SPP 039 – Series, Serials, and Standalone Books

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In a way, the start of today’s show was a bummer because nobody used the word “cum slut,” which we’d gotten used to from our last show. But we quickly got over it and got on with business.

A bit of a KDP Select review

As a way of talking again about Amazon’s KDP Select program, I announced that I’ve sold FOUR copies of The Bialy Pimps. I during its time on both the Nook and Apple iBooks bookstore over the entire year… which really makes me wonder why the fuck I’d bother putting any books on platforms OTHER than Amazon.

Sean laid out what they’re doing now, which involves “graduating” books from Amazon only to other platforms. We argued a bit about this, and the best way to break out promos, and so on.

Questions! Questions!

I mentioned that I’ve decided to bundle my Fat Vampire books differently than the way Sean and I have decided to bundle Unicorn Western. Sean’s current favorite bundling model combines three novellas which are priced at $2.99 each into a bundle that costs $4.99… and then once there are three bundles at $4.99, you combine those into a nine-book bundle that costs $9.99.

Instead, I’ve decided to bundle three of my $2.99 Fat Vampire books into a collection that costs $5.99 (I published the first Fat Vampire “Value Meal” this past weekend)… and then to combine two of those into a 6-book bundle for $9.99. My argument is that the Fat Vampire books are longer than Unicorn Western books.

This led us to a discussion of price and value, which was a perfect segue into a voicemail question: What is the VALUE of your book vs. what you can PRICE it at?

The answer is that value is a pretty useless concept if you are the only one who thinks it has a value of X. What the MARKET thinks its value is matters more. Fierce discussion then ensued.

Garrett then called in because he’s being really neurotic and comparing Amazon’s actual paid royalties to what he thinks they should be and says they seem low. Dave said that it may have to do with currency differences between the US and people in other countries buying your books, and Sean and I told him to chill the fuck out and stop obsessing over his numbers. I mean, SHIT.

Serials, Series, and Standalones… oh my!

We spent the rest of the episode talking about how you’d go about approaching a standalone novel (like The Bialy Pimps, which has no connection to anything else I’ve written) vs. a series of novels (like Unicorn Western) vs. a true written serial, which is structured more like an episodic TV series (like Yesterday’s Gone).

We get into a ton of detail, but basically the difference between a series and a serial is that in a series, each book needs to truly stand on its own as a whole story even though it may/should depend on what came in the book before and lead into the next book. A serial can have truly assholish cliffhangers and leave people feeling a lot more incomplete from episode to episode. It’s kind of a gray area, but etching out some of the black and white particulars is what we spent a ton of time doing this week.

To view the video version of this episode, go to: Self Publishing Podcast #39 – Series, Serials, and Standalone Books

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  1. Hey guys love the show. Could you elaborate on standalones? You spent most of the show talking about serials and series. I’m still a bit unclear as to how someone(like myself) might go about marketing a standalone novel. Thanks.

    • Sorry… I think we backed away from them mostly because people know what standalones ARE, making their definition “the stuff we didn’t talk about here.” But it’s true that the marketing is different. I’d say it’s harder, and there’s a reason that I haven’t kept writing them just yet. It’s much harder to build momentum with standalones, because each is an island.

      I guess my advice would be to write a lot of them and slowly build your audience in the other ways we talk about on the show. It still takes a lot of works to build a tribe, and you need that tribe to sell ANY of your work, be it series or standalone or whatever.

  2. I liked your episode but I am not yet clear on the differences between “Series, Serials, and Standalone Books”. What I gather from your episode is that with a standalone book, all the open questions and conflicts are resolved by the end of the book. That each chapter need not work on its own because the reader need not wait for a future installment, a future chapter, for the reading experience to be made whole.

    That a series is like a stand alone book but explores the same characters and world as other books in the series, and thus the reader would permit some “open loops” to be resolved in future books.

    The serial is the one I am the least clear about. The serial seem like a shorter version of a series; like a collection of short stories that must all be read to gain the full experience. I think you should consider an episode specifically about how to write an engaging serial.

    • Well, that’s what this one was supposed to be, kind of. The way I guess I understand it now is this: In a series, you should close the story of that book, and then can indicate a new question (NOT a cliffhanger) at the end that indicates the story that will be covered in the next book. In a serial, you don’t need to conclude the story, but can continue it next time.

      But I still do think there’s some conclusion in a serial episode. It’s just a “smaller conclusion.”

      Lots of gray area, I think.

      • I’d like to (if I may) offer my own perspective on it from a filmmaker’s viewpoint (since that’s the world I come from).

        A standalone book is like a standalone movie: think Cloud Atlas, The Shining, Psycho, etc. It’s a complete work. Sure, you COULD pull a sequel out of it, but it’s not meant for that at all. It tells its story and it’s done. It has a beginning, middle and an end and in its original conception there’s no possibility for the story to continue, because that IS the story. Often times these stories are about a point, rather than a character, because if it was only about a character, the story could go on with that character (unless they die).

        A book SERIES (by which I think we all mean a series of books that are nearly stand-alone but not quite) is like any movie franchise that can just go on and on. Star Wars. Batman. The Matrix. Harry Potter. Each movie is itself. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. But the end of each one (except the final one) is open, allowing for further stories to be told in the same world. These are usually more character-driven because, like a TV show, they depend on the character continuing his journey throughout the series of books.

        Serials are, quite simply, TV shows. Each episode has its “minor story” but it is meant to fit into the major story of the season, and each season is meant to fit into the major story of the show. LOST, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, 24, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, etc., etc., etc. There are too many to name. But if you wrote any of these shows as a book, they’d have to be serials – there’s no other way they could work. And the entire point of each episode is to get you to read the next one.

        • Very well stated.

          • Why can’t a series book end with a cliff hanger? It’s a great way to get readers excited about the next book. I don’t want my readers to finish my book and say, “Golly, wouldn’t it be interesting if she publishes another? Whatever…” I want them to say, “When’s the next one going to be out? I need it now!”

            I’ve read plenty of books in my genre that have cliff hangers at the end. I love it and so do others. My recently released book ends with a cliff hanger (and one of my character’s names is Cliff, so it’s even more awesome) and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from my cliff hanger. The next book in my series also ends with a cliff hanger and my beta readers all love it too.

            Also, if we’re going to compare series to a TV series…doesn’t pretty much every series end the season with a cliff hanger? All of my favorite shows leave me counting down the days until the next season starts because of the nail-biting cliff hanger. I have to know what’s going to happen next. Yeah, they wrapped stuff up but they leave you begging for more at the same time. Not only is it fun, but it’s good marketing.

            Maybe I have the wrong definition of cliff hanger, but I’d like to hear more from you about why I shouldn’t end my series books with one.

          • I think that you can (and should) end a series book with a lead-out; something that promises the reader more, but doesn’t post a sense of immediate threat of life or death. A great example is the end of the first Kill Bill movie. At the end of the movie, you find out that Kiddo’s daughter is still alive. (Oh, spoiler alerts, I guess). It’s not a life-or-death threat, but it’s an, “Oh, MAN! Did NOT see that coming! Is she going to rescue her daughter?!”

            That’s different than if he’d ended the movie with Kiddo hanging off the edge of a building with her fingers starting to slip. If you were watching the movie, and saw her on the building, and saw her finger starting to slide toward the end, and then suddenly it cut to credits — I don’t know about you, but I would be PISSED.

            That’s what I consider the difference between a lead-out and a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are good for individual episodes. Lead-outs are good for the ends of seasons and, similarly, for the end of series books. Sons of Anarchy probably have my favorite season finales of any TV shows, because they nicely wrap up the story for that season, but leave you going, “OK, thank God that’s over with, but how are they going to solve THAT problem NEXT season?”

            Conversely, I hated a couple of LOST’s season finales (specifically when Juliet set off the nuke – again, SPOILERS!) because it was like they were trying desperately to convince me to watch next season by leaving me wondering if the characters were alive or dead. I’m like, “I’m already watching next season! I already want to know what the black smoke is and who Jacob is! What the hell, stop trying to convince me!”

            Personally, hard cliffhangers at the end of series books or seasons piss me off. They can be done, I guess, if handled well. But I think a lead-out works better and is less likely to get an angry outcry from your audience.

          • Okay, that I get. Thanks for clarifying. I see the difference now. I have lead-outs and not actual cliff hangers at the end of my stories – wouldn’t want to tick anyone off! 🙂

  3. Mmm. So series and serials is THE way to go ?
    I always think that given the ADD world we all live in, people enjoy to read shorter fiction with foreseeable endings. But Sean & David are definitely owning the space with their idea – I’ve just heard them get mentioned at another writer’s podcast.

    But I also wonder – don’t readers eventually find out that you’re winging your way and have no definite end in sight ?

    • Um… not if you’re not winging your way and have no definite end in sight. 🙂

      But to answer in a more helpful way, think of how life is. Is there a definite end where everything is wrapped up? Nope. And I think that a smart writer does have SOME idea where he or she is going and isn’t just totally lost.

      • You have to have SOME idea where you’re going, or you’re not being fair to the reader, and they can smell that anyway. That doesn’t mean you have to know it note for note, but you do need some basic signposts.

    • Series and serials are not necessarily THE way to go, but they make life easier in many respects. And in the self-publishing world, they’re easier to market than standalone books. If it takes you six months to write a standalone, and then you publish it, you’ve got ONE book out there. It will take you another six months to write another book so that you can cross-market them. This is SLOW.

      However, if you’ve got a serial or a bunch of novellas (ahemTouchNonZombieHitGirlscoughcough) you can be putting out a book a week, and give everyone who reads each of your books an opportunity to discover all of the other ones. This makes your marketing on Amazon more powerful, leading to quicker, easier cashflow (as long as you’re not churning out utter shit).

      My current plan is to develop a bunch of serials and novellas for a year, and then, once I’ve got fifty titles on Amazon that hopefully allow me to write full-time, take the time to write my full novels, which will then have HUGE marketing power due to their higher price and the number of other titles I’ve got out on Amazon. If I launched right into the novels, I’d have to wait six months to see any results, and those results probably wouldn’t be very significant until I’d been doing it for quite some years. And I’m impatient.

      • VERY VERY well stated. I totally agree. I want to write novels, and so does Dave. But we want infrastructure first. That way each novel can do more than sit there.

        • Third on this. I also want to get back to longer works, but I want the grounding first so that it’s not wasted effort. If I’d started with them rather than Fat Vampire, I could have written them… and then sold like 3 copies.

          • Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Johnny. You know I would have bought four copies all by myself to give to friends.

  4. Hey, listen, you guys should be glad for anything I do that takes away from my writing time. Otherwise I’ll just be churning out 50,000 words a week and make you all look like wusses.

  5. I am puzzled by something near the beginning of the episode. Johnny was talking about promotions, one with an announcement to the list and one without. Sean stated flatly that Johnny’s list “wasn’t working,” but I disagree with that conclusion. It is just as possible (as, I think, Dave points out) that the list *is* working, as those that downloaded the books in the first promotion aren’t going to download them again. I DL’ed Fat Vampire from Amazon even though I am one of those “assholes with a Nook.” Johnny was gracious enough to help me out so I could actually read it, and I left a review a few weeks later, when I finished the novel. This is all because of Johnny’s list. This is not to say that the list works perfectly and completely, but it is some evidence that it is working.

    • Yes, as another one of those “assholes with a Nook”, what is the best approach to making it possible for us to become readers of your amazon ebooks? (I don’t think their is any hope of changing the asshole part.)

      • One thing I can say is if you have an Android or iOS device (any Android phone or an iPhone, iPad, etc.) you can get the Kindle app for FREE, and read any Kindle books on it. That’s what I do, because I already have an iPad and can’t be bothered to buy a Kindle as well.

        • I love my nook. If I had realized how much indie stuff there is on Amazon when I bought it, though, I would’ve bought a Kindle. I know we *can* read on our phones or PCs, but I don’t like reading on screens like that. I prefer e-Ink. That said, when I finally get a tablet, I’ll probably read a lot more Kindle books. The sad truth is that B&N just doesn’t have the infrastructure Amazon does to support and promote self-publishing.

        • Being an “asshole” I must say that though your solution lets me read the ebooks, it does not let me read the ebooks on my nook. The nook is the place that I can read ebooks for more reasons than a lack of software to permit reading on other devices.

          • Well, I can’t help you there. However, if I develop the time machine I’m working on I’ll give you a free trip back in time to convince yourself to buy a Kindle instead of a nook. 🙂

          • This is a problem, yes, but unfortunately it’s a problem without a good solution for the creator. If I put stuff on Nook, I can’t use KDP Select. Select sells a few dozen books immediately for me now and more every time. By contrast, Nook might, if I’m lucky, sell a dozen copies a year.

            There’s very little incentive for me to not be exclusive to Amazon, and less for bigger producers like S&D. So yeah, it sucks for you guys, but that sucking doesn’t make me want to voluntarily shoot myself in the foot.

  6. Erik – I’ll have to listen to that part of the show to provide clarity, I’m not sure. If I made a blanket statement it sounds like I misspoke. I would’ve meant his results might be dimmed, but not irrelevant.

    Leif – We’re beginning our migration to other platforms starting 2.5. It will take a while for everything to get there, but we’re at least starting soon.

  7. I’m just listening through these, and am getting a lot out of it. Enjoyed this one in particular.

    But I want to point out — and I’m not sure if this has been noted elsewhere — is that I find it weird that one of your intros is that you are “three guys who are down with OPP.” I know that’s a Naughty by Nature reference… but you guys understand what that actually means, right?

    • If I remember correctly, “Other People’s Property.” And yeah, I know. But it’s a terrible play on “SPP.” (Jokes are best when they require explanation. That’s how you know they’re good… right?)


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