Monday, February 23, 2009

Bringing Eyes to Books

From the desk of Ms. Sally Spitfire

My dearest Suzy,

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've written! I hope that all is well with you down there in the warm embrace of the sunny south. These past few weeks in NYC we have had rain, snow, driving winds and bitter cold sprinkled with the occasional day of teasing warmth and courageous sun. I know we have a few months of winter to go, but oh! how I do long for spring!

In the meantime, despite my whining about the weather, life in the big city is going quite well. Antonio says hello (he says that I talk about you so much he feels he already knows you) and I hope that you'll give my love to everyone back home.

Now on to your question from you last letter. It's an extremely good question and the one that I get asked most frequently about working in the marketing department: what exactly is the different between marketing and publicity?

It can get a little confusing because there is definitely some overlap and--in other industries or even in much smaller publishing houses--in some cases publicity and marketing are smushed together into one job or one department.

At larger houses like mine, though, the publicity and marketing departments are very separate entities with very separate responsibilities. Once I heard it described this way: although both departments departments are--in essence--responsible for drawing attention to a soon-to-be or just-published book, publicity generally does it without spending money.

But perhaps that doesn't make sense yet. Let me break it down for you a little bit further one department at a time.


The publicity department publicizes a book. It is their job to make sure that book-buyers--the general public--learns about a book. The majority of their energy is spent getting the book reviewed (in newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs), getting the book or the author featured in national television or radio shows (NPR, The Today Show, Oprah, etc.) and setting up publicity events such as book signings or tours for the authors. Although of course it does costs money to set up a tour, none of these things (think interview on NPR or positive book review in the Wall Street Journal) can actually be purchased. Successful publicists can often be described as a combination of a talented car-salesman and a socialite... they're able to pitch anything (and convince you that it's PERFECT for YOU) and they have a well-thumbed little black book with contacts everywhere it matters. Talented publicists can name-drop with the best of them.


I feel like the longer I work in marketing, the more responsibilities I realized are delegated to us. But at heart, the marketing dept. is in charge of making sure that booksellers--bookstores--and bookbuyers--the general public--learn about a book. We do this by advertising (in newspapers, magazines and online), by making promotional materials (think bookmarks, t-shirts, advanced readers' editions and galleys, etc.), by offering co-op to bookstores, and by setting up special programs or opportunities such as planning a sweepstakes or getting the author to do a guest blog for a popular website. You'll notice that most of these things (advertising, promotional materials) cost money. Successful marketing people are a perfect mix between left-brain and right-brain: they are able to understand money and budgets and bang-per-buck and can also be creative, reinvent the wheel (i.e. the marketing plan) for every book and continually put themselves in other people's heads. Talented marketing people know that every book has an audience and come up with creative ways of introducing THAT audience to THAT book in such a way that they will feel compelled to rush out and buy it immediately.

Whew! And there you have it! The marketing dept. spends money (usually) and publicity does not (usually) and both bring eyes to the books.

What do you think? Does it make more sense now? If so, I'm going to enlist YOUR help, Suzie-darling, at the next family reunion; you'll be in charge of answering that question every other time it gets asked...

Much, much love,

(Ms.) Sally S.


Chris Eldin said...

Good Morning everyone!!

I'm trying to find the sweet spot--the crossover time when some are going to bed while others are waking up. Hope to find it soon!

I won't be around for a few hours, but don't let that stop you from dropping by for a chat!!!

Welcome back Ms. Spitfire!!

Miss Susanna said...

Good Mornin' Sally!

Only you, sugar, could explain something like that so eloquently. I never had any such notion that so much went into selling a book. Why it just boggles the mind.

I'm just settin' on my front porch swing this morning. It's going to be a fine day. Mid 70's, light breeze. I've got an extra cup of coffee waiting for ya'll anytime you want to take a little vacation cuz.

Charles Gramlich said...

And more and more entertainment product competing for people's attention and limited resources. I don't envy the marketing folks and publicists.

Laura Benedict said...

Beautifully explained, Ms Sally!

My hardworking publicist is one of my heroes. But I confess that I find the marketing department to be a tad opaque and mysterious. Should an author be privy to what's happening in those hallowed offices wrt one's books?

Barbara Martin said...

Now I understand why the publicists from certain publishers are approaching me to do book reviews. Thank you for this insight.

Anonymous said...

Susanna! You just wait... I'm going to take you up on your offer to visit very, very soon. I refuse to go through another two months without a long weekend away.

You know, whether authors interact with the marketing team is decided on a very case-by-case basis. I would say that a general rule of thumb is that an author's point of contact is going to be the publicity (not marketing) person. Since marketing is more about advertising, relationships with bookstores (that coop thing again) and promotional items, most of this stuff is done without the help of the author and, frankly, it's better to let the marketing team work their magic and do what they do so well one their own... However, on certain books the marketing team will approach the author and ask for help--say a special blog post or participation in a contest or help writing a discussion guide--and in that case, the author and marketing team may actually become very buddy buddy.

To an author who is confused or not sure where the boundary lies, just remember that your editor is basically your knight in shining armor within the publishing structure. Talk to your editor if you're worried, curious, or uncomfortable with something that's happening marketing, publicity or otherwise. They'll know when it's appropriate to put you in touch with the marketing team directly or when it's just a matter of giving you a quick update on what's what.

McKoala said... does the thinking and publicity does the drinking...

Chris Eldin said...

AHAHAHAH @ The Koala, who is in the PR business herself...

laughingwolf said...

mc is MY kinda people! ;) lol

good points, thank you ms.sally

Tena Russ said...

I came into this conversation late, but it's a great post -- very informative. Thank you!