Episode 4, Season 1

Publicity vs. Marketing (and Why You Need Both!)

Ready to understand the difference between publicity (earned media) vs. marketing (placed media), and the different roles they play in your media campaign? Read on!

Before readers can buy your book, they have to actually hear about it. But how can people, outside of your current circle of friends, family, and fans, learn about your book? This is where a PR campaign comes in.

PR or Public Relations by definition is how the public relates to you and your brand. The goal of your book PR campaign is to push your brand (who you are and what you write) into the public eye in a memorable and favorable way. This effort will, ideally, translate into sales.

There are many components to a successful PR campaign, but the two we’re focusing on today are Publicity and Marketing.

Publicity vs. Marketing

Publicity is earned media coverage. It is website or magazine reviewing your book. It’s a radio or TV show featuring you and your book. It’s a YouTuber or Bookstagrammer holding up your book and sharing what they thought of it.

With publicity, there’s a lot out of your control. You have no say in the message, when the piece runs, or if it even runs at all. It’s also free, publicity isn’t pay-to-play.


Marketing on the other hand is placed media coverage. It’s a Facebook ad, a billboard, or a sponsored Instagram post. Marketing is collecting email addresses and sending a monthly newsletter, or growing your following on Facebook and posting content about you and your book. It’s a partnership with a YouTuber to feature your book and a series of interviews with you. You can control the message and when it runs, but it can also cost money.

Still confused? Think of it like this: If the author or publisher controls the message, then it’s marketing. If it’s someone else talking about the author or book and they don’t control the message, then it’s publicity.

Publicity vs. Marketing, what’s more important?

There are advantages to both. Publicity is free and holds more weight than marketing and advertising. People trust publicity more because the brand isn’t controlling the message. But since marketing empowers you to control your message, it can be easier to maintain consistency in that message. And while earned media holds no guarantees – there can be a breaking news item that bumps your segment or magazine feature – paid media holds a guarantee that it will run.

In the most effective PR campaigns, earned media and paid media work hand in hand. Positive reviews or engaging podcast interviews are great for reaching a new audience, but if you don’t also share that coverage on social media or use it in marketing materials, then you won’t reach the widest possible audience. Having a strong social media presence can expand your name recognition and increase the likelihood that media outlets will cover you.

Both publicity and marketing are effective ways to promote yourself and your books…but they’re even more effective when they work together.

So where do you start? Now that you understand the difference between publicity vs. marketing, it’s time to identify the best outlets to target.

There are no shortage of publicity and marketing opportunities out there, and if you try to do it all, you’ll end up feeling overworked, possibly spinning your wheels, and not necessarily reaching your target audience.

The trick is to put yourself in the mind of your typical reader. Think about some of your biggest fans. If you don’t have a book out yet, think about a book that’s comparable to yours and think about their biggest fans. What types of media do they consume? Where are they getting their information? What social media platforms do they use? By putting yourself in the shoes of your typical reader, you can begin to narrow your scope and focus your time and money on the efforts that really matter.

I tend to learn by example, so let’s look at a couple examples to get started. If you write a cozy mystery series and your target audience is an avid cozy mystery reader, where would they learn about new books? Pre-pandemic, they may have received recommendations from their librarian or local bookseller, but now, they may be relying on their newsletters and social media feeds. They may be active on Facebook or read mystery blogs. They may watch the local news in the morning or listen to their local NPR station.

If your typical reader isn’t getting book recommendations from YouTube, People magazine, or listen to podcasts, then it may not be necessary to reach out to those outlets. By focusing your energy on these primary outlets, you’ll save time AND see more success.

At this point, you may be thinking, but don’t those major outlets like People magazine or Today show read a much wider audience? The answer is yes, but only a small percentage of that large audience is your typical reader. So if you have limited time and resources, it’s more efficient to focus on the outlets that may have a smaller audience, but a greater percentage of that audience is your target audience. If you have success in those outlets and have time/energy to try the bigger outlets, then go for it, but chances are, after you’re finished pitching your media list, writing newsletters, and building a social media following, you may not have a lot of energy leftover.

Here’s another example, a nonfiction example. Let’s say you’re typical reader is a CEO or other high-level person in corporate. Their time is limited, but they’re also committed to their professional development. So they’re probably not reading the books sections of the newspapers, but they ARE reading the business sections of those newspapers, and that’s where you’ll need to meet them. They’re also likely active on LinkedIn and may be open to a book suggestion from one of their trusted connections. They may watch the morning news or listen to career and business podcasts on their morning run. They may subscribe to certain workplace blogs or newsletters.

You see how the two PR campaigns look totally different? It’s because each is tailored to the ideal audience of the book that both campaigns will reach readers and lead to an increase in sales.

Begin by making a list of all the outlets your typical reader consumes. This can include news outlets, social media platforms, list-serves, and so on. Go a step further and specify which areas of those outlets they engage with. For example, cookbook buyers will read the food section of newspapers but may not pay attention to the books section.

Once you have that list, determine the best way to be featured in that outlet. If you’re looking at a newspaper, is the best place a review in the books section? Or an op-ed in the editorial section? Maybe an excerpt of that cookbook in the food section?

If you’re looking at a social media platform, is your typical reader more likely to watch a video? Read an article? Engage in a group?

Go through each outlet and start getting specific on the best way to approach each. Once you have the list, take a look at how many of these fall into “Publicity” and how many are considered “Marketing.” Ideally, you should have an even mix of both. If you don’t, consider ways you can expand on one media outlet. Perhaps in addition to the op-ed you submit, you’ll also seek a feature in that newspaper’s weekly newsletter or podcast. Or if your readers are active on Instagram, maybe you reach out to #Bookstagrammers to feature your book in addition to growing your own Instagram following. Take a second pass at your list and identify areas to expand or approach differently.


At this point, you have a solid PR plan! You’ve identified multiple ways to reach your target audience using a combination of publicity and marketing tactics. *high five*

The next step is to create a calendar for your outreach and begin to execute. I recommend taking it one step at a time. Start with the initiatives that require the most lead time (monthly magazines, popular podcasts, etc.) then move on to the outlets that don’t require as much lead time (daily radio shows, blogs, etc.) When it comes to growing your own online following, you’ll want to do this in tandem with your publicity outreach. It can take months, even years, to grow a large and engaged following, so if utilizing email marketing and social media is on your PR plan, then I recommend beginning that sooner rather than later.

You may be thinking, how much of this is actually possible? It’s easy for a veteran publicist like me to say “go out and pitch media”, but can authors actually secure media coverage, advertisements, and marketing placements for themselves?

The answer is a resounding YES!

There’s no magic to what I or any of my fellow publicists do. We simply do the research, find an angle that will appeal to both the media outlet and the readers, and write a tailored pitch that demonstrates how working with us will benefit both parties.

Here’s what we don’t do:

  • Write canned or form-letter emails.
  • Send dozens of follow up emails in a short amount of time.
  • Badger people over the phone.

In short, we act like professionals. And you can do.

That being said, I understand the desire to be given a step-by-step process and take the guesswork out of it. That’s why I started the Your Breakout Book community, to help authors streamline their promotion process and take the guesswork out of PR. As a Your Breakout Book member, you’ll receive access to templated emails and press materials that have proven to be successful. Think of it like Media Relations Mad-Libs – you download the editable PDF and fill in the blanks with your book, your hook, and so on.

There’s also trainings and calendar templates to help you map out your PR campaign, pitch media, and grow your online following.

Click here to learn more!

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