When is a Publication Date?

Weeks can pass before an e-book release is followed by the availability of the same book in print as a POD paperback. So which should we call release date? How do other authors calculate the date when they should hold a launch?

This question hit home when I found I should check my blogs more often. I had posted a blog entry here to announce that my latest Iskander series novel, “Arrival” had been released in early October, but nothing about it since. Even earlier I had posted an announcement that Arrival was soon to be released, but that was another “no news happened” headline. At least with the October announcement I posted the back cover blurb.

The problem is that my novels really have two release dates, an online one and a local one. The e-book is the first release and Arrival’s happened on October 6th. The release, or rather availability, of the POD paperback happens a week or so later when Amazon.com have set up their site update. Then, later still, Amazon.ca tells me that they have ‘arrived’ and shipped the couple I’d ordered early. Eventually – somewhat later still – I can estimate when I will have my local batch of PODs from LightningSource to hand and can safely fix a launch date.

Usually I don’t buy copies at retail, but the way the Canadian dollar has nosedived since release date (or is that publication date?) I decided to get a couple to have on hand and wait until the exchange rate recovered before ordering a batch through my publisher for readings, signings and to send away for contests and reviews. Wouldn’t you know the deadline for sending out the contest copies loomed ever closer and I blinked. I bought a batch, a small batch, at one of the worst rates of exchange I could find. No profit on these copies.

In October, as I saw the exchange rate tank, I decided to do most of my promotion online. You can be excused for not seeing it, I never did get around to more than posting a cover image on about a dozen sites. No big bash online. Maybe I should wait to find how Arrival does in the contest before heating up the electrons. I had hoped to put on a bit of a bash at a local art gallery for my POD launch, but not having the copies stymied that. November was the last possible month at the gallery and I don’t think it opens in the new year until February.

The thing is – why should I get in a panic about launch date? The novel isn’t put out by one of those big houses that monitor sales every split second and decide whether the author is worth keeping by the instantaneous earnings rate. It isn’t in the stores of impatient book chains who will remainder it and ship it back at publisher expense if copies don’t fly off the shelves. I’ve only ever spoken to the managers of one brick and mortar store, and they stock a copy or two and act like human beings about sales, not parking meters.

The wisest people in the publishing business say that a readership takes time to build, and the more novels a writer has available, the bigger the following. It’s quite obvious that this is next to impossible for a new author relying on distribution by the bigger houses; publishers with absolutely no patience who only back writers with huge fan bases. If the first novel doesn’t reach a level to cover advance and distribution the next will get a very jaundiced reception. A new writer is betting against very long odds signing with them.

The independents who only publish paper copies are not immune to the same problems – they have to pay printing, warehousing, shipping, and returns on the books they produce and will soon be in the red if their authors don’t dash about like blue-assed flies selling them. The clock begins to tick at publication date, and there is no time for slacking off if author hopes to get another contract.

The publishers who work in electronic and print-on-demand media can afford to be easier markets for a new author to gain momentum in. There is no deadline for taking the e-book off line and the contracts run for years (3 to 5 is common), and as for the POD copies, they are never printed unless a customer has ordered them, and so no trees, fuel, or money wastes while the books are shuffled around the country. Most e-publishers have no truck with returns. If the bookseller doesn’t ensure the order was serious, it’s up to them to find another customer.

The only person storing copies of my books is me and they’re few enough they don’t get in the way. If I was to go out and hustle them at the local social events next summer I could sell them all. I’ll see what the weather and the gas price is like and decide whether I’d rather sit at home writing than go out and sell. (That’s a no-brainer). As I figured in October – it is a much less wasteful and stressful business to build up a readership online. For the POD copies, I only have to point the readers to Amazon and they have less hassle than they would driving to a store through city traffic. And the e-book? It costs nothing to instantaneously transmit a file over the internet, and the price of an e-book (unless it comes from a NY publisher) is low enough that the loss on exchange is a dime or two.

I’ll start the online launch of Arrival here on the blog – next installment later in the week. And the POD book launch locally? When I damned well feel like it.

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