A quick snap and my timing on this shot worked out great. Image © Jain Lemos.

I’m back with the next section of my blog series, The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books, which is on figuring timing of the project elements, now that you’ve started planning sales. In publishing scheduling, we tend to start by working backwards. You can see an example of a schedule in my post, Book Production Schedules. In fact, that’s the post that prompted this series! I’ll be expanding on scheduling in Part 10. But here, I want to discuss the timing of opportunities.

Traditionally, a publisher develops Spring and Fall lists. Books on each list are announced in a catalog that is distributed to booksellers and reviewers far in advance of the book’s actual release. For example, Norton sends its Spring 2014 catalog (yes, it’s still printed) in early December 2013 for titles that will be available starting in April. In order for the catalog to be mailed in early December the promo copy has to be ready in August so there is time to design and print. Here is a PDF scan of the Norton Spring 2014 Catalog page for Salvage Secrets Design & Décor by Joanne Palmisano and Susan Teare I received last December. Their book was just released in May. Whatever your distribution model, you’ll need the basic catalog description, just like this one, for your book about ten months to one year in advance of publication to generate pre-sales.

How was this title determined to be on the Spring list? It’s fairly intuitive. Home building and interior design projects are springtime activities just as a book on the history of yarns and knitting is suited for fall undertakings. The subject matter and format of your documentary book will largely dictate the timing. If it’s a tie-in to a major motion picture release, then obviously there is a specific date to hit. But if your title is of the Single Photographer, Single Topic style or a pictorial biography then the timing will depend on the availability of the content being finished and the suitability of the “season” for the release.

I suggest timing your release with the date that has the biggest bang. Your authors will be (should be!) informed about what happens when. Their initial proposal should provide tons of details about opportunities to sell books at various times and if it doesn’t, ask them why. If you are developing the proposal with the authors, make sure this section is as thorough as possible and keep adding to it as you build your sales prospects. When you launch a new title and want to meet with booksellers, libraries, specialty retailers, museum stores and digital experts all at once you can look into attending BookExpo America (BEA) held in May every year. That can be costly so you’ll need a big plan and finished books to maximize that investment. The Spring/Fall concept is outdated in today’s online publishing environment but there are reasons to time releases to seasonal grids because of the way brick-and-mortar stores buy and how marketing cycles spin. Honestly, if you try hard enough a title with significant depth can find a way to be relevant every day of the year.

Aside from the release date timing, there are other important timing considerations. Build buzz around your project so there are layers of reader engagement that can be timed at intervals. Excerpts can be leaked strategically. Say you are producing a book surrounding the wedding of a Royal, to be published after the wedding. Magazine blogs can run a selected story from the book months in advance. Send them a few photos and text snippets about the history of the church where they’ll be married. Team up with a florist and devise a coupon for wedding arrangement discounts with every book sold. See if an app developer wants to piggy-back on your content or unique title and create a virtual world of Royal marriages (yuck, I can’t believe I wrote that).

Whatever Universe you are stepping into follow the layers and tentacles of surrounding platforms and envision how you’ll need to be ready when you see a chance to gain audience share. We’re going to be Setting Absolutes when I return next. Meanwhile, why not get into salvaging whatever is washing up in your backyard?