The Role Of Marketing And Publicity In Selling The Book

What is the future of print? This article explores how the book industry has evolved to ensure that books secure a place on our shelves for years to come.


Marketing and publicity play a pivotal role in selling the book at each stage of the publication process. New technology and globalization have transformed the production and distribution of books and paved the way for a more consumer-centric retail culture. With the industrial revolution of the 20th century came the emergence of department stores, variety stores and large chains. The book, which was once considered a cultural ‘carrier of ideas’ faced becoming another interchangeable commodity, as it battled to compete in an ever-increasingly crowded marketplace.

Today, the book is competing on an international stage, not only with other written media forms but amongst the entire entertainment industry. The struggle to influence the purchasing decisions of consumers all while ensuring healthy economic margins, has led to what is often referred to as the ‘business of books’. Industry professionals, who were once criticized for their supposed inability to run a profitable business, are now serious contenders, as they combine their role as cultural leaders with commercial intent.

While the book industry has journeyed to obtain its professional identity in this challenging marketplace, there has been a shift in the balance of power from editorial elitism, towards sales and marketing, which now oil the wheels of the entire publication process. This article will discuss the importance of the role of marketing and publicity at each stage of the publication process, with a focus on literary fiction under the trade fiction umbrella.

What is trade fiction?

Trade fiction encompasses all fiction aimed at a general audience and is composed of either literary fiction or commercial fiction. Commercial fiction tends to be genre specific or ‘popular fiction’ with a tendency to focus on plot, while literary fiction is considered to hold literary merit as a result of its often thought-provoking concepts and unique style of prose. Significant to literary fiction is the consumer’s resilient loyalty towards brand identities of authors and publishing imprints. Also prominent to literary fiction is lead titles attracting larger marketing and publicity budgets.

Why do we market books?

Although known authors often sell on their own merit, there is a need to situate other literary fiction within the competitive marketplace. To avoid high returns and satisfy consumer choice, the literary book faces an unforgiving sector of tight stock control, high turnover and short shelf life. These factors combined with the sheer scale of the industry, highlight some of the reasons why literary fiction relies heavily on the effective use of marketing and publicity techniques to generate sales. In this context, marketing may be defined as the promotion and advertising techniques employed at each point of sale, while publicity may also be referred to as a promotional method with a focus on profile-raising, public relations and exposure through the mass media. Ultimately, either marketing and/or publicity aim to persuade the receiver to purchase the book at each point of sale.

Stage 1 – The decision to publish

There are various phases through which literary fiction is marketed and at each of these stages the decision to publish is scrutinized by asking the following questions: what is the book for, who is the audience and how does it fit with the competition? This analysis commences at the very start of a books development – when the initial idea for a book is formed by either the author or proposed by the publisher. It is widely understood within the publishing industry that if an author is unable to define who his or her readership is likely to be, there is sufficient enough reason to presume that the book will be unsuccessful. The manuscript is sent to a literary editor, commonly via the author’s literary agent. With the power base shifting in recent years, the editor now consults his or her sales and marketing colleagues, whose position has diversified as such to allow for a near leading role in the decision to publish. If there is an audience for the book and it can be produced cost-effectively, the decision to publish will most likely be given the green light.

Stage 2 – Book production and design

Once the publishing house has made the decision to publish a book, the marketing team also plays a significant role in the production of the book itself. They help to ensure that each element of a books design including format, typesetting, font, cover, title and packaging all meet the needs of the intended readership. With literary fiction in particular, the concept of ‘author as brand’, affects the cover design of a book, often with the name of the author receiving greater prominence than that of the title. This is the case with prominent Australian author, Tim Winton, four time winner of the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award and twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The marketing department assists in the development of brand authors, of which it is proven that consumers express a profound brand loyalty.

Stage 3 – Point of sale marketing collateral

In conjunction with book design the marketing team is responsible for the development and distribution of point of sale marketing collateral for booksellers, libraries, exhibits and book clubs. Among them include catalogue copy, information packs, web resources, posters, display kits and brochures. The marketing team will also utilize e-marketing, website updates and social media tools. Here, the marketing team persuades booksellers to secure copies of the book. Particularly with literary fiction, which may be considered as a non-categorized or genre specific book type, the display and prominence given by booksellers plays an important role in influencing sales directly to the consumer.

Stage 4 – Pricing a book

When a book is produced to best suit the needs of its target audience, and the point of sale marketing collateral has been developed, the marketing team contributes to yet another marketing decision – the retail price of a book. The retail price of a book is a substantial consideration based on several factors, among them includes book format, associated production costs, subject matter and author credibility. Therefore, the crucial role of the marketing and sales team in selling the book at various stages of the publication process including between author to editor, editor to marketing colleagues and publisher, and sales team to booksellers becomes apparent. However, there are various challenges facing the marketing team as they take into account available resources, costs and outcomes.

What is publicity and why is it important?

Publicity includes coverage in the mass media such as on television, radio, internet or newspapers in order to promote a book directly to consumers. It is best utilized in conjunction with marketing techniques and highly dependent on timing to ensure its effectiveness, such as a book launch, world event or book release. Publicity often includes literary reviews or features in state and national newspapers or trade publications. In order to secure features or reviews, the publisher prepares media releases, press kits, bound proofs and advance notices. However, as the literary fiction industry sector currently experiences a move towards ‘author as brand’ there is a subsequent increase in author involvement in publicizing books through author tours, literary festivals and events, literary prizes, television coverage and radio appearances as part of the overall promotional package in selling a book. Therefore, the effectiveness of newspaper reviews is often questioned.

Consumer expectations of authors and the rise of a meet-the-author culture

With the rise in a meet-the-author culture, there has been a subsequent increase in demand by publishers, for authors who express a willingness and ability to perform well in the public eye. For example, award-winning Australian author, Kate Grenville, recently participated in the Melbourne Writers Festival, which coincided with the release of her latest novel, Sarah Thornhill. Kate attended various sessions to speak on topics ranging from her reasons for writing her latest novel, her views on writing historical Australian pieces, to books of her childhood which inspired her to become an author. Inevitably, the rise of ‘authors as brand’ is helping to shape an author-celebrity culture, in which consumers anticipate their public appearances and active involvement in book promotion.

Literary prizes and their significance

Winning literary prizes is also proving to be an influential publicity tool due to the significance of the awards themselves, and the associated publicity the awards attract. For example, in the five months prior to winning the most prestigious literary award, the Man Booker Prize, Yann Martels, Life of Pi, had sold just over 6,000 copies in the UK. In one week after the announcement, another 7,150 copies were sold, followed by over 9,000 in the second week.

The current literary landscape

Today, the crucial role of marketing and publicity in selling the book at each phase of the publication process is undeniable. The landscape of the book industry continues to experience significant change as a result of technological innovation, globalization and consumerism. A completely new market structure has emerged and there are ever-increasing channels through which a book can be sold, creating a fiercely competitive literary marketplace. Inevitably, industry leaders have been forced to consistently adopt new marketing and publicity techniques throughout the entire publication process to ensure that their books are differentiated not only amongst themselves, but other commodities. As industry leaders combine their cultural integrity with commercial intent, books, whose fate was once considered to be in the hands of ‘reluctant capitalists,’ are now undoubtedly in the hands of business savvy ‘merchants of culture’.

Related Post