What Time Of The Year Should You Publish Your Novel?

Embed from Getty Images

I’ve been getting quite a few hits lately from search terms such as “when do I self-publish my novel?” and “when does a book need to be published for the Christmas market?

I already pontificated on the issue of self-publishing for Christmas in this post, but that only dealt with one time of year. Now I’d like to talk in more general terms about seasonal trends in book sales. I have inhaled oodles of data on the subject. And so, in this post, and more to follow*, I’m going to take a look at questions like these:

  • Which month of the year sees the most sales?
  • Which month sees the least sales?
  • How many sales do you need to make it into the Top Ten Bestseller list? Are there times of the year when the target is lower and this might be easier?
  • Are there particular weeks in the year when sales increase or decrease significantly? Is that a good time to publish? Why?
  • Why are hardbacks still published? What’s the ratio of hardback to paperback sales?
  • What happens when one particular title sees a major sales spike? Does it cannibalise other book sales? What are the reasons for sales spikes?
  • How many books per 1,000 head of population do people buy in the UK? Or in Ireland?
  • Why, in September 2014, did  bestselling books have to have the word “Bone” in the title?
  • Why??

Over the past few months, I’ve been incubating some lovely numbers for you, nurturing them in the hopes that one day, I would actually have something to tell you. My internal Nerd Queen doesn’t want me to post this now, because I only have 5 months’ worth of data, but seeing as there’s obviously some interest, I’m going to start posting what I have, to hell with the consequences. (OOOH! Insurgent book data! Stop the madness!)

Who Is This Data You Speak Of? Am I Bothered?

In an utterly incontrovertible study (see what I did there), I collected the Top Ten bestseller fiction data for each week in the UK and Ireland, as supplied by Nielsen Bookscan and published by the Sunday Times (UK) and the Irish Times (Ireland). I don’t have data for the US, but as I explained here, the US doesn’t seem to have that data, either. There may come a time when I do it for the scant New York Times bestseller data available. We’ll see.

Although the base data obviously only includes the top 10 bestsellers from each week (and is in itself far from perfect, given the issues still surrounding e-book sales data) the exercise still suffices for what I want to look at: Trends. Sales trends and outliers, to be precise.

Here are some lovely initial graphs, which illustrate some of what I’ll be talking about. I’m just concentrating on UK data here but Irish data will also come later.

All of the gorgeous data behind these pretty pictures comes from, and belongs to, Nielsen Bookscan via the Sunday Times. But I collated it, averaged it and graphed it, so the pretty pictures are mine. (However that works out.)

When is the best time of year to publish your novel?

Marked drops in bestseller sales in July, August and September – but does this open up the market for you?

As you can see, August saw the least weekly average sales (hardback and paperback together), probably because more people were away during this month, having already bought their holiday reading. In October, however, you can see sales increasing quite a bit. This is most likely because the big titles, which would sell in their droves anyway, are all being released for Christmas.

What time of the year should you publish your novel?

More paperbacks are bought in June (for holidays?) but the highest hardback sales are in October (blockbuster releases for Christmas)

What Does This Mean For Self-Publishers Right Now?

More Heavy Hitters (i.e. long-awaited titles from authors so popular, they spit on you after they take your lunch money) are released between the beginning of September and the beginning of November than any other time of year. Why, if you are self-publishing, would you pit yourself against the strongest sellers in the business?

In general, I would want to do it when the market noise was a little quieter. I know that the run-up to Christmas would seem like the most obvious time to sell a book, hence the fact that the big industry players – the traditional publishers with the big-name authors – are saturating the market as we speak.

But there’s little point in trying to tout your book when all anyone can talk about is the first new book in aeons from Dan Brown or Lee Child, or the movie adaptation just out in time for Oscar season which is reviving the sales of that blockbuster. It doesn’t matter what your genre is.

Furthermore, even if I were counting on 90% of my initial sales coming from buyers I knew personally buying my book at the launch plus an additional 16 copies each as Christmas gifts, I might leave it to publish in the last week of November or the 1st week of December, after all the famous authors and biographers had shut up. In any case, that’s only going to work if you’ve actually printed it. Digital novels don’t translate to Christmas sales – at least not in my book.

That’s it for today. More data to follow next week. And graphs. Oh my Blog, how I love graphs.

 *Nanowrimo is coming. And I am doing it. November therefore seems like a fitting time for some bloody lovely data analytics which may actually be useful/interesting to some of you, while I try to write 50,000 words of actual fiction offline.

There is [sometimes] method to my madness.


  72 comments for “What Time Of The Year Should You Publish Your Novel?

  1. October 30, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Timing can be critical.

    I’ve had a half a dozen freebie promotions over the last couple of months – but the biggest promo was on Labor Day.

    I guess I am going to buy myself a calender and pay a little more attention to those fine details of life – such as “What month is today?”


    • October 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Is Labor Day a major publication date across the water? That’s interesting, if the sales push benefits all areas of publishing, and not just the industry big shots. Please feel free to share any of your experience on this with us!

      PS I’m a big fan of the calendar. I find it beneficial to know what time of the year it is. In Ireland, it helps me select the right umbrella before I leave the house.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Sally
    October 30, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Excellent info, thanks, Tara. If you’re not a big-name author, then it would be madness to launch at the end of the year. But is the collective wisdom of sellers that a title will sell better as soon as it is published (unless you are said big-name author)? If I was launching, I’d do it in about May – to market for the holiday reading and then again (with some numbers [hopefully] behind me), for the Christmas market.

    I do wonder, though, whether the Christmas market is that big for novels in general. I’m not sure that many people give novels (unless specifically on a Christmas wish list) as presents. Maybe anthologies or humour books or dipping-into books, but not your common-or-garden novel by a little-name author.


    • October 30, 2014 at 10:56 am

      I think Christmas is a time when people who are unsure what to buy someone might buy a big-name author as a present (well, their book at any rate) because they saw the giftee reading something of theirs at some point. Books are stocking-fillers, if not under-the-tree presents. Plus, the dark days of January are perfect reading weather. I give a lot of books at Christmas. I think people are afraid to see me coming.

      But I agree, little-name authors barely get a look in at that time of year. It’s too hard to compete with the glittery shiny famous noisy things.


  3. October 30, 2014 at 10:49 am

    I LOVE data, so thank you. I seem to be following your final advice. I thought about all of this and had planned to self-publish in January (putting flyers to friends and family in Christmas cards…), but since I have my dearest of all travelling a long way to be here over Christmas, the launch party will be Nov 8 and the official publication date for print and ebook Dec 5. I have 300 print copies of Border Line in my bedroom and most of my sales will never register on Nielsen, as they will be from the party and pre Christmas (special price) directly from me.


    • October 30, 2014 at 10:59 am

      I think that’s a great idea, Hilary. You’ll get your launch spike from your contacts and then hopefully benefit from some browsers over the dawdling Christmas season to boot. Please let us know how you get on… if you don’t mind being a test case! All in the name of Data, of course!


    • Brmaycock
      November 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      Hilarycustacegreen-how did the launch go?You don’t know me but I was just reading back over all the comments and was curious!Hope it was enjoyable!


      • November 26, 2014 at 8:24 pm

        Hello, Brmaycock, thanks for asking. It went well. The very local party netted 61 copies sold altogether, and the email (subject heading: Hilary’s book – stocking filler) to friends and family with pre-publication offer is ongoing, plus a talk and a writing group meeting. I have 127 sold and 20 more out on Sale or Return. There is a publication day signing in a local farm shop planned. I am frankly out of breath (see post http://greenwritingroom.com/2014/11/21/selfpublisher-in-a-spin/). I am also going to look very silly if I have underestimated my numbers, as I opted for a print run (300) rather than POD. I am thrilled with the quality, and it’s cheaper per copy, but it will be expensive to reprint another whole run.
        I do think the pre-Christmas launch has worked for me. Because, as Tara suggested, I have been able to slip between the big guys and Christmas market.

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 26, 2014 at 9:54 pm

          Sounds like that’s been going extremely well in such a short period of time, Hilary. Well done!


          • November 26, 2014 at 10:24 pm

            It’s taken me a bit by surprise. There are more people who liked my last book than I’d realised, and I’m learning better ways to engage with new readers. I am also aware that the number of off-the-shelf new readers is likely to be tiny.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Brmaycock
          November 27, 2014 at 3:27 am

          Sounds great!Congrats and well done, hope it keeps moving for you.Can I ask did you think of putting a link to the book at the bottom of the blog or do you think that would bother people?Is just I was curious and checked but then googled. You are ‘Unseen Unsung’ aren’t you? Just put on my kindle… Looking forward to reading!!!


          • November 27, 2014 at 9:03 am

            Thank you so much. Yes Unseen Unsung is my last book (there should be a link on my blog sidebar, I will double check). I hope to put up the new one this week in advance of the official publication date 5th December (I’m still have issues with Amazon Advantage about the print book cover). Do you have a blog, I couldn’t find it?

            Liked by 1 person

            • BR Maycock
              November 27, 2014 at 4:01 pm

              Nope, no blog, maybe in the future(toying with the idea of delving into the murky pools of book reviewing (I think I’m idealistic enough to give it a good go!)

              Liked by 1 person

  4. October 30, 2014 at 11:35 am

    oh, well done re NaNoWriMo, I did it in July but changed the graph to 30,000 words! I got to 22,000! My challenge now is finding the time to get back to it.
    I was debating this subject in my head recently re when to publish the next month ie is there a best month, partly cos I need to firm up my deadlines or it will never get past that 22,000 words.
    I self published mine last year on 29th Nov, didn’t have it in bookshops for Xmas but I got good PR with it in run up to Xmas, maybe that was partly cos all the heavy hitter authors had been done and dusted at that stage.
    I found my book sold well for Xmas, it was a stocking filler or just seen as a funny read. People saw it and thought of someone to give it to kind of thing. I had a few people phone me to buy 5 copies which was great.
    Agree with Sally, it sounds like May is a good month. I was wondering if Sept (and launch it just before Ploughing match) might be a good move but that’s a long way off. Okay, it’s going to be May or September depending on how busy the calving season is! 😉


    • Sally
      October 30, 2014 at 11:45 am

      Could you launch it AT the Ploughing? Lots of possible publicity?

      Liked by 1 person

      • October 30, 2014 at 11:49 am

        Yes, that’s what I was thinking too. I’ll def launch it at some agric show.May is early for them but will have a think. I kinda don’t want it hanging over me all summer if it is finished or I’ll just keep editing, want to get it published and then work on promoting it. A smaller ag show could be better for sales (ie sales each day at the ploughing were the same as the single day at Tullamore) plus they might give me more promotion (and a free stand etc) I might then do the occasional show during the summer. Yes, End of May or early Sept I reckon.
        A lot depends on the speed of my research too, need to do plenty of interviews for this one.


        • October 30, 2014 at 12:10 pm

          I think for non fiction, Lorna, Christmas is still a major market whether self-published or not, because novelty book sales (I’m not calling Would You Marry A Farmer? a novelty, but you know what I mean – it’s books that sell pretty much based on their title) spike massively in November and December as they are much more popular as gifts than fiction.

          In your case, I think you were seeing some good “hen” sales, which would do pretty much any time of year, but might favour May over September – and then do some sort of major promo for next Christmas on book 2?


          • October 30, 2014 at 12:22 pm

            I’m procrastinating today! Can you tell?!
            Yes, the humour in the title intrigues people and hooks them in to buy as a gift book. Need to get in some gift guides now too for Xmas
            Yes, the ‘hen’ sales worked well and I recently heard of a best man incorporating extracts from the book into his speech (groom is a farmer). Apparently it brought the house down and 6 guests bought the book the following week!
            Great post Tara 🙂


            • October 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm

              I seriously doubt he’ll be your last Best Man PR! Thanks Lorna, I live to serve 😉


  5. October 30, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I’ve been promising my followers that my book should be available for the holidays, so I’m sunk. But my second book should hit the sweet spot of pre-summer buying. With all my traumas over drowned computers, it has put me back almost two weeks, which may turn out to be a good thing.


    • October 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      One thing which strikes me, is that a delay in publishing would be unlikely to deter your followers from buying the book, whenever it did come out. It’s the people who don’t follow you who are the holy grail of book sales.

      But your current plan sounds good in any case, because releasing your next book within 6 months means that you’re in pole position to capitalise on your first release while you still have the momentum from it, which is a big advantage.


  6. October 30, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Stories from the Hearth and commented:
    Ah, yes…I am currently in the final stages of writing a German language novel and was wondering, when, WHEN, WHEEEEEENNNNN to publish the thing to catch book buyers when they’ve still got a few pence to spare before the Festive Season bankrupts us all. Thanks to Tara Sparling’s blog post I now feel a bit calmer…


    • October 30, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Calmer? Really? Oh dear. That means I’ve failed, then. My mission to rabble-rouse and cause general havoc in the writing world, defeated in just one comment 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 2, 2014 at 3:39 pm

        Well, you put my mind at rest that actually, there’s no time like the present to put my book up for sale, never mind what those best selling author-creatures do:) Thanks for such an informative and fun blog post.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. October 30, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Reblogged this on Helen Hart, Author and commented:
    Nice to see stats and graphs that back up the gut-instinct/experience-based advice we’re giving authors 🙂


  8. October 30, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Great post, as always. I was planning on having my next book around Christmas, however I wasn’t counting on a lot of work from my day-job, which means that I haven’t even started the editing part. I think that I might have to forego the holiday season altogether and aim for January. Thanks for the stats! 🙂


    • October 30, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Day jobs are an absolute curse, aren’t they?! Except for when they pay the bills and get you out into society so that you don’t go stir crazy and force you to become hyper-organised so that you actually get more writing done than you would otherwise 😉 But January or February would sound good to me.
      No worries on the stats. I’m just a conduit in their plan to take over the world…


  9. October 30, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Excellent data. The graphs are even better, though I might have appreciated a teal or lilac in the mix there somewhere. 🙂

    Seriously though, good stuff. Important to see those trends, as the one about Christmas sort of flies in the face of what we’d like to believe — “people will buy MORE books because of CHRISTMAS!!!!” True. They’re just not OUR books.

    I’ll be curious what happens in the next five months. And why the USA is bereft of any useful data. As certainly “Why, in September 2014, did bestselling books have to have the word “Bone” in the title?”

    Keep up the good work…it’s appreciated. Given my own antipathy for math, I can only imagine the time and effort that went into compiling and graphing the data. So thank you.


    • October 30, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Just can’t get decent teal or lilac hues in Excel, Lorraine. It’s like it was designed by people who had barely any regard for art 😉

      On the subject of US data, what I’ve seen seems to be calculated based on the electoral-college system of counting, which is an absolute insult to anyone who respects proper numerical loveliness, and so it tends to put me off even bothering to deal with it. But yes, I myself am looking forward to the time in roughly 7 months when I have a full year’s worth of UK/Ireland data, because after that I won’t be doing this exercise again without someone paying me to do it. There are limits to my nerdiness!


  10. BRMaycock
    October 30, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Great post! After this we’ll see the number of releases increasing hugely in May;)I got a text from my mother in law last august saying that everyone around her in the airport were reading kindles and to get my book the hell out there (is pure unadulterated chick lit). I texted back telling her I had only started editing and got the equivalent of a sigh back.;););)


    • October 30, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      And I’m sure you’ll keep getting those sighs right up until your book is launched… at which point the sighs will change to “everyone was reading kindles but they weren’t reading your book, why is that?” 😛
      Just make anyone who asks your honorary PR consultant…


  11. October 30, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    So, as I aim to launch my first novel May 2015, I need to be thankful that is when the folk in the Cretan village of Kritsa hold the Kritsotopoula memorial service. My heroine, aka Kritsotopoula, died in January 1823, so I was bemused why they chose May for the memorial. The answer was…. ‘the weather is better then!’


    • October 30, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      You bring up another important factor in publishing timing- tie-ins with actual events and anniversaries. If you can capitalise on that, you must.

      Good luck in May 15, come back and tell us how you got on!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. October 30, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Reblogged this on A Shot and a Half Pint and commented:
    Some great data about when to publish your book in order to optimize sales!


  13. October 30, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    You have your way with words. So you do. I might self publish using my blog, my iPad and a photocopier. I’ll do it in August because there is less chance of getting caught.


    • October 30, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      I think that sounds like a most excellent idea, Conor. And as an extra marketing tip, you could lie in wait for people in the airport as they come back from their holidays and fling delicious chops at them. However, they wouldn’t be allowed to taste anything until they bought your cookery-book-slash-observational-comedy tome. It’s a shoe-in for the bestseller list.

      Liked by 2 people

      • October 30, 2014 at 9:46 pm

        Cobblers! (best shoe pun I could devise in 3 seconds).

        Liked by 1 person

        • October 30, 2014 at 9:54 pm

          I’d be a heel not to appreciate that Conor!


          • October 30, 2014 at 9:56 pm

            You DO have a sole!


            • October 30, 2014 at 10:22 pm

              Hahahaha!! Very punny! Now go and write that book. Time to get a foothold in publishing. Your wordsmithiness is proven and I’m expecting it in August 2015. Quick march!


  14. October 31, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Gosh, Tara, I am in awe. Those excel graphs, they’re so lovely, it’s a shame there isn’t just a market for graphs, really. (I’m not being funny, I spent several hours yesterday wrestling with two excel charts about gender share in the Greek economy. If I have any more problems with my tick marks, data labels, or horizontal gridlines, I’m coming straight to you).
    But, returning to our moutons, I never think about any of this; honestly it’s never entered my head about best publishing times, I just moon about in la la land, and when I’ve written something I like, I want people To See It Immediately.


    • October 31, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      There is a market for graphs, Elaine… just not the graphs I want to make. I could technically make graphs all day and get paid for it, but none of them would contain things I actually wanted to know. (I lead a little life.)

      I know what you mean about the need to publish. I’m trying to stockpile a few blog posts before Nanowrimo gets its claws into me, and the minute I finish anything, it’s like “Oooh! get it out now!! G’wan! It’ll be FUN!!”


      • October 31, 2014 at 5:01 pm

        That’s why I like blogging; it’s so immediate. Good luck with the book, I’m sending you positive thoughts.


        • October 31, 2014 at 7:43 pm

          Thanks, Elaine! I do hope they don’t put me off 😉


          • October 31, 2014 at 8:34 pm

            No, they will uplift you and put a song in your heart and a thrill in your fingers as you burn down the keyboard. But I want to come to the awards ceremony for this one, ok?


            • October 31, 2014 at 8:55 pm

              Sounds like I’m writing a Disney movie. There’s money in that, you know.

              Grand, so. You’re totally invited to the awards ceremony. Although I must confess that does sound like another one of my most specially fantastical IOUs 😀


    • November 25, 2014 at 10:42 pm

      Simian sharing hugely appreciated as always Chris 😀


  15. November 25, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Looks like June and October are the best months. Thanks so much for sharing this. This is why I follow you.


    • November 25, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      Any post which helps out is a treat for me, and I accept payment in kind comments 😉 Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. November 26, 2014 at 1:04 am

    That does it! I’m officially following this blog forever! THIS is exactly the information and type of information I’ve been searching for and bless you for giving it freely!!


    • November 26, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      Glad you liked it. Let’s hope I live up to the initial promise! 😉


  17. November 26, 2014 at 2:22 am

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. November 26, 2014 at 3:54 am

    Reblogged this on FutureImperfect and commented:
    Very Important Information! Check it out Futurists!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. November 26, 2014 at 3:55 am

    I have also reblogged this article on my blog!!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. November 26, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Reblogged this on Experiments with WordPress and commented:
    For those of you thinking of publishing before Christmas, have a look at these stats!


  21. November 26, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Thanks for gathering data and posting. #booksales #season


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: