S. J. Kelley

Releasing a book as “episodes” and “seasons”

I know I don’t really have an audience, so I’ll just apologize to myself for not being around in a while. In week seven I had my best week yet, largely because I was getting up very early (4:30 in the morning early) and actually getting things done. Then I decide to switch to writing after the kids were in bed, since I’ve always been a night owl at heart, but I ended up being so burnt out from work and getting up early for weeks that I’d just surf the Internet or waste time, often staying up until one or two in the morning and being a zombie the next day. Epic fail.

But that’s all in the past, right?

I spent the day coming back to the idea of serialization, which I first talked about in March. There’s been some debate on KBoards about how readers would respond to the different types of serialization. In the most traditional sense, a serial has a clear beginning, middle, and end, despite being a short piece. Meanwhile, a series is often thought of as several related, standard length books that can be read in any order. Apparently the term “saga” refers to what I usually consider to be a series, which are standard length books with a clear beginning, middle, and end that must be read in a specific order to understand the overarching plot.

The people posting on KBoards seem to be in one of two camps when it comes to splitting a traditional novel into several parts that have no clear beginning, middle, and end, and finish with a cliffhanger. The first believes that readers will consider it nothing more than a money grab, and that they will become annoyed and leave several one star reviews. The logic is that even if the serialization is designed for borrows through Kindle Unlimited, there will inevitably be a number of buyers who won’t appreciate having to pay for one book several times. Of course, if one were to price each of the installments at $.99, over a four part serialization the author would only earn $1.20. If the same book was sold for $3.99, the author would earn $2.79. So clearly serialization is not a money grab, but readers may not realize this. I think the key is keeping the pricing of each individual installment approximately the same as the pricing of the box set.

The second camp believes that serialization is a good way to maximize the benefit from the 30 day hot new releases algorithm. Also, readers are less likely to buy a book from an author who only has one book published, and breaking a novel into several parts will increase the number of books available. Several authors have had great success with this approach. Key is having a very clear blurb that specifically says the book is an installment and that it ends on a cliffhanger. As readers of short works are a different target audience than readers of full novels, posters on KBoards also recommend saying that the books will be bundled when the last one is released, so that those who prefer a longer novel format can wait until it is available.

So my current plan is to completely write the book so that I can work in hints in the early stages, but to publish it as for “episodes” approximately 25,000 words long, roughly corresponding to Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, and Act 3. The Self-Publishing Podcast started applying the “episode” TV term to serialization as people are familiar with TV episodes that must be watched in order and end on a cliffhanger. The SPP guys release all episodes as a “season” in one fell swoop, Netflix style. I plan on stretching the releases a bit more than this to maximize the algorithm, but for the most part think the terms “episodes” and “seasons” are ideal.

My plan is to release the box set when people are getting their new kindles for Christmas. Each preceding release would occur a month before that date, with the exception that the first and second episodes will be published at the same time. The purpose of this is for the first episode to act as a free loss leader, and the second is immediately available to show that I am an author doing this for the long term. As a reader myself, I will seldom buy into a series if only one book is available because the author may just drop off the face of the earth.

September 2015: Release episode one as free. Have episode two available for $1.99, and episode three available through preorder for $1.99, with release in October 2015.

October 2015: Episode three is published. Episode four is available through preorder for $1.99.

November 2015: Episode four is published. Box set is available through preorder for $4.99.

December 2015: Box set is published.

Total cost to reader purchasing individual episodes: $5.97
Total royalties for selling all four individual episodes: $1.79

Total cost to reader buying boxed set: $4.99 (savings of 16%)
Total royalties for selling boxed set: $3.49

Given the above calculations, it may look like serialization is a bad idea, however exposure is key. By having two books available from the onset, I’ll have the benefit of a loss leader with an immediate funnel to a purchase. Also, by releasing the next two episodes and the box set within the 30 day window, a title should be available on the hot new releases list for four months, instead of just one. If I’ve learned anything from reading KBoards it’s that getting discovered is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome in self-publishing, so I’m hoping this plan will work.

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