Business Musings: The Hybrid Learning Curve
Recently, my husband and writer Dean Wesley Smith ran a series of excellent posts on his blog about following your muse versus writing to market. Whenever one of us writes about this topic, writers come out of the woodwork to tell us that we’re wrong. Those writers, all of whom have been in the business less than five years, state that they understand the market, they have been writing to market, and they make way more money than we do.
They base their assumptions on Amazon sales ranks of a handful of our titles, not realizing that between us, we have over 600 titles in print, and we make money all over the world (and the spectrum) on subsidiary rights. For example, I’ve spent much of the past month (since the election, oddly enough) negotiating four new Hollywood projects, as well as finalizing some details of a movie that’s in development.
None of those projects, all of which started as novels, was written to market. Not a one. They were all written because I was following my muse. And traditional publishing repeatedly told me (back in the day) that one of those projects—the one that has currently earned the most in subsidiary rights, including Hollywood—was completely unmarketable.
Okay. Fine. I’m not going to relitigate Dean’s posts. I’d rather have you read what he wrote. Start here.
The writers who think they out earn us or are more successful than we are compose one aspect of this rabid response to the art versus commerce posts. The other rabid response is also fascinating.
It goes like this:
You’ve already made a name for yourself, so of course, you can write whatever you want. You’re making so much money you don’t have to think about ever making money again.
Dean has always answered this by noting that he spent about ten years writing to market, and it burned him out. He wrote tie-ins and ghostwrote dozens of books, none of which he owned the copyright to. He will always respond to those writers who contact him by telling them the latest royalty amount he made on those books in the past six months.
This time? It was (I believe) $12. Yep. $12, on all of those projects. For six months. Yep, made him rich writing to market did, writes Kris, channeling Yoda. Am I making a lot of money off the single Star Wars book I wrote now that the new movies are out?
Well, I’m making more than I did a few years ago. I think my last six-month total on that book was $50. The contract was atrocious. Believe it or not, the publisher still has a reserve against returns. On the ebook. Which didn’t even exist when the contract was written.
Yeah, I’m making a fortune off those books I wrote to market as well. Not.
The books that earn my living are the ones that I wrote because I wanted to. When this new world of publishing came around, I had a backlog of unpublished novels that my various agents (or I) had been unable to sell. I published them, and I’m very happy about it.
I did have a name to build on when the revolution happened. So did Dean, but his name was connected to media books. He only had one original novel under his own name.
He essentially started from scratch in 2012, and has published…gosh, I don’t know…a hundred? books since. (The man is startlingly prolific.) He writes and writes and writes, and everything is worth reading. (My favorite? His Thunder Mountain series. Talk about unmarketable: westerns, time travel, historical, science fiction, and romantic. In other words, unique to Dean and completely enjoyable.)
His handicap coming into this new world of publishing was pretty clear to us. He had a name, but no material to publish except short stories. His initial goal was to move the tie-in novels off the first page of an Amazon search of his name. Once he did that, his next goal was to bury those books so that it would be hard to turn them up in a search.
He achieved the first goal within a year; the second happened when we weren’t looking.
Weirdly enough, the upshot of all of this was that he was in the same boat all new writers were in after 2009—he could chose what to do with his own career. He zoomed merrily along, writing what he wanted, and its paying off.
A lot of tie-in writers are in his boat. Most of them tried indie publishing and then gave it up, because their indie books made no money out of the gate. Most of those writers didn’t have the patience to build what was essentially a new career. Now, most of them continue to write tie-ins, doing the same work they did twenty years ago for advances that are one-fifth to one-tenth what they were before. (These writers are also fighting for fewer tie-in slots, but that’s another blog—one I’ll probably never write.)
My problem in 2009 seemed obvious to me. I had a backlist—a strong one—and I slowly got most of the rights in that list reverted. I had a lot of books that already had the rights reverted, so we published those, concentrating on the various series that I wanted to continue working on.
I had started so many series, and I loved all of them. Traditional publishing’s stupid business practices stopped me from continuing many of those series so sometimes I had to abandon them. The upshot was that I continued working on the current series, because the older series weren’t in my head as clearly any more.
Plus, new series kept being born—sometimes from short stories, which I write in abundance. (I almost got derailed from this blog by a short story idea. I had to write the opening, just so I could come back here.) I’m not writing as fast as I can because if I did that, I’d burn out. But I am writing as fast as I can and still maintain my sanity.
I also had scattered pen names, some of which I’ve retired. Two had become names in their own right—Kristine Grayson and Kris Nelscott. Those two names go hand in hand for me anyway. Nelscott is hard-boiled at its lightest, and occasionally hits noir. Grayson is incredibly goofy. I often write a Grayson right after writing a Nelscott, just to clear my palate.
In 2010 or so, I saw my task as writing as much as I could in all of my series, while staying refreshed by writing short stories and something new. That’s worked.
Because I had so much backstock, I hadn’t noticed some of the issues other hybrid writers had.
What I heard the most from writers who published traditionally, was that their sales weren’t as good as they expected.
It often took some drilling down to figure out exactly what they meant by that. For most, it had to do with velocity. Traditional publishing is based on velocity. The books that sell the most in their first month or so are considered to be the most successful—even if a slow-moving book ultimately sells more copies.
For example, traditional publishing considers a book that sells 5,000 copies in its first month and only 1,000 copies the rest of the year as much more successful than a book which consistently moved 2,000 copies per month for the entire year. All of traditional publishing (even now) is set up to reward the fast-selling book and ignore the steady sellers.
Most traditional writers have learned that their best sales are in the first month of release. So if that first month of indie release is only 100 sales, as it was with my first title, The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, the writers panic. I sure did. I thought I had made a horrid mistake.
It takes hybrid writers several books to grasp—on a deep level—the idea of slow growth, growth that builds rather than growth that declines.
So usually, when I’m dealing with traditional writers who have newly gone hybrid, I check to see if that’s their problem. For most, it is. But a handful would come to me complaining that expected sales—guaranteed sales, according to them—simply didn’t happen.
Mostly, I blamed bad cover design, bad blurb writing, limited availability (Amazon only), and often the evidence backed me up. Even if the newly hybrid writer hired out her covers that didn’t mean the covers were any good.
Also, as I’ve been explaining through countless blogs, the velocity model doesn’t work any more, not even for traditional publishing. There’s no reason to buy a book in its first week of release unless you plan to read it that week. Because the book will be there a year later. So readers add it to the wish list, and buy it when they’re ready.
The days of losing your opportunity to buy a book by failing to pick it up in the first three months are long over.
Readers have changed their buying habits over this, but writers have yet to change their sales expectations—partly because traditional publishers haven’t yet changed theirs. They still front-load all of their publicity, take the paper books out of print within a year or so, and do nothing once the book is six months old unless the book sells better than expected in the beginning.
In talking to hybrid writers, I did miss something, though. It only concerned a handful of writers, and most of them only wrote one series. These writers would email me after they had indie-released a new book or two in their existing series, and complain that the series wasn’t growing.
When these writers were traditionally published, the series grew well. Each book sold better than the last. Now, even taking into account the year or so of sales, the books sold at the same number of copies or less than the previous volumes had.
I couldn’t figure it out, not that I spent a lot of time on it. I knew that my Retrieval Artist series—15 books strong—has grown exponentially since the rights reverted. I also knew that my Smokey Dalton series, under my Nelscott pen name, has grown dramatically, and would grow more if I just wrote another book or two.
My Grayson series struggled, though, and I figured that had to do with all of the stuff that my traditional publishers told me. Humor doesn’t sell well, they’d say. Mixed genres don’t sell well, they’d say. Readers don’t like fractured fairy tales, they’d say. Or maybe, as the horrendous, terrible, god-awful, worst editor I have ever worked with bar none told me in the conversation that made me pull my books from the company, maybe I just don’t write good romance.
That’s what I was thinking.
I’d get tons of letters on my Diving series, and it was doing fine, particularly outside of the United States. The growth was good, but not as good as the Retrieval Artist. I figured that was my fault again. I’ve been writing a lot of Retrieval Artist books, and haven’t tended to the Diving universe, something I’ve started remedying this year.
So…I got surprised this past week. I announced in Thursday’s blog that I had gotten the rights back to the first three Diving novels. I had only sold U.S. and U.K. rights, so all of the books were under my control in all the other countries, but not in the U.S. or U.K.
We have remedied that. All it took was the click of a few buttons and now the versions of the first three Diving books that you find in ebook are all published by WMG at a good price point.
That wasn’t the surprise. The surprise was the emails I got. Email after email after email from readers of this blog or from fans of my work or from sf readers who had heard about the series who told me, in one way or another, that they didn’t want to pay $9.99 for the first book in the series, so they never started the series. They read a lot of my other books instead.
Now, these readers said, they were going to pick up Diving into The Wreck, the first book.
I am not surprised that price made a difference. I’ve written about price a lot. I understand pricing very well. I’ve owned retail businesses since I was in my twenties and have studied price.
High prices are often a barrier to certain types of readers. That’s why I’m so happy to have these books under my control. Because I’m setting the ebook prices at a much lower price ($5.99) which still allows for discounting and sales and judicious use of an introductory rate. At some point, the first book will have a much lower price point than the others, the way that we’re now selling The Disappeared, the first book in the Retrieval Artist series.
I’m still a writer who “grew up” in the traditional publishing world, though, so when I saw that my Diving books were growing exponentially overseas, but growing very slowly here, I figured, hey! maybe these books appeal to non-Americans more than Americans.
It never occurred to me that the problem was the ebook editions of the first three books. Those books were first priced at $11.99, and did get reduced to $9.99, but they’ve been that price for years, with no sales, no discounts, no bundles, no promotion, no nothing.
The series, at least from the traditional publisher’s point of view, was dead, so why invest any thought into it—even though those books were selling thousands of copies per year.
I was getting readers, but not nearly as many as I could have gotten had the books been properly managed.
Which got me to look at the Grayson books. Initially the traditional publisher (with the world’s worst horrid terrible editor) would run sales on the Grayson titles. That stopped a few years ago, and now the books are stuck in Kindle Unlimited, where I make no money at all on their sales. Not a dime. Because of the way that the publisher interprets the contract—not because of what the contract actually says. (Yes, I plan to fight this.)
Besides that, however, none of my other Grayson books are in Kindle Unlimited. I won’t do it, so there is no growth whatsoever. None. The audiences for Kindle Unlimited and regular Amazon are very, very different.
And when the traditionally published Grayson books weren’t in Kindle Unlimited, they were priced high for romance novels, creating yet another barrier to entry.
(Yeah, yeah. I have to get these books reverted. It just moved up the priority list, since I didn’t have to fight for the Diving books.)
I know, I know. Realizing that both series’ slow-growth had to do with the traditional publishing volumes was a face-palm for me. I knew it with Fantasy Life, because who can ignore the $15.99 ebook? How stupid is that? But the other series problems just didn’t register.
There are ways around those series problems, which a lot of hybrid writers are finding. They’re starting new series with side characters. They’re marketing parts of the other books or doing an omnibus volume. But the growth will never be the same as it was in traditional publishing just because the lack of control in the first few books in the series hampers any effort to grow the series.
Those of you who regularly publish indie know what I mean, but those of you who are newly hybrid might not. There are a ton of strategies to interest people in a series. I’ve used a bunch of them on the Retrieval Artist.
As I mentioned, The Disappeared is cheaper than the other books. It’s $2.99. Why $2.99 and not perma-free? I don’t believe in offering a book on a retail site for free. I can, however, give the book away for free to my readers or on my newsletter or in any other promotion I want.
At $2.99 I can also do a variety of reduced price promotions, like a 99-cent novel sale or a $1.99 sale. I can offer the book as part of a Storybundle or in BundleRabbit, and the buyer will still think my part of the bundle is a good deal.
Heck, speaking of bundles, I can bundle The Disappeared with some of my other books on my own and offer it for a special price. Or I can give it to my mystery readers or do whatever I can think of as a promotion.
I couldn’t do any of that with the Diving series. Not in the States. So that hampered growth as well.
The handful of writers who wrote to me, saying their one and only series wasn’t doing as well, may have had a point that I missed. The point was that it didn’t matter if their cover was good or their blurb worked or that they had a fan base. They couldn’t grow the fan base, and that would have an impact on sales out of the gate.
Because a handful of readers will always wait until they’re ready to read before buying the book. They no longer buy on the velocity method. So the best way to increase your sales out of the gate is to increase your readership.
My readership on Diving has grown inside the U.S. and the U.K. enough that I didn’t really notice a problem, until you folks pointed it out. You can bet I would have noticed had it been my only series.
Which begs the question: why go to traditional publishing to get your series off the ground? I get so many letters from writers who decide to do just that.
Those writers tell me they’ll get higher visibility and more traction if they go traditional with the first book. That used to be true, but is true no longer. You get into more stores if you do it yourself, although (romance writers) you won’t get a mass market edition.
But…let’s pretend that those writers are right. Let’s pretend that they will get a better launch through traditional publishing. The launch will wear off. The contract will remain. You’ll lose control of the book for the first 35 years of the copyright, and you’ll be paid diddly squat (believe me) because publishers will change how they interpret contracts. See the contract series for that (or better yet, buy the book, either on its own or in this bundle which ends on the 22nd).
Worse, though, in my opinion, is that you have lost control of the beginning of your series. I’ve always known that was a problem, but this past week really brought that home to me. I’d been ignoring the first 3 books of the Diving series because I knew I’d have to fight to get them back. I was planning on that fight. So while I was getting ready for that, I focused on my other books in my other series.
The fight didn’t happen, so now I have to revamp my thinking. And I’m happy to do so. I realize just how much I neglected the promotion side of the Diving series because I couldn’t do the really important work of getting people into the series.
And neither can any hybrid writer who traditionally published the first few books in her series. Should she abandon the series? No, but she shouldn’t expect rapid growth on it either.
If she’s a fast writer, she should write books outside of that series, either in a new series or as standalone titles.
Now that I’ve been mentally slapped around again (it seems like the indie world does that to me about once a month), I will add one other thing. Those of you who want to go traditional to give your series a proper launch, don’t.
Think five years or ten years out. What happens when you’re 10 books into the series, and you can’t offer a discount on the first book? You can’t promote it in any way. You can’t even control what the cover looks like or how the interior looks (my traditionally published Diving interiors suuuuuuck). You’ve hamstrung yourself right out of the gate.
There are a million things you can do to keep your half-traditional, half-indie series going. I’ve done a bunch of them with some of my series. I’ll write more about Diving later next year as I settle into a new publishing program.
But there are more things you can do when the entire series is under your control.
I sure feel for those hybrid writers now, though. The ones who went indie thinking their first six months would be paid for by sales equivalent to the sales of their traditional launches. I always tried to warn writers who were going indie for the first time about decreased early sales; I never thought to warn those writers that sales on an existing series would grow much more slowly than sales of a brand-new series.
I shoulda known. But I’m still learning.
Thanks, everyone, for the letters. I love the interactive nature of this blog. You folks rock!
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“Business Musings: The Hybrid Learning Curve,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by © Can Stock Photo / artoptimum
“Now that I’ve been mentally slapped around again (it seems like the indie world does that to me about once a month), I will add one other thing. Those of you who want to go traditional to give your series a proper launch, don’t.”
how about a novella set in a “series” based on the world with standalone books?
I’m willing to try with just a novella, but at the same time I know it’s better written than many of the other books that are already out indie, so I’m wondering if I should just keep it indie or turn it into a (short for traditional standards) novel by adding another point of view or…
Artistic freedom and decisions, sigh! I know Dean would keep it indie, would you?
I’ve read that Joe Konrath sold the print rights to Kensington for some of his books, so he’s becoming hybrid next year – I have considered being hybrid too, but should I stick to short stories to send traditional markets and keep the longer works (from novella to novels) indie?
overwhelmed by changes Barb
Take a look at the contracts, Barb. The print-only contracts are terrible. They contain huge rights grabs. If you can negotiate a good contract, you might want to give it a try, but I’m not sure why. You can do everything better indie, except publish a mass market edition. (And there’s no longer much retail space to sell mass market books. 🙁 If there were, I’d maybe give you a different answer.)
I still sell short stories and some novellas traditional. And oh, a novel, coming out in Asimov’s. But not as a standalone print book… 🙂
Nothing to add but praise here. Yet another informative post, and this is one of the few sites (The Passive Voice is another) where I always make a point of reading the comments. Thanks, as always.
I think the write to your muse vs. write to market controversy needs to be approached differently depending upon the audience to which you are speaking.
Your advice is great for writers with a level of competence, maybe a bit of experience, and some sort of basic awareness of what sells, what doesn’t, and why.
It’s even better than that for pros.
On the other hand, I’ve seen too many newbies who wrote something that screams that no copies will ever sell to anyone not related to the author — but they followed their muse. THOSE people need to pay some attention to what type of readers are buying books like the one that they want to write, and why. Then they need to make some adjustments to their book so that it will have some interest for some folks somewhere.
I would suggest that the best blend is to write to your muse, and then polish for the market that exists for books like the one you wrote. That might help keep the newbies on some sort of path to success.
If you’re saying a newbie needs to learn how to write well and tell a good story, I agree. If you’re talking about tailoring your work to some imagined market, I can’t disagree more. The last thing I want is some new voice to trim something original and worthwhile because of a perceived market.
Storytelling is an art, and those who are good at it can make readers read anything, even stuff the readers think they couldn’t ever read.
A point I’d like to make as a Reader.
There are a few authors who had Trad sales long ago, who then got their rights back, published beautiful trade paperbacks, built great websites, and not many sales. They sit there listening to the crickets chirp deciding that they will wait to write more once their sales show people are interested.
All their website is doing is advertising for their used books from the penny sites. People will buy the books used, read them, enjoy them, then sell or trade the books at the local paperback exchange. Those readers love the books, but do not keep the books. They are waiting, eagerly, for new books in the same “world”, and these new books never appear because the author is waiting for their beautiful trade paperbacks to make money.
More crickets chirping.
As long as the used books keep cycling, they will only see the few sales to people like me who want to own beautiful books, read them, gaze lovingly on them, etc…, and before anybody says, “Get a room!” I’m already there. HA!
It never occurs to the author to take the “world” that is described in their five or six Trad published books and write more books in that “world” with other characters, other events.
I’ve read awesome books, that describe events that are happening in a “world” that I want to read more of. But because the author told their stories, and they didn’t make much money, they are not interested in throwing their time away after not much success.
Look at all of the books written about, and around, the Civil War. These authors are treating their “world” as if once somebody has read “Gone With The Wind” why should they want to read more.
My point as a writer:
If these authors don’t want to play in those “worlds” anymore, they should let other people do so, because I know a handful of beautiful “worlds” that I could spend the rest of my life writing stories about if the authors won’t.
An interesting post, as always.
I’m one of the newer writers who responded to Dean’s post with something like “You’ve already made a name for yourself, so of course, you can write whatever you want. You’re making so much money you don’t have to think about ever making money again.” (I didn’t say he didn’t have to ever think about making money again. That’s ridiculous.)
However, I stand by what I wrote. For me. For now.
A few months before retirement (strongly encouraged by my then-employer, who was looking to cut the US workforce), I took several thousand dollars and deposited it in a business bank account to fund my indie publishing career. Due to the costs of publishing (editing, covers, etc.) and some bad decisions (hey, I was learning!), the money didn’t last very long. Not long enough to fund continuing to write solely to my muse. I was going months with no sales at all. I had to come up with a Plan B.
Part of that was starting a series that would have wider market appeal. Part of it was not hiring an editor and learning to design my own covers in Gimp. I know, horrible mistakes (supposedly), but the alternative was publishing maybe one book every other year while I saved up the money for publishing costs.
Interestingly enough, the series that started as a write-to-market project has become more enjoyable to write than the original series I wrote to the muse. I’m going to have to force myself to write the books to bring that first series to a conclusion, even though it’s currently earning more money each month than the second one. But there are other factors influencing those numbers. They’ll probably flip again in January.
I guess what I’m saying is that you can both write to market and write to the muse, even if it’s not in the same series. Hopefully, that slow build will happen over time. I’ve already seen that it does. But if I hadn’t released the books in the second series last year, I wouldn’t be able to afford the workshop I’m taking from Dean in February. Or the new covers to replace my DIY ones.
Here’s what you can’t know, Elise. You can’t know if the “written to market” books are selling better because they were written to market, or because you’ve had more writing experience, and your writing got better. Your post-book marketing might have improved too. You might be taking the wrong lesson from it all. Frankly, I’ve seen dozens of writers change to writing to market with no effect at all. Only a handful see anything happen, and those writers happen to be (or have become) better storytellers. It’s obvious to outsiders, just not the writer.
Glad you’re enjoying what you write. Maybe you simply found your niche, eh? That can happen too. 🙂
I agree I’ll never know for sure. I also have to point out (because of comments pointing directly toward one book or series that an author is trying to emulate) that I didn’t decide to write billionaire romances or cat detective cozies, much less another Harry Potter.
Elise, sounds to me like you tried a new genre, which is different from writing a pale copy of someone else’s successful book. Or writing something you secretly have contempt for, and doing it for money. Trying a new genre is spreading your wings and experimenting. Writing something that’s just like Star Wars only not like Star Wars only because Star Wars is big is writing to market.
Hmmm, I feel another blog post coming on.
Interesting article, and I realize that I find myself agreeing of course but with a niggling caveat bouncing around in my head. I agree wholeheartedly one shouldn’t try to write to market and marry Harry Potter with 50 Shades of Divergent. The simplest reason to me is that unless you write as fast or faster than Dean, the market will likely change long before you have a chance to capitalize. And when the market shifts, who will want to buy your book a year from now? Oh, look a Shades-knockoff. How quaint. But far more importantly, even more than the burnout Dean noted, you have no voice, no brand to build. A different problem than Dean had, but how do you build from a collection of such disparate “pieces”? (Excluding Lawrence Block bringing out all his old erotica books, natch).
However, the niggling part that sticks in my craw, is that I have a slightly different take. While lots think of it is “write to market” being an alternative way to linking to marketing, I think there is an element of danger in saying “simply follow your muse”. It’s not what you are saying, I know that, but that there are lots of authors out there, as you write about in your blogs, who think of themselves as one of “des artistes”, who embrace the muse at the expense of the other key message I glean from your blog…that we are self-employed business people producing content for the consumption of the masses. We are not simply l’artiste who writes for fun and shares it with our friends or in a small critiquing group. We are righting “to market” or more accurately, “we are writing something we intend to sell”, or we are not writers. We are dilettantes in cheap clothing…
I was writing a blog entry earlier today about a recent article I read where the subject, a former chair of the Writers Union of Canada was talking about writing for the muse, not the market, and it really struck me wrong. Then I read yours and thought, “Hmm…I’ve never quite realized I interpret that phrase a bit differently”, along with the muse embracing.
Either I want a new muse with more business acumen or I have a really ugly muse and I just want to be friends 🙂
P.S. Did you grab a new theme? The boxes below the details below where I can sign up for notifications are there, but the text beside it shows as “white on white” (i.e. invisible to telling me what the boxes do).
Well, here’s what I do. I write first, and then move to a different room and desk, and market what I write. It’s easier to figure out how to market something when it’s finished than it is before it’s started. Especially as fast as marketing changes these days. (Hmmm, a blog post. Heh!) When the book is done, you can figure out what you want to do if you want to do anything at all. Right now, we have the luxury of time. I just finished something that will tie to the marketing of a book of mine I haven’t promoted at all, and it’s been out for years.
So write. Enjoy. Then be a business person when it’s all finished.
And didn’t change theme, but I did update it. Dammit. I’ll see if I can find what they changed now. grrrrr.
This post makes me think of C. Dale Brittain. I don’t know if you’ve ever met her. She had a couple of standalone fantasy novels, but is best known for her Wizard of Yurt series (starting with A Bad Spell in Yurt). That series was huge for me in the 90s. They were always release day buys. Apparently there weren’t enough readers like me, though, because her series got dropped before the big concluding volume.
(Not her series’ fault. The publisher kept trying to market it as humorous fantasy. The books did have some humor, but no one would have ever confused her with Pratchett.)
She did find a small press to publish that final volume (back around 2000). She’d planned on writing a follow-up series based on the next generation, but no publishers picked it up. So I figured she just went back to teaching Medieval History.
Turns out that, in the last couple of years, she’s started taking advantage of the new world. I don’t think she has the rights back to the early stuff, but she’s published more in that world. Novellas mostly, so far. (I’ve picked up a couple, but haven’t read them yet.)
She has the rights back to at least the first one, and succeeded in getting rights to its cover as well, which is why it’s noticeably different from the rest.
I have nothing substantial to add in my comment—I just wanted to say that this post is amazing! So much useful information, so thanks for posting. 🙂
I went indie because I refused to write to market. Trying to do that required giving up every single thing that made me unique. Now I follow my muse, and lo and behold there are people who like where it takes me!
Kris, I have recently noticed what seems to me to be a big increase in new prequels to older existing series. Sorry, I don’t remember which series now to give you examples. Since I’m not a writer, I have no idea if that has anything to do with drawing readers into an existing series or not, but I would suspect it could (would?) work that way. As a reader, I would definitely find it compelling. Your thoughts?
It might simply be marketing or it might be the indie solution to having traditionally published books. Dunno, Colleen. Anyone?
Something from the readers’ perspective that writers don’t take into account–we’re tired of getting hooked on a series and the publisher leaving us high and dry in the middle. That’s on both the trad and indie sides. (Yeah, I’ve seen it happen with indies, too.) Lots of readers will wait until the series is complete before buying.
Some series don’t end. Mine won’t. They’re like Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct or a series TV show. Occasionally there’s an arc, but mostly, each story stands alone.
But yeah, on series that end on cliffhangers, I wait until they’re done as well. 🙂
Seems to happen more on trad, particularly these days with the midlist being cut. But if it’s going to be a trilogy, yeah — I wait till the 3rd book is out or at least about to be. It has to be something really amazing for me to get them as they come out. Like “The Fifth Season” et seq. which are cliffhangers.
Trad pub just doesn’t realize a lot of stuff. They’re still hung up on the idea that books have to sell that first month, and think books are produce which spoils after a certain time. They don’t realize that people rarely get things from bookstores. My town used to have a B&N and a Borders; the B&N closed 2 months before Borders went bankrupt. I have a Half Price Books and a used-romance-only shop now. If I want a new book, I have to go to the big city (and hope they have it) or get it online, where books don’t “go stale”. I bought books for Christmas gifts — one’s 6 months old, the other 3 years, and so I knew there was no point in anything but free 2-day shipping from Big River.
Ebooks should never cost more than paper. Paper, you can lend out repeatedly, give away, resell, mail to another country, bequeath… you can do more, it’s worth more.
Also, “the first one’s free” is a strategy which works in many businesses. 🙂 Or at least cheap. Stuff sold weekly at the grocery store (dishes, encyclopedias back when those existed) also had the first one very cheap. We had a lot of different volumes “A” around, they were always 99 cents. And if someone’s got a series that goes on for 5 or 10 volumes, that first one better be cheap.
Love this post! I know I have made the right decision to go indie. I might submit to some mags over time but will remain indie. I like the control too much and since I like series, I can see the potential to do what you want with a series. It’s not worth it to hand that over to Trad. I don’t need to prove myself to them. I would rather write for readers not traditional publishers.
As always, lots to chew on. I’m 100% indie for the reasons you stated here in this post and others.
Taking Dean’s situation circa 2009 as an example, one thing he did was write a lot. Building up a backlist with sales that steadily grew over the years. That I understand.
But what do you consider the base model for marketing? In reading your posts (and Dean’s) or listening to podcasts or reading posts from other indie authors, there seems to be hundreds of ways to tell the world about our books. Some are new and fancy and generate tremendous results. Then everyone tries the same technique with results that don’t match the originator.
I am fully on board with the slow growth, long-term approach in writing books & short stories in various series and publishing them regularly (especially after taking y’all’s Speed workshop). What are the equivalent slow and steady marketing techniques?
I dealt with that a lot in the Discoverability series, Scott. Here are the free blog posts. https://kriswrites.com/business-rusch-publishing-articles/discoverability-series/ I gathered them into a book as well. The details of what to do–what’s current and what’s not (Patreon, Book Funnel)–are constantly changing, but the principles remain the same.
“sf readers who had heard about the series who told me, in one way or another, that they didn’t want to pay $9.99 for the first book in the series, so they never started the series”
My solution is to either get the book at the library or buy a used copy.
It continues to boggle my mind that publishers price their backlist higher than the used book price; one could obviously be used to siphon sales from the other. But as you say, far too many publishers are focused on their next book, not their backlist.
That pricing disparity has always bugged me as well. When there are a 160 used copies starting at one cent (four dollars with shipping), $11.99 seems like a bad price point for the ebook. Frankly, anything above $7.99 (and that may be too high), is probably asking for trouble.