When is the right time to plug your book in the papers?

Agency author David McClure recounts his adventures in the newspaper trade after finishing a book on the royal finances

If you want to promote your book by writing a newspaper article, timing is everything – as I learned through trial and error over the past year plugging “Royal Legacy” (Thistle Publishing 2015).

To boost your chances of the piece running, it helps if it’s pegged to a news story in a timely manner. If you dilly-dally and deliver copy 24 hours after the news first breaks, it’s likely to be rejected as old meat.

As someone unused to writing to a tight deadline, this caused me sleepless nights. Out of the blue one evening the Guardian contacted me for an article on the high costs of running Buckingham Palace prompted by my book on the royal finances. By working round midnight I managed to hit the required word count but the product wasn’t as polished as I would have liked and the paper held it over for almost a week before another suitable slot emerged.

A similar commission from the paper came in July but this time I was better prepared. In fact the piece was already written: 750 finely honed words on the Queen’s surprise windfall from her private Duchy of Lancaster estate. Surprise to some, but not to me. From my shifts on the forward planning desk at BBC News, I’d seen how much of political news is part of a pre-planned grid - and hence anticipatable.

So, if you want your copy to stand out from the Polly Filler of the jobbing hack write it early and then update it on the day of the “unsurprised” news event. I tried this too for the announcement in January of the US President’s state visit to Britain which was quite predictable given that something grand had to be announced during Theresa May’s White House summit - and it duly came up trumps. The tweaked copy was submitted to the International Business Times at 8.30 on a Monday morning and it was posted on-line just after 10.30. As chance would have it, they filed the wrong, slightly out of date version, but once I pointed this out the correct copy appeared in a matter of minutes.

Good timing is vital not just for the 24 hour news cycle but also for the whole 12 month spin. Over the last year I have had roughly a dozen articles published in the Guardian and International Business Times. So, one a month. Actually, no. When I checked the publication dates I noticed that three were bunched round the Christmas period and another three in high summer. What this shows is that is far easier to get an article placed when there is less news around (i.e. the New Year and the Silly Season) and fewer staffers to report it. I had a freelance friend who used to stay in London all summer just to mop up work vacated by vacationers.

Sometimes during the busier periods it pays to let the staff reporter take the credit for your copy. Not long ago I submitted what I thought was a elegantly crafted piece to a mid-market Sunday paper only to be told politely that it was too long and a trifle too lofty for their house style. It was rewritten by the staffer under her byline rather than mine but I was happy because the piece made it into print and my book featured prominently. After all, the name check is the name of the game.

Intriguingly the story took on a life of its own being swept round the globe like an untethered hot air balloon. It first got an airing in an English language paper in India, then made a blast in the German mass-market magazine Bunte before blowing into town in the Stockholm tabloid Expressen.

So, with a fair wind and a little luck, your newspaper piece, may – like time - fly.

About article author

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David McClure

David McClure is a television producer and freelance writer and journalist. He has worked for Reuters, BBC News and Thames Television and made current affairs programmes for Channel 4 and Sky News.   He was also written for The Sunday Times and The Guardian and is currently developing a...More about David McClure