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Writing A Series With Dan Parsons And Melissa Addey: Beginners Self-Publishing Podcast

Writing a Series With Dan Parsons and Melissa Addey: Beginners Self-Publishing Podcast

In today's Beginners Self-Publishing Podcast: writing a series. Oscar Wilde, Emily Brontë, and Silvia Plath only wrote one book. History tells us it’s possible to “make it” with just one title, but is that still true today?

Generally, no. It can happen, but most modern authors need a series for a range of reasons.

In this episode, ALLi’s Product Marketing Manager Dan Parsons and Campaigns Manager Melissa Addey discuss why series help authors build a business. Plus, they outline the forms series can take and explore a range of tips authors can use to maximize the value of a series.

Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center,  https://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org.

Now, go write and publish!

Listen to the Podcast: Writing a Series

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On the Beginners Self-Publishing Podcast, @dkparsonswriter and @MelissaAddey discuss why writing a series can help authors build a business. Share on X

About the Hosts

Dan Parsons writes the Creative Business series for authors, bestselling fantasy and horror novels (under Daniel Parsons), and a weekly blog for The Self-Publishing Formula. In the past, he has worked for three trad publishers, managed two bookstores and listened to an unhealthy number of podcasts. Now he's ALLi's product marketing manager.

Melissa Addey has a PhD in creative writing and writes historical fiction set in first-century Rome, eleventh-century Morocco and eighteenth-century China. She runs writing workshops covering both craft and entrepreneurship, most frequently for the British Library. She's also ALLi's campaigns manager, a role in which she loves observing and supporting the vast diversity of self-published authors. Visit her at her website and pick up a free novella.

Read the Transcripts: Writing a Series

Dan Parsons: Hello and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors Beginner Self-Publishing Advice and Inspiration podcast. Today I am your host, Dan Parsons, and with me is.

Melissa Addey: Melissa Addey, ALLi's Campaigns Manager.

Dan Parsons: You may note, if you've been keeping an eye out, looking for us, that we are about half an hour late today. We've had extreme tech issues. The gremlins have got in, they've overwhelmed me, there's nothing I can do. But we're going to go ahead and hope that everyone can hear anyway. Melissa should be fine on her end. So, if there's any issues, I'll just keep going. Just keep going. Right.

So, today we are talking about writing a series. So, you probably know this already, Melissa, but what do Oscar Wild, Emily Bronte, and Sylvia Plath all have in common?

Melissa Addey: I do not know, tell me.

Dan Parsons: Okay. It's that they all manage to write and be successful with one book.

Melissa Addey: Wow.

Dan Parsons: However, we are going to throw some facts and figures out today to help people realize that isn't the case for most authors.

So, for most authors, the realistic scenario is that in order to make a good living, they need to have lots and lots of books in at least one series, sometimes multiple series, and that is how you build a business as an author.

Why should indie authors change their mindset around debut novels?

Dan Parsons:So, if you want to kick us off today Melissa, we should probably start by talking about some of the mindset issues around the debut novel, because obviously a lot of people listening today will be debut novelists, either in the process of writing a book or just brought out a new book, and I don't know about you, but I had a very different mindset when I started to now, when I'm about 10 books in.

Melissa Addey: I think because your debut book is so special to you, and rightly so, and then everybody talks about marketing, and you must do marketing. So, of course it's natural to think I must immediately market this first book, that's what I must do, and you should, and we've talked in this series about sort of putting in place the fundamentals, the sort of foundations of your marketing, and that's really important.

But it is a mistake to immediately stop on the one book and spend a lot of time marketing, because what is then going to happen is you're going to put a lot of effort into marketing the one book, which is going to be much harder than if you had multiple books.

So, what tends to happen with debut books is, first of all, it's special to you and that tends to make it more special in your head, and what you want is to see an immediate return on the time and effort and money and huge amounts of energy, and blood, sweat and tears that you've put into it. So, that tends to be, you would like to see something come back quickly, obviously.

The other thing that happens is in general media, you get the kind of the mythology of the debut author turning into instant blockbuster success overnight.

Debut authors, when they use that phrase, I tend to laugh a little bit because what usually happens is it goes, oh, amazing bestselling novel instantly from a debut author, and you go, oh my God, really, straight away like that? And then you look at the bio and it goes, they've been a journalist for 20 years, and you're like, oh, okay, what you mean is a professional writer has switched format.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, or they've written 20 books before under a different pen name and now they're being marketed as a debut author when they've already got close to being a New York Times bestseller or something before.

Melissa Addey: Exactly. So, it's not always true that they are, how you are thinking of debut as in brand new.

Also, there's a few things that happen. So, you get into that debut is special mythology, and it's better to come away from that and think, it's fantastic to have got this first book out. Really enjoy that, and get those marketing foundations in place, but then to think, alright, let's start writing the next book, and the one after that, and so on.

Partly because you will now be better at everything. You've been through the self-publishing process; you'll be better at that. You'll be better at writing a book because the first one is always going to be the hardest one because it's brand new to you. So, all those things are going to get a little bit easier each time, and it's better for you to just crack on and keep that writing flow and not get stuck in a sort of mentality of, oh, but I'm marketing really hard, but not writing another book, why is it not instant success, which then becomes demoralizing.

Dan Parsons: There's a reason why lots of authors say, and these are very prolific authors, they say the best marketing you can do is writing the next book, because ultimately your super fans have already read the first book and want to move onto the next one, and if the people who have already seen the book haven't bought the first one, then they may not be buying it because it's not for them, but the next one might entice them a little bit more. So, it'll bring in more readers the more books you've got in the series.

Melissa Addey: Exactly, and let's say you market beautifully, and everybody reads that first book and goes, wow, amazing. Now they would like to read the next one and you don't have one. So, now you've got to hope they're going to hold onto the memory of you for maybe a long time, and I always thought with my ones, I was like, I write pretty slow, maybe a book a year. If you've read one book of mine and you've got to wait a year to get your hands on another one, I'm not sure you'll remember it for that long. Whereas, if you've read 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 of mine, then I think you'll wait a year for me, because I'll be fully embedded in you.

Dan Parsons: And I realize that we're talking in a way that suggests we're talking about long form fiction right now.

We do have a question from someone saying, how about publishing poetry as a collection? We will get onto other genres, macro genres, like poetry and non-fiction and stuff in a moment, but ultimately, yes, you do want to be publishing lots of poetry. If you are going to be publishing it as one book, then you probably want to publish multiple books of poetry, and it's the same principle.

So, don't think of the entire collection of poetry as a series, think of that as one book in a bigger series of poetry books.

So yeah, most authors, the reality is they build book on book. Your audience gets bigger the more books you've got out, and I think there was a famous example with Lee Child where people say, oh, Lee Child sold over a hundred million books.

Realistically though, if you see him in some of his interviews, he talks about how it took five books for him to start to take off in any meaningful numbers, and before that, he was relatively unknown. So, you're not necessarily going to be a hundred million selling author, selling at those levels from book one, and it's not a linear thing, the curve is exponential once you get started.

Melissa Addey: Yes, and a lot of authors who write in series say they notice jumps at kind of 3, 5, 7, they notice that it takes it up a notch, and that's because you've got more and more readers who are getting engaged in that long journey with you, rather than just one off and disappearing off again.

How does ALLi know that more books equals better success as an author?

Dan Parsons: Yeah. Now, this isn't just us talking about this, this is not all anecdotal evidence.

Melissa Addey: We have data.

Dan Parsons: We do have data, which we love talking about, probably more than a lot of trad pub authors, because we get to see the data, we can see things in a real time dashboard.

So, what is the data that we have? Where does it come from? What does it tell us? We want all of it.

Melissa Addey: So, data that we've had recently this year, we've really made a big effort at ALLi to start gathering data, both new data of our own, which was the Indie Author Income Survey, and also going out and pulling in from as many sources and peers and contacts across the industry, to try and pull together in one place data that is useful to us.

So, the first thing is that, according to the Indie Author Income Survey, 50% plus of the significant self-publishing authors had more than 10 books, and 20% of those had 30 or more books.

Dan Parsons: How do we define significant author, just for the listeners?

Melissa Addey: Yeah. So, with the Indie Author Income Survey, what we did was look only at the authors who were spending 50% or more of their time writing and publishing, as in they've taken a pretty significant and serious approach to this being a business for them.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, so this is people who've potentially gone part-time in a day job, and they've got lots of time that they're dedicating to books.

Melissa Addey: Exactly. So, they had a lot of books, and that data is then matched and backed up by the 2022 Written Word Media survey.

So, they do regular surveys every year on various topics of what helps authors be successful, and they tend to compare what they call emerging authors, which are just starting out, to 60k authors, and then 100k authors and over that, so even 120k authors.

So, they had their latest set of data, the 100k authors now had 45 books on average, and they are prolific writers, and the 120 k authors had an average of 50 books.

So, you can see, although that sounds very daunting, bear in mind, you don't need to have 100k straightaway, but it's really interesting to see that, it is the big numbers of books that are helping these authors have the big numbers of financial success.

If you were to look at the emerging authors, they were all down around the five, six books, moving up towards 10, and this entirely makes sense that it's going to take a certain number of books to build up the royalties.

And we then talked, as part of our next round of data, we talked to Draft2Digital and they went through a lot of data, and they found that series sales account for 75% of sales, both by units and by dollars, in fiction and in non-fiction. So, across the board that's where you want to be is in a series, and you might think in non-fiction, well, what do you mean like a series?

Well, so for example, if it was work skills, or it was creative skills, or it was personal development things, it's still a series because you're branding it in a certain way. So, like the dummy series, that is a classic example of a series, lots of different topics, very strongly branded as we're going to approach each topic in the same way that you have come to know and love.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, and just going back to the poetry thing that we talked about just now. So, you can have lots of poetry books, however many you put in the poetry book is up to you, and it's the same with non-fiction for guides and things.

Some series are very long and they're all super short books, and then other series are also sometimes very long, with super long books, depending on how prolific the author is, but it's just entirely based on your audience. So yeah, there's that.

How can authors grow a single novel into a series?

Dan Parsons: Now imagine you've sold me on the benefits of writing a series. I'm going to pretend I've not got box sets and stuff. So, you've sold me on the idea of it. How do we then go from, going from a single idea to writing a series from just a high-level bird’s-eye view?

Melissa Addey: Yep. Okay. So, there's a few ways of doing this. So, the most obvious way might be you just continue life with that character, and what you get from that is your classic detective novels. You come back and we're back with the same character and we continue life with them. You often get it in thrillers, crime, that kind of thing.

With romances, you often get a friend of the original romantic couple, or they all live in the same village, and you work your way around the different people falling in love with each other, that kind of thing.

So, those are links between them. So, that's the most obvious is you continue life with the character, but sometimes you go, well, actually I've gone as far as I wanted with them, I don't feel that their story warrants another book in that way. So, then you can come at it from a different angle and think, okay, how do I still link into that, into that character, into those settings that people really love?

So, there's a few things. You can do prequels, so you can go, well, what happened before all of this novel, something else got us to this point. So, prequels are a fantastic way to go. Sequels, you can do obviously. You can do spinoffs where you take a character from the main story that you liked that you didn't get a chance to really develop that much with, and you take them, and you move on with them.

Stephen King really makes me laugh because he developed this character, Holly, who was in what was supposed to be a trilogy, focused on a particular guy, really. He was the main, and Holly was the backup, and then Stephen King said he just fell in love with Holly. He could not let this woman go, this character, and so he took her into another book, and another book, and his latest book that's coming out is just called Holly. This is Stephen King's love affair with this character, it's just developed on from what she was supposed to be. She was just supposed to be a sidekick, and then bye-bye.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, what you find is, when you are writing a book, usually the main character, or from my perspective, the main character is the straight man in the Comedy Act. It's the ordinary person who's just looking around in awe at all these weird characters around them, but then one of the weird characters jumps out and lots of people want to read more about that weird character rather than having one or two scenes with them. So, you can go off and do tangents with different characters and stuff like that.

Melissa Addey: Absolutely. One of the things I did with two of my series was, I wrote four different stories, and each one was a person, the story timelines overlapped, but you would see the whole story from a different person's point of view. So, someone who you thought was a real villain and really unpleasant and whatever, then you'd read their story and go, oh, damn, I didn't realize all this bad stuff was happening in their head and in their lives to make them not very nice to other people, and that was quite fun because you'd sit down and just change the whole story around from a different viewpoint.

If you look at the Twilight Series, after a sort of break from the initial ones, Stephanie Mayer then just came back and did one, and the strapline for the marketing was literally, now it's Edwards turn. So, she just turned it around and told the same story, but from his point of view. So, it's that sort of branching out.

Dan Parsons: I really like, and this is an extremely tenuous link, and it's based on movies, but I think it works really well because they've branded it as a series, even though they've got nothing to do with each other essentially, is the Cornetto Trilogy, the trilogy of movies which are Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, World's End. One's a buddy cop film, one's a comedy zombie film, and then the other one is an end of the world, alien’s thing. But at one point in every story there is a Cornetto ice cream rapper, or one of the characters asks another one if they want a Cornetto.

Melissa Addey: You see how tenuous the link can be people? But it's clever because they're branding them as they've got something in common, they've got a particular style, they've got particular people in them, and that you know you'll find those enjoyable.

There are other things you can do. So, for example, with non-fiction, very common to either brand because you've got a particular way of presenting information, like the Dummies series.

So, the Dummies series is now 200+ guides. That is phenomenal, and it's because people like, there's a thing about newspapers where people will not read another newspaper because they're just used to the font and the layout, and that's what you get with things like that. If you've presented the data in a certain way, yes, there probably is someone else who wrote another version of that topic, but you like the way they did it, so you stick with them.

There's also things like having companion books. So, Julia Cameron who wrote The Artist's Way, that book, there's now The Artist's Way, there's The Artist's Way for Parents. So, it's about being a creative parent with your child. For retirement, there's various companion books with it that go, well, this is the journal in which you can do your morning pages or the exercise that I tell you to do. So, that one originator has turned into a bunch of other versions for different stages of your life, or the item in which you are going to do the work she suggests you do.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, I think there's a similar scenario with Hal Elrod’s, The Miracle Morning. So, there's The Miracle Morning for, as you said, parents, and The Miracle Morning for people who want to go to the gym, and all that type of stuff. So, all different angles of the same concept, and it can evolve, because as much as you think that you may not have enough information in your head to fill more than one book or one topic, when you start writing and researching, you find new things for every single book, and it does get a lot longer.

Some of the series that have used varying strategies like this include Bridgerton, the romance novels, they've got 18+ books. Discworld, Terry Pratchett's fantasy series had 41 books, and he actually did fiction with companion guides, which I've had, where he had such a rich universe that he wanted to essentially create encyclopaedias and things that go with it, and in the universe, there is a character who is an orangutan, who's a librarian, and so this companion guide is marketed as if it exists in this fictional library that you can check it out and use that. So yeah, there's the Dummies Guides, which is 200+, and then even Fifty Shades now, there's six books in that series, three from the main character's perspective, and then three from the love interest's perspective. So yeah, you can flesh out an idea.

Melissa Addey: Absolutely, and Bridgeton was interesting. It was only ever supposed to be a trilogy, and then it turned into the eight Bridgeton children, and then they went back in time, and then at some point someone said to her, are you going to do the Bridgeton Children's children, and she's like, yeah, I expect so.

Then the massive success of it on Netflix means they just then did a collaboration with Shonda Rhimes to write a book about Queen Charlotte, which then turned into another piece of its own. So, characters who, you know, it was just supposed to be the queen in the background anytime they went to court, have been fleshed out and turned into an interesting character of their own, with their own stories.

So, all of those things can help. There can be family links, and you can also just do broader links where you are setting something in the same universe, in the same world.

There is a fantastic image of the Pratchett books, I really recommend you go and find it, somebody drew it and it's like a tube map of the Pratchett books, and it shows how they all interlink in different strands, but you can see how at points where perhaps he was a bit bored of a particular strand, he could go off, explore something else, completely different topic, completely different characters, but because they're in the same Discworld, they still were part of that universe, and then you could come back and forth between all these different places.

So, it’s a really nice way of linking things together if they're in a sort of broader world.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, and what he also did with that is he created books for adults, which were based in the centre of the city, where all the characters are very gritty and there are thieves and all that type of stuff, and then he had characters out in the countryside, and they were children's books, where the characters were a little bit nicer and fluffy. Yeah, so it's hitting different markets with essentially the same story.

Melissa Addey: Yes, and he went as far as picture books, because one of the characters reads a picture book to his child every night, so they made the picture book, and so he's actually got multiple age entry points, as well as different sort of topics or strands that you could get into. So, it's clever because it opens up your world and your series into new sub-genres, new age ranges; it's really clever.

How do you actually write a series?

Dan Parsons: Yeah. Now, I'm sure we could talk about Terry Pratchett for the next hour, because we're both big fans. However, what we should probably go onto to now is, we know what you can do from a high-level perspective on writing a series.

Now, what does it actually take, if you are boots on the ground every day, what do you do to make a series? Because the way I like to describe it is, writing a book is a bit like a marathon. So, people who have only ever written a short story don't usually understand what it means to write a novel, because being 37,000 words in, and not having an end in sight is a very different experience to a 2,000-word short story.

Melissa Addey: It's a depressing moment.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, but then writing a series, and you're not always going to start with a 25-book series, you could just be writing a trilogy, but it is a bit like doing, there's a guy called Sean Conway at the moment who's in the news, and he's doing what's called an Iron 102, which is an Iron Man triathlon, but he's doing 102 of them in 102 days. So, when you get to the end of that marathon or that swim and you think, oh, that was the longest thing ever, he's got another 101 to do after it in a row.

Melissa Addey: The only word that's coming to mind for me is, no, no.

Dan Parsons: And yet you're a writer of series.

Melissa Addey: Yeah, I know, it's got to be nicer than that. Come on.

Okay. So, to write a series, first of all, it really does help to have a regular writing habit, because that allows you to, there's what they call the flow state, which would be a creative state in which you really feel the words flowing, and that's the thing we all aspire to, but it helps you to get back into that regularly. If you know where you left off and it was only yesterday rather than, oh, it was a month ago, or two weeks ago, or half a year ago or whatever, that gets then very difficult because you just sit there and go, I don't know what this story is. Whereas, if you just finished something yesterday, then to slip back into it is much easier.

So, writing regularly, trying to make each writing session productive. So, word counts obviously are useful for that, but even if it's a hard day and you're struggling with a word count, then making sure that something helpful happens. So, for example, doing a little bit of extra research for tomorrow's session, so that tomorrow's session will flow that little bit easier for you.

Dan Parsons: Yeah. What I actually find, just to go back to the idea of the flow state. So, if you look into brain chemistry and things like that, the flow state is a real thing, it's when your brain is rushed with endorphins, you've got into a project quite deeply, you lose track of time, you're really enjoying it, and also you tend to write more cleanly because you're making synaptic connections, which you wouldn't normally be making if you are jumping in and out of a task.

So, things like, don't multitask, don't task switch, and you'll stay in the flow state for longer, and the better you get at it, the more you do that by practicing being in the flow state, the shorter you can get, from sitting down and starting to write, to actually getting into it. So, if you've only got an hour a day to write and it takes you half an hour to get into the flow state, you can shorten that time until you can get in there within two minutes and be straight down typing.

So, when you hear about some authors that can write 10,000 words a day and you think, how do they do this? It's because they don't task switch or multitask, and they've got really good at just jumping straight in and writing.

And when you do write consistently every day, you don't forget what you've written, because there's not a big gap in between and you can just jump straight in and keep going.

Melissa Addey: Yep, and you can use some little tricks to help you with things like that. I use a lot of music, so if you are accustomed to, every time you hear that piece of music, you are writing this book, it tends to link up after a while.

So, a bit of a Pavlov’s dog thing, you put the music on, and you go and start typing away. So, those sorts of things, or some people have a little ritual they'll do before, they'll set up their desk in a certain way. Whatever it is that makes you go, right, here we go, I am now writing; that can be a really helpful thing.

Also, knowing what time of day you are best at. I'm pretty good in the morning. After about a certain point in the afternoon, I'm really not going to do that much in the way of creative work, and I'd be better off doing more admin things, not trying to write a novel. So, trying to find the times the day, but some people at five o'clock in the morning, if you asked me to write anything at five o'clock in the morning, it would just be drivel.

Dan Parsons: That's me. I like to literally get up, leave the bedroom, turn the laptop on. Ready to go by 5:02.

Melissa Addey: Oh, well there you go.

Dan Parsons: I love it. That's my favourite time.

Melissa Addey: See, it's all about variety people. You've got to pick the thing that works for you.

Dan Parsons: One thing I will say as well is dictation obviously is more popular than ever because of AI, and we're not going to go into AI in all its complexity right now, because that's a different topic, but the AI, as in voice recognition AI, has completely changed how some people write. What I've found, because I have tried AI, I've written several blog posts and several chapters of books and things, using Dragon, naturally speaking, and it actually removes distractions, which makes it easier to write faster, because you're not switching between tabs and researching, you are just speaking, usually with a short bullet-pointed list of talking points or story beats, and you are going, and you have to remember the last word you said. So, you can't stop because you can't go back and play it back to yourself very easily, so you have to just keep going until you've finished your session, and when you know you have to fill that dead space, otherwise you lose your place, you do keep going, because it's more frustrating to stop.

Melissa Addey: Yeah. So, dictation is really good. Some people use sprint writing, so there's a thing called Pomodoro, Pomodoro technique, which just means tomato in Italian. It's because of a tomato timer. So, sprint writing basically means you just set the timer for a certain amount of time and then you just write without thinking about it, without going back, without sitting there going, now what is the word for that? If you get stuck like that, you just put the next best word and get on with it, and the idea there is to just get the words down so that you can polish them later, that's completely fine, but it's just about getting in that flow and getting the word count moving along.

Dan Parsons: Yeah. Similarly, if you are prone to being distracted by research, like you get to a point where it's not a, I can't remember the word I want to use, it's I can't remember this anecdote from this thing that I read weeks ago and I want to put that in there, just put three x's in a row, because computers are fantastic in the way that you can just Control S to search, and then you can find that space after your writing session. So, you'll carry on writing knowing that where the three Xs are, you have to put the research bit back in as a block, and you can go and do that after you've got your wood count done for the day, which will help you write more consistently to get a series.

Melissa Addey: So, there are days where we have wonderful flow and we write and we feel great and it comes out really well, and then there are days where you think, eh, not feeling it, every single word is like treacle, nightmare, and on those days try and just push through.

The wonderful thing about this is that you worry that what's going to come out is not going to be wonderful creative prose and fortunately, Neil Gaiman has got this fantastic quote where basically he said, some days, it is beautiful and smooth and wonderful and creative, and some days it is treacle and horrendous, and he said, but a few years later, you cannot tell because it's all been written by the same person, and it all gets the same kind of reaction from an audience, and no one says, oh, that bit was written on an off day. And he said, you can't tell afterwards, which is a really interesting, useful thing to remember, that you think that it's so special and wonderful, but actually it's all coming out fairly evenly.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, just as a point of personal comparison, I don't put myself in the same bracket as Neil Gaiman, but from my own personal experience there was a point in life where I was working in a nightclub, and there was about an hour every night where we'd set everything up for the night and then there were customers coming in an hour and there was not much to do.

So, they would be blasting nightclub music and we'd all be sat around with drinks, all the staff and things like that, and I would spend an hour writing on my phone in a nightclub, and then on other days, I'd be sat by a desk, with the raspberries and the scarf and the quill, and being very authorial.

And yes, when you go back to it a couple of weeks later, I don't know which bit I did in the nightclub, or which bit I did at my desk.

Melissa Addey: Yeah. Well, there you go. This is important to remember.

This does come back too, I do like to say to authors, the whole, oh, the muse will descend and magically give you a kiss and write it all for you; it's a job. And people like Charles Dickins and whoever, who were journalists, and knew you had to hand in x number of words on this day at this time, and there isn't any way to shift the deadline, they learned that kind of skill to just sit down and get on with it, and sometimes you need to do that, and it is an important thing to learn to do.

Dan Parsons: If you do that and then you keep going, you will eventually write a series, and then you will learn the benefits of marketing a series over marketing a standalone book.

Melissa Addey: Absolutely.

How can indie authors market a series?

Dan Parsons: Now, how do we market a series?

Melissa Addey: Okay, so there's a few things. This is where the benefits start to kick in. Finally, we've got a few books under our belt, and they belong together in a series. So first of all, you brand them very clearly as a series. It needs to be blatantly obvious from the front that they are a series. Readers are lovely people, and I love them lots, I'll just make that clear, but sometimes you'll get people who contact you and go, I loved such and such a book, are there anymore? And you think, yeah, it's numbered as book one and at the end of the book it said, this is book two, here's the cover, and also it mentions it several other places, but they don't always immediately see that it's part of a series.

So, you really need to signpost that to them. So, make sure you can see it really clearly.

Anecdotally, the people who are using paid advertising, so, Amazon, Facebook, whatever, they see a better return on investment when they use the keyword word ‘complete series'. So, rather than just going, series, they go ‘complete series', because there are some people who won't buy the series until you've finished it.

I've got someone like that recently and they were like, I cannot wait till you finish the series, and I was like, you could start reading it now. They're like, no, when you finish the series then I will come and read you. Like, okay, fine.

Dan Parsons: To play devil's advocate, as a viewer, obviously I don't produce TV series, but I do know that certain giant TV streaming services, they do sometimes cancel series before they get to the end. So, I tend to wait until a series is finished so that I know there's going to be a good resolution.

Melissa Addey: Because you want the completeness of it.

Dan Parsons: Yeah. You don't want to get invested in the characters and then they disappear forever, and you just see a tweet from the creator saying, oh, this is how it would've gone.

Melissa Addey: Gutting. So, brand the covers really consistently. Make sure that you are making the most of things like, on Amazon you can have a series page which will showcase all the books together. It even has clever things, like it'll say, oh, you already own book one and two, so should we just pop all the others in your cart for you? Just press that button. So, they try and make that very easy selling for you.

Also, things like when we say, oh, you should have a reader magnet, it will help you develop a mailing list and you'll think, ah, I have to give away a whole book?

Once you have a series that doesn't sound as bad because you don't just have the one book, you have a few books, and you think, all right, I could have the prequel, or the sequel could be my reader magnet. So, it makes it very easy.

Dan Parsons: What you can also do with that scenario as well, is you can give away a prequel and that will be free, and then once the reader has tried your prequel, you could push them towards a $2.99 eBook of the first official book in the series, and then you could ramp the second one up to $3.99 and the third one to $4.99. If you try to go straight to $4.99 for one book, they might not buy it, but if you ramp up to the more expensive books, then they will eventually go on to read them, and you don't even have to market the expensive one because they're already in the funnel by then and they know where they're going.

Melissa Addey: Exactly. So, you've got pricing that you can play with, the reader magnets are good. It allows you also to create box sets. So, you can either do a complete box set, if this series is fairly short or you can do, I don't know what to call them, sectional box sets. So, you can go 1, 2, 3, box set. 4,5,6 box set. 7, 8, 9 box set. Complete box set. You can do something like that, and then people will buy those different ones.

You may think, well, why wouldn't you just buy 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, just individually? There are people who buy box sets who are not the same group of people who are buying individual books, and so what you've actually got there is two separate audiences that you can tap into. So, that's really useful.

Also going back to the paid advertising, you can afford to spend a little bit more getting someone into that series, if there's a long series to earn your money back on. If you've got to pay, I don't know, 50p to get me to read the first book, then that's a significant chunk of your margin going out there, but if you've got 10 books that I'm now going to continue reading, then getting me in for 50p is really good value, because now I'm going to stay with you for a long time and work my way through all the other books.

Dan Parsons: Yeah. I know some authors who know that they've worked out because they know where the drop-off is between different books and how many people stop reading after book 3, 4, 5, 6, and some authors can make £25 or dollars, for a series. So, they're willing to get one reader in the door for 10, which is a lot more than you can afford with one book.

Melissa Addey: Yep, exactly. So, it gives you a lot more marketing options and things to play with, and like I said right at the start, you do all that marketing work, and it works and people love your book, if there's just the one then they have to remember you for a long time. If there's lots of books, they can be working their way through the books while you write the next one, and even when they catch up with you, which they will eventually, because the ones who like to read a lot are really fast readers.

Even when they catch up with you, by then, they really care about you as an author. They have you in their mind and they'll come looking for you regularly to see if there's a new one out.

Dan Parsons: Yeah. Plus, the thing when we were talking about box sets. So, I have one box set in a fantasy series that is a trilogy. The individual books didn't sell particularly well, partly because the first book is much shorter than book two and three because I didn't know what I was doing with the first book, but when I brought out a box set, it's marketed as one really long book, and that's a better value proposition. So, there are people who would've liked to have read book two and book three, and they'll never pick up book one because it's too short, but they will read it if it's a massive one. And that box set, despite the individual books never getting a BookBub featured deal, that box set has had five.

Melissa Addey: There you go, see? So, sometimes having those different books to be able to play with in different formats is a really beneficial thing to you, and we know from that data that we talked about, the more books you have out there, the more chance you have of being commercially successful as an author.

What resources does ALLi have to help authors write and market a series?

Dan Parsons: Yeah. Right. So, everyone should be completely.

Melissa Addey: Totally sold by now. Totally sold.

Dan Parsons: They know why they should do it. They know what they need to do. They know how to market. Everyone's going to go on and write a hundred books and become a bajillionaire.

Is there any further reading? What other resources do we have at ALLi? I'm sure we've got something.

Melissa Addey: Of course, we always do. So, what I recommend you do is you sit down, you just think about the novel you've got now and brainstorm as much as you can all around it with the sort of options we gave you about what else could come out of that.

Last time I did that with someone, they came out with seven pages of notes of ideas for other books. So, you can beat that, that's the benchmark.

So, we have some really cool resources. So, we have the Ultimate Guide to Finishing a Series, which was one of our blog posts.

We have Self-Publishing Authors Earn More Says ALLi Income Survey, which was a blog.

And also, Developing Your Book Marketing Aesthetic: Creating Images. So, that's about how you're presenting the book and making it look really beautiful when you are doing your marketing work, and again, that's on the blog post.

Next month we are going to be doing, building rapport with your readers, which is another really important thing that you will do for all of your author business journey.

Dan Parsons: It's something that is both really easy and really difficult at the same time.

Melissa Addey: Like everything else.

Dan Parsons: Yeah, it's easy if you are good at it and you are consistent, and then it's hard if you are not good at it, mainly because you are not consistent, which is the problem that I have, that I'm not as consistent as I should be, but I know what to do.

Melissa Addey: Yep, and you can learn lots of things and you can practice and get better at it, as always.

Dan Parsons: Yes. So, that is everything from us this month, and we will see you again in about another four weeks; the first Tuesday of next month where, as Melissa said, we'll be talking about how to create super fans now that you've got your series and you're able to market things and all the other things that we've talked about getting ducks in a row.

So, we're eventually going to go onto these more advanced topics, which are fun.

So yeah, we will see you again in a month, and in the meantime, test out some of the ideas that we've talked about and good luck with the next month of publishing. So, we will see you again then.

Melissa Addey: Take care.

Dan Parsons: Bye everyone.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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