Book Business

Marketing vs. Publicity

There is a common mistake some writers make when using the words “marketing” and “publicity” (or P.R. “public relations”) as synonyms when actually one is a subset of the other.

In the traditional publishing sphere there are marketing departments that have a publicity division or a marketing department that outsources their publicity to a third party firm. They are not synonyms but the two go hand in hand and should complement each other.

The best way I can define it is to say:

Marketing is all about creating multiple impressions.

This can be through ad placement, in-store displays, banner ads, reviews, contests, etc.

Publicity is all about meeting the author.

This is done through radio and television as well as through all forms of social media.

Sometimes the Author Doesn’t “Feel” Like Their Book is Being Marketed

The difference between marketing and publicity is that the author “feels” publicity because they are involved. They do not “feel” marketing, per se. They might see an ad or a catalog or a review, but it is not as “high touch” as publicity can be.

A couple years ago a publisher decided to focus all their attention and expense on marketing and cut back on PR. Authors began to complain saying that the publisher wasn’t “doing enough to market my book!” The irony is that the publisher was doing the same things they did before in product sales, marketing, and promotional efforts. The only difference was that there wasn’t anyone scheduling the author on radio or TV talk shows. The result? According to the publisher the sales for those author’s titles were stronger. But they had mad authors. The publisher had to backtrack and do some PR/Publicity just to help with the perception.

In my opinion, publicity can be effective in adding “impressions” and awareness of a book in the marketplace. But it has to be done right. The author and publisher, of course, thinks the book is wonderful but the media does not always agree. A publicist might work very hard in pitching the author and the book to the various shows, but it might be that no one says, “Yes!” and adds that title to their media schedule. The author is mad at the publicist accusing them of not doing a good job when the problem may have been the book itself (title, cover, topic, or even timing).

A huge challenge is timing for PR (publicity) to work. One time a publisher insisted that November was the perfect month to release a client’s book, over our objections. They failed to anticipate that it was a U.S. Election year and politics was all anyone wanted to talk about in media. The author was unable to be booked on any shows because the topic of their book was not political.

Another time I know of an author who was to be a featured guest on a TV show. It was a locally produced morning show, but not in the city where the author lived. In fact, the author had traveled the day before to be ready at 6am. That morning there was a high-speed chase on the city streets. The author was told, while in the studio, that the segment was canceled. The book’s publicity was bumped by a car chase.

Media desires a topic or an author that is engaging and keeps people tuned in. If the topic is ho-hum or the author is inarticulate, the media is going to be that much more careful the next time.

However, at the same time, an author needs to realize that getting 35 radio bookings may not create a bestseller. If a radio show is broadcast at 11 p.m. on a remote station in a rural community with only a 10,000 watt signal, the audience won’t be very large. But the author “feels” good about doing the publicity because they were on a show doing an interview. The publicity may feel good but it has only modest, if any, impact on an author’s sales.

Do it Yourself!

These days we hear that authors must “market” themselves. And that is true to some extent. But how many people can the author truly “influence” through their own efforts? One thousand buyers? Five thousand buyers? Social media (defined as blogs, web sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc) can only do so much. I’m not saying it isn’t effective, but there are limits.

The individual may be able to get a booking on some local media. But the national accounts rely on their trusted contacts. Be careful if you are thinking of hiring your own PR firm to “do your marketing.” They may be a great firm, but will your book get the bookings that will generate sales?

The traditional publisher will work the “system” as best they can, they can influence a major TV or radio outlet to schedule a particular guest. The publisher’s sales division can influence the major retailers and get special placement in a store (either online or in the physical store). That may be a sales function, but it still serves as a piece of marketing (and the placement may be a cost that is part of the marketing budget). It is exposure.

If you are considering doing some of this on your own take a look at “Book Launch” ideas or read this linked article by Jane Friedman “Book Marketing 101” as a good starting place.

See the Two as Different Functions

So are these efforts marketing or publicity? You see how these words can become synonyms? It really depends on which office you are sitting in. If you are talking to a traditional publisher it is important to keep the two words distinct. And if you are an Indie author they are both your responsibility but they do serve different functions.

The next time you “feel” that your publisher is not marketing your work well, make sure you are talking about marketing and not publicity (PR). Otherwise the publisher will be confused as to why you are upset. Helping to know the terminology goes a long way in creating open lines of communication and successful relationships.

[An earlier version of this post was published July 25, 2011.]



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