Do Publishers Market Books?

Woman shouting in megaphoneA couple of days ago, Michael Hyatt had a terrific post on his blog, Four Reasons Why You Must Take Responsibility for Your Own Marketing. He reiterated truths about the important role you, the author, play in the promotion of your own book. He reinforced what we’ve all been hearing:

Publishers don’t market books. It’s all up to the author.

Yes, everyone keeps saying that. And yet… and yet…

Publishers still have marketing departments.

And like I said in my post Why is Publishing So Slow? part of the reason for long lead times (the time between contract and book release) is the time it takes to put marketing in place.

So what gives?

Do publishers market books or not?

The answer is: Yes, they do.

But not as much as they used to.

And they’re not very effective without the author’s involvement.


So the question is:

What kind of “marketing” do publishers DO?

Just like I explained in my post about whether publishers edit anymore, publishers’ marketing activities vary widely from house to house. In addition, the “bigger” the author (i.e. the more money they expect to make on you), the more they’ll spend on marketing. Nevertheless, I’ve compiled a list of common marketing functions of the publisher. Individually, these things might seem small, yet together they represent tasks that would take you dozens or hundreds of hours AND be prohibitively expensive. And many of them, you wouldn’t be able to do at all because you don’t have the access, the experience, or the contacts.

Herewith, a few things a publisher marketing department often still does (and for “big” authors they go far beyond this):

Prepare promotional materials

  • produce and print ARCs (advance reader copies) which are far more expensive on a per-book basis to produce than the actual book
  • write flap copy, back cover copy, all catalog and marketing copy
  • create a press kit for soliciting reviews and author interviews
  • provide printed material to assist author’s own promotion: postcards, bookmarks, flyers, etc.
  • Book signing/event support (posters, press releases, bag stuffers)

Trade advertising – print & retail

  • placement in publisher’s print catalog
  • product placement in retailers’ catalogs & fliers
  • print advertising in trade magazines
  • in-store product placement (special tables or endcaps)
  • print & web ads with distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Spring Arbor, etc.)
  • shelf talkers for retail outlets

Internet marketing

  • a page on publisher website
  • working with Amazon & large online booksellers for placement
  • assist author in developing their Facebook, Twitter & blog presence
  • email blasts to publisher’s list which can include hundreds of thousands of names, including consumers, librarians and retailers
  • organize online contests
  • set up blog tours
  • may help with creating a video book trailer

Internet Advertising

  • advertise in online magazines and newsletters appropriate to the book
  • Facebook advertising
  • banner ads on appropriate websites

Specialized promotions (specific to type of book)

  • work with author to capitalize on author’s own areas of influence, which could include organizations they’re a member of, alumni associations, professional associations, local historical societies, etc.
  • promotion to book clubs and reading groups (email blasts or even a mailing of the book)
  • pitch to large national reading groups
  • submit books to major contests

Trade publicity

  • trade shows
  • pitch to trade magazines for review

Consumer publicity

  • organize book tours & book signings
  • press releases, especially locally or regionally where the author has influence
  • sending press kits to all appropriate media outlets: radio, TV, newpapers & magazines
  • following up on requests for books, sending out review copies
  • booking print, broadcast, and online interviews
  • included in targeted publisher newsletters to consumers
  • send out influencer copies

Don’t forget the sales team!

Most publishers have a sales team (or rep group) who proactively sells titles to retailers. They service the approx. 10,000 bookstores still left in the U.S. (chains and indies combined) plus Walmart, Target, Costco, etc. In addition, the sales department interacts with book clubs (Book-of-the-Month, Literary Guild, etc), international accounts, rack jobbers (for grocery stores and gift shops), nonprofit organizations, and special accounts. This is a “sales” function (not technically marketing) but it’s something publishers do that you, the author, are unlikely to be able to do yourself. And it’s another way your book gets “out there.”

This post is far from comprehensive, and like I said, it doesn’t apply equally to all publishers. But most of the larger houses I work with are providing many of the above listed marketing functions. I’m sure there will be questions because there’s no way I can cover this topic thoroughly in a single blog post.

So, does this surprise you in any way?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Robert Beatty on November 28, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    Excellent information. Just what I was looking for. Thank you. 🙂

  2. Basil Papademos on April 3, 2014 at 5:16 AM

    The publisher of my previous novel did a great job up to and including the launch, which was packed and tons of fun. Then they promptly forgot the book exists and went on the next batch of books they promptly forgot after doing a great job bringing them to launch. Many authors tell me the same story. I paid for my own travel in promoting the book, did many live shows – and I do ‘shows’, try to engage and entertain the audience, not just stand there and read in a depressing monotone, as many authors do. (Rehearse, people! A lot!) My novel won an award, was short-listed for another, brought me invitations to do readings directly from the venues and got me a weekly paid writing/podcasting gig with a new magazine, which is ongoing. None of that had anything to do with the publisher. They barely noticed. Friends I have in media organized interviews and the publisher reacted with hostility, telling them they didn’t want anyone interfering. In other words, they didn’t want anyone exposing their incompetence.
    The book sold despite the publisher, not because of the publisher. Yet they still kept 90% of revenue above and beyond their costs. If this publisher was an isolated case, I wouldn’t write this but from what other writers say, it seems quite common. The method appears to be throw as many books out the door as possible and hopefully a few will catch on. It seems fairly desperate and chaotic. There’s been interest in my new novel but when I asked that the potential publisher’s marketing plan be spelled out in the contract, exactly what they would do, when they would do it and how much they would spend, the publishers weren’t happy. Imagine bringing any other product to market without a specific written marketing plan. Also, there is an attitude among traditional publishers that they’re doing we lesser lights a favor. ie: You should be happy just to be getting published.
    As a result of all this, many traditional publishers will disappear and deservedly so. A few publishers seem genuinely interested in books but nowadays the big houses are part of large conglomerates like Hachette. You’d know better than I but I’m told something like 80% of large traditional publisher are owned by three media corporations.
    I’ve read several self-published and semi self-published novels lately and I could see little or no difference in quality of writing or publication compared to those produced by traditional publishers. In fact, a couple of the novels seemed better in terms of editing and proofreading, as if someone really took their time. And it was nice to know the author was getting a far bigger cut of the cover price. Though self-publishing has its own pitfalls, it certainly is tempting.
    I’m not dismissing agents and publishers as a whole but the industry definitely needs a shakeout.

  3. […] And publishers do market books, but perhaps not in the places where the average customer can see them, or in ways authors immediately recognize as marketing. The publisher creates the book cover and writes the book description, two of the most important marketing tools of any book. A publisher’s marketing team attends professional conferences and meetings that the average reader doesn’t see. They produce catalogs with ads that the general public never sees. They try to get professional reviews that most readers don’t care about, but librarians do. They engage in larger outreach projects that draw attention to an entire season’s worth of books. (Literary agent Rachelle Gardner collected a list of publishers’ most common marketing efforts here.) […]

  4. Publishers DO Market Books | on January 14, 2014 at 11:50 AM

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  5. Breasbooks on December 5, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    Thank you for the information. You answered a lot of my questions about the publishers role in marketing.

  6. Steve Spillman on July 4, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    Thanks for this. Publishers have been getting a bad rap lately (in many cases well deserved) about marketing books. Ultimately, unless books are sold to readers, nobody wins.

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  9. Anne Brian on March 7, 2013 at 5:48 AM

    I have had ZERO help with marketing from my publisher. He would not even stump up the cost (£100) of me having a table at a relevant conference. So I have a box of books here, which I have paid for, with not much hope of selling them at all. I have ended up out of pocket and very disappointed with the whole thing.

  10. Eri on September 13, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    Do publishers usually cover basic travel expenses like a plane ticket or hotel when they send you on publicity book tours and events?

  11. Amy DeLuca on April 12, 2012 at 12:47 AM

    Wow! It’s so interesting to see it all spelled out here, and this is definitely the route I want to go. I’m already establishing a blog, website, and Twitter presence on my own, and know how to do some tv/radio bookings, but I don’t want to do it all alone. Thanks for the great insight.

  12. […] Even though writers usually need some kind of platform and they have to do a lot of marketing on their own, the publisher does their own marketing, reaching whole different audiences than the author is able to reach on their own. (See my post Do Publishers Market Books?) […]

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  15. Book Marketing Disappointment | Rachelle Gardner on October 4, 2011 at 12:39 AM

    […] great deal of resources into marketing books (after all, they have an investment in selling them). I wrote a post about the kinds of marketing and PR many of them do. Whether it’s you or your publisher doing the promotion, it’s difficult to get […]

  16. […] Do Publishers Market Books? Do publishers still market books? Or don’t they? Should you go ahead and self-publish since you’ll just have to do the marketing yourself anyway? Before you go that route, read this article. It’s true! And are you willing and able to do all those things for your book? Pays thinking about.  […]

  17. […] Do Publishers Market Books? Do publishers still market books? Or don’t they? Should you go ahead and self-publish since you’ll just have to do the marketing yourself anyway? Before you go that route, read this article. It’s true! And are you willing and able to do all those things for your book? Pays thinking about.  […]

  18. JL Oakley on June 30, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    Very helpful post. I’m working my tail off for my self-punnovel, but it’s just preparing me for when I get traditionally published. I’ll know what to do get the word out with a great team at the publisher.

  19. Kristin Laughtin on June 30, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    Not surprised, per se, but I do like seeing the list of all things publicity departments do and can still do. Thanks!

  20. Larry Carney on June 30, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    It is quite the surprise Rachelle, as others have mentioned.

    On a slightly different note, I don’t see why doing marketing for the book one has written gets such a bad rap. What isn’t to like about meeting with book clubs, or reporters, or frankly anyone who has the love for the written word?

    Especially if they become interested in helping share with others what you have worked so hard on, or to simply learn how your writing has helped them in some small way.

    I mean, we all have to leave the dank, dark cave where we type away sometime, right 🙂

    • Kristin Laughtin on June 30, 2011 at 5:42 PM

      I think the issue is that doing all this, or at least setting it up, can be quite intimidating for the large portion of writers who are introverts. I’d love talking to all sorts of people when I get a book published, but I can’t deny I’m not looking forward to doing all the research to make contacts and trying to set every conversation up.

  21. Neil Ansell on June 30, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    I met my marketing person at my publishers once at a meeting, and don’t really know what they did apart from editing my book trailer for me. But I had a publicist who was in daily contact with me for about a month after publication, after which it began to tail off a bit. I’m still not entirely clear about the distinction between marketing and publicity. I think the marketers were involved in promoting me to the book trade and so on, while publicity dealt with reviews, interviews and so on. My publicist was like my handler I suppose.

  22. Lenore Buth on June 30, 2011 at 2:11 PM

    Thanks for the lift, Rachelle. Reading your list made me smile, even remembering that publishers vary.

  23. Joanne Kraft on June 30, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    Yep, you did it, you succeeded at getting my author-heart racing.

    This is a FANTASTIC post. As a first-time small potatoes author, I’m learning this the hard way.

    If my book is to succeed, it’s going to take lots of work on “my” part.

    My advice to future authors?

    Networking is HUGE. Don’t underestimate word of mouth. My greatest helping hand has been from other authors, bloggers, and church family.

    It’s an amazing journey, and thankfully social media has made it easier to take part in launching your written word out to the world!

  24. Sandra Ardoin on June 30, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    It does seem we’re told more about what a publisher doesn’t do as opposed to what he does. But reading through the list you provided, these are things we hear about (and see) all the time. It was impressive when put in such a concise list.

  25. Barbara Watson on June 30, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    That’s quite a list of do’s. And encouraging. Working together, as a team, only makes the marketing that much better. Thanks for the post.

  26. Scott Nicholson on June 30, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    This all sounds lovely. And probably a few authors even get it. Most get a line in the monthly sales catalog. Period.

    Of course, an agent has an automatic vested interest in making publishers sound good, since publishers are the agent’s only clients. This isn’t a personal judgment on you, Ms. Gardner, just a fact–one does tend to speak good of the people who give you money.

    It’s a difficult, difficult environment for all of us. If you believe a publisher will give you those things, I support you and wish you well.

    • Rachelle on June 30, 2011 at 12:25 PM

      I created this blog post by looking at the publisher marketing plans sitting on my desk for my clients’ books. I routinely follow up with each publisher to review what’s been done and what still needs to be done, according to what they promised in their plan. I assure you, these types of marketing activities are happening, it’s not something I simply “believe” because I want to.

  27. Peter DeHaan on June 30, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    I am pleasantly surprised by all these various marketing efforts. This is a nice counterbalance to the oft repeated lament that publishers do next to no marketing for the bulk of their authors.

    Thank you for the insight.

    And to all in the United States, have a great holiday weekend!

  28. Emily Wenstrom on June 30, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    Based on the kinds of things I’ve heard from blogs, articles, etc., I am very pleasantly surprised by this list. I work in marketing and PR, so the idea of having to do my own legwork has never scared me, but the time I expected to have to put in was daunting all the same. Knowing I’d have some support in my weaker areas (graphic design, finances for printing promotional materials) is reassuring.

  29. David Todd on June 30, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    Thanks for the post, Rachelle. As you say, this is a menu of those marketing activities that some pub houses will do some of the time for some authors. Good to know.

  30. susan swiderski on June 30, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    In spite of the discouraging info we often get indicating that the publishing world no longer does anything to promote or market books, intuitively, that simply doesn’t make sense. No matter how much we want to idealize the industry, they are in business to make money. In order for them to do that, it only stands to reason that some level of promotion and marketing is required. Not that any work they do on our behalf lets US off the hook. It’s in our best interest to promote and market, too.

  31. BJ Pramann on June 30, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    If this is “hands off” I don’t want to know how much work “hands on” was/is. =)

  32. Julia on June 30, 2011 at 10:05 AM

    What surprises me is how little of this my publisher actually did. Then again, it was a work-made-for-hire contract, and they decided two months before the pub date to cut the marketing budget to next to zero. Since it wasn’t technically “my” book, I wasn’t allowed to take up the marketing slack (couldn’t make a FB page, produce postcards, etc). Lesson: what applies for a regular contract does not necessarily apply with work-made-for-hire.

  33. Twilla on June 30, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    As a soon to be contracted writer (signing contract at the end of the month) I find this so helpful. I don’t have an agent so this gives me a feel of the type of things I should look for in the contract and what to ask for to help me self-promote.

    • Rachelle on June 30, 2011 at 10:40 AM

      None of this will be in your contract, so don’t look for it there.

      The only thing about marketing that may appear in the contract is that the author is to be available to participate in publisher’s marketing efforts, and it may specify a time period, like the 3 months surrounding the release.

      You will only see specifics about marketing if the agent has intentionally negotiated to have it added, and this would be for high profile authors.

      • Shamim Adam on April 9, 2012 at 4:16 AM

        Authors are bombarded with the idea that they alone bear the burden of marketing. My understanding is traditional publishers don’t invest as much these days.

        It is good to read that traditional publishers do promote and market books on a team basis, so who are some of these publishers?

  34. Heather Sunseri on June 30, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    Both this and Michael Hyatt’s post were extremely helpful. But I have to ask… What is a shelf talker?

    • Rachelle on June 30, 2011 at 10:45 AM

      Go to Google Images and type in “shelf talker bookstore.” You’ll see lots of images.

      A shelf talker is simply a card that attaches to the bookshelf and has print on it that draws the bookstore-browser’s attention.

      You’re used to seeing shelf talkers all throughout the supermarket — all those little “50% off!” or “Buy one, get one free!” cards that stick off the shelves below the peanut butter.

  35. Kate on June 30, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    I guess what surprises me more is the amount a publisher does. This list was far more extensive than I thought. My question is (and I may have to search back through posts) is what an author can do in addition to this? I know they schedule their own book tours but.. what else?

    • Rachelle on June 30, 2011 at 10:48 AM

      Sounds to me like you have a lot of reading to do! Book marketing is a huge topic among authors, and the best way to learn it is to be networked with other authors on forums, loops, blogs like this one, Facebook, etc. You’ll start hearing about all the things authors do to promote their books.

  36. Katie Ganshert on June 30, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    I’m amazed how how far in advanced marketing stuff starts to happen.

    For example – I’m a debut novelist. Just got contracted with Waterbrook Multnomah, a division of Random House. My novel won’t hit shelves until May, 2012.


    Marketing is already talking about spring/summer books for 2012. I had to fill out an intense author questionnaire for the marketing department. Nine pages of questions all about me and my book. And just yesterday, I was contacted about a phone interview that will be recorded and used for promotional purposes. We’re doing that in two weeks. And once again – my book is still almost a year out.

    So yes, publishers are definitely still marketing. I’m eager to help and assist in as MANY ways possible.

  37. Wendy on June 30, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    Loved Michael Hyatt’s post.
    A lot of the above looks familiar because my background is in marketing.
    I’m eager to promote my novels and I’m often coming up with creative ways to market them.
    ~ Wendy

  38. Sharon A Lavy on June 30, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    With the publishing house behind the author it makes sense to try to take advantage of it by doing all you can. It sounds like team work to me.

    This is a refreshing and enlightening slant on this topic.

  39. Sue Harrison on June 30, 2011 at 8:04 AM

    We hear so much about what publishers don’t do. It’s great to see a post about what they do. Which is a LOT! Hooray!

  40. Thesis Writing on June 30, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    After reading your post i have a better understanding of what do publishers market books really is.Your post have the information that is helpful and very informative. I would like you to keep up the good work. Thanks for sharing.

  41. Jenny Lee Sulpizio on June 30, 2011 at 3:28 AM

    err-publishers that is.

  42. Jenny Lee Sulpizio on June 30, 2011 at 3:27 AM

    I knew that publisher’s did a lot but have to admit that the breakdown you just gave was eye-opening. As a self-published author, I spend a lot of time marketing. In fact, I think I spend all of my time marketing my book! To work with a house that could “push” my book in the way you outlined above would honestly be a dream.

    Every author should expect and want to promote their book, hands down. Traditional routes of publication may be long, discouraging, and tedious at times, but there is a reason why this route is the most effective…from a marketing standpoint alone.

  43. mark williams international on June 30, 2011 at 3:26 AM

    That’s an impressive range of features a publisher might offer, Rachelle.

    I guess if a new writer were offered a deal where all this was guaranteed to happen it would be a no-brainer to go with them rather than self-publish.

    But as you say, even the big pubishers will at best offer only “many” of these services.

    The key question I would be asking is:

    How much of the above will they actually do for me as a new author, as opposed to their mega-sellers and celebrities?

    • Rachelle on June 30, 2011 at 9:02 AM

      Mark, you’re exactly right, that’s always the question for a debut author. For this reason, sometimes when two or more publishers are competing for a book, we’ll negotiate not just on who’s offering the biggest advance but on who will give us the best marketing plan (and which publisher’s track record assures us they’ll follow through).

  44. Loree Huebner on June 30, 2011 at 2:10 AM

    Reading this post made me feel better.

    I’m glad to hear that for the most part, we’re not totally alone out there after we get published.

  45. BK Jackson on June 30, 2011 at 2:04 AM

    The whole thing comes as a surprise, because whether folks in the industry mean to or not, the message that gets pounded incessantly into aspiring authors is: “You not only gotta write it, but you gotta do all the other work for the publisher too (while they still walk away with the bulk of the cut).”

    In a way, it kind of makes you feel skeptical, like you do when you take your car to a dealership for service. You really don’t know what you can believe.

  46. Giora on June 30, 2011 at 1:43 AM

    Which leads to an interesting question. If an author has a big budget to promote the book, are you more likley to represent the book? Thanks.

    • Rachelle on June 30, 2011 at 9:07 AM

      Only if I already love the book and believe in it. The “big marketing budget” would be more important for non-fiction than fiction, and I’d need to have some assurance that, with some guidance, you’d know what to do with that budget to make it pay off.

  47. Nancy S. Thompson on June 30, 2011 at 1:33 AM

    All that is EXACTLY why I am pursuing traditional publishing. If I–God willing–ever get the opportunity to have my novel published, I would work my tail off marketing it. I would only hope that there was someone at the publisher who would advise me on exactly what I should be doing as I have no practical knowledge on what an author needs to do.

    Great post!

  48. Jillian Kent on June 30, 2011 at 1:28 AM

    I’m a debut author. And as Rachelle knows my publishing house Charisma/Realms made a book trailer for me. I was thrilled. They’ve been very supportive. And the sales team is great too. I work hard to come up with creative ideas and they are always receptive. It’s a team effort but the author really must stay on top of things. At least that’s what I’m learning. 🙂

  49. Lisa Marie on June 30, 2011 at 1:03 AM

    Not surprising at all, but then again, I’ve had experience in publishing. The marketing and promotion is one of the key reasons I’d like to go with a publisher rather than self-publish. The permanent value of building a devoted fan base cannot be underscored. This is also true for the recording industry — generally speaking, only musicians formerly signed with labels (and later dropped) can make it as “indie” artists.

  50. Krista Phillips on June 30, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    I think this makes a lot of sense. It always confuses me that authors complain about marketing. I mean, granted I’m not jumping for joy at the thought, but I understand it’s part of the gig and am ready to tackle it when I get to that point (I think…)

    But the publisher has a ton to gain from sales of books, actually a ton to RECOVER too… so it makes sense that they would actively market as well, and latch on to authors willing to do their share.

    I imagine the team approach works best.

  51. Angela Mackey on June 30, 2011 at 12:37 AM

    Since the author is the one who wrote the book and is passionate about it, doesn’t it make sense that the author would be the best person to market the book? A huge marketing department just cannot do it all.

    At first when I began this writing journey I was put off by the marketing, but now I realize that it is the marketing that is almost as much fun as the writing. It is the time to get your message out there.

    Praying I get the opportunity to help market my book one day. 😉

    • Jeff O'Handley on June 30, 2011 at 7:47 AM

      I agree, but at the same time you are probably (hopefully) going to be very busy with your *next* book! The things Rachelle lists are very time and energy consuming (and, probably, money consuming, too). You might know the owner of your local bookstore, but the publisher’s marketing department is the one that is going to get you in the big chains, on NPR’s ‘Off the Page,’ etc.

  52. elaine @ peace for the journey on June 30, 2011 at 12:35 AM

    Such wonderful, practical tips, Rachelle. Thank you for taking the time to write it.


  53. Crafty Mama on June 30, 2011 at 12:30 AM

    Wow, for not doing any marketing, this sure sounds like a lot of marketing! 😉 Although, if over a million authors are working with the same promotional materials, I can see how one might get lost in the fray.

  54. Madeleine on June 30, 2011 at 12:29 AM

    I agree with Carrie! I was shocked by how much they still do. Most of the time, people make it sound as though an author is almost abandoned after the book is published (marketing-wise)!

  55. A. Jarrell Hayes on June 30, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    None of this surprises me. I am a self-published author, but I once managed a bookstore and I write book reviews. I’ve received ARCs both as a reviewer and bookstore employee, I get e-mail blasts, review copies, etc. from both big and small publishers, and from individual authors. Thanks for the link to Michael Hyatt’s post; it is very insightful. The information in both posts should be used in tandem, not in opposition. Even if the publisher is doing all the above, the author can still market his or her work as well.

    • Rachelle on June 30, 2011 at 12:28 AM

      “The information in both posts should be used in tandem, not in opposition. Even if the publisher is doing all the above, the author can still market his or her work as well.”


  56. Carrie Butler on June 30, 2011 at 12:13 AM

    After reading so much about how “hands off” publishing companies have gotten in recent years, this post definitely came as a pleasant surprise. My background is in marketing, but the possibility of having a dedicated department working with me is a huge comfort. I hope I’ll have the opportunity someday! 🙂