Writing a series is a great way to keep your reader base and sell more books. But how does that translate to marketing? How can authors make the most of the series model and effectively reach the people most likely to be repeat customers and longtime readers?
We talked to two influencers in the book marketing arena to get a couple of perspectives on the series model: Mark LeFebvre from Kobo and Ali Parker, a new (and extremely marketing-savvy) author who has found success in promoting her series.
Read the entire interviews below (they’re full of great advice and benchmark data) or use the key takeaway section below to jump to a specific answer.
What trends are you seeing on the aggregate? jump to Mark’s answer
What advice would you give a debut author? jump to Ali’s answer
Can you share some data on what percent of readers buy other books in the series after reading a free book? jump to Mark’s answer
If you want to boost downloads and sales of your book series, try our Series Feature for Romance, Mystery / Thriller, or Fantasy / Paranormal. The first book in your series must be permafree in order to qualify for a Series Post.
Interview With Mark LeFebvre
Can you please tell us a little about yourself? What do you do at Kobo?
I’m the Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo. I oversee Kobo Writing Life (http://www.kobo.com/writinglife) which is the system which gives authors and small publishers the ability to easily publish their work to Kobo directly.
You get to interact with authors on a daily basis. And you have access to aggregated sales data.
Yes – one of the main perks of my job is that I get to interact with authors. Although it can sometimes be overwhelming and I’m so often behind in responding to emails; but it’s one of the things I love most about my jobs. And in terms of the aggregated sales data, Kobo has always been forthcoming about sharing data back to the industry, as that helps publishers and authors know what’s working and what’s not, particularly in different countries with different types of readers.
We’re working on the best ways to bring this information back to authors through the Kobo Writing Life dashboard to provide easier access to all kinds of rich data to help them understand more about what’s working and what’s not working in terms of selling more.
How should authors think about Kobo when evaluating where to offer their book for sale (in relation to Amazon, Nook, Apple etc)?
Honestly, I think authors are BEST served by offering their books for sale across as many channels and retailers as possible. You simply never know which of the retailers has loyal readers that might become big fans of your work. You can’t ask a reader to switch platforms just to read your book.
If a reader only reads on Kobo, or iBooks or Nook, they’re not going to switch just to buy your book. So any chance of selling to a reader who isn’t on the single retailer that you’ve locked yourself into, is NEVER going to discover you or your work.
What trends are you seeing with ebook series?
We’ve done some significant work recently to help draw readers to come BACK to the books they’re reading in the series, not only by putting more effort into making it easier to see that a book is part of a series, but also reminder emails (generated automatically from solid and strong metadata about series) prompting readers to return to the places and people that they’ve already been reading – see this article for more on that: http://kobowritinglife.com/2015/01/29/selling-more-of-your-series-books-on-kobo-11/
What are successful series authors doing to drive sales of their titles?
Well, first, they’re making sure they have covers that appeal to their target audiences; it should go without saying that the books are edited and proof-read and are professional in all ways. Then, they’re publishing to as many platforms as possible and keeping the broadest net for global customers. And the more successful ones (which means they are trying “today’s strategies” for driving sales) never lose sight of the long term goals of constantly producing good new material and keeping their fans satisfied.
They are using great services like Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy to help gain new readers. And many are starting to realize that while doing a special sale or promo as 99 cents or $2.99 there’s a whole market out there to break into, and that the average resting price for a full length novel lies closer to the $3.99 to $8.99 range.
Successful authors are mindful that setting a single US price, for example, is not going to work globally and they have to think globally to break into the world market that’s available through Kobo. Kobo customers in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, for example, are used to paying more for books. So an author pricing a book at $4.99 US can easily price that same book at $5.99 in Canada and either $5.99 or $6.99 in Australia and New Zealand – the reality is those prices are still attractive in those countries.
Successful authors are always thinking long term, even when employing temporary strategies; and they’re cultivating relationships with their readers through author newsletters and thinking more about pleasing and satisfying their readers rather than unit sales or any other factor. They know that if they can produce solid material that meets the needs of their readers, they’ll have a fan for life.
What is your opinion on free promotions?
Free continues to be a great way to get new readers to try out your fiction. I know I’ve heard indie authors talking about how it doesn’t work on Kindle any longer because of the way they keep changing their algorithms – but authors shouldn’t see free as a way to game the system and increase their ranking, but rather as a way to get new readers to check out their work. And if they’ve done their job of marketing to the right target audience, the rest should be an easy down-hill ride.
Free is something that’s still working well for authors on Kobo. “Free” is one of the most searched terms in our catalog, and we’ve seen continued evidence that getting a lot of people to check out your permanently free book in a series (typically the first one or a prequel) is a great hook for new readers. The problem is that most people who take a free book don’t actually read it.
But conversion, for those who actually read the book is as high as 45% to 56% to buying one or more books in the rest of the series. While free works BEST within a series, because of the obvious tie-in for readers to want to read more about the same characters and places, it does still show conversion to non-linked titles by the same author.
Based on your data, what is the optimal price point for series books?
First I should define “book” as something that’s at least 40,000 words in length; but more often 50,000 to 80,000 words. One of the things about ebooks and indie authors is the term book has become loose – that’s a great thing, but it’s not fair to confuse customers. The book industry used to have terms such as novelette, novella and novel which helped determine the length. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, for example, have long defined the following terms:
|Novel||over 40,000 words|
|Novella||17,500 to 40,000 words|
|Novelette||7,500 to 17,500 words|
|Short story||under 7,500 words|
That being said, I think it’s fair to let readers know, in whatever way is clearest, what length of book they are buying. Is this something they can finish reading on a quick 30 to 45 minute commute in to work? Is this something that’ll last them on a 6 hour flight or to read over a few days on the beach while on vacation?
For series books, it’s good to have a solid low introductory price – ideally, FREE for the first in a series, or perhaps a self-contained prequel or short story that ties into the universe and draws a reader in and gets them to fall in love with your characters or universe, then, for those who become fans and know they like your work, I wouldn’t price any lower than $2.99. IE Book One: Free or 99 cents. Book Two: 2.99, 3.99 or 4.99.
If you’re writing full-length books any anything between 50,000 to 100,000 words, there’s no reason you should be charging less. So long as you are not over-charging and customers don’t feel ripped off, customers care more about finding and sticking with a great author, great series and enjoying the read than in getting everything cheap.
I think, following some of the “gaming” that authors initially used to get attention to their books, too many authors devalue their work by pricing everything at 99 cents and 2.99. There are some customers who have been burned by inexpensive books published by those who didn’t put as much effort into their books as they should have, trying to game the system (and ruin things for authors producing quality work) – those customers will often never venture into the lower realms of regularly priced books. They’ll still go for temporary sales and promo prices that are low, but have become leery of books regularly priced below $4 and $5.
Consider this: When Meredith Wild was publishing her “Hacker” romance series (they all have the word “Hard” in the title), she never went below $6.99 for her novels. She carefully curated a quality audience that expected great novels and never balked at the price. And though she’s now hybrid publishing – (she has sold the rights of that series to a major publisher and continues to self-publish other titles), when she owned those digital rights, she was perhaps the #10th or #11th bestselling Kobo Writing Life author in terms of unit sales, but she was #4 or #5 in terms of Net Sales (or dollars earned) – she did the math and earned far more than she would have trying to dive for the bottom.
We also have a partnership in place where you will be picking select titles that have been featured on Bargain Booksy. What are your selection criteria for the titles you will pick? What kind of exposure will you be giving to these titles?
We’re delighted to be working with Freebooksy. Kobo will find titles that Freebooksy has curated with the goal of helping authors who are open to being available in global markets find a larger audience through Kobo. We are pretty picky in terms of the professional look of the book, and we usually make a decision on the book within the first ¼ of a second that we see the cover. Sorry, but the reality is, that’s how customers shop and decide. Our merchandisers do the very same thing. We don’t win any favours with our customers by putting anything less than the titles we feel strongest and best about on the front page of various promos.
Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy is making that selection process easier, by having pre-curated a fine list of titles, so obviously we’re only going to be selecting titles that are available on Kobo – ie, rewarding those authors smart enough to be available on all retail platforms. We’re also going to be showing a bit of favoritism to authors publishing direct to Kobo via Kobo Writing Life.
We’ll be creating select feature pages that specifically spotlight titles that were recently featured on Freebooksy and Bargainbooksy, and we’ll also be scanning your features to see if titles that you have featured might also be eligible for additional feature spots in ongoing promos we have such as the Kobo Next or Kobo Next for Less/Great Deals promos spots that we have in place.
Can you tell us a bit about the Kobo audience? Where are they located? What genres do they love? How do they shop?
There are Kobo readers in 190 countries around the world. The largest and strongest Kobo readers live in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. We are also seeing incredible growth in many global territories such as France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Germany. What’s unique about Kobo is that we not only have a presence via http://www.kobo.com but we also partner with retailers in 16 different localized territories. So in the UK, you can buy our books direct or through WHSmith. In Canada, Chapters/Indigo (Canada’s largest book chain). In Italy, Modadori. In France, FNAC, in the Netherlands, BOL.
Within the US our readers come from our web presence but there is a strong contingent of readers who frequent independent bookstores due to our partnership with the American Booksellers Association. And that changes the dynamics of what sells there, too. What sells best is genre fiction – typically Romance and “More Active Romance” (AKA Erotica), Mysteries and Thrillers, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, etc. But within the indie bookstores in the US, we’re seeing a stronger percentage of contemporary fiction and literature and non-fiction, more academic or social studies type books – books that you might expect to be hand-sold in an indie bookstore. Our customers are split between reading on our amazing family of eReaders (Kobo has the world’s only premier waterproof device – the Auro H20), but also an incredible selection of free apps for every smartphone, tablet or computer system – our customers buy and read across all of those platforms.
How can authors make sure their titles are available on Kobo?
The best way is by publishing their work through Kobo Writing Life. It’s free, and authors keep 70% for any books priced $2.99 or higher (there’s NO CAP at ten dollars – you can create a box set and sell if for $15 and still keep 70%) at the low end, between 99 cents and 2.99 you get 45% – all authors also have access to make their books free for as long as they want without any exclusivity requests. And our dashboard is among the best in the industry, providing a comprehensive real-time snapshot of your global sales. We have further tips, inspiration and author spotlights on http://www.kobowritinglife.com.
Buy A Series Post on Freebooksy.
Interview With Ali Parker
First, can you tell us (and our readers) a little about your books. What genre are they? How many titles have you published? Are they series or standalone?
I write contemporary romance, both in serial form and series formats. My first novel came out this year in April, which I broke into three parts in order to gain attention as a new author. It’s under a serial set-up, which allows the reader to access part one (roughly 20K words of the novel) for free and then subsequently purchase part two for $1.99 and part three for $1.99. Readers can also purchase the box set (full novel) for $2.99. That model worked so well that I’ve published two more following the same the format, and am working on the fourth for August this year.
I published book one of a romantic suspense a week or so ago, with the next in that series planned for September. Finally I decided to throw my hand in the hat regarding the Billionaire craze, just to test it out. I created a pen name, Zoe Reid, and broke the novel into eight 10K word pieces, with two boxed sets (part 1-4 and part 5-8). I’m in the process of wrapping up part 8 now.
Standalones rarely do well unless you’re already well-known and can use marketing techniques in the back of a well-known book to push the reader to purchase other works. I always, always, always do series.
Do you set titles to be perma-free? Or do you do limited time free promotions? Why? How do you decide which of your titles to offer free?
Once again, in being self-published and doing all of my own marketing and decision making, it’s imperative that I grab attention with various marketing tools such as perma-free. I will always make book one (or a prequel novella) free.
Take my romance novel Baited, for example: I knew that it was a single novel – a standalone. No way to grab attention. I broke it into three pieces, roughly 20K words each and pushed each piece into publication within a few days of each other. People aren’t going to wait months or weeks for a part of a novel to be wrapped up. Finish the whole book, break it up and put disclosures so that there are no surprises when the reader gets to the end and thinks, “Um… where is the rest?” “It’s coming! Lucky you…”
I don’t run limited time promotions. The free book will hit Amazon’s algorithms, and you can promote free books MUCH easier than you can promote anything else.
How does free drive subsequent sales of books?
It gives the reader a no investment trial.
However, you must invest the reader by either using a cliff-hanger or creating a world or characters that the reader is forced to know more about. You should never have a novel that you put for FREE that doesn’t have all of your other books advertised inside. Always include an action item for the reader to do next, such as: Enjoy Baited? Want more? Check out Jaded, by Ali Parker. (And the link to go buy it)
By the way – this format of marketing works like a charm, but the key is to write and write a lot. When you wrap up a series or serial you should jump for joy. It’s then time to make that first book free and play the marketing game. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
**PLUG – I’ve not found a better source for massive amounts of downloads than I have in using Freebooksy. They are my number one source for what I do to sell my books. They have a bulk program that you can buy if you write like your rear’s on fire (like I do). Check into it. My contemporary romance does much better than anything else. Test out your genres and find the right place for you. It’s there, you just have to find it.
How do you approach pricing your books, particularly those that occur later in a series?
Ultimately, we as authors want to have the novel priced at $2.99 or higher to take advantage of Amazon’s royalty rates. Making $0.33 on a $0.99 book is really sad, to be honest. I price my books based on the number of words (I use a range) and my ultimate goal.
It may sound trite, but I’m a reader myself and I’m always thinking about the value to the reader. My Billionaire series are 10K word sections. A 10k word book is $0.99 material to me. The boxed set is 4 of the 10k word serial pieces together, so 40K words total. That’s worth $2.99 to me (from a reader’s perspective).
I usually do $2.99 for anything I publish that is 40-60K words. I’ll look at $3.50 or $3.99 for 60-100K words, but realize that your job in understanding the price breaks is to look at what others are doing and analyze where the market places value. I stay around $2.99 most of the time because of the market, but Romance writers can sometimes charge a little more.
We know that in general 99c books will get the most sales. However at a 35% royalty you have to sell hundreds of copies to make a significant royalty. How do you factor the 99c price point into your marketing plan?
I’m a little off the beaten path here for $.99 sales. I think $0.99 books are useless, and yes I have some books that are priced at $0.99. As mentioned above, my Billionaire series is priced at $0.99, because long serials at $1 a pop work well.
I’m still testing it, but needing three people to buy the book to get $1.00 in revenue just doesn’t seem right to me. I’d much rather put book one free and sacrifice that effort to get the benefit in the long-run.
I write YA under another pen name, and I will tell you that having my trilogy done and putting book one (130K words) for free was a game changer. Book two and three sell well and the boxed set is golden.
Be careful with the $0.99 technique, unless you know it works – then more power to you.
What marketing techniques have you found to be the most effective at driving sales of your books?
Ads with the various agencies have been the first and foremost tool for me. Second is having an action item in the back of my book. If my reader loves what I wrote, but there is nothing else for them to do or get, I’ll lose that reader. I use Mailchimp and a load of social media, but nothing is better than simply letting readers finish something great and offering them seconds of it.
If you don’t have the next book ready, then put a short synopsis and have readers join your mailing list. You need something for them to do.
To back up a little: to get the ads you need, you’ll need reviewers. Find a good group of people on Facebook to encircle yourself with and get them to review your books. I hired a PA (not as expensive as you think) and created a street team. That was a game changer in getting reviews, which assist in me getting approved for ads.
What is your monthly marketing budget? Does it change month to month? Or seasonally?
I’m just starting to figure that out. I put out 1-2 books a month, so the budget is going to change as I move forward. I plan to stoke the fire on each of my books every four months. In May I pushed Baited & Jaded, and I’ll do that again in September for those titles. I’ll push Justified and my YA and New Adult books in June. I’ll push them again in October. It’s cyclical.
The budget thus far is about $800 a month, but using the ads I made my money back several times over. The key is having book 2 and 3 ready for purchase, though. Without books 2 and 3, offering book 1 for free is a waste.
How do you measure success every month?
I want to sustain a certain amount of income. I check that monthly income number (gross income) and if it’s where I want it to be, I consider that month a success. I think if you want your writing to be your full-time career you can do it, you just need to shift your mindset.
I made 6 figures in December as a CPA. I made $25 in January as an author. By the end of the year I’ll be back where I should be if I keep pushing. I write what sells and pick up the extra time on things I love to write.
Success for me is FINALLY having a career where my efficiency makes a difference. As a salaried employee I would work until my finger fell off (and did most days) and never saw any increase in line with my efforts. Now, the more I write the more I get to publish. The more I publish, the more I market and that leads to more income.
What advice would you give debut authors with only one or two titles? What advice would you give seasoned authors with a catalog of titles?
Debut authors – I would encourage you to keep at it. When you get a small bookshelf behind you, it’s time to pause and start the marketing game. Until then, write what you love and write it really, really well.
Write a series or a serial, but complete it and then start looking to market that baby by putting book one for free, getting review and buying a couple of ads. Don’t give up on this. It works, but it’s hard as hell most days. I always remind myself that talent brought me to this game, but it won’t keep me here. The only thing that will keep me at this and cause me to succeed is perseverance. Don’t pack up and head out when it gets tough, because it will get tough a million times. Put that emotion into your characters and keep pushing.
Seasoned authors – Keep at it. Write and write and write. You know what you’re good at, but maybe you should try something new as well. I write Paranormal, Sci-Fi, Contemporary and Erotica when I want to. The market changes and I’m in it for the long haul, which means I need to study the market with some of my time as well. If you’re not selling 100 books a day, then step back and look at each series as an individual marketing opportunity. I hate giving away my time and efforts too, but if it opens the door for another handful of people to come in and pick up book 2 and 3 when they might not otherwise would have? I’m in.
Just for fun: I had 33,000 downloads in May, which resulted in about 4500 sales. Not bad if you ask me… I just started this platform April 17th. Keep at it. You got this.
Buy A Series Post on Freebooksy.
The Series Feature sparks free downloads of your first book in the series and drives sales of other books in your series. It’s the perfect combination to get your series exposure and find new, dedicated readers!
The first book in your series must be permafree in order to qualify for a Series Post.