You’ve probably heard a bunch of others talk about why they write fiction in series, why you should write in series, or why standalones are bad ideas. While I’m not going to put anything down that might work for someone else, and I have a love/hate relationship with the series/standalone models, there is some wisdom I’ve been able to harness over the last year that has greatly spiked my sales numbers and I’ve discovered a little tweak that helps me maximize my profits while selling directly.
Here’s the skinny on why you should write in series, and how to make it earn you the most money…
If you’ve done any research into the topic you’re already familiar with read through rates. If you get a reader interested in your characters, they will want more. This is Netflix philosophy: let people binge your content. Let me throw out a hypothetical book. Here’s a rough picture of this in action:
Book 1: 100 sales
Book 2: 70 sales= 70% readthrough
Book 3: 68 sales=97% readthrough
Book 4: 65 Sales=95.5% readthrough
Your biggest drop off in the series scenario is between books 1 and 2. Readers might decide it’s not for them, and that’s fine. Not every story will vibe with every reader. As long as your content is consistent and quality, the drop-off between subsequent books should remain low keeping your readthrough rate high. (To calculate readthrough percentage, divide book sales by previous book sales and multiply by 100). Think of readthrough as the guaranteed percentage chance of a sale on the newest book. These numbers are speculative and readthrough will be different for different authors… but by book 4 you want to see something consistent without much drop off. (if there’s drop off, it might indicate problems with the writing.)
Getting to a third book in a series is more than an important milestone. Readers like to know that they will be able to binge content—the third book gives them consumer confidence and will help motivate the sale. People also like to buy in threes—we’ve been conditioned that way for decades by powerful media sources. Think of it: Star Wars, LotR, and many other films and books have created an expectation. Having three books out also gives you some metrics to look into. Collecting data is huge for independents so they can measure success. Data is unreliable if you don’t have enough of it, and measuring drop off isn’t easy until you have both a 3 book minimum and enough time on the market to actually gather and crunch numbers. In fact, having only two books and trying to look at just that data might discourage you… sometimes people wait to buy until the series is larger.
Craig Martell and Brian Meeks talk a lot on their websites and in author groups about rapid release formulas. An advisable strategy is to release three books in quick succession (as soon as a month apart, in fact) to harness amazon’s sales algorithms. This strategy encourages the binge readers. It would be a good idea to, right after the final book is released, launch a boxset as an ebook package… my specialty is mainly in face to face sales and I recommend also creating a print omnibus edition to sell at your live events.
People love big books. There’s something that strokes a reader’s hubris when they are toting around a huge book. This might sound like a dick measuring contest… and it really is, on a psychological level.
People love a deal. Using creative pricing strategies, you can give people a good deal on buying all 3-5 books at once, which guarantees a readthrough of 100% for that sale (well, not readthrough, but buy-through, and we are concerned with selling this product. I don’t really care about reviews or sales ranks on my boxsets/omnibuses—I want those to sell in specific circumstances.)
eBook boxsets function as a “tripwire.” Mark Dawson talks about this in his workshop. If you have a boxset (it’s a good idea to link a print omnibus as the boxset’s print version on Amazon) inserted as a side-note in your email onboarding sequence, a few people might think, “I just got this first in series for free as a reader magnet, it looks good and I might as well pick up the whole set right now.” It’s made a bunch of sales for me that I might have otherwise missed.
They maximize your profits. I know some writers have said, “nobody wants to buy a $50 paperback,” and they’re right. At least when it comes to a first in series, but if they’re getting the whole series, they often jump at it. The one book I consistently sold out of last year was my omnibus collection on my fantasy series (I am creating them for my UF and SF series this year.) It is a $40 paperback. I bring 2-4 of them to sales.
Here is how I have my fantasy series priced, including my omnibus:
Book 1 print cost 5.14 (5.5×8.5” Cream paper)
sells for 16.99
Book 2 print cost 4.81 (5.5×8.5” Cream paper)
sells for 16.99
Book 3 print cost 5.91 (5.5×8.5” Cream paper)
sells for 16.99
In order to motivate as many sales as possible, I have a deal at my table, buyers can get 2x for $30 or all 3x for $32 (this is the most productive way to push a sale: multiple book deals. It feels cleaner to sell them all for a flat $15, but it leaves money on the table according to both stats and personal experience. I’ve not found a difference in quantity sold between 16.99 and 15.00 for my price point, ie, I don’t lose the sales because I’m within the correct range for my price… now if I raise it to 18.99 I might start to lose sales.) If I sell all three at once my product cost is 15.86 and I make $26.14. Let’s look at the omnibus:
Omnibus print cost 10.79 (6.69×9.61” white paper)
sells for 38.99
When a reader holds them side by side, the reader sees a price difference of a few dollars and for the same content. Despite being cheaper to produce, the author pockets an extra $2+ (and it’s also cheaper to ship, so you will see additional backend savings. If I ship 5 of each of those individual fantasy novels to myself for resale, s&h is $10.51 versus $5.95 for 5x omnibuses, pushing that difference to more like a $3 margin).
If you are planning to create an omnibus, there are a few things to remember:
- Remain consistent with your branding. This book should look the same as your others in a series—use the same fonts, art styles, etc.
- Have a good cover. Reusing elements from other series books, but not the same cover as that will cause confusion. You could put a static graphic in the back or thumbnails from the previous books; just don’t reuse the same cover from a different book
- Size matters. Up to 8”x11” book sizes KDP Print has a max length of 828 pages for white paper and 776 for cream paper and there’s no price difference for larger formats in that range. Note the differences in my above examples—a larger book and color change was necessary to keep my book between 800-828pages).
- Price your other titles strategically. Upping your current prices by .99 for single copies and then offering a multi-book discount will make you more money in the long term and will help provide the margin to create a discounted omnibus with maximized profit margin
- A full table looks more impressive than the alternative. Impressed readers will think more highly of your content before even reading it and will be more likely to purchase something than a table that is sparse, and having different buying options is always a plus.
One final thing that helps with motivate a purchase is when a book is labeled “The Complete Series/Trilogy.” This goes back to consumer confidence. If your series is completed, say so. It will drive sales even further. What is the number one problem that fans have for George RR Martin? His Game of Thrones book series has not been completed and fans have been left hanging for decades. Readers get gun-shy of that happening to them—nobody wants to be left with an unresolved story, and Indies have often hooked fans and then disappeared from the scene, so creating confidence is very important. Some readers I’ve spoken with have admitted that they don’t buy from indies until they’ve seen at least three books in a series for this very reason.
Use these tips and make more money! If you like my content, I encourage you to follow my blog with the button at the top right… or even better, purchase a copy of the Indie Author’s Bible.