When is the Best Time to Publish a Business Book?

future-calendarI often get asked “when is the best time to publish a business book?”  It’s a great question. Every author wants to exploit any advantage the marketplace allows. However, while I do not think there are any real silver bullets when it comes to timing publication of a business book, most of the assumptions about the best month to publish have endured for decades.

For as long as I can remember publishers have chosen the fall to publish their biggest business books—particularly in September and October. For example, Jack Welch’s Memoir, Jack: Straight from the Gut, was published in September (unbelievably, it was published on September 11, 2001).  Jim Collins multi-million bestseller, Good to Great, was published in October of 2001, just a few weeks after the Welch book. So, too, was the $7- million Warren Buffett book published in October of 2008 (The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business Of Life). 

Not all fall months are great publication months. Late November and December are often bad months for business books, since Thanksgiving and Christmas can derail the effective distribution of a business book. That’s because most business books are not regarded as gift or Christmas books. Coffee table books, new best-selling fiction or big biographies are much better candidates for the holiday season. There are of course exceptions: big personality books in business can see a big spike in sales in December, as can other business books that appeal to a certain segment of a market (avid investors like day traders may find a trading book under the tree on December 25th). 

The other great month for business books is January, and for similar reasons that make September so desirable. People make New Year’s resolutions in January that often involves money,  which makes January a good month for personal finance books. Similarly, September is strong because of the whole back-to-school mentality in which people return from their summer vacations eager to learn and enhance their skill sets.

Lastly, summer was always regarded as the worst time to publish a business book. But that is becoming more myth than reality, particularly in this tough market environment. Few managers take long vacations these days and when they do, they might take a business book to the beach. However, most executives are still far more likely to read Tom Clancy than Tom Peters on those rare vacations far away from the home office.

Don’t [Mis]Represent Yourself as a Client

Like a defendant who represents himself at trial, representing yourself [as an author] ensures that you, too, have a fool for a client.

CorruptionIn today’s turbulent, hyper-competitive publishing world, authors should not try to navigate the ins and outs of it all without the benefit of a literary agent. A competent agent can help an author from the idea stage to finished book. This includes everything from drafting the book proposal through the negotiations with various publishers to the preparation of the manuscript itself. And these are just the obvious contributions. 

As someone with editor, publisher, author and agent on his resume, I have had a front row seat to the literary world from every vantage point. As an author, I can honestly say that I would never write a book without the benefit of an agent. This isn’t rocket science – just good sense. In addition to all of the aforementioned, an agent handles the thornier things that can possibly derail the relationship between author and editor.

So the next time you think of handling your own business book project by contacting publishers directly, stop and reconsider. Chances are you will be glad you did.

When Idealism Meets Pragmatism

Barack Obama came to Washington with a significant mandate, having won more votes and states than any presidential contender since Clinton beat Dole. Of course, Obama’s victory was historic, which we are reminded of this week, the 200-year birthday of Abraham Lincoln. To Obama’s credit, despite the historic proportions of his win, he knew he would have no honeymoon. The worst recession in decades guaranteed that. “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood, asserted Obama in his inaugural address, adding “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time.” 

The newly minted president knew that he had one huge priority that would take precedence above all others, and that was trying to stop the hemorrhaging of money and jobs.    

But in only 25 days, many of the hopes and dreams of our 44th president have met the stark reality of…well, reality. Here are a few examples:

* After talking about the most bi-partisan presidency of modern times, not a single Republican voted for his stimulus package the first time it came up for a vote in the house, and only three Republicans voted for it in the senate. Republicans seem determined to fight Obama at every turn, despite all of the rhetoric from the right side of the aisle promising their own version of bipartisanship. 

* He has had a rocky time with nominees: One of two-tax-troubled appointees had no choice but to fall on his sword (Tom Daschle). His other under-tax-paying nominee, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the man without a plan, was laughed off Wall Street this week when his presentation rang hollow. But few were laughing when his vacuous ideas sent the Dow plumetting almost 400 points. Then yesterday, with no notice, Obama’s second choice to become commerce secretary—fiscal conservative Republican Judd Gregg—quit without a fight, embarassing the administration one more time (Governor Richardson also withdrew for the same post).   

 * His stimulus plan has been stripped of billions in green jobs, health care, and other things Obama promised:In their place were put more tax cuts for the wealthy. One of the factors that led to the serious revisions was Obama’a decision to allow members of Congress to draw up the original legislation. Had the While House kept control over it from the outset, many argue that the president would have been able to keep much more of what he wanted by doing more effective horse trading. The result was a study in “amateurism,” insisted one critic.

Now that Obama’s administration has come up against forces and events greater than it anticipated, will we have a less idealistic president? I think so. The kind of challenges that Obama has already confronted—and those yet to come—have a way of clarifying the mind and shifting priorities. For example, going into the stimulus plan, Obama had hoped to get more than 80 votes in the senate, and surely more than the zero he received the first time out in the House. 

However, while I am a big believer in idealism, I am an even bigger believer in pragmatism. Especially in these incredibly difficult times. We simply cannot afford idealism at a time when our own president has designated the state of our global economy as the greatest threat to our national security.    


Who—in your Organization—Controls Your Future?

What follows is a rough excerpt from my new book, coming out in the fall—about how some managers get promoted while others fail to survive. I look forward to your feedback. 

In an earlier post, I talked about how being a strong #2 to your boss can be a great work strategy to get ahead. I have approached my job with that mindset for many years and it has worked well for me. However, what if your boss does not control your future?

Being a strong #2 assumes that you have a strong boss, meaning that that he or she is smart at setting priorities, knows how to hire, fire, delegate, manage up, manage down etc. But what if you have an incompetent boss or worse, a toxic one? Someone who beats up on his people, uses employees as pawns, has a bad temper, and never seeks out the opinion of his direct reports? In this case, it is very difficult being a strong #2, and in any event, who wants to work for such a person, never mind helping him to succeed?

But let’s take a step back and get a broader view of your entire workplace. You need to know who the real decision-maker is, who makes the real calls on your future. In sports there are referees and line judges. In the world of work, things are often far murkier. 

It may be that your boss has no power at all, having no real power or ability to make a decision. Your boss could simply be clueless, someone who got promoted because of a technical expertise, not out of any managerial know-how (that’s why there are so many ineffective managers out there). Or it could be that his boss is a micro-manager, using your boss as no more than a puppet.

The key is to figure out who the real “decider” is, and to do that, you need to find out who holds the greatest influence over your boss. In several companies I worked for, my boss’s boss was the one who made the greatest decisions affecting my life—and the life of my direct reports.  And often you do not figure this out until something happens, some event that causes your boss to show his cards, so to speak, where you can get a more complete picture of what is really going on inside your organization.     

Or, your boss might indeed make the call, but listens to people that would shock you. I’ve worked for managers who listened to their peers (which makes sense in many instances), but also to people levels below them. That could be a positive development, but not if the boss is playing one person off of another, causing one manager to bad-mouth his peers. I have seen situations in which back-biting, turf wars, and petty politics are permitted to triumph over what should take center stage: competence, loyalty, and the ability to put company goals above personal goals.

If your company more closely resembles the back-biting one with petty politics, then you might want to seriously consider a move to a different company. That’s because an organization which permits such God-awful behavior is much like a dead fish—it stinks from its head. In my experience companies that have such managers not only tolerate such behavior, they know about it and are complicit in it. You probably cannot make a move now, in the midst of such a serious recession. But when things look like they are turning around, get ready to make a move. I know is is difficult to ponder such a huge change, but it is necessary. Have your resume in order and compile a short list of organizations that you would like to work for. Believe me, there isn’t much of a future in turf wars and pettiness.        

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