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Publishing Note: Books Are Supposed To Last—Give Them Time


It isn’t surprising to be impatient, because we’ve been conditioned to expect immediate gratification. When you send a text message, you want an instant reply. Click on a link in a social media post and if it takes more than two seconds to load, you think there’s something wrong with your cell phone. On the other end of the spectrum, some things are meant to take time and endure over time. Books are one of them.

You know what was used to manufacture books before paper, ink, glue, and other perishable goods? Before books were bound together as they are today, before parchment, scrolls, or lumps of clay, the medium of choice was stone. Our predecessors used to chisel characters onto stone slabs because they last a long time. In the roughly 5,000 years since humans began writing on stone tablets, one thing hasn’t changed: the expectation that written words are meant to endure. Since today’s books are supposed to last a long time—whether in print or digital form—when we publish a new book, we should give it time to find its audience and succeed. In that regard, giving books time to achieve their potential is much like sound financial investment advice.

Adopting a long-range perspective on book publishing affects short-term as well as long-term plans. In the short run, this perspective should influence decisions about format and production values of the print book. It should impact choices made in developing and creating the ebook, such as legacy URL links. Similarly, any audiobook should be produced to endure. Short and long-term planning should shape the marketing and publicity plans we develop and implement, as well as when and where we invest our promotional dollars. It informs how we interpret data such as sales reports, ad campaign results, social media performance, and so forth. A lens with a focal point in the more extended future—say, three years rather than nine months—will make this information look different than a lens focusing on what happens in 30 or 60 days from the publication date.

Clearly, in the long term, taking a longer view relates to the backlist life of the book. Some books, particularly nonfiction titles, have greater potential for ongoing, steady, modest sales. They run more of a marathon, running somewhere in the pack, as opposed to sprinting in first place out of the gate. If your book offers business advice that is time bound, then it may not age well. But if your book’s nuggets of advice are timeless, then it will be as valuable five years from now as it is today. If you plan to publish more than one book, then your backlist becomes all the more valuable, both as a track record of success when you try to sell the new book into booksellers, and as a companion sale when the new title comes out. All of these factors are reasons to consider not just your book’s short term but how you are preparing for the long term success of your book.