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Ten Million Eyeballs

Setting a Publication Date
by John Kremer

Some time ago, I received a question from a reader, one that I often get in one disguise or another. I thought it was worth answering in a special report.

Question on Publication Date

“We have been somewhat confused about the publication date and the definition given by all of the publishing and marketing books we have read. Our current understanding is that the publication date is different then the date of publication. The date of publication is what you put on your copyright form and the publication date is a fictitious date that is specifically for the big guns, such as Publishers Weekly. Is this correct? If so, it seems that you can set your publication date for four months from now just for the benefit of getting these big reviews, but that does not effect anything else in the way of distribution, marketing & advertising, and general sales. Is this correct? What exactly needs to accompany the publication date? I believe I understood from 1001 Ways that this is the date you should plan your heavy advertising and the date that the major bookstores nationwide will receive copies of the book to sell. Is this also correct? What if the major bookstores get the book in stock a month or two before this date? And what if advertising is already in place for purchasing the book at all the local bookstores? Does this create any problems?”

How to Set a Publication Date

The date of publication on your copyright form can be your off-press date, your shipping date, or your publication date. It is your choice what date of publication you put on that copyright form. For legal purposes, the earliest date is probably the best if you want maximum copyright protection. But there is one situation where you would want to have a later copyright date. If your book comes off the press in November, you might still want to set a copyright date for January so your books doesn't look dated in two months. People (reviewers, booksellers, rights buyers) do pay attention to the copyright date in a book. If they receive a book in January 2002 with a 2001 copyright date, the book will appear as if it were already a year old. Not good.

Don't set an artificial publication date just for the benefit of Publishers Weekly and other big guns. Set a publication date that actually makes sense for your book. The publication date should be that date when your book should receive its major national publicity, advertising, and distribution in bookstores. If you want publicity in major monthly magazines, you'll have to set a publication date that is at least six months from the time you send them review copies (or, better yet, galley copies).

Ideally, bookstores nationwide should get a book about 10 days to two weeks before publication date. Some bigger publishers, of course, have a nationwide laydown date for major books, but smaller publishers shouldn't worry about trying to coordinate such a one-day laydown. The main reason you don't want your book in bookstores too early is that some bookstores return books if they don't sell within six weeks to three months.

Setting a national publication date six months out doesn't mean you can't do local author events, sell through local bookstores, or do direct mail campaigns to targeted groups beforehand. In many cases, I would recommend that you do some local events before publication date to help get your author into the swing of things (i.e., get them experience answering media questions and doing bookstore events).

While your publication date is, in some sense, fiction, don't think of it that way. Use your publication date as a focal point for all your efforts in giving your book a good launch. Then, after that, ignore the publication date and continue to do promotion for years to come. The books that have become bestsellers for smaller publishers have primarily made the lists because of on-going promotional efforts from their authors and publishers and good word of mouth. And most have done so months or years after the publication date.


Here are some definitions for various terms that you will hear from different publishers in regards to publication and release dates. Since various people use different terms, I've included as many as I can recall being used. But, for most purposes, you are best off keeping it simple. In-house, keep track of the off-press date, the shipping date, and the publication date. Use the other terms only when you have a need or good reason for doing so.

Blads — Printed and bound (usually saddle-stitched) sample pages from an upcoming book wrapped inside the projected cover. These are most often used to give reviewers, retailers, key customers, and others an advanced look at a new book prior to publication date. Since these generally run from 8 to 32 pages in length (and don't require the editing, proof-reading, typesetting, and printing of the entire book), they can often be sent out far in advance of a book's publication date. Plus, of course, you can send out hundreds of them to prospective reviewers or interested consumers without the cost of sending an entire book.

Copyright Date — The date the book is officially copyrighted, as indicated on the copyright form you sent to the copyright office.

F&Gs — Copies of your book that are compiled from the folded and gathered sheets of your regular press run. These are most often used to send review copies of short full-color books, especially children's books and art books. These are sometimes bound, but rarely with the final cover.

Galleys — Copies of your book that are printed from uncorrected type-set copy in advance of the regular press run. These copies are used for promotional purposes, primarily as review copies sent to major media.

In-Store Date — The date the books are expected to be in the retail stores. Usually a few days after the Shipping Date (see below).

Lay-Down Date — For major releases, publishers attempt to have books available in all retail outlets on the same date. This is known as the national Lay-Down Date. In a perfect world, all retailers receive the book on the same date, at which time they can begin selling it. In a less than perfect world (the real world we live in), retailers often receive the books on varying dates (usually within a week's span). Hence, for really big titles such as the latest Harry Potter book, publishers require that all retailers sign an agreement saying they won't sell a book before a specific date (sometimes called the On-Sale Date).

Local Release Date — You can set a local release date that is months earlier than a National Release Date (see below). The local release date is the date you provide to local media for promotional purposes. It is the date your book is available locally (or regionally) and may be, but doesn't have to be, several months before the national release date. This local release date allows you to promote and sell some copies of a book before the national release date.

National Release Date — Should be the same as your Publication Date (see below).

Off-Press Date — The date the books are ready to ship from the printer to your warehouse and/or to your distributor.

On-Sale Date — See Lay-Down Date above.

Publication Date — The date you set ahead of time when you hope your national media hits will occur and your distribution to bookstores is in place. This date should be set about six months after you have printed galleys to send out to reviewers. It should never be less than four months out.

Shipping Date — The date you or your distributor begins shipping books to wholesalers and bookstores.

Copyright © 2011 by self-publishing expert John Kremer

Open Horizons, P O Box 2887, Taos NM 87571