Why Traditional Publishing Takes So Long

Recently I announced that the publication date of Wintersong has been moved from Fall 2016 to Winter 2017, and I had a lot of questions asking why it would take so long for the book to come out when it was already finished and edited?

Ah, my friend. Sit back and listen, because we are going to be discussing this interesting phenomenon called publishing time.

In the PubCrawl Podcast, Kelly and I have discussed submissions and acquisitionssales conference, and touched briefly on the concept of launch. Traditional publishing is generally scheduled about one year in advance, so if your book gets acquired in 2016, it may not be published until 2017 or even 2018.

Why is that? Well, most publishing houses operate on a schedule of “seasons”: periods of 3-4 months that comprise a catalog. For example, at my publisher, the seasons are as follows:

  1. Winter (January through April)
  2. Spring/Summer (May through August)
  3. Fall (September through December)

Each season has a schedule of when things need to be submitted or finalized: launch, catalog, sales conference, etc. While acquisitions and editing may happen at any time during the year, the actual publishing part of publishing happens at set times. For example, for books to be published in Fall 2017, the schedule may look something like this:

  1. November 2016: Launch (introducing your book to the sales and marketing force)
  2. January 2017: Catalog (getting information about your book online for booksellers, librarians, et al to take notice)
  3. March 2017: Sales Conference (when the people selling your book into their accounts start pitching to their buyers and getting a feel for how many copies of your book Barnes & Noble, Amazon, indies, etc. will be taking)

If your book is to be published September 2017, then why all that time between sales conference and publication date? This is so your marketing and publicity team have time to start building buzz about your book to the consumer: sending your book out for reviews at all the trade publications, big magazines, newspapers, etc. or buying ad space or social media or what-have-you. By the time your book comes out, hopefully enough people will have heard about your book to seek it out on release day.

So what happens if you miss any one of these deadlines? Situations vary from book to book, but the house generally has one of two options: scramble to get everything together, or push the book back a season. You can miss deadlines for all sorts of reasons: you didn’t finalize the cover on time, the edited book is coming in too late for blurbs and may miss its galley date, etc. There are reasons to scramble: if the book is timely, if it’s a well-known author with an established series and the publisher wants to get the next installment out to fans as scheduled, and so on and so forth. But in many situations, the publisher will choose to push the book back.

The advantage of pushing a book back is that you have time to set everything up properly. The sales force has an enormous list to work on every season, and a last minute addition, or a book with all the pertinent info “TK” (to come), would cause the sales and marketing team a lot of stress.

You can, of course, crash a title. This means exactly what it sounds like: crashing a book as quickly as possible through editing and production so it makes the sales dates for a particular season. This is generally done for celebrity books, political books that may need to be out in time for election season, movie tie-ins, TV show tie-ins for the next season, what-have-you. But these are generally books where the sales force as already heard of the author or property, therefore less leg work needs to be done to set it up to their accounts.

What happened to Wintersong? In my announcement, I said that my book was recategorized from adult to teen, and those markets are handled by two different sales forces at my publisher. We couldn’t simply re-designate everything; we had to re-launch.

So there you have it! Publishing time. Let me know if you guys have any further questions, and I’ll try to answer as best I can.


5 Responses to Why Traditional Publishing Takes So Long

  1. Vanessa Apr 6 2016 at 9:03 am #

    Hi JJ! Thanks for this very informative piece. I’ve been a subscriber (and fan!) of Pub(listing) Crawl since before it changed its name. In any case, I wanted to say thanks for posting this post because I was just doing a workshop with students and we were talking about the ‘timing’ of traditional publishing. I made a chart to show them how long it (can) take to get your book actually in the hands of readers. I’ve printed this out and will use it in my workshops/classes to teach. Everyone always asks ‘when can we read your book?!’ and I have to explain the process. Alas, I don’t even have an agent yet! So my timeline is even longer! In any case, keep up the grand work! I (we) appreciate every post! Be well!

    • JJ Apr 6 2016 at 9:13 am #

      Hi Vanessa! I’m so glad you found it useful!

  2. Vanessa Apr 6 2016 at 9:04 am #

    Ha! Typo – should be Pub(lishing). Oh the irony of spelling that wrong!!!

  3. Marty Apr 7 2016 at 6:42 pm #

    Very useful. I had time shock (my version of sticker shock). I transitioned from newspaper publishing (24/7) where if it wasn’t done by 6 pm everyday it didn’t get in the paper. In 15 years I only saw the presses stop once and that was when a Polish pope got elected. Then I worked as a technical writer and illustrator for an offshoot of Motorola, 1-2 month deadlines to get a product manual done. Finally my first day at a book publishing company in acquisitions and marketing. I was preparing to launch a new book that I handled. At a sales meeting. I was ready to go go go in a month, then I was told it wouldn’t be launched for a year. A year!! What!!! I wasn’t used to the turtle like crawl of book publishing, deadlines pushed back, book launches canceled. I could not get used to the infinitely slow slow slower slowest snail pace of book publishing. plus the totally different style. So I switched to teaching college classes a little better, still a one year planning window but at least my classes were 16 weeks, and had a deadline (i.e grades).
    The e-book world has the immediacy that I like of a newspaper. When I publish my blog it is immediate, even faster than a newspaper. I truly believe e-books will revolutionize the ancient way of doing things in book publishing. If I want to read a book I can read it 5 seconds after I buy it. I liked the tip about smart URLs.
    I also had to get used to changing from newspaper, business and academic style to book publishing style. I had always written for newspapers, business and academia what a shock to re-write in book style. Best book I have read ever is: “The best punctuation book, period.” by June Casagrande. Amazing well organized book on style.


  1. Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Which is Right for You? | The Novel Smithy - Apr 6 2021

    […] For starters, even after you land a contract (which could take years) you’ll likely need to wait another year or two to see your novel on store shelves. Traditional publishers have to fit your novel into a huge schedule of book releases—and even with scheduling difficulties aside, the editing, design, and launch process simply moves at a snail’s pace. […]

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