Book marketing and publicity is sometimes confused with advertising. The short answer is that publicity is earned coverage and advertising is paid coverage.
Book publicity and advertising are both tools to create awareness about a book and author. Most of us know about advertising because we see or hear it everywhere: TV, radio, billboards, newspapers, magazines and increasingly, online.
Publicity, however, is essentially “invisible.” The average person doesn’t “see” the results of book marketing and book publicity. Publicity results in authors and books becoming part of the news. For example, you’re reading an article in a monthly magazine about self-improvement and finding happiness. Throughout the article, different experts are quoted or in some cases, the article can revolve around the advice of a single expert. These experts are often authors who have been pitched to media by book publicists.
In advertising, someone pays a media outlet, social media platform or online outlet for advertising space or airtime. The buyer has total control. The advertisement includes exactly what the buyer wants.
Publicity involves pitching and enticing, persuading and/or convincing a media outlet to interview, quote or feature a book and/or author. Examples of media coverage include feature stories, articles, book reviews, radio and TV interviews, op-ed pieces, expert commentaries, etc. There is no payment for the coverage.
It is a classic “you scratch their back and they scratch yours.” Each party gets something from publicity. An author gets exposure, and the outlet gets good information or a quality guest for interviews.
Publicity gives the author credibility. Being able to say as “seen on” or “featured in” is priceless. Media coverage gives immediate credence to an author and book. When it works well, book publicity is incredibly powerful.
The difference between publicity and advertising is easy to see with a simple exercise. Find a magazine that explores a specific topic and features an author offering tips and advice. In the same magazine, find an advertisement for a book or one which features an expert/author promoting a seminar, event, etc. The article gives the author credibility because the reader knows the magazine thinks enough of the person to incorporate the author into the story. The advertisement gives the author exposure; however, the reader also knows someone paid for this advertisement. There’s the key difference: credibility vs. control.
It’s important for an author to understand that there are sometimes risks associated with publicity due to the lack of control. When they are pitched or receive a book, an editor or producer can do whatever they want and go in any direction with the information they receive. They may praise an author or his or her book, or spin the story in an unforeseen direction, including a bad review. There is lots of risk and no guarantees with publicity, but again, when it works, it literally provides the coverage you can’t buy.
It’s also important to realize that it’s difficult to get a positive return on investment when advertising a book. An author has to sell many books to recoup the costs of a significant advertisement. Book advertising is best utilized for both sales and branding purposes.