Marketing and Publicity What Can You Expect from Your Publishing House?

by Erin Brown

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

Authors often ask me this question.  Then they ask, “Wait, what exactly is the difference between the marketing and publicity departments?” Let’s start by answering that question.  And for the sake of total honesty: half of the time, I don’t know myself. All I know is that the publicists dress better.  I am completely joking (I am not at all).

OK, so brass tacks: marketing encompasses paid media, advertising, mailings, websites, blogs, attending conferences, expensive in-store displays, flyers, high-end magnets (more on that later), pencils with the book title, and your ’88 Honda with the cover illustration painted on the hood.  All of these things fall under marketing—whether the publishing house pays for them or you do. 

Publicity, on the other hand, involves mostly unpaid attention.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  That defeats the whole purpose.  Let’s say free attention.  Who doesn’t love that?  This includes press releases, book reviews, radio and television interviews, being featured in magazine and newspaper articles, and even an appearance you’ve booked yourself at the local Elk’s Lodge to read from your debut romance, Kilts on Windy Days.  All of these things will bring attention to your book—and most don’t cost a thing. 

As for the original question, I must first take a moment to preface everything I am about to write with one very important statement: the members of the publicity and marketing teams at the major houses are smart, creative, and enthusiastic (except for Bill R. ext. 5692).  They work tirelessly to promote every single book on the list.  However, you must remember that, at the end of the day, publishing is a business.  A business that does not have limitless funds.                                                            

For this reason, acquisitions that have been given the largest advances are often given budgetary priority.  The company must spend money to promote the hell out of these “big books” in order to earn their money back on that big ol’, ridiculous, over-the-top advance that they paid in a heated auction.  If the company doesn’t spend enough time on publicity and money on marketing in order to sell oodles of copies, the house stands to lose hundreds of thousands—and sometimes millions—of dollars.  In other words, heads will roll.  OK, so Henry VIII doesn’t have a corner office, but you get the gist.

If you are starting out with a smaller advance, do not fret, Dear Scribe. Not all hope is lost.  If a house truly gets behind a book that they absolutely love—even a debut novel that was bought for peanuts—the marketing and publicity teams will do everything they can to squeeze blood from the budgetary stone.  On rare occasions, I have even heard talk of budgets being inflated, monetary risks being taken, and yes, bigger, more expensive magnets being made in order to publicize and market-less commercial, “non-blockbuster” novels. 

However, for the most part, only a small percentage of new authors will have the Publicity and Marketing Fairy smile upon them in the ways described above.  Only about 5% of all authors get New York Times ads or towering cardboard displays at Borders.  Yes, I did just make up that percentage, but it’s not too far off.  Therefore, I always like to prepare authors to take on the mentality of running for seventh grade class president.   Get out there and introduce yourself (to local bookstore owners, not cheerleaders), pester the hell out of your overworked campaign manager (your publicist), and make promises you can’t possibly keep while handing out cookies with your name in frosting. 

Most importantly, remember that no one can sell you better than you.  So stop in the local Barnes & Noble and offer to sign your book copies; run, do not walk, to your local paper to discuss an article (possible headline: “Local Author/Hero/Amazing All-Around Person Makes Good”).  At publication time, reach out to friends, family, colleagues, fellow writers, your former roommate’s brother’s gardener and anyone else who can pass the word along.   Some authors choose to hire an outside publicist.  It’s usually worth the money, and the author gets to pull the strings.  

So get creative and think outside the box.  Don’t sit around and wait for marketing and publicity to come to you.  Sell yourself and your book . . . yourself.  Then you’ll consider it a nice surprise when you luck out and get a fantastic publicist who will do anything they can to help and a marketing team that may be underfunded, but whose enthusiasm will make them more creative than ever.  And. most importantly, really cool magnets can and do sell books.


Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at

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