The Bestseller Guide To When You Should Publish Your Book

Over the course of the last couple of years spent crunching numbers for this blog, surfing dodgy creative social media and keeping my eyes open (in the darker hours) I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two pieces of advice all authors would do well to live by.

The first is to stay far away from tight undergarments. The second is never to trust a man called Gerald who tries to sell you a second-hand generator in a pub.

Just kidding. The advice relates to the publishing of fiction. I just needed to have a bit of fun before I whack readers in the face with some heavy-duty graphs. I’ve been going easy on you recently, with all that talking to my arse, not to mention tributes to hairy Irishmen, but all that has to stop now, for a bit of business.

 

Now read this advice very carefully, for I will only say it ad nauseum until I’m blue in the face saying it. It’s aimed at both traditionally published authors and self-published authors or indies: anyone who is not a best-selling author already, in fact.

  1. Don’t bring out your book at the same time as a blockbusting heavyweight. There can only be one loser. It’s going to be you.
  2. Unless it’s important for your book launch to be timed with a specific event or anniversary, launch when the book market is relatively quiet.

And how are you supposed to know when it’s quiet, I hear nobody asking? Well, that’s where nerds like me come in. Below I have some lovely graphs which are all full of colours and sweet, glorious little numbers which show you what the big publishers already know: the times of year when people buy more books, and also, when sales tend to drop. Also, I have a few insights into when the big hitters released their books in the 12 months from June 2014 to May 2015. They didn’t just pick their launch dates at random. They had their reasons, and so should you (for avoiding them).

I referred to this before, in October 2014, when I only had 5 months’ data, but now it’s time to look over a full year of Nielsen Bookscan data, as published by the Sunday Times (UK). Back in What Time Of The Year Should You Publish Your Novel? I said:

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.

The data sources are the same and the caveats unchanged, so on we go.

First, let’s look at those actual sales: a full year’s worth, this time. Greens are highs, reds are lows.

When Should You Publish Your Book? Bestseller Data Gives Us The Answer

What does it all mean? As you can see glaring at you from the above (I changed those colours three times in an effort to make them prettier, so if you don’t like them, I won’t listen), hardback sales – i.e. blockbuster new releases – peaked in the pre-Christmas market, whereas average paperback sales peaked in June. Even though overall sales were higher in the months from October-December, people bought more paperbacks in June than any other month.

And why is that? Holidays, of course. Some people only read on holidays; some think they’ll read, and don’t; some always read, and double up on their break. It all means the same thing: overbuying, mostly.

What does that mean for you? People planning on publishing digitally should be taking advantage of the holiday market, and the sorts of people who don’t want to lug hardbacks around with them while they’re practising Camel Mindfulness in Bolivia.

Great! That’s my first million in the bag! Er, no. Big publishers know this. They knew before you did. Therefore, do not launch in June, because you’ll be ground into a pulp by the major blockbusters who will eat up all the headlines and pocket money. Launch in April or early May instead. And look at the quieter months: they are also a good time for indie authors to release – September, March and April in particular.

Really? Prove your point.  June 2014 saw major paperback releases from James Patterson, Lynda La Plante, Helen Fielding, Karen Slaughter, J.K. Rowling T/A Robert Galbraith, and the lesser-spotted Donna Tartt. June 2015 saw the release of Grey by EL James. Nuff said.

And furthermore: Keep up with the news. Read the Culture sections in the broadsheets. What’s the big release they’re all talking about? Avoid that launch week like the plague. Your dates can change, theirs won’t. You want to compete with that kind of noise, go right ahead. But don’t come crying to me when punters walk right past your triumphant book launch to buy something famous.

The following graph illustrates the overall numbers, with no split between paperbacks and hardbacks. And if you’ve been behaving yourself, and reading properly like I told you, they will back up all the things I just said. However, I am now going to blow your mind, by turning the theory on its head somewhat.

When Should You Publish Your Book? Bestseller Data Gives Us The Answer

Here we see August 2014 was the quietest month over this period, but I wouldn’t recommend launching then either, because your friendly local journalist will generally be on holidays – psychologically if not physically. Your friends will also be away, and whatever you sacrifice, you absolutely cannot sacrifice their obligation to buy three copies of your book, plus one for the dog.

Conversely, December was the biggest month for book buying, but all the promotion for the biggies is usually done and dusted by November, which means there could actually be headspace for your marketing might. I did see some data which suggested that promotional activity taken up in late December got good results. Perhaps by the time the turkey’s carved, everyone is so sick of Christmas that they just want to curl up with a new book which didn’t have a bow on it.

So there you have it. If anyone has a real-life launching experience which could help or hinder any of these theories, speak now, or forever hold your purse.

And while we’re at it, if you like these numbers as much as I do, please vote for me in the Irish Blog Awards, which I covet most unwholesomely in 2 categories this year… voting is only open until September 21st, so time is running out. Vote for me in Best Art & Culture Blog here, and in Best Marketing & Communications Blog here. Thank you!

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  50 comments for “The Bestseller Guide To When You Should Publish Your Book

  1. September 11, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Looking back on it, I think my last two books came out in July and May . . . and both of them tanked. However, your data and advise has given me a plan: I call it Book Title Shimmer. The unscrupulous author, ie me, checks the literary press for the dates of the blockbuster releases, and then launches my book, but with a temporary change of title.

    Hence – EL James releases 50 Shades of Greyness, a sado-masochistic tale of erotica, at the same time as 50 Shades of Greyness, a paranormal conspiracy set in Wurzburg. And then after Christmas the Wurzburg Grey reverts to its original title (that’s the ‘shimmer’ see…) and all those thickos read my book wondering who taught EL James how to write proper.

    I’ll give you a credit for the idea in the credits section of the book and in my opening statement in court.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. September 11, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Reblogged this on Anita & Jaye Dawes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. September 11, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    You’ll be happy to hear that my personal experience completely agrees with your data. Also, August sucks. It’s amazing how deep a dip (see what I did there?) my sales take each August. I’ve already sold more books in the first week of September than in the whole of August.

    Conversely, December is a wonderful month. Even with all the competition, my promos have been as much as ten times (!) more successful than during other months.

    Thanks for the number-crunching. I wish there was some data for ebooks, although I suspect that wouldn’t change the distribution significantly.

    Liked by 3 people

    • September 11, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      Phew! I’m glad you said that. The alternative would’ve been dreadfully embarrassing. And me embarrassed is not a pretty sight. It’s been known to startle old policemen and make small children angry. So thanks for that, and most of all the lovely December promo data.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. N.E. Montgomery
    September 11, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you for this, Tara! On Nicholas’s desire to compare/crunch the numbers, someone numbers-savvy might be able to do using the data, so helpfully supplied by The Data Guy and Hugh Howie, at Authorearnings.com to correlate for ebooks. It’s only Amazon data, but well, Amazon is Amazon… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 11, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      You’re more than welcome, N.E.! I’ve seen their graphs and they’re pretty comprehensive – they have a huge amount of data already published and who knows, maybe they’ve looked at the seasonality already. David Gaughran has done good rundowns on their data on the past, too. And I can only dream of having the Amazon data on this stuff. But a girl’s got to dream…

      Like

  5. KJ
    September 11, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    The third post referencing E.L. James in a row? I’m sensing a pattern here.
    I also suspect there’s a direct connection to this and why my goatee has been fading away from my chin one strand a day for the past few days.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 11, 2015 at 9:40 pm

      Hmmmm. Tell me, KJ, did you take the blue pill or the red pill? I’m not saying it’s important, but the entire future of your goatee, and the publishing industry, could depend on your answer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • KJ
        September 11, 2015 at 11:16 pm

        A large latex-clad bald man who speaks mostly in metaphors and has a name that sounds like what morphine would be in Latin walked up to me and gave me a choice of the two pills and you ask what I picked? Blue, of course. If there’s a truth out there, I’m not trying to find it out through him.
        Why do you ask?

        Liked by 1 person

        • September 12, 2015 at 11:24 am

          No reason. Just as long as you’re happy. That’s all that concerns us.

          Liked by 1 person

          • KJ
            September 13, 2015 at 6:40 pm

            I’m touched by your words, Possible Robot Overlords Representative.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. September 11, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    This all seems good sense to me except for one thing. Sorry, I feel sure that you know there is going to be a “But” in everything that agrees completely. I am no expert but have had two publishers in my life. Most of my books are self published. They (The publishers) say the optimum time for a book release is August. Too late for the summer audience too early for Christmas you may think and it is down time for book sales. I asked why? They, in turn, replied; people don’t buy any shit for christmas they have to be sold it. Launch a book in October you are only gaining momentum in November and most have bought everything. Launch in August and you have gained momentum for the Christmas sales. Every radio show, magazine and/or blog that is happy to have you. you have to be there. I cannot say that this is a definitive answer in any way, but it has worked for me. Launch in february, for the summer or August for Christmas.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 11, 2015 at 10:03 pm

      I don’t mind buts at all! In fact, regular readers of this blog will know my penchant for buts!

      I see what you mean about August. Perhaps however (see, another but) it depends on where on the ladder you are, as an author, and what sort of momentum you mean. Usually local media (in this country anyway) is more interested in newly-launched books, than in books which have been out for a few months and not doing much in the meantime. Do you mean momentum from reviews, etc.? Because that could be solved with advance review copies, with a launch boost in the media closer to peak market time.

      Like

  7. September 11, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Hmm, I’m looking at this with considerable interest. My self-published paperback fiction last year was officially published on December 5th, but I did all the party stuff in November and emailed and snail mailed everyone I knew or was related to, so they felt obliged to buy each other copies (of an upbeat book about suicide) for Christmas. This worked remarkably well as I could tag onto local Christmas fairs and even sold copies of my previous novel.
    Next year I will be having a non-fiction hardback published in July (it should by been June, but daughter 2 is getting married then). The fiction hardback figures for July don’t look great. Do you have non-fiction figures? Though this is probably niche publishing (military) and won’t follow the general pattern.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 11, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      I remember you publishing around Christmas, Hilary, and I thought at the time it might be a good idea, given that late November/early December is a great time for your immediate and intermediate circle to feel the need to buy your book for all their friends! The data I’ve seen since on the response to Nicholas Rossis’ December ad campaign suggests the same thing.

      I’m afraid I’m a bit useless to you on the non-fiction side of things, I didn’t collate that data. I’d say in a broad sense they follow the usual trends – as people who rather non-fiction are book buyers just like anyone else – but I would say that if you can tie your military history in with an anniversary or other relevant date, and hit up the media in advance with story proposals, you could get fantastic coverage by timing it wisely.

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 11, 2015 at 11:11 pm

        Yup, I really need to publish on VJ day, August 15, but I won’t be choosing. Still I can offer to do talks on or around that date, clutching a fistful of books, naturally.

        Liked by 2 people

        • September 12, 2015 at 11:23 am

          Absolutely. Just get in early so they can plan – don’t forget local newspapers and radio, etc. They’re always looking for content.

          Like

  8. September 12, 2015 at 7:12 am

    some good advice here. what tips do you have for advertising for the selp-published. I’ve done FB, Twitter and Goodreads and not achieved much at all. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 12, 2015 at 11:34 am

      You might like

        this post

      – it details some of the advertising options out there and how they’ve worked for Nicholas C. Rossis, who also has a rake of great posts over on his own blog, including a great series just a couple of weeks ago on marketing options.

        Take a tour around his blog

      and I promise you won’t regret it.

      You also might like this post on

        buying prompts for self-published books

      and this one on the

        triggers which turn readers off self-published books

      I for one am convinced that Twitter is useless for marketing books. There’s too much noise on the platform and I just mute anyone who incessantly sends out “BUY THIS BOOK!!!” tweets whether it’s for their book or anybody else’s. I don’t think anyone can sell a book in 140 characters. I’ve been begging authors to stop flogging their books to death on Twitter for years.

      Liked by 2 people

      • September 14, 2015 at 5:58 am

        thank you very much, will get reading these. My latest Goodreads ad generated zilch clicks and zilch sales. many thanks again 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Alex Hurst
    September 14, 2015 at 6:49 am

    Great info as always, Tara. It’s really cool to see how the numbers perform over time, and I can definitely see why hardbacks peak after Christmas…. everyone’s got plenty to read already!

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 14, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      Hopefully it’s some help, Alex. I’m conscious that the data is so limited, but on the grounds that any data is better than no data at all…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alex Hurst
        September 14, 2015 at 11:10 pm

        Yes, and you give that data without a paywall! You’re a Robin Hood of publishing. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  10. September 14, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Thanks Tara. I’ll be back to you on launch times when the book is writ.
    Meanwhile vote is Done! Good luck.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 14, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      You’d better promise. Thanks so much for the vote. These public votes can make you feel so inadequate!

      Like

      • September 14, 2015 at 10:29 pm

        I promise!!!
        You’re very welcome to the Vote. Couldn’t imagine a better destination for it.
        I hadn’t quite thought of it as ‘inadequate’ but perhaps that’s the word ~ knowing there’s a world of billions out there and probably only reaching about a baker’s dozen!
        A week would have been quite long enough. How the hell do politicians canvass?

        Like

        • September 14, 2015 at 10:59 pm

          I have no idea. I couldn’t do it. I feel dirty enough asking for votes here. I’d much rather ask readers to do something fun! Internet votes are such tricky things anyway in an age where people can have thousands of followers for not very much at all.

          Like

          • September 14, 2015 at 11:06 pm

            Right now, I feel like I’ll be inviting canvassers from all parties in for cocktails when the next election comes around. How could I ever have been so rude to most of them!!!!

            Liked by 1 person

            • September 14, 2015 at 11:08 pm

              All parties?! Surely there could be 1 or 3 exceptions! I live in hope of people turning up at my door but I live in an apartment block so they never present themselves to be abused or amused!

              Like

              • September 14, 2015 at 11:13 pm

                No doubt things will change and my abominable rudeness will return long before the next General Election!

                Liked by 1 person

  11. September 14, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Thank you for quantifiable data! Rebloggung.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. September 14, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Reblogged this on sharpwittedfl and commented:
    This is a fantastic oost, with hard numbers about publishing. Bravo, Tara.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. September 16, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Do you think major book festivals like the Edinburgh Book Festival have a significant affect on book sales? Edinburgh is in August and they appear to move vast quantities, but perhaps not significant in the grand total of sales.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 16, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      I suppose it depends on the size of the festival… it would have to be something the size of Hay with its accompanying TV coverage to have a significant effect on national book sales, wouldn’t it?But any exposure at a festival will increase sales, as long as they’re available nearby.

      Like

  14. September 16, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Very diligently done! My book came out in September…shot in the dark, it’s just how I roll…without strategy, wouldn’t know strategy if it jumped up and bit me on the arse–that’s where you’ve just come in, ta very much!
    Course I’ll vote for ye!

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 17, 2015 at 9:45 am

      That’s luck, isn’t it, that it came out in September. Hope it’s going well? I enjoyed it very much, it was so different. Opened up a new world for me. Thanks for the vote. I am scrabbling without shame…

      Like

  15. September 23, 2015 at 5:53 am

    Reblogged this on MDellert-dot-Com.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. September 25, 2015 at 7:43 am

    That was so intersting!

    And I’m happy that March is supposed to be a good month for publishing, because I’m planning to publish a short story on the very scientific reason that… that’s my birthday’s month 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 25, 2015 at 10:29 am

      The Stars will most definitely be aligned then, Sarah… Fingers crossed for great success next Spring!

      Liked by 1 person

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