This topic was a total mystery to me when I started my publishing career. It took several years in the industry to understand which books sold when, how stores wanted to be marketed to, and what months tended to be quieter than others. Another related topic is the typical lead time a trad publishing house needs to bring a book to market.
Here’s what I learned….see if this can help you, too.
Seasonal Book Sales
The big granddaddy selling season is Christmas. From about mid-August through December 25th, almost every book on every topic will sell. Stores require their book shipments no later than about October 15th to hit optimum Christmas sales. This is especially true for chain stores (think B&N) – they need about a month’s lead time from warehouse to store shelves in order to hit the prime shopping season. Prime shopping season could be as early as November 10-15th. A Christmas-themed book that lands in a warehouse November 15th is really too late to have a big impact.
January is a great time for books on business, self-improvement, weight loss/fitness, and devotionals. Because of New Year’s Resolutions, people are thinking about everything they want to/need to do for the new year. Over (!) by January 15th. HA
February is a relatively quiet sales month. You might have some Valentine’s Day related sales, but don’t expect much. Different in the romance genre? Perhaps.
March – prime load-in month for stores for the Moms, Dads, Easter, Grads season. In Christian publishing, this was typically the second-largest sales season, second only to Christmas.
April – June – decent retail sales in the Moms, Dads, Easter, Grads season. Fairly strong sales overall.
July – dead quiet. Except perhaps if you count trade show sales – in the Christian market, one of the main shows is in July, so sales tend to keep steady (especially for international sales).
August – quiet until the back to school crowd gets into the swing of it. Decent time for early fall load-in as well.
Typical publishing houses work 9 to 12 months ahead of a release date. If they’re really planning well, they’re 2 years ahead. (Seems like we were always working 3-6 months ahead – bad idea.)
There’s a great reason for this. Big stores are still working an old print model – they have “open to buy” funds and are purchasing 4-6 months ahead of the ship date. That means fall and Christmas books are being presented between January and April. Spring releases are being presented between September and December. They have very limited funds to purchase “drop ins” – books that have not yet been presented to them, but are being released in the next 2-3 months. These are (or should be) very few and far between. Some buyers refuse to buy “drop ins.” On occasion, buyers will refuse to see you on regular titles if you’ve presented too many drop ins in the past. Avoid this if possible.
Ebooks and the Calendar
Obviously, ebooks (and POD via services like CreateSpace) don’t follow this model exactly. Still, it helps to know which months are typically better months for sales and plan your book releases accordingly. For example, if you want Christmas sales in 2012, I’d highly recommend getting your ebook and/or print book out there and available by Black Friday (11/23/12). Another great time to release a book is the week leading up to Christmas (ebooks sell very well Christmas Day and the week after, as people are looking for reading material to use on their new devices).
Let me know if you need help with this – it’s a VERY tight timeframe, but as of this minute, it’s still do-able. If you go print, you need a typesetter and a cover designer. If you go ebook, you need a converter and a cover designer. I have just a few spots left!