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Ep 040: “Writing A Series of Books”

Welcome to the 40th episode of The Author Hangout, a podcast designed to help authors, especially self-published and indie authors, with marketing their books and improving their author platform. Authors struggle with various aspects of marketing and we are here to help!

“I see very few people who just publish one book and knock it out of the park. It’s really tough with just one book. Start thinking of a series, of multiple series’.”– Lindsay Buroker

Writing a Series of Books

In this episode, we interviewed bestselling author Lindsay Buroker. She shared many insights, including how she got started, specific marketing techniques that are working for her, including writing a series and tactics for promoting that series.

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Intro

She’s the indie author of fantasy and steampunk hits like The Emperor’s Edge series and The Flash Gold Chronicles. Prior to becoming a full-time fiction writer, she worked from home as a blogger and affiliate marketer. Stumbling upon J.A. Konrath’s blog about self-publishing, she decided to release her completed manuscripts independently. To date she has released dozens of books and sold thousands of copies, firmly securing her place as a successful indie author. Here to share her story is Lindsay Buroker.

How did you become an author and publish your first book?

I think like a lot of writers, I started out enjoying making up stories way back as a kid and I have stories of “Black Stallion” rip-offs that I was writing in first or second grade back in the parents’ house somewhere. I did have a couple of teachers who encouraged me and my mom was a big reader so she also encouraged me. But at the same time, my dad and other people were like, “This is not what you want to do if you want to make a living from your work.” I tinkered with it all through school and off and on in my twenties. Then I joined The Science Fiction and Fantasy Online Writing Workshop; just thinking, “Let me at least try to get something published even if it’s not going to be a great source of income most likely.” And of course I had that dream, “Well, you never know. Maybe lightning will strike and something will happen.” It took me awhile to actually get a first novel finished. I wrote several novels that I wrote the rough draft and think, “This isn’t good enough to try to publish.” So there’s a bunch in the trunk, I guess. I changed a lot of things and it took about seven years actually to get to the point where I had something where this was good and I’m going to try to query it to agents and hopefully get a publisher. This was my first novel The Emperor’s Edge… it wasn’t really what agents were looking for. I just have this hard time writing to the market. I just have to write what I enjoy. About this time I got my first Kindle. This was probably the Fall of 2010 and shortly after that I found J.A. Konrath’s blog and he was talking about “Hey I’m ditching my publisher and I’m making tons of money now from my books;” which of course, I saw that he had 40 books out or something crazy, but I was still inspired. Now that I finally had a Kindle too, I could see the appeal of being able to have all these books in one place. As you mentioned in my intro, I was a blogger and working from home anyway so I wasn’t really scared about trying the internet marketing. As it turned out I had quite a bit to learn about selling books. But within a week of two after finding his blog, I just said, “Let’s do this!” and I published some short children’s stories, The Emperor’s Edge novel and the second novel which was not in that series but kind of related, Encrypted. I just went out there and tried to sell some books.

She also talked about what happened right after publishing, so be sure to listen for this awesome inspiration.

There’s a great discussion on book pricing, and using permafree for the first book in a series to get more readers.

What is your most recent book or project?

She shares a little bit about her series, but then goes and shares some tips:

“I have so many series going on! I keep saying I’m going to finally wrap some stuff up, so I can have two or less, two or three to work on, but it doesn’t seem to be me. I’m fairly prolific and I like to jump around and explore different things. I’ve started a pen name in another genre that’s got six novels out. I’ve done an urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy series that I’m working on. I’ve got steampunk romances that’s turned into epic steampunk something series that I’m working on. I’ve found that if you do want to do this as a living, and that’s the dream, it’s definitely super helpful if you can be prolific and publish regularly. I see very few people who publish just one book and knock it out of the park. It can happen, especially now with KDP Select and having Kindle Unlimited. There’s some perks in being in that program. I personally tend to stay wide but I have explored going exclusively with Amazon with the pen name and just because the borrows count as sales for their algorithms. You can more easily get up there in the top 1000 or so and stick there. I’ve seen more of that in the last year. But overall it’s tough with just one book so I definitely recommend if you’re an author and you’re thinking, “I really want to do this. I want to quit the day job someday,” start thinking of series; start thinking of multiple series.”

Can you tell us about a time when you really struggled as an author?

Many other authors are probably struggling with this too:

“One of the hard things for me is that I’ve often not solidly in one specific genre. My stuff can be called epic fantasy but it’s not really epic fantasy. It’s not really steampunk as in the classic Victorian dirge balls and crazy stuff going on in an alternate Earth world. It’s kind of swords and sorcery but there’s usually guns. I think like a lot of writers, you just write what sounds like a fun story for you. When the marketing thing comes, you think it would’ve been a lot easier if I had something that was really what’s popular in my genre. I have a contemporary fantasy. There’s no werewolves. There’s no vampires. There’s aliens so it’s all messed up. I think one of the challenges for people who’s not firmly entrenched in a specific genre and they’re not writing the formula. As much as we want to believe that a good story will win out, and I think you can definitely do a lot with a good story, people do seem to like the formula. If they’re epic fantasy people, they want those dwarves and elves and dragons in there. That can be a challenge and that’s been one of my challenges. Also finding cover art. I don’t really have a good eye for that so sometimes it’s just lucky. Whomever I work with I hope that they will come up with something good. I’ve been spending more on it lately and getting custom illustrations for some of them and that’s really useful. It can be a challenge. I just say to other people that if you know that’s not your strength, if writing blurbs or that book description is not your strength, just get advice! Join some of these author communities online and try to get some buddies and say, “Hey, just tear this apart. What’s wrong? What do you think? What do you think about my cover?” Preferably from people who aren’t your friends or family and aren’t going to tell you, “It’s lovely. It’s beautiful.”

What one marketing tactic is really working well for you?

This is a really great spin on a popular tactic:

“I take the first three books in the series, or four in the case of my pen name, and I’ll put them together in a bundle. You’ll see these a lot on Amazon; multi-author bundles and single author bundles. And what it does is it gives me a chance to try to rank in a different category. I just did this with my Dragonblood books. They started as just simple steampunk romances and became something bigger. There’s four of them out now and when I published the fourth one, I put the first three into a set and called it the Dragonblood Collection. I gave it a new cover. It’s the same books but I’m being given the chance to play with a new cover and a new blurb. Usually I put them into steampunk, epic fantasy, and this gave me a chance to try to rank in some different categories or maybe steampunk before and I try to rank in epic fantasy swords and sorcery. I’ve even tailored the blurb to kind of more that epic fantasy swords and sorcery type of story. When you box up the beginning of your series like that, it gives you another chance to play with the cover and blurb and possibly showing up in two different categories on Amazon or more categories than you can usually get into by selecting the two that you get in KDP.”

If you started over today, what 3 things would you tell yourself to help you sell more books?

This is advice that all writer’s need:

“The first thing, this is something I did by accident, is join a workshop or something and really make sure your writing is to the professional level before you put your first book out there. For me I was able to sell some short stories so I knew the writing wasn’t horrible. Whether someone likes the individual story, that could be up for grabs but I see a lot of self-published authors who put their first book out there and they’ve never had any feedback except from friends or family. Either do a workshop or writing classes at conferences, first make sure you’re at that level.”

Continuing to stay on top of what is going on in the industry is important as well:

“Really pay attention to what’s going on online. Like I was saying about the pen name launch, this year just happened to be a good year to be trying KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited because there are some perks. It seems like every year there seems some different thing or new thing; something becomes less effective or more effective. If you hang out someplace like the KBoards Writers’ Café, you can see what people are doing before you publish yours, why you’re still looking for a publisher. Just see what’s going on, see what’s working. Is this the year of $0.99 or are we pricing higher now? Doing short Permafrees? See what people are doing. In the end, a good cover, blurb and title will get you pretty far, especially if you happen to get lucky enough to write in more popular category or popular theme inside of your category.”

She finishes it up with more great advice about writing a series:

“If you can at all manage it, and I know this isn’t feasible for a lot of people, my third thing is it can make a lot of sense to go ahead and write the first three books if you do have a series in mind; if only the rough drafts. Some things I’ve noticed when I did it with a pen name, I was actually able to make the first book a little better because some of the world building came to me while I was working on the second and third books. I went back and added some more details to make the universe seem more real and more complete, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had already published that first book. As far as the marketing goes, it is easier to make a splash and to be noticed and you can start playing with these things like the Permafree, the $0.99 and the promotions if you have more than one book out there. It’s hard to do a lot when it’s just one book and then also when it’s just one book, everything you do, the most you can make is $2.00 per sale. Here you are putting all there is into selling this book and they can’t go out and buy more books from you yet. I would say either hold it or don’t worry too much about marketing that first book.”

How can people connect with you?

“LindsayBuroker.com is where all my books are and I also blog about self-publishing there. I also podcast with Adam Poe on the Writing Podcast and another one for science fiction and fantasy people, we do with Jeffrey Poole and Joel Lalo, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast and we’re throwing out shows every week.”

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