Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Serious Question About Series

Disclaimer: I'm going to talk real numbers here but am admittedly bad at math. I'm rounding the numbers a little bit to make it easier, but I'll try not to screw it up nonetheless.

A BRIT COMPLICATED, the third book in my Castle Calder rom com series came out last week. I use the term "series" loosely -- the books are connected by setting (which is the castle, but I bet you guessed that). There are cameo appearances by characters from other books, but each book can be read as a standalone. All three books are centered around different romance tropes and have a mix of British and American characters. They were all super fun to write, and not only for all of the British slang I learned. "Bugger me with a fish fork" is still my favorite and yes, my British heroine in book 2 (A BRIT UNEXPECTED) says it exactly how it's intended. :)

So yay for fun and inappropriate slang, but at the end of the day writing is my job. I'm in week two of my newest release, comparing Amazon numbers and, puts my plans for this series into serious question.

Book 1 -- A BRIT ON THE SIDE -- released August 2016
Month 1 sales = 2000
Month 2 sales = 1555
Month 3 sales = 1200 
Total first 3 months = 4755

I was thrilled with this! I am thrilled with this. A BRIT ON THE SIDE exceeded all of my expectations. Bring on book 2!

Book 2 -- A BRIT UNEXPECTED -- released April 2017
Month 1 sales = 900
Month 2 sales = 200
Month 3 sales =  46
Total first 3 months = 1146

Umm... Okay? You don't have to be good at math to realize that's more than a 50% attrition rate. Bring on book 3? Even if I was having second thoughts, I'd already contracted the cover and written it, so, sure. Bring on book 3.

Book 3 -- A BRIT COMPLICATED -- released October 2017
All I basically have is one week's sales data for this one so far. In a week, I've sold about 370 books on Amazon, which is GREAT. But it also included my $0.99 release price, which accounts for about 300 of those sales. Since raising the price to $2.99, I'm still gaining sales, but I'm not sure I'm going to hit even 900 sales by the end of the month. I might hit 500, which isn't quite 50% attrition, but not far off.

Benefit -- I have been seeing sell-through to the rest of the series -- which is a super side effect of having a series. BUT, is it enough to warrant continuing the series? And how do you know when to say when? I have plans for a free novelette next month, which I'm giving away to my reader group and newsletter subscribers, and I'm 100% committed to this. But after that? Does it make sense to continue as planned, with more books in this series that feels like it's waning, even though reviews are good?

I went to a panel at RWA this past summer where some big-name authors said that most series don't take off until about book 5. Then I heard another big-name author say, just today, that connecting books as series on the Zon is a bad idea because readers feel like they can't commit to series and prefer standalones. I also read something in a romance author group I belong to that contemporary romance is dead.

And that's when I decided to stop reading. Because I'm a romance reader, as well as a romance writer, and I can tell you, I'm eager for my next read. Looking for it right now, in fact. Which the business side of my head evaluates and says, "Yes, there is room in the genre for more of my books." I just need to decide what those books will be -- whether they'll continue my current series? Start a new one? Write a few standalones in 2018 and compare? At the minute, it could go in any direction, but I'm super curious what your thoughts are about series, both as a reader and a writer? Do you read series, even if they're interconnected standalones? What about as a writer? Has your experience been a similar rate of attrition or have you found a way to make your series a succession of stand outs? I'm so curious about this and really look forward to your input.


Mary Fan said...

Great post!! Yeah I've noticed series attrition in my books too... But I'm too stubborn not to finish them :-P

Brenda St John Brown said...

This series is "finished" as I'd originally planned it, but I'd been thinking of extending it. Now I'm over here thinking, "hmmm."

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Could you add two novellas to round out the series? To get it to 5, see how that works? I've heard the Rule 5 too. Don't give up on the genre you love.

Carrie Beckort said...

Great post, Brenda. I haven't written a series, but my second book is a sequel to my first one. The first is a standalone, and I tried to do the same for the second. I will say I don't have the same volume of sales for my second as I do for my first, despite the great reviews. I have been thinking of doing a series, which might be a middle grade book - my daughter and her friends want me to write them a book and if it goes well I could make it a new thing. As a reader... I'll be honest and say I don't like to start a series unless (a) I already know I like the author; (b) If there are more than 4 books in the series they have to be standalones; (c) If it's an author I don't know I'll like, I wait for a few books to be out so I can see how well the series is progressing. Sorry I don't have great advice for you - I'd just say listen to your gut. I find it's right more often than we'd like to admit.

Brenda St John Brown said...

I'm doing a free Christmas novelette in a couple of weeks, so we'll see how that does. There are definitely more books in me related to this series, so I have a feeling it will come back whether I plan it or not.

Brenda St John Brown said...

I also am reluctant to start series unless they can all be read as standalones. I've had the whole "disappointing end to the series" let down too many times and there are too many books I want to read. As for MG, though, I feel like series are where it's at. The Boy loves a series and the more books, the better!

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