Monday, November 12, 2012

Spacing Out Our Novels’ Releases—Production

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

calendarsPaul Anthony Shortt had an interesting comment for my “Shorter Novels in the Digital Age?” post last week.  He mentioned book spacing and book release timing (as far as prime dates for launching books onto the market.)

This is something that’s very important, I think, and is going to become even more important in the future. It also ties into the short novel phenomenon…because it has to do with readers more than anything else.

For traditional publishing, I have no control whatsoever over my release dates or how spaced out my releases are.  I’m sure that some writers do, but no one I know does.  I know writers who’ve had their books released a couple of days after Christmas (not exactly the best time for a launch).  I know writers who had books released in other really slow times (August comes to mind.)

Production time in traditional publishing is huge.  There are global edits, line edits, proofreading, cover design, marketing meetings, catalog deadlines, pass page edits, blurbs…the works.  Plus—let’s face it.  Your book isn’t exactly the only thing on the publisher’s mind.  They have other releases to worry about.

Sometimes things get held up.  I never really know what’s going on behind the scenes, but I know most of this stuff is out of my editor’s hands.  I’ve seen my release dates vary for my Memphis Barbeque series.  The series started July 6, 2010.  June 7, 2011 was book two….perfectly reasonable at a year later.  Book three released November 1, 2011 (!)  Book Four is coming out July 2, 2013. 
Book three was, from what I can tell, the most successful of all the books so far.  It came out five months after book two (no, I don’t know why it came out then.) 

My concern is, obviously, book four.  It’s coming out nearly two years after the third book’s release.  In fact, my new editor for that series asked me to write it like a standalone.  I very carefully set up the characters, setting, and descriptions as if no one had ever read these books before.  We felt like that was vital since even dedicated readers of the series probably hadn’t read the previous books for a while.

Another unfortunate thing is that the future of the series depends on sales for this book four (that’s releasing at something of a disadvantage.)  This is the way traditional publishing works.  It’s about the figures…and that makes sense.  It’s a business.

My other Penguin series is set for one release each year through 2014 (if production stays on schedule).

But let’s consider self-publishing now.  It doesn’t have nearly the lead-time needed for traditional publishing. 

Case in point—my latest self-pub release, which was the first book I wrote specifically for self-publishing.  I started writing the book in July, as soon as I turned in a manuscript for Penguin.  I’d finished the book by the end of September. 

In September, I gave the book to two beta readers to read while I was still working on the ending, and hired a freelance editor to work on the finished book in early October to find as much wrong with the thing as she could. 

In late September/early October, while my editor and betas were still working on the manuscript, I started talking to the cover designer who’d done my other self-pubbed covers.  She turned a cover around to me in a week.

In mid-October, I asked my formatter to help me out with getting the book set for publishing on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.  He turned it around in two days.

By October 28, the book was available for purchase.

So, I guess that’s nearly a 4-month turnaround there from starting to write the book to publishing it. 

Point being…the production time can be very short for self-pub.  So….the release schedule is really up to us.  A book can be ready to publish whenever we’re ready.  I’m thinking, to be on the safe side, we should give ourselves three months to get a book ready.  So let’s say we want a November release to capitalize on holiday shopping.  In August, I’m thinking we need to start assembling our team of editors, designers, and formatters.

Or—take a very organized and professional approach by planning it all out farther in advance.  Dean Wesley Smith’s post: Think Like A Publisher: Chapter 4: Production and Scheduling  will explain more.

On Wednesday, I’ll look more at spacing novels out and mulling over supply and demand.

Image: Flickr: Burwash Calligrapher