Bookery 101: The publishing calendar

The other day (on Valentine’s Day, actually), a reader wrote to me. Mary is someone I hear from often enough to recognize her name and appreciate her comments. She writes: “I’m so sorry to learn there won’t be a 2020 China Bayles. Is there anything we, China’s readers, can do to persuade a 2020 book?” She goes on to say (in a very nice way) that while she loves the Dahlias, her heart is with China and please let’s hurry things along just a little faster.

Gentle readers, please don’t mistake me. Mary’s is a delightful letter and I was beyond pleased to answer it because it’s such a nice version of the demanding  “WHEN is the NEXT CHINA [or the next Dahlias]?” But it made me think that maybe it’s the right time to share a bit of explanation with you–and a “what-do-you-think” question.

In the old days, when my books were published by my traditional publisher, the answer to “when?” was easy: it was always a year from the date I turned in the manuscript (that’s what we still call the thing, even though it is no longer a manu-script, produced manually, by hand). Say that the due date was March 30 of one year. The book appeared on the first Tuesday of April, the following year. Twelve months, all four editions (digital, hardcover, audio, large-print) at once. Like clockwork. Also like clockwork, the mass-market paperback edition, twelve months later.

That was then. This is now, and because I’m a publisher, I have control of the process.

Let me explain. Last week, I started writing The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily. Barring major interruptions, I should be able to send the manuscript to the copy editor–Sandra–the first week of June. She will likely be finished by the middle of July, and I will send the edited file to the designer/formatter, Sarah. Monica will be done with the cover in time for Sarah to marry it with her interior files, and by the middle of August, the entire package is done.

At this point (early September) I could publish the digital and paperback print-on-demand paperback editions on all the e-tailer platforms, where most of the books will be sold. The folks who manage the printing and distribution of the smaller library/bookstore hardcover edition will need another six months–say, early January. Ditto the publishers of the audio and large print.

So here’s the question for you. Should I publish the major editions (ebook and paperback) that are ready in September? Or should I hold them until the smaller editions are ready and and publish all five at the same time, in January? Does it matter?

I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying getting back to the Dahlias. But I can walk and chew gum at the same time, and I’m already thinking about the next China. It will be out sometime in 2021–depending on which publishing calendar seems best.

And Mary, thanks again for that question!

Reading note. Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land, where the notes are read and then possibly cherished, or else misinterpreted, or else understood all too well by those who hate the message. You never know who your readers might be.Margaret Atwood


67 comments on “Bookery 101: The publishing calendar

  1. Love the Darling Dahlias, and I am also enjoying “Hemlock”. When will the next Dahlias book be ready for publication? The characters are now like old friends.

  2. Susan, I just wanted you to know that during this pandemic I am re-reading my hardback copies of the China Bayles series. I’m enjoying them more now than the first time, as I don’t have to wait so long between them and can follow the events better. So sorry there won’t be a 2020 China, but, will pre-order as soon as I can! Thank you for all the pleasure I’ve gotten.

    When I finish China, I’ll start over with the Dahlias.

    Thank you,
    Sherry Moran
    Carrollton, Texas

  3. I am amazed at people saying they prefer hardback books. They were not so bad in the 1940’s and 1950’s–in those days they were almost as portable as paperbacks are today. Hardback books have become monsters! And on top of that people are oversizing paperbacks—I get the larger paperbacks for libraries, but I’m a reader! I want the mass market size.

  4. I love all of your China Baylis series, as well as your Darling Dahlias series. I love hardcovers because they last forever and I can leave them to my granddaughter and my daughter-In-law one day. I hope paper books never cease to be because I would not be able to immerse myself in a piece of plastic and metal.

  5. I just LOVE the China Bayles series, the Darling Dahlias series and am on #7 of the Victorian mystery series. No matter what series, you have me hooked. I prefer hardbound but can do paperback. Just do not do ebooks. LOVE you, Susan Wittig Albert. Thanks for the happy reading.

  6. I can’t do e-books – reading them hurts my eyes regardless of which format, type size, etc. My preference is for hardback books, but I will happily buy paperbacks to get the books more quickly. I’m a huge fan of the Darling Dahlias series, the China Bayles series and the Beatrix Potter ‘Cottage’ series. There are very few fiction writers who have developed multiple series that I find equally compelling – I’m amazed and grateful for the versatility and dexterity of your talent, and for your historical and societal accuracy.

    • Lana, thank you for the compliment. One problem with series is that writers tend to get stuck. It’s too easy to recreate the successful formula, book after book. I don’t like being stuck. I love to be in new spaces when I write, with new characters/settings. Hence, the various series. I’ve persisted with the China Bayles series only because the plants offer wide theme variations and challenge me to learn a new “territory.” Vanilla, for instance, opens up a much different perspective than, say, chile peppers or Queen Anne’s Lace. To tell the truth, writing the books gives me an excuse for researching the topic: my payback for the privilege of learning something new.

  7. It may be better for the author to have the hardback and electronic editions come out at the same time, but of course as a reader I would love to have the digital copy as soon as possible HA! I am happy to get the books whenever it is right for you to publish them. For those of you who have not read the Darling Dahlias, you should try them. I enjoy the history and the group of ladies and the mysteries. The Robin Paige mysteries are still ones I read again.

    • I agree with Mary Beth. Please publish the electronic versions as soon as possible! I, too, love the Darling Dahlias as well as China Bayles and your other books.

  8. Susan, For me a book is a gift from the author. I read my books on paper only. I can’t tell any author to “hurry up”. We, your readers, are an impatient lot. I would prefer that your books on paper be available at the same time your e-books are available. I say this having no real idea what is involved with getting the book in the readers hands. Just so you know I am a faithful China fan. I haven’t read the Dahlias. No pressure from me though. Take time to enjoy your life as well as write your books.

  9. I have an overflowing Kindle but holding a book in my hands is still way better. I’ve been going to the library since I could read and it’s still a joyful experience (as well as walking into a book store !)..As most seem to be saying, what works best for you is best for me in the publishing aspect.

  10. I just reread A RUEFUL DEATH which was the very first China for me years ago. I said last night when I finished it that it certainly reminded me of why I’ve been a fan of yours ever since! I’ve read them all, at least once. I also love the Dahlias and the Robin Paige series was another favorite. So much fun to imagine myself in the different time periods and to think how it might have been. I could hardly believe it when you wrote that you have had your eightieth birthday but then I am almost there and I can’t believe that either! Thank you for the reading pleasure you have brought me over the years. I appreciate you and the work and research that go into your books.

  11. Hi Susan, thank you for letting us know a bit about the process of publishing. I am a member of a group on Facebook that started out as a fan club for Agatha Raisin/MC Beaton and morphed into a lovely place where we share everything (closed group obviously) and our love of all books/authors. We all have our favorite format. It is nice when they come out at the same time so we can talk about them sooner. However, I understand that from a publishing cost standpoint it would be easier for you to spread it out. Whatever works best for you is good for me too. Looking forward to another adventure with the Dahlias. I really enjoyed Ruby’s trilogy btw. I hope you are well and happy!

  12. I need to read the large print copy, but I’m patient and could wait until they are ready to be issued. I am just glad you are still writing, whichever series.

    • Jan, large print depends upon the large-print publisher (usually Thorndike) being willing to print them–definitely not guaranteed for every book. I like my e-reader because I can size up the print, manage the light on the page, and even change the font to make it more legible. (Thanks for bringing this up!)

  13. I love ebooks! I live in a small apartment and have to be very stingy with physical books. I commute to and from work on public transit and love being able to carry a whole library of ebooks with me (and now I never finish my only book halfway through a trip – true on plane trips as well). I also check out more ebooks than print books from the library these days.

    For my own sake, I vote for publishing in two parts so I can read the ebook as soon as possible – but whichever route you go, I’m not going to complain. I’m excited to read anything you publish and want you to do what works best for you. Just please keep writing! And I’ll keep preordering ebooks.

  14. Like most commenting, I prefer a physical book; especially those from authors i reread often. E-books are handy when travelling but there is just something about the printed page……..After all, I have to put my nose somewhere!

  15. I love the China Bayles series. I only purchase the hard cover version. I am old school and like holding a book in my hands. I started the Dahlias in the lull between China books and am now hooked on them. I have every edition in both series, and Ruby’s trilogy. I have now begun the Robin Paige Victorian mystery series for the same reason. I just cannot get enough Susan Wittig Albert. I start wanting the next installment as soon as I finish the previous one. I know, I am impatient. Thank you for many hours of pleasure. Just please keep on doing what you are doing. You are appreciated.

  16. Wow, I did not know there was a paperback print on demand option. I would like to know more about that. I’ve always patiently waited for the paperback edition to come out a year after the hardback, to save money and space on my bookshelves. Ebooks leave me cold, so I want to stick with my good old hard copies.

  17. Hi Susan, this is my first time writing to you. I have to tell you that China Bayles has seen both my sister and I through many good times and bad times. I am with Colleen–I love immersing myself in the story–but also love herb information and recipes. I have a recommendation as well: sometime, could you do another China Bayles, Book of Days? Loved that as well. Thank you so much for so many years of joy! Anxiously awaiting the next installment.

  18. I have always loved and will always love holding a book in my hands and reading it. I don’t fool much with the e-books. That being said, I feel that the decision to publish as available or publish all at once should totally be your decision! You are the author, and I feel that you will know which is best. Whatever you decide, I look forward to the new China book and the new Dahlias book!

  19. Thanks very much for the insight in publishing pressures and problems. Surely you must do whatever works for you best, and once we’re over 65, there really should be more joy than stress in going on with writing or whatever one does. But, quite selfishly, I so hoped for a new China book. As I wrote before, I am so much more a China person than a Ruby; and surely not a darling, whatever the associateds flower 😉 I love down to earth China and her herb lore, and have followed her since her first appearance in the 1990es. If I have to, I’ll wait for the next one – but later than 2021 seems a long way in the future. So I’m with Mary and the others – but you’re the one who decides what you can and will do!

  20. Hi Susan, What an interesting question. Being impatient I am in favor of publish what is available as it is available. Much love to you and Bill, and China and all the gang!

  21. I love China and Ruby. Enjoyed reading them in hardcopy while I could. Now, I do audiobooks, no choice. I re-listen to favorites and never get tired of them. I have often thought readers pressued authors to come out with the next book. In the meantime, I am revisiting Sookie Stackhouse and her vampire, fairy, demon friends. That must say something about what is happening in my life right now – hee, hee.

  22. So, so sad I won’t be able to read about China this year, I look forward ever April to go on a new adventure with her and Ruby. I have all the China ans Dahlias books, and the Ruby Trilogy. I understand about the publishing, but I am still sad.Thank you for all the wonderful stories you tell.

  23. I think spreading out the release doesn’t make as much sense for reviewing and marketing purposes. You may not “chase” reviews but they matter. And we can wait until it’s right for you. I prefer holding the book in my hands, so I just work on what Diana Gabaldon calls the “methadone list” (other loved authors-sometime similar)while I wait.

  24. Oh Wow Susan.. No China this year? For practically ever April has meant a new China book for me to look forward to..But I know things change and youve been publishing a lot of other books lately…. Never fear, your readers will still be around a year from now and wish you well in 2020! Kathy

  25. This was very fascinating. Thank you for providing the insight. It looks to me like everyone has their own reading preference (e-reader, hardback, audio, etc.) So it seems to me that it might not matter if you spread out the types of releases or not. Receiving them will be determined by how fast you can write them.

    So, for instance, if it takes you 1 year to write a new volume in a series, then whenever you release the audio (2, 3, 6, etc. months after you finish the manuscript), it won’t make any difference to me as a customer, since it will still be one year until I have another volume to read. Does that make sense?

    So I’m with the folks that say to do whatever works best for you, and I’ll just hope to get a story every year.

    I, too, am partial to China & co., though I love the Dahlias too. I never thought I’d enjoy a series set in the Depression era, and only started to read it because you wrote it. Turns out I love it, and I have learned so much.

    Last, I have to “read” your books via audiobook, and both the narrators are wonderful! I hope they are willing to narrate as long as you write, because they have become those characters, and I can’t imagine anyone else as China, etc. Kudos to them too!

    Danville, CA

  26. Your books, all of them, are my friends and I will read them over again. I will look forward to any new books, however, I will still be in touch with China, Ruby and all the Darling Dahlias. Susan you must do what is best for you. We will be waiting.

  27. I am a e-book reader and enjoy the convenience of being able to keep up with you and order whatever you are writing and have ready for us at the time. I travel and lecture all over Texas -so I often recognize the different sites that you use in writing your China Bayles series. I do miss China and Ruby and all the darling Dahlias- so I am happy to know that there will be more to come. Ive been reading your books since the 90’s when I met you as a fellow vendor at The Herb Festival in Fort Worth Texas and bought your first China Bayles book Thyme of Death – Ive been hooked ever since -and I love the Darling Dahlias too. Thank you for your wonderful offerings that give so many of us a place to escape while we catch up with our old friends in Pecan Springs and Darling . Love & Luck, Lucy Harrell

  28. I am really partial to holding a book and reading it. I have downloaded so many books to my I-pad and they never see the light of day or get read. I love our library and going in and perusing the shelves and discovering that “new to me” author and enjoying the old ones while sitting amongst fellow readers. I have enjoyed so very much your collaboration on the Robin Paige novels as well as China. Honestly, print and real books for me.

  29. I’m with Mary and others, China Bayles and herbal lore is my love series. My fave! But I do understand that there is process to follow. I wish there would be another China soon, but happy to know you are thinking of it. It is in process!

    • I agree with MaryAnn! I love China Bayles and friends and I’m very glad to hear another is coming. Even if it means being patient! I’m still a book in the hand fan, so I vote for earliest release of regular books! Thanks for all the happy hours of reading!

  30. I so enjoy your China Bayles which I found first, then came the Dahlias. I believe you best can ;make the decisions on your publication dates. I am waiting anxiously and will keep checking with my library to see when they arrive. And I do believe I have missed a couple after reading the above notes from other readers.

    • I too love both series as well and have been missing a Dahlia mystery with it’s period detail and glimpse into everyday life in the 30’s. So if China and Ruby have to take turns with the Dahlias, that’s okay with me. Regarding publication dates: whatever work best for you and like others, I will keep checking the library for new arrivals. I’m just glad you continue to delight us with new adventures!

  31. I have been unable to go to the library as I have always loved. It is now far easier to read ebooks rather than hardback due to arthritis. I love the Dahlias and China equally so I vote for earliest releases which now seems to be electronic.

  32. Concerning your publication scheduling, Susan, I concur with others. Please do what’s best for YOU, whether it be for reasons of pacing out the work, the cash flow, or the creative energy. Over the years, you’ve given us such a gift of marvellous characters (whom we care for deeply) coupled with wicked humour and plausible plots. The least we can do is wait in happy anticipation for whatever, whenever.

  33. I like the idea of the books becoming available as they are ready, but am willing to wait if need be. China is my first love, with all the herbal lore. But all your books are wonderful.

  34. I am happy with whatever schedule the books come out in. I am rereading the Cottage books and loving them. Before that I went back to China in the beginning and read up to where I remembered what would happen in the more recent books. When I finish with Beatrix Potter, I am going back to the Victorian novels. What a blessing that I have so many of your books to enjoy.

  35. I love all your books! I read them as fast as they come out in any form. I have to say China is my favorite because of the herbs and recipes. The dahlias stories take me to a time before I was born (1966) and I like to think of how my Grandma and Great grandma managed in the depression. Beatrix Potter series transports me to another world, When I see another book coming out I put it on my calendar and read it as soon as I can buy it. Thank you for sharing the process with us. So glad you are also a publisher (did not know that). You have made my life richer and opened up my own mind and thought process through your work. Thank You !!!

  36. I am an avid reader of your books so I am delighted about a new Dahlias book. I read both print and e book, never got into audio since I rather read the words . I would rather have the books earlier if you release the e-book first. Thanks for the explanation!

  37. I’ve been buying your books since probably you began. Now unfortunately, I can only do audio.i knit and listen. I believe it was WIDOWS TEARS (I live on Alabama gulf coast).that about did me in. It was wonderful. Keep writing as long as you can and fast as you can and I will listen as long as I can.

  38. Thanks for clearing all that up – I think. I buy your books and will take paperback or hardcover, the sooner the better. But I do understand that thinking up all those stories takes awhile. So publish the way that works best. I’ll read the old ones until the new ones come. I’ve just started the Cottage Tales over again. I love them all!

  39. I read almost exclusively on my iPad these days, so I seldom buy print books. My eyes are as old as the rest of me, and make it difficult to read in anything but perfect lighting. Also, we spend part of the year in a small motorhome, so I can access my books whenever I want without taking up space. So, as you can guess, I would prefer you release the ebook ASAP. However, I can understand why you may want to release all at the same time for marketing reasons. Whatever your plans, as long as you keep giving us more China mysteries, I’ll be happy.

  40. Susan, thank for informing us of your creative process. Interesting to those of us on the outside looking inside. It is your business How & When you submit to publish. The artistic urge has to flow naturally. By the way, my library just received paper copies of the Crystal Cave Trilogy. I am thrilled to read them soon! I read both ebooks and paper books too. Excited to hear that the Dahlia’s will have a new adventure in coming months; what an intriguing title. My only wish for China’s next mystery? I sure hope Sheila finally gives birth. It is time. In my humble opinion. Smiles all around. Enjoying all others comments by fans here.

    • Susan, I agree with your readers who feel the process of getting a book to market is your business. I can only sit back and admire the creative process and all that goes into it. I did pick up a great idea from your readers, I’m going to reread the Dahlia series, my favorite as a history buff, and you make the time period come alive. Looking forward to your next book.
      Regards, Linda Luttrell

  41. Dear Susan,ditto Rosemary, I can, and waiting for these books to come out. I know you will do the right thingnot and will not tell you what to do.just remember that we are waiting.

  42. I loved the Ruby books! Really hope that you will add to that series. Have read all the China books so far and am waiting, not so patiently, for the next one. I’m thinking about going back and starting with the first one while I wait for the next one.

  43. I am a devoted China fan.I think I own most of your China books in paperback form. I am not an e-reader or audio person. I look forward to the next China book. I also know you write the Dahlias and stand alone books. You are a very busy writer who also has a daily life. Thanks for sharing the publishing information. We readers forget how much work it must take to move the story in your mind to whatever form we read the story in. Thanks for doing all of that. You and your stories have made my life richer for years.

  44. Dear Susan – I’m thrilled to hear that a new Dahlias story is coming. I really enjoy that series. I’m equally sadden that we’ll have to wait for the hardback edition of the new China book until January, 2021. I don’t read e-books and unless the paperback is a publishers edition with at least 12 point font, I’m finding that it’s more difficult to read. Hence, waiting for the hardback edition. Keep up the good work and keep them coming. Just finished reading the three Ruby books and loved them!! Love and hugs Ruth

    • So you read the 3 Ruby novellas in the print trilogy format, Ruth? The font size worked for you? Oh, and it’s not China in January 2021–it’s the Dahlias/Voodoo. I haven’t started the next China yet–just thinking about it.

  45. Oh, forgot to say any version first is good with me. Of course libraries like book form (Large print is great for us older folk).

    • Actually, Colleen, libraries also like ebooks–more and more every year. They are easier than print books to manage and there are many patrons who prefer them. Changing times for libraries, too!

      • I mostly read ebooks due to my vision problems. Also I like being able to carry around a library with me on my iPad. I do check out audiobooks from the library, but I mostly check out ebook through the virtual library with which the local library is affiliated. I’m happy whenever I see any of your books being released.

    • I personally prefer my books to be ‘hold in my hand – turn the paper page’ books. Books from my favorite writers line my bookshelves – ALL books by Susan Wittig Albert and Robin Paige included. I can see that the ‘book’ release process you currently use gives you a better system of receiving income – and I totally understand how comfortable that can be. So – I will patiently wait for ‘China and Ruby’ – and anticipate the new Dahlias story a
      bit sooner. Thank you for giving me the ‘joy of reading’ from your creative

      • Income is secondary (most of the time), but it is helpful to be able to spread out the cost of a book over several months. The printing costs are the largest, of course–complicated by bookstores that overbuy and then return. Thanks for thinking of that aspect of the process. It’s something indie authors think about more often than traditionally published authors. 🙂

      • At this point in my writing life, income is secondary (most of the time), but it is helpful to be able to spread out the cost of publishing a book over several months. The printing costs are the largest, of course–and that cost is complicated by bookstores that overbuy and then return unsold books. Thanks for thinking of that aspect of the process, Ginger. It’s something indie authors think about more often than traditionally published authors. 🙂

  46. I’m with Mary. I LOVE the China and Ruby series! They are great! I even got my library to order the Trilogy of Ruby’s Body books. They were great too! Would love to read a new China Bayles book. Love the herb information and the recipes too! If you need help proofreading I’m available! 🙂

I love hearing from readers, so let me hear from YOU!