Chip MacGregor

December 10, 2012

Why don't publishers want to fast track most books?


Someone wrote and asked, “Do publishers have a ‘fast track’ for an idea that is time sensitive? Do they leave room for hot topics in their publishing pipeline?”

Sure, publishers have a fast track, but they use it very carefully. When you turn in your completed manuscript, it’s usually going to sit with the publisher for a year before it hits store shelves. That’s partly because they have artistic and production decisions, but it’s really more of a sales issue — stores order books months in advance. So right now stores are looking at what books they’ll have in their stores next summer. A book that is dropped into a list hasn’t been given much time to create a marketing buzz, it hasn’t been presented to stores to order, and the whole process gets rushed. So publishers don’t want to drop a bunch of new titles into their lists that don’t have support and won’t sell.

What I’ve found is that frequently an author wants to fast track a book, when if fact it would do better if the sales and marketing types put it through the usual process. Every author feels as though he or she can’t wait — that the book needs to be released immediately in order to capture the moment. In my view, that’s usually a time trap. Most books will do better if they aren’t rushed, and allow  the system to work. So keep in mind that, if you’re going to be working with a traditional publisher, you’re probably going to have to take the long view to get the full benefit of the relationship.

At the same time, ebooks allow a faster turnaround, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s possible to get a book out very quickly and speak to an immediate need — but we’ve all seen a bunch of books that were rushed and really not ready for the market. The challenge is to not force a book onto a reading public before both book and market are ready for it. So there’s wisdom in not always being in a hurry. 

Ten years ago I represented Lisa Beamer’s Let’s Roll! Due to the high visibility Lisa had during those post-9/11 days, there were publishers who wanted to take the book and get it out immediately. I was worked at Alive Communications at the time, and we were afraid hurrying the process would result in a book that felt rushed, and that lacked depth and texture. We didn’t want something that simply played on people’s emotions, but a book that told the full story of Todd and Lisa. Fortunately we linked Lisa up with Ron Beers, the publisher at Tyndale, who made sure his team took their time, edited well, really marketed and sold it hard, and the book not only hit #1 on the New York Times list, it remained on the list for months and became the bestselling nonfiction book of the year. Had we rushed it out, I doubt the book would have been as good, or the response as favorable. 

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  • :Donna Marie says:

    This all makes perfect sense, of course, and publishing takes time—period. I think that once we’re so fortunate to have a publishing contract, having spent years (most likely) in the effort TO get published, it’s hard stretching that fateful day that much longer. Of course, I write fiction and what I’m writing isn’t following a trend, so the “fast track” isn’t something that’s even on my mind, but for anyone writing for a trend I would see how this would apply. Also, I’ve never thought writing “for a trend” is a good thing to do anyway.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Publishing is a slow business. You may take a year or two noodling on a project, then another year to write it, and once you turn in your manuscript, the book won’t come out for a year — and it’ll take about six to eight months to get your first royalty report. Slow business, slow money. Good to keep in mind when you want to hurry something.

  • Julia Denton says:

    A nice reminder that patience is a virtue that is sorely needed in today’s culture, even (or especially?) by writers and publishers.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Of course, a writer posting his or her own book on Amazon will see a much faster return… then they have to decide if it’s worth it, Julia.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    I’ve heard people say, “You can have it good or fast, but not both.”

  • paul kisakye says:

    i’ve been encouraged to be a little more patient. thank you, Chip

  • Great post, Chip. Turning up the stove doesn’t make the sauce yummier, and fast-tracking a book certainly won’t make it better. Personally, I’d rather have a great book in a year than a mediocre one in six months. Quality always takes time. And if that extra time can be used to whet the appetite of the readers and increase sales, all the better.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Scottish people have a saying: It takes nine months to have a baby — you can’t put nine women on it and get it done in a month. Some things just take time, Robin.

  • This reminds me of what one wise blogger always says. It’s something like, “Great is better than fast.”

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