The Slow Business of Publishing

Publishing is a notoriously “slow” industry—with long lead times between book acquisition and book publication. For example: right now, at the close of the 2021 calendar year, I’m acquiring books that will come out in late 2023 or early 2024!

These long timelines can be surprising to new writers, and to writers who are used to the comparatively speedy timelines of website, newspaper, and even magazine publications. But the truth is that publishers need this time to set books up for success.

We need time accommodate the kind of careful editorial and design work required to make great books. The initial writing and editing process for a manuscript takes months, and that work is followed by proofreading, typesetting, and manufacturing. These days, we need to build even more time into our schedules to account for extended printing and shipping times which have been slowed by recent supply chain issues and staffing shortages.

Sales groups need time to pitch books to the teams at bookstores and distributors who decide what to stock (what’s known as “sell-in”), and those meetings often take place more than 6 months before publication season.

Publicists and marketers need time to send out galley copies to long lead reviewers, to reach out to media outlets about the author and book, to plan for and buy print and digital ads for the book, and to energize launch teams in the lead up to publication.

As a result, acquisitions editors and publishers are playing a constant game of “what will readers be interested in twelve to eighteen months from now?” In many ways, it can feel like we’re trying to tell the future, which is why we’re always looking for books that strike the right balance between timely and timeless.

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