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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Stuttering Start

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.


  1. Cheryl Bardoe says:

    I’m late to this post, but wanted to chime in anyway. Been thinking similarly lately b/c of the release of my newest book, Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age. I think of today’s book marketplace as being increasingly diversified and segmented, much like television. Even in the early decades of cable tv, there were few enough stations that hit shows got huge audiences that represented a significant percentage of all viewers. Now there are so many stations and shows that very, very few shows–even successful ones–have a truly huge audience. The many different outlets are sustainable, however, because they serve a “big enough” audience, and have found a way to reach that audience. I think of launching a book in the same way…a series of activities that will help that book find the readers who are most interested in it. This is why the various conferences and award lists are so relevant. Of course, coverage in a national media outlet is still great if you can get it, but it’s hard to come by.

  2. That is a nice analogy — the question, in the most practical terms — is what is “big enough” — to earn out an advance, please a publisher, give a book a backlist life? What do the many niches add up to? And what is the time frame, is this a slower build? What is the new model of publishing success?