I've written for newspapers for more than 20 years. Mostly small-town publications, but still, they are part of an industry that some would say is dying, and others would say is still trying to figure out how adapt to today's environment, where technology rules.
Regardless of what you think, it's true what has been said for aspiring authors that it's tougher to get exposure through printed publications. When it comes to newspapers, most of them are no longer doing book reviews. True, there are thousands of websites and blogs that will review books and do author profiles, but a more detailed story about an author and his or her book is still something that can make a writer feel good, particularly when the writer of the article can give it a personal touch that the book writer wants to give to his or her own work!
As someone who has written for small-town newspapers for so long, I can tell you that what really drives newspapers these days, and draws the attention of their writers, is local news. That's particularly true about the smaller communities where I have lived, in which few people from larger outlets will regularly cover what's important to them.
So such publications sound like a good opportunity for writers to promote their work. But keep in mind that, because these newspapers focus on local information, you need to remember how to tie your book in with the local community.
I'll go back to my days when I worked in Raton, N.M. I cannot tell you how many times I got press releases e-mailed about events taking place in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, or telling me about people with local ties, when those people lived in those cities. The problem was, neither city qualified as local, because Raton was 200 miles away! Then there were people who saw that I was a sports editor and sent queries, asking if I would want to review a book or talk to an author. The only problem: Most of these authors had no ties to Raton. They may have written about topics that I had explored in an occasional column, but if I was going to do stories about books or interviews with authors for the paper, I wanted a local tie.
That brings me to the time when an author brought by a copy of his book called Ghost Town Basketball. It was about basketball programs at schools that no longer existed, because the towns had dried up. Many of those teams had been near Raton and other communities the newspaper covered. The author had visited the Raton Museum and talked to several people in the area to do his research.
Now we are getting somewhere! We have a topic that will interest some local readers, the topic covers communities that local readers would be familiar with, and the people who the author interviewed were known to those readers. That's a book a local newspaper will want to write about, and that's exactly what I did.
So now that you understand a little more about the importance of local ties to most newspapers, here are those ties that will tell you whether or not you want to promote a book to a newspaper.
1. Does the author have strong ties in the city, town or county the newspaper in located? There are three strong ties that matter: The author lives there, the author was born and grew up there, or the author lived in that area for a long period of time (at least 10 years). People know who the author is and will be interested to learn about a book the author has written. Keep in mind, though, that "local" doesn't mean "same state."
2. Does the author's book prominently talk about the city, town or county, or about a major attraction there? Going back to Raton, a work of fiction set in Raton will hold interest, because people will be interested to know why the author chose Raton for the setting. If it's a nonfiction work about, for example, the Philmont Scout Ranch, a popular Boy Scout camp located near Raton, that's a book the local media will likely want to feature because people know the importance of the camp to the local area.
3. Does the book feature a topic that holds strong interest to the local residents? This is where you really need to do your research to know how much interest the book will hold to readers. Sticking with Raton, I can tell you the local baseball team draws much interest. But that doesn't mean your book about high school baseball will necessarily draw attention, especially if you wrote about a team hundreds of miles away. On the other hand, Raton once had a horse racing track called La Mesa Park and the residents still hope for horse racing to return. So there might be interest in a book about the history of horse racing, particularly if La Mesa Park is mentioned frequently. Remember, the stronger the local tie, the better.
Newspapers can still be an avenue for an author, agent or publisher to promote material. Just make sure you understand the importance of local ties before you start contacting those outlets.