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Tuesday: The Holy Day of Publishing and How It Forms...

I was looking at the March slate of releases a couple months back. There were so many awesome March releases that we could barely fit all the reviews in the last week of February and the first couple weeks of March so that the reviews were timely. It got me to thinking about Tuesday, the Holy Day of Publishing.

It’s on Tuesdays and no other day on which books are released. In fact, it’s not just books, but it’s movies, music, and games. Retailers call it Super Tuesday (not to be confused with the political Super Tuesday). When I first started researching why Tuesday was the release date over some other day of the week, I didn’t get any definitive answer. I went straight to American Association of Publishers (AAP) and received the response that if Tuesday was the day for release as I was asserting, it was unknown to them the reason why. I figured that was a source not worth following up.

I turned to a publishing insider who indicated she did not know, but speculated it might be because of the NY Times lists. My local bookseller thought that was the reason too. I researched more and sent an email to Dr. Alan Sorensen, a Stanford Professor, who has written peer reviewed literature on the NYTimes Bestseller list and queried him. He did not think it was related to the list itself and thought it was something much more mundane, speculating that Tuesday might be the most convenient day from a shipping and restocking standpoint.

I emailed the NY Times.

Rankings for The New York Times Best Sellers List are based on the traditional definition of a week. Thus, stores report their sales for a selling week that starts on Sunday AM and ends with their close of business Saturday night.

Our Mondays and Tuesdays are spent processing and tabulating all the retail reports, researching titles and all the activities related to producing the lists.

The NYT Book Review closes the section on Wednesdays, and this is why the final rankings are available then to subscribers to TimesDigest.

The publishers’ Tuesday release date phenomenon is unrelated.

The Times Digest, by the way, is available at $1 per day. Not bad. Then, of course, I blogged last week, and Ms. Roberts’ consulted with the head of marketing at Penguin who told her

This actually came from the BIG retailers (Wal-Mart,Target.etc). It started with the Music and video companies and books were added later on. They wanted one day when all of the new release big entertainment products would be on sale (it’s now called super Tuesdays).

[Aside: Frankly responses like this only encourage me to use Nora Roberts as an unpaid research wank in the field of publishing. I resist, however, as I know if I inundate her with frivilous (read any) emails, she will a) ban me and b) only be able to write 5 books a year instead of the usual 6 0r 7 making me the object of hate for millions. And frankly I need no help in that endeavor. ]

But why Tuesday? Unless I get someone from Wal-mart, Target, etc., I guess we may never know although I think that Dr. Sorensen probably has the right of it – that its due to some stocking convenience. That was the answer put forth by a commenter at this site.

Now, just because the official release date is on a Tuesday doesn’t actually mean that the books go on the shelves on Tuesdays. At my Waldens, books that have a release date of Tuesday but do not have a “lay down” date can be on the shelves the week before and usually Thursday at the latest.

On sale date or street date or laydown dates were the result of a number of independent bookstores backed by the ABA (American Bookseller Association) to level the playing field. Apparently the chains were getting in the books sooner than the indies and putting the hot books out early and thus gaining a competitive advantage. Lay down dates for certain books were then paid for by the publisher and penalties, such as future shipments being late, were meted out. The big retailers who wanted Super Tuesday in the first place are well known for breaking the street date for books, games and everything.

This is agonizing for readers and writers. It’s agonizing for readers because they want the book RIGHT NOW and they know that the booksellers have it in the BACKROOM and are intentionally depriving the readers of their CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to read the book RIGHT NOW! Authors are agonized because if the book is dribbled out a little here and a little there on different dates and different weeks, this can prevent them from getting on a list – any list.

Here’s what Release Days have trained people to do – each month, we look for the next new thing. When compiling shopping lists for April, we aren’t considering the books released in January, February, March. We are only considering April (maybe March but definitely not as far back as Feb or Jan). The reason for this is because we have already contemplated the previous months releases and have either bought or mentally discarded the slate of books. It is not within the consumer dialect to go back and reconsider what we have already discarded.

We are making judgments on how our book money is spent. Do I really want to reconsider some old books I’ve already deemed not good enough for my precious dollars when I’ve got all these new shiny books to consider? This is the mentality that readers employ and I believe this to be true because each month, my reader friends and I make out lists for purchase and not once have I remembered people identifying books from a previous month’s release. Because a mass market book has a shelf life of approximately 3 months. Because in looking at the Bookscan data for the top 100 romance novels of the week, a book is rarely on there after a month, let alone 3.

There’s been a lot of talk about how to make the RITAs have greater prominence in the readers’ minds. Essentially, when you want readers to seek out the RITA winners, you are asking them to reconsider books that they’ve already passed over. You are wanting them to ignore the shiny new books just released on SUPER TUESDAY.

I’ve offered any number of sugggestions but the best one I can think of is to re-issue the RITA winners or finalists with a big gold star and a special back that tells the reader that this book is one that she might have passed over, but should reconsider. Because it takes a lot of word of mouth to get a reader to reconsider her original judgment. A list of books released won’t do it, but a physical incarnation in your bookstore? With that gold star we equate with excellence from kindergarten? It just might.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

23 Comments

  1. Angelle
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 04:36:06

    As for the anxious waiting and everyone’s constitutional right to get the hot book NOW — I want Harry Potter #7 NOW. I know it’s available somewhere in the vast publisher warehouse.

  2. Kaveman’s Daily Feed of Informative Blogs » Tuesday: The Holy Day of Publishing and How It Forms Reader …
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 04:59:35

    […] Original post by Jane […]

  3. Sarah McCarty
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 05:00:51

    So true! I have been known to appear at Walden’s promptly at opening on Super Tuesday wanting my book. When the store tells me the book I’m looking for is in back and not out yet, (YES! *gasp* this has been tried a time or two!) I have been also known to fold my arms across my chest and say, “I’ll wait.”.

    I want my books when I want them, darn it!

  4. Nora Roberts
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 05:03:16

    Oooh, I could be a wank.

    I don’t have anything to confirm this, but my own opinion would be that releasing books on Tues certainly does apply to the NYT. Reporting stores would already be compiling their titles and numbers for the list on Tues. I’d think Tues’s sales would go toward the following weeks numbers. This makes sense to me.

    Re the Ritas, I think it’s all about choice. As it should be. Some readers will be interested enough to check out the finalists and/or winners, buy one they missed or were on the fence about when it was first released. Others won’t. I couldn’t say how many of those books (non-category) would still be on the shelf. I could take last year’s list and check my husband’s bookstore, but that wouldn’t be a fair study. He keeps a lot of backlist, and would likely have more titles than some other outlets.

  5. TeddyPig
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 05:36:09

    EC is doing Wed and Fri now so maybe online publishers will change this.

    Hope EC’s quality improves though.

  6. Tara Marie
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 06:08:48

    I think it’s probably more about getting the books to the stores, shelved and available for the weekend. It’s only those of us obsessive compulsive enough that will show up at stores bright and early Tuesday morning only to be annoyed that they haven’t got their act together enough to have the books out on time–Hello Barnes & Noble :D

    The obsessive compulsive thing can also be used to explain the RITA thing. If you’re part of the on-line romance community your very aware of what’s being released on a monthly and in Jane’s case a weekly basis. We’re also the ones more likely to pour over RT for synopses, carefully picking out the books that hold interest for us. Perhaps the initial RITA post was geared toward readers less obsessive?

  7. Laura Vivanco
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 06:19:24

    Do I really want to reconsider some old books I’ve already deemed not good enough for my precious dollars when I’ve got all these new shiny books to consider? This is the mentality that readers employ and I believe this to be true because each month, my reader friends and I make out lists for purchase and not once have I remembered people identifying books from a previous month’s release.

    Harlequin Mills & Boon seem to have worked this out: they make it easy for readers to check a list of the next month’s releases by including one in the back of each novel and they also assume that, in general, readers won’t go back to books they’ve passed over, therefore it’s only worth keeping a book on the shelf for a month.

    I have the vague impression that in the UK the M&Bs arrive on the shelves on the first Friday of the month, but I could well be wrong about that.

  8. Jackie
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 06:35:40

    Authors are agonized because if the book is dribbled out a little here and a little there on different dates and different weeks, this can prevent them from getting on a list – any list.

    God, yes. And if you don’t make lists…((cue music of doom here))

    I’m seriously considering telling people, when they ask, to please purchase their books via Amazon or B&N.com or Powells.com–any online store instead of at their local bookstore, whether chain or otherwise, because one author told me that those pre-orders count toward the author’s first week of sales. (Whether or not this is true is beyond my meager ability to determine. Thus, I’m only considering telling people this instead of standing on a soapbox and shouting it.)

    It is not within the consumer dialect to go back and reconsider what we have already discarded.

    This one, I have to disagree with you. I’ll happily buy books way after they come out, if people tell me that yes, I really have to read them. Otherwise, I never would have read anything by Chris Moore (who is, next to Neil Gaiman, my Favorite Author Ever).

    Because a mass market book has a shelf life of approximately 3 months.

    Huh. What about trade paperback? Hardcovers? I’d heard that MM has the shortest span because booksellers can strip the covers and return the ruined books, whereas for TPB and HC they cannot strip the covers, and so (apparently) have more incentive to sell those books longer.

    Because in looking at the Bookscan data for the top 100 romance novels of the week, a book is rarely on there after a month, let alone 3.

    And some don’t make it at all. If your book isn’t available in Wal-Mart or Target or Costco or any of the Big Box stores, then you lose a lot — and I mean a lot — of potential readers. I wonder, out of the books that make the Bookscan lists, how many of those were not available for purchase at Wal-Mart?

  9. Jackie
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 06:39:05

    FYI: I just read on the link you provided about shelf life for other formats:

    On average, a mass-market paperback stays on the shelf only 3 months, and in recent years, the trend is toward only 2 months. A trade paperback might stay as long as 6 to 9 months. Hardcovers are available until the paperback comes out or until the next hot, new hardcover pushes the previous one off the display racks. Almost all published books go out of print in 3 months.

    Out of print in three months? Holy [bleep].

  10. Nora Roberts
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 08:04:19

    ~Almost all published books go out of print in 3 months.~

    I can’t quite see this. Speaking as the wife of a bookstore owner. He routinely has author events, and will buy much backlist of the attending authors. Very often these titles are way more than 3 months old. Speaking as a book buyer, I routinely buy backlist books–ones I’ve missed or from newly discovered (to me) authors. They’re often more than a year or two old. I’m not talking about buying them used, but stealing them from my husband’s bookstore, which doesn’t do used.

    I do know that there are times he’s unable to stock certain titles for certain authors at an event, but more often than not he is able through his distributor or through the publisher.

  11. Jane
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 08:06:38

    Teddy Pig – I do wonder how, if at all, the e publishers will change the publishing face even on such a simple level as the distribution day. The major publishers still release on Tuesdays (or 12 pm EST which is Monday for me:) ). My biggest beef with Fictionwise is that it put up the books a week late because its release date is Monday. I’ve often thought it would make sense to release books on Thursday/Friday particularly before a long holiday like Memorial Day or Labor Day. Inevitably some great book comes out the Tuesday after everyone gets back to work.

    Tara Marie – I tend to think that romance readers are all a bit compulsive because we buy so many books. But I also think that consumers, in general, overlook the “old” for the “new”. It’s why bookstores have the “what’s new” and when you get emails from retailers, it’s all about the “new” stuff in the store. The retailers want you to come in and know that if you think all they have is “old” stuff, you won’t. Old stuff is anything you’ve already seen and haven’t purchased. Part of this is probably due to the fact so many sales are impulse purchases.

    Jackie – I have read that somewhere too – that presales count. Enough pre-sales and you might get the notice of a listmaker. As for books considered and then discarded, only word of mouth brings you to buy those “old” books. Simply being on the shelf will not.

    Wal-mart sales, as far as I know, are not calculated in any list’s bestseller because Wal-Mart does not track unique sales. I.e., they do not scan the barcode of the book and then compile lists of book sales. They scan their own upc which shows on your receipt as “book” or “SD [SIlh Desire] etc. Therefore, Wal-Mart has no way of reporting, if they wanted to (which I suspect they don’t), unique sales. This is why Bookscan only represents 50-75% of a book’s sales.

    Feel free to jump in and correct me, if I am wrong, but this is my understanding.

    As for the RITAs, god, I promised myself that I wouldn’t blather on about this anymore, but in order for the RITAs to have more prominence to the general reading public, the impetus has to come from the industry. I.e., a bookseller currently has no motivation to promote the RITAs because half the books (maybe more) aren’t even in her store anymore. Why promote books that have to be special ordered or can’t be special ordered (i.e., the categories). Books are a profit based business. It is not based on quality or educating the masses or any kind of superior notion. It’s all about the Benjamin and you’ve got to make the RITA benjamin related.

    For the reader, that’s an emotional plea. These are the best books ever!
    For the bookseller, that’s a rational plea. These books will sell more and be an easy upsell.

  12. Jayne
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 08:24:09

    It’s only those of us obsessive compulsive enough that will show up at stores bright and early Tuesday morning only to be annoyed that they haven’t got their act together enough to have the books out on time-Hello Barnes & Noble

    TM, I’m with you here. B&N lost me years ago when I went looking for the newest Julia Quinn book on the date of its release and those bozos still didn’t have it out. I slunk home in a deep funk then had the bright idea to call Waldenbooks. “Oh, yes we have it” the perky sales manager told me over the phone. And since they are a much closer drive for me and seem to stock their books better, that’s where I’ve been going for the past 4 years.

  13. Kerry Allen
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 08:51:46

    I guess I’m a freak (like this is news to me). The only books I plan for in advance are autobuy authors (and I have one of those planned through February 2008). Otherwise, I’m perfectly happy picking up something from 3 months or even 3 years ago (or longer) if it strikes my fancy when I’m browsing.

    Then again, I’m also among the meager 4 percent of book buyers who buy online, I tend to buy in bulk 3 or 4 times a year instead of dribbling my book budget away every week, and I never set foot in WalMart, so my habits aren’t exactly mainstream.

  14. Jane
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 09:43:29

    I wonder how many books an author gets to make it on the list before they are dropped? I mean, La Nora herself wrote what 100 books? before she was a NYT Bestseller? It seems like if you don’t make it within a few years of your initial publishing date, an author is out. Which I find kind of sad.

  15. Jackie
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 09:47:08

    I wonder how many books an author gets to make it on the list before they are dropped? I mean, La Nora herself wrote what 100 books? before she was a NYT Bestseller? It seems like if you don’t make it within a few years of your initial publishing date, an author is out. Which I find kind of sad.

    I’ll keep you posted… ;-)

  16. Jaci Burton
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 10:19:41

    I wonder how many books an author gets to make it on the list before they are dropped? I mean, La Nora herself wrote what 100 books? before she was a NYT Bestseller?

    I don’t think most authors have this luxury nowadays. They have a very limited time period to do well, or no further contracts will be forthcoming. Now I don’t know if that means making a bestseller list or just having a decent sell through, but you have to do well enough to continue to get more contracts from your publisher. It’s a very competitive industry out there, with more authors and tighter publisher budgets. You get in there, you sell well within your first half dozen books or so, or you’re out.

    This is just me guessing, of course. Someone for the love of God correct me if I’m wrong. ;-)

  17. Nora Roberts
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 11:07:45

    Well, it wasn’t a 100 for me, and when I started, I started in category. Back in the stone ages the NYT did not, would not track category Romance for its list. That changed.

    However, I have many writing friends who’ve been writing and publishing for years without making major lists. Sell-through is key.

  18. Jackie
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 12:25:42

    What counts as decent sell through? I’ve heard that up to 50% returns on MM paperback is still a success, but 50% returns for TPB or hardcover is a failure.

    Anyone?

    Bueller?

  19. Fiona Glass
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 12:46:27

    Here in the UK it’s super Thursday. :) And our bookstores seem to carry titles for much longer than yours – months or even years in the case of popular authors, classic authors or those who sell steadily and well. Although it’s changing, even here, and authors that would have been mainstays a few years ago have vanished off the shelves altogether…

  20. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 20, 2007 @ 19:32:09

    This is agonizing for readers and writers. It’s agonizing for readers because they want the book RIGHT NOW and they know that the booksellers have it in the BACKROOM and are intentionally depriving the readers of their CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to read the book RIGHT NOW!

    How dare they…. I can just see it. Sooner or later, a reader is going to sue over the trauma inflicted by being forced to wait. ;o)


    the best one I can think of is to re-issue the RITA winners or finalists with a big gold star and a special back


    lol well, i hope this doesn’t get me booted out of the author club, but i rarely enter contests and I never buy a book just because somebody won one. Even if it’s somebody I know/love/adore. Now I usually buy books by the people I love/adore because I wanna support them, but if I’m not going to read the book, I usually don’t buy it. Same reasoning applies to contests.

  21. LinM
    Mar 21, 2007 @ 07:53:32

    I wouldn’t know anything about SuperTuesday except for the rants here and a few pre-releases at ebook sites. Except for Harry Potter, my bookstore seems to shelve books whenever they please – sometimes before and sometimes long after the official release date. And these days fictionwise seems to take weeks (and weeks and %^&* weeks – I’d better back up my bookshelf). So my “release-date conditioning” is totally inadequate and I often find myself having to order print books online because I’ve missed the window of in-store availability.

    Harlequin Mills & Boon seem to have worked this out: they make it easy for readers to check a list of the next month’s releases by including one in the back of each novel

    Ahh – one of my favourite pet peeves! I resent paying for the advertising – how dare they reduce the word counts in the story I want just to advertise something that I may not want. Bah.

    I’ve offered any number of sugggestions but the best one I can think of is to re-issue the RITA winners or finalists with a big gold star

    Every genre seems to have flame-wars about their award process – the discussion at SBTB was one of the most civilized I’ve seen. But it is sad that the romance community doesn’t celebrate the winners in a more visible fashion.

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