Literary Hub

Ask the Publicists: What’s the Difference Between Marketing and Publicity?

I’ve never understood what the difference is between marketing and publicity. What is it?

What’s interesting about this question, and why it’s confusing, is that most everyone has a different response. The easy answer, and the one you’ll hear most often, is that marketing costs money, whereas publicity is free—but even that isn’t the whole truth.

Because Broadside’s focus is primarily on publicity, and because we’re proponents of calling on friends when life’s big questions trip us up, we turned to a couple of the industry’s marketing gurus to see what they have to say.

Carla Gray, Director of Marketing at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt says, “Marketing deals with the before and the after, whereas publicity deals with the here and now.”

Lydia Hirt, Marketing Director at Riverhead Books and Viking Books at Penguin Random House, says, “One of the most obvious differences is that publicity curates pitches for every editorial outlet, while on the marketing side we have a budget to advertise directly to targeted audiences.”

Need more clarity? Here you go.

Gray continues “I’ve always thought of the marketing role as the cruise director; involved in the whole book’s life, and responsible for coordinating with all departments to ensure smooth sailing. (My Love Boat analogy…) In marketing, our first job is to identify the key audiences for a book, and to create the messaging (catalog copy, account metadata, ad copy) that helps get the book ready for outreach to those audiences, including publicity, sales reps, booksellers, librarians, and, ultimately, consumers. Marketing creates the early materials for sales reps to support their sell-in.” Sales reps need as much information as possible to sell to indie bookstores, Amazon, B&N, libraries, gift shops, Big Box stores like Costco, Target, and book clubs.

Gray also notes, “We work with the publicity director to help conceive of the plans for promoting the book once it is out and implement ad plans, decide how to promote certain books at major academic or other private conferences, as well as to other special interest groups, and handle direct-to-consumer outreach,” something that has become a huge growth industry, especially over the last decade.

“I like to think marketing has no limits,” Hirt says. “Marketing connects with potential readers by collaborations and partnerships with ‘big mouths’ and influencers, brands, through paid placement/outreach (advertising) and also working with Special Markets to bring our books to non-traditional outlets like Urban Outfitters, Starbucks and Anthropologie. Marketing has huge opportunities for out-of-the-box thinking, while also managing the details that bring a book to market, like working with editorial on positioning a book for sales, and contributing to the metadata on retail sites.”

To make things a tad more complex, keep in mind that every publisher is different. For instance, Gray told us that she and her team create and implement entire social media campaigns and even reach out to bloggers, something that publicity departments at other houses tackle. And Lydia mentioned that at PRH marketing creates the ARCs (advance review copies), whereas publicity handles that at other publishers.

But there’s no question about how intertwined the work of marketers and publicists is. “Marketing is nothing without publicity. The two teams work closely from the launch of the book through its publication,” says Gray. “Marketing and publicity are two oars on the same book boat,” says Hirt. “We work incredibly closely together and collaborate along the way—ultimately toward the same goal of bringing books to readers.”

The marketing staff at most publishers works tirelessly to leverage all of the great, attractive media the publicity department is landing, primarily to further encourage the sales force as well as the countless book vendors to buy or re-up orders on books.

So then… what does publicity do that’s different from the above? Well, we can speak to that:

Publicists start at least five or six months ahead of pub date to encourage editors, writers, critics, and producers at magazines, newspapers, websites, and radio and television shows to review a book, run an excerpt, schedule an interview with an author, or include an author or book in a round-up, including one of the many, many (some might say too many) “Best of” lists… (Best Books of the Year! Top 10 Books of Spring! Best Authors Who Don’t Live in Brooklyn! Best Authors Who Do Live in Brooklyn! Ad infinitum.)

We carefully create tailored pitches for books that we think will resonate with critics, editors, producers, and event coordinators. In addition to writing personalized email pitches and pitch letters, we also create press releases, author Q&As, talking points, and other supplementary press materials to lure the media into reviewing our books. And we always work closely with our authors to help them find ways to talk about their books that will be most effective: whether with an audience at a bookstore, library, or literary festival event; in radio, TV, or print interviews; or to the public at large.

So while doing continual outreach to about a bajillion people, publicists must also attempt to perform an exquisitely delicate dance: being persistent, but—hopefully, if they’re doing it right—not annoying. (Check Twitter for frequent griping about publicists who don’t understand how not to be annoying.)

Whereas marketing focuses on making sure the book is highlighted and for sale at various bookstores and conferences, publicists promote the author as its spokesperson, arranging events with booksellers, librarians, and event coordinators at literary festivals, conferences, universities, and other venues. We arrange author tours, ranging in size from a local event or two to a non-stop juggernaut of coast-to-coast events. But publicists depend on the information marketing gives us about which venues have requested the author, or which stores have placed a large order so we can consider sending the author to that store.

See? It’s all intertwined.

The publicists’ main superpower, however, and what we love most about our jobs, is the ability to be many things at once: passionate cheerleader, calming therapist, savvy travel agent, and, uhm, escort. (And no, the stories you’ve heard are not true. We mean literary escort.)

We hope this clarifies the age-old question, but if you have comments or more questions, as always, please chime in below.


Kimberly Burns, Whitney Peeling, and Michael Taeckens are the co-founders of Broadside PR. They work regularly with publishers and authors to launch exceptional works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as with literary organizations and prizes to strengthen the value of the written word. If you have a question you’d like Broadside PR to consider for our next column, please send it to us via email:

Originally published in Literary Hub.

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