When I first started my career in publishing, I was surprised to learn how long it took to publish a book. More often than not, it took more than 12 months for a book to be published–from the time a project was acquired until it was a finished book, on the shelves and ready for purchase–and that didn’t even include the time it took to write the manuscript! 20+ years later, much has changed in the industry, particularly with the advent of self-publishing and the ebook model, but one thing that hasn’t is the time it takes to bring a book to market, and much of this has absolutely nothing to do with the production process.
Many of those who decide to self-publish can take their book from completed manuscript to finished book in a matter of weeks–so why should authors start thinking about the promotion process months, not weeks, in advance? Here’s a rundown of the publishing timeline:
6 months before publication:
I think 6 months before publication is the right time to make sure that you have all your book essentials covered. Make sure your book is listed for pre-order on retailer sites, and that your metadata has streamed correctly. Build out your Amazon Author Central page and your Goodreads author page. You should have a book jacket designed and ready by this point–make sure it’s showing on retailer sites and create social media graphics that match your jacket design.
This is also the time to start banking favors you can cash in once you get to your publication date. Everyone needs help, so start offering to help others before you need to ask for their help. Sometimes retweets on Twitter, pre-ordering a friend’s book, or writing a LinkedIn recommendation can go a long way.
5 months before publication:
Even though publication feels ages away, 5 months out is when you really need to start thinking about marketing and publicity, especially if you’re hoping to get coverage in long-lead publications (like magazines that plan editorial features months in advance) or a spot in certain event venues (like New York City’s 92nd St. Y, Washington D.C.’s Politics & Prose bookstore, or annual book festivals). These spots can book at least 5 months out, so it’s crucial you reach out with enough time to secure a spot.
Media will want to review your book before committing to coverage or an event, so make sure you have created galleys (early, uncorrected bound copies of your book). Printed galleys can be expensive to produce; electronic galleys are a cheaper option. I like using NetGalley for this service.
2-3 months before publication:
You need to start thinking about short-lead media at least 8 weeks prior to publication. This includes online media, as well as daily print publications (places that don’t plan their coverage as far in advance). It typically takes 6-8 weeks to confirm coverage and see placement; ideally you want as much media as possible to hit in the weeks surrounding your official publication date in order to maximize sales momentum.
If you are planning a pre-order campaign, this is the time to get going. Just remember, strangers don’t tend to order our books unless we are already a well-known, bestselling author. Focus your attention on your family, friends, network and fans. Let’s call them your launch team.
One week before publication:
Remind your tribe and “launch team” to make sure they have pre-ordered your book as well as review it the week it comes out. If possible, provide tweets and graphics to make spreading the news about your book easier. If you are doing your own publicity, do a final follow up to make sure everyone has what they need. As much as possible, ask for reviews, interviews and features to go live during publication week.
On your publication date, you’ll notice the ability to post reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Ask your friends and family, as well as dedicated readers of your blog or newsletter, to post honest reviews about your work. This will help sway any undecided buyers.
While thinking about promotion before you have a physical product might feel unnatural, it’s the best way to make sure your book has as much impact, and gets as much coverage, as possible.