Timing a Release

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigfile8151262998458

When I was strictly traditionally published, timing a release had nothing to do with me. It was, actually, in my contract.  Usually I had a two or three book contract and my deadlines and the books’ release dates were spelled out.

The release dates even trickled into my writing…I frequently set the story during the season the book would be launching in.

I remember that other trad-published mystery writers weren’t happy about December releases, for example.  I did have a trad-pub December release in 2013. It was a slow start for that book, but it has ended up being one of my long-term strongest-selling titles. Although slow starts do tend to make publishers nervous since they’re not so into publishing’s “long tail” as self-publishers are. They encounter returns from bookstores.

Toward the end of November, I had a completed Myrtle Clover (self-pub) book. I remembered the bias against holiday-timed releases. But there was no way I was going to sit on the launch, either. I’d listed the book as releasing in 2015. So I put it out on Thanksgiving weekend. I sent out a reader newsletter to announce the release, carefully set up the book’s pages on Amazon, etc., to reflect reader reviews for the rest of the series, and then just carried on with hosting house guests and doing family activities and stuff like that.

It was definitely a stronger start than the previous holiday timed release, but I credit my newsletter for that. I noticed that readers were buying the book, but they weren’t reading it or reviewing it like they had for the other books.  That’s because it was smack dab in the middle of a holiday and no one had time to read. But they did want it.

I’ve also had a couple of August releases.  Actually, I’ve probably had four or five August releases, both trad-pub and self-pub. August tends to be a slow month for me but the newsletter helped move books for the most recent August launches.

Of course, it doesn’t matter now nearly as much as it use to whether our book gets off to a fast start. It used to mean that bookstores would send our books back as returns to the publisher, where the books would be shredded or incinerated. It also meant that we might not get a contract extension. Digital bookshelves at retailers take up no space.

To catch up with where we’d like to  be, sales-wise, we can consider running sales and doing giveaways on Goodreads. Or we could get traction before the release by pulling together a street team or getting editorial reviews prior to the release. Or we could simply count up all the 4 and 5 star reviews for the other books in the series and put a “readers love _____ (our character)! 400 4 and 5 star reviews for the series” on our book’s product page on the retail sites.

Are there months or seasons you avoid releasing a book in? How do you combat a slow sales month?

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28 thoughts on “Timing a Release

  1. Thanks for the information. That might explain why my last release the Tuesday before Thanksgiving was more of a whimper than a bang. I’m still getting the hang of this – trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and when, and why. Figuring out the why seems to be the hardest part.

    1. B.E.–It explains it. Everyone is getting their fresh turkey that day so it won’t go bad by Thursday and they won’t have to brave the store on the Wednesday before the holiday. :)

      Most of the time, for me, if a release really isn’t getting off the ground, I’ll run a short free promo on it (I don’t do KDP Select, so I just go through the usual price-matching thing with Smashwords or Draft2Digital). That seems to spur sales and reviews almost to the point where it’s like I’ve released the book again.

  2. I can see where a release around a major holiday might not do so well.
    My publisher has put my books out in the fall and the spring. Think the spring ones sold better at the beginning but then it evened out.

    1. Alex–I think spring is generally considered a strong release season. I just read a book about booksellers and there was a whole section of dialogue where a book rep from a publisher talked about how publishers stuck books that were expected to be poor performers in their winter catalog.

  3. This is really interesting, Elizabeth! I think there are times that are better than others for releases. The problem with a Christmas release, for instance, is that everyone else is begging for readers’ attention. It’s sometimes better, I think to do it just bit earlier and get people thinking about it. For the ‘summer beach read’ sort of tie-in, I think April or May works. Of course, as you say, with e-books, it’s a whole different thing…

  4. Unless it’s the perfect beach read, I’d avoid summer. 4th quarter is the busiest though, so releasing in Nov-Dec is always a crap shoot since there is so much competition. It comes down to the book’s genre and content as to when is a good time to release it.

  5. Such great info :) I’m about to release my own first published novel in March, and I’m starting to get antsy about making sure I do all I can to do this right. A little off topic, but you mention things like your newsletter and a Goodreads giveaway as great ways to help get a good off to a strong start. Do you have other favorite ways to launch a book? Thanks.

  6. I’ve heard people talk about January releases, hoping to catch those folks who got Kindles and gift cards for Christmas. I haven’t done it myself, but I hear that it works pretty well. :-)

  7. Fab post, Elizabeth – that explains the “meh” results of my second book, released Dec 2013. What’s the most favorable time of year to release a book? I’ve released my last two in early October.

  8. Hi Elizabeth – it’s interesting reading about thoughts on publishing dates – you could have a murder about this .. but moving on – I note the newsletter help.

    I must read this year .. cheers Hilary

  9. Hi Elizabeth–I keep trying to have an October release date, and seem to be stuck at December. That being said, I am pleased at the results I’ve gotten this time for my third book, which was published on or around December 10th, especially selling 35 print copies and tripling my page reads. Whether or not this trend will continue is the great mystery. I think if one is stuck with a holiday release, there has to be ARC reviews ready to roll and a focused marketing campaign in order to stand out from the pack. But that’s a relative newbie’s take on it. It might actually be my own Christmas miracle. I’ve also priced all three of my books at 99 cents during this campaign, since I considered it a good chance to encourage more people to give my books a try. I like the response I’ve been getting, including likes on my FB page and more reviews on Goodreads than even on Amazon for the first book. Still, though, will once again try to have an October release, especially since the next book takes place in the month of October and will contain a bit of mysticism.

    1. Meg–Wow, 35 print copies is great! The likes and reviews show you’re doing the right thing. You’re right–definitely helps to have a strategy with a holiday release. I didn’t have much of a strategy except for the fact that I commissioned the cover forever ago (10 months? Something like that?) and just kept promoting the upcoming release in the backs of other releases and on my website. But that was book 9 in the series, so I might have become a little lackadaisical about it. It’s still selling well, but there are only 4 reviews and by this time I’d usually have had 10 or more.

      Pricing is a VERY good idea. If this book starts losing traction in the next couple of months, I’ll definitely be running a short promo (likely a freebie). That’s the quickest way I know of to spike sales and reviews.

      Looking at my calendar for the year, I already know I’ve got a April release (which is fine) and an August release…again! I’ve got to get away from these August releases! And a third book would be…a December release. If I don’t change my routine and pace, it will continue this way forever since I follow a set timetable (3 months from first page to release).

      1. Looks like a great opportunity to bump the August book to October and save the December one for next spring. Do you have a short story/novella you could sub for either summer or the holidays? After all, you’re in charge of your own calendar now!

        1. Meg–Unfortunately, I’ve already got it listed for preorder. :( Think I’m locked into the unfortunate August release, but I may think about holding onto the December release.

          I was playing with the idea of a mystery novella…a Christmassy thing. But I’m just not sure I can pull it off. I need to read other mystery writers’ novellas. Is there supposed to be a murder? Just character development? I’ll need to figure it out.

          1. You know what, and this is such a coincidence (ironic b/c cops and sleuths don’t trust them, but honestly it’s a bona fide coincidence!) I’ve been wracking my brains about this very same issue–what comprises a mystery novella in a series of novels?

            So I read several by mystery authors I’ve been reading for years. Nearly all of them were not as good, in my opinion, as the novels. They felt forced, and quickly slapped together, complete with factual errors! (And no, none of them were by the regulars who participate on this blog, so no worries, gang.)

            The best examples were by Tasha Alexander, her two Christmas short stories/novellas, both available on Amazon. One has a missing jewel, the other has a missing person. Both felt “complete” and were paced well.

            There are, of course, the short story/novella masters like Elmore Leonard, but I don’t write like that. I mainly wanted to find good examples from current writers who are turning out ebook-only shorter works.

  10. Initially, releasing around the holidays sounds like a great idea. I mean people might get a chance to read something–you know relax. hahahaha. Who relaxes? Or someone might buy it to give as a gift, but the receiver probably isn’t going to read it during the holidays either–well except for my daughter. So I agree that the holidays might night be a good time for reviews. My pick would be late spring, early fall.

    1. Teresa–I think late spring, early fall is probably the best!

      Definitely no relaxing during the holidays! I’m in dire need of sleep at this point and the holidays are technically over with…

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