October 8, 2012
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

(from the London School of Economics.  I know who neither of these people are, but they are clearly the people who make the decisions about publication dates everywhere in the world.  You can tell by their serious expressions.)

“Dear Author, your book has a publication date!  It officially comes out on October 2nd!”

What does that mean?

If you were going to go with the obvious explanation, you would think that means that all stores everywhere are getting your book from the BookDeliveryTruck early in the morning of October 2nd, and then they rush to put them out on their shelves all shiny and new before customers swarm unto them.

To understand about the magic of pub dates (as we will hereforth be abbreviating them), you have to understand first about release dates.  And about our warehouse.

So!  First Second is a publisher; our business model depends on producing books and then, you know, mailing them to people so they can buy them and read them.  Luckily, the mailing part of things is not my job.  And we don’t keep all the books we print in our offices (thank god) but instead in a warehouse that we keep in Virginia.  One of the great parts about being part of Macmillan (our ginormous parent company) is that they deal with all of the mailing-books-to-people part of the business.

So in Virginia there’s this warehouse (which I think may actually be three warehouses because there are so many books in them) that contains our books, and also FSG’s books, and Tor’s books, and St. Martin’s books, and Palgrave’s books, and Picador’s books, and all the MacKids books, and also has our distribution clients’ books in them (like D&Q and Papercutz).  And there are many, many books there.

The warehouse (and its staff) is responsible for processing orders from bookstores and distributors and other stores who want books and anyone who wants to do an author event and dealing with us at the office wanting books to be sent to conventions and wanting office copies and author copies and all of that.  We are very, very glad that they are there doing this so we don’t have to be!

So what happens when we call up the warehouse a year in advance and say, ‘Hey warehouse, here is our publication date list for Fall 2013,’ is that they take that and work backwards to find the best date to start shipping out books so the books will arrive on the dates we’ve designated for the pub dates.  Because of all the logistics involved, we try to do this as early as possible.  We’re finalizing our F13 pub dates now.

(Pub dates are always Tuesdays.  This is mysterious to everyone.)

So for example, Broxo came out just last week on 10/2.  That gave it a ‘release date’ — the date when the warehouse started shipping copies — of 9/13.

Does that mean that if you’re a person who has ordered a book through our parent company’s website and you live really locally in Virginia, like right next to the warehouse, that you’ll receive the book on 9/14?

Well — probably not.

Initial orders of First Second graphic novels tend to be in the thousands or tens of thousands of copies.  Just try to think about the logistics of mailing these all out in a day — along with the other books that share the same release day.  I can barely get together a convention order of a few hundred books in a day — which is probably why I don’t work in our warehouse!

So what our warehouse does is prioritize.  (Epic revelation, right?)

Because they’re trying to organize the books they’re sending out on 9/13 so that they can all get to stores around 10/2, first the warehouse sends out orders to distributors, who are mailing books out to smaller stores, schools, and libraries, and to larger stores that either (like B&N) have a central receiving center from which they send books to their satellite stores or (like Amazon) are mailing a large order of books out to individual customers. This first shipment typically takes multiple days.

When all those orders are mailed out and the distributors and large stores are turning them around in their own warehouses so everyone they work with can get the book by the publication date, our warehouse begins sending out books to the stores that have ordered directly from us (and I think this schedule may be organized by distance-away-from-Virginia, so that stores in Alaska aren’t receiving their books at the very tail end of the list).

That way (if we did it right) books are available to readers everywhere at about the same time — and that time is the publication date.

Is it the exact publication date of 10/2?  Probably not.  So you may go to a local store and see books that you could’ve sworn weren’t out until next week — or, conversely, go to a store on a book’s publication date and have them tell you that the book’s not in yet because of shipping or distributor delays.

Despite the fact that books are clearly in our offices and in our warehouse before that official publication date, we try not to do author events that involve sales or sales at conventions before then — we feel like it’s not really fair to all the stores around the US if we’re like, ‘San Francisco’s Litquake Festival, YOU may have this book on sale before anyone else does in the United States!’

Pub dates: more complicated than they at first seemed!

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