What No One Tells You about Publication Dates

A print book’s publication date in the United States is on a Tuesday. Why is this? As far as I can tell, no one knows for sure. You can read some theories and how one blogger hunted for the answer in the excellent blog post “Tuesday the Holy Day of Publishing and How It Forms Reader Expectations”  over at Dear Reader.

Publication or release dates are important to industry professionals but they also can be misleading. Let’s say the publication date for a Harlequin romance novel that you really want to read is in August. You go to the bookstore the first week of August to get the new Harlequins and discover that the rack is empty.

Your first assumption is that the booksellers haven’t had a chance to stock the shelves. You ask if it’s in the back and the sales associate tells you that this month’s releases have all sold out.

How is this possible? This is how: The book’s publication date on the spine might say it’s an August release but the publisher has given the bookstore an earlier “street date.” It turns out that the book is supposed to be in stores as early as July 17.

True story. I was so disappointed when that happened to me years ago. It was at a time before online booksellers. Harlequins had a shelf life of one month and when the books were gone, they were gone. This was before you could buy older Harlequins online or download an eBook.

Harlequin series romances still have a shelf life similar to a monthly magazine. And the publication dates aren’t at the same time. With some series or lines, the August releases are pulled from the shelves in the middle of August to make room for the September releases. Other series or lines have the August releases brought in on the second Tuesday of the month. Confusing? Yes. Fortunately, you can stop haunting the brick and mortar stores. Now you can click a button and have an online bookseller ship it straight to your home.

If only it were that easy. The bookseller might say they have 6 copies in stock, but they can’t seem to get their hands on them. Just when you resign yourself to the fact that you will have to wait a few extra days, you get an update email. It’s going to be at least a week. You get a second update email. Make it two weeks.

Another true story. In fact, it happened to me repeatedly. I even tried pre-ordering the Harlequins but they were still delays. That’s when I decided to go digital.

But here’s the strange thing about the digital release dates: while the street date of an August release can be the third Tuesday of July, the digital release means August 1 and not a day before. It doesn’t even have to be a Tuesday, aka The Holy Day of Publishing.

Don’t even get me started on audio. There’s no guarantee that the book will have an audio edition, or if it will be released the same year as the print and digital editions.

But I have found an easier way to get Harlequin series romances. Go to Harlequin.com. The print, digital and larger print versions of the August releases are all made available… on July 1.

At this point I wonder why we even bother with release dates.

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