Yes, I’m old enough to remember “Schoolhouse Rock” and that ditty, along with “Conjunction Junction,” still is taking up storage space for reasons I’m not 100% sure of. But I agree with creator David McCall that three is indeed a magic number. Trilogies have a long-standing tradition in fantasy literature. While discussing why that is would be an interesting post in its own right, today I’m going to shift the discussion, as I’m often known to do, toward publishing from the author’s perspective.
It’s darn hard, and almost impossible unless you really catch lightning in a bottle, to be successful with just one book released. And yet I see author after author making the big mistake of getting their first book out and spending way too much time trying to get people to read it. I understand the temptation. You’ve spent months, maybe years writing something that you think is a masterpiece and now you want to get others to know about it so it just doesn’t fade into obscurity. But I’m going to suggest that you’ll want to curb that impulse.
All writers, have only so many hours in the day, and most have day jobs which makes matters even worse. Marketing (if done correctly) is very time-consuming and at least when you are unknown is pretty much done “by hand” as there really aren’t any shortcuts. The problem is once you get that reader to look at your book…and lets say they really love it…then what. They have nothing else from you so they will move on to someone else. Months, or years later, when you get your second book out, they may not even remember the first.
The MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do after finishing your first book is to write your second. In fact, I feel the same way about the second to the third. Generally I recommend the following writing/promotion break down for new authors:
- 1 book released: 95% writing next book / 5% promoting book #1
- 2 books released: 90% writing next book / 10% promoting books #1 & #2
- 3 books released: 50% writing next book / 50% promoting the three book
What you do during the 5% – 10% should be primarily focused on getting reviews. This may mean contacting book blockers, sending personal messages to people on goodreads, or sending out review copies to Amazon top reviewers. It’s okay to let those books just “sit there” and percolate - on their own. What you should be shooting for is to have at least 10 reviews on each book (and preferably 25 on the first and at least 15 on the second) by the time book #3 is done.
Once the third book comes out…THEN is the time to start doing some serious promoting. Now you have a “body of work” such that if you get people interested in the first one, then they have more of your work to pick up.
So do you keep doing 50%/50% indefinitely? Not at all. Ideally you want to shift that back to 80%/20% and if you ever become a “true name brand” then you can scale back to a point where all you are doing is interacting with existing fans rather than courting new ones. The shift occurs as you start seeing momentum independent of your own efforts. Once you see your books being talked about in forums, or on goodreads from people who you have never spoken with personally, then you know that word-of-mouth is picking up. Now that you have an army of readers out there promoting on your behalf, your responsibility is to produce more content for them to gobble up. Each new book will spur the sales of those that came before, so you’ll get new income not only from the new release, but from renewed interest in the previous works.
I know to some writers, even the thought of spending 5% or 10% on marketing is repulsive…but the fact is, marketing departments are over burdened and only YOU are 100% interested in ONLY your books. If you don’t plan on helping your books find an audience, then don’t be disappointed when they fail miserably because although they may be good, no one knew they existed.