A few thoughts on seasonal book sales

The book-trade press is reporting that hardback celebrity biographies aren’t selling at all well this year. Folk with long experience in the writing and retail bits of the book trade will read this with a massive sense of deja vu. Such books are highly discretionary purchases mainly aimed at people who rarely buy books. They might buy five books in a good year, often as gifts, and who won’t buy any at all when times are tough. And times are very tough, as we all know far too well. Even with these titles heavily discounted in the supermarkets, potential purchasers may well be opting for a box of chocolates or a favourite drink as a cheaper and more immediately cheering present.

Has high staff turnover in publishing seen this sort of institutional knowledge lost? Along with other information which surely could prove useful for boosting sales in the short as well as the longer term?

Far too few titles are now offered to the 5-12 books a year readers of mass market fiction whose major contribution to the publishing bottom line used to keep the midlist viable. Here’s an idea for the Big Five. Why not try offering a choice of fiction for all tastes across all genres, varying authors month by month, in WHS and supermarkets? Start building readerships again. That’s where future best-sellers with sustained sales will come from, not the latest pop-culture trend/personality.

Meantime, let’s raise a cheer for the smaller presses who are working so hard and publishing great books. Don’t forget them when you’re doing your seasonal shopping.

Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy inspired by British folklore in 2018, and The Green Man’s Quarry in 2023 is the sixth title in this ongoing series. Her 2023 novel The Cleaving is a female-centred retelling of the story of King Arthur, while her shorter stories include forays into dark fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. She promotes SF&Fantasy by reviewing, by blogging on book trade issues, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. She has served as a judge for major genre awards. As J M Alvey, she has written historical murder mysteries set in ancient Greece.

2 thoughts on “A few thoughts on seasonal book sales

  1. For me it’s the season of emails from publishers offering specials that aren’t available in my country. I got one this morning from MacMillan offering the latest Scalzi ebook for $3… but clicking the link takes me to a page asking $10. It’s been explained to me that this is something to do with geographic distribution rights, and Australian law does not protect me from those publishers (ACCC punishes misleading offers like this), it protects those publishers from me (should I want what they’re selling they’re not obliged to comply). And if it is ever available in Australia that will be months to years after the “launch”. Ahem. Stross books run about a year or one book in the series behind (whichever is longer), much to my irritation.

    Meanwhile smaller presses seem to get this right every time and I really appreciate being able to buy your books for the advertised prices when I get the email announcement 🙂

    1. That’s interesting – and must be infuriating. There are still lots of anomalies in the traditional publishing world that date back to the days when physical books had to be crated up and stuck on ships – and the same rules and regulations were slapped onto ebooks without anyone thinking that through. Smaller presses are a lot more up to date in their thinking, thankfully.

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