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When Should I Release My Book?

by Tom Ashford

People often worry about when they should release their new book. It’s a valid concern – you certainly wouldn’t want to spend months working on your cherished creation only for it to sink unnoticed into the great ocean that is the Kindle store. This is all the more worrying a concept if you’ve put not just your heart and soul into your work, but your money too.

But is there a right and a wrong time to release a book?

It certainly makes sense if your book has a theme tied to a holiday. Mark Dawson has a book out this month, and it’s setting is London during Christmas. I imagine Dawson’s fans would buy the book in practically the same numbers had he released it in June – Iron Man 3 was set at Christmas but released in the summer, and that’s one of the most successful films of all time – but the average writer? Probably not. I certainly wouldn’t rate my chances of success, at any rate.

And Christmas sales are a very popular time for buying books – in the UK, at least. 2017 saw a reported total of £83.3 million worth of print books (so not counting eBooks and most self-publishers) in the run up to Christmas. BookBub even published an article back in 2013, describing the most popular kinds of covers. It’s no huge surprise that Seasonal Themes was at number 3 – from Fourth of July fireworks to Halloween pumpkins, to a snowy Christmas lodge, the holidays sell.

And boy, do the traditional publishers know it.

Super Thursday, for those who don’t already know about it, is the biggest day of the year for those in the UK’s book industry. It’s the day when the traditional publishers release the big books they want to sell copies of over Christmas. It’s at the beginning of October (so a little early), but the publishers release them all at once.

In 2015, that meant 503 books were released in a single day.

It’s no wonder. Christmas presents account for thirty percent of all the book we Brits buy each year, and most of these are cookbooks and memoirs from various “celebrities”. According to the BBC (you can read the original article here), it’s a similar concept to Black Friday – encouraging people to rush out and buy the new products when they might otherwise just stay at home. And back in 2014, UK booksellers made £35 million on Super Thursday alone. Compare that to the total sales in the run-up to Christmas (£83.3 million) and you can see how important a specific launch date can be.

Of course, it’s unlikely that most of us could take advantage of that date. Even traditionally published fiction writers struggle against that tide of celebrity stories. In fact, we’d probably be worse off for even trying. Forget about watching your book sink into the depths of the Kindle store – this would be like throwing it head-first into a tsunami.

The BBC provide loads of other statistics and theories as well. Print books go up before Christmas (people don’t like gifting eBooks, for some reason…), eBooks go down. eBooks are most popular in the first half of the year, because people “stock up” on books to read on the tube or on vacation.

Perhaps that second point has some merit. If people are generally buying more books in the first half of the year, then it stands to reason that releasing your book(s) in that half, if making the most of Amazon’s little boost at launch, would work best. But this idea only takes into account the people buying the books, not the people publishing them.

If everyone releases more books during the first half of the year because that’s when the most people are buying them, then that’s a load of adding competition. You might sell more copies, but only if you can become visible to those customers at a time when visibility might be at an all time low (barring Super Thursday, of course).

Perhaps the best time to release a book is simply… when it’s ready. Sure, a horror book might pick up more sales during Halloween – but not if the author rushes to meet that date and the book suffers as a result. And horror books are successful throughout the year. Just ask Stephen King.

Perhaps the trick is to build up a following – a mailing list of followers, if possible – so that when your new book is ready – regardless of when might be considered the “best” time to release it – those fans rush out to download it. Perhaps the key is concentrating on the readers themselves, rather than the market.

Having said all that, let’s spare a thought for the poor authors of Iceland. The two months leading up to Christmas – so starting even after Super Thursday – is responsible for eighty percent of its publishing industry’s annual revenues. That’s no small feat considering that Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world!

This “Christmas book flood” is known locally as jólabókaflóð. It’s tradition to give books as Christmas presents, and it’s not unusual for the average Icelander to receive multiple books each year. It’s a very Big Thing.

So, thinking about releasing a book in Iceland? Then it may well be worth publishing during the Christmas book flood – or at least pushing your marketing during that period. But everywhere else? Someone savvy with sales stats might tell me otherwise (and please, if you know them tell us!), but I say don’t worry too much about it. Books are coming out every week, books are doing well every week, and there are always readers looking for a new read. You’ve just got to make sure you find them.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.