Why it takes so long for a book to be published

I’ve had many people ask me this question and I really didn’t have an answer. I mean, with digitization, printing and typesetting is a pretty fast process. Yet, it takes a year or more for a book to hit shelves. I got my my official contract at the end of 2014 and PEOPLE WHO KNEW ME will release on May 24, 2016. That’s almost a year and a half of lead time. Fairly typical, but why?

Luckily, in a NY Times essay entitled “Waiting for It,” Rachel Donadio explains everything.

book launchShe writes:

“Technology may be speeding up the news cycle, but in publishing, things actually seem to be slowing down. Although publishers can turn an electronic file into a printed book in a matter of weeks — as they often do for hot political titles, name-brand authors or embargoed celebrity biographies likely to be leaked to the press — they usually take a year before releasing a book. Why so long? In a word, marketing.”

David Rosenthal, former publisher of Simon & Schuster and current President and Publisher of Blue Rider Press, says, “It’s not only buzz, it’s a product introduction–but with nothing like the advertising or marketing budget that a piece of soap would have.”

In sum, “with the Internet and blogs, word of mouth travels more quickly today, but there’s a glut of information. To help a book break through the static, publishers have to plan months in advance.”

It makes sense. There really is a glut. I consider myself a fairly voracious reader who is pretty in tune with book culture, but I can’t keep up with all the titles out there. When I joined Twitter, I got a real sense of the problem. There are SO MANY PEOPLE pushing SO MANY BOOKS. Self-publishing really changed the game and contributed to the glut. Don’t get me wrong; I see the benefits of self-publishing, but it does create a lot of noise. For any one book to stand out takes a lot of effort.

Of course, if you’re a well-known author, it doesn’t take as long to get your book out there. In a best case scenario, you have readers WAITING for your book, antsy to get their hands on it. But, for first-timers like me, there is the monumental task of introducing readers to a brand new person they’ve never heard of and a book that, without help, would not even make it on their radar.

Even though my book doesn’t come out until May of next year, my publisher is busy. Right now, for example, my editor is reaching out to authors to get “blurbs” for my book (you know, those little quotes that go on the back cover). There is a big marketing effort that takes a year or more for most newbies.

Donadio writes:

“As soon as a literary agent has sold a publisher a book, and even before it’s edited, copy-edited, proofread and indexed, the publicity wheels start turning. While writers bite their nails, the book editor tries to persuade the in-house sales representatives to get excited about the book, the sales representatives try to persuade retail buyers to get excited, and the retail buyers decide how many copies to buy and whether to feature the book in a prominent front-of-the-store display, for which publishers pay dearly. In the meantime, the publisher’s publicity department tries to persuade magazine editors and television producers to feature the book or its author around the publication date, often giving elaborate lunches and parties months in advance to drum up interest.”

And more:

“Chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders generally buy books at least six months before the publication date and know about particular titles even farther in advance. Much to the anxiety of midlist writers clamoring for attention, chain stores determine how many copies of a title to buy based on the expected media attention and the author’s previous sales record.”

This would all stress me out if I felt like I had any control over the process. But I don’t. So I’m genuinely not stressed. I’m grateful to have a really enthusiastic agent, editor, and publisher. I’m kind of curious to see how it all goes. As Donadio writes, “the sudden change in cabin pressure from writing to waiting can be jarring,” but I’m okay with the waiting. After all, I waited more than decade to get a book deal and have the OPPORTUNITY to be in this waiting phase. I always roll my eyes at my mom when she says, “Patience is a virtue,” but I guess she’s right.

Image by Adam Palmer. It appears in the Donadio essay here.

2 thoughts on “Why it takes so long for a book to be published

  1. Congratulations on the book. I’m so very proud of you Kim. Over the years, I know how much this has meant to you. The first of many…

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