Timing your book’s launch date for maximum impact

Strategic timing of your book’s publication date can give it a jet-propelled boost and have a major impact on its long-term success.

Commercial publishers and booksellers have known this forever.

Christmas and beyond

Retailers rack up between 25-35 percent of their annual revenues during the holiday shopping season in November and December. Smart publishers start shipping their big holiday titles as early as August for publication dates in October and November – with the goal of getting those books to the stores by Halloween.

This kind of lead time is necessary for the books to build traction with online social network buzz, print and broadcast features. By September, booksellers will start to put the major new novels and A-list nonfiction in their windows and on their front tables, including novels and nonfiction books, as well as beautiful books of photography, art, travel, food, and children’s books – often high-priced and full of color.

There are many other “seasons” and strategic tie-in dates to consider. Right on the heels of Christmas, for example, comes January ready with a new crop of self-help and how-to books to attract shoppers flush with New Year’s resolutions to lose 10 pounds or finally learn Spanish.

Of special interest to agents and publishers are books that can be tied into annual events and anniversaries. Featured now in the New York Times book section, for example, is the title 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story to coincide with the company’s 125th anniversary. Two years in the making, written by Princeton historian Seth Wilentz and loaded with “delicious” archival photos of Columbia’s vast roster of stars like Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand and Billie Holiday, the book’s publication will be boosted by related events, including an exhibition opening this week at the Grammy Museum in LA.

* Scroll down for a starter list of publishing tie-ins.  You’ll think of many more.

Pitching tie-ins to agents and publishers

Savvy authors highlight tie-ins and strategic launch dates when pitching to literary agents and publishers. For example: “This will be the first book with previously unknown cables, photographs, and log entries made during the sinking of the Titanic, perfect for this year’s 100th anniversary” or “This will be the first cookbook ever for a Mexican-American Thanksgiving dinner, and I know exactly how to sell it to the huge first and second generation community in the USA.”

Self-publishers use the same strategies

Indie authors can leverage the same strategies when planning the release of their books. Two authors I know are self-publishing their memoirs to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2013. This means finishing the editorial development, jacket and interior design and platform building so they can have both eBook and print editions available for release about four weeks before their launch dates.

Shipping and launch dates: Planning ahead

Print books need to be ready to ship and arrive in stores at least four weeks before the official publication date. This means that authors going the traditional agent-to-publisher route must allow at least eight weeks to find an agent, another eight weeks or more for the agent to sell the book to a publisher, then an average of twelve months more for the publisher’s official pub date. So the total process takes about 16-18 months, and that’s optimistic.

The self-publishing author with an edited manuscript and jacket design can cut that spread radically but should nevertheless have the book ready for sale in ebook or print form the same four weeks before official publication date.

Here’s a partial list of traditional special pub dates, keyed to holidays and significant times of year.

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Tie-ins by the month

January

Post holiday: Prime time for diet books, celebrity exercise books, and how-to books, including self-education, home repair, adventure travel planning, languages, and self-help books about finding a new relationship, renewing a marriage, or becoming a more effective parent.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: For inspirational books about African American history, civil rights, peace and freedom.

February

Valentine’s Day: For loving gifts of books with hidden agendas, including collections of lyric poetry, romance novels, dreamy photos of romantic foreign cities like Paris or Prague.

End of the month: Books related to Major League Baseball’s spring training, with celebratory biographies, compilations of new statistical records, glossy picture books, and metaphorically inclined literary novels, all in place for the sport’s big opening day in April.

March

International Women’s Day:  Books on the latest topical or historic issues around women’s health, reproductive rights, freedom from oppression and exploitation in hostile cultures, personal memoir, biography, quality fiction.

Easter: Books about Christ, biblical exegesis, inspirational, archeological, and illustrated children’s books about the resurrection and other relevant topics.

April

Holocaust Remembrance Day: Books about Jewish calamities and heroism during World War II, personal memoirs, new research about partisans and German rescuers. There are always many new titles for this large book-buying demographic.

May

Cinque de Mayo: Books targeting the rapid growing market for Hispanic-American fiction and nonfiction, history, politics, culture.

Mother’s Day: An occasion perfect for celebrative fiction, memoir, and appreciation to go with that bouquet of roses.

June

Graduations: Gift books for high school and college students. And in these economic hard times, a new category for graduating college students has emerged like Finding a Job When There are No Jobs, Guerilla Marketing for Job Hunters and many others you’ll see on the front tables during June.

July and August

Summer reading: These are the weeks devoted to summer book sales, the season for category fiction like paperback mysteries, romances and science fiction.

September

The anniversary of September 11th: The events of that day have inspired books in many genres, including politics, history, memoir, biography, education and children’s books.

Off to college: Books for for college freshmen learning the ropes about class and time management, roommates, and coping with issues like sex and drugs, loneliness and insecurity. Also advice books for parents seeking guidance for their 18-year-old’s first time away from home.

Back to school: Children’s books, also parenting, education, technical, professional, literature and fiction.

October

Halloween: Horror movie tie-in books and new titles in costume, art, graphic novel and other fiction.

November

Thanksgiving: Books for children, cookbooks, history and spirituality are popular markets for this holiday.

December

Holiday books for Christmas, Chanukah, the traditional African American Kwanzaa feast, and other special year end observances.

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What a writer can do

Whether you’re a writer under the auspices of a commercial publisher or you’re planning to self-publish, seasonal marketing is largely the responsibility of the author. Only bestselling authors with huge advances can count on their publishers to do the heavy lifting. This means that to give your book the best possible publication, you need to consider any possible special tie-in date.

Obvious calendar connections are easy: the birthday of a biographical subject, the anniversary of a famous event, or a national holiday like the Fourth of July. But to stand out from the crowd, some creative thinking will be necessary.

For example: An author’s written a historical romance about two brothers on opposite sides of the civil war, one in the Union Army, the other Confederate, each in love with the same woman. So how about publishing the book on the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter or Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This gives the author the chance to send advance sample chapters, press releases, maps and illustrations, and do interviews with special interest groups online or in person, including civil war buffs, bodice-ripper addicts, re-enactment groups, interest groups and book bloggers.

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Developing a tie-in for your book

Identify any seasonal or calendar relationships for the topics in your book.

Connect that topic and date to all large potential tie-in markets for your book.

Seek endorsements from recognizable names or affiliations associated with the subject of your work.

Pitch with press releases, YouTube videos, and other virtual and actual social networking the aspects of your book that relate directly to that special interest niche.  Approach your targets online, via snail mail, and in person, including conventions and conferences, websites and book bloggers, organized email lists, on FaceBook, tweeting and with other niche creative techniques. For more on this, check out an earlier post on boosting your sales with the magic of niche marketing.

Send sample chapters, cover design, any special materials, such as illustrations, photos, and maps. Offer special event-week premiums like free copies for the first hundred requests. Consider related timely gifts, like illustrated buttons, baseball caps, Tshirts, or posters.

Be creative and the sky’s the limit in utilizing the potential benefits of season book release. Think of it as part of your creative process. You want people to know about and read your book, the more the merrier.

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What about you?

Have you tried building a marketing campaign around a seasonal theme, anniversary or other type of tie-in?  We’d love to hear from you about your experience and any suggestions you have for fellow authors.  I’ll watch here in comments for any questions.

22 Responses to Timing your book’s launch date for maximum impact

  1. Doris Ashley

    Great article.I am putting together many family letters written by soldiers in the Civil War. I will be thinking about tying it to some important occurrence anniversary in the Civil War. Thanks!

  2. Alan Rinzler

    Doris,

    There are so many famous and appropriate dates to honor with the publication of your letters. Pick a specific date that gives you enough time to finish the book and have it edited. And get endorsements from Civil War luminaries if possible! Good luck.

  3. Ann Victoria Roberts

    Extremely useful comments – thank you. Getting bestseller LOUISA ELLIOTT ready for ebook, 23 years after original publication (in UK Feb 1989) Victorian romance/family saga, so Feb 2013 looks like an auspicious date. I shall take note of your suggestions and hope to raise the profile beforehand.

  4. Andrea Marie Norwood

    I am in the process of getting my first novella published and when it’s finished with the entire publishing process it will go up on Amazon. I won’t go into any details about the book as of now, but know this, the book is different then what’s out now and it’s mythology, but it’s fast paced and enjoyable.

  5. Carmen Anthony Fiore

    Being a Civil War Buff and having written a book about some of the young heroes who participated in the war America fought between itself, so to speak, that was published by Royal Fireworks Press, titled YOUNG HEROES OF THE CIVIL WAR, without any of the visuals I provided for them, which would have made the book so much more appealing to Juveniles/Young adults. So, I’m recommending that you include pictures of these letter writers (if available). They would greatly enhance the appeal of your planned book. They would put the faces of these original letters on the pages. Your readers would see the written as well as the visual evidence that real men fought in that tragic 4-year war that did so much damage to America. Having been a member of Civil War Round Table groups in the South and up here in New Jersey, the undercurrent of division still exists between the two combative areas of our great country. I saw and heard it continually at meetings, which makes me think that unique war is still going on, but only without the shooting, of course, just the hard feelings.

  6. Rob Eagar

    Alan,

    I’ve followed your blog for years, and this is another great article that you’ve provided. Thanks for reminding authors about the importance of timing and tying-in to current holidays and events. I “re-tweeted” your article to my audience and encouraged them to read it.

    Rob Eagar
    WildFire Marketing

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  8. Jordan McCollum

    Great info. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that if you are querying agents to correspond with an anniversary “this year” as in the Titanic example, you are querying too late. Trade publishing operates on publication dates at least 18 months out. It’s not at all unusual for the Columbia Records book to have sold two years ago. Of course, nonfiction is also sold on proposal–ie you don’t have to finish the manuscript before selling it.

  9. Michael Bujtas

    I found the month by month list to be very helpful. I’m working on my own book/project, and it seems like summer is definitely going to be the goal to shoot for!

    Marketing your work is probably more difficult than actually writing it, or at least that’s what I’m experiencing so far.

  10. Dianne Price

    The first and second books of my “Thistle Series” involve B-17 bombing missions in WWII. You’ve given me a great idea, though didn’t find the date on your list. Veterans Day would be a perfect day to aim for. We have many veteran’s organizations in my town and some of them have already voiced an interest in my books. Thanks for the excellent suggestion!

  11. Yvonne

    This is a very informative and necessary article, thank you. I have a question. Is there a good season or holiday that a book of poetry and prose could fare better? I know that April is National Poetry Month and is ideal, but are there any other suggestions for a good release date? Also, when you say “launch”, do you mean the announcements of the book’s availability or the book signing launch/party/reading (since the book has already been made available online)? Thanks again. :)

  12. PKentRoyka

    Good article. Red Ribbon Trail is a story involving a famous artist and the anniversary of Captain John Smith’s arrival in 1614. A celebration on the island in his honor in 1914 and another anniversary coming up in 2014.

    See http://www.redribbontrail.org for the first chapter of the book.

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  14. Alan Rinzler

    Yvonne

    Poetry has always been in a class by itself, so special rules apply. Nevertheless, there are occasions when timing can make a difference. If you’ve written a collection of love poems, then Valentine’s Day is the obvious choice, as with a perennial February 14th best-seller like Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Similarly, if your poems focus on a single historical event, like the first shot of the Civil War or the end of prohibition, that too would create publicity advantages for anniversary milestone.

    You may want to research various poetry prizes as well, since they have deadlines for submission of new collections. If your collection has no topic focus, then the holiday season is probably the best time for the gift of poetry.

    Regarding launch or publication date, in the book business that means the day the book is available throughout whatever retail outlets have ordered it, including online or brick & mortar.

  15. News You Can Use – Dec. 11, 2012 | The Steve Laube Agency

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  16. Judith van Praag (@DutchessAbroad)

    Hi Alan,
    Indeed all marketing wise entrepreneurs keep those dates in mind.
    But holidays aside, what about the “run” of a book? My understanding was that books published in or before August of a given year will be booked in that year, and therefore will only be “new” for 3,4 months. While books published in the last quarter of let’s say this year will get 2014 as year of publication, and thus will have a 15 month run as new book. True, or poppycock?
    In appreciation,
    Judith

  17. Alan Rinzler

    Judith,

    A book’s “run”, or continuing appearance in retail stores, online lists, print, broadcast and internet media and social networking depends not on the year of publication, but the unit sales of either the ebook or print edition. It may achieve success months or even years after it’s “new”.

    So there’s no advantage to publishing a book in the last quarter of any year except for the traditional increase in holiday gift sales. And last quarter sales in 2013 will not have 2014 as the year of publication, since they are copyright and shipped in 2013.

    Poppycock being such a dismissive word, let’s just call it misinformation.

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  19. Teens

    Far too many people make the mistake of never interacting with their customers. This is especially true within the eBook publishing industry where many publishers and authors oftentimes view interacting with customers as more of a hassle than a benefit. I take a very different approach and actively try to interact with my customers on a regular basis. You can make more money with your eBook publishing business by talking to your customers instead of ignoring them. Here’s how to do it.

  20. Emma Ramsay

    This is a great article for providing advice on how to launch your new book. I think you have hit the nail on the head there when advising to tie in your book launch date with national holidays and events in order to achieve maximum impact. It is very hard to generate coverage when you are first releasing a book. As a PR firm we recently helped one of clients launch their new book in business management, if you are interested in seeing what we did for them, please visit our website: http://www.kelsopr.com/case-study-pr-business-book

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  22. L. Ekeh

    Dear Sir,

    Can a book be launched 5 years after the first publication?

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