We authors often discuss how to promote individual novels. We know about running advertising campaigns, building mailing lists and websites, pricing and discounting, and so on. But trying to promote a series of novels is a different beast — you need to convince readers to buy multiple books and make a bigger time investment. So how can we best promote a series of novels?
Here are some ideas to help you market your series. As a case study, I’ll use my science fiction series Earthrise. I began releasing Earthrise novels eight months ago. Since then, using these techniques, I’ve sold nearly 150,000 copies. In addition, readers have read nearly 50 million Earthrise pages in the Kindle Unlimited library.
Using the strategies outlined in this article, you can achieve similar — or even better — sales. While Earthrise is a science fiction series, you can apply these techniques to other genres as well.
1. Brand the covers
This should be an obvious one, yet I still see series books with covers that are quite different from one another. You want a consistent look across all your series’ covers — that means similar artwork, ideally the same typography, and an overall branded look. Readers should recognize at a glance that all the books belong to the same series.
For example, in Earthrise, I hired the same artist (the wonderful Tom Edwards) to create a similar theme across each cover: a spaceship flying over a planet. Tom then used the same layout and font for the titles, further solidifying the brand.
Readers just need to glance at the thumbnails to realize all these novels are in the same series. This is critical when readers are browsing Amazon. Readers scroll quickly. You don’t want them to miss one of your thumbnails or mistake it for another series.
2. Brand the novel titles
Alongside branded covers, it’s useful to have branded book titles. This too helps strengthen your brand.
For example, in Earthrise, the novels are titled Earth Alone, Earth Lost, Earth Rising, Earth Fire, Earth Shadows, Earth Valor, and so on. See the theme?
George R. R. Martin uses this method in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, applying the same template to each title: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons. Having a title template sparks recognition for readers and keeps the brand strong.
3. Link the series title to the novel titles
I always choose a series title that’s strongly related to the book titles — it’s no coincidence that my Earthrise series has novels with “Earth” in the titles. The Harry Potter novels all have “Harry Potter” in their titles. Some series, such as The Hunger Games and Twilight, use the same title for the series and the first novel.
This all helps the branding. If the series title and novel titles seem unrelated, it can make them harder for readers to remember. If you have some “keywords” such as Earth, Twilight, Hunger Games, or anything else, you can use them to link the series and novel titles.
4. Brand the blurbs
I also like to brand the novels’ product descriptions, a.k.a. blurbs.
With Earthrise, I used the same style of writing for each blurb in the series. I used short sentences. I used keywords such as “war” and “win” and “deep space.” I used “Earth” in my blurbs to further strengthen that keyword, which also appears in the novel and series titles. I made sure each blurb has a similar structure and style.
Here is the blurb for Earth Alone, the first Earthrise novel:
They came from deep space. They came to destroy us.
Fifty years ago, bloodthirsty aliens devastated the Earth. Most of humanity perished. We fell into darkness.
But now we rise from the ashes. Now we fight back.
Marco Emery was born into the war. After his mother is killed, he joins the Human Defense Force, Earth’s ragtag army. Emery must survive basic training, become a soldier, and finally face the aliens in battle.
Against the alien onslaught, Earth stands alone. But we will fight. We will rise. We will win.
Here is the blurb for Earth Lost, the sequel, where I maintained the structure and tone:
We call them the scum. They came from deep space. Creatures of claws and endless malice, they ravage the world.
As the war flares, as cities crumble, Private Marco Emery and his platoon blast into space. They won one battle on Earth. Their next battle must be fought in the darkness.
The scum will not rest until the last human is dead. Marco and his friends must defeat them. They must win. Or Earth will fall.
You can choose a tone, a few keywords, and structure, then keep it consistent across the book blurbs. This too strengthens your brand.
5. End with cliffhangers
With a series, of course, you want readers to buy the sequels. A great way to achieve this is to end your books with cliffhangers.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should just leave readers hanging. You should still offer a satisfying ending, write a powerful climax, and resolve some storylines. Otherwise, expect some angry readers! But you can create smaller cliffs to get readers clicking to the sequel.
For example, I sometimes resolve a book’s main storyline with a satisfying climax, and then write a last chapter that hints at more conflict in the sequel. I offer readers a tease, a mini-cliff, to make sure they keep reading.
6. End with a call-to-action (CTA)
This one is essential. You want to end each novel in your series with a clear CTA. Examples of CTAs are:
- A link to buy the sequel
- A link to sign up to your mailing list
- A request to leave a review
You can create a single CTA or include a combination of CTAs. I make sure my CTA occurs right after the last chapter, before anything like an afterword or bibliography. I want to make sure readers see it!
Here is an example of a CTA I use at the end of Earth Alone, right after the last chapter:
Pro tip: Offer an incentive! For example, in my back matter, I offer a free short story in exchange for signing up to my mailing list. On my website, I offer readers three free novels when they sign up. If you offer a little freebie — even just a free short story — readers are more likely to follow your CTA.
7. Treat your first book as a loss leader
With a series, you can afford to treat the first novel as a loss leader. Even if you don’t make a profit on the first novel, you can make money from the sequels. Discount the novel now and then. Maybe even offer it for free. Once you’ve dropped the price, advertise the discount with a BookBub Featured Deal. BookBub Ads — their self-serve ad system — is another wonderful place to promote the discount. You can also use BookBub Ads to promote the first book in the series on an ongoing basis. Here’s an example ad I ran:
Do whatever you can to get the first book into the hands of readers, even at a financial loss. You’ll be rewarded when readers buy the sequels.
For example, Earth Alone, the first novel in my Earthrise series, is normally priced $2.99. That’s the lowest price I can set on Amazon and still earn 70% royalties. But I’ll occasionally discount it to $0.99, even if that means my royalty rate drops to 35%. The Earthrise sequels cost $4.99, and that’s where I make most of my profit.
Another option, useful to revive an older series, is to offer the first novel for free. Song of Dragons is an old fantasy trilogy of mine, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies in 2011. Once its sales began to lose steam, I set the first book to free. That gave the series a small boost, helping me sell thousands of extra copies of the sequels.
8. Match genre expectations
When it comes to storytelling, it’s often good to be original. When it comes to marketing, though, you want to carefully analyze what’s working in the marketplace and avoid straying from that too much. Readers often look for specific tropes and types of books. You want them to recognize that your series is what they’re looking for.
To do this, look at bestselling series in your genre. What do their covers look like? What tone are their blurbs written in? What template are their titles using? How are the novels priced? Often, expectations can be different per subgenre, so make sure you drill down to the subgenre level.
For example, many cozy mystery covers feature cats and cupcakes. If I were writing a cozy mystery, I’d consider having a cat and a cupcake on the cover. This tells readers: “This is the kind of book you want!” It identifies the subgenre very clearly.
In space opera, spaceships are very popular on covers. When I offer covers with spaceships, it clearly shows readers what subgenre the books belong to. If my covers featured something like, say, a DNA strand, or a man running through a futuristic city, or a large computer network, that would imply a sci-fi thriller series instead of space opera.
Choose your subgenre, and make sure your branding fits.
9. Keep it simple, stupid
Sometimes I see series with muddled structures — they include prequel novels, standalone novels, smaller series within larger series, and so on. The titles might look something like: The Ancient Starship: Beyond Jupiter Station Series: The Void of Space Book 0 (Prequel Series).
This forces the reader to pause, look at the authors’ novels, and try to figure out which are the series titles vs. “franchise” titles, how the various books all fit together, and what the proper reading order is. It feels like assembling a puzzle. I tried these strategies early in my career, and they didn’t work as well as my current strategy, so now I’m careful to avoid this pitfall. You don’t want to create a puzzle — you want to keep things very simple!
There’s a principle in engineering: KISS. It stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Consider my book titles:
- Earth Alone (Earthrise 1)
- Earth Lost (Earthrise 2)
- Earth Rising (Earthrise 3)
I follow the same template throughout the series. If I ever wanted to branch off into a spinoff series, I might use the same template, but replace the series title with something like Earthrise Evolution. I’d keep the branding without complicating the structure with various “world of” titles, different title templates and keywords, prequels, standalones, and so on.
Offer readers a path of least resistance to buying your books. Make sure you’re creating solid branding — simple templates, obvious reading order, and repeating keywords — that makes your series impossible to miss.
10. Boost the series with each new release
Releasing a new sequel provides the chance to promote the older books and boost sales of the entire series. The two main places I promote new Earthrise novels are my newsletter and social media.
I recently released Earth Reborn, the seventh Earthrise novel. Here is what I emailed my readers:
I made a similar post on Facebook. As you can see, I prominently include links to the previous books. I don’t want to just sell Book 7 to the audience that bought Book 6. I want to promote the entire series to new readers. Each sequel generates interest for the entire series.
11. Add a series page on Amazon
Amazon now offers “series pages,” an easy way for readers to find every book in a series. Amazon will provide a dedicated series page on their website, which you can use when marketing a series. You can see the Earthrise series page here.
The main power of the series page, however, is that it’ll appear as a scrolling bar on each book’s product page. Here is an example:
This is incredibly powerful. If you’re promoting a sequel and it achieves high visibility on Amazon, a series page guarantees new readers will also see the previous books. The entire series will get a boost.
To set up a series page on Amazon, simply fill out the series fields when publishing the books on KDP. Sometimes this doesn’t work. If your series page doesn’t appear automatically within a few days, contact Amazon support and request a series page. They’ll set one up for you.
I hope these tips were helpful. Good luck with marketing your series! If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comment section.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BookBub.
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