One of my favorite parts of the job is working on the big schedule board that hangs just outside my office. It’s like a big puzzle – every book we have scheduled for the next year. And the trick is coordinating due dates, career planning, variety within the genre, editor workload and a bunch of other things.
Alicia Condon, Chris Keeslar and I work together to schedule the 6-8 romances we have on our list every month. Typically, we have three slots in the Leisure imprint and three in Love Spell. Some months, we also have a Shomi book and/or an African-American title. Within each imprint, books are basically slotted according to their sales levels. Moving up in the schedule is one way to help grow an author’s career. But for the most part, the sales have to warrant it first.
So what else do we look at?
1. Most importantly, when does the author think she can finish the book? We don’t want to schedule anything before it’s contractually due—and then there comes the part of “realistically” due. We know things happen, and we try to schedule with enough flexibility to accommodate that.
2. When was the last book? We typically don’t like to schedule authors any closer than six months apart. There are certain exceptions with back-to-back releases or other promotions. But again, we don’t want to push an author to writer faster than he’s capable of.
3. What are the author’s sales? Typically, it’s easier to schedule books closer together for newer authors. This is good because it can help them gain a following. But as authors move up, the schedule becomes a little fuller. For example, in Love Spell, we have some slots open for an August 2009 pub, but the leads are pretty much full through February 2010. (Important caveat: Right now, anything after May 2009 is only tentative, so authors reading this shouldn’t start freaking out; trust me, your book’s been taken care of.)
4. What else are we publishing that month? Whenever possible, we like to make sure the list has enough variety so that every reader will find something to like. Occasionally, as happened in June of this year, we end up with three Westerns (or what have you) in our Leisure line. That’s pretty rare, but it actually gave us the opportunity for some great cross-promotion and special incentives for the buyers. Typically we like to have a good mix of historicals (with a variety of settings), paranormal, suspense, and contemporaries.
5. The book clubs. For our book club members, we have to make sure we’re doing at least two new historicals every month.
6. Who’s editing what? You’d think that six slots, three editors the math would be easy – everyone takes two books a month. But it rarely works out that way because all the conditions above come first. If someone has a particularly heavy workload one month, we try to make it lighter the next. Otherwise, we’re not getting the books in on time either and our Production Department doesn’t like that very much.
And I think those are the important bits. Right now, we’re starting to lock in the schedule for July 2009. I feel a bit like Mr. Burns as I rub my hands together craftily and think about how we’re going to arrange the month…