Over on the blogsite of Jason Pinter, there’s a nice entry on March 30Â called “Timing is Everything,” about the importance of choosing just the right month to publish a book.Â Jason’s both a thriller novelist as well as an editor, so he knows the business from both sides.Â And here’s what he says:
“A few years ago, I was talking with another editor about the next novel from a major bestselling writer. The book was scheduled to come out in several months, and galleys would be arriving soon. The author routinely sold about 400,000 copies in hardcover, and another million in paperback. Yet despite ten bestselling novels and over 40,000,000 copies in print worldwide, the author had never hit #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. It wasn’t that his sales didn’t justify it–many authors have hit #1 despite selling far fewer copies–it was that his books always came out in the fall, when the competition was at its fiercest, and more books were competing for almighty consumer dollar.”
Jason’s absolutely right about timing.Â If your book comes out the same week that five heavy-hitters have releases, even though your bookÂ may sell a lot of copies, you just aren’t going toÂ hit as high on the list.Â Fall, in general, is a really tough time, because that’s traditionally when publishers publish their major releases.
Since the release of my first thriller, HARVEST, in 1996, each of my books has been published in the late summer/early fall, when the competition tends to be brutal.Â The highest I’ve ever gotten on the NYT list was #3, for THE MEPHISTO CLUB.Â I’ve noticed that where you land on the Times list doesn’t necessarily reflect your raw sales.Â THE SINNER, for instance, hit #4 on the list while BODY DOUBLE, which sold more copies, didn’t even hit the top 10.Â It’s all a matter of which other titles areÂ in the stores that particular week.Â
For awhile, publishers who wanted to establish an author as a NYT-bestseller would release them inÂ the slow months — i.e., JanuaryÂ throughÂ March.Â There’d be less competition, and more of a chance to place on the bestseller list.Â Unfortunately, it also meant thatÂ overall, youÂ sell fewer copies because of lighter traffic through the stores.Â You were trading actual sales for the prestige of being a bestseller that month.
With my new book, THE BONE GARDEN, my publisher considered releasing me at a completely different time of the year, and they suggested March.Â They wanted to move me into a time slot where I might be able to hit even higher than #3, and I was all for it…
… until they took a closer look at myÂ numbers and realized that, by trying to place higher on the list, I might be sacrificing total sales.Â The Christmas season, it turned out, was aÂ period in which I sold quite a few additional books, even though it was months after my book’s release.Â Â If I came out in March, I’d lose that secondÂ bump in sales.Â So what did I want?Â A higher place on the list, or more books sold?
It’s great, of course, to hit high on the list.Â It’sÂ a real ego boostÂ toÂ have that label “#1 bestseller” behind your name.Â But when you get right down toÂ what the publisher (and the booksellers) really want, it gets down to raw sales.Â Do you want to sell 200,000 copies and hit #5 or sell 100,000 and hit #1?
Since you don’t get paid for hitting the list, but you do get paid for selling that extra 100,000 copies, the choice starts to look pretty obvious.
In case you’re wondering what I chose, THE BONE GARDEN is scheduled to go on saleÂ this September.
And nowÂ another photo of one of my books, this time in Sydney, Australia, in front of a native bottlebrush tree.Â With many thanks to Sharmaine A. for the photo!