Image: Matthew Loffhagen
So, you’re ready to publish your book: congratulations! The most important question now is when you should do it; whether you’re chasing the holiday-reading market of summer, the gift-giving readers of winter, or an audience somewhere in-between.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here: with only a couple of exceptions (such as when a blockbuster author in the same genre is about to publish and distract your potential readers), the right time to publish your book is when you’re ready. Books aren’t movies – there’s far less focus on that first weekend box office – and they accrue readers over time. If you’re ready to publish, the best advice is usually to go ahead and publish.Books aren’t movies, and a marathon approach can pay off for self-publishing authors.Click To Tweet
Nevertheless, there are some tips that can inform the precise moment you choose to do so, and that’s what I’ll be digging into in today’s article.
1. As they say in Narnia, ‘always winter, never Christmas’
In tandem with other gift-giving holidays, and boosted by a celebratory feeling in the air, Christmas seems like a great time to release a book. Not necessarily.
The winter holidays pose a veritable publication traffic jam, and those at the head of the line are well-established authors whose books require minimal research. Think about it: when you’re shopping for a neighbor, friend, kid, spouse, family member, colleague, pen pal, and person-you-don’t-like-all-that-much-but they-always-get-you-something, you’re not exactly in the mood to vet new authors. You’ll go with what you know or Google ‘best sellers’ and move on to the next item on your shopping list.
Of course, it might be that your marketing can get you on that list, or that you’re writing about a subject that works best at Christmas-time (like, um, Christmas), or even that this is the only time of year when you can really dedicate yourself to publishing success (see point 4). If that’s the case, go ahead; after all, there’s more choice than normal, but there are also more potential customers, and some of them are specifically looking for new self-published work. If you’re committed to Christmas and want to shine, consider launching with a temporarily discounted price and making a splash about it; that’s the sort of thing that grabs attention when people are shopping for others.
2. Capitalize on that New Year’s resolve
January is a smart month to self-[anything] – publish, improve, reflect… you name it. People’s spirits are high and their determination is in fifth gear. If that’s you, act now while you feel the push.Want to hit the festive market without taking on blockbuster authors? Consider ditching Christmas for New Year, especially if your writing is aspirational.Click To Tweet
It’s not only a good idea to carpe the diem while your fire’s still lit, but January can also be a good time to capitalize on other people’s drive. Self-help books do well this time of year, as do books on business, design, health, cooking, diet, and romance (must be all those cozy nights by the fire).
3. Summer reading is reliable
When it comes to natural book-buying, summer holidays are where it’s at. There’s a notable surge in book-buying as readers search for something to devour on holiday, and this can be especially beneficial for digital self-publishers, since eReaders offer a versatility of form that makes packing, and reading while traveling and relaxing, that bit easier.
The summer bump isn’t so huge that you need to publish as people prepare for their rest and relaxation, but if you’re hovering around that time, a deliberate publication date and marketing drive could catch all the right eyes.
4. The ideal time of year depends on your genre
Spring and summer find people reading lighter fare: novellas, adventure stories, fantasy, travel, biographies, gardening, and comedy. Where do you picture people reading your book? Close your eyes for a second (no, really – get into it) and imagine your reader. Where is she? If your answer is ‘on a beach’ or ‘in an airport’, spring and summer might be your prime publishing time.
Fall sees a slight shift in reader preferences. Horror and mystery stories do well this time of year, especially in October. Also, since old habits die hard, a lot of readers slip into academic mode in the fall. Intellectual topics, philosophy, or novels that emulate classic literature are well suited to an autumn publication. Kids’ books can do well in this season, too, as parents and teachers try to get their kids back into scholastic routines.Different genres sell better at different times of the year. Can you use that in your publishing plan? Click To Tweet
By the time December rolls around, see item 1 above and consider what kind of books are usually given as gifts: novelty, humor, religion, crafting and cook books, puzzles and quizzes, and kids’ or other illustrated books.
Finally, you may want to align your book’s release with just the right holiday. That may mean more obvious correlations: your murder mystery takes place on the 4th of July, or your love story debuts just in time for Valentine’s Day. It might also mean capitalizing on unexpected holidays as a time when fewer books are flooding the market. Aim for Sweetest Day instead of Valentine’s, or release stories that center on family relationships around Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. These holidays still involve gift-giving, after all.
Today’s marketers are finding that a tinge of something unexpected can captivate consumers. Sending a half-birthday or un-birthday card can be more impactful than an actual birthday card if sent in the right spirit. So, while you want to avoid the totally incongruous (‘Happy Easter! Buy my book about the Rwandan genocide!’), you may want to look for a less-occupied corner of the market where you’ll stand out.
5. Is there room on your calendar?
Self-publishing includes marketing. There’s no getting around it. With the right plan, and a good support system, you’ll be fine… but marketing does require time. If you aim to publish your book right before your calendar is blocked out for travel, holidays, a major work project, etc., you won’t be able to give it the attention it needs. As you plan your book’s release, factor in time to a. promote it and b. maintain your website and social media accounts.Your publication plans should account for at least two months of solid marketing. If you’re too busy to sell, you’re too busy to publish.Click To Tweet
6. Pre-publication checklist
Your publication date should come before a concerted marketing effort, but it should also come after the steps that will allow your book to succeed. As you plan a publication date, ask the following:
- Has your manuscript been edited ad nauseam, both by you and a professional?
- Do you have a professional-quality, totally outstanding, I’d-hang-that-on-my-wall-as-art book cover?
- Is your website ready? Not almost/kind of/I’ve thought about it/well, I have a WordPress account: actually ready?
- Do you know your keywords and genre for online visibility?
- Do you have a gripping book blurb?
- Are your social media platforms set up?
- Have you gotten feedback from unbiased readers?
- Do you have a marketing plan?
These are the things that will make your publication date work, not the next step once a book is already on the market. Remember, unless you’re an old hand at this, no-one is waiting for your book. Use the time that gives you to ensure they are waiting for the next one.
Bottom line: there’s no time like the present
Though the above are useful tools for mapping out a book launch, there are some of us (*cough, myself*) who are predisposed toward perfectionism. If you’re part of the ‘perfect sect’, this is for you: if it’s ready, publish it. Do it. Don’t obsess over the timing; consumer habits and book reception are notoriously difficult to predict. If you’ve thought about it, if there’s no compelling reason to wait, if your book is ready… then now is the time. Getting your book into readers’ hands sooner rather than later is probably the most relevant factor in deciding when to publish.If you’re ready to publish, do it!Click To Tweet
Is your own publication date on the horizon? Have you released multiple books and noticed patterns in how well they do at certain points? Let me know in the comments, and check out Writing For Digital Publication: The 3 Things You Need To Know and Here’s How A Tortoise Can Help You Finally Finish Your Novel for more great advice on this topic.