The Speed of Self-Publishing is Best When You Go Slow

by | Nov 23, 2009

Will you have the time?

Will you have the time?

A couple of weeks ago we took our son and his friend to lunch at Sam’s Anchor Cafe in lovely downtown Tiburon, a tony suburb of San Francisco that sticks out into the Bay. It’s a popular spot and attracts a lot of people coming from San Francisco on the delightful ferries that ply the bay. Bicyclists abound, dog walkers stroll, and there are numerous eateries to provide for people’s appetites.

Walking toward Sam’s, which features dining on its deck over the water amid sailboats moored along the piers and marinas, we spotted this parking sign: “3 Minutes Only Anytime.” Three minutes? Holy cow. There isn’t much on-street parking in Tiburon, but I was left puzzled.

What exactly can you get done in three minutes? It seems to take me about three minutes just to collect myself and get out of my car these days.

I wonder if this is just the latest sign of our rush-rush, Twitter-enabled life. Is three minute parking like microblogging for parking lot attendants? Is it just right for the ADD crowd?

We Have Slow Food, What About Slow Books?

This hurried aspect to life often collides with the realities of publishing. One of the common complaints about traditional publishing, with its seasonal lists, long response times, and endless editorial meetings is that it can take a long time to get into print. From acceptance of your manuscript it’s not unusual for a book to take 1.5 years to appear in bookstores.

Self-publishing cheerleaders often trumpets its ability to be more responsive, and to get to market much faster than the big guys, and that’s certainly true. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Books, by their nature, take time. Sometimes a long time. It’s understandable that an author, after spending months or years researching, writing, and re-writing their manuscript, will want to get the book to print as soon as feasible.

Taking the Time to Do It Right

But there’s no good reason to short-change the time it takes to properly edit, design, layout, and proof the book. Up front it may also take time to find a good match with an editor, to contract with a designer who can execute the right kind of design for your genre, to assemble the entire team that will be needed to produce a high quality book.

Once in motion, the team you’ve assembled will work together to produce a quality product. But this also takes time. Editing a 300-page history book, checking references, making sure citations are accurate and uniform, making style sheets to guide editors and proofreaders to the usages that occur in the book—all essential tasks that are time comsuming.

On the design side, giving your designer time to get familiar with your material, to scope out other books in your genre against which you may be competing, or with which you may be cross-selling, is time well spent. Then your designer is going to need time to come up with her unique vision for your book. In my case, I usually present three distinct and different solutions to the communication challenge that’s presented by your book. More time.

Illustrators, cover designers, indexers, proofreaders all need time to do their job properly. As publisher, it’s up to you to make sure you have the time in your schedule to allow your team to do its best work.

Having a Plan Makes Sense

You need a plan that’s based on your strategy for your book. For instance:

  • If you plan to sell through nationwide bookstore distribution, you will probably try to get prepublication reviews from the major prepub reviewers: Publishers Weekly, Libarary Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Review, and Foreword Magazine. You could add in the New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, BookPage, Quality Books and any book clubs you are thinking of soliciting.

    Since these review sources need Advance Review Copies with promotional material a good 4 months before your official publication date, their schedule may well dictate your publishing schedule.
  • If you would like to get corporate sponsorship or a promotional tie-in for the launch of your book, you will need sufficient time to pitch your proposal and sign partners before going to press. Many of these arrangements require the sponsor’s branding on the books themselves, so you need to have this in place before going to press.
  • If your book is tied to a holiday or other special event, you will need quite a bit of advance time to make absolutely certain you have your book in hand well before you need it. You don’t want to be sitting with 3,000 copies of your book that arrived right after the special event.

So although we live in a “hurry-up” world, taking the time to plan thoughtfully will go a long way to reducing the stress new publishers experience. Bring your “team” into your planning as soon as possible. Their experiences with previous projects will be available to you, an invaluable aid as you get ready to launch your book.

And a tip from me: that errand will take longer than 3 minutes. Pull around the corner and park somewhere else.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Sandra Hutchison

    I agree with all of this. I would just caution folks about actually expecting nationwide bookstore distribution unless they are already known to the trade or have some other compelling platform. And for ebook publishers only, I see little point to having a four-month ARC period — at least as long as the author has no way of garnering reviews at the retailers pre-publication. (Having pre-ordering available would be my #1 wish for improving the process right now.) It’s crazy to expect someone to not only write a review, but then remember to go back and put the review up when the book is actually available, or to read a review and then remember to go back later and buy the book when it’s actually available.
    It’s also a bit pie-in-the-sky to expect any reviews at some of the publications you mention when you are self-publishing, unless you are already known, or you’re comfortable paying quite a lot for something that will probably be clearly segregated from the regular reviews. (I’m still torn on that question for myself.)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Sandra, thanks for your thoughtful comments. National bookstore distribution is certainly achievable for the right book and the right author, and I have clients doing it all the time. But it’s not for the casual publisher, that’s for sure.

      Keep in mind you’re reading an article that’s almost 4 years old, and direct to ebook publishing had barely started.

      You can list your book on Amazon and get plenty of reviews before your pub date, as Guy Kawasaki just did for the launch of his new book APE, which had almost 100 reviews on publication day.

      As far as “pie in the sky” is concerned, you need to realize that authors are self-publishing many kinds of books these days, regularly landing on bestseller lists and getting the attention of—and contracts from—traditional publishing agents and editors. I don’t recommend authors pay for reviews in most cases, and although the odds are against your book being reviewed in some of these publications, it’s certainly not out of the question.

      Good luck with your book and your new blog.

      • Sandra Hutchison

        Sorry, I should have noticed the date. I did not know you can list your ebook on Amazon before it is published. That would be very exciting news for me. Do you have any further information on that, because the only information I’ve been able to find suggests that it’s not available to self-publishers except through Createspace (I’m epub only at this point).

  2. admin

    @Linda Jay, thanks for your input. You are a resource that writers should know about, and I appreciate your thoughts. By the way, I didn’t see anyone parking there the whole time I was in Tiburon!

  3. Linda Jay Geldens

    Excellent observations, Joel! I particularly agree with you about Taking the Time to Do It Right. When I copyedit a 300-page book, I know it will take me over 40 hours to edit it properly. As for the hilarious 3-minute parking sign, I know we can cook 3-minute eggs, and on Google, there is even something called 3-minute therapy, but a 3-minute parking space wouldn’t work for me — I’d come out to find a ticket from the Tiburon cops, for sure!

  4. admin

    @Herrin, you are welcome. It’s often seemed odd to me that authors, having slaved sometimes for years over their book, get so impatient to get in print. Having a schedule really helps.

    @Chris, “slow” meaning taking the time necessary to get it right. Or, “not fast”? You can do this quickly (as you well know!) but my point is to give it the time it needs. And watch out for those 3-minute parking spaces!

  5. Christopher Finlan

    Define “slow” – :)

  6. Herrin

    A great reminder and such an important issue in our pretend busy culture. If we want to succeed and be healthy we need to embrace effectiveness over efficiency, especially when dealing with people.

    “You manage things and lead people” ~ Stephen R Covey

    Thanks again Joel! :-)

    • Anne

      Hi Joe,
      your article inspired me! I keep thinking I am ready to
      publish….then…another thought!
      Thank you.
      Anne :)
      ps…My website is suspended for
      a few days. Rrrr!



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