Sunday, November 9, 2014

Writing a Series -- Marketing/Publishing Part 1

Marketing and Publishing go hand in hand these days. You can publish as many books as you want, but if you don't market them, how will people know they're out there unless they stumble across them somehow.

Looking back on my own series, I can see where I made mistakes, and will now share them with you. I didn't know what I was doing when I first started writing so I had no idea where I would end up. (Here.) If I had, I would certainly have done things a lot differently.

I'm going to look at Publishing the series first, because that is the BIGGER picture. Once you have the big picture, then the Marketing aspect can be broken down into littler pieces.

Let's begin with our friends Susie and Bob, the firefighter and nurse. We know we're going to write 5 books in the series. We have all our characters, our antagonist, the settings, we've done our research, and found all of our plot lines. Our poster boards are hanging on our walls, and we've written the first book.

The first book is fantastic. It's everything a book can be. Everybody says so. And you want to publish it right now because, well, because the book is fantastic, everybody says so. And once you publish that first book, you'll have hooked the readers to the rest of your series.

Here's the problem. How long did it take you to write that first book? Two years? Six months? It doesn't matter. If the book is part of a series, you will want to have at least 3 books written and polished before you publish. Because as I said before, once you hook your reader, you want them to continue reading, and you also want them to tell their friends about it. (Word of mouth is still the BEST way to market your book. We'll touch on that later.)  If you only have one book, and it takes 6 months or a year to write another one, by the time that second book gets published your readers will have moved on to the next hot thing. (Attention spans don't last very long in these days of instant gratification.)

Also, as I found in writing a series, things change the further on in the series you go. For example, in MASQUERADE (the first book in my series), Lady Olivia walked with a cane. She was elderly, or so I had imagined her. Over the course of the next 5 books as I wrote the series, she was not as old as I first thought, nor did she walk with a cane any longer.  I self-published so I could change the earlier versions whenever I wanted. Say for instance, you find out in Book 3 that the timeline in Book 2 is off, you can change it before anyone notices. However, if you publish right away and you need to change something, let me tell you what a pain in the neck that is. You really want to make changes BEFORE you publish. (For those of you who ship your work out for formatting this can become very expensive. Especially if you keep making changes.)

So the more books you have ready to publish, BEFORE you publish, the better off you are.

Loss Leaders. And FREE.

So, let's say, for the sake of argument, you've written the first 3 books in the Susie and Bob saga, and you're just about to publish them all, but then you get sidelined by the arsonist who wants to be heard so you write a short little something-something just to get him out of your head. He's not supposed to be in the books until the very end, but he just won't shut up.

This is what I call BONUS material. It's not anything you want to use in your story lines because that's all about romance (more or less), but it's an integral part of the story. What do you do with it?

Naturally, you would polish this and publish it as the loss leader. (A loss leader is something you want to lure your customers with. Stores do this all the time. "Come look at our super cheap TV." But then they put the most expensive one right next to it and the sales associates tempt you into buying the more expensive one.)

In my own example, I had already written MASQUERADE, FATE, and COINCIDENCE, but then Winsbarren wouldn't shut up in my head, so I wrote down his story. It came in around 19K. More than a short story, less than a proper novella, but it had a beginning, middle, and end. I decided when I published THE LADY'S FATE, I would publish A WIFE FOR WINSBARREN at the same time. Fate went out at $3.99, Winsbarren for .99 cents. That way, those who wanted to try my writing could, for the fabulous price of .99 cents, and if they liked that, they could then buy the more expensive one.

This had been my marketing campaign. Publish a novel, publish a novella at the same time. Somewhere between publishing the first set of books and the third, I wrote a short companion piece to A WIFE FOR WINSBARREN called A HUSBAND FOR MISS TRENT. I decided at that time to market this book FREE. This would be my loss leader. MISS TRENT is still free. But, free is not what it used to be. (We'll also touch on that later.)

Now, some authors I know, write the whole series first, and then when they finish it, write that little something something that they will use as a loss leader. I found mine in the middle. You might not want to write one. However, I think it's a good idea. A short something for free or .99 cents will allow the customer to get a feel for your voice, and your story. They won't feel bad about spending .99 if they don't like it.


To get back to Susie and Bob -- Let's say, we have 3 books and a short introductory novella ready to go. What do we do? Publish everything at once? Publish one a week over the course of the month? Publish once a month and hope something sticks?

My suggestion would be to put out the novella free (or .99 cents with the caveat you're not a new writer. If you're brand new, I would set the price to free), and then publish the first novel. At the end of the first novel, place the first chapter of the second novel in the back. There's your HOOK. Just make sure that first chapter is polished and will entice the reader into reading. (And for every consecutive book make sure the first chapter of the next novel is in the back. I did NOT do that and found it was a HUGE mistake. ALWAYS give the reader a taste of what is to come.)

I would then wait six weeks before publishing the second novel. However, now that Amazon and Smashwords have the pre-order option, I would use that for the second book. Once the second novel is published, I would do the same with the third novel. Again, six weeks with pre-order option. You might ask, "Why can't I just publish everything at once and just change the dates on the pre-order option?" And the answer is, you will frustrate the reader that they can't buy it now.

Look at it this way... I made a decadent chocolate cake and put it in a store window for display. However, I gave you a cupcake to taste for free. It's delicious and over the course of the the first week after the cupcake tasting, you come in and buy a slice of that chocolate cake (Novel #1). Every week you come in and ask when you can have another piece of that cake (Novel #2). I tell you six weeks, but if you pay me now, I'll hold your order for that cake. Your mouth waters for those six weeks. On the day you come into the store, not only is the chocolate cake ready, but I also made an apple pie (Novel #3). You want a piece of apple pie now. But you have to wait six weeks. Again, if you pay me now for the pie, I'll have it ready and waiting for you when you come back in six weeks. You want to build supply and demand. You want those six weeks to work for you. (This is part of the marketing plan for Susie and Bob's books.)

For example

Jan 1 Free novella
Jan 1 Novel #1
Feb 15 Novel #2
April 1 Novel #3
May 15 Novel #4
June 30 Novel #5

Using the pre-order option allows the reader to know there is more coming. And if the first chapter of the next novel in the back of the book hooks your reader, they may pre-order it, which is a guaranteed sale. (I've used the pre-order option recently, and although it didn't raise my standing in the ranks as some of the big name authors said it would, it was a nice bonus in my paycheck.)

You may ask, "Well, if the first three books are ready, why can't I publish them all at the same time?" Because you want to keep the momentum of your readers looking forward to your next book. If you give them what you have all at once, they'll read the first 3 books in two days and then have to wait how long until you finish book #4. By that time, they've moved on. If they eat the whole chocolate cake in two days, they'll want more, but if there is no more, they'll switch to vanilla ice cream. If you publish every six weeks, your momentum builds. If you can only have a piece of cake every six weeks, it tastes much better. You look forward to it more.


Now, here comes the hard part, once you publish something, you have to market it. Agents say you need to be on social media to sell books. Every author I know (and some of the big name authors too) maintain that social media does NOT sell books. It doesn't. I see Twitter campaigns and blog tours, and give-aways, and all kinds of foolishness going on over the interwebs, but it doesn't work. Word of mouth is still the best way to market, which is where I think the Twitter campaigns originally started, but then they just got to be spam.

I have never done a blog tour. Nor a Twitter campaign. I am what is known as a Quiet Marketer. I don't push people to read my book. I don't nag, or campaign. I'm not everywhere. I announce the publication once on my blog, and once or twice on Twitter. That's it. I don't believe in ramming my book down anyone's throat. It doesn't sell books, and only annoys people. And if you annoy people they won't read you. (And this is only MY opinion. You can do whatever you wish for a marketing campaign.)

There's also a thought out there that having as many reviews of your work as possible ready to go as soon as you publish will bring more sales than if not. In my experience that's not true either. When I first published, in the back matter was a little line that said, "If you liked this book, I would appreciate a review" or something to that effect. I didn't get any. For two years. So I took it out. It didn't make a difference. (I have very few reviews, but that doesn't keep people from reading my books.) People will either write a review or they won't. However, if you do have some people who will read it and write a review, by all means, have them ready. (And just so you know, one or two bad reviews won't bother your sales. Unless they're all bad and then you should rewrite the book. Some books with bad reviews even make it to the bestseller lists because people want to read it out of curiosity. Like rubbernecking a bad car wreck.)

Back to word of mouth for a second. One of the best ways to market, I've found, is to let people see what you're writing. I used to put scenes on my blog to let people read what I've been writing. But then the big name gurus said you shouldn't because of plagiarism. I then figured I would put cut scenes and polished first drafts on the blog to be read. However, now there's WattPad. I don't know how it works, I've never been there, but I hear it's a great way to be noticed. (I actually know of 3 people who found agents from using that site.) Word of mouth sells books. If your writing is good, people will talk about it.

Back to FREE for a second. Now, there are some people who think the first BOOK in a series should be free. I don't subscribe to that notion. Why should I give something away I worked so hard on? If I were a wedding cake maker I wouldn't give away the 7-tiered creation with the little roses and birds and fondant candies that I've been working on for the last month. If I wanted to entice people to buy my wedding cake, I would make cupcakes and give those away.  If you're going to go free, the littler the better. Here's why. I would rather give them a throw away book, ie. the arsonist's story. Because, if you give away the BOOK you've lost a sale you otherwise could have had. If you give away a LITTLE something something, you're not really losing anything, and potentially gaining customers/readers. Like the wedding cupcakes. They were made using leftover batter. You don't want to throw the batter away, but you can't really use it for another cake.

My Example -- A HUSBAND FOR MISS TRENT was a single POV novella I wrote to offset A WIFE FOR WINSBARREN. After I published it, readers commented that they wanted to see Davingdale's POV as well. So I then wrote LOVE FINDS LORD DAVINGDALE. Somewhere along the line, readers commented they wanted BOTH of those stories put together. So I mashed them up. I published Davingdale with both POV's for .99 cents. However, with Miss Trent, I kept her single POV and set the price to free. To entice those readers who wanted to try me out before buying anything else. Cupcake anyone?


Having said all that, and using the example for Susie and Bob, you might say, "Well, my series is nothing like that. I'm writing novellas and going to publish once a month until the conclusion of the series." Okay, so how many novellas are written? How long does it take you to write one?

Or, "My series won't take long to write. I can write 4000 words a day."

Or, "I'm just going to write and publish, write and publish until the series is finished. I don't care how long it takes to finish it, but I'm going to write and publish as I go along."

Okay, so you've finished the first book and published it without a hitch. You're moving right along and then your kids come down with the flu, the washing machine floods the basement, and your in-laws are coming for Easter break all on the same day. What happens if your husband finds another job across the country and you have to pack and move in less than a month? What happens if your computer explodes and you didn't back up your files? (God forbid. Back everything up! Twice!)

You cannot foresee the future. You don't really know how long it will take to write the second book, or third, or last. You only have the first book written. And here's my final argument for having three books written in the series BEFORE you publish.

If you have 3 books written, and you publish according to my timeline above, if Fate decides to slap you upside the head, you will have (hopefully) enough time to recover from that and settle down to write the next book. And because you have 3 books published, (or on their way), your readers, (who will hopefully become fans) will wait just a little longer for the next book to come out. Fans will endure the wait if they know it's coming SOON.

In my own career, I published a novel and a novella every four months or so.(Because I had already written 3 of my 5 novels.)  I published THE LADY'S MASQUERADE in June 2013 and THE CAPTAIN'S COINCIDENCE was supposed to be published in September. Everything was going according to plan when Fate stepped in and said, "Uh, no." It took almost nine months to get back to COINCIDENCE. When it was finally published in March of 2014, it was not SOON enough. It didn't do well. I cannot tell you why but I have my suspicions that the readers who became fans got sick of waiting for it.

Attention spans are limited these days, and if you don't have new writing every few months, readers will move on to someone else. Oh sure, they MIGHT come back when you publish again, but it's not a guarantee. Would you rather overhear this conversation --

"Oh, did you hear, Anne has a new book out. Number 4 in the series. Have you read it yet? It's fantastic."
"Anne has a new book out. I'm not going to bother with it though. I've already lost the gist of the storyline and I don't want to go back and reread the whole series."

In publishing, it's all about the hook to get them to read in the first place. In marketing, it's all about keeping the reader coming back for more.

Next week, I'm going to discuss marketing a series a little bit more. Hope to see you.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2014


  1. Way to go, Anne. I used that term 'loss leader' today in a comment, btw. You have an excellent way of presenting the facts here, and your way is the way I plan to go as well. I'm working on the follow-up books now. I'm considering Wattpad but haven't tried it yet.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm glad I studied a bit of marketing not too many years ago. It helps a lot to understand growth cycles and market availability.

  2. D.G. I'm glad you're finding some use for all this. Unfortunately, I had to learn from my mistakes, and that's why I'm blogging about it. Perhaps other writers will learn from them.


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