Advertising or publicity, which one is more effective for promoting self-published books?
If you're an author with a new book out you may be thinking that paid advertising is going to be the best way to get the word out. But publicity can be a much better use of your time and your effort.
Content gets more attention than ads
Why do I think publicity is a better investment? Well, put simply people do not pay as much attention to advertising as they do to content. So whether you're investing in Facebook ads or taking out an ad in a magazine, people pay more attention to the content than the ads. If they're on Facebook they're going to scroll past the ads. If they're reading a magazine they might flip past the adverts in that as well. So you want to be inside the content. What that means is you want to be showing up in an article or get a mention in a social media post. You want to be there inside the content that people get excited about.
Publicity is free
The next reason why publicity is so much better for authors who are selling low-priced books is that publicity is free. If you are using advertising to sell your book then you have to work hard to make the returns work for you. Your margins are very small, so you need to be skilled in your advertising to make it work for you. Also, if you only have one book out, that can be even trickier. It works better if you have a series of books where you're going to get read-through, then your ads may pay off. But if you only have one or two books, or you only have stand-alone books, then publicity is going to be a better bet for you financially.
People also often ignore ads because anybody can pay for advertising. If someone knows that you have paid to be featured somewhere, then they are less likely to pay attention. Whereas when you get publicity, people are more likely to trust that you are being featured because of your credibility, your authority, or your general appeal. There is a good reason why you're there, and not because you paid money. So getting featured in the content establishes more trust with the audience. It improves your credibility and puts you in a position of authority.
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Publicity generates warm traffic
Whether you are using advertising or publicity to drive traffic to your book on Amazon or whether you want to get email list signups, there is a big difference between cold traffic and warm traffic.
Cold traffic is traffic that may have seen your ad and clicked through, but they don't know you or have much interest in you. They've just seen an ad, they're not warmed up to you and don't know why they should take an interest. So there is less chance of that traffic converting. That means they're less likely to buy your book or sign up for your email list.
But if someone finds you via a blog or a podcast, or a TV show or a magazine that they know, like and trust, then two things happen. One, they already trust that media outlet, which means you get the halo effect and they trust you as well. Two, if they've been able to consume something from you – they have listened to an interview on a podcast or read an article about you – they already know you a little. So you've already developed a little of that all-important know, like and trust before you send them to sign up for your mailing list or buy your book. That means they are warm traffic and more likely to take the action you want them to take.
Publicity lasts longer
One more reason why I love publicity over advertising is that it sticks around. So if you feature in a blog post or on a podcast, that content is going to be online indefinitely. I've written guest blog posts that still send traffic to my website three years after I wrote them. I'm still getting email sign-ups off those blog posts.
With paid advertising, you may be able to throw a lot of money at an ad and reach a large number of people but once that ad is over, once you stop paying or once the magazine it featured in has disappeared from the shelves, then you're unlikely to get any more benefit from that advert. Publicity really does win over advertising in terms of longevity.
Publicity deepens relationships
One more thing publicity can give you that advertising can't is connections. As an author, it's always good to be growing your network and finding people that can support you long term. When you reach out to influencers to pitch yourself as a guest on their blog or podcast, you are building a relationship with that person. When they accept you and you deliver great content, you deepen that relationship, which can pay off in the future. They may be happy to have you back for another guest slot. They may be happy at some point to give you a mention in their newsletter or on their social media. So not only do you get publicity, but you also grow your network of connections with people that can support you.
Publicity can be scary
There is one downside to publicity that it would be wrong of me not to mention. It's that publicity can push you out of your comfort zone. If you're an introverted author and afraid of putting yourself ‘out there', then it can be daunting to pitch yourself to be on a podcast or blog. So it can seem much easier to throw some money at advertising and stay in your comfort zone.
But there is a downside to advertising as well. With advertising, there is a steep learning curve and there's the tech you need to deal with. So that can be something tricky that you don't want to bother with.
Start with guest posting
So both advertising and publicity have a downside. But if you're afraid of putting yourself out there and getting publicity, then start with guest posting. All you need to do is write a blog post, which is well within your skillset as a writer. If you're stuck for ideas of topics and stories and what you should be pitching, whether you're a fiction or non-fiction author, check out my post Book Publicity Calendar 2021!
Guest posting is well worth the effort. The scariest part is often the pitch, and to help you with that I have a free pitch template you can download and amend to suit your needs.
Brainstorm some ideas, get brave, write that pitch email and click send, and I promise you nothing bad will happen. Once you get over that first hurdle and submit your first guest post pitch, I know your confidence is going to go through the roof. And when you've done it once, you can do it again and again. In time, as you feel more confident about what you're talking about and what you can teach, then you may feel that you're ready to go on a podcast!
In the future, you can combine publicity with advertising. But if you're on a tight budget and just getting started, then try publicity. This is the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to reach your target readers and turn them into buyers of your book.