35 Tips for Crashing a Book
At a time when consumers expect an instantaneous flow of information, and technological advances have facilitated expedited workflows, more and more book publishers are choosing to “crash” books—that is, produce a book from manuscript to final product on an abbreviated schedule, sometimes in just a matter of weeks. Yes, weeks. Many times, a crashed book is tied into a headline-grabbing event—think Michael Jackson’s untimely death, or Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination—where capitalizing on the momentum of that event in the public consciousness is critical to the title’s success.
“It’s the ultimate publishing experience,” says Dennis Loy Johnson, publisher of Brooklyn-based Melville House Publishing, of crashing a book. “This is what publishers are suppose to do. This is what it’s all about. America was founded on a crashed book called ‘Common Sense’ by Thomas Paine.”
However, Johnson also is quick to point out that the process is not one to enter into lightly. “You’ve really got to have a reason to do it, not just to motivate yourself, but to motivate all of the people who you’re asking to do something out of sequence, [including your author, production team, distributor, booksellers],” he says. “You’re inconveniencing all of them terribly. You’re acting outside of budget. … So you really better be doing a worthwhile book.”
Here, Johnson and other book publishing executives share their tips and strategies for deciding whether or not to crash a book, and producing it successfully.
Should You Crash This Book?
1. Recognize when a proposal is one that requires a “critical response,” advises Emily Foote, managing editor, White River Junction, Vt.-based Chelsea Green Publishing. Ask yourself: Is it crucial to the success of the book that it comes out, say, two months from now rather than nine months?
“All of the books [we’ve crashed] are among the better-selling books in the company’s history,” says Johnson. “I think it’s because they simply were well-chosen.”
Chelsea Green has realized similar success with books it’s chosen to crash. “It’s interesting … that all three of Chelsea Green’s New York Times best-sellers were published on crash schedules,” says Foote. “In each case, we were able to grab the opportunity by getting the book out fast enough to take advantage of the timing of current events, and it paid off.”
2. Use your staff to gauge what readers’ reactions might be to the book. “When you … go to your staff and say, ‘We’re going to crash this,’ and you see them get excited, that’s a good way to judge how an average reader will react,” says Johnson.
3. Make sure that everyone who will be involved in the process is motivated to do the book on an abbreviated schedule. “It’s got to be more than a book that just the publisher wants to do,” says Johnson. “It’s got to be a book that everybody in the system wants to do.” When Johnson decided to crash the book, “What We Do Now”—a response to former President George W. Bush’s re-election—in November 2004, with a plan to have it in stores in time for the winter holidays, he was nervous about getting all the necessary parties on board at the busiest time of the year. “… We’re talking about writing a book, printing it and getting it into stores during the Christmas season,” he explains. “ … It [ended up being] the most perfect crashed book we ever did. It was the right idea. Everybody … got excited and [was] willing to put themselves out at the most difficult time to do that.”