During author coaching calls, we almost always discuss marketing timelines, and when each author should actually start promoting their title. Although it’s good advice to start early, it’s important to understand that early can be relative based on each author’s circumstances.
Marketing Timelines Are Not 'One-Size-Fits-All'
The reality is that most “start marketing your book early” warnings come from people involved in traditional publishing. For example, if you’re with a major publisher and are planning to release your book in the fall, they’ll need to pitch it to bookstores in March. This means that you will need to have ARCs (advanced review copies) early in the year in order to meet retailers’ schedules, especially considering how busy the Fall season typically is.
Magazines also tie into marketing timelines. It used to be that magazines closed issues 6-8 months before publication. However, magazines can only close an issue once all the advertising is sold, and with advertising getting harder to sell, this timeframe is often only 3 months before they go on sale. So, if you’re planning to pitch magazines for a review, I would recommend this 3-4 month timeline.
As with any rule, there are, however, exceptions. If there are big calendar events, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the timeline jumps back to 6+ months out. This also applies to a magazine’s Christmas issue, due to heavy competition for space. Keep in mind, any big anniversaries coming up, such as 20-year anniversary of a significant event, will see a huge surge of attention and these magazines will need the information very early on, too. (Are you ready for big media coverage? Find out how you fare!)
Magazine Editorial Calendars
If you’re planning outreach to magazines, editorial calendars, which are readily available online, may be your best friend. They show the magazine focus for the entire year, as well as when issues are closing. To find them, you can do a quick web search of the magazine name and “editorial calendar.”
You’ll also be able to easily find the magazine demographics at the same time. And since demographics can change, it’s a good idea to double-check these to be sure you’re going after the right publications.
O Magazine shows their demographics, which I think is important for a magazine like this, since many folks say, “I want to be in O Magazine!” Make sure it’s the right target before you pitch them.
First, for Women, another personal pitching favorite has a separate segment for demographics and ads, which again will show you when a magazine is closing.
In a completely different market, Popular Mechanics also puts a lot of work into issue planning and magazine themes throughout the year.
Newspapers, Dailies, and Freelancers
If you’re planning to reach out to newspapers and freelancers, you should contact them 1-2 months out. Two months is ideal. Although they don’t have as much flexibility as magazines, if they have items in advance, they can fit them in as space allows. Remember though, the bigger the newspaper or daily, the farther out you’ll want to target.
Here is a list of the top ten national newspapers, keeping mind that some of these, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, are considered national and will have long lead times, much like magazines do:
—Wall Street Journal
—New York Times
—New York Post
—Los Angeles Times
—Newsday (New York)
—The Mercury News (Bay Area, California)
—East Bay Times (Bay Area, California)
—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
National vs. Local Media
There’s also a difference between local media, vs. national, and if you’re pitching media in your hometown or a bigger publication like The Chicago Tribune (which though based in Chicago, is considered national and has a longer lead time).
Local media, in general, is fine with a 30-day notice. I’d recommend including them in your outreach both pre- and post-publication. As a rule, local media loves their local authors.
Another element of local media that I love is topically local, although it may not necessarily be local to you. For example, for authors with great topics for retirees, I might pitch local publications in high retirement areas.
National Broadcast Media and Radio
For national broadcast media and radio, I’d generally recommend reaching out 2-3 months in advance, although 2 months is typically sufficient time. Once again, the caveat here is that big calendar dates or big historic anniversaries may require more lead time.
Bloggers and Online Media
Start reaching out to bloggers and online media about a month out, but for bigger blogs, you may want to start contacting them closer to the 2-month mark, just to ensure you can fit within their timeline.
Are ARCs or Final Books Better for Marketing?
ARCs (also referred to as book galleys or advance reader copies) are just that: early copies of a book. A lot of the time they need a last round of editing/proofreading, and covers may not be final. Typically, it’s fine to pitch a pre-publication title without a cover. However, I’m sure to reach out to everyone I first pitched with a link to the final cover, preferably from the author’s own media room.
If you’re pitching really early for a popular magazine issue (perhaps a December/holiday issue) and your book isn’t done, consider making your cover a priority. Since holiday issues are especially “pretty,” your book cover should tie into the holiday it’s geared to.
Should Indie Authors Pitch Magazines?
If your book is fabulous, then yes. We’ve placed indie authors in most major magazines, TV shows, and newspapers. But their books were top-notch and perfectly suited to that market.
Pitching Libraries, Bookstores, and Distributors
These folks also require an early pitch. With that said though, bookstore stocking with national retailers is tricky, at best. I’d recommend that you start with indie booksellers in your area. Often, their websites will give information on timelines and other details for authors who reach out to them. Along with many libraries and distributors, most bookstores will go 2 months out.
Your Own Website
Your website should be up and running and ready for business at least 2-3 months before publication. Even if you aren’t doing much book marketing or pitching in advance of your publication date, don't wait until the last minute on this.
Your Mailing List
Start warming up your email list 2 months in advance by offering teasers and giving subscribers a head’s up that your book is coming out soon. If you have any special offers, whet their appetite with those as well. If you haven’t already started building your email list, spend some time getting one started now!
Book Promotion Has a Long Runway
While book marketing timelines have certainly gotten shorter over the years, it remains important to plan. Some authors plan a year out, but that may not be an option or even necessary in all cases. If your launch date is rapidly approaching and you’re too late for some of the above options, go after the ones you can and vow to start earlier with your next title.
I often compare a book launch to an airport runway. Bigger planes need more time and room to take off. If you want a big campaign, you’ll need to start marketing your book early in order to have enough room to launch!
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