Readers love the holidays, and they love books set during the holidays. That’s why these special occasions play a significant role in the writing, promoting, and marketing of books. Writers often forget that setting a book during a particular holiday season can be a smart and profitable decision. Here’s how you can make the most of the holiday advantage when developing and selling your work.
IT’S PRIME SELLING TIME
Brick-and-mortar and online booksellers alike love holidays, because they bring people into the stores where they buy gifts for family and friends, and typically pick up a few books for themselves while they’re at it. It’s prime selling time!
That’s why you’ll see so many promotions for books related to such holidays as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Passover, Easter, Halloween, and more. January is known for “New Year, New You” promotions for the self-help category, June for graduation and weddings, Summer for Beach Reads and Autumn for Back to School, March Madness for basketball and Opening Day for baseball and, well, you get the picture.
Anything that can help promote books is a good thing. The latest book in my Mercy Carr series, Home at Night, takes place the week of Halloween and that was a big selling point. The novel was listed in several “spooky reads” features and similar promotions run by both brick-and-mortar stores and online booksellers. What’s more, it was fun to write; I got to play around with all of the Halloween tropes when brainstorming plot lines and choosing settings and developing characters.
Sometimes the holiday angle is the selling point of the book—and you’ll want to do everything you can to capitalize on it. One of my clients, the fabulous Kate Defrise, wrote a lovely work of women’s fiction about a Belgian-American family whose far-flung siblings come together over the course of several months to honor their late mother, despite the strained relationship with their father. Kensington was very interested in publishing this moving story, but asked if she would consider changing the timeline to the holiday season, and then they could call it Christmas Chocolat. The title called out Christmas and the family’s holiday gathering that served as the climax of the story, complete with the beloved mother’s recipes.
THE THEME ADVANTAGE
There are a lot of other benefits and advantages to setting a book during the holidays, if only because the holidays, especially Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s, lend themselves to the sort of themes that resonate with readers of fiction:
Of course, lots of love stories, romance novels, and romantic comedies are set during the holidays. Just look at Hallmark Channel this time of year (not to mention the channel’s “Christmas in July” promotions). And let’s not forget Valentine’s Day.
As with Christmas Chocolat, holidays bring families together—and tear families apart. All that drama fueled by all that history, all that togetherness, and all that spiked eggnog. Readers love stories about families because we all have families, like it or not, for better and for worse.
Same thing with friends. Now we live in a world where many of us find ourselves far away from family and so we make our own—and invite them to Friendsgiving. Novels celebrating friendship are trending now, with the success of such blockbusters as Look at Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.
if you can write well about food, you can sell; it’s that simple. And if you’re writing a book set at a given holiday, there’s so much you can do with the food, up to and including using recipes themselves in the narrative. This bears repeating: If you can write well about food, you can sell.
Gatherings are staples in family dramas and women’s fiction, to name just a few categories. They’re the kind of events that bring people together—family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors, as well as as frenemies and foes. Think high school reunions and summer camps, corporate retreats and family vacations, in addition to the usual birthday parties, 4th of July barbecues, and New Year’s Eve fetes.
Generosity is a major theme of the giving season—and the theme of many a successful Christmas story. One of our favorite characters comes from the Christmas canon: Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. If you haven’t read Les Standiford’s The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, well, the title and sub-title say it all. You can also watch the film adaptation of the same name, starring the one and only Christopher Plummer as Scrooge.
Peace on earth, good will to men. At a time when peace seems more far away than ever, writing about peacemaking and the nature of peace and how we can all achieve peace in our personal and professional lives, our communities, and the planet at large seems a worthy occupation. And if you can write to that theme, that will certainly resonate with readers, especially in such a difficult time.
Hope is what we want to begin the new year with. We all hope for a better year to come. Weaving hope as a theme throughout your story, whether it’s set during a holiday or not, will endear you to readers. As an agent, I know that it is always easier to sell a hopeful ending than it is to sell an unhappy ending. Happy endings may be the easiest to sell, but hopeful endings are a close second.
THE SEASON OF MIRACLES
No matter what you’re writing, consider giving your work the holiday advantage. It may be just what makes the difference between an unpublished book and a published one, a modest advance and a six-figure deal, a midlist success and a movie deal. It’s the season of miracles, so dream big!
May you have a lovely holiday season full of good reading, good writing, and good sales!