Market Crash: How to Publish a Bestseller in 33 Days

In English Language by Guest Contributor

• Beaufort Books has rushed several titles to market, including O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It and, more recently, Angelo Codevilla’s The Ruling Class.

• Crashing a book is a gamble. But it can also be an effective means of landing a book about a hot topic on the bestseller list.

By Margot Atwell, Associate Publisher, Beaufort Books

I’ve been told by my authors that one of the most frustrating parts of publishing a book is the long lag between a publisher signing the book and the book actually hitting bookstore shelves. Authors don’t all understand that during the nine, twelve, or eighteen months that seem quiet to them, publishers are avidly working to edit, design, typeset, proofread, sell-in, and market their book. Barnes & Noble buyers want a cover, confirmed price, and page count six months before the publication date before they’ll think about buying a book.

But every now and then, a book comes along that needs to be published now. Maybe it’s the autobiography of the winner of American Idol who is hot right now. Maybe the author is running for office in a few months. Or maybe the author is going on Oprah. Whatever the reason, exceptions can be made, and books can be published — in print format — much faster than traditional publishing wisdom says they can. I learned that firsthand working on If I Did It, and have done it again several times since then, with Sherry Jones’ novel The Sword of Medina, and most recently, The Ruling Class.

Beaufort’s first — and most nerve-wracking — foray into crashing books was in the sluggish summer of 2007. While other publishers were taking summer Fridays and going to the Hamptons, Beaufort was in conversation with the Goldman family and their agent, who had just secured the rights to O.J. Simpson’s infamous “fictional” tell-all, If I Did It. They had been awarded the rights in a bankruptcy case and ordered by the judge to “monetize the asset” (and publish the book). We signed an agreement on August 11th, and promised we would have books on shelves in time for Kim and Fred Goldman’s September 13th appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Publishing the book on this schedule required a heroic effort from everyone involved in the process. The sales team at our distributor, Midpoint Trade Books, had to approach their buyers and convince them to buy thousands of copies of a book that was being published in one month. Most of the text was finalized already, but we were adding an introduction and afterword that hadn’t been written yet. My production team gave me a schedule that left three days for copyediting and one day for typesetting. I had to take a few deep breaths and trust that everyone could get his or her part done in time.

A combination of luck, constant communication, and hawk-eyed attention to detail meant that we were actually able to get the book off to press on September 5th. Our printer printed and bound the books in just under a week, and — even more impressively — managed a complex series of drop-shipments to get over 100,000 copies out to all the major accounts before the show.

The book was available for purchase on Amazon the day Fred and Kim went on Oprah, and the entire Beaufort and Midpoint team popped a cork and breathed a sigh of relief. All our hard work was rewarded within a few weeks when If I Did It hit #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. Not bad for an independent publisher!

This July, when Beaufort’s President, Eric Kampmann, came in to work raving about an article he had read in The American Spectator and mentioned that Rush Limbaugh had spent almost an hour on his show talking about the influential long essay by Boston University Professor Angelo Codevilla, we realized we had another big opportunity. The article was already sparking debate online, and we wanted to give Mr. Codevilla a bigger and more permanent platform for his controversial ideas.

We realized it was crucial to get the book out in advance of what will likely be a hotly contested election in November, as the issues in the book speak to the heart of what the Tea Party Movement has been criticizing about Washington. Having crashed three books in as many years, we were confident that we could get the book out in time for a September 12th pub date.

The book is on sale now, and we’re watching eagerly to see how it does.

Most books would not benefit from being rushed to market. If a book or its author isn’t already being talked about on the news, chances are the book really does need the support of a traditional marketing plan. For most titles, the publisher needs months or even a year to lay the groundwork for the book, seek out its audience, talk it up to booksellers, librarians, reviewers, and readers. When a publisher crashes a book, it’s taking a carefully calculated risk that present relevance and newsworthiness of a book outweighs the value of having time to introduce it to the market properly. Even Beaufort has been on the winning and the losing side of that gamble. Crashing a book is just one tool in the toolbox of a publisher that is willing to be flexible and look beyond the traditional formula for publishing a book.

DISCUSS: In the Digital Age, Are Long Lead Times Still Necessary for Publishers?

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.