The One on Lists
Sometimes I take my own knowledge of the publishing industry for granted. And, worse, because many of my friends also work in the industry, I forget that most people have no idea what I'm talking about when I start flinging around words like "remaindered" and "Pre-Sales" and "performance bonus." If that's ever the case here, I hope you know that you're always free to leave me a note about it in the comments--I'm happy to explain if I can. The questions I keep getting about BLACK IS THE COLOR are: Why is it coming out in Spring 2013 instead of 2012? And Are you upset about that?
You all know that I worked in Editorial for about a year and a half; I have a pretty good grasp on why some books are scheduled the way they are. It all boils down to the needs of a publisher's lists. By lists, I mean the complete list of books scheduled to be published in any given season, such as Spring 11 (the books that are being released now). All of the houses tend to label their lists differently. HarperCollins, for instance, uses Winter/Summer/Fall ("Winter" being everything from December --> March), but other houses use Spring/Summer/Fall. Random House, until recently, referred to lists as Spans, meaning that the in-house language for each list was Span 1, Span 2, Span 3.
Balancing lists is extremely important. I'm not sure if she has an equivalent at other houses, but at my former employer, we had a person whose entire job consisted of juggling the enormous lists and making sure that we weren't overloaded with YA titles or MG titles on any given season. Or, if the company decided to buy 20324092 werewolf properties, she would develop what's called a "pipeline" to make sure that these titles were spread out amongst the lists well enough that they wouldn't compete with one another. Pipeline is a sorta-fancy word for publishing schedule. The pipeline for BitC is currently Spring 13, Spring 14, and Spring 15.
The average book takes 18 months to go from manuscript to bound book. That number factors in the amount of time it'll take for the editor and writer to work on revisions, for all of the various copyediting steps (you have the copyedited manuscript, then galleys/first pass, then second pass, third pass, etc.), as well as design and production to get everything for the project in order. It also gives publicity and marketing enough time to develop well-rounded plans for it. Some books take longer to go through the process--and these are the ones that generally involve artwork--and others seem to blitz through it in the blink of an eye.
When a book is published is rarely a decision based on the quality of a manuscript. Yes, there are certain instances in which an editor, anticipating major changes and wanting to give the author plenty of time to work through them, will schedule a book two years out. And, like I mentioned before, books involving artwork often take longer and involve more passes to get the layout and artwork just right. However, scheduling usually depends on:
1) When the book is purchased. Right now editors are buying for Fall 12 or Spring 13.
2) How crowded a list is. Meaning, how many titles (and types of titles) are on any given list. Depending on the size of the publisher, a seasonal list can fill up FAST. You also don't want to publish five dystopian projects on the same list.
3) The author's track record/previous titles. By this I mean: if an author is publishing a series, that series will almost always be pubbed in the same season (Spring 12, Spring 13, Spring 14, etc.). ALSO: traditionally, Fall is seen as the typical release season for BIG name authors and projects. I think it has something to do with holiday shopping, and is reflected more on the adult side of things, but I'm not 100% sure. Spring and Summer are seen as better lists to launch a debut series/author on since they're out from under the Big Names' shadows.
4) If the title corresponds with some upcoming event/anniversary, or with a holiday/if publisher thinks it'll be a good fit for certain holiday promotions. The reason you see a lot of romance-type books come out in December is that this, traditionally, is when Valentine's Day-related books come out.
When you see a project jump ahead in the schedule and appear to be coming out in under a year or even within a few months, it's called "crashing." (That's we called it in the house I worked at, though now I'm wondering if everyone has a different term for it...) It's a great description of what actually happens when the publisher decides something needs to come out RIGHT NOW RIGHT AWAY NOW NOW NOW--departments have to break out of their usual routine and SCRAMBLE. The author finds themselves having to turn around revisions in a matter of weeks instead of months, the manuscript gets whipped through copyediting, design has to drop everything and pull together some kind of interior and cover design so ARCs can be printed. People start staying late and getting grumpy and there's no fudging the due dates anymore. It is Serious Business to crash a project onto a list. I just saw one that was bought in December and will be coming out at the end of this year, and it makes me wonder if it's because the publisher is worried about the viability of the genre or what, because, YIKES. That's a lot of stress.
If a project is in really, really, really good shape, there's a better chance for it to be crashed onto an earlier list in the same publication year (Spring 12 instead of Fall 12, for instance), but I've never thought of crashing as a particularly good thing. People are moving so fast that there are more chances for errors and, if the project isn't turned into production on time, the galleys/ARCs will be printed late, and there's a chance they'll miss being sent out in a publicity or marketing mailing to reviewers. It also means that a title might not been presented at that season's Launch meeting, when everyone in the division (and the company's sales force) gets to hear about upcoming titles and marketing plans.
Other reasons why a book might be crashed: the publisher is trying to capitalize on a trend, one publisher is trying to get a leg up on another publisher who has a similar book coming out, or the topic is extremely time-sensitive (such as a book on an election or natural disaster).
The reason why BitC won't be published until Spring 13? Hyperion has smaller lists, and their Fall 12 list is full to-the-max with Big Names. It makes more sense to launch a new series in a season it'll have a little more breathing room in--and me, upset? Not at all. I'm an impatient person, so I had the same reaction as many of you (judging by my inbox and the GoodReads page!) which was: "Ahhhhhhhh 2013?!" That seems like it's forever and a day away! But... it's really not that far away at all, at least in the publishing world. AND, if I had to guess, galleys will be printed and ready to read by next summer.
Does that make sense? Let me know if you have any questions!