Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Branding and Career – Part Four: The Five Book Plan

The Five Book Plan

There used to be an idea in traditional publishing that new authors didn’t start to earn any money until they had three books published. Taking on a new author meant taking a loss until that threshold was met, so publishers were keen to have a long term relationship with authors, knowing full well that for the first three years weren’t going to be solvent.

Now, that number has jumped from three to five. With some editors even claiming the magic number has moved to seven. This is why publishers are even more wary of taking on new authors and why self published authors often give up after a book or two. There are a lot of strong opinions on these topics—none of which I am going to go into here. Instead I want to focus on what you can do as an author to best utilize this information to build your career.

This is where we put the information in previous blog posts in this series into practical use. You have some idea of your brand now and who your fans are/will be. You also, hopefully, know how you want to use your time and what method of publishing is best going to suit your interests, so it’s time to look at your five book plan.

Your first five books in any brand (pen name) are about building, and keeping, your audience. So it’s a good idea to have some sort of structure in place. There needs to be a flow between books, elements that will keep the same people coming back. As I mentioned when in the blog post about your target audience, different people have very different interests. So if your first book is a YA romance about vampires and your second book is about a fat, middle aged detective solving a series of violent torture rapes, fans of your first book are going to be deeply unimpressed with you second book. And even if your third book is a YA romance about were-ocelots, those first fans probably aren’t going to come back. Once burned, twice shy.

So it is generally a good idea to stick to similar themes, similar genres and a similar target audience for the first five books. If you really want to write both children’s picture books and hardcore fireman erotica, do so by building two separate brands (pen names), but keep in mind you need to write five books for EACH BRAND before you can expect to see a decent income coming in.

Obviously this five book rule is not a hard and fast one. Some authors do very well with their very first book. However when you look at ‘overnight success stories’ they are usually 5-10 years in the making. By the time you hear about most ‘overnight success stories’ you will notice they actually have 3-5 books out. Harry Potter, for example, really started to make the news right before the release of book 4.

Publishers really love series for this reason. If readers like a book, it makes sense they will like another book, set in exactly the same setting, with exactly the same characters they already like. So if you already want to do a series (or two trilogies in the same setting) your five book plan is very straightforward.

However if you don’t want to do a series, you have to put more thought in. Most authors have plenty of ideas for stories they want to tell, but can you organise them into a more effective, streamline order? Can you see a flow between them that will hook a reader into buying the next book? Can you, for example, start with the ideas that are a bit more commercial before you branch into the more uniquely bizarre? Or do you want to open with something specialised and niche, then build outward?

I don’t claim there is a right or wrong order to publish books, however it is still worth giving it some thought. If you want to be traditionally published, editors will be looking for evidence of the next five books and if they are going to fit together in a way that will keep fans returning. (At the same time, don’t include your entire five book plan in your query letter either, wait until they ask or you have a signed contract before talking long term. It’s like talking about marriage on a first date, otherwise!)

Exercise time!

Write a list of all the books you ever hope to write. For some of you, that will be dozens. For others, maybe only a few.

Separate those books into brands (or genres, if you haven’t got that far or only want one brand).

Pretend you have nothing else in print (or don’t, depending on where you are in your career) and list three different possible ‘first five book plans’. It doesn’t have to be anything but five titles, in order from first to fifth. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each of your three plans.

Obviously if you only have a series planned, this exercise isn’t going to be very useful to you. However hopefully, overall, this post has given you something to think about when you are deciding what to write next.

One more thing!

This month I released a short story on kindle. It would mean a lot to me if you read it and reviewed it. Reviews = sales. 

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