Author, Author Toolbox, Journey, The Power of Four, Writing

What I learned when relaunching my book series

AKA, If I had only known then…

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

Wow, there is a lot to unpack, but I will try to do my best to summarize my latest adventure in this post. I feel that I also need to go through the reasons I went through all the trouble in the first place, since some folks reading might not understand it from a writer/publisher standpoint. So first – why did I start on this journey of relaunching my entire series to begin with? That’s simple – I grew as a writer.

I started writing my first book in 2014. Up until then, I had only dabbled with short stories, essays and the occasional poem or journal entry. I realized pretty early on that in order to tell the story the way I wanted to, I would need a total of 4 books. The Power of Four series was intended to be one book for each element, focusing on one romance at a time. I would like to mention at this point that I started out as a complete pantser (flying by the seat of my pants) and placing the beats in the story where they made sense. I completed my first draft in 9 months, then wondered…what now?

I decided that I would put the book out there and see how it did. My 2016 self thought it was a solid plan, my 2020 self now knows I could have done things differently. Hindsight was never more important than it was in 2020 it seems. Anyway, I had already started writing book 2 when I found my writing squad. Book 1, Sea of Dreams, was read and critiqued chapter by chapter while I drafted Book 2, Winds of Change. At the time, I was also taking night classes and an Adobe In Design course made me realize I needed to have someone else create my covers and format my book. It is a TON of work, which I really wasn’t prepared to learn at that time (or since, I am totally okay with leaving that to the experts).

Before long I was halfway through Book 3 and realized I didn’t know where the story was going. Not a good feeling as you can probably imagine. That was when I started my hybrid approach to plotting. I am still not what I consider a plotter, I am definitely a blend of both sides of the coin. Plantser is sort of an appropriate phrase with my florist background, but I also like the term “discovery writer” coined by Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn. Writing my characters into situations and seeing how they get themselves out of it is so much fun, and I wouldn’t want to write any other way.

I ended up turning a corner with Book 3 (in a good way), and before I went on to complete the series, knew I had a few more books to write to understand the character’s motivation, especially in the case of the antagonists. Twist of Fate and The Jinni’s Wish helped me do just that. It also made me realize that Book 1 wasn’t strong enough to pull readers through to Book 3, which was my best work at that time. That was when I decided to rebrand. Am I glad I went that route? Yes, but looking back there were times I wondered what the heck I was doing to myself. It was a great deal of work, and a huge time investment that I am still recovering from if I’m being honest. So, now that we are up to speed with me, let’s dive in and review some things that should be considered when relaunching your books.

Is the book part of a series?

In my particular situation, the answer was yes, so I had a lot of work ahead of me. Anything I changed in book one, trickled through the series all the way to the end. Up until I wrote Playing with Fire, I didn’t even have a character sheet with things such as eye and hair color. For anyone who has read the first edition of my stories, you may have noticed Amie’s eyes, my heroine from Winds of Change, changing between books. It wasn’t fun to change things back (AKA I write long books), and you can believe I now have an Excel spreadsheet for every character I create, including buildings, towns, and occupations.

What saved me was that I hadn’t written the final book in the series when I decided I needed to update the first book. What that allowed me to do was go back to Sea of Dreams and start cutting, without worrying too much about the impact it would have on the final story, which ties directly in with its story line. Ultimately I cut about 50 pages and removed passive language which is one of the things I try to avoid now. I also sent it to an entirely new editor and got some fresh eyes on my project. She had me looking at scenes in a whole new light, and cutting the fat in areas that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. Was it painful? Of course it was. Was it beneficial to the story? 100%!

At the same time I was re-writing, I had my new cover designer updating my files and creating my author logo. She went through the painstaking process of reworking the covers (kept what worked and tweaked the rest) and formatted all of the interiors for the print versions. I was able to get her the Prequel and Books 2 & 3 pretty quickly since there weren’t a ton of changes and by the time she was done with those I had Book 1 & 4 ready to roll. Re-writing Book 1 also helped me finish Book 4 since I was able to weave in some of the plot points in from the first book and the prequel that I had set up in the beginning. I feel I managed to tie the series up with a nice little bow which feels amazing. Confirmation that I got it right came to me by way of a wonderful review on Reedsy Discovery which you can link to here. I now feel confident that this project is done, done! Well, as done as any creative work can be anyway.

In some cases, if the writing is strong enough, you can get away with putting a new cover on your book, perhaps re-writing your blurb, and being done with it. Since Sea of Dreams was my debut, I felt it needed a little more work, and I am really glad I went through the trouble. Another thing that will weigh into your decision is whether or not you are doing e-book only, or if you have print versions available as well. The covers and formatting tend to be a bit easier if you are doing e-book only so it will be less of a time commitment. It took me the entire year to finish edits on Book 4 and re-launch the entire series. While 2020 was productive in a lot of ways for me, it didn’t allow for much time to write which always bums me out.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Is your book in KU or wide?

There is no right answer here as far as I’m concerned, and it was my choice early on to go wide. For anyone new that is entirely lost by this question, KU stands for Kindle Unlimited and wide stands for publishing on multiple platforms. Sort of all your eggs in one basket vs spreading them out. E-books that are published through KU are exclusive to Amazon, and must not be sold on any other platform. The exclusivity does not extend to your other products such as print. When you publish wide, you control your intellectual property and can place it on any vendor and/or aggregator service you choose to sell your books.

There are benefits to both and the choice entirely depends on what genre you write in, how fast you write, if you are proficient with marketing, etc. I am not a fast writer, and my books, until now, have been a little on the longer side, so I can’t keep up with the rapid release model that others find success in. I hope to be doing this for the rest of my life, so slow and steady works for me at this point, especially since I have a day job and other obligations that pull at me.

If you are exclusive to KU, re-launching your entire series won’t be as much work since most likely you will only have one platform to deal with for your e-books. There are many more options for self-formatting e-books and/or print, so even if you are getting your rights back on an older piece of work, you can make quick work of getting it ready and up for sale.

If you are wide, its a little trickier, in that each vendor has its own set of requirements when uploading the file. I have found the very same book and file size can go right through one vendor, and be an issue in the other, which is frustrating to say the least. You need to be sure to give yourself ample time for errors, corrections and proofing when you get your files uploaded. Most vendors now support “pre-sales” which allow you to announce your books without sending the final file until closer to the release. This is a nice option since you are able to get a lot of the bugs worked out before the book goes live to your customers. There are also aggregator services that allow you to upload to one platform and deliver to multiple stores, but I haven’t jumped into that pool yet, so keep an eye out for future posts on that.

Be sure to give extra time if you have more than a couple books to relaunch. I did the launch of my final book at the same time I was relaunching the balance of my series (4 books, a prequel and a reader magnet) and it was a tad daunting. I had given myself a year and it almost wasn’t enough time.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

ISBNs and why you might want to purchase them

I didn’t realize until I was working on Book 3 that I wouldn’t be able to convince independent bookstores to carry my books since I had put the “free” ISBN that is offered by the vendors on my books. I also didn’t realize that the ISBN was a different number from vendor to vendor, and that I didn’t show as the publisher, but they did. Lastly, you cannot file for a copyright if you aren’t the publisher, so the simple fix was to purchase my own ISBNs. The downside was that it was yet another thing I needed to learn how to navigate.

Bowker is the US contact for ISBNs, for both the Indie and Traditional publishing industry. Your book will require one ISBN for each format it is in, for example: paperback, hardcover, audio, ebook. I have found that Independent bookstores require not only a barcode, but also the pricing on the back of your books. This is not something you can control when you get a “free” barcode from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If you ever decide you want to approach bookstores or libraries, I would highly recommend getting your own ISBNs. If you plan on only selling on KU, it may not be something you will need to consider.

If you choose to file a copyright, this process must be done by the publisher, so this would be yet another reason to purchase your own ISBNs and control the metadata that ties into your books.

Does it fit your market/genre?

I have heard it said that if your book isn’t selling, a look at both the blurb and cover is a good place to start with making changes. What this means is that you should see what is selling in your particular niche and get a good feel for what those covers and blurbs look like. A look at their product landing page can also give you some ideas on how to set up that information so that your hook is “above the fold” so to speak. You basically want the stuff that will hook them above the “<read more hyperlink at the base of your copy. Now, I don’t mean copy the other authors verbatim, you absolutely never want to do that! But you can learn a lot by seeing what more successful authors are doing. I believe working your material to mimic the same look and feel as successful authors in your sub-genre, is a really good start.

I don’t know about you, but I am an impatient shopper. What that means is that I scan items and click on the ones I am interested in pretty quickly. That said, I usually know what I am shopping for before I go. Readers are pretty much the same, and if they like a particular genre, they have conditioned their brain to look for those sorts of images. It is just how we are wired, and the marketing industry knows that. Look at the thriller covers for instance… big block letters, a running silhouette, and the author name bigger than the title in the cases where the author has a strong brand.

Spending some time on Amazon and searching though the covers in your genre is a really good exercise. Be sure you file all the way through the top 100 and take note of the covers you like. What colors do they include? What type of font? What sorts of things do they say in their blurb? How does their cover look when reduced to a thumbnail? All things to consider for sure.

In my case, I wanted my covers to be a little more personalized, so they aren’t necessarily to “market.” I’m okay with that, and what it means is that I need to work a little harder on marketing to the right audience. Now that my series is finally complete, that is something I am focusing on in 2021. There will be a future post on that as well.

So to summarize:

If you aren’t selling later books in a series, your first one may need another “look-see!”

Decide if you should be putting all of your eggs in the KU basket!

ISBNs should be purchased from the get go (in my opinion)!

Look at what is selling in your genre and emulate! Know your market!

And some final thoughts when you are relaunching an entire series:

  • Keep track of the uploads! I confused myself during this process with so many books!
  • Small ads can help get you some visibility. Bargain Booksy, BookBubs, Facebook, etc.
  • Consider a newsletter swap or builder. Don’t have a newsletter? Start one today!
  • Give yourself grace. Make a deadline then add at least a month or two. Trust me you will need longer than you think.

Relaunching your backlist can be an arduous task, but now that it is in my rear-view mirror I can say it is time well-spent. I now feel that my series is in the best shape it can be in at this stage in my writing career, and now my focus can be on all those projects I have been brewing in the back of my mind. 2020 was way too busy with editing and finalizing so I am excited to see what new words I’m able to capture in 2021!

What sorts of projects do you have going on? Have you had success in re-branding one or more books? I would love to know, let me know in the comments below! In the meantime, happy writing!

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