Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Supporting a Series

My productivity has been fluctuating wildly lately. Last Thursday, I was a machine. But I must have used up all my brainpower because Friday I was practically useless. It was pretty much an ADD day, where I couldn't focus on any one project for more than a few minutes. Fortunately, I had three projects to work on, so as soon as I got bored with one and found my attention straying, I'd switch to another one. I made some progress on all three, but not very much on any one. Then Saturday I got all but one of them done and got a good portion done on that one. Sunday I try not to work, and I was out pretty much all day. Then Monday that killer headache hit like a Texas thunderstorm: it loomed for a while, then hit with a sudden, devastating fury, blew over in about an hour, but left everything reeling and unsettled. Anything that required too much focus or concentration threatened to trigger another round, so I just tried to deal with what I could and didn't try to push myself to think too hard.

I've been trying to deal with my reader e-mail off and on, and based on the standard questions I've been getting, I guess it's time for another "how you can help" post. The reason for no book 5 really boils down to spreadsheets and equations and isn't an editorial decision. For the most part, the decision of whether or not to publish a book isn't a matter of how good the book is, though the editors select the books to propose for publication based on quality (and the editor I had at the time loved the proposal for book 5). The real decision is based on whether they think the book will make money. They have all kinds of formulas for determining that. For a new author without a track record, they have to guess based on how comparable books have performed. But for an author with published books, they just look at the sales numbers, and based on trends, they project how the next one will do. They don't really care how much people want a fifth book. They way they determine potential demand for that book is by looking at how the third and fourth books sell, especially in comparison to the previous books. It's a difficult catch-up race, since that first book is selling about the same number of copies every year as it sold the first year of release. It's just plugging away steadily, and it has a two-year head start on book three.

So, how do we make book five happen? The obvious thing to do is buy the books and get other people you've hooked on the series to buy the newer books. Check back in with people and make sure they know there are more books available. Remember that only new book sales count. Used bookstore sales are utterly invisible to the publishing industry.

If you can't afford to buy new books (and I totally understand, as I'm in the same boat at the moment), request them at your library. Library sales are very significant. In fact, if every public library system in the country bought just one copy of books three and four, we'd probably get book five because they'd have to go back to print and the sales would surge. Plus, the book being in the library is like an advertisement -- people see it, so it's familiar, and they're more likely to notice it in a bookstore, and since the library makes you give the books back, if people who check it out love the book, they might then buy a keeper copy. Most of my book purchases are that way these days, both because of finances and because of clutter. I only want to buy books that I know I love and will want to re-read, so I'm mostly buying keeper copies of books I read from the library and need to own. Don't forget high school and college libraries. That's another big market. If you're a student, request the book at your school library.

If you're trying to buy the book at a bookstore and they don't have it, ask for it. Most bookstores will special order a book for you at the same cost you'd pay if they had it on the shelf. Plus, if you ask for it, that makes the bookseller more aware of it, and if enough copies are special ordered, the bookseller may make a point of ordering copies to stock. That increases the number of people who can find it by browsing.

Post reviews at Amazon and B&N or other online book discussion places. I think the number of reviews has more of an impact than the rating or content of the reviews -- as long as they aren't all bad. If there are 80 reviews for a book, no matter what the rating is, that means more to me as a reader making a book purchase decision than if there are five five-star reviews. A lot of reviews means people care enough to talk about it, one way or another.

Talk about the books in relevant forums, message boards, blogs, etc. Mention in your blog, or recommend if other people ask for reading suggestions in their blogs or on message boards.

Read the books in public. It's peer pressure in action!

And these things work on any book, author or series you want to support. If you like the first book of a series, it's important to keep doing these things for subsequent books if you want the series to continue to the end the author has planned. The cool thing is that with books, you really do have a lot of power as a consumer because every book you buy and every book purchase you influence gets counted. It's not like trying to get the Fox network to keep showing a series you like beyond the first three episodes, where even if you get a hundred people to watch, it doesn't count unless some of them are being measured for ratings.

I am still plugging away at doing my part. I've written articles for writing magazines, I'm speaking at conventions, I hand out bookmarks, and I'm still open for guest blogs or blog interviews. I've found a couple of books on marketing that I've got on reserve at the library, so I'll see if I can get more ideas there. For the most part, though, I'm trying to focus on writing right now. I need the income, I want to get something else out there, and if I can make something else successful, that raises the profile of everything else I've done. And then there's that film option, if anything comes of it ...

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