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How to market serials?

1535 Views 20 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  CoraBuhlert
Now that I have a serial out, how does one market it or use a good strategy from the start to get it going? Should one make it free at first and then charge 99c per episode? Are there websites that help promote them? I was about to release on Smashwords, but now I'm not sure.

My goal is to make it a weekly serial and of course end it off eventually since closure is the most important thing.
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Well, it's hard to say. There are lots of different things you can do.

I've found trying to make money through 99c books is a bit of a bust. You really have to be moving a lot of volume to do it and, personally, I just can't move that much. However, borrows on 99c books are worth it, so one idea is to use Select.

Something like this:

Season 1:

#1 - 99c
#2 - $2.99
#3 - $2.99
#4 - $2.99
#5 - $2.99

Season 2 (etc):

#1 - 99c
#2 - $2.99
#3 - $2.99
#4 - $2.99
#5 - $2.99

Make each season a distinct arc with a notable bad guy, give the characters goals and ambitions and such that resolve in the season, then start season 2 with something new. While Season 1 is still fresh, only do freebies on the first part, but when Season 2 hits feel free to rotate though freebies on the parts of Season 1 (and also doing freebies on part #1 of Season #2).

That's my plan anyway!
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My current project is a series/serial/episodic story line.  Right now, this is how I plan to price the work.

1. Free
2. Free
3. Free
4. 99c
5. 99c
6. 99c

1-6 Bundle. 2.99

7. 99c
8. 99c
9. 99c
10. 99c
11. 99c

7-11 Bundle 2.99

12. 99c
13. 99c
14. 99c
15. 99c
16. 99c

12-16 Bundle 2.99

17. 99c
18. 99c
19. 99c
20. 99c
21. 99c
22. 99c

17-22 Bundle 2.99
1-22 Bundle 9.99

I have thought about raising the price of each to $2.99 and bundles to like $4.99 and not offer a complete set till much later when sales have disappeared.  The general idea is to make the money off the first three being free to hook customers and then generate most of the revenue off the bundled sets.  I honestly don't know yet.  It might be worth it to do the higher price until the series is complete.  It's something I will just have to experiment with.  I only have the first 5 episodes completed so far.
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David Adams has the pricing perfect. That's what I do for my adult-themed serials.
You should check out The Self-Publishing Podcast.  Lots of great ideas there for marketing and managing serials!
I'm interested as well. I'm currently finishing the first issue of my arc, and will try to release it in february (I had planned end of january but seems like life has decided otherwise, le sigh).

Mine are six issues per arc. I'm wondering how to price them. I'll probably try to permafree the first issue once the second one is out, but what about the rest?

Here is what I've come up so far, so that it's interesting for people who like serials and those who prefer to buy the bundles, while still remaining interesting for me too:

1st Arc
DescriptionPrice per itemRoyalties
Issue 1FREE-
Issue 2$0.99$0.3465
Issue 3$0.99$0.3465
Issue 4$0.99$0.3465
Issue 5$0.99$0.3465
Issue 6$0.99$0.3465
All Issues$4.95$1.7325
Complete Arc$2.99$2.093

2nd Arc
DescriptionPrice per itemRoyalties
Issue 1$0.99$0.3465
Issue 2$1.99$0.6965
Issue 3$1.99$0.6965
Issue 4$1.99$0.6965
Issue 5$1.99$0.6965
Issue 6$1.99$0.6965
All Issues$10.94$3.829
Complete Arc$5.99$4.193

3rd and Subsequent Arcs
DescriptionPrice per itemRoyalties
Issue 1$1.99$0.6965
Issue 2$1.99$0.6965
Issue 3$1.99$0.6965
Issue 4$1.99$0.6965
Issue 5$1.99$0.6965
Issue 6$1.99$0.6965
All Issues$11.94$4.179
Complete Arc$7.99$5.593

Do you have any thoughts?
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I like some of the ideas here, but for #2 onwards charging $2.99, I'm not sure how well that would work for non-Erotica?

Mine is more of an autobiographical serial, political in theme, but is drama.

For now I'm thinking about going Select at least after the second or third is out...
I started out with

Episode #1 - FREE
Episode #2 - 99 cents
Episode #3 - 99 cents
Episode #4 - 99 cents.

But - beginning sometime next week I intend to raise the prices in both Kindle and Kobo.

Episode #1 - FREE
Episode #2 - $1.99
Episode #3 - $1.99
Episode #4 - $1.99
Episode #4 - $1.99

It has been showing a positive return.

My Kobo sales started with 11 copies through the month of November, 55 copies through the month of December - and, as of this moment today on the 13th day of January I've sold 78 copies - so the sales have been improving each month - but, as David Adams mentioned I haven't found the 99 cent price tag to be particularly profitable - so I'm going to risk my sales numbers with a slight price increase.

We'll see how it goes.
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With the $2.99-$9.99 price range for the 70% royalty rates,  How would you do pricing for bundles?  If you have 5+ episodes per season, that gets to $15+ if purchased individually minus any loss leader discount.  I have no problems offering discounts to customers who like my work and want to buy it all, but I don't see how you could price the bundle in a sell-able price range.  It's either going to be such a discount like $5.99, no one will buy the episodes, they will just wait, or it will be so expensive, like $9.99 that no one buys it.

Or is the answer simply not to offer bundles until you absolutely have to in an attempt to regenerate sales after they drop off?
I'm planning to start working on a serial soon, so I'm taking copious notes.  ;D
Chrystalla said:
I actually have the same question...
If they want to wait until the season is over to buy, OK. I'd price the bundle at $5.99-$6.99. I'd rather make 70% of that than deal with 99 cent royalty rates. 99 cents to me is not worth it, unless like David said, you're moving thousands of copies.

Hopefully your serials are so compelling that they don't want to wait the weeks or months it will take to get the bundle price. And honestly, I only see this as an issue for the first season - after that what do you care if they buy the bundle or the singles? You're still making money and $5.99-$6.99 is still a pretty commanding price for what amounts to one novel. Yes, you make more if they buy the episodes one at at time, but the reader is happier with the bundle in the end. And that's worth something.
It's interesting to me that this discussion is mostly oriented around the economics of it, rather than reader preference.

I charge 99c per episode, excluding the final, novel-length "episode." (For purposes of royalty discussion, it should be said that my stuff is Amazon-exclusive.) Although I only get 35c per copy sold, the sell-through will be pretty good. This is what sell-through on my first four episodes looks like right now:

1 > 2: 80%
2 > 3: 102% (??)
3 > 4: 98%

Don't ask me what's up with sales of episode three because I haven't a clue. (Well, actually, I do, but it's irrelevant to this conversation.)

Anyhoo, that means that about 80% of people buy the entire series, so it's $1.40 in royalties. It's still not up to the royalty amount of one book at $2.99, but I really believe my serial would not have sold nearly as many copies with episodes at $2.99, so it kinda comes out in the wash, IMO.

I mentioned this in another thread, but I agree with Jeff Bezos when he said that profit will follow the best customer experience. My readers have flipped out over the experience of getting to be involved in the decision-making aspects of the serial, and the price is right--especially since many of my readers are teenagers or young college students that don't have much bling in the bank. And the frequent releases open up a fantastic opportunity to connect with readers and get them more involved. It's turned my books from just something people read into an actual community.

So yes, I've sold 7500 copies of my serial and "only" made about $2600 on it, which is lower than if I had sold the episodes at $2.99, even if I had sold much fewer copies. But the readers I've gained from it are utterly priceless. And I've seen the benefits of that bleed over into my other books in a big way.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that you should be using your serial as part of a larger overall career strategy. Have a plan, use it as a loss leader, capture those eyeballs. It will end up being profitable in the long-term, but I wouldn't make that a priority. Make your readers happy! Engage them! Have fun!

As a side note, I don't feel that non-erotic serials should be priced higher than 99c unless they're long flipping episodes. I also don't like the $1.99 price point because you lose all the benefits of 99c without gaining the royalties of 2.99. 1.99 just slaughters sales, in my experience. But that's all my personal experience/anecdotal/pulled out of my generous posterior, so YMMV. (Genres that aren't targeted to YA/NA audiences might also have more success with a higher price point, since older people have more money, too.)
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Humm...  I think one of the issues that I am wrestling with is that, you're right, what do I care if they buy a commanding price bundle that is a 70% discount if bought separately, and no one buys the individual episodes.  The writer in me doesn't.  However, the number crunching publisher does.  

I guess that's one of the beauties of being in command of your intellectual property.  I can price adjust until I find that sweet spot instead of fretting about nailing it on the first try.

There are also secondary variables to think about as well, for me at least.  My serial is the prequel to my trilogy.  So giving away free episodes or having a discount entry point will funnel and generate readers for the rest of the series and trilogy.
SBJones said:
I can price adjust until I find that sweet spot instead of fretting about nailing it on the first try.

Some fundamental observations:
  • price the 1st (and maybe 2nd) episodes aggressively (free or 99 cents) to entice readers. These are your loss leaders.
  • consider your royalties and customer discounts when pricing
  • consider episode length, publication schedule and customer expectations

I priced each of the 8 episodes of GAMELAND at $1.99 ($0.35/book royalty) and have the 1st on perma-free; each runs ~40-50K words.
Customers going this route pay ~$14 and I get $4.90
To take advantage of the 70% rate, I offer four 2-episode packages (this is actually a very popular option for customers; Yay!)
Customers going this route pay ~$12 and I get $8.37 (or $7.67 if free 1st episode/$1.99 2nd)
The 8-episode season 1 omnibus is priced at $9.99 (currently $8.99)
Customers save ~37% and I get $6.29-6.99

That's before transmission fees, of course, which are ~$0.30 for the full omnibus.
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Not really serial fiction (as I'm not doing "seasons), but I did do one five-part series, each one about 20,000 words. I priced the individual parts at 99 cents, and the collection at $2.99. For me, the individual parts do not sell all that well, though the collection is selling quite a bit better than I expected. My take from this is that the individual e-books advertise for the collection, at least for me. As far as I'm concerned, it's working, so I'm going to experiment with this strategy again.

However, I do kind of miss writing novels.  :D
What about the marketing aspect instead of pricing? Should we invest heavily on advertising? Is Select better than going free on Smashwords for the first episode? Any tips from serial writers would be great.
Fahid said:
What about the marketing aspect instead of pricing? Should we invest heavily on advertising? Is Select better than going free on Smashwords for the first episode? Any tips from serial writers would be great.
Serials kind of market themselves by virtue of frequent releases, which Amazon favors in the algorithms. Ergo all the discussion of pricing.

I put my serial into Select to benefit from higher borrow rates on 99c episodes, but only 2% of my combined sales/borrows ended up being borrows, so I'm not sure it's worth it. Running the first episode for free sounds like a great way to attract an audience, though.

Good luck finding an effective paid venue for advertising short fiction.
Fahid said:
What about the marketing aspect instead of pricing? Should we invest heavily on advertising? Is Select better than going free on Smashwords for the first episode? Any tips from serial writers would be great.
For me, serials are a part-time side-job - something that can be written in a day or two and I'll keep writing them as long as they don't interfere with my novels. There is no way I'm going to waste time marketing any of my serials.

BUT - if this is what you do all the time and you're not writing novels - then yes. You probably should have a marketing strategy.
I'm paying good money for a good cover and editing. I'll spend time working on my blurb, and most of all I'll spend time working on writing the best book I can write (which may not be to your tates - general you - but who will be the book I'd like to read).

I'll work on my author website, I'll be active on social media (Facebook, Twitter) - but not too much. And I'll go on writing as fast as I can manage (which is not very fast by any standard).

I'll make fun sigs for the Writers' Cafe.

That's about all the time and effort and money I'll spend into marketing, and I'm fine with that.  :)
On a related note, one thing I've enjoyed about writing serial fiction is the format. Even if one is writing multi-parters that will eventually be as long as a novel or several novels, the story beats are different than that of a novel, the plotting is different to some extent.

It's not only an interesting challenge for me as a writer, but I've also found it gives me some freedom in that it allows me to tell tales which otherwise might not have been written (at least not for some time, or not in the same way). What I mean by this is that there have been a number of story ideas I've had over the years which don't fit themselves nicely into the niche of being either novels or short stories, and not exactly something in between, like a novella or similar. Serialized fiction has allowed me to tell those tales, giving me one more tool for the writing tool box.
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