For major holidays, publishers release books on a reasonable timeline; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Independence Day books arrive roughly when we expect them to start being in demand. Sure, we get some Halloween books in July and Christmas books in August, which is much earlier than I like to face the holidays, but on the whole, books ship on a schedule that makes sense. But for less specific seasonal offerings, release dates often stump booksellers.
Every year, we encounter books published mysteriously out of season: camping stories that come out in September, for instance, missing an entire summer’s worth of heightened sales. Or books perfect for summer beach reading rolling out in February, or late August, just too early or late for their optimal readership. It’s not that the books go unread, but their prime selling season seems to be lost, unnecessarily so.
I feel conflicted writing about this topic. As a reader, I know that good books obviously transcend any particular season. As a child, I loved pulling out winter books in July, when the Arizona heat in my backyard was high and I wanted a bit of sweet, cold comfort. I’m also resistant to holidays for holidays’ sake in general. But as a bookseller, I experience the waves of book interest from my customers, and I know that a certain kind of book that might have sold three dozen copies in June and July might sell just five copies in September and October.
When we encounter these books, I always wonder how those release date decisions get made. I suspect that publishers’ production calendars — nighmarish webs of scheduling details that they are — must dictate some less optimal slots, especially for midlist titles. And perhaps some books that come out at the “wrong” time were originally scheduled for months that better suited them but delays on the author, illustrator, or production end pushed them into different seasons.
I’d love to hear from you editorial and production folks about whether or not you feel that some of the books on your lists end up releasing at the wrong time, and why that happens. Remember that comments can be made anonymously. I’d love to crack the Case of the Confusing Pub Date.