Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Spacing Releases—to Keep Readers Hooked

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

libri4In my last post, I talked about production time for self-publishing and traditional publishing and how much shorter the lead-time for self-publishing is.  Basically, you have the ability to publish a book quickly once you’ve got a finished product.

But how often should we release books in our series?  How far apart is too far?  Can books be released too close together?

Paul Anthony Shortt commented on a post recently that he thought the studio behind the  Lord of the Rings trilogy had done an especially good job pacing releases.  Even though they might have had a film ready to go earlier, they released a movie every year at about the same time.  Paul remarked that this seemed to increase filmgoers’ anticipation for the next movie.

I think a book a year, per series, can definitely work.  That’s what my publisher seems to prefer for releases.  My Southern Quilting mystery series is set for a yearly release from 2012 through 2014.  But—there’s also the need for longer production time that plays into this decision.

But I will note that for my other traditionally published series, (the Memphis Barbeque series) the strongest seller seems to have been the book that released five months after the previous release.  I think all the characters and the setting were fresh in readers’ minds and they saw there was a new release…and they bought it.

So there’s something to be said for a release in a series every 6 months, too.  But can too many releases get too overwhelming or lessen the anticipation for the next book?  Can readers get fatigued with our series?  Can we glut the market with our books?

So these are my pros and cons for a book every 6 months:

The previous book is still fresh in readers’ minds.
Your name/the series name is still fresh in readers’ minds.
If you’re writing a continuing series (a real serial, instead of each book in the series acting as a standalone), then readers will be excited to see where the story picked up.
Seems to spike sales for the previous books in the sales.

Deadline pressure for writers (unless they already have backlist books or trunk books)
Readers might lose interest if the books seem to come out all the time…decreases the “specialness” of each book.
Possible difficulty sustaining series quality
Might have to juggle your promo and writing at one time.

Yearly releases:

Less deadline pressure for writers
Potential for developing additional anticipation from readers/hype
Easier to maintain series quality
Easier to write books for more than one series in a year

Could a yearly release make it easier for readers to forget us? 

Of course, I’m thinking all these things through in a rational way and realizing how organized this type of regular production schedule for self-publishing can be—and then I do exactly the opposite.  :)  Right now, I’m having to squeeze in my own projects in between my traditionally published projects (and, obviously, the traditional projects have got to come first…I’ve already been paid in advance for those.) So my self-pub schedule has been very erratic so far.  I launched two books in 2011 a few months apart—one was backlist, one was written for a publisher but they didn’t buy it.  Then I was finally able to write another book in the series in July/August and released it last month.

In retrospect, I’m thinking it would have been smart to sit on one of those books that I released three months after the previous one.  To build it up a little more steadily.  So instead of releasing the book in November following the previous book’s August release, maybe I should have waited until February.   Then I had a traditionally published June release and would have had my late-October release.  That probably would have been perfect.

So far, the biggest spike in my self-pub sales has been after either a traditional novel or a self-pub novel releases.  So that makes me think that regular releases, whether traditional or self-pub, can be important to drive sales.

We might also want to consider the time of year we're planning to release our book.  Before Christmas (October, November,  early December) is clearly a good shopping time.  But what about January?  What about all the people who got Kindles in their stockings? Summer can be dead…but people also buy beach books in the summer.

What are your thoughts on spacing book releases and the best time of year to launch a book?

Image:  Morguefile: Rezdora70