Book series: the literary equivalent of binge-watching your favorite TV show. You get to dive deep into a world, get to know characters as if they're your next-door neighbors, and experience story arcs that can span generations. But here's the kicker: writing a series is one thing; marketing it is a whole different beast. Which I’ve learned the hard way. So let’s talk (or read) about marketing series and sequels, and see if I can’t help you avoid some of my mistakes…and replicate some of my successes!
First, let’s talk about the architecture of your series. There are three primary ways to structure a series, and each comes with its own set of marketing challenges and opportunities.
This is your Lord of the Rings: a single, uber-long three-act story stretched across multiple books. It can be an amazing experience for both…or turn into a marathon (with all that connotes) for both the writer and the reader.
○ Cohesive Story Arc: Readers who invest in book one are likely to stick around for the entire journey.
○ Easier Plotting: You're essentially breaking down one large story into digestible pieces.
○ Hard to Maintain Audience: If book one doesn't capture the reader's imagination, they're unlikely to move on to the next.
○ High Entry Barrier (the big ‘un): New readers might feel intimidated to start a series that requires a long-term commitment.
○ Bundle Deals: Offer the first one to three books as a discounted (or FREE) bundle to encourage commitment.
○ Cliffhangers: Use them sparingly but effectively to ensure readers move on to the next book. (NOTE: This can be a REAL double-edged sword. It gets people wanting more…sometimes. And can also clutter up your reviews with complaints about “two books that should’ve been one…what a money grab!”)
Think Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew (or pretty much any procedural cop show running longer than 10 years). Each book is a self-contained story, sharing only the main characters, setting, and tone.
○ Easier Entry for New Readers: Each book can stand alone, making it easier to attract a broader audience.
○ Flexibility: You can experiment with different sub-genres or themes within the same series.
○ Harder to Build Momentum: Since each story is self-contained, readers might not feel the urge to read the next book immediately.
○ Branding Challenges: The series needs a strong, consistent identity despite the varied storylines.
○ Cross-Promotion: Use the end matter of each book to promote other books in the series.
○ Themed Marketing: Create marketing campaigns around the unique theme of each book.
This is a blend of the first two. Each book is a self-contained story that also contributes to a larger narrative arc. Think the “Harry Potter" books.
○ Best of Both Worlds: You get the cohesive arc of an epic saga and the accessibility of serial adventures.
○ Layered Enjoyment: Long-time readers and newbies can both find something to enjoy.
○ Complexity: This model requires careful planning to ensure that the individual stories and the overarching narrative both make sense.
○ Risk of Alienating Readers: If not done carefully, you could confuse new readers or disappoint long-term fans.
○ Serialized Content: Release short stories or novellas that fill in the gaps between books.
○ Community Building: Foster a community of readers who discuss and theorize about the larger narrative.
○ Reader Guides: Create companion guides that help new readers catch up without feeling overwhelmed, and enrich the experience for long-term fans.
○ CRITICAL: Make sure that every book provides info necessary to get new readers fully up to speed. One of my favorite ways to do this is to have a new character introduced who plays an actual, important part in the story…but who can also say, “What’s happening here?” and have someone else fill in the new character (and, by proxy, the readers).
All right, now that we've dissected the types of series you might be writing, let's talk about the marketing strategies that work universally, regardless of your series type. Because let's face it, whether you're writing an epic saga that rivals "Game of Thrones" or a cozy mystery series set in a quaint little town, some marketing principles are pretty across-the-board.
One of the most potent tools in your marketing arsenal could be a prequel or a spin-off. A prequel can serve as an entry point for new readers without the commitment of a full-fledged series. It's like a first date; if they like the prequel, they'll probably commit to a longer relationship with your series.
○ Low Risk for Readers: A prequel usually is shorter and cheaper (sometimes even free), making it an easy commitment.
○ Builds Hype: If done well, a prequel can create buzz for the main series.
○ Quality Matters: A poorly executed prequel can do more harm than good.
○ Time-Consuming: Writing a prequel takes time away from progressing the main series.
○ Limited Time Offers: Make the prequel free for a limited time to attract a larger audience.
○ Exclusive Content: Offer the prequel as an exclusive reward for newsletter subscribers or community members.
Spin-offs allow you to explore secondary characters or subplots that didn't get enough attention in the main series. They can breathe new life into a series that's been around for a while.
○ Fresh Perspective: A spin-off can attract readers who might not have been interested in the original series.
○ Extended Lifespan: Spin-offs can prolong the life of a series, keeping your audience engaged.
○ Dilution of Brand: If not done carefully, a spin-off can dilute the core brand.
○ High Expectations: Fans of the original series will have high expectations, so the spin-off needs to deliver.
○ Bundle Deals: Offer the spin-off as part of a bundle with the main series.
○ Cross-Promotion: Use the platform of the main series to promote the spin-off.
This is the bread and butter of any series. But how do you keep the momentum going, especially if you're several books deep?
I'm Michaelbrent Collings, an international bestseller and produced screenwriter, as well as a multiple Bram Stoker Award and Dragon Award finalist, and maker of a fair-to-middling chocolate chip waffle.
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