Last Friday lots of folks from Sourcebooks spent the day at the Spring 2012 Launch.
So what does a “launch” meeting entail?
Publishers work in different ways and run different calendars, so this explanation is pretty much from the Sourcebooks perspective, but most will have some form of large group introduction to future titles. For traditional book publishing companies, “launch” is often the first time that the whole company is introduced to the new books. It’s a fairly early look.
Among other things, it’s when:
Many of these people have looked at some of these books already, but this is usually the first full-group look at them.
The focus for launch is to make sure that you’ve got the right pieces in place. Successful books are made up of hundreds of individual decisions. It’s what makes book publishing such a complicated process. So some of the decisions you’re reviewing are related specifically to what I’d call the merchandising package, including:
This part of the process is oriented around print books, though increasingly we’re talking about alternate-format concepts at this stage and earlier. Yes, print books are still the vast majority of the book business and there are categories for which ebooks are still not an important part of the business.
And for each book you review a fairly comprehensive data sheet that includes basic data, initial drafts at key selling points, descriptive information, and competitive/comparative books.
The goal at launch is simple: you want the book to create an awesome experience for the reader and a real success for the author. [And it’s heartbreaking every time you don’t…that, by the way, is true for every publisher, but that’s a different post.]
So the thing you spend the most time on is the positioning of the book. What is this book? How does it speak to readers? How do we express that? Positioning is more than a title or a jacket. It’s all of the communication around the work.
You review other books that you’re going to be competing with in the space. What else is there? What’s not worked? What do we know today that we didn’t know when we bought the book? What’s really exciting about this book? What moves people?
You can probably see that there’s a fair amount of fact and data we’re looking at, but also an awful lot of craft. As the publisher, what we’re delivering is a lot of experience and hands-on knowledge of the marketplace. We’re trying to deliver both dollars and “wow” for our partners on the retail end. And ultimately that becomes all about how and where we strike the readers.
Having all of the elements aligned at the beginning is how you can really create a successful book - that having the right vision of the book has enormous impact. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of examples of what good versus bad positioning can do for a book.
I love launch. It’s new. It’s fresh. It’s filled with joy, laughter and the possibilities that exist for authors. Even something seemingly as minor as a publication date can make an enormous difference in the life of a book. And titling is something we obsess over. Each book matters.
Friday’s Spring 2012 Sourcebooks Launch was no different. The room was packed. You could feel the energy. There were moments when the room vibrated. And there were books that lit up the room.
And then there were books that needed more work. Books that had real potential but we didn’t seem to have it all wrapped up yet. That’s what launch is for – identifying those needs and opportunities and making sure that what we believe about a book and an author truly come across when we communicate it to the outside world.
Ultimately, we want to create books that create awesome experiences for readers. [If you’re an author and haven’t yet viewed Kathy Sierra’s Creating Passionate Users video, here’s the link:
Books touch you, inspire you, call you to action. This year (2011), we’ve done more of that for authors than ever before in the history of our company. More bestsellers. More awards. More sales. It’s been incredible.
And it all starts with these seemingly mundane but incredibly potent data sheets for every book that help ensure that the idea is right. That the title communicates. The format makes sense. The cover direction is distinct. The publicity and marketing group has an angle. The list of these decisions goes on and on. It’s what makes great books soar, it’s why publishers matter – and if you're very lucky, all these little decisions can turn into something that can look like this: