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.]



18 Responses to Marketing vs. Publicity

  1. V.V. Denman July 25, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Useful info. I look forward to discussing either of these terms with a publisher. 🙂

  2. Lyn Cote July 25, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    Hi Steve, Waving!
    Authors can’t afford not to know this difference.

    • Carol Ashby September 18, 2017 at 7:35 am #

      Hi, Lyn. I really enjoyed your Texas Star of Destiny series, but I don’t find it under historicals on the website you linked here. Is that because it’s out of print? How long does a traditional publisher typically keep a book in print and what decides that?

      • Steve Laube September 18, 2017 at 8:43 am #


        An earlier version of this post ran in 2011 and Lyn commented back then.

        You can find all of Lyn’s books listed here:

  3. Susan Falck July 25, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    Hi Steve,
    I’m just learning the buz side of writing. What is the standard marketing that most publishers do? I thought authors were responsible for all pubilicity. And what can an authors do to be more effective in marketing and sells in addition to what is listed above?

  4. Carrie Schmeck July 25, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Marketing is the umbrella. Publicity, PR, advertising, and social media efforts are pieces of marketing. Done alone, none will work at maximum efficiency. Good marketing requires effort on all fronts.

    Advertising feeds awareness which feeds interest which feeds opportunity for publicity. Authors need to look at marketing as a team effort. With the advent of social media, it is more important than ever to define roles with the publisher so each knows what is expected.

    Important post, Steve. Marketing vs. publicity can be a difficult distinction.

  5. Ronie July 25, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Great post, Agent-Man. Thanks for the differentiation.

  6. Brenda Landing July 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Steve, the authors need to understand they will be presented to the public in a repetitiously manner. Many authors believe his/her work is done after the book has been published. Not so.

    In Desperate for Dollars, I reinforce the idea of presentation,presentation,presentation for the new business owner. In the book signing world, the display must be interesting, a smiling author and no books laid flat(a flat book could equal flat sales). The books need to be standing, partially opened, if needed and the author should realize the readers want to feel close, they want to trust and believe the author sitting there in front of them.

  7. Carl P July 30, 2011 at 3:17 am #

    Thanks Steve. Thanks for providing some clarity on this subject. I think that even a lot of publishers that I’ve spoken with lump publicity and marketing into the same basket. This is very practical.

  8. Rebekah Love Dorris September 18, 2017 at 4:35 am #

    Very helpful explanation. Thanks! God bless 🙂

  9. Brennan McPherson September 18, 2017 at 5:03 am #

    PR can be done effectively as an indy author. Example: for my new indy release coming Nov 8th, I have an interview booked on a national television show with an average viewership (roughly in my target market) of approximately 1 million viewers. I put together the press release, pitched to the outlet, and worked all the details out. The biggest caveat is that the majority of all the successes I’ve had in PR (including that national television show) have come through relationships I’ve ALREADY had. Relationships are key. PR is not easy, and it’s not a guarantee. Hiring a PR specialist won’t automatically get you coverage, and it doesn’t guarantee sales (or even big sales). For example, I expect about one tenth of one percent of viewership or listeners in traditional PR mediums (meaning TV, radio, etc.) to convert into purchasers. That was a big surprise with my first traditionally published book. But it makes sense when you think about how many steps people have to go through to get from seeing you on tv to purchasing your book. In short, when you do the math, that big national tv appearance sounds all glamorous, yet its impact on sales is quite small. So why care so much about it? I’m putting the majority of my focus elsewhere for the launch (though I’m still very thankful to have it!).

    • Carol Ashby September 18, 2017 at 7:17 am #

      Congratulations, Brennan! Impressive exposure for a few days’ work! One tenth of one percent of a million is still a thousand. I have a greater than 10% sales-to-views rate for international visitors to my Roman history site, but that’s still fewer than a thousand in the last 8 months with many days spent writing the articles.

      A lot of effort and time on my part, but writing them is fun. Plus I couldn’t be more delighted that some Romanophiles want my novels about people struggling with what they should do with the Christian faith.

      • Brennan S McPherson September 18, 2017 at 8:29 am #

        Sorry. I did my math wrong. I expect more like 100 sales. 🙂

        Maybe other peoples’ experiences have been better, but I’ve been told this is pretty much the average.

        • Carol Ashby September 18, 2017 at 10:27 am #

          You just made me feel really good about the effectiveness of my Roman site. It’s done way better than that. Number 2 boosted number 1 sales, and I’m hoping number 3 releasing in November will boost 1 and 2 as well.

          It’s interesting how marketing one has feedback effects on earlier volumes in a series. And the marketing at my site consists of cover images as clickbait to amazon in a sidebar and mentioning the new release and displaying covers and a tiny bit of the back copy of the earlier ones on the Find What’s New page. Ultra low key so it really is a history site, not a sales site.

          • Brennan McPherson September 18, 2017 at 4:45 pm #

            You should feel great! 🙂 Of course, the 100 sales last time were on $15.99 paperbacks and $9.99 ebooks bunched together (mainly paperbacks). Who knows? Maybe at a lower price it might move significantly more.

            The biggest benefit from a big PR appearance besides the exposure is the leverage. You can use a national TV appearance for increased effectiveness in marketing, etc. It lends “legitimacy” to you in people’s minds. Which is a bit silly when you think about it too much. . .

            Anyways. Great article, as usual, Steve!

  10. Damon J. Gray September 18, 2017 at 5:45 am #

    This is exactly why I feel compelled to trust those who are professionals, who know the business far better than I ever will. If I do not do so, I will be investing time, effort, and money in arenas that will generate little to no return for that investment.

  11. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D September 18, 2017 at 9:16 am #

    Thanks for this great info, Steve!

  12. David Rawlings September 20, 2017 at 1:27 am #

    Great post Steve. An important distinction – especially in a social media age where people do push back harder on sales pitches than they used to.

    In terms of getting bumped, you really are at the mercy of the media, and it’s important to realise why.

    I was doing a PR campaign for a client in the late 1990s and we had everything lined up – 3 TV stations, a handful of radio, newspaper interviews. Then that night Princess Diana drove into a tunnel and didn’t come out the other end.

    Instantly bumped … and the fact we understood why helped us rebook everything a couple of weeks later.

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