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?
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.)
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 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.