The book publishing industry is vast and varied, producing everything from best sellers to new editions of beloved classics. No matter what you like to read, publishers are the ones who get the right book to the right reader.

But what steps are taken between an author writing their book to readers sifting the pages between their fingertips?

Authors who go down the traditional publishing route usually have to get their manuscript picked up by a literary agent. It would then need to be accepted by a publishing house. Publishers work on perfecting a book  before marketing it to book retailers and avid readers alike. Everyone involved, from the author to the publishing house and book retailers like Waterstones, need to market the book in a unique and engaging way.

Let’s unravel the story of how the publishing industry has used digital marketing to become the global powerhouse it is today.

Reading and discovering books: Print vs Digital

Many readers will argue that you just can’t beat a physical book. Cracking open the spine and feeling the slightly-brushed texture of the page as you make your way through each chapter is part of the experience. But in an age where you can access stories from your phone, laptop, and headphones, it makes sense that so many publications are going digital.

The Amazon Kindle was first released in 2007. By 2010, it surpassed traditional hardcover books in sales by more than half, demonstrating how well books and readers adapted to the digital world. The increased popularity of the Kindle changed how we read books and also how books are marketed. As of 2021, however, only 7% of US readers exclusively read from their Kindle, while 37% claim to only read print books.

Digital platforms that evolved the supply chain of discovering, ordering, and reviewing books online are still present, despite the publishing renaissance seeing an 8.9% increase in print book sales in 2021.

Goodreads, for example, is an online platform that enables readers to find new releases, update friends on their current read, give reviews, and connect with authors. Users can tailor their reading preferences to be notified of popular manuscripts across their favourite genres, allowing them to find more books than ever before. It currently boasts 90-million members, showcasing how well books can pair with digital.

With so many readers now interacting online, literary marketers have a clear cause to embrace a digital publishing strategy.

Five platforms for your digital marketing publishers strategy

Marketers specialising in book publishing must dip their quill into every ink pot to effectively market a manuscript. They need to know the story and the author, understand the editing and production process, and know how sales work.

Publishing marketers can create bespoke and successful campaigns by involving themselves in every stage of the production process. In the present day, that also includes digital.

Traditional advertising like poster displays, and other OOH marketing efforts, in public areas with good amounts of footfall and traffic, are great for promoting to those with limited online interaction. But most of the physical campaigns we see out in public are almost always backed up by a digital version.

Combining traditional offline and digital marketing for publishing books isn’t just a suggestion anymore – it’s virtually impossible. Let’s look at some of the most popular digital platforms and how they can help literary marketers with their digital publishing strategy.


A branded Instagram account allows publishers to tailor their online presence as desired. It also allows them to monitor other publishing houses, see what genres and book topics are trending, and interact with their audience. Instagram Stories are especially great for this. Using polls with topical interest lets you see exactly what your audience is looking for in the content and products you produce and market.


Penguin is one of the esteemed “Big Five” publishing houses, alongside other household names like Harper Collins and Macmillan. Each of the Big Five use digital platforms for marketing books, but Penguin, in particular, has made many notable decisions to get with the times.

One of its most successful customer-interactive decisions was launching The Penguin Podcast. Hosted by Penguin’s internal creators and featuring notable authors, the podcast gives listeners a chance to learn more about their favourite writers and delve deeper into the novel creation process.

The podcast places Penguin as a digital brand, but it also allows the company to promote its products. With 220,000 listening hours within its first year, there’s plenty of marketing potential.


Given Twitter only allows a mere 280 characters, you might not expect it to have thriving relevancy as a digital marketing platform for publishing.

However, sometimes all it takes is a short yet colourful description to help sales skyrocket. Your followers can re-share tweets about upcoming releases from their favourite authors and comment on threads, which will in-turn be seen by their own followers. With more than 217 million active Twitter users, you can guarantee your tweets will fly onto the homepage of your desired literary audience.

Publishing marketers can also benefit from using a carousel, an engaging feature of six images or videos that include links and captions related to a specific search term. When a user clicks on one of the images, they’re taken to a new SERP for specific URLs related to the original search term.

Studies have shown that Tweet carousels appear in 6% of search results on Google. If book publishers utilise this feature and include targeted URLs in their Twitter carousels, for both branded and non-branded keywords, it can positively impact the URL ranking position. For example, if users type “Waterstones” into Google, they will see a Twitter carousel of the brands’ Tweets at the top of the page. This allows users to follow through to a link that best offers them what they are looking for.

Engaging with book influencers

Influencers play a pivotal role in many brands’ marketing efforts. An engaging online figure who has built an audience that trusts their opinion can do wonders for promoting products, and it’s no different in the literary world.

People like Jessethereader, abookutopia, and polandbananasBOOKS paved the way for book reviews on YouTube, while the likes of abbys_library3 and pjandbooks dominate the TikTok book community. If someone with a strong social media presence talks about a book they loved on their platform, their viewers will be more inclined to pick up a copy. Publishers would benefit from collaborating with well-read influencers with an engaged audience waiting for their next book recommendation for successful digital marketing.

SEO for book publishing

Despite it all, some readers just don’t engage with social media platforms, so you need to reach them in different ways.

Readers couldn’t simply visit their local bookshop as they usually would during the height of the pandemic, which meant they had to source their next read online, in some cases simply searching “best books 2020” to find something new. Literary retailers need to optimise their websites for SEO for an audience that can’t be reached on social media or through physical advertising in public spaces.

When a user searches for something generic like “best fantasy books”, publishing houses and book shops need to battle with the list of ads at the top of Google. These ads are usually dominated by Amazon, which makes up 70% of book sales in the UK. But ads just give book titles and prices — some users are likely hoping for a bit of context to help them choose.

At the time of writing, Pan Macmillan ranks 6th in the SERP for the term “best fantasy books”, giving readers an extensive list of the 37 best fantasy books of all time. Aside from being a well-known publishing house, users are more likely to click an informational result if they are not yet at the buying stage.

The page tells you which fantasy books are popular and gives an overview of each story to pique the reader’s interest. It even categorises which books were the most popular over the past two years, using targeted keywords with headers such as “The best fantasy books of 2021”.

Let’s consider seasonality – if a user wants to buy a gift for their well-read dad on Father’s Day, they might search “books for father’s day”. Waterstones ranks highly for that particular search term, after paid ads, giving users an extensive and well-categorised page.

Creating content for seasonal occasions is a great way to encourage book sales. Pages that give everything your user is looking for, from the author, title and genre to an overview of the story, are more likely to be revisited by readers for their next purchase.

Don’t be afraid of creating copy with popular search terms to promote your books – you’re marketing to readers, so they’ll probably enjoy finding decent content to back up your marketing efforts.