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May 7, 2015

Do You Have a Publishing Plan?

Field of daisies with text: Can You Daisy Chain Your Release Schedule?

Those of you who have been following my publishing process might be wondering why the one book I have out so far—Unintended Guardian—is free.

After all, it costs money—potentially lots of money—to publish a book. On that short story, I paid for editing, cover design, and formatting, and now that Amazon has caught up with the freebie price in all their stores (except for Germany, Mexico, and Japan—the slackers), I’m not making any money to recoup those costs.

That sounds like a good way to go broke, right? *smile*

Well, let me fill you in on my publishing plan, and we’ll take a look at when it might make sense to give our books away for free…

The Six Elements of Success for Indie Authors

Over a year ago, I ran a couple of posts with insights from a survey of self-published authors. Beverly Kendall conducted a survey with questions to dig into whether self-published authors who strive for professional quality find more success.

Her survey results indicated that those who received professional editing and have a professional cover are more likely to earn more money. Duh, right?

But her survey revealed other surprising insights as well. In particular, her report delved into the six elements that help maximize income for self-published authors:

  • Write a series (or market loosely connected books as a series)
  • Make a series-related short story, novella, or the first novel free
  • Include excerpts of other stories, especially at the back of the freebie
  • Price novel-length books in the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot
  • Build a backlist of quality stories
  • Don’t expect success overnight—think in years

Of the respondents who did all those things right, 81.82% earned over $10K and 57.04% earned more than $50K. That sounded like a good plan to me. *smile*

The Power of a Freebie

Notice that the second item on that list specifies that we should offer a book related to our series for free. From Beverley’s survey, for authors with an income:

  • Under $10K: 32.53% offered a series freebie
  • Over $50K: 68% offered a series freebie
  • Over $500K: 88.24% offered a series freebie

In other words, freebies correlate to higher incomes. We can understand the psychology of that effect by examining other aspects of our life.

Grocery and warehouse stores give away free food samples to get us to try new items all the time. Smartphone apps often have a free version to entice us to get hooked on a function or game where we pay for add-ons.

This approach is known in marketing terms as a sales funnel. The Copyblogger site has gone so far as to say that 100% of authors with a sales funnel will make more money.

From Copyblogger:

“Simply put, a product funnel is a way of organizing your works so that one product leads logically into another.

You do this by setting up a series of pointers (in the backs of books, in product descriptions) in order to steer readers to the places you want them to go, and to give them compelling reasons to do so.

Products at the top of the funnel must be easy to consume. Product A, which casts your widest net and scoops in as many prospective readers as possible, should ideally be free. Product B can be a bit more expensive.”

When Doesn’t a Freebie Make Sense?

As  the purpose of a freebie is to direct readers down into the funnel, we need other books to direct them to. It doesn’t do us any good to give something away and not use that page right after they finish our story to try to sell them something else where we can make money.

For a freebie to work, we need to have more than one book for sale. So this brought me to the first specifics of my plan:

  • Offer a freebie, but…
  • Have another book for sale first

More Books for Sale Equals a Backlist

As of a year ago, I’d completed three novels in my series and one short story. I could have gone the route of Liliana Hart and put them all up for sale at the same time. Ta-da! Instant backlist—like one of those other bullet points.

However, I’m a slow writer, and I didn’t want to hold my books back that long. Courtney Milan’s advice of doing something every 90 days to increase visibility and take advantage of Amazon’s 30 and 90-day algorithms was closer to what I felt capable of.

So that brought me to the second specific element of my plan:

  • Create an “instant” backlist, but…
  • Spread releases out over 90 day increments

Meet My Daisy-Chain Plan

This year’s release schedule is insane for me, and as a slow writer, I’ll likely never have another chunk of releases like this again. But this insanity was all part of my plan. *smile*

  • In Advance: Have a “base” of three novels completed to create a backlist and one story to use as a freebie.
  • In Advance: Hold back releases long enough to get the first novel and the freebie ready to sell (covers, formatting, etc.) and the other novels close (i.e., they can be polished and formatted within their 90-day window).
  • Day 1: Set up first novel for pre-order 90 days out.
  • Day 5: Offer freebie for sale with cover, excerpt, and buy links for the first novel in the backmatter.
  • Day 6-85: Finish editing, cover design, etc. for second novel, and set up for pre-order with a 90-day window.
  • Day 75-80: Submit final draft of first novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for the second novel in the backmatter.
  • Day 90: First novel releases.
  • Day 86-170: Finish editing, cover design, etc. for third novel, and set up for pre-order with a 90-day window.
  • Day 160-165: Submit final draft of second novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for the third novel in the backmatter.
  • Day 175: Second novel releases.
  • Day 171-255: If we were ready with a fourth novel by this time, we could keep the chain going.
  • Day 245-250: Submit final draft of third novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for a potential fourth novel in the backmatter.
  • Day 260: Third novel releases.

In other words, the backmatter of each book leads to the buy links of the next book. From the very beginning, my freebie readers had someplace to go as soon as they finished reading, and the readers of each novel will have someplace new to go as well.

My Crazy Schedule

So if I haven’t answered your email, or if I’ve been incommunicado on social media, now you know why. I have a book coming out every 90-ish days this year:

That schedule sounds impressive except for the fact that it took me years to complete those stories. It’s just the release schedule that’s fast. *smile*

While I’d love to keep the chain going with a fourth, fifth, etc. novel, I’m not sure that will happen in time to leave the chain unbroken. (I’m only halfway through drafting the fourth novel and writing time has been non-existent.) Come November, I might just collapse for a while and come out with books four and five later next year.

The Pros and Cons of a Daisy Chain Release Schedule

The benefits of this daisy-chain plan are that it combines the quick-ish backlist of Liliana’s plan with a nod to Courtney’s plan for making the most of Amazon’s algorithms for slow writers. In addition, it creates a sales funnel of four products with a place to send our freebie readers right away.

Obviously, this plan won’t work for everyone. It requires several books to be written in advance (unless we are are a fast writer), and it takes money to get those books ready to go before any royalties are paid. However, with planning and advance preparation, this plan can work.

For me, writing those other stories kept me busy while I was trying the query route, and my plan was that I would try to fight the “dead genre” issue only until I’d finished the third novel. So other than the usual procrastination problems, none of the time writing, waiting, or holding back was “wasted.” *smile*

I came up with this plan several years ago, and those delays were part of the plan. Going back to the six bullet points of success, I figure I’m not doing too badly:

Yes, I really am this much of an over-thinker and planner in normal life (yet I write by the seat of my pants—go figure). Time will tell if my plan works, but at least no one can say that I didn’t think things through. *smile*

Do you have a publishing plan? What is it? Which of those six elements of success is your strongest? Which is your weakest? Do you have any suggestions or questions about this daisy-chain plan?

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What do you think?

36 Comments on "Do You Have a Publishing Plan?"

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Ella

My plan is close to yours, only I guess I’m a fast writer. What that really means is that I have no life. 🙂 My goal is a novella every 30 to 60 days after the initial novel, with random short novels in there if they pop up after NaNo. 🙂 It may take longer than I like to get the first one online, though. I’ve had a hard time finding beta readers, so I’ve been putting chapters up on Scribophile and the Critique Circle to try and polish up the first one. My main issue is trying to figure out if I can publish out of order in my series without confusing people too much… I have a long series planned, and I know I won’t get all of the books written (well, highly unlikely, at any rate). I have a few novellas done, but one is pretty far in the future of the series (#417) – but I feel that it’s also the best so far (the latest one written).

I like the idea of using a short story related to the series as your freebie lead-in. Wondering if I could use a mid-series for that. Give them an idea where it’s all leading to, even if it does spoil a little bit of the first few books.

I love your posts. They always make me think!

Anne R. Tan

Hi Jami,

You should consider bundling your books into a box set. Voila! Another product to release after Book 3 comes out.

I’m a slow writer too. So if I don’t finish my novella by the 60 day mark after the release of Book 2, I’m bundling my two novels together for a “double play” bundle. This will give me three products to sell: Book 1, Book 2, and Bundle.

Annie

Peggy Bjarno
Peggy Bjarno

Jami, your posts are always full of information that is useable, thank you so much! I am assuming that the post and the Beverly Kendall survey is for ebooks. I have a friend who has done a fantastic trilogy, he’s self-pubbed them (great covers, expert editing) but he’s not selling. His books are also available as ebooks, but he’s selling them at $9.99. I keep telling him that he’s priced them beyond what most buyers of ebooks are willing to spend. I intend to share this post of yours with him, as well as Beverly Kendall’s survey, in hopes that he will see that it’s “not just me talkin’ here!” I also think the idea of a freebie short story is fantastic! Now THAT might just get him going.
So how and where do you post a freebie short story?
Many thanks for your efforts on behalf of other authors!
Peggy

Ebony
Ebony

Dear Jami,
I would most likely be quite lost without you and your blog. This is pure genius, and revealed at the perfect time(as always). I may just end up borrowing your plan…with a few tweaks, of course. As of now, publishing is a few years away, but it’s always good to have a plan in advance. As always, thank you for posting this advice.
-Ebony

Tamar Hela

Okay, this was insanely helpful, Jami! Thanks again for your words of wisdom! I’m now traditionally published, but toying with the idea of releasing romance novels under a pen name and keeping them indie so I can be a hybrid author. This publishing plan is totally doable! You ROCK! X

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Hey Jami, Haha I need a backlist too. But apart from the story I am writing now, I only have two completed novels, one of which is already self-published, but not in ebook form because I don’t know how to make the map fit on the screen without jumbling it up. :O For the making the first novel free method, I know full well what the author is trying to do, but it still works on me anyways, lol. As for my publishing plan, though I’m not planning on selling my books, it was still very fun to read this post. Also, I have a sort of unique problem where my story will take many books, probably at least 9 books in total where each book is 300 ish pages. If I order them from Amazon.com (I.e. the States) to Canada, with my member discount, where we assume I only have 9 books, each 310 pages (it’s size 5.5 X 8.5 inches), then it will be USD$65 to order these nine books including shipping (doesn’t include any import fees though…). And if there will be 12 books–hopefully not–it will be about $79!!! (And many friends and family live in countries even farther from the States than Canada. Nearly all my family live in Hong Kong…) Not that many people will be willing to pay that much, haha, even friends and family. But my story isn’t the Harry Potter type of series where each book is also a self-contained, finished story,… Read more »
Julie Musil

Girl, you blow me away! I got dizzy just looking at that schedule!

I’m also a slow writer AND a slow publisher. But hey, I’m working on my third book right now. They’re standalone books, which of course isn’t the golden ticket. But that’s ok. I’m doing what I love 🙂

Sophie
Sophie

I was a little hesitant to comment on this, but it makes sense. This kind of advice could prove handy if and when I get to that stage! Gives me something to think about…

And good luck with the schedule! It looks jam-packed for sure!

Evolet Yvaine

The only publishing plan I have in those six elements is writing a series. I plan to write a couple as well as anthologies. But I like this “Daisy Chain” idea and plan to steal it when the time comes. LOL Thanks for the post.

shah wharton

Not for the first time I wish I could swap brains with you, Jami. If for no other reason than for your ability to overthink *wink* plan, and organise.

I’m hereby pinching your publishing plan because stealing one is as close as I’m going to get to having one. My ‘plan’ so far has been scatter-brained, inconsistent, impulsive and regretable. But I have learned A LOT since I started this journey. The biggest lesson, unfortunately, is that I was no where near ready to publish when I first did. Lol!

I imagine you’ve never been in that position, which is why I want your brain. Give it! 🙂

shahwharton.com

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Hey, it’s me again! I just finished reading the last book of a fantasy series, and the marketing techniques it used are absolutely brilliant! They definitely worked on me, haha. Anyway, during this last book, there were these two new teenagers introduced in the story, and both are very likable and interesting people, and I’m very very interested in their relationship (especially the potential romance part, lol.) As well, there was an adult couple in the story; the two appeared in previous books, but we didn’t know anything of their backstory and only just learn that they were lovers in this last book. And after I finished this book, I immediately saw an ad for the sequel series that will star the two teenagers whose romance I was very intrigued by! And I went: OH MY GOSH I NEED TO BUY THIS!! (Or preorder it.) There was a short excerpt from this sequel series, and clearly that tantalized me even more. Afterwards, there was an ad for a prequel series talking about the romance between that adult couple aforementioned. Now, I heard of that prequel series before, but wasn’t super interested in reading it yet, even when a friend of mine said she likes the prequel series more than the series I just finished; but now that the author advertised that this prequel series starred THAT particular adult couple that I was interested in, I was automatically more motivated to buy it later. There was a considerably longer excerpt from… Read more »
Luca Thrace
Luca Thrace

Wow! Jami, when do you have time to sleep?

I’m a sloooowww writer. My first novel is on the brink of being ready for Kindle and I have others in draft form. I hope the following books won’t take as long. The first novel has been a learning process.

Thanks to pressure from my local writers group, I do have a short story that I can publish once I get the novel online. Unfortunately, it’s not related to the novel except in voice.

The supporting characters in my novel have colorful backstories that could easily springboard into a series. Later. I have other stories in draft form that I plan to polish up for Kindle.

Maybe I could do it in 90 days if I do nothing else but write. (I’d have no money for food, so that would save time buying groceries, cooking, and eating.) *smile*

I was planning to set my first novel price at $1.99, but I will consider your suggestion of $2.99. At the end of the ebook will be a scene from the next book that’s in the works.

Kindle will let me edit the ebook after it’s published (I need to double check that) so I can add a link to my free short story, too.

Excellent article, Jami. Thank you for this valuable information!

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[…] or traditional, it’s always a good idea to have a plan. Jami Gold talks about creating a publishing plan, and Joel Freidlander discusses strategies for your author […]

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Hey Jami, sorry, it’s me again. Okay so I just finished reading a book that had another brilliant strategy! Not exactly a marketing strategy, but a great strategy nevertheless, at least to me. At the end of the book, there were three pages of discussion questions! I normally ignore these, to be honest, yet I was so so so in love with this book, and missed it already, that I read through every single discussion question and tried to answer each one in my head. And through this experience, I find having discussion questions at the end of the book has these advantages: 1) It makes your readers think more deeply about the book (if they read the questions and try to answer them) 2) This helps readers enjoy the book more deeply and gain more from it 3) It points to things, subtleties, and complexities in your story that the reader might not have noticed. (Great if for instance, you had a motif or symbol that people might miss.) 4) It proves to naysayers that we HAVE given much thought to our story, so people can’t say our book is “shallow” or “has no thought or depth” to it—some people are really such naysayers. There is the disadvantage of making the book look a bit like a textbook or school book though. But I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantage, and I do want to do this for at least my Chinese martial arts story. What do you think… Read more »
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[…] about 5 hours of sleep a night for the past couple of weeks as I rush to get the next link in my daisy chain publishing schedule ready to […]

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[…] we’ve discussed before, freebies are good in certain situations. Freebies do expose our work to more readers. And if those readers like our work, they might buy […]

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[…] release marks the end of my “master plan,” also known as my daisy-chain release schedule. I first came up with that plan about a year ago, as I had four stories completely written and […]

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[…] six month away from its turn in the sun, so I didn’t have pre-order links in place to keep my “daisy-chain” publishing schedule […]

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[…] was going to offer a freebie short story to create a wide funnel of potential […]

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