Met up yesterday with a group we call the “Bellevue (WA) Writer’s Lunch” to talk business. It’s a monthly thing we do (if interested in joining us sometime, lemme know, we’re not actually meeting in Bellevue these days) where a group of us get together and talk about the business of writing, rather than the craft. We’re all writers with years of experience in Indie Press, so we chat about what’s working, marketing trends, whether a cover works, etc. Mostly, it is an excuse to hang out with other writers and learn from them. And it is well worth the time do to so.
One of the guys suggested that the optimum length for a genre fiction series was five books. I found this fascinating, because historically, a trilogy is the measure of a series, following the classic Three Act model of story-telling. So we made him explain himself in better details.
(CAVEAT: He writes generally horror, so I don’t know if the rules apply elsewhere, but here goes:)
From a marketing standpoint in Indie Press, where you don’t have a TradPub(tm) marketing department or budget behind you, he puts book one up as perma-free. (That is, free everywhere you can, and I think you can only go to $0.99 on Amazon, but I might be wrong.)
This is a teaser (the first hit is always free) designed to get your words in front of a reader and let them judge you as a writer. The second book he will also send you for free as an ebook, in trade for you joining his mailing list. This helps him build up a larger audience, hopefully of people that like his books and will pay for the rest. Books three through five will be up at the “regular” price and that’s where the money comes from.
His logic is that you basically end up not making any money on the first two books, and then recoup it later in the last three. We don’t talk money at these lunches, so I don’t know how successful he had been with this process. Hopefully, it works for him.
For me, I’m at an earlier point in my career as an Indie writer. My sixth (Fairchild) and seventh (Goddess of War) novels are coming out over the next six weeks. Fairchild is the first of what will be a new series of much-harder science-fiction novels. Goddess of War is the fourth Jessica Keller novel of what I plan to be nine core books and various associated ones. (Associated, because there will be some more like Siren and tied directly into the Jessica storyline, as opposed to stories in the same universe (Javier, Doyle, Henri, etc.))
As soon as I finish a small project for an anthology that will come out next summer, I’ll start working on the next Jessica novel, which will be the fifth (Flight of the Blackbird) and will come out sometime next spring, if all goes well. At some point, I expect Fabulous Publisher Babe(TM) to drop the price of Auberon , maybe all the way to nothing. I don’t know, because that’s her decision. It is her publishing company.
At that point, my series will look like this
Additionally, the following are novels set up for series, but I haven’t written book twos yet:
Kai Di Peng
After the fifth Jessica, I have several other projects planned. Certainly the fourth Javier. And either the next Kai Di or the next Fairchild, depending on how sales and feedback go over the rest of the year for those two.
Helpfully, while I was laying down a batch of mead for the Fabulous Publisher Babe(TM)’s wine and chocolate party next Feb, writer-brain helpfully popcorn kittened me with YET ANOTHER science fiction series of books I could write one of these days. I also got a might inspired to finally write the next installment of the dieselpunk books (Moscow Gold as book one).
I’ll never run out of ideas, but I will eventually die at my keyboard, I suspect.
Getting back to the top of this shaggy dog story, I also have several novella and short-story series in various states of multiple books. And over the next few years, I plan on greatly expanding the various series, both inside the Alexandria Station universe and across the others. At that point, I might end up dropping various book ones and first novels in price, but I will also have an entire bakery of things for people to read once they do discover me.
My goal, like his, is to make enough money from the writing to be able to not have to day job. We all have to put a roof over our heads and food on our tables. We would all love to be able to get up each morning and spend HOURS making shit up and getting paid for it afterwards.
In the past, in that mythical land we call TradPub, there were gatekeepers who saw their job as dictating who got to be read by the broader public. Hundreds of people spent their lives honing their craft in short fiction they submitted to the various genre magazines, building up a reputation and a back catalog.
After a time, they would try their hand at writing a novel. It is a skill, just like any other. Learning to write short fiction does not teach you how to write novels, but it does give you the tools to learn. From there, you would locate an agent eventually, who would use their contacts to get you a deal to write novels.
In the way past, you, the budding new novelist, would have a chance to write several novels, finding your audience and developing your skill.
That doesn’t happen any more.
You will have to hit a high sales number with that first novel, pretty much right out of the gate, to be offered a contract for a second novel. Many do, but many more do not, and are cast adrift. As a result, they never write a full series, especially since that first novel of theirs will remain the property of the publisher for the next thirty-five years, unless you negotiated some good terms in your contract to get the rights back.
If you do succeed, you will probably be contracted to write a trilogy, and then your publisher/editor will tell you what they want the next trilogy/series to be about. Your choices are starkly limited if you want to be published by them.
In the IndiePress world, I can publish whatever I want, as fast I can write it and turn it into something I’m not embarrassed to own. I can write several series, kinda all at the same time, in whatever order inspiration hits, as long as I communicate to you, the reader, what I’m up to, how far along I have gotten, and when and what they can expect next.
What I’m doing is far more messy than what my friend did, but he and I have very different ways of thinking. And we write different things, at different speeds, for different audiences.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for things.
That’s not why we all go to lunch. We do it to talk about what we’re doing, and what seems to be working for each of us. And that answer is different for everyone. As it should be.
Kai Di (White Crane, book one of Modern Gods) is the first of what will only be a trilogy, as far as I can tell. It will be one long coming-of-age story. But there will be other stories in that same universe. The novella I’m close to finishing, for the anthology next summer, takes place in that world.
Conversely, Fairchild is going to be a larger series than Modern Gods, but not a sequential thing like Jessica Keller.
So, tl;dr: What are your thoughts? Do you prefer a single series being written and published at a time, or do you want to wander all over the cosmos with a writer who has too many ideas and too much freedom to pursue them?
Who are you, as a reader? 🙂
shade and sweet water
finally back West of the Mountains, WA