Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
I’m a cliffhanger reader by heart. I love to be left wondering what’s coming next, and yearning for the next part of the story. It’s an illness of sorts, I suppose. So when I wrote my first book, I wanted to write a series—a set of books that drops my readers off a cliff and pulls them to the next book. Cliffhangers are not a nasty marketing technique. They’re simply what I enjoy. There is precedence for cliffhangers. They’re done in almost every dramatic sitcom television show and many movies. And for me, they’re a big part of what sells my books.
Strategy 1: The Loss Leader
When we talk about marketing for books in a series, there are a zillion different ways we could go about setting up our strategy, but one, in particular, that’s worked for me is a loss leader: Making the first book free in the series. In this strategy, you release your first book at $0.99 until the second book in the series is available. The minute book two comes out, then push book one to free – permanently.
I do this for ALL of my series. I explain to my readers/fans that by putting book one for free, I’m giving them the opportunity to read some of the story and see if they’re interested. It’s an extended version of what Amazon does with their “Look Inside” feature on a book.
If someone enjoys what they’ve read and finds the story compelling enough, then they will move on to the next one. It calls for good writing and a strong hook.
Strategy 2: A “Connected Characters” Series
Even more of a challenge is when I write five stand-alones in a high-level series and close out the story in each, but have them connected. A side character from book one gets his story in book two. Thus the cliffhanger isn’t about the original couple or protagonist, but a new couple that was featured in the previous book.
This method works well for putting first free in the series, but not nearly as well as a contiguous story with one couple that moves through several books. I’ve tested it on the same series, creating a standalone series and pulling down book one to reconstruct it into a trilogy by itself. The results were massively different, the cliffhanger version producing a five-figure return, and the stand-alone version producing enough to have a nice family dinner.
Strategy 3: Using “Free Book One” To Boost Advertising
Having book one of your series free makes advertising so much easier in my opinion.
There are a ton of free sites that will promote a free book, but not nearly as many for a sale or $0.99 book. So giving away that first book opens up a world of advertising opportunities for me, including Bookbub (www.bookbub.com) which is an advertising platform that allows readers to discover books at sale prices. The difference in free downloads on a Bookbub ad compared to a $0.99 is like night and day.
When deciding whether to make a book free or to sell if for a discounted price, you have to ask yourself, “Am I trying to make money initially, or am I trying to get people into my reader funnel —the series that pulls them to the next book, and then the next?”
Pulling readers into your funnel, or series, risk-free equates to long-term sales if the story is good enough. And it creates a bit of a slow burn on your sales. I’m still getting sales six to eight months later on a series I ran free ads on last year. People grab the free book and tuck it into their Kindle bookshelves, opening it later and moving through your series then. It’s sustainable income that I’m after, not a quick burst of money from a $0.99 ad run.
Series Can Pull In and Keep Readers
There aren’t any hard and fast rules for marketing a book. There’s no one way to eat an elephant, as the adage goes. And two people will almost never do something the same if given a chance to perform a task or to create a piece of art. So in talking a little about series writing and the success I’ve found in it, let’s throw out this disclaimer: Do what works for you, and test the market until you find that thing.
Series are what work for me, but I have a lot of writer friends that write and market standalone novels and do exceedingly well.
If you enjoy writing series, just know that it’s a great mechanism for selling your stories. Offering book one for free is a bit painful at first, but the focus is long-term and creating a risk-free option for readers to sample your work is an excellent way of pulling them in and keeping them with you.
Best of luck in your writing adventures. Get those stories out. Someone’s life is going to be changed because of them.