What you need to know about timing the release of your book.
To be brief: start early! If it’s November and you’re shooting for books on the shelves of retail chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders for the Christmas season, sadly, you’re about four months late. Retail buyers generally buy six months out, which means that they were making decisions in June about what they would carry in November for the holiday season. June is the time that buyers have their largest available budget for November, so if your publisher or distributor is trying to pitch your title for a Christmas-time release any later than June, you have a much slimmer chance of getting a good buy (or any at all) because most of the money allotted for that month has already been spent.
Most publishers and distributors work under catalog schedules built around these retail lead times. Ideally, they have advance reader copies or galleys available to present to retail buyers at the six-month-out point. If galleys are not ready, the next best option is to present a title, cover image, table of contents, a few sample chapters, and the ever-important marketing plan. Plan to have these critical materials ready at least six months before your desired pub date in order to maximize your chances of a successful pitch.
There are many other factors that may present timeline delays depending on what publishing route you take. Here is a quick rundown of the factors to consider, along with time estimates:
If you go the traditional route…
Time to get an agent: Once your manuscript is complete and polished, 12 months
Time for the agent to shop your book: Once you have an agent, 6-18 months
Time to publish with a traditional publisher: Once the agent finds a buyer, 12 months
If you do it yourself…
Time to print offset, domestically: 6-8 weeks
Time to get a distributor: 1-3 months
Time for sales presentation to buyers: 6 months before book release
These estimates are averages and many of these processes can be faster or slower. In your pursuit of the perfect release date, whether it’s for the holidays, spring, or the beginning of the school year, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to research and plan for each step in the publishing process. If you want to maximize the sales potential and buzz around the release of your book, be realistic about what goes into each leg of the journey and set your timeline accordingly.
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Everyone has a lot on their minds during the holiday season. When it comes to writing a book, you may be just beginning your outline or putting the finishing touches on your umpteenth (and hopefully final) draft. Regardless of the stage, it is important to consider how the holidays can affect your book's deadlines. This holds especially true for books that center around a holiday theme—love and relationships for Valentine's Day, Santa and the joy of giving for Christmas, super-spooky and horror for Halloween are a few examples. Consider this:
- According to literary agent Nathan Bransford, the weeks around major holidays are a time to avoid sending out query letters.
- A certain percentage of book buyers' budgets are allocated specifically toward holiday-related books, often children books. The largest amount of that percentage goes to established authors, titles, and series.
- Most winter holiday book purchases by bookstores take place between July and September.
- If your book has been accepted by a publisher, they will aim for the best release date. For holiday books, this may mean the holiday next year.
- The time between a book being accepted by a publisher and being distributed and in stores can be anywhere from 6 months to a year. Know what holiday season you are aiming for!
The holidays are a busy time for agents, publishers, distributors and bookstores—and, of course, for authors. Enjoy the season, and make sure you know how it may affect your project. Happy Holidays!