The Difference Between Marketing and Publicity


photo by Stuck in Customs / Flickr

Today’s guest post is excerpted from What to Do Before Your Book Launch by M.J. Rose (@MJRose) and Randy Susan Meyers (@randysusanmeyer). It is an excellent complement to my own piece on this topic, Book Marketing 101.

No one can buy a book they’ve never heard of.

So, how do readers hear about books? Everyone likes to say it’s word of mouth, but it’s not possible to tell a friend about a book until you’ve heard of it yourself.

That’s where publicity and marketing come in.
 What’s the difference between the two?
 Marketing is paid placement on blogs, radio, TV, newspapers, etc. These show up as ads, advertorials, promotions, blog tours, and more. With marketing, if you pay for it, it shows up. You hire a marketing company and they buy the space. The attention is guaranteed to be there.

Publicity is the opposite. You pay a publicist to pitch your book to newspapers, magazines, blogs, TV, radio interviews, and reviews. You are paying for the publicist’s effort to get you some attention. A publicist’s rate of success is determined by the quality and quantity of her connections.

Should You Hire a Publicist?

You should decide whether or not to hire a publicist early on, especially as the most high-powered ones will want to work with you five or six months before your book comes out. There are different levels of publicists: those who will oversee an entire campaign in concert with your in-house publicist, and those who concentrate on specialized areas, such as radio or blog tours.

Budgetary constraints might be your main concern, but be certain to consider the importance of the marketing side of the business. You have one book getting published and one chance to see it fly—perhaps two if it’s coming out first in hardcover and then in paperback.

Many authors decide against hiring a publicist because they’re certain “they love me at XYZ Pub House,” only to be devastated when they see how thin the love can be in the end. Publicists at most publishing houses are stretched to the limit. The in-house publicist for Randy’s first book did a great job, but having an outside publicist from Goldberg McDuffie allowed for more in-depth work from both publicists. The two publicists worked together so well that they shared a panel with Randy at Grub Street’s Muse & The Marketplace conference.

What About Marketing?

Publicity won’t work without marketing. 
Just as you can (and sometimes must) pay for an outside publicist, you can (and sometimes must) pay for outside marketing. For most authors, the publisher’s marketing budget is limited, so it is important to find out what they are doing and what they aren’t doing. Then you can decide how to allocate your money. You might consider anything from marketing professionals to online book tours. You might prepare marketing materials ranging from bookmarks to postcards. [Note from Jane: Be sure to check out MJ Rose’s marketing service, AuthorBuzz.]

Marketing will provide synergy for your reviews, awards, and good news to make sure that people know your book exists.

While many writers use the words publicity and marketing interchangeably, they’re not the same thing and this confusion often causes people to make marketing mistakes. As we said above, marketing is something you pay for. Publicity is something you hope for. They both work to promote a book. People need to hear about a book many times and in several ways before they really notice it.

Marketing is the concrete process of spreading the word about your book by spending money. You can hire a web designer, buy advertising space, and hire a street team. These are all tasks with a specific, measurable outcome. My own marketing business distributes information about books and authors via the web to readers, book club members, librarians and booksellers.

Publicity, by contrast, sounds much sexier. You might get a mention in O Magazine or USA Today, or get an interview on NPR. Or you might not. Publicists and authors work to generate publicity, but it’s never a sure thing. Sometimes these efforts are enormously successful, paying off in high-profile reviews in the New York Times and People Magazine, but no publicist can guarantee such a reward. So when you put all your efforts into publicity and none into marketing, you’re taking a gamble.

7 Marketing & Publicity Points from M.J.

  1. 85% of all books get less than $2,000 in marketing from the publisher. And more than 85% of all books sell less than 1,000 copies.
  2. 95% of all bestsellers get more than $50,000 in marketing and PR, and often it’s upwards of $150,000. There are never more than two or three books a year that break out on a fluke with no marketing and PR. When people say, “If advertising and PR worked every book would be a bestseller,” they are approaching it from the wrong direction. The real question is, “How many books have succeeded without any PR or marketing?” and the answer is: very few. Advertising and PR can’t make every book a bestseller because not every book is good enough or appealing enough. It is much easier to write an exciting ad than to write a whole book. Not even the most brilliant PR and marketing can sell a book people don’t want to read.
  3. Marketing and PR are both valuable, so I advise that if you have a big enough budget you should hire a publicist. For every dollar you spend with a publicist, spend a dollar with a marketing company. That way, even if the publicist can’t get reviews and publicity, you’ll still get exposure.
  4. Exposure does work. If you take 100 books and look at the ones that had PR and marketing dollars spent on them and the ones that had none, you will absolutely see that the books that had PR/marketing outsold the others more than ten to one. The problem comes when you look at one book at a time. For instance, I’ve done AuthorBuzz and blog ads campaigns where I have proof that over 10,000 people clicked through and looked deeper at the book, but ultimately the sales were less than stellar. What happened? We got attention for the book, but when potential readers looked more closely, they didn’t buy. I’ve also done campaigns where we did minimal marketing efforts and the book went back to press, which the publisher never expected, or the book ranked higher on a bestseller list than they expected or it simply sold through at a better rate than other books in the season/genre. What happened? It was a terrific book. It resonated with readers. PR and marketing can’t sell books. It’s worth repeating. PR and marketing can’t sell books. PR and marketing can expose books to potential readers. The book—the words and the premise, the first few pages, the flap copy, the book cover—must entice, enchant, seduce. The book sells the book. In advertising there is a saying: nothing kills a bad product better than great advertising. It’s true for books too.
  5. What to spend? The advice I give everyone, and follow myself, is to keep your day job or a freelance job and spend as much as you can on selling your book. I’ve worked with authors who spend $985 and others who, between my services and other efforts, spend $50,000. One way to decide: if you are going to look back and regret spending the money, don’t do it. But if you are going to look back and say, “If only I had tried maybe the book would have succeeded,” then do it. Nora Roberts said you should spend 10% of your advance. For years, James Patterson spent all of his on advertising and kept his job.
  6. If you are going to hire a publicist or marketing firm, don’t believe anyone who promises you specific sales numbers. No one knows how many copies of your book they can move and if they start out by lying, you’re going to get screwed. Make sure you look at their testimonials and recognize some of the authors/publishers.
  7. Lastly, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true. People will try to get you to pay money to attend teleseminars on how to become an Amazon No. 1 bestseller for ten minutes. All that achievement actually requires is that you manipulate the system and get 100 friends to buy the book within an hour. Don’t pay anyone anything for advice like that.

What to Do Before Your Book LaunchIf this advice was helpful to you, I highly recommend getting a copy of the book What to Do Before Your Book Launch by M.J. Rose and Randy Susan Meyers.

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion.

M.J. Rose is the internationally bestselling author of 12 novels. She has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, Fox News, and All Things Considered, and published in the NYT, O magazine, The Wall St. Journal and more. Rose was the creative director of a top NYC ad agency and created, the first marketing company for authors. Randy Susan Meyers teaches writing seminars at Boston’s Grub Street Writers’ Center. Her debut novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, an international bestseller, was chosen as a “Target Club Pick,” and a best book choice by Elle France, Daily Candy, Goodreads, The Boston Herald, The Winnipeg Free Press, and Book Reporter, among others.

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[…] photo by Stuck in Customs / Flickr Today’s guest post is excerpted from What to Do Before Your Book Launch by M.J. Rose (@MJRose) and Randy Susan Meyers (@randysusanmeyer).  […]


Excellent post. Well done, MJ and Randy. Every single aspiring author needs to read this post. And you can quote me on that. 😉


If authors have to write the book, hire the publicist, and hire the marketer, what are publishers doing to justify taking 70% of the money?

” ‘Who’ll help me *eat* the cake?’ asked the Little Red Hen.”

Jane Friedman

Presumably, publishers provide quality editorial oversight, quality production oversight, and print distribution to bookstores—as well as the “stamp of approval” that many traditional media outlets look for when deciding what books to feature or review.

How highly should that be valued? The answer is different for every author and even across multiple projects by the same author.


The publisher’s taking the financial risk, and only a small percentage of books really make good money for them. You don’t have to pay them back if your book winds up in the red.

Dianna Winget

I enjoyed this post. I tried kids buzz with my debut middle grade A Smidgen of Sky, and although I was somewhat disappointed with the results I do think it brought it to the attention of a lot of librarians which was very effective for the school market. But I agree, ultimately it is the book that sells the book.

Dina Santorelli

Excellent post! I often say to aspiring writers and self-published authors: All the marketing in the world won’t help you if your book isn’t good. Although you never know what’s going to catch on, your job, first and foremost, is to put out there the best book possible.

Lexa Cain

This post was just full of great info. Unfortunately, with a budget of zero, it looks pretty hopeless for me and many others. I guess I’ll just cross my fingers and hope — that doesn’t cost anything! lol

Jane Friedman

Don’t despair … even if you can’t afford paid media, you can accomplish a lot through patience and consistency—by taking advantage of owned and earned media. More on those definitions here:

Taurean Watkins

I’m in the same boat as Lexa and I empathize. I wish more articles understood that some of us have limited finances which doesn’t mean we aren’t doing what we can to compensate. As true as a “A good book is the best advertising” is, we HAVE to do SOMETHING!

Semantics of business aside.

That “I can’t” and “I won’t!” aren’t the same thing. Especially when we talk about marketing.


I’m in the same boat as Lexa and I empathize. I wish more articles understood that some of us have limited finances which doesn’t mean we aren’t doing what we can to compensate. As true as a “A good book is the best advertising” is, we HAVE to do SOMETHING!

Semantics of business aside.

That “I can’t” and “I won’t!” aren’t the same thing. Especially when we talk about marketing.


I struggle with lack of money, too, Lexa. But like you said, hope costs nothing, but lack of money doesn’t equate to lack of will, and we need more writers to understand that. That’s not putting away the need to market, that’s putting our SANITY first, because money can never do that for us. Period.

Ethan Risso

The real question is, “How many books have succeeded without any PR or marketing?” and the answer is: very few. I love that you made a point of mentioning this. I hear, far too often, soon-to-be published authors making a point of saying their work will speak for itself. While their book might be incredible in every aspect, without even an inclination to learn about the marketing and publicity side of the publishing world, most are doomed to failure. I can’t help but think the fairy tales of the .00001% of authors who break out and reach millions of readers… Read more »

Jane Friedman

Great points, Ethan. IMHO, successful authors don’t often discuss how much marketing and promotion they do. Or they might not even realize that how some of their connections (which might be invisible or unknowable to the general public) play a critical role in getting needed publicity. Of course, they may get lucky at some point, or have good timing, but there’s almost never such a thing as an “overnight” success.

Richard Mabry

A thorough, thoughtful post that will leave many authors (myself included) wondering if they’re doing enough. Thanks for sharing.

Kathryn Goldman

Nice, concise description of the interplay between marketing and PR and the need for both. Thank you.

Amy Billone

Jane Friedman is like a guiding light in the darkness. This post was amazing. And MJ and Randy couldn’t be more helpful. Jack Gilbert once said in a poetry class I was in, “The gold is right here. You need to lift it up because of the clock.” The questions of HOW to lift it up are the ones we are shown how to answer here. Thank you!

Jonathan Gunson

Super value post. The takeaway for me is this dashingly optimistic sentence: “The book—the words and the premise, the first few pages, the flap copy, the book cover—must entice, enchant, seduce. The book sells the book.”
This is true with or without a massive promotional budget. Gives realistic hope to all hard pressed authors.

Dan Erickson

If it all boils down to spending money it’s something I just can’t do right now. I just bought a home and I’m a single dad. Even the amount of time I have to put in blogging and using social networks gets ridiculous and has little result. I’ll just keep writing and self publishing for now and see what I can do about marketing later.

[…] The Difference Between Marketing and Publicity. […]

Angela Byrne

This is such a great post – the harsh realities of getting your book published (and sold) aren’t discussed nearly enough. Shining a light on all that additional background work might make ‘the dream’ seem even further out of reach, but hiding from reality doesn’t help either. I really appreciate your honesty and valuable advice.


Thanks for the informative post. As a publicist I always encourage all forms of promotion- marketing, advertising, and publicity but I’m constantly trying to explain the differences! And of course in all of this the success depends on the actual quality of the book. It doesn’t matter how much you put into it on a financial level if the book isn’t any good! Make sure you take the time to hire professional editors ( not your family members) and remember that even though there are tons of options for publishing out there- think before you dive into this business. And… Read more »


Ultimately we authors have the most invested in our book. We have to take action regarding PR and marketing, because nobody can care about the book as much as we do.

[…] are supposed to be data savvy in this industry. Publicists are now expected to demonstrate their ability of measuring communication activities by numbers. It […]

[…] confused with marketing. So, let’s learn what makes publicity different from marketing. Jane Friedman’s blog post explains it […]

[…] Friedman blog post, MJ Rose lays out some interesting statistics about marketing and publicity ( One I found to be a huge eye opener is 95% of all bestsellers spend more than $50,000 in […]

Barbara Schultz

Extremely helpful! My books fit a very small niche – aviation history about unique aviators. Not the popular military book publication. I’ve tried the keyword stuff – no sales. Next step? – independent book stores? publicist? marketing? I really need guidance!