Things are slowing down at the office, which reminded me about the yearly sales cycles. And since I don't have any questions in the queue (SEND QUESTIONS!) I thought you might like to hear about this. I'll be speaking in generalities; there are always situations which don't follow this pattern, but over all, it's accurate industry wide.
The last quarter of the year is the largest for sales. Of course, it is. It's Christmas. But the big sales push of the last quarter ends about now--at Thanksgiving. Bookstores have spent their sales budget already and stocked up for the holiday rush. The only bookstore orders we will get between now and the end of the year is for restocking hot moving products. If your publisher/distributor has a retail site, they'll continue to do sales through the end of the year. If they don't, you're book sales are close to done for the year.
Even with the slow down after Thanksgiving, we do double the sales (or more) than we do any other quarter of the year. Which is a good thing because the first quarter of the year is DEAD, comparatively speaking. I try to plan all my voluntary time off between January and March. That's also when I'm most active at choosing submissions and getting new releases edited and typeset for the press.
Sales start to pick back up again in March, then build steadily until about the end of June. Then they drop off a bit because some bookstores will hold orders until the LDS Booksellers convention in August so they can take advantage of the deeper discounts and/or free shipping offered by most of the vendors. August sales are always good and then build again until Thanksgiving.
So what does this mean to you? Well, that's open to interpretation. Depending on your publisher/distributors marketing plan and push, this info can be used differently.
In my company, we never release a new book after mid-October because that won't give us time to get the word out well enough to get the Christmas sales. It's just the opposite for some of the bigger companies because they have the machinery in place to get the word out, do pre-sells, and have the general public salivating for the arrival of their new product. If I were DB or Covenant/Seagull, it would make sense to do releases in early December because that would get customers back into their stores for repeat trips during the Christmas buying season. And be honest, when you go into a bookstore, do you ever only leave with what you went in to get?
Smaller publishers without immediate access to a large retailer and public advertising have to figure in a longer press-to-shelf time. But the clock starts ticking* the moment the book is released. We've found it's better to schedule ahead of Christmas sales. For these same reasons, we also don't release any new books until March, to give the retail customer time to recover from the holiday-induced financial crisis.
This last quarter is the best time to schedule book signings (if you can get agreement from all parties involved) because it includes both October General Conference and Christmas.
*Typical productive life span of a book is 2 years, with the majority of sales happening in the first 6 months of release--this is especially true of fiction.