list under ten. Readers tend to be intimidated by longer lists. To shorten the number of list items, you may want to break a complex task up into two or more sections/parts. This can often be done by finding a logical place to begin numbering again following a paragraph of explanation.

Unordered List

Unordered lists use bullet points. A bullet point is a dot or a square (or other design) before a list item. Unordered lists are great for article elements such as lists of tools, supplies or options


If a step in the process changes the situation (creates a result), that needs to be documented. For example, when someone clicks on a link online it will generally send them to a new web page (or at least change the look of the web page they are on). Another example might be when the step is adding, say two eggs to the flour, butter and sugar in the cake, a description of how the batter will change (become more liquid) would be appropriate. Describe the result immediately after the step, but do not make it a numbered item because it is not a separate step.

References and resources

When working with outside sources (such as information from books or other web sites) be sure to acknowledge those resources. When possible, provide a link to the source material. Doing this not only gives fair credit to the source author, it also provides additional information that your reader use clarify questions and provide alternatives.



When writing a how to guide, your overriding goal should be clarity at all times. This style of writing isn’t as broad or imaginative as prose. You want your statements to be direct, concise, and unambiguous.


Short sentences are almost always preferable to long sentences when you are writing a how to guide. Short, declarative statements make for good steps. Never try to combine two steps into a single sentence.


One of the keys to writing a procedure is to use the same words in the same way every time you use them. Some words, such as Run and Program have many meanings. When you write a guide, you don’t want to have your words misinterpreted, so do your best to use the word consistently to mean one thing throughout your instructions.

Just as you want a word to mean the same thing every time you use it, you want to use the same word every time you mean the same thing. If you said, run the program the first time, don’t say start the application the second time.

Additionally, use the same phrases when an action is repeated. If you write, Click on the OKbutton the first time, don’t write Click OK the second time. Use the same phrase every time.


Using unambiguous words will help your reader understand your instructions. Here is an example of a set of terms that become increasingly unambiguous:

  • Communication device
  • Phone
  • Mobile phone
  • Smartphone
  • 3G capable smartphone
  • Blackberry smartphone
  • BlackBerry Curve 8900

In the world of cooking, stirring had a different meaning than beating or whisking does. Use the most appropriate word and use it consistently. If you’re not sure what word is best, look it up or ask your expert.

Add Supporting Materials


When documenting a computer-based process, screen shots (images of the screen) are an excellent way to demonstrate both the steps to take and the results of those steps. There are, however, a few drawbacks to using screen shots.

Screen shots take up a great deal of space on your screen or page. It can be difficult to find a balance between the clarity of the image and the amount of space it takes up. These space considerations can be especially troublesome when you are working with mobile devices such as smart phones and touch screens.

Screen shots can be slow to load. Image files take longer to download and display on a screen.

Screen shots can become outdated. I once worked on a project in which the previous writer had meticulously created screen shots complete with additional graphics such as pointers and numbering. When it came time to update the document, all of those screen shots were useless, even though much of the underlying process remained unchanged.

If the screenshot is to be printed, make sure it will be large enough to make it worthwhile. If it’s an ebook, the chances are the color on the screenshot may get lost if the user prints it – you can solve this by making the shot grey scale to begin with.


When you are writing about a physical task such as putting a desk together, illustrations tend to make the task much easier. Many people think visually, and a good illustration can really clarify a process. Like screen shots, illustrations can sometimes become outdated. The main downside of illustrations, however, is that they take drawing and design talent. If you don’t have these talents (or have someone who does) then this will take a lot of time and may never produce the desired result.


A flowchart is a great way to clarify a process. This is especially true if the process has many optional steps or choices to be made. The symbols on a flowchart each have a set meaning/purpose, so you will want to get a good idea of how they work.


An accompanying video or slide show presentation can be very handy for your audience.


The first step in testing is to follow your own how-to instructions. Do exactly what you say to do. Don’t let yourself stray from your written plan. If you do, then it may be a gap in the article.

The best way to test your instructions is to have several people actually try to install the software or bake the cake or put the desk together. It is particularly helpful to watch people as they are testing your process. They may complain that step 5 is confusing, but that may only be because they made a mistake at step 3. You won’t learn that just by listening to or reading their feedback. You’ll also see where they hesitate and re-read the instructions. Often, however you’ll have to make do with their notes. And sometimes you simply won’t have the opportunity to test.

Having someone new to the project read through your instructions can help. They may spot something that’s crystal clear to you but incomprehensible or confusing to them.

The final result

A well-written how to guide should have the following qualities:

  • It should be easy for it’s target audience to understand
  • It should have a clear result
  • It should accomplish the stated goal
  • It should have all the information necessary for success

What a freelancer should know before querying a magazine

Know the magazine’s submissions / writer’s guidelines

The easiest way to find out what a magazine wants is to let them tell you. Many magazines post their writer’s guidelines on their web site. If you can’t find them online, contact one of the editors and ask for them to email or snail mail you the guidelines. A directory such as Writer’s Market can be helpful for your initial search, but don’t rely on them for all of your information. Any number of things can change between the publication of those listings and the day you decide to send your query. Not only do writer’ guidelines tend to address content issues, but they can also tell you what format the publication prefers their submissions in. One magazine may want you to email them, another might want you to send a paper copy and a third may want you to upload a Microsoft Word file. You won’t know if you don’t do the research.

Know who the magazine’s editors are

Knowing the right person to send your query to is one of the little details that can make a big difference when you are trying to make a sale. If you query the wrong person, any of a number of bad things can happen. The person who receives it might dismiss your query and throw it away because it isn’t what they are looking for. The person who receives it may know who should get it and plan to give it to them, but never get around to doing so. If your query does finally get to the right person, they may hold the fact that it was addressed to the wrong person against you. Always take the time to find out who the right recipient for your query is. Check the magazine’s masthead for the latest information and don’t be afraid to call or email to confirm your choice.

Know the magazine’s editorial calendar

In addition to guidelines, many magazines have an editorial calendar that covers such things as publication lead times, deadlines for holiday or seasonal items and upcoming special editions or subject focuses. Some magazines dedicate issues to a single topic. Knowing what a magazine is looking for and when they are looking for it can give you a serious advantage over the competition. When you request submission guidelines, be sure to request the calendar as well.

Know the magazine, front to back

Don’t assume you know what a magazine wants just because you have read their writer’s guidelines. The proper way to research a magazine is to read it. Get your hands on a copy of the magazine (the more copies the better). Check the magazine’s website if they have one. You don’t have to read every word of every article, but take the time to get familiar with the different sections and the general writing style. Be sure that what you are proposing fits in well with the publication’s approach to content and style.

Know how to write a query letter

Your query letter needs to demonstrate both the quality of your idea and the quality of your writing. Additionally, it should demonstrate that you know how to follow the magazine’s submission guidelines. Many editors receive dozens of queries each month. For major publishers, the number of queries can climb into the hundreds. This may seem intimidating, but the number of queries that are actually well-written and well thought out is quite small. Most queries are terrible. They are badly written, inappropriate or fail to follow the magazine’s guidelines. It is easy to rise above the crowd if you know what you are doing and you are willing to make a genuine effort to create quality query.

Why they Rejected your Perfectly Good Submission

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell. ” A publisher’s rejection letter to Stephen King

Rejection is an unavoidable part of the publishing world. If you want other people to publish your work, you are going to have to accept rejection and criticism.

Some of the reasons writers get rejected are entirely the writer’s fault. These reasons should be obvious, but some people just don’t seem to understand. You will probably be rejected if you do any of the following:

  • Send an inappropriate submission or query, such as an article about guitars to a magazine about drums.
  • Send a poorly written or unprofessional sounding submission or query.
  • Address your submission or query to the wrong person or department.
  • Fail to follow a publisher’s submission guidelines.
  • Fail to study the publication well enough to be clear about what they want and use.

Those are major errors that will almost certainly get you rejected without a second thought. Lets assume for the moment though, that your submission or query is appropriate, well-written, properly addressed and follows the publisher’s submission guidelines. There are still a number of legitimate reasons that it might be rejected, which do not reflect poorly on you. For the sake of brevity, assume that “editor” means anyone who is deciding whether or not to publish your work.

Because of tastes or requirements

Every publication’s editor has tastes that may not be reflected in the submissions guidelines. They may prefer a specific approach to the subject matter that they publish. They may prefer that their writers have a certain background that you do not have. They may not like your sources or your use of commas. None of these things mean that you did something wrong, it just means that the editor wants something different from what they are seeing.

Because the editor prefers certain writers

Just because a publication says that it is open to new writers, doesn’t mean that they are specifically seeking new writers. The editor may already be comfortable with the freelancers her or she is working with, and not be willing to break in someone new. Some writers are especially good at building relationships with editors, and those relationships pay off down the line with additional assignments. If you are a new writer to this editor, and don’t have a reputation that matters to them, then you may lose out on that basis alone.

Because your submission was not unique

Your idea may be similar to a submission that the editor has already received or published. Some publishers have long lead times between submission and publication. The idea you had may have already been pitched by another writer, or it may have appeared in their publication a year or two earlier and you just didn’t catch it. These things happen.

Because they are saturated with submissions

Some publications receive more submissions than others. This is especially true of major magazines, web sites, and book publishers. If an editor has one slot and twenty worthwhile submissions, then you might get pushed out by the sheer numbers. It doesn’t mean that your submission was bad. It just means that someone else’s work met their needs in a way that yours did not.

Look for positive signs and helpful feedback

In many cases, you won’t receive any feedback with your rejection. Some editors are just too busy to give feedback to every writer that approaches them. If you do receive feedback though, and it isn’t overwhelmingly negative, then the editor is trying to give you some hope or advice for the future. Listen to what they have to say. If they tell you to submit again, do so. If they tell you specifically why they rejected you, look for ways that you can overcome that obstacle in the future. Also, remember that a rejection by one publisher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try another publisher. If you like your idea, find an editor who does as well.

Surprise! More Writing Articles

New Years Eve Snow in Tucson
New Years Eve Snow in Tucson

Howdy to my massive fan base. After my last missive, it would be odd if you suddenly started seeing a bunch of posts about writing again, wouldn’t it? It would? Ok.

The explanation is that there are still a bunch of old articles that didn’t get back up on the site after it got hacked a while back. I had completely forgotten about them, but ran across them yesterday. So, a bunch of “new” articles are about to come down the pike. Long time readers may have read them before, but nonetheless, I thought it would be a good idea to get them back out there. Why? Because Content!

On the topic of the fiction I plan to release, it is coming too. I am setting up a sub-site for my first release, and going over the story with my writing partner Leigh, who is thrilled whenever she gets mentioned, so I am mentioning her. The story, Model Home, is a dark comedy about paranoia, corporate intrigue, bad sex and home ownership. I am busy chopping it into bite-sized chunks (and rewriting what was essentially a first draft). Hoping for a launch date of February 1st.