The Best Months to Launch a Business Book

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People have often asked me what is the best month(s) to publish a business book? For as long as I can remember, my answer has been the same: September and January. I never did any in-depth research to find out if they truly were, but naturally accepted it to be true.

September is strong because it is the back-to-school month. And ever since we were kids, we are accustomed to learning new things in September.  It is also after the three-month summer break, a time that for a very long time was known as months not to publish business books. Most executives are on vacation in the summer, and they don’t want to take Jack Welch and the 4E’s of Leadership to the beach! (that’s not true anymore. Today, books published in summer months often do very well).

January is a great month for business books because it is New Year’s resolution month, the time people promise themselves to lose weight, stop imbibing, and to become better and more educated at what they do. Booksellers like January, too, and often do big promotions for New Year’s resolution-type books, like personal finance books. People often make resolutions to improve their financial lives in the year ahead, so what better months for books to help them get going?

So there is no misunderstanding, months around September and January are also strong for business books.

But I wanted to find a way to prove—or if not prove, at least back up with some data— that books published in September and January performed better than books published in other months. So I went to Nielsen Bookscan (who keeps the most in-depth sales data) to see what I could find. Here is what the numbers tell us:

46 percent of the top 50 books (paperback and hardcover) were published in September or January. That includes all business books, some published years ago, like Who Moved My Cheese, published in September of 1998, and not just frontlist or new books.

When you narrow the list to books published in the last 12 months the picture changes dramatically:

Only 12 percent of the top 50 books (published in last 12 months) were published in September or January. That means that when you look at the frontlist bestsellers, the number of books published in either of those two months came down by almost a factor of four. Put another way, when you enlarge the universe to all business books published in years past—including books published more than a decade ago—the percentage of books published in either September or January were almost 400 percent higher than books published in the last 12 months. So what does this tell us?

It tells us, probably first and foremost, that business has emerged as such a critical book category that today, business books are bought in big numbers all-year-round. Even in the summer (but we might see slightly lower numbers during those months because of the vacation factor).

It also tells us that today, publishing companies are run far more like traditional businesses. And traditional businesses want an even stream of revenues—well, if not even, they don’t want revenues in only two months of the year. By publishing an equal number of books each month, publishers even out their streams of revenue. And most important, they are not doing any harm to their authors as bestselling titles are now published all-year-round.

So are September and January great months to publish books? Sure. But so are the other months. My bestselling books were published in March and April respectively. My advice to authors: don’t worry about when your book is published. Worry about what you are publishing and leave the rest to your publisher.

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