Before you publish, Part 3 – The backlist

Before you Publish - 3

In the kick-off post to this series, I listed having 4 books ready to go in 12 months as something you should do. This is based partly on advice received from other authors, but also on my own experience in trying to set up marketing and making my advertising dollars go further. The authors I spoke with had much more specific information on this topic, but I didn’t follow-up enough to get more than the essentials of it. After the launch of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I understand this principle in a much more fundamental way. The extended bit of advice I’m adding is that of your 4 books, you should have 2 legs of a series. I’d further offer that you need to be prepared to continue publishing at the rate of 1-2 books a year or more. Let me explain.

The first-ever writer’s conference I attended, I spoke with several authors. Most authors, I was surprised to find, were working on just one book or had published one and were poking away at a second. At the time, I’d finished my second and was working on 2 others (both of which are still in some stage of re-writes). Back then, it struck me as counter-productive. When I finished my first book, it felt like leveling up and the experience bonus I got told me, “Have multiple things on the go.” You hear writers say this all the time, but it’s damn near impossible for other writers to listen to it. I know it took me 10+ years to figure it out. At that same conference, I started a conversation with a published author, and I asked her: what is the best way to market a book? She didn’t hesitate: Write a second book. It was emphatic and very nearly the final word on it. She added that having a mailing list helped because people who liked book one might sign up, and you could let them know book 2 was on its way. At the time, all this made sense to me but in something of an abstract fashion. Now, I see it with a lot more focus. The basic gist as I understood it both now and then is that you can use book 1 as a tool to market book 2.

To delve into the ‘why’ a bit, I think there are two critical parts of the equation. One is basic marketing. The other is psychological. The marketing aspect can be a bit of a long game. Publishing books one year apart works fine. You use book one to market the release of book two and three, and so on. This is particularly effective when you’ve got a series. If your first book is enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program, you’ve also got some additional marketing options. One of those options is a free book promotion or a countdown deal. If you have only one book, then giving it away doesn’t make any sense and marking it down might improve sales, but that sacrifice in royalties isn’t working as hard for you as it could. If you have three or four books, then what you’ve done is offer a taste of your work to a potential fan who might go in for a full-priced version of your other work. Essentially, what you’ve got is the potential to market a suite of books for one price. If you’ve only got one book, you’re only using those marketing dollars for a single title. The faster you can get to a list, the sooner you can start maximizing your advertising dollars. Thus 4 books in 12 months.

As I’ve said before in this series of blog posts, I’m not an expert on any of this. I am supplying this advice and information based on the perspective of someone who realizes his advertising dollars aren’t going remotely as far as they could, and it’s really tough to spend $20 in one day for 8 clicks and 0 purchases.

The other aspect of having multiple books gets into psychology. Now, it might read that I’m attempting to manipulate readers into purchasing a book. That shouldn’t be your goal. Your goal should be ensuring that potential fans see material they’ll like, getting it into their hands as effectively as possible. If you’re releasing book 2 of a series twelve to eighteen months after book 1, you might be losing readers who liked book 1 and would have read book 2 but then forgot about it and you. Not great. If you release them in relatively quick succession, then you’re offering content they want in a time-frame that minimizes the risk of losing readers.

Again, as a new author, I can’t actually say I’ve seen this go down. What I do know is that I’ve had more than one reader ask for book 2 of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. It’s nowhere near ready, and I don’t know when it’ll be released (Apple Pie and Comfortable Shoes). I’d much rather have been able to tell them, it’ll be available on a date certain. That builds anticipation and provides a way for the reader to share with other people. I.e., I know this guy who wrote a book, and I’m looking forward to book 2, which comes out in… very many authors I’ve read have come to me by word of mouth. From my perspective as an author, if I can give readers a way to share something they like with a new potential reader, I need to make sure that happens.

To take all of this further, I can see from indie writers who are making real money that this is a numbers game. The more books you have out, the better you’re going to do. This is not just because more books necessarily mean more sales linearly. It is because every book you have promotes every other book you have. It’s something more like exponential. This does not extend to your social network – those sales are likely to taper as you release more books (can you really see your second cousin buying all 8 of your books? No, but she might buy book 1).

After having said all of that, I’m willing to say: This is how I see it right now, give me 12 months, and I’m as likely as not to come back with a different perspective. The bottom line is that publishing is a numbers game, and connecting with a single reader who wants to read all your stuff is like striking gold. They will tell their friends, and maybe one of them will like your work, and the pattern continues. If I could hit the reset button and do it over again, I’d have set up to release 1 book a quarter for a year.

As an author, what has been your experience? Is it contrary to this advice? Give it to us from your perspective in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Before you publish, Part 3 – The backlist

  1. simplywendi says:

    great post, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. KU changes the playing field, in my opinion. And the kind of series you write, too. If you have a series that is dependent on the prior book, the closer you publish them together, the better your read-through rate. When your books are in KU you want your readers to read them all in one sitting, right? Ideally this is true for sales, too, but readers in KU read differently (or so I’m told) and you should cater to them gobbling up books.

    As far as straight sales go, this might not be so important if your books can be read as singles. Lots of romances do that. They are singles, but maybe the characters are a group of friends. As long as the story arc does not span all the books, then you’re safe to publish with time between. If that makes sense.

    I’m writing a series, the plots are wrapped up with every book, but until a reader gets to the end, they’ll know books about other characters are available. I’m writing them all at once, and I’m going to drop them all into KU at the same time. I’m going to buy ads for book one. I could leave that book at full price because I’m targeting KU reads, not sales, or I could launch at an intro price and see if I can make sales as well as page reads. I’m not sure yet. But I think you’re right that it’s important to drop a series as close together as possible. I have friends on twitter who have been writing a series for 3+ years and to be honest, I don’t think they’ll ever get done. How does that look to a reader?

    Of course you want to publish as fast as you can, a big backlist will always make you more money. Some writers aren’t capable of that, and that’s okay, but success will come later, and you may spend more money with ads because you’re continually reminding readers you’re around.

    It’s tough.

    Liked by 1 person

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