The Best Time of Year to Release Your Self-Published Novel


As a self-published author, deciding when to release your book can feel secondary to the bigger concerns of writing, editing, and marketing your masterpiece. And it certainly is. However, giving some thought to the best time of year to release your baby into the great, wide world can yield significant value in terms of sales. The first 6-8 months after you release your book is the time when to make the biggest splash, and timing it for a season that best suits your needs can help you maximize your profits in those months.

After researching how my fellow self-published authors have fared in selling books, below are the trends that I’ve noticed.

Spring is an average time of the year in terms of book sales for most self-published authors. However, it could be a great season for you as a self-published author if you choose to do heavy local promotion of your book during this time. Farmer’s markets and outdoor events can gather large crowds when the weather is at its best. Publishing and promoting your novel in the spring months could be a differentiator for you, especially if you are hoping to cultivate a local readership. For more tips on locally promoting your book, check out my post on the subject here.

The summer months are the slowest time when it comes to selling books in most genres. Whether it’s going on vacation for adults or getting through the grind of required summer reading for kids and young adults, readers simply don’t buy as many books as they do at other times of the year. Self-published authors shouldn’t be alarmed if they see a dip in sales in the summer. Depending on how often you publish, you could always delay your release until September, when book sales start to pick up.

After the slow months of summer, fall brings a welcome rejuvenation to selling books. Many readers buy seasonal books at this time, whether it’s spooky stories to get in the mood for Halloween or nonfiction cookbooks for Thanksgiving dinner. Personally, in the fall I find myself downloading Christmas stories for my e-reader to get me ready for the holiday season. If you have written something that ties in well to a seasonal activity, make sure to have your book ready on virtual shelves and heavily promoted in September and October.

The winter season is a great time for selling books. Before the holidays, many people purchase books as gifts. This can be a good time to sell hard copies of your book, since it’s harder to give an e-book as a present. After the holidays, readers are stocking up their e-readers with the stories they want to read in the new year.  And by the time February rolls around, romance authors often get a nice boost in readership. This is just speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the cold, wet weather also gives readers more time to search for and read books as well. This is an ideal time to get new readers hooked on your series.

The best option of all is to publish often. While there are seasonal fluctuations, successful self-published authors agree that publishing regularly is the key to a satisfied and growing fan base. If you can manage to publish 3-4 times a year, timing your releases based on seasonal fluctuations is secondary.

Do you have any successes or troubles that you think related to the time of year you published your book? If so, I’d love to hear what happened.

Deconstructing Hunger Games Heroine Katniss Everdeen

Hunger GamesA few years ago I stumbled upon a series that I knew was special. Before the movies, before the screaming fans, when I first read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins I knew I’d found something special. It wasn’t the premise that drew me in – I almost didn’t read the book because it sounded too gory for me – it was the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. She was tough but vulnerable, self-sacrificing but a survivor. I had already finished the first book of my own series, The Conjurors, and it made me rethink how to create a memorable, compelling YA fantasy heroine.

Below are some of the lessons that I took away from my analysis of Katniss.

Serious flaws make for a more compelling protagonist.
I think most authors know that their protagonist can’t be perfect. But at least for me, I find myself not wanting to make my heroine, Valerie, too flawed. I am afraid she’ll be unlikable. But analyzing Katniss taught me that this is a mistake. It is because Katniss can be angry, weak, and even lose track of her moral compass that I felt like she was so powerful. When she indulged her flaws, like when she got drunk and wound up in the fetal position in a basement after finding out she would be thrown into the hunger games for a second time, she felt human. When she overcame a flaw, like when she found the courage to inspire the rebels with her words in Mockingjay, it felt like a greater triumph because it didn’t come easily to her.

Protagonists don’t always have to take the moral high ground.
From the time in The Hunger Games when Katniss uses trackerjackers to attack her enemies to the end of Mockingjay when she assassinates the new president, Katniss doesn’t sit around over-analyzing the moral implications of every decision. She is a creature of action, which is part of what makes her so fascinating to watch. She isn’t like Superman, who refuses to kill. She is willing to do what it takes to survive and protect the ones she loves, even if her conscience is tortured by her decisions later.

Romance should not be the protagonist’s primary motivator.
I am willing to admit that I love romance, no matter what book I’m reading. Would I have objected to a few additional tender moments in The Hunger Games series? No. But I love that for Katniss, romance is always secondary to greater concerns. She’s not a girl to wallow and make all of her decisions based on the whims of her heart. Contrary to what I would have expected before reading this series, this makes the romantic triangle in the story more compelling, because we care more as readers what Katniss’ decision will be than she does herself. She’s too busy trying to save her district and fend off insanity.

When pushed past what she can stand, it’s okay to let your heroine break.
So many heroines and heroes come close to being broken by their experiences, but it’s not every day that you see a protagonist who truly is destroyed. The series is as much about Katniss rebuilding herself after extreme trauma as it is about breaking down in the first place. And though many of my friends were not fully satisfied with how the series ended, I thought it was courageous. It was the happiest ending possible for her character. PTSD doesn’t vanish overnight, it is a lifelong struggle. But I felt that Katniss didn’t give in to her tragedy, she fought to make a life for herself that was full.

Who are heroines and heroes in literature who have inspired your writing?

How to Name Your Protagonist

shutterstock_136700621When my husband and I decided to name our now-toddler Jacob, it was in the middle of the Twilight craze. You have my word that I didn’t choose his name because I’m team Jacob, though I have a feeling that I may field that question for the rest of my life. Really, Jacob is a name my husband has always loved and dreamed of naming his son some day. How could I say no to that? It was an easy choice.

Naming the protagonist of The Conjurors Series, Valerie Diaz, on the other hand, was much more difficult. I trolled websites, favorite books, and even newspapers for the right name. I wasn’t choosing a name that I loved, I was choosing a name that encapsulated the person I wanted her to be. I hoped that my final choice reflected her ethnic heritage, courage, and uniqueness. But as I start to think about the next series that I’ll be writing, it got me wondering if there were other ways to find the perfect name for my protagonist. Below are some of the techniques that fellow writers have found helpful, and a couple that I use myself when naming key characters.

Consider the regional origin of your protagonist and her key character traits.
A great place to start your name search is on a baby-naming website like Baby Names. What I love about this site is that you can search by region, if you’re looking to name your character something that would suit a particular part of the world, by popularity, or by meaning. This can also be a great place to finish your search for a character name. If you’ve found the perfect name that completely suits your character, it’s worth checking that the meaning isn’t something like “harbinger of doom”.

Borrow a name from history or literature and give it your own spin.
Whether it’s heroes from Greek mythology or your American history textbook, famous people’s names immediately come with an innate depth. But rather than simply calling your protagonist “Beowulf”, consider tweaking the name so that it sounds similar, but has its own twist.

Choose a name that inspires you personally.
Another, sometimes overlooked option is to name your protagonist for a particular hero or heroine in your life. Sometimes a name resonates with you for personal reasons, like the name of a teacher who inspired you. Even though the name may mean nothing to readers, you will unconsciously imbue your heroine with the good and bad qualities of the person they are named after, and can result in a more rounded protagonist.

Don’t pick a name that’s super hard to pronounce or remember.
As much as I enjoy unusual names, it is possible to go overboard. I’m a huge fan of The Chronicles of Prydain (especially The Black Cauldron) by Lloyd Alexander, but to this day I have no idea how to pronounce some of the names, like Eilonwy or Fflewddur Fflam. If I decide to write a rave review about a book where the characters have difficult names, it’s a huge deterrent if I have to go back and remind myself of how to spell the their names and remember who’s who.

Make sure the name makes sense for the setting you’ve chosen for your novel.
If you’re writing a medieval fantasy, for example, choose names that were popular at that point of history. It lends authenticity to your story. Also, don’t give all of the sub-characters unusual names if your protagonist has a name outside the norm. It dilutes the impact that you’re going for.

How did you name your protagonist? Any advice on other sources of inspiration for naming characters?

Author Interview: Alison Williams on Writing Historical Drama

The Black Hours book coverWell-researched historical fiction can have a profound impact on a reader, particularly when it touches on a subject as fascinating and appalling as the persecution of “witches” in England in the 17th century. Alison Williams tackles this difficult topic in her novel The Black Hours, evoking a dark, terrifying mood that made me appreciate yet again that I wasn’t born a few hundred years ago. Her story not only graphically details the blind paranoia of the times and the torture used on women accused of witchcraft, but also exposes the vulnerable powerlessness that women in general were exposed to at that time.

Alison shared her insights on researching and writing her novel, as well as what inspired her to explore the dark topic of witchcraft.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Alison WilliamsI live in Basingstoke, a town in Hampshire in the south of England. I originally trained as a journalist and met my husband at college. We have been married for 19 years and have two teenage children. I worked in education for several years, mainly with children with special needs. In my forties I decided that I needed to focus on my writing so took a Masters in Creative Writing. This really helped with my novel – part of The Black Hours was submitted in my final portfolio. I now write full-time as well as helping out with my husband’s PR business. I love to read – my favorite authors are Hilary Mantel and Elizabeth Kostova. I also like to watch movies (especially if they happen to be starring Johnny Depp or Ryan Gosling!). I also love music and like to see bands live whenever possible – in the last month I have seen Johnny Marr, Arctic Monkeys and Stereophonics. I’m happy to say that my kids often come with me – although usually because I’m paying for the tickets!

What was the original inspiration for your historical drama, The Black Hours?

I’ve always been extremely interested in history and, in particular, women’s history. I find it rather sad that a man like Matthew Hopkins <the villain of the novel> actually existed and did the awful things that he did, but that he is not really that well-known. In fact, a lot of people that have read The Black Hours think that I made him up! He was responsible for hundreds of deaths in England yet is hardly mentioned in our history books. Consequently, I really feel his victims have largely been forgotten – all too often they are just names on a list in a book or museum. We tend to forget that they were real people, with real lives, families, dreams, hopes and fears. What they suffered was dreadful and I really felt compelled to give them a voice. Although The Black Hours is fiction and Alice <the protagonist of the novel> never existed, the methods Matthew Hopkins uses in the novel are all methods actually used on real victims. I hope, in some small way, the novel pays tribute to those real victims.

You have a gift for creating a distinctly dark and desperate mood that permeates your novel. Did you consciously cultivate this tone, and if so, what were your techniques?

Thank you! I’m so glad that the desperation of the women comes across. I think that the tone comes naturally as a result of the subject matter. I felt that I had to try and put myself in their shoes (as much as a 21st century woman can) and try to understand and express how they must have been feeling as their world and everything they loved was threatened and ultimately destroyed. The biggest compliment I have had was from a reader who said that she was actually shouting at Matthew as she read because she felt as frustrated as Alice must have felt. That helplessness, frustration and despair, that feeling that there was nothing you could possibly do to help yourself out of this terrible situation, was what I imagined his real victims must have felt.

The Black Hours also explores the complex gender and power relationships at a particular point in history. Do you feel that your protagonist, Alice, is empowered by the end of your novel?

I have a real problem with some female characters in historical fiction who manage to fight against the odds and be independent, free and liberated. While I want Alice to be empowered and strong, which I think she is, I also want her to be realistic. I think it does a disservice to women of the past when modern day writers ignore the constraints that women lived under. By making them falsely brave or heroic I think they take away something from the everyday bravery that many, many women had to have in order to just survive. In 1647, Alice was empowered by simply being able to live alone and fend for herself.

Many of the readers of this blog are self published. Do you have any advice or marketing tips that have worked well for you?

I am learning all the time! I think that marketing is really tough because there are so many other books out there fighting for the readers’ attention. The best thing I have done is to develop a support network of other independent writers. I don’t think it helps to see other indie authors as the competition, rather I see my self-published colleagues as friends. I know that I can ask them for advice and support and in return I am happy to offer my own advice and support.

What is the most unusual thing that has ever inspired your writing?

I meet up with a group of four other writers once a month. We all write in different genres and have very different styles. We have, in the past, swapped genres and had a go at writing a piece in a genre we were really uncomfortable with. I got science fiction/fantasy! I can’t say I was exactly inspired, or that my attempt was very successful, but it was good to stretch my writing.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?

I have to have total silence when I work. Any noise is instantly a complete distraction. Even the dog has learnt to be quiet in the day when I’m sat at my desk! It’s a shame because I’d love to have music on or listen to the radio, but if I do that then my focus is instantly on whatever song is playing and not on my writing. I must have a terrible attention span! Noise isn’t the only thing that distracts me – working from home there’s the chores, the telephone ringing, the doorbell and of course Facebook and Twitter to distract. What I’d really like is to have a house with enough land to build a little office at the bottom of the garden where I could hide away from everyone and everything and just get on!