Understanding the difference between book sales and book marketing can be a challenge. To be honest, it can be downright confusing. Why? Marketing and sales go hand-in-hand because one (marketing) hopefully leads to the other (sales), but they’re very different things. Below we’ve outlined some of the distinguishing differences between sales (distribution) and marketing (publicity).

Distribution and sales are “selling” activities and marketing and publicity are “promotional” activities.

Distribution and sales go together and refer to the selling activities of your book, meaning the process of how your books go from printer to reader. This is often confused with marketing your book, because people think “selling” means selling the idea or story of your book. To make it simple, think of the marketing as “promoting.”

The goal of marketing is to get your book in front of your target audience so they’ll consider buying it. The goal of distribution is to actually get your book to your audience.

To piggyback off the first point, marketing is what you do to gain exposure for your book. Many people confuse having their book listed on Amazon or other retailers as marketing because their book is in front of readers, but this is actually part of the distribution process.

Having a book listed allows readers to buy your book, but nothing is being done to tell readers “Hey, here is my book and this is why it’s awesome!” That is marketing.

Distribution and sales have limited options whereas marketing and publicity are more tailored towards your book.

When we say limited options, we mean that, for the most part, the process of how a book goes from printer to reader is pretty set in stone. Your main options here will be if your book is print-on-demand, meaning it goes directly from the printer to the reader, or if it’s part of expanded distribution and books go from printer to warehouse to retailer to reader.

If you have an ebook, your distribution is even more straightforward and readers simply download your book onto their ereader from a retailer or a direct-to-reader sales page.

Marketing, on the other hand, has tons of options. What you choose to do for marketing will really depend on factors such as your book’s genre, your author platform, your budget, and your time commitment. Many things you can do yourself, like promoting your book on social media, but some things you might want to hire a publicist to do for you, such as pitching media outlets for book reviews or interviews.

Distribution happens at the end of the publishing process. Marketing happens before, during, and after.

One of the final parts of the publishing process is distribution. Your book is done and printed, and now it must be delivered to readers. Many people make the mistake of thinking that once their book is done and has moved onto distribution, it’s time to start marketing.

Should you be promoting your book after it’s published? Absolutely! But by this time, you should’ve been promoting your book for quite some time. Remember, the goal of marketing is to gain exposure for your book, and this takes time. Start early, even if you’re still writing, and build that momentum, so once the book is ready for purchase, people will know it’s on the shelf.

Both sales and marketing are vital to your publishing success—but only when you understand how they’re different and how they work together can you use the knowledge to be successful.