Often the launch of a book (the actual book launch date) is determined by one thing: the book is finally done. But is there more to launching a book at the exact right time? Should there be? The simple answer is yes. But to understand how book launch times have morphed over the years, it’s a good idea to go back and look at the history of these launch dates.
Publishing a book and the associated timelines for launching the book used to be pretty simple. Publishers had major launch times which were: Spring, Summer, Fall/Winter, but now much of that has changed. Books are slotted in areas that fit them best, rather than being put into a season to fill the publisher’s book list for that particular time of year. And, with the deluge of political books hitting the market, publishers are dropping in titles as the season warrants, rather than plotting them out far in advance.
Understanding Traditional Publisher Timelines
If you’ve ever worked with a traditional publisher, you probably know that they plan far in advance. Mostly this is due to all of the pre-work that they need to do for a title, especially in terms of possible bookstore consideration. Typically, publishers select and confirm titles 12 to 18 months ahead of their actual street date. But this can and has been changing recently with hot topics (like politics) and drop in titles that tie into sudden celebrity deaths (like Burt Reynolds and others). Drop in titles are what publishers call books that “drop into” their list of releases, with little to no advance notice.
Should you be concerned about what’s releasing from traditional publishers? Well, yes and no. It used to matter a lot more than it does now, but indie publishing has somewhat leveled that playing field. Still, if there are a lot of books on your topic, it could be good to move off of your original publication date and give room to bigger names who may draw in all the same media you’re targeting. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that you find out Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura and Martha Beck are all publishing some sort of relationship/dating book in one month. And you had planned to target major national media for your topic. Meaning national magazines, national broadcast media such as major morning shows or NPR. What should you do? Well, I’d move my book launch to another date like maybe February around Valentine’s Day, which sounds super cliché but it’s a fabulous time to release a relationship book. (Here’s what you need to know about getting media attention.)
If you aren’t targeting the same national media as the big names, I would honestly have no problem launching your book in the same month. Why? Because you aren’t competing for the same targets, you may benefit from the rising tide effect. By this, I mean that the interest in the relationship market is surging with all of these hot titles coming out, so why not yours?
Conversely, what if you had a book about news fatigue (which is a real thing by the way). So if your book focuses on how exposure to all of this negative news is actually bad for your health, I’d launch your book right now. Why? Because we haven’t peaked on the amount of negativity the media will throw at us and as we near the Midterm elections, this negativity will only grow.
When Will You Have the Time to Market Your Book?
Another great question to ask yourself when considering your book launch timeframe is: when will you have time to market it? I mean, really? Because books don’t market themselves so you’ll need to make sure you aren’t planning your celebratory cruise during launch week and sipping a Cosmo when you should be pushing your book to bloggers. Need a marketing planner? You can download my free monthly book marketing planner here.
What Seasonal Events Can You Tie Into?
This is a big one, because like the example I gave you earlier – about the bad news media – you can and should consider any and all seasonal events that you can tie into. Even if that means launching it at Christmas time. (I’ll cover holiday book marketing in the next section.) Planning your book launch around a seasonal event, calendar event, or news item can be crucial to its success – even if you published a fiction book.
Got a sci-fi book? Why not put it out there around the next Star Wars movie? What about a romance novel? February would be great for that, too – even though summer seems like the most intuitive time to publish it. Sometimes the summer reading months become a secondary target to pushing a romance novel around a fun holiday, like marketing to singletons who are wishing for romance, but have none, on the dreaded V-day.
The other thing is big seasonal events. For example, next year is the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landing and already I’m seeing a lot of WWII books being pushed out there. Should you still do a book launch for your dad or grandfather’s WWII memoir? Absolutely, because there will be a staggering amount of interest in this topic. But launch your book early! I’ll cover this further in this piece.
Tying Your Book Launch Into Current Events
What about current events? Well, if you can plan ahead that’s fantastic, as I mentioned the march to the WWII anniversary is big and will begin in January. But what about stuff that just “happens” like an attack or something immigration-related or tied into other news?
If you have a book ready and something big is happening, get it out there. When Prince died, there were a whole slew of books that launched about his life. But this window is often short, so consider whether it’s worth doing. For example, the tragedy of school shootings doesn’t last as long in the media as it should, but the other side to this coin is that we have a lot more of them than we used to. So there’s merit to aligning your book launch with an anniversary of a school shooting rather than on top of a tragic event like this.
On a more fun note, the resurgence of vintage shows for the Fall 2018 TV season like Magnum PI and Murphy Brown might be a great time to release your history of television book, or something else that looks at why we gravitate to these types of shows. Why and how are they getting rebooted? It’s news you can plan for, rather than scrambling to launch your book right on top of a celebrity death, or whatever.
Is There a Bad Time to Publish a Book?
There is, but it’s not what you might think. Most authors automatically assume that the holidays are a terrible time for a book launch and that’s only true up to a point. I’ve never hesitated to release a book in December. Why? Because it’s peak shopping season. Unless your book is a horror book better tied into Halloween, I’d almost consider, in every case, that there’s a solid argument for publishing in the Fall or Winter.
A bad time to publish might be what I mentioned above. If lots of books are coming out in your same genre and you plan on targeting the same media, there’s a chance you could get overlooked. Ok, a big chance, unless you’re a big name. But the only real bad time for a book launch is when you aren’t prepared to market it, or when you publish close to a big seasonal date you didn’t ramp up for. Yes, you can target the holiday shopping market with your new book, but you’d better start your marketing plan early. If you have a title out in December but don’t start marketing till the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away, that’s too late. (Learn more about the holiday sales market here.)
Be Aware! Book Launches Take Longer Than You Think
The other thing to consider, when it comes to book launches is that if you have a particular date in mind, you’d better start focusing on that date or season early. For example, January tends to be a great time to publish New Year/New You titles and that’s wonderful, but don’t wait till January to start pushing these books, because the ramp up of marketing can take a while. How long is “a while?” Well there again, it depends a bit on your existing platform and what you plan to do in your marketing campaign.
Whenever I work with a title that has a specific focus, let’s say Mother’s or Father’s Day, I’ll urge the authors to start early, because attention to a book rarely peaks early then fades. Rather, books can take a while to build momentum and generate some steam. So start ahead of the date you’re planning to target if you have your heart set on, let’s say a big Valentine’s Day campaign (pun intended).
How Can I Find Out What Books are Launching and When?
That’s a great question and the easy answer is: read the trades. Publishers Weekly is a great one to get advance publication information on and often libraries carry these. If your local branch doesn’t, head on over to www.publishersmarketplace.com – for $25 a month you can sign up to get access to all sorts of publishing information and release dates. It’s well worth the money, even if you only use it for a month.
Finding the exact right time to launch a book, goes hand in hand with any pre-publication launch plans you may have. Next week I’ll detail these out for you, along with a handy pre-pub checklist you can print off and use!
I’d love to know if you’ve done a book launch on a holiday, or as part of a seasonal event? Let me know in the comments!