I will let you in on a secret: no one, not even the big publishers, know exactly when to publish a book. Yes, there are some givens, like making sure you are able to get into holiday and other promotions like Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. Then there are books by authors that consumers are trained to buy in a certain month based on its availability. I’m talking about Michael Connelly, James Patterson, and others who write at least one book per year.
I should also mention the reason a book is usually published on a certain date is because of marketing and publicity reasons. We try to get books out there when they will be featured most prominently and when the media are interested in what the titles and authors have to say.
For self-published authors I recommend that they publish the book as soon as it is ready. I call this a “soft publication.” Your “media date” or “hard publication” can be whenever you think the stars are going to align with media coverage and the success of your marketing—or when you think you can sell the most books!
I’m going to try to break down what the norms are in terms of publication months, but first I need to address some lingo that is tossed around and needs to be clarified.
Publication: This means that your book is on the market and available for sale via any and all distribution channels.
Release: This usually means the date that books are shipped from a distribution center to online and retail stores. However, I’ve seen it used interchangeably with “publication” but for some people it means something different. I’m not saying you are wrong for using the word, but knowing that there are other meanings out there might help clear up some confusion.
Launch: This term is a pet peeve of mine, because using this word implies there is some kind of event attached to the publication of your book. If you are a celebrity or famous person and/or your book has breaking news that is going to dictate an entire news cycle, then perhaps “launch” is a good word to use. But I caution people about calling publication a launch, because I think there are inherent expectations associated with using the word that can potentially be cause for disappointment.
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Having said all of this, here are some monthly breakdowns that I have generally experienced as the accepted publication patterns:
January (Or “New Year, New You”)
Self-help; diet; inspirational; business—if you fit into this category, this is what the media are generally interested in, and it’s what consumers are thinking about.
Self-help associated with relationships; debut authors; business; fiction—if you are a debut author, this month is not as full of new titles and there may be more promotion and media opportunities for you as a result.
Debut authors; mysteries; fiction
Beach reads; women’s fiction; biographies; books on mountain climbing
More beach reads; women’s fiction; biographies or other non-fiction that will appeal to male readers on vacation or for Father’s Day
Quieter month better for debut authors; more of what you saw in June
Debut authors; education related titles; narrative non-fiction by lesser known writers
Public affairs and politics; serial authors in fiction and non-fiction; cooking; highly publicized titles by debut authors
More politics; cooking; big non-fiction titles by well-known personalities and writers; higher end photography books; art books
Photography; art; gift books; big names; and anything else you can think of that will sell in the current budget year
Good month for lesser known authors. A variety of books are published including late comers for Christmas or those titles that people want to get a jump on for January
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You may notice that the categories are not always dictated firmly in one month or another—this is what I mean about the secret. In the end what everyone wants to do is get the book out there at the best possible moment. But you need to consider what you can control and what you can’t. After you make your best educated decision, you have to go with it and plan as if it will be the biggest “launch” you’ve ever seen! 😉