Which book do you advertise in a series?

An absolutely awesome author friend offered to carry our swag advertising Peter’s books to a con this weekend, and plop it on the freebie table. Since we already had some left over from our last con, I boxed it up and shipped it to ’em with grateful thanks. Last night, on the way to the county fair, I said sadly to Peter “Of course, we’re advertising the wrong book for that crowd. I should have made brand new ones for the first in series.”

He gave me a puzzled look, and said “What? Don’t you always want the latest release to be the one you advertise?”

And I thought, if mine own husband isn’t tracking this fine point in marketing, it might be a point some of the other MGC or commenters have missed.

Readers are not a giant monolithic block of people who all want the same thing, at the same time, and are willing to buy it at the same price point. Instead, your readers will fall into and out of multiple overlapping circles, like a crazy-quilt 3-D Venn kaleidoscope.

Some fans will buy your works as soon as they come out.
Some fans will buy your works as soon as they discover your work has come out.
Some people will try your work based on recommendation, and then buy all the rest of the work you have out.
Some people will buy your work based on sale price point, and maybe get around to reading it, maybe not.
Of those, some will never buy anything priced higher, but will buy if you drop the price and they find out about it.
Others use the discount lists as a method of curation, and will go on to buy more of your books without regard to the price if they like it.
Some fans will buy everything you put out, then their tastes will change and they’ll wander off.
Most readers will like your works in one genre or subgenre, but may not follow you to another genre or subgenre.
Some won’t follow for months or years, then try it, decide they like it, and work their way through the series.
Some readers won’t even touch a series unless it has at least 3 books in it.
Some readers won’t touch a series longer than 5 books, a trilogy, or a serial, unless it’s finished.
Some readers have never heard of you, but would try you if they knew you had stuff they wanted.

So, who are you advertising to? And how?

If you are advertising to fans who will buy your latest as soon as they discover it’s out, then it makes sense to advertise your latest book. This is the provenance and power of mailing lists, or fan forums on social media. We had swag printed for Peter’s latest Laredo book on this principle, for our home con where people know him.

On the other hand, if you’re advertising to someone who’s never heard of you, but would be really interested if they knew you existed, far better to advertise the first in a series. This is where I should have printed off new swag for this con instead. (Either the first in the Laredo War series of gritty milscifi, or the first in the more space-opera Maxwell series.)

If you’re advertising to people who may or may not have heard of you, but won’t pick up the trilogy until it’s complete, or the series until it’s passed the ordering-to-net death spiral of three books, then you want to advertise the box set, the omnibus edition, or the “final book in the series!” or “the last of the trilogy!”

If you’re trying to lure fans from one subgenre to another, you want to toss in pull quotes by people respected in your majority-fan subgenre. Ideally, they’ll be well-liked across both, so it’ll also attract the interest of the new subgenre fans to your older work.

Price point sensitive is a really hard market to reach, and not very lucrative when you get them. Bookbub says they notice a distinct drop in sales if they run an ad for the same book within six months; their reader pool has a low enough turnover that you’re not going to get that many additional sales on the same book. Some authors have very good returns from working through their entire catalog on Bookbub, others don’t. (I know one gent does very well at that on the thriller market, but scifi? Fantasy? Not sure. Need more data.)

Consider your readers, and choose wisely.


  1. SO: If it’s my home market, assume they are current, and push the most recent. Otherwise, push the beginning of the series, or a single-purchase of all the books in the series.
    Do you think small discounts work to generate sales?
    Does Amazon let you issue coupons for a discount at check-out? Would it be worth it, do you think, in terms of increased revenue if you issued a coupon when you sold Maxwell 4, Stand Against The Storm, and the coupon could be swapped for SWAG and/or for a reduced price on Laredo 1, War to the Knife?

  2. There are two things I have just learned with series, now that my current one is up to 5 books and I’ve taken the time to crunch the numbers.
    First: Do not write long series, like over 4 books.
    Second: If you do, make multiple ‘entry points’ into the series.

    To explain: I’ve sold well over 10K copies of book 1. I have close to a %70 buy through rate. That means 2K sales of book 5.
    Now I understand why people who write lots of stories in the same world don’t number them! I also realize now that I need to make sure all books in a series can stand alone, so people can enter at any point that they want.

    It really won’t pay for me to write ‘book 6’, so I probably won’t. I’ll just write another book in that world, with a title and no number. Oh it will BE book six, for those who read through the series, but it will also be a standalone novel that you can read, without having to read 1 thru 5.

    I just wish I knew about this a year ago when book 1 came out!

    1. Part of the problem is that there’s no differentiation between series, as multiple stories in the same universe, and hypernovels that are essentially one story in easy to handle chunks.

      My big series, I try to both number them by internal chronology and say if it’s stand alone novel. Meh. I don’t have a clue what does or doesn’t work.

    2. Thanks for sharing that. I’m at the beginning of at least a trilogy. Do you advertising the first book or just the new one in your series ?

      1. I do both. I advertise the first book, and when a new book comes out, I run adverts for that too. I also have adverts that show covers from several of the books in the series, so people see that it is a series.

        According to research done by the guy who owns Smashwords, people prefer series.

    3. tl;dr version: YMMV.

      As a reader, I hate not knowing what order to buy and read the books in. Pam did a good job with Wine of the Gods. There are a couple that can be read in different orders as they are parallel and don’t really reference each other. Eric Flint is starting (for where I’m at in the 1632 whatever-it-is) to devote an appendix to reading order; I find it very helpful.

      I dislike books that spend chapters explaining things I already know from having read the previous ones. My suggestion: Put that in a preface that starts with “If you’ve read the entire series so far, skip to chapter 1.” It’s both annoying to read and I feel as if I’m paying twice. As a counter-example, the Wheel of Time series drove me batty because there was no recap/backstory and each time a new book came out I had to reread the previous one, which made me reread the previous, previous one, etc… It’s also a bit long to binge-read the entire thing, if you bought it now that it is done. (Did it ever finish or just stop with the death of Mr. Jordan? I gave up on it.)

      1. How I am going to deal with that is something I’m still struggling with. For somethings, I think I can just simply not mention ‘what has gone before’, because knowing how somethings came to be, won’t be important to the current story line. For those things that are, either a leading summation/refresher chapter that can be skipped, or a very short comment to clue new readers in.
        It’s going to take some thought.
        Also, I’ll have to develop a list or a graphic, or something, to show people where they can pick up and read, and what the order of the story is.

        I am definitely looking at how other authors have handled the same problem.

  3. Some absolutely great comments on advertising. I created some “postcard sized,” bookmarks. They’ll go to Con’s, and local libraries. One side lists what genre I publish (or will), and the autoresponder mailing list address. The other lists the current book, what’s coming next (as of today), plus “coming attractions.” They were $47 (with a color pic. of me), for 200 total. Tine will tell how effective they are.

  4. I had a jump in sales, every time I went free with several books in a row. Until KULL. Last winter, zero effect on sales. I think I may drop the first books of my series down to $0.99 to take aim at the casual browsers of the cheap section. Anyone have any experience to offer? Any one have any idea what percentage of the frequent readers are KULL members?

    1. KU readers are about a third of my regular readers, though that does vary at times. People who are in KU really don’t buy books that are NOT in KU, they joined for the fixed price so they can read as much as they want.

      KU readers tend to be about ten times as many as ALL other ebook vendors combined, they’re voracious. That at least is what my own research told me. I was selling maybe 10 copies a month on all other venues combined, but I sell more than that per day via KU.

      I may take slow sellers and eventually pull them out of KU and put those on other vendors, but only with the intent of driving more people to Amazon to buy the rest of my books. Because that is where 90 percent of the market is, and to be honest, Amazon as a company treats me better than anyone else ever has.

  5. Ms. Grant, you continue to impress me with the level of your expertise in the marketing game. Is your effort on Peter’s part a full time job, or are you at all interested in taking on a few more clients? Not asking for myself, but that for several budding new writers of my acquaintance marketing is something of a black hole, on a par with higher mathematics, so farming that task out to an expert with a proven track record just might be extremely helpful to them.

  6. This possibly a thread hijack, but it is at least (sort of) tangentially related to advertising. What are the precise dimensions of the thumbnail size cover on Amazon? I keep seeing that the cover needs to be legible and the title readable at thumbnail, but what resolution is that, exactly?

    1. There’s a guideline in the FAQ for that. A minimum size is 1000 x 1600, the 1-1.6 ratio is supposed to be maintained to fit Kindles, but I’ve seen other sizes.

  7. > which book

    Tangentially, over the last decade I’ve encountered at least a dozen novels that seem to have been written solely as advertisements (or “advectorials”) to a previous novel.

    These are usually in the wire racks at Dollar General or various bargain bins at very low prices.

    It usually takes only a few pages to realize what I’ve bought. The characters spend a great deal of time referring to events that happened in the first book, usually events that would (presumably) tell me WTF is going on in the volume I’m trying to read. Sometimes there will be footnotes directing me to a specific page in the previous book… which I don’t have, and have never seen for sale locally, and by now have little interest in reading.

    If you’re writing a sequel, make it a sequel. Not a book-length ad for your previous book.

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