Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

Back to business, ladies and gentlesirs.

Today I want to look at who in the blockbusting big leagues was publishing in 2014, and what the market looked like when they did.

I’ve been wading around in the book data again, my hand on my chin, occasionally contorting myself into an awkward (and poor) imitation of Rodin’s Thinker.

Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

“Are book sales greater in June or July… or is it November… wait, is that a ten euro note?! Which reminds me, I must get toilet paper” Pic:

I’ve spent some time prodding numbers into spreadsheets, sorting them into tables, poking them a bit (but not so much that they lose their shape, because they don’t like that), throwing them into graphs and taking them back out again.

Again, the idea here is to look at Top Ten Fiction Bestsellers in the UK – according to Nielsen and the Sunday Times – as an indicator of what’s going on in the market at large. It’s not perfect. But it can be a little bit pretty. And hopefully it can help authors to plan the best time to release their books, be they fiction or non-fiction.

The most bankable titles of the year – i.e. from the biggest authors – are generally released first either in the pre-Christmas period of October/November, or June/July in “hardback” format (or more probably, that god-awful massive trade paperback size which is impossible to read in bed and gives you scoliosis, if you try to carry it in your handbag).

Although the pre-Christmas market is admittedly bigger (and we dealt with why it is not for indie authors here), let’s have a look at the biggest titles (those which made it into the Bestseller List) released in June and July of 2014. Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

June alone saw the release of heavy hitters (paperbacks too) by Stephen King, Lynda La Plante, Jo Nesbo, Robert Galbraith, Terry Pratchett, Helen Fielding, and James Patterson (plus whichever stooge sorry, co-author, was ghost-writing his latest hit).

Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

July, then, brought fewer of the ‘big guns’, but still saw releases from Karin Slaughter, John Grisham, Caitlin Moran, Danielle Steele, James Patterson (and whoever, again) and Michael Connelly.

Although bang in the middle of summer holiday season, you would think that this is a strange time to release a hardback: after all, hardbacks are hardly the preferred reading formats for holidaymakers, due to their size. For instance, they are painful to read on sun-loungers.

However, the mass-release of hardback blockbusters in June and July could be because a summer hardback release can allow for a paperback release – and thus a 2nd sales spike – before Christmas.

It used to take up to a year for paperbacks to come out, but the growing popularity of E-books has narrowed the release period between hardbacks and paperbacks, because E-books are released at the same time as the first hardback releases. (Sadly, E-book data is not included here. I wish I could. But they won’t give it to me. [sob])

So, Could I Get To The Point, Please?

Let’s revisit this book sales graph for one moment.

Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

June is big for paperbacks, October for hardbacks

June and July are very noisy months in the book market – particularly fiction – when very very big authors are shouting very very loudly about their guaranteed bestsellers. Also, newspapers are looking for content to write about, and book reviews and interviews with famous authors come in dead handy.

There are quieter times of year for an indie author to publish. It might be more sensible to publish another time. And in the interim… book a holiday. You might need it.

  25 comments for “Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

  1. B R Maycock
    November 13, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Steven King, Robert Galbraith, James Patterson, Terry Pratchett…wow…a serious time for the biggies, wasn’t it?Was very surprised by for example Danielle Steele, numbers seem quite low(for someone in her league I mean, a mere mortal would be beyond thrilled at those numbers;))Do you think that’s indicative of the genres and that science fiction/thriller/horror will always outsell eg romance?Another thing is generally movies, looking at eg Fault in Our Stars or a Gone Girl


    • November 13, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Although I hate to admit it, the numbers don’t give the full story, because they’re only a snapshot at the end of the month, at which point some of the books would have been out already for 4 weeks – whereas some of them had only been released in the last week of the month. Danielle Steel’s book was only released in mid-July; Caitlin Moran’s in the very first week.

      I don’t think that crime/horror etc will necessarily outsell romance – it depends on the book, but the one statistic which we can say with confidence is that crime/thrillers and romance are the 2 most popular genres in fiction, hands down. Movie tie-ins are massively influential. The paperback of Gone Girl exploded with the movie, entering the top 10 for about the 4th time in September. It was still holding on to the number 1 spot weeks later.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. November 13, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    I was in Easons today and so many books are there with the 3 for 2 offer, they are really ramping it up for the Xmas sales.
    I haven’t read any of the books on that list above!


    • November 13, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      oh, apart from The Silkworm.

      Liked by 1 person

    • November 13, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      I can imagine how aggressive it is around now. Between blockbuster authors and their new releases, and the already-established bestsellers coming out either as paperbacks or in discounted bundles, mid-list authors are barely likely to get a look in, let alone new authors.

      So does the list make you want to buy them all, or ignore them all? 😉


      • November 13, 2014 at 7:10 pm

        Would buy from the authors I like but I’d never buy a Danielle Steele for example 🙂
        Mind you, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to buy any books until Xmas until I’d got through some of my ‘to read’ bookshelf – but bought 2 today and have received 2 in the last week to review 🙂


        • November 13, 2014 at 10:08 pm

          And I’ll bet you a shelf there’ll be more before the month is out, Lorna!


  3. November 13, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    I probably mentioned once or twice that I don’t do hardbacks except in exceptional circs – I’m buying the Long Earth/Mars/Wherever series in HB but I’m now waiting until the PB comes out and they drop the HB price (on Amazon anyway). And it’s no surprise to me that Terry Pratchett’s (allegedly) the most shoplifted author in the UK too at those prices! 😮
    Really it makes for depressing reading for those of us who don’t do crime/thrillers and/or romance for reading OR writing really, but I did feel a little better about the middle rankers less than stellar sales figures 😛


    • November 13, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      I wouldn’t get too disheartened, Jan. Think of how long George RR Martin hung around the mid-list before he went into the top 10. And nobody ever cared about vampire fiction until it spawned a thousand copycats. It’s all down to luck, really: and while you can’t plan for luck, you can still plan for a more modest market which was always there, and may one day explode, given the right film/forum/scandal!

      Liked by 2 people

      • November 13, 2014 at 10:33 pm

        Personally I’m having a ball being a PROPER writer even without the healthy sales lollipops ,but in general this does underline how hard it is to squeeze your size nines into an almost microscopic gap in the door.
        I’m all for scandals and films though – and I have several forums that are mine – all MINE I tells ya… MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! 😛

        Liked by 2 people

  4. November 14, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. November 16, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I love the graphs… though I have sold a third of my print run in the last week already and the official release date is yet to arrive and there will be nothing of this on Nielsen… of course I am not in the blockbuster league.


    • November 16, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      Wow! What a great start, Hilary! Delighted for you. there are as many in the blockbuster league as there are mega popstars with guaranteed number 1s out there. That should make us all feel better. Remember we’re only looking for trends, not outliers 😉


  6. November 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    on the other hand, if you have a specific hook to your story it might help to publish it at the beginning of the school holidays, because during the silly season, newspapers are scraping round for features. Same goes for just after Christmas, but people then aren’t so interested in buying stuff.


    • November 18, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      Yep, and the launch of seasonal or occasional books should always match their season (Hallowe’en, spring, anniversary of D-Day etc), with the big campaign hopefully ramping up in the wake of general discussion in the media anyway.

      All in all, if we just follow these 102,492 simple rules, it’s dead easy really.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. November 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Reblogged this on Author P.S. Bartlett.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. November 18, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Wow. I came across you through Elaine Canham, who I know, blog wise, quite well, and I’m really pleased. I had my first novel published this year and I was looking at those sales figures with drooling excitement. Oh well, back to real life eh.


    • November 18, 2014 at 11:11 pm

      Pleased to see you here, Peter! Don’t worry about the sales figures. Every time I look at a top 10 bestseller I think of John Grisham selling his first novel out of the boot of his car.

      And then I have a drink. Obviously.


  9. November 29, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Good work on compiling this data, Tara! It’s always interesting to see statistics like this for mainstream publishing.

    I wanted to mention though that the other reason publishers release the anticipated bestsellers in June/July, especially fiction, is so those books may be submitted to the big awards for consideration, especially for the Booker. Books must be published by a certain date to be considered. I know that’s the case in Canada, as well, where all the major awards are handed out during October. This is another factor to consider when looking at release dates.

    (Of all the books on your lists above, I’ve only read “Elizabeth is Missing” – which I read in an advance copy. I have seldom if ever read any of the other authors on the June list and none on the July list. I’m just not the market for these bestselling authors, I guess. I definitely would never read a bestseller just because it was one. I know there are many other readers like me, too. So while there is a market for these blockbuster books, I don’t believe it poses drastic competition for other books released at the same time, especially the Indies. What it does do though is attract attention away from all those other very good books.)


    • November 29, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      That’s an excellent point about awards season, I hadn’t thought of that. And I agree with you: I’d never read a bestseller just because it was on the list either. But I have to say that some of the books I’ve read might never have come to my attention if they hadn’t been on the list in the first place – it’s a self-fulfilling cycle in a way, too.

      Liked by 1 person

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