Monday, February 4, 2008

Hurry Up and Wait: Why It Takes So Long to Publish a Book

Rachel Donadio had a spot-on article in yesterday's New York Times. She investigates the question as to why, now that technology makes producing books so much faster, it still takes so long to get a book on the shelf. The answer is that it still takes the same amount of time to market the book and build buzz for it.

Here in Indianapolis, we've been masters at speed publishing for nigh on 20 years now. We all cut our teeth at Macmillan Computer Publishing and IDG, where you had to have a book on the shelf the same day the software was released. Those books had a shelf life of about six months, so any delay was just money lost.

When several of us came to JIST, we brought along the speed and efficiencies of electronic publishing that we learned in the computer book salt mines. But eventually we learned there was a flaw in that system: Our trade books didn't have time to be marketed. With a shelf life of three to five years, we could afford to slow things down a little.

So I built an extra six weeks into the schedules and we started producing "bound galleys," or advance reader copies, to help promote our books and get reviews. And it helped quite a bit. We also stepped up our PR game considerably and are regularly scoring big media mentions.

The NYT article hints that the Internet is helping to accelerate buzz-building a bit. But I think for now, the best approach is to plan well in advance and not rush anything to market. It's really rare that a news event might persuade us to speed things up (unless Obama has a resume book up his sleeve).

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