Thursday, March 1, 2007

The myth of the release date

Flux author S.T. Underdahl muses about release dates in the inaugural post of her new blog. She makes a good observation: "The term 'release date' has always struck me as funny; as if the book is something we've been holding captive, restrained by its binding."

I actually associate release dates not with books, but with CDs. I remember walking from my house to the mall to buy Pearl Jam's second album on its release date. It was a big deal. And we heard stories about the local indy record shop (which was too far to walk to) getting in trouble for selling copies of the album on Monday, instead of on the label-mandated Tuesday. What constituted "trouble," I can't imagine now, but it seemed plausible at the time.

For books, the opposite is true. With the notable exception of Harry Potter and a few other big-name books, few books are restrained to firm release dates. What's the point? Most publishers aren't in a position to whip readers into a frenzy of pent-up anticipation, especially for a first novel; rather, they count on books to be discovered. If we've got the book in our warehouse, in most cases our goal is to get it the heck out so they can be discovered. Ditto booksellers. Books don't sell if they're not out on the floor, so honoring the publisher's specified release date is about the last thing anyone, including the publisher, cares about.

So, yes, S.T., today is your release date, but I'm happy to report that a couple hundred readers have discovered and enjoyed your book for at least three weeks.


Brian said...

I just mentioned this on S.T.'s blog but I thought it worth bringing up here as well:

The true nightmare of release dates, from a publicist point of view, is that the official release date might be March 1 but most of the box stores (B&N, Borders) list the release date as the END of that month (March 30) as a "buffer zone," in case something weird happens and the books aren't in their warehouse by March 1.

Where this becomes a problem is when authors try to set up signing events for early in the month and their local B&N says, "No, we can't do a signing on March 10 because our computer says the book isn't available until March 30 and I can't order it until it's available."

Then *I* get authors on the phone, panicking, and I have to assure them that as soon as the chain has the book in their warehouse (usually 2-3 weeks BEFORE the March 1 release date), the computers will be updated and everything will go off without a hitch for that planned March 10 signing.

Ugh. It's a mess.

literaticat said...

well, except for random house, which has "strict laydown dates" (always tuesdays) for every frontlist title.

luckily, frontlist usually comes in on the friday or monday before, so it isn't hanging around for three weeks or anything.