On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: The Seasons of Publishing

I’ve been resisting doing this article because of a host of factors. But with the last pricing article, it became clear that I needed to at least say something about this topic.

Why would I hesitate at such a simple and obvious topic? For that very reason. It just seems too simple and obvious to me to spend time talking about.

Then someone (my wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch) reminded me I had been living inside of publishing since 1975 and what was obvious to me wasn’t to most people. And most indie publishers are not seasoned veterans of publishing, but new writers coming in.

As she said so clearly to me, “How would they know?”

So here we go. I will make this short, I promise.

Some Important History First

For a very, very long time in the publishing industry, everything concerning selling was divided into three seasons: Fall, winter and spring.

There were numbers of reasons for only having three seasons in publishing. The most important was that it took time for sales reps to go out to all the stores and sell the books to the stores and drugstores and newsstands. Often the early sales reps covered vast distances and serviced many, many accounts.

With each season came sales conferences, when editors used to present to the sales forces their lists of books. These conferences were done by each company and often covered an entire week. And it often took editors weeks to prepare for the conference.

Company by company, that is all done differently now.

But the three seasons remain.

Notice the season that is missing? Summer.

A number of factors played into this fact of the missing summer season besides the ability of the sales force to hit all their accounts in three months instead of four. One factor was air-conditioning. When I first came into publishing, it was common knowledge and “New York” (meaning traditional publishing) shut down in August. Sure, in the 1970s there was air-conditioning. But the tradition of shutting down still remained from the 1950s and back.

That tradition has now changed as well.

But the second major reason for no summer catalog and sales season for the publishers was that it was known that the lowest time for buying books by customers was May through the middle of September.

That has not changed.

Why Don’t Book Buyers Buy

from Mid-May to Mid-September?

If you look at your own life, the answer to that question should be clear. Graduation, nice weather, sports, kids are out of school, kids are going back to school, and so on and so on…

Do major publishers still release books every month? Yup. And often the bestseller game works wonders when a book is released into a known dead week or month, allowing the book to hit a bestseller list with far, far fewer copies than it would take in say October or November or early December.

But the books released into the summer downturn of sales are expected to sell less. That’s just the business.

Indie Publishers

For almost two years now I have been shouting (make that SHOUTING) that indie publishers should not watch numbers, but instead focus on writing their next book and learning how to become better storytellers.

At WMG Publishing Inc. we are just finally getting a person to help us develop a way to even track all our numbers and Joe Konrath finally hired someone to do the same for him. I tend to look at the numbers about once per month. (And I never read reviews and don’t care, which is another topic. (grin))

So I noticed the downturns in the seasonal sales from month-to-month, and how this summer I expected WMG Publishing numbers to go down, but instead they went up. The reason ours went up was increasing pricing, redoing some really ugly covers, and just basically relaunching some books, as well as adding in new material along the way.


Why did I expect that and looked for reasons why it didn’t happen. Because I know the sales cycles of publishing.

So here are my suggestions to indie writers and publishers.

1) Focus only on learning and writing the next book.

2) Check your numbers when the money gets deposited every month and no more.

3) Expect your overall sales to go down from May 15 to September 15 unless you push in new titles or do something else to change your list.

The summer is a great time to push in new titles because they will be solidly in the system, throughout the world, as we go into the fall book-buying season. So if you do anything in the summer, get new titles up.

If you do change a price, for heaven’s sake, give the new price at least six months to nine months to return numbers to you. Changing a price from week to week or month to month is just flat silly in this business.

Think long term. Checking your sales numbers twelve times per year is enough. And for heaven’s sake, stop reacting to low sales in a traditional low-sales period in the business.

Nothing wrong with your books. Low sales in the summer are just normal.

Now try to remember that next summer. (grin)


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime