The Different Cycles of Books
Please forgive the following clutter of names and dates — there is a method to this madness:
I got an email yesterday from a game but harried marketing person for a children’s publisher. We’d met in Texas at TLA, and while she’d recently been on the run to IRA and planning for BEA (the bookseller’s convention), she was checking in with me on ALA. Indeed I will be at Annual (if you — reader — will be in DC in June, please look me up). Marina and I have a new book coming out in late fall, but will have galleys to show. Marina also has a new novel that officially published yesterday, and she’s been emailing with her publicist — also on the run, but he’s been out at the LA Times Book Fair. And, finally, I was pleased to learn that a couple of panels I’d planned for NCSS (the Social Studies convention) have been approved, even as I’ve started to get emails about ALAN at NCTE. All of these conferences and dates bring up the question of how to see the start, the launch, of a new book into the world?
Think back to Harry Potter, or the next Twilight or Wimpy Kid book — that is how it goes for adult books. There is an official, announced, pub date. As of that moment, the book goes on sale. And if the publisher has its act together (or the author has greased the wheels) there has been a publicity machine organized around that one spot in the calendar: a half year earlier articles were pitched to magazines with long lead times; bookstore appearances were set up to coincide with the magazines hitting the stands and, as the date neared, both reviews and "off the book page" articles about the author and the book. Of course TV and radio have been pitched so that — ideally, book readers hear the author on NPR, see her on the Today show, notice an excerpt in a popular magazine, see a piece about her in the paper (or on the net), and then notice the book stacked up high in a bookstore. That was, at least, the 1990s model of a pub date — the crest of a wave of publicity designed to launch a book into the world.
That adult model no longer works the same way — there are so few book reviews, magazines have cut back, book store signings have lost their cache. The most popular authors still ride that publicity tide, but it is hardly the norm. And — as I was indicating in the first paragraph — almost all of us in books for younger readers live in a different universe. There is still an official launch date for our books. But what date really matters to their reception in the world? Depending on the book, that could be a half year or even more later — when state lists, or prizes, or magazine Best Book lists are announced. In a way, our big debut comes when people start talking about our books — not when they first hit stores. So conferences — when that chatter starts and spreads — are as important as bookstore events. And conferences spread oddly through the year — we stutter through a sequence of launches — handing out galleys at one conference, seeing an early review, waiting months for the next notice, meeting again a half year later at another conference with the book already out — and, all the while, an unsteady trickle of blogs considers the galley, or the book. So when does the book launch? I suppose when enough people have read it.