Funny, isn’t it, how a phrase suddenly becomes topical? “February heatwave” was hardly a common Google search term a week ago, but here we are, digging out our tennis rackets and dusting off our surfboards, exactly a year on from the Siberian horrors of the Beast from the East.
Is this the latest evidence of global warming, or just a random fluctuation in our notoriously fickle weather? For most of us, the answer is not especially important. But I have talked to three people in the last year who wanted help to write books about various aspects of climate change.
If those books had gone ahead and were on the shelves in Waterstones now, they would surely be attracting attention, just because of this latest meteorological twist.
The point is that timing is everything in publishing. And you never really know how it’s going to work out, however much logic you bring to bear on it.
Nearly half of the books sold each year are bought in the run-up to Christmas. So does that mean you should always aim for a publishing date some time in October? On the face of it, yes. But if everyone else in the business is thinking the same way, you are going to be up against a lot of competition, including all the Christmas gift books the mainstream publishers are spending big money to promote.
You might be better off publishing in the off-peak months, when there’s less going on and there’s more chance of winning press reviews and media coverage.
Different types of book seem to work well at different times of the year. May and June can be good for light summer reading, including romance and chick-lit, but also for narrative non-fiction. July and August are pretty dead, but early autumn, as the nights are drawing in, can be the best time for crime and historical fiction.
Once the Christmas rush is over, when rash resolutions need bolstering and good intentions are in the air, there is a lively market for New Year/New You books about diet and exercise, self-help and making career changes. And there are always a number of fixed dates in the calendar that you can latch onto; March alone has International Women’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Mothering Sunday and World Poetry Day.
There are also some big events – centenaries, anniversaries of WWII battles, the Olympics, the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 – that provide obvious hooks. But if you’ve spotted the opportunity to make the most of these, so will everybody else.
In the end, of course, you can only do what you can do. Overthinking it probably won’t get you anywhere, so the best advice is just to go ahead and get your book done. Once you have a finished manuscript, you will, at least, be ready to move quickly if some unlooked-for opportunity presents itself.
Traditional publishers like to have their lists planned and scheduled twelve to eighteen months ahead and it usually takes a major scandal or the death of a president to make them change their plans and insert a new title at the last minute.
That’s one advantage of self-publishing. You can get your book out in a matter of weeks if it’s something the market is crying out for. Watch out for the unexpected – and if you see your chance, take it.
I wouldn’t put a couple of warm days in February in that category. But if we’re still wondering where winter went by the end of March, I’ll be thinking about those three climate change experts who didn’t quite get round to making their books happen.
Ian Shircore is the author of John F Kennedy: The Life, The Presidency, The Assassination and Conspiracy: 49 Reasons to Doubt, 50 Reasons to Believe. His latest book, So Brightly at the Last, about the poetry of Clive James, will be published in October 2019