Thanks to the rise of binge-reading and binge-watching behavior, today’s readers often plow through an entire book series quickly. I’m a binge-and-repeat reader myself — I will glom onto a series from start to finish, only to repeat the process months later with the same books. Ditto for television.
According to Dominique Sandis, Children’s and YA Acquisitions Editor at Psichogios Publications, “Market research has shown that young adults and adults go out and buy all the books of a series all at once rather than gradually. In this way, if a publisher has published a series all together, like Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant, then you may well have better sales than if you publish the first title now and then follow on with the second book in the series a year or more later.”
That, I thought, was what I wanted to do to make money and gain traction in the indie market. I wanted to write a series of sexy contemporary romances — standalone, but connected — and release them fast enough for readers to binge on them. Every two weeks seemed perfect.
In this post, I’ll walk you through how I’m publishing twelve books in six months — from creating the concept of the series to marketing each release. This strategy has helped me increase sales and populate a backlist-driven product, and I hope this helps you when planning your own binge-readable series!
Setting goals for the series
I’m an 18-year veteran in publishing, but relatively new to indie publishing, and one of the challenges I faced was not having any J. Kenner backlist to speak of that wasn’t tied to a traditional publisher. I also have traditionally published books that are very steamy, and I wanted a ranking/list presence in contemporary romance, not exclusively erotic romance.
So my primary goal was to populate a backlist.
Another goal was to reach new readers.
The final goal was derivative of the first two, and that was to create a product I could use throughout the upcoming years as a marketing resource on its own. I wanted to drive sales through rolling price promotions (ideally advertised with BookBub Featured Deals!), switching out back matter promotions in conjunction with those deals to include excerpts from my frontlist books.
Creating the concept
Once I knew I wanted to publish a bingeable series, I settled in to brainstorm The Man of the Month series. It centers around a group of friends who band together to save their favorite local bar by holding a “Man of the Month” calendar contest to raise funds and bring in customers. Each book is a standalone and, as a result, readers can jump in at any time — though ideally they’ll start at book one and binge their way through!
I started the planning process well over a year before the first book released — not only planning the books, but also planning the marketing strategy.
Plotting the books
Organization is important, and I have spreadsheets with details of all the characters, locations, and a timeline. This includes a handy chart with each couple and their jobs/trope, along with the cover model so I could picture the right guy!
I also pinned pictures on my office wall as a visual reference!
Planning tie-in content
While I plotted the stories — figuring out who would populate this bar, what their wants and needs were, which romance trope they’d be assigned, how they would cross-over with other characters, etc. — I also planned tie-in content. This includes the actual MOTM calendar (it’s almost sold out; we’re looking into recreating it for 2019) and developed a tie-in cookbook (because the bar is known for its awesome drinks and food!). Bar Bites: A Man of the Month Cookbook includes food and drink recipes, as well as an all-new short story and slices of life from characters in the core series.
Writing the books
Writing was a challenge, obviously. Did I mention that 12 books is a lot of words? The goal was to get the first eight books in the pipe before release day, and I confess we didn’t quite make that goal (medical issues, family issues, family-medical issues… no time is ever convenient, but deadline time is the worst!). And that made for some mad scrambling later in the game. Fortunately, I have a fabulous team (my assistant, publicist, beta-readers, and copyeditor) willing to work under crazy deadlines, and I still have enough lawyer blood in me that mad scrambles aren’t terrifying prospects.
That, however, is an important lesson: Allot more time than you think you will need. For everything. Always.
The ability to write fast also helps with a project like this. Everyone writes at different speeds, but diligent planning can help you draft quickly. Speed does not necessarily mean lack of quality. Writing fast allowed me the luxury of this kind of experiment, because I was able to fit more words into a smaller span of time, freeing up the remainder for other projects. Or, you know, sleeping.
Launching the first book
First, we made all of the books available for preorder on retailers in October 2017, and began actively promoting the series in late November after my previous book Wicked Torture had its initial run. We then launched the first book in this series, Down on Me, in January 2018.
We promoted the first book using a combination of newsletter sends and drip advertising on social media, which included images, blurbs, and short snippets from the book. We also did several pre-series videos on Facebook Live with some of the cover models to build hype. My goal wasn’t to hit a bestseller list. I wanted consistently increasing sales across the release period and then steady sales once the full series released (as opposed to a post-release slump).
With those goals in mind, we created a plan for preorder marketing, release day/week marketing, and second week marketing for each book. Note that in this situation, “second week” marketing overlaps with “preorder marketing” for the next book. This can be both good and bad. On the plus side, the series gets exposure to readers twice. However, readers don’t always remember what they ordered. One tool that helps eliminate that type of confusion is the BookBub Preorder Alert (more on this later), as some readers will rely on that ad to remember to preorder a book.
Launching and promoting each subsequent book
Once the first book launched, we created a replicable marketing plan for each book in the series. Here’s what we did:
- A preorder Rafflecopter contest. I stocked up on Kindle Fires during the last sale and offered these as the prize. We ask entrants to post on social media, follow me on BookBub and other sites, sign up for my newsletter, etc. for a chance to win.
- Facebook advertising. We encouraged active engagement with graphics and snippets. These ads ran continuously for book one.
- Newsletter mentions. In addition to my own newsletter that went out with each book’s release, we also arranged for mentions of a few of the books in other authors’ newsletters as part of swaps, wherein authors tell their newsletter audience about another author’s release.
- Back matter (back of the book) advertising and hook. Each book in the series ends in a “happily ever after,” but the epilogue switches to the next couple and pulls an intriguing scene from the next book (not necessarily the first). Immediately following that scene is a buy link in a note from me.
- ARCs. We send out advance copies with each book, which means that we have early reviews on Goodreads and timely reviews on release day at the retailers.
- Guest blog posts. I wrote blog posts for various sites about the series, including two blog posts profiling the men (Books 1-6 and Books 7-12) for RT Book Reviews.
- Published book trailers. We created one book trailer for the series, and one for each book (here’s an example).
- Cooking with the cover model video. As I mentioned above, prior to the first book’s release, one of the models came to my house and we cooked a recipe from the bar at the heart of the series live on Facebook, also noting that the recipe would be available in the cookbook. Since then, we’ve done that with each release to the extent the models are available.
- BookBub Preorder Alerts. I run them the Friday before each release day, though I think even earlier can be useful. As New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips said, “I use BookBub preorder ads to boost my preorder numbers but also my rank on Amazon right before release day.”
Release week promotions
- Online event participation. This includes events such as Facebook parties, where an author with a release invites other authors into a virtual space on Facebook for a period of time (usually 15 minutes). Readers are treated to snippets from the guest authors and chances to win prizes.
- Social media posts. This includes images and excerpts, and helps keep fans engaged.
- Book trailer circulation. We continue to share the book trailers on social media to create buzz.
- Release day “text only” newsletter. We send these to all of our subscribers, and find these have an excellent open rate and go to spam less frequently than the full HTML newsletters with images.
- Day two text message to subscribers. We use a service called TXT180 to send SMS messages to subscribers on or immediately following release day. These are just short “the book is here!” texts.
- Day four full HTML email. Again, these are sent to all subscribers as a reminder to buy the latest book.
- Exclusive excerpts. We post exclusive excerpts to some social media outlets to give fans a special sneak peek.
- Guest blog posts. I’m doing a limited number of guest blog posts, most of which were by invitation from bloggers I’ve worked with in the past.
- Online advertising. We run release week Facebook and AMS ads, though at a lower budget since the primary budget goes to book one.
- BookBub New Release Alerts. This email blast is automatically generated for each book, and because all of our Rafflecopter giveaways and other contests include a “follow JK on BookBub” entry option, that blast goes to a lot of people.
- Gateway book promotions. We’re focusing on pushing book one throughout to hook new readers into the beginning of the series. Here, we primarily use Facebook ads (with targeting for different vendors) and Kindle’s AMS ads.
- BookBub Featured Deal. We ran one Featured Deal mid-series for book one to great success.
- Stacked discount promotions. We advertised the sale price at other newsletter services leading up to the Bookbub Featured Deal.
- Kindle screensaver deal. We ran this on book six and decided to discount the price with the goal of bringing in even more readers. So far it seems to be a success. The two price promotions overlapped, and the result has been a steady increase in sales of books 2-5, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
- Give away free copies of book one. We use download cards for conferences and have included physical copies of the first book in conference swag bags and book subscription box services.
Planning for the future
Once the series is fully released, we’ll continue promoting these books using different marketing tactics.
- Book bundles. We’ll package some of these books into box sets to entice more new readers to buy.
- Audiobooks. The books are currently in production and will all be released on a single day in audio soon after the twelfth book releases, so I’ll get my wish for a real binge!
- Experiment with permafree. We’ll evaluate and possibly make book one permafree to use it as the gateway to the rest of the series.
- Consider Kindle Unlimited. A 12-book series has great potential to garner page reads in KU if well-promoted. So we might try putting the books into KU, but only after the full series is out for a significant run for readers who prefer to wait until a series is complete to dive in.
All in all, I’ve been thrilled with the performance of the series. Sales are consistently climbing, which is not always the case with a long series. More important, the earlier books are increasing in sales! Sales are strong across all retailers, and new preorders are coming in — for example, this week at iBooks, we saw a 133% increase in preorders for book eight, releasing in two weeks, and a 120% increase for book nine.
Right now, I’m halfway through launching this series, and I’ve had a blast with these books and with the experience of putting them together. (Did I mention it was my first cover shoot? Talk about diving into the deep end!) Releasing a book every two weeks isn’t for the faint of heart, and in retrospect I would probably do every three weeks to allow for less post-sale/pre-sale overlap. But ultimately, it’s been — and I expect it will continue to be — a fascinating and profitable journey!
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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.