Even before the ebook revolution, long-form series had generally taken over the Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction genre. First Harry Potter burst onto the scene, followed by the Twilight books, the Hunger Games trilogy, and more. Virtually overnight, parents went from wondering how to get their kids to read anything, to being dragged out of bed for midnight book releases.
The lesson was obvious. In the 21st century, young people don’t want to just read a genre book. They want to immerse themselves fully within another existence, luxuriating within a new world and it’s unique characters. Reveling in every nuance of this alternate reality, readers enjoy the broader, deeper story arcs, knowing they won’t be rushed toward a premature conclusion. As opposed to a one-and-done, stand-alone novel, a series is a long-term, emotional investment, almost like a love affair that can be safely indulged for the foreseeable future.
In the world of Indie publishing, where thousands of new authors are rushing their work to print, writing in series has become a crucial marketing tool. Clearly, a full series of book stands a much greater chance of attracting readers attention, and once sampled, instantly converts that single-book buyer into a repeat customer.
“Marketing a series is easier,” says T.S. Welti, author of the successful No Shelter trilogy. “I set the first book in the series permanently free three months after release, and then put out an omnibus edition right after the full series was published. I don’t do much promotion on the series. The free book pretty much does the promotion for me.”
Indeed, this tactic is now almost standard among Indie publishers. By offering the first book for free, and then giving readers the option of buying the rest either individually or in bulk, Indie authors create both multiple options for consumers, and additional income streams for themselves.
Sometimes the numbers can be almost staggering. Author Sarra Cannon recently revealed that in December 2011 alone the first book in her Peachville High Demons series registered nearly 4,200 free downloads. However, the next five books, including the just released final chapter, Demons Forever, then sold 4,585 additional copies, for a monthly income in excess of $10,000.
Of course, writing in series requires much greater output from the author. And while some writers are up for the challenge, others may be tempted to stretch their work a bit too far.
“For a series, you need a bigger concept and lots of surprises, and that just may not fit the story you are telling,” says Lisa Grace, author of Angel Series. “If you’re not passionate about writing in series, it’s going to eventually show up in your work.”
Some readers may even be hesitant to begin a series until a substantial body of work has been produced.
“With Indie authors, there’s no guarantee that the series will be completed,” observes Shannon Mayer, author of both the Zombie-ish Apocalypse and Celtic Legacy series. “So many readers wait to jump in until they at least see a couple of books released.”
Sometimes, though, just the opposite occurs, with a single book doing so well that it takes on a life of it’s own.
“Wool started life as a stand-alone novelette,” recalls Hugh Howey, one of the early stars of the Indie publishing world. “The only reason it became a series is due to reader demand. I then had to figure out how to create a series out of a short piece.”
Howey also warns that coming out of the gate with a series could spell trouble for new authors.
“If the first book isn’t selling, you’re writing for yourself with those sequels. And the chances are, your first novel won’t be your best,” he says. “Keep writing until something takes off, and then switch your focus to that story. Write each book as if there could be a hundred more, or it could stand alone. That way, you diversify your chances with your readership.”
Good advice for the long haul, or for those writers still finding their way. Clearly, though, for the established Indie Sci-Fi and Fantasy author, focusing on a series may not only be the key to quickly building an audience, but also transforming your writing career from a hobby into a very profitable business.