Are Trilogies the Best Thing to Write?

WriterWriting is a world with two sides for me at the moment. On the one hand, I am incredibly happy with the feedback I’ve been getting from readers. I’m so lucky to have the readers I do, who keep saying nice things and leaving wonderful reviews.

On the other hand, though, I’ve been publishing for about twenty months and it’s a rare month that I earn more than $100 from it. Which, considering a novel takes me about a hundred hours to write, isn’t much.

To solve that issue, I’ve turned to the advice of Nick Stephenson, who says that building an email list should be the top priority. With an email list, I could notify readers when a new book is out and the sales of that book would push it up the charts. Which would then get me more readers, and so on.

The tactic for getting new email subscribers is to put the second book in a series free. Which has been working exceptionally well. About three weeks ago, I had a dozen subscribers on my email list. Most of whom I knew by name, as they’d emailed me, left lots of reviews and been the most awesome readers an author could hope to have. But a dozen people isn’t enough to make a writing career a viable option.

After implementing Nick’s advice, I now have over fifty subscribers. Which is an amazing result. The first dozen took me a year and a half, the next forty took me three weeks. And it’s the offer of a free book which did it. You can see the offer above this post, on the menu bar. Subscribers to my email list get the second book in a series for free.

Which brings me to the subject of this post: are trilogies the best thing to write at the moment? The reason I say that is that a trilogy would boost the email list the most, in terms of writing time, from among my options:

  1. Write short stories: Not many people are interested in short stories at the moment. Even given away free. So that hasn’t worked for me, at least;
  2. Write novellas: A viable option if they’re part of something else. They are quite short, though. I think that they’re a good form for things like episodes (Greenstar), but people want a more expanded story for a standalone;
  3. Write stand-alone novels: Definitely something I want to do, but they’re unlikely to convert people to being long-term fans unless they’re amazing;
  4. Write long series: Bytarend is something I’m very proud of. There are going to be six books in total and the overall story is going to be incredible. I can’t wait for everyone to see what happens by the end. However, I’m getting diminishing results from advertising the first book in the series. The people who want to read it have read it. Which means that the last two books in the series will have their audience already. The series still picks up new readers at a rate of a few dozen per month;
  5. Write trilogies: With the first book free, the second book as a mailing list incentive and the third book paid. This is something I want to try, because I believe that two trilogies would have more reach than a series of six books. However, it’s only a theory at the moment. I need to try it to find out.

At the moment, my theory is that the first book in the series is the most visible one. It’s the one that gets on the free charts and makes people want to read more.

The second book gets the subscribers. But it doesn’t just do that. Since there’s more than one book on the subscribers page, it encourages people to try other things. After all, with the first and second books already free for subscribers, what have they got to lose?

The third book (hopefully) pays the bills. The second book will do that to some extent as well, since some people won’t want to join the list. The third book, though, is there to pay for the covers and editing of all three.

As I say, at the moment it’s just a theory, but it’s one I want to try. Three books is a 300 hour investment, so it’s no small experiment, but I think it’s one worth trying.


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7 thoughts on “Are Trilogies the Best Thing to Write?

  1. I’ve been musing over some of the same questions lately. It’s interesting that you think trilogies would be the best. I think that might be the case if you care solely about mailing list sign ups, but if you want to buy some groceries, I would wonder if trilogies would have enough paid books for folks to buy.

    If you have two trilogies, are you going to have the first one free in both and would a new sign up have to choose which book two they want? Would you have two separate lists so you could automate the freebie?

    If all you wrote were trilogies you’d have a third of your stuff out there for free. That seems like a lot to me.

    Personally, I’m thinking in terms of worlds and not series and I’ll put permafree/99ยข books at appropriate starting points.

    • I’m thinking that 2/3s of everything would technically be free, since the first book would be permafree and the second would be free for the mailing list. It would be a question of increasing volume to the point where 1/3 of the income of a lot of books was more than 100% of less books.

      I’ve already seen that permafree is more than worth the investment. The question is if multiple series multiplies that effect, or if the same people are reading the books no matter what.

      I’ll be checking out the effects with my next books, to see. I have lots of figures from the first twenty months, though, and the high point for me was when I had three books out in the Bytarend series. That might be just coincidence, but that’s when the numbers spiked and brought in 40% of the income in just 3 months.

  2. Good to hear that you’re getting new subscribers to your list.

    As time goes by, you’ll see a better return on your time investment as well, since the time spent writing each novel is a one-time thing, but the books are there to generate income forever. You can try various things until you’ve built a good list.

    I don’t think trilogies are better than 6 books in a series, though. Why would it be? I love to have lots of books to read in a series, if I like the characters. If the first is perma-free, and you give the second away for the newsletter opt-in, you will have to gain everything from the third book. And that might be fine for one series, but you won’t do that for all your series forever, I assume? With a 6 book series, you could follow Johnny and Ed Robertson lead, and make a bundle with 3 or 4 books for very cheap, and then cash out on the rest. There are lots of things to try, as your catalogue gets bigger. It’s harder to try different tactics with fewer books on the market. So keep your chin up, and keep writing.

    I will get around to read your books eventually, but my TBR list is just getting out of hand. And I’m probably not the only one like that, which would most likely mean, that you have more new readers lining up, but they just haven’t been able to read your books yet. As we all get there, you’ll have more fans. Fans you might have picked up months ago in reality. Because when I read one of your books, it won’t be because of what you’re doing at that particular time, but because I have followed you for months and months. So keep doing what you’re doing, while also trying out new things. You’ll get there ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks, Anita. You’re right that people trickle in forever ๐Ÿ™‚ The reason for writing two trilogies instead of a six book series is visibility. Two series starters is a wider opening of the funnel than one. It means that there’s less in the bottom of the funnel, but hopefully would get more people in at the top.

      It’s something I need to experiment with, so I’ve no idea if my theory is correct yet ๐Ÿ™‚ What Johnny, Sean and Dave are doing is similar, though. They just have more books at the bottom of their funnel.

      • So it’s more a thought for what would be best right now, and not in general? If so, I agree ๐Ÿ™‚
        While you’re building your catalogue, 2 trilogies would be better than one series with 6 books. When you have a more established fanbase, I definitely think, that 6 books would be great (it will always be great, but if people don’t like the first book in the series, they won’t pick up the next five, so it would be nice to lead them to something else).

        • Yeah, if I was in the same position as Johnny & Sean, or Sean & Dave, for instance, a longer series would make more sense. It’s dependent on two things:
          – How many fans I have. Not just readers, but the true fans SPP always talk about. People that will read everything I write;
          – How fast I can write. Since I’m part-time, visibility is the problem rather than cashflow. If I was full-time, I might be willing to sacrifice long-term growth in favour of paying the bills.

          Trilogies are the best way to build up my reader base, so that when I go full-time, I can rely on a lot of people reading my books ๐Ÿ™‚

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