Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Timing is Everything

There are a lot of factors affecting your success in this industry, writeurs and writeuses, including talent, luck, discipline, luck, motivation, and, of course, luck. Among these is another factor over which you have relatively little control (at least in terms of a publication date), but it can be of significant importance to your sales: timing.

I can guarantee you that at any launch meeting you attend, if someone's presenting a title due out in the spring that has even the slightest connection to environmentalism/green living/&c, the first words out of the sales rep's mouth will be: "Can we bump this to coincide with Earth Day?" Books about religious holidays (Christmas being the obvious example) come out in time for holiday shoppers; books about celebrities in the news are rushed out the door in order to capitalize on media attention; women's fiction and memoirs by female political figures come out in time for Mother's Day, and books about golf, grilling, and other assorted manly topics come out in time for Father's Day.

If you're writing literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction, you might not have much in the way of "prime" timing. Be aware, however, that many more books are published in the fall than at any other time of year, so if you're pubbing in the fall, 1.) you'll have the advantage of full(er) book stores and holiday shopping madness, but 2.) so will everyone else, and you may get drowned out by the deluge of new titles.

I'm hesitant to say whether romance titles do better around Valentine's Day. My inclination is to believe that romance titles are bought year-round by very devoted audiences, so it doesn't seem likely that there'd be much of a bump for a Hallmark holiday in February. I don't think many husbands/boyfriends/partners buy many books for their wives/girlfriends/partners for Valentine's Day (which is sad!), and the only items I can think of that would see a bump are the tried-and-trues (chocolates, champagne, &c), movie tickets (hello romantic comedies!) and maybe DVDs.

If you're writing children's or YA, there's an interesting sales bump around Easter that doesn't appear in sales trends for adult titles, so you might benefit from a publication date in March or the first week of April.

Mysteries, in my experience, do well in the fall, but that could be due to the fact that everything does well in the fall (see above). I'm not sure whether Halloween exerts any influence, but I don't think it can hurt.

As previously mentioned, women's fiction tends to do well in the spring and summer, due in large part to Mother's Day and the perennial "beach read" tables in brick-and-mortar book stores. Then again, many argue that most fiction is "women's fiction," so take this with a grain of salt.

Finally, non-fiction (unless it's holiday-themed or otherwise sensitive to a particular time of year) tends to loosely follow the news cycle, so books about oil and BP did well during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, books about derivatives, mortgage-backed securities, and other financial topics did (and continue to do) well in the midst of the recession, and books about or by celebrities do well when those celebrities are in the news (everything from winning awards to getting jail time to biting the proverbial dust).

In short: absolutely ask your agent and editor about the timing of your book release, and don't be afraid to make suggestions if you think anything from Arbor Day to Yom Kippur will make an impact on your sales. Being in the right place (ideally front-of-store) is only half the battle; the other half is guns being there at the right time.


  1. Oh, Halloween is great if you do horror or ghosts. Not because sales increase at Halloween (candy might help?), but it is an exceptionally good time to get press and FUN bookstore events going just as your book is showing up in the marketplace.

  2. Valentine's Day is a great hook for romance novel promotions because journalists are busy looking for their own hook for stories, and Halloween is a great hook for urban fantasy and horror for the same reason.

  3. "most fiction is women's fiction"

    LOL. If you go by the generic definition of "women's fiction = fiction that women like to read" then yes, that is exactly right because most regular readers are women, and they read just about everything. But as a reader and writer of women's fiction, that is NOT the definition I go by. It's a bit more targeted than that.

    I think you make a good point about women's fiction getting a nice surge in the spring and summer. Mother's Day, beach reading (or poolside reading), and summer reading lists play a huge part in that, I'm sure.

    Excellent post! :)

  4. There's a book for every season it seems!

  5. This is why I keep telling agents and publishers that now is the time to be buying epic fantasy, given that the Hobbit movies will eventually get made and A Game of Thrones is in progress. They need the books to be ready for the store shelves once these shows come out. They aren't listening to me, however.

  6. I'm betting that the spring bump for children/YA is related to Spring Break rather than Easter. Kids have a week off to read for pleasure instead of doing assigned school work that almost always corresponds to the holiday. It's also a time when families travel and it makes sense that books would be purchased for car/plane/train time.

  7. Hi Ted,

    Excellent point, and thanks for reminding me: as you can imagine, movie tie-ins (MTIs) always result in increased sales for the book (even if the reviews are universally negative!), and many books being published in the same genre as an MTI stands a good chance of seeing a sales boost, as well.

    All best & thanks for reading,


  8. It sounds like gardening!

    When are murder mysteries ready to plant?

  9. My publisher is releasing my book next month, so I guess I just have to do my best with my own promotional efforts.

  10. Interesting discussion. My publisher decided to fast-track my YA novel and release it at the end of October. As a result we've spent the summer rushing to get it ready. Which would be great if it was a horror story or the theme were related to Halloween, a day mentioned only once in the book in reference to the school's colors being orange and black. I'm thinking they wanted the Christmas shopping season. Maybe I should have talked to them about Spring Break time - would have been so much less stress.