Book publicity: it’s not just about the sales 


The question I get asked most from publishers is the one that I cannot answer: how many books will I sell in the next couple of months if you run a media publicity campaign for me? I will always be open and say that I have no idea. The sales results of publicity are notoriously difficult to pin down, and are more long-term than most people expect.

The success of publicity depends on many things, such as what happens in the course of a campaign, how the target audience responds to the cover and content, and how easily readers can find and buy it. Getting a book seen is not the same as getting a book purchased.

However, while I can’t provide answers to the question about sales, I am always pleased when I am asked because it gives me the chance to say what I have learned from running publicity campaigns for more than 20 years. Media publicity isn’t directly about sales: it’s about the opportunity to achieve sales. And that opportunity can take many forms. For example, we have worked with publishers and authors who, as a result of a publicity campaign, have:

  • Been invited back onto BBC Breakfast, This Morning and other TV shows again, months after an initial interview that we arranged.
  • Got their books into shops in greater quantities because we proved they are commercial.
  • Obtained a regular monthly radio slot on a local BBC radio station, because an initial interview gave the author the opportunity to talk to a producer.
  • Were asked to write additional articles for national newspapers after they published one that we pitched.
  • Become a known expert in their area of experience, leading to public speaking and other media opportunities.

All publicity activities build recognition for books and authors and lead ultimately to sales—usually at a much greater level than could be achieved through pure marketing and promotion. And they are all opportunities that would be missed by only focusing on short-term monthly sales data.

In the book business we live or die by selling books. But day-to-day selling is not the only thing that businesses do. Businesses speculate, they look for opportunity, they value chances to improve brand recognition, they invest in research and development and they push themselves into the market so that customers can discover them.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t run marketing activities—you should, because they are an important part of the mix—and nor should you throw everything into a media campaign. Publicity doesn’t work for every book, so make sure that you have something that is genuinely of interest before you leap. But if you are looking for an audience you need to present your books and authors to the world—and a media campaign is the best way to do that.

Ben Cameron is founder of Cameron Publicity & Marketing, an agency specialising in book promotion. For more about its services, click here.