The Difference between Book Publicity and Advertising: Credibility vs. Control

As a book publicist working with authors from all walks of life, I’m often asked to explain the difference between book publicity and advertising.

When a book is launched, the goal is to create awareness about the author and his or her title for a variety of reasons including sparking book sales, building the author’s brand, positioning the author as an expert, and attracting professional opportunities for the author such as speaking engagements, professional advancement, and future publishing options.

Publicity and advertising are two strategies employed to create awareness. Most people have a clear understanding of advertising since they’re exposed to it every day as they watch television, read a newspaper or visit an online news site. Publicity, however, is seamless to most consumers as the author, person, product, etc. is part of the news.

Advertising and Publicity: Control and Timing vs. Credibility

In advertising, someone—the publisher or author—pays the media outlet for advertising space or airtime. The buyer has 100% control over what is in the advertisement and when it appears. The primary benefit of advertising is control.

With publicity, it’s the book publicist’s job to convince the media the author will provide readers or listeners with meaningful information—whether entertaining, insightful, educational, inspiring, or controversial—and then to make the author part of the news in some way. Examples of media coverage include feature stories, articles, book reviews, interviews, op-ed pieces, expert commentaries, etc. There is no payment from the author or publicist to the media for this coverage. Each of the parties involved–the media outlet and author–get something they want and need.

Put simply, the role of a book publicist is to make their authors newsworthy. The result gives the author immeasurable credibility. The benefit of being “seen on” or “featured in” well respected media outlets lasts long after a publicity campaign ends. The primary benefit of publicity is credibility, and when it works, it is priceless.

The best way to explain the difference between publicity and advertising is to pick up a magazine and find a story featuring an author, and in the same issue find an advertisement for a book. The article gives the author and his title credibility as the reader knows the magazine thinks enough of the person to incorporate him or her into the story. The advertisement gives the author exposure; however the reader also knows someone paid for this advertisement. Therein lies the key difference: credibility vs. control.

An important point authors should keep in mind is when the media does a story or interview, the publicist and author loses control. Publicists suggest direction for the coverage, but publicists can’t control if they cover the author, how he or she is covered or when. A producer or editor can do whatever they want and go in any direction. They may sing the praises of an author and his or her book, or spin the story in an unforeseen direction, including writing a bad review.
When you want planned, controlled exposure, advertising is the route to explore. If you are considering publicity, know there are no guarantees, but again, when it works, it literally provides coverage you can’t buy.

Sandy Diaz is the President of Smith Publicity, Inc. Beginning in 1997, Smith Publicity is one of the world’s leading promotional firms, specializing in book publicity. Fueled by a passion for making good things happen for clients, the company has worked with over 900 individuals and companies–from authors and entrepreneurs to publicly-held companies and businesses representing a wide range of industries. The Smith Publicity reach is international with offices in New Jersey, New York City, Los Angeles, and London. For more information about Smith Publicity, Inc., please visit