how a book gets scheduled

This is Myrtie, a three-legged heeler mix I met in the backyard of an Austin bar while in town for the Texas Tribune Festival. She likes pets VERY MUCH. I’m traveling a lot this month and next, reporting a bunch of stories that I’ll then spend the following weeks/months writing about. I’ll also get revisions of the first draft of the burnout book back, which means holing up evenings and weekends to get them done in time to get the book “into production,” the long process between when the final draft of a book gets submitted and when it actually makes its way into the world.

Those of you in the books world — as editors or writers or publicists or whatever — know all about this, but I find that most people (including myself, up until my first book) are pretty mystified by the process: how do some books (namely: political ones) make their way onto shelves within months, whereas others (fiction, less pressing nonfiction) take years.

I’m not an editor and I don’t work in a publishing house, and I don’t pretend to know all of the particular ins-and-outs of the business (there are much better newsletters for that, especially if you’re interested in selling your own book; I recommend Kate McKean’s). But I’ve been through this enough (the burnout book will be my third book) and am friends with enough authors (fiction and non) that a few things have become clear, from the writing side:

1) There are really only a handful of times when it’s “good” to release a book, and those times are Leading-Directly-To-Summer, Summer-Through-Mid-August, Leading-Up-To-Christmas. Sure, a really good book could theoretically do well whenever, but it’s going to do best when it’s positioned to sell during a time when people are into buying books, asking for recommendations for books, and talking about books in general, aka, summer and the December Holiday Season. (I always remember a small anecdote from Emma Straub’s Instagram, about the serendipity of The Vacationers breaking through: a real combination of the contents, of course, but also the title, the cover, and the placement in airports all over)

2) There are only so many books that a publishing house will push during each of those seasons. There’s only so much publicity staff, and each of those publicists can only handle promoting so many books.

3) As a result, books that the publisher wants to “throw its weight behind” — either because they invested a lot of money in the advance, or because they just think it has the potential to go big/bigger/biggest, can get pushed to a place on the calendar that’s not as crowded.

4) And then there’s the mitigating factor of events that suck all the media oxygen out of the room — especially, at least in the United States, mid-term or presidential elections. Political books can come out in the lead-up to an election, but all other books need to get the fuck out of the way. There’s an argument that some people would crave counterprogramming, which is true, but the larger problem is the question of publicity: just because readers might want new books doesn’t mean that there’s enough space/desire to read articles/interviews/profiles that spread the word about those new books.

This created a problem for the timing of my book, whose natural home probably would’ve fallen right around…..November 2020. The options were: a relative rush, to get it out before, or a more leisurely approach, to get it out January 2021, in correspondence with New Year’s Resolutions (and exactly two years after the date of the original essay’s publication). I fought hard for earlier, earlier, earlier: like everyone else involved, I want the book to be the best it can possibly be, but I’m also keenly aware of how internet time works. Just this week, the New York Times published an article about how burnt out millennials and Gen-Zers are pushing for different workplace conditions, Bloomberg produced a video about how burnout is bad for business, and trend forecaster Cassandra issued a sprawling report focused on. . . burnout.

The issue is salient now; it feels vital and unignorable now, and the quicker I can try and further that conversation, the better. Of course, I still want to be accurate — and, like many writers today, will be paying out of pocket for my own fact checker — and compelling, but I also don’t want an accurate and compelling book that’s past its expiration date.

It’s not that I think that the issues behind burnout will have disappeared by then — hahahahhahahahahha ARE YOU KIDDING ME. It’s that the energy around the election is, especially for millennials, the same energy: pissed off, dissatisfied, increasingly sure that things don’t have to be this way, and we need drastic, holistic change to make them otherwise. Every (domestic) political conversation I hear my friends and peers having — about health care, about child care, about the fatigue of the news cycle, about labor rights and overwork and student debt — is also a burnout conversation. And every burnout conversation is also a political one, mostly because the only way we can truly address the micro and personal afflictions of burnout is by changing policy and positions on the macro scale.

Which is why I’m so pleased that, barring some disaster, the book will be coming out in September 2020 — with a pre-order link coming soon. I burnt out writing the book this summer and I’m going to burn out again during the editing process but this larger conversation feels more and more urgent — and I can’t wait to continue having it with all of you, repeating and demanding that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Things I Read and Loved This Week:

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