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When Your Topic is Timely

When Your Topic is Timely
by Fern Reiss, CEO,

A client emailed this week describing a book he is publishing on the current middle eastern crisis and asking my opinion.  If you’ve ever contemplated doing a ‘hot’ book, you’ll know how tempting and compelling the thought can be.  But there are dangers in doing a newsworthy book. It’s not rocket science to publicize an ‘evergreen’ topic.  Even if you get off to a slow start, you can build on your publicity for years.  But what if you’ve chosen to publish on a topic that’s extremely newsworthy—at the moment?  If you’re thinking about publishing on a hot timely topic, read on.

Reconsider. I’d be remiss if my first piece of advice weren’t to urge you to reconsider.  It’s much more difficult to publicize a hot, newsy book—because your window of opportunity is much, much tighter.  Fad topics can dim much more quickly that you might imagine.  Moreover, with a timely topic it’s much more complicated to attempt to estimate demand and print a reasonable quantity of books.  Your capital and time investments are also going to be more complicated, because you’ll need more of your money (and time) up front. And although it’s easy to get excited by the thought of a sudden demand which nobody else is meeting, it’s not uncommon for a bigger publisher to ‘crash’ a book and beat you to the punch.   So don’t publish a timely book unless you’re 100% sure you know the market—and that you have the resources to do the job properly.  My book, Terrorism and Kids: Comforting Your Child, was the first 9/11 book on the market (it came out one week after September 11th) – but I wouldn’t have succeeded if I hadn’t already independently published, and even then there were challenges I hadn’t anticipated.

Decide on your sales terms carefully.  In general, book terms need to be standard, or the books won’t sell.  That means offering wholesalers full returnability, among other things.   But the danger of marketing a hot topic with standard terms is that book buyers may perceive more demand than exists—and you don’t want to be stuck with returns if you (and the wholesalers, or the chain stores) guess wrong.  Terrorism and Kids was sold non-returnable, just to ensure that the chain stores wouldn’t order quazillion copies and then return them.  This is one situation where you can set your own terms and get away with it—because the industry’s interest in your book will outweigh their usual reluctance to accept non-standard terms.  

Be sure your vendors are on board.  If you’re trying to ‘crash’ a timely book (the publishing industry’s term for getting a book to market speedily) then you need to be sure your vendors are with you.  Talk to your cover designer, editor, interior designer, and printer early and often, and make sure they all understand the importance—even more than usual—of your deadlines.  This might be one time to consider digital printing, even at a higher cost per book, since it can significantly speed up your printing schedule.

Consider non-book options.  Something you should definitely consider is whether a book is, in fact, the appropriate medium for your material.  Books take a lot of time, energy, and resources to publish; for a hot topic, you might be better off disseminating your ideas another way.  Think about CDs, podcasts, blogs, email newsletters, wikis, and ebooks in addition to standard printed books.  These are easier and/or less expensive to produce than a standard book, and involve less time from creation to consumer—definitely a plus with a timely topic.

Be sure you know how you’ll market the book. Marketing is always the crucial element in a book campaign; with a book that has a timely element, it’s even more critical.  If your window of opportunity for selling the book is only, say, a few weeks or months, then you need to really hit the ground running—and that means lining up your marketing ducks almost overnight.  Be sure you totally understand the audience, the niche, and the sales venues you’ll pursue.

I still don’t recommend crashing a book for most independent publishers; it’s a tricky business that can easily backfire.  But if you’re determined to pursue a breaking-headlines topic, try following these guidelines.  And let me know how it goes.


Fern Reiss is CEO of ( and ( and the author of the books, The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days as well as several other award-winning books.  She is also the Director of the International Association of Writers ( providing publicity vehicles to writers worldwide. She also runs The Expertizing® Publicity Forum where you can pitch your book or business directly to journalists; more information at  Sign up for her complimentary newsletter at

Copyright © 2011 Fern Reiss


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