Posted in New Author Series | Posted on 12-06-2013|
If you take a look at the indie authors doing well out there (i.e. those who’ve been able to quit the day job and write full time), most of them have a number of books out. I had four novels and several shorter stories out before I started thinking, “Hm, maybe this could be the day job.” Now I have eight novels out, and it is the day job. Just having novels out isn’t the only factor though; six of my eight books are part of a series (and the others are part of a mini two-book series that ties in with the first).
A lot of successful authors, self-published and otherwise, have a core series that accounts for the majority of their income. So if you’re starting out, you should definitely focus on putting out a series… right?
Well, maybe. I thought I’d take a look at some of the pros and cons of focusing all your efforts into publishing multiple books in a series.
- As I’ve mentioned, if a series takes off, it can not only pay the bills every month, but it can become that reliable source of income that allows you the freedom to quit the day job (while there are no guarantees in publishing, it’s likely that you’ll have X number of people buying your new releases when you put them out, so you can predict your income months in advance, something that’s hard to do if every book is a new, unrelated one that might — or might not — appeal to readers).
- It can grow on people, making them more likely to share the series via word-of-mouth. With rare exceptions, most books are pretty forgettable, especially as the months and years pass and you read lots of other things. The more books a person reads with a certain set of characters, though, the more likely that series will stick in their memories, and the more likely, too, that they might think to share the title with friends looking for new reads. It’s unlikely that Harry Potter would have been a huge phenomenon if Rowling had stopped at Book 1!
- Advertising dollars can go a long way. I’ve talked about everything from paid advertising to doing book tours and submitting to review sites here. With a lot of these things, it’s difficult to break even (even if the only investment is time — time is valuable!) on the sales of one book. If your book is priced at $2.99, and you make $2 per sale, a $200 advertisement has to move a lot of copies for you. (The numbers are far worse for $0.99 novels.) But, if you have a series, and you can expect a certain number of people who try Book 1 to go on and buy the next five books, you stand to make more from your time or your advertising dollar.
- The big one here, and I’ve seen it often, is what if Book 1 doesn’t catch on? If, for whatever reason, people don’t twig to it, nobody’s going to buy the others in the series. And if you’ve invested a lot of time in writing a sprawling six-book epic… ouch.
- You might be missing out on more success by sticking to one series. Now, if you’re doing well with your first series, this might not be an issue, but maybe you’re selling a few hundred books a month and thinking that’s not bad, but in the meantime you have this idea for a different series that you’re putting off because you’re focusing on the first series. And what if that other series is the one that might really take off? In this case, you might be limiting yourself.
- If Book 1 of your series is your first novel, it may very well be the weakest novel you have out. Ask any seasoned writer, and she usually cringes a bit when talking about her first published novel. And it’s not uncommon to see reader reviews along the lines of, “If you stick with the series, it’s gets better in the second book.” Well, not everyone is going to stick with the series. Book 4 might be where you really hit your stride, but you’re having to focus on selling Book 1 because that’s where people start.
Is there a way to balance the pros and cons?
I think so. Whether this is feasible for you or not is going to depend on how prolific and how patient you are, but you may want to start two or three different series, or at least put out a couple of stand-alone books that could be turned into a series if they do well. Once you have these starter books out, you can spend time on advertising each one and see which has the most potential.
I inadvertently did this myself, publishing the two novels I had ready, Encrypted and Emperor’s Edge in the first month that I got started. I’d always had a series planned for the Emperor’s Edge characters, but if Encrypted had taken off for some reason (I confess, that was my second novel, and I’ve always thought it was a better story than EE1), I could have developed a series with the characters. Early on, I also gave pure steampunk a try with my Flash Gold novellas. It’s hard to compare novellas with novels (I’ve always found that my book-length works sell better), but if those had started selling extremely well, I could have written more of them. (I’m still planning to write a couple more, but they’re in no danger of dethroning EE as my flagship series, so I’ve had my focus on EE this last couple of years.)
What do you guys think? Have you had better luck focusing on one series or in writing multiple series? Or are you a screw-series-I-prefer-stand-alone-novels-thank-you-very-much person?