The Cycles of Book Sales

Today’s guest post is from Anthony Wessel, a book industry veteran and founder of I enjoy having my books promoted on his site and so asked Anthony to give me his non-author observations on indie book trends.

I read indie authors’ blogs about the lack of sales in the past months. Most indie authors have only been through one or maybe two holiday seasons. A book is a product. Just like with most products there is a sales cycle on a year-to-year basis.

Readers are still buying books in the same cycle as they always have. Just on a different medium.

Trend Lines Are Pretty Much the Same

The book industry has sales trend lines that have been consistent for the past forty years. Sales are relatively flat on a week-to-week basis for forty-six weeks out of the year. Slight sales increases are seen on the minor sales holidays. This means approximately the same number of books is being read in any given week compared to the previous year. The marketing efforts of authors and publishers generally do not increase the total amount of books that are purchased. The marketing effort is to get the consumer to purchase your product (book) instead of the competitor. A great example is the car industry.

Sales boom for six weeks (holiday season). During the last ten days of the holidays, retail bookstores would often have sales for a day that would equal what they would do in a week during the rest of the year.

The digital book sales for the 2011 holiday was different. People received a lot of Kindles/tablets under the tree. The only problem was that they had no books on them to read. The result was a Christmas sales season that happened in January, February, and March for ebooks. This was very reminiscent of the PC computer days of the ’80’s and ’90’s. Families would get PCs under the tree and then would have to go out after December 25 to purchase software.

A Veritable Roller Coaster

Book sales are relatively stable on a week-to-week basis. Just like grocery stores. Books are a consumable, but people only consume so much. In a nutshell, many new indie authors are not aware of the actual sales cycle of books and maybe got spoiled in Jan./Feb./Mar. Throw in the ever-changing Amazon book algorithm for their book recommendations and indie authors have been on a roller coaster of sales like they have never been on before. Great highs followed by extreme lows regarding sales (and their emotions).

Indie authors should expect flat sales in 2012 from May till December and nothing close to what they had at the beginning of the year. I would suggest authors spend this time period writing and putting marketing plans together to capitalize on the upcoming holiday season. I think there still is at least one more good bump of e-reader sales yet to happen this year. The rumor of an iPad mini-tablet along with other smaller tablets will also increase the amount of book lovers reading digital content.

Of course throw in a couple of extremely popular book series over the summer and you can lower an indie author’s sales trend down another 20-30% if their books target any segment of the readers of these series. This is not abnormal in the book industry to have a single book or series to have a major impact on a large segment of books. Think Harry Potter over the course of nine years, or Oprah book club titles. For almost twenty years starting in 1984, the book industry every other year had a Tom Clancy Christmas season, which is a separate blog article in itself.

The Need for a Keen Marketing Plan

The book industry while big and slow already knows what their “big books” are that they will push and sell this holiday season. That was settled before BEA (Book Expo America) in June in NYC. BEA in many ways is used as an announcement of marketing plans. Every major retail chain (including bookstores) has their national meetings for managers in June/July/August. They are presented with the complete marketing plans for the upcoming holiday season including signage/ads/catalogs.

I have seen successes by indie authors in the past year often with a coordinated and extensive marketing plan. While the indie author community is a very supportive group, it still comes down to convincing a consumer to buy your product over another product–which sometimes is from another indie author.

Do you have a twelve-month, four-month, or one-month marketing plan? You can bet there is an competitor that does. Oh by the way, don’t forget to keep writing your next book. Good luck to all indie authors.

Just my 2 cents worth as “Wilson from Home Improvement” looking over the fence into the yard of indie authors.

Anthony Wessel is a book industry veteran (1993-2002 with Borders/Waldenbooks), PC software (1987-1993 with Egghead Software) and founder of and The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Book List, which is updated daily.


32 Responses to “The Cycles of Book Sales”

  1. Stacy Green October 8, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Great information! So our heaviest marketing period needs to be between December and March? Do you have any suggestions as to how to approach it and what works best? Thanks!

    • Anthony Wessel October 8, 2012 at 7:19 am #


      Just remember that was last year. A couple of big unknowns out there. 1) How many book readers will become eReaders this holiday season. 2) What will Amazon’s algorithms be like this in terms of giving exposure to Indie authors.

      We would love to do a post on Digital Book Today on this topic — Creative Ideas On How To Give An eBook As A Gift?

      • Stacy Green October 8, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

        That would be a great topic. I’ve been trying to decide if KDP Select is worth it, if free days are worth it, etc. I don’t like the idea of .99 novels and intend to price mine accordingly. So many different opinions out there. As for giving an ebook as a gift, that’s a great one, because a lot of people don’t really know the ins and outs of it.

  2. Anthony Wessel October 8, 2012 at 7:11 am #


    Thanks for hosting my post on your site. Best of luck in your writing.

  3. Michelle Griep October 8, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    Great post and I really loved the picture you chose!

  4. Christine Nolfi October 8, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    Anthony, your bird’s eye view of marketing trends is much appreciated. Reading your post makes me feel even better about the holiday promotional efforts I’ve put in place for my novels. Many thanks!

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:30 am #

      Hope your efforts reward you during the holidays. Books have always been a “gift” idea for many people.

  5. Sandy Jones October 8, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    Hi Anthony!
    Thank you so much for this information. It is hard to try to figure it out as a newbie, because you just don’t have that much data to crunch! This explains a lot about the book publishing industry! Thanks again! Pat and Sandy Jones

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:32 am #

      Thanks for reading and a great job with your new book cover.

      • Pat and Sandy Jones October 19, 2012 at 5:54 am #

        Thanks Anthony! Your mentoring was key to the final product. We appreciate your interest in our success!! Have a great day! You are right, it is a story I need to tell!

  6. Christine Kling October 8, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Great post! I always learn something from you, Anthony. I’m sitting on my friend’s boat in Trinidad, but we’ve got Internet here so now I’m off to study up on creating a Marketing Plan. You’ve convinced me. No more slapdash. Time to get organized. Thanks again for all you do for writers.

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:34 am #

      Wish I was there with you. The flowers outside my office window all died after “The Killer Frost” on on Sunday morning. Maybe that would be a good title for your next sea thriller. 🙂

  7. JB Rowley October 8, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    This is titillating insider information. I found your post enlightening and educational. Many thanks. (Not sure what a Tom Clancy Christmas season is.) JB 🙂

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:35 am #

      Have to write up that post in the near future on Tom Clancy.

  8. Jessica James October 8, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Great post! I’m so accustomed to doing heavy holiday promotion for my print books – I forgot about the high number of e-book shoppers. Thanks, Anthony!

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:37 am #

      Any ideas on how to give the gift of an eBook under the tree?

  9. Nicci Leigh October 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Thanks for the insight, this topic was just on my mind! I am hoping to understand Amazon’s algorithms to keep my sales up. I know so much is dependent upon that and I am continually doing promotions to keep external sales up, when internal ones lag due to less Amazon visibility. It’s very shaky ground to stand on as an Indie. “Did I twitter enough today? Will Amazon lessen my visibility because I sold 16 rather than 20 books today? Will it be a slow decline?” Yes, this is an author’s mind!

    Thanks again,

    Nicci Leigh

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:38 am #

      Once you figure out the current algorithm — sell the info or just pass it on to your fellow indie authors. This is one of life’s biggest mysteries.

  10. Suzanna Stinnett October 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    The key point Wessel makes here is his question: Do you have a 12 month, 4 month or 1 month marketing plan? The longer the better. Indie authors have a huge advantage in that they have the option of supporting their books indefinitely. Book launches by traditional publishers have degraded to a ridiculously short window before, in perfect attention-deficit style, they move on to the next book. We authors in the indie world can keep our books moving through discovery channels as long as we want. Plan for an extended launch, support your visibility by producing more books, and be sure to bring readers into your own opt-in list. Competing in searches is only one thin slice of your long term plan. Thanks Anthony and thanks, Susanne.

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:41 am #

      Great point. Even in the big box bookstore days of the 90’s, a new release often did as much business in the first week as it would do for the rest of its hardcover life. Only a really good book could sustain the sales. Much like the movie industry.

  11. Margaret Tanner October 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Hi Anthony,

    Thank you so much, I am an e-pubbed author and in my humble opinion,this very informative post is a must-read for authors and publishers alike.

    Best wishes


  12. Elaine Orr October 8, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    I feel as if I had a semester’s worth of sales trend info in a few hundred words. Just Sunday I took the monthly sales for my series over the past year and could see the trend (March and April were biggest sale months) — and now I see how it fits with the broader market. Thank you. Elaine

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:49 am #

      It should be interesting to see how indie author sales are this Dec/Jan/Feb compared to last year. Good luck.

  13. Claude Nougat October 9, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    Thanks Anthony for a very informative post! I understand that one needs a marketing plan for at least one year and covering in particular the “high” year-end season. But when you have basically several books out (in my case 4: one novel, one series – 3 books out already – and 2 short story collections) how do you juggle the marketing of each? Time spent on one is at the expense of others. Should you focus on your latest born and forget the others? Basically that’s what traditional publishers do when they move on totheir next book after giving the author a 6-week promotion spree (on average 6 weeks, is that right?)

    I would love to have your advice. Should I just push A HOOK IN THE SKY (my latest, a Baby Boomer novel) or should I keep my revamped series (new title, new covers) up there as well?

    Oh, btw, given all that (potential) marketing, do you really think I can find the time to write another book?!

    Lack of time is the real challenge for us indies!

    • Anthony Wessel October 9, 2012 at 7:48 am #

      What a loaded and challenging question. Suzanna Stinnett make a comment in an earlier reply about the advantage that indies have now that they can continue to market their book long after the release date.
      Where do you go with your marketing? A very good question with a lot of possible avenues to persue. I have seen authors continue to promote their backlist to increase awareness of the new book and the opposite. Using the new book to drive backlist sales.
      Caught between a rock and a hard place? Maybe, but you have multiple books which most indies think is crucial to making a living from writing. Good luck!

  14. Gina Fava October 9, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Thank you for the helpful insights, Anthony! Great post.

  15. Ed Lane October 10, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Hi Anthony,
    Great blog, full of good sense. I have two books currently on the market and a third due out imminently in paperback which will be put on Amazon for Kindle in December to catch the pre and post Christmas e-book market. I always use the previous titles to raise awareness of the forthcoming title. You are quite right in expressing the opinion that indie authors can go on promoting their books indefinitely, and it doesn’t take forever to do. There should be no clash between time spent promoting and time spent creating new work; it can all be accomplished side-by-side. My local press releases, Facebook blogs and printed flyers all carry the covers of my previous titles alongside the new but a little in the background. It seems to work well as sales for the previous books blip in line with sales for the new title.

  16. virus removal October 12, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Inspiring story there. What occurred after? Thanks!

  17. Alex Lukeman October 13, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    Hello Anthony,

    This is excellent info, thanks for putting it out there.

  18. Jane Ayres October 15, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    Such an informative and enlightening post, thank you. I’m still quite new to indie publishing and there is so much to learn. My books have only been out for less than 2 months and I get downhearted because sales are so slow – I’m also naturally impatient. So realising that I shouldn’t make any rash decisions about whether or not I am failing based on this short period is reassuring. Do you think I should give it at least a year before drawing any conclusions about how successful the books are? I think this is why it is so hard to promote the stuff you create – it becomes too personal and emotions start to kick in!

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