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Why Traditional Publishing Takes So Long
Recently I announced that the publication date of Wintersong has been moved from Fall 2016 to Winter 2017, and I had a lot of questions asking why it would take so long for the book to come out when it was already finished and edited?
Ah, my friend. Sit back and listen, because we are going to be discussing this interesting phenomenon called publishing time.
In the PubCrawl Podcast, Kelly and I have discussed submissions and acquisitions, sales conference, and touched briefly on the concept of launch. Traditional publishing is generally scheduled about one year in advance, so if your book gets acquired in 2016, it may not be published until 2017 or even 2018.
Why is that? Well, most publishing houses operate on a schedule of "seasons": periods of 3-4 months that comprise a catalog. For example, at my publisher, the seasons are as follows:
Winter (January through April)
Spring/Summer (May through August)
Fall (September through December)
Each season has a schedule of when things need to be submitted or finalized: launch, catalog, sales conference, etc. While acquisitions and editing may happen at any time during the year, the actual publishing part of publishing happens at set times. For example, for books to be published in Fall 2017, the schedule may look something like this:
November 2016: Launch (introducing your book to the sales and marketing force)
January 2017: Catalog (getting information about your book online for booksellers, librarians, et al to take notice)
March 2017: Sales Conference (when the people selling your book into their accounts start pitching to their buyers and getting a feel for how many copies of your book Barnes & Noble, Amazon, indies, etc. will be taking)
If your book is to be published September 2017, then why all that time between sales conference and publication date? This is so your marketing and publicity team have time to start building buzz about your book to the consumer: sending your book out for reviews at all the trade publications, big magazines, newspapers, etc. or buying ad space or social media or what-have-you. By the time your book comes out, hopefully enough people will have heard about your book to seek it out on release day.
So what happens if you miss any one of these deadlines? Situations vary from book to book, but the house generally has one of two options: scramble to get everything together, or push the book back a season. You can miss deadlines for all sorts of reasons: you didn't finalize the cover on time, the edited book is coming in too late for blurbs and may miss its galley date, etc. There are reasons to scramble: if the book is timely, if it's a well-known author with an established series and the publisher wants to get the next installment out to fans as scheduled, and so on and so forth. But in many situations, the publisher will choose to push the book back.
The advantage of pushing a book back is that you have time to set everything up properly. The sales force has an enormous list to work on every season, and a last minute addition, or a book with all the pertinent info "TK" (to come), would cause the sales and marketing team a lot of stress.
You can, of course, crash a title. This means exactly what it sounds like: crashing a book as quickly as possible through editing and production so it makes the sales dates for a particular season. This is generally done for celebrity books, political books that may need to be out in time for election season, movie tie-ins, TV show tie-ins for the next season, what-have-you. But these are generally books where the sales force as already heard of the author or property, therefore less leg work needs to be done to set it up to their accounts.
What happened to Wintersong? In my announcement, I said that my book was recategorized from adult to teen, and those markets are handled by two different sales forces at my publisher. We couldn't simply re-designate everything; we had to re-launch.
So there you have it! Publishing time. Let me know if you guys have any further questions, and I'll try to answer as best I can.