I came away with more than a few sobering lessons from putting the Huntress series out there into the world. I wouldn't trade the creation aspect for the world, but I did have a pretty big learning curve with the business side of things. So in the interests of full disclosure, here are my biggest "lessons learned." Learn from my fail, folks.
Five Times I Screwed Up When Launching A Sci-Fi Romance Series
- I failed to actually launch. I hate to say it, but the era of just throwing a book out there and having it float on its own is well and truly over, if indeed it ever existed in the first place. While the longevity of the online bookstore has made "release day" much less of a life-or-death ordeal in indie publishing, you still do get the most lift with a new release. It's silly not to capitalize on that. Once upon a time, a few lucky authors could simply announce to their lists that they had a release, or post a little thing on Facebook, and the rest would take care of itself. Not so, these days. Discoverability takes work, and just being available isn't enough.
- I jumped the gun with KU (Kindle Unlimited). I released my series on a weekly basis until the individual episodes were done, and I released them into Kindle Unlimited first as an Amazon exclusive. As an author, this allowed me to earn money for "borrows" from readers enrolled in Amazon's monthly all-you-can-read buffet, and enhanced my visibility in the Amazon store. Amazon requires a 90-day commitment to exclusivity for indies to be in Kindle Unlimited. I set each of my episodes to stay in KU for one "cycle" because I am not a fan of permanent exclusivity. What I neglected to realize is that I am also not a fan of patience, and, given the timing and number of my releases, I was not giving the KU engine enough time to do its magic. I released Episode 12 and a week later, Episode 1 was out of KU. People just discovering the series only had a week to borrow Episode 1, or even discover the series itself before the first episode exited borrowing eligibility. If I had a Life Rewind button, I would have considered leaving the series in for another KU run. As it is...
- I lost the timing lottery with KU again. On the reader side, nothing changed, but on the author side, in the middle of my release cycle, Amazon switched over from paying authors a set rate per borrow (which favored shorter books) to a payout per page read (which enticed authors of longer books to join or return to the program). Now, this falls solidly under the "Random shit happens that you can't control, so you smile and make the best of it" category, so it's not really a mistake I personally made, but I could have been more flexible in responding to it. What happened is that in the middle of my KU run for the series, KU suddenly became more attractive to authors of longer works. Overnight, KU started seeing a flood of longer works, and people interested in borrowing books are, of course, going to be interested in longer works and titles they previously couldn't borrow turning up in KU.
- I failed to understand how the retailers classify books as part of a series. My release strategy for Huntress was, I thought, pretty clever - I would release the individual episodes every Thursday for 12 weeks, as a serial (or a half-season run of a TV show, which is the structure that the series is modeled after), and keep the individual episodes exclusive to Amazon. After the run in KU was up, I released the series "wide" to all the major retailers, in the form of box set bundles of 3 episodes apiece. This was designed to fit with my internal pricing strategy (which has mostly to do with length and should probably contain more science on things like genre appeal and individual retailer ecosystem). In addition to that, I released the first episode free everywhere, as an introduction to the series (it's still free everywhere, and members of my private readers group get the first three episodes to read free). What I didn't understand was that because the first standalone episode is included in the first bundled set, it would not be categorized with the other books in the series, because of repeated content (retailers don't like it when you repeat content because customers get confused, and then they get mad at the retailers).
- I didn't have enough of a promotion strategy. These days, you really do need a marketing strategy, especially for multiple books. My marketing strategy mostly centered around the actual content I provided. Nowadays, that's not enough. People need to know about that content, and authors need to understand how people learn about content. Protip: Dropping a book cover and Amazon link into a Facebook post that says little more than, "So that happened..." is NOT the way people learn about books.
The great thing about indie publishing is that none of my mistakes are real deal-breakers. Even the boneheaded move that I made back during release when I forgot to check the "Enroll this book in Kindle Unlimited" box for Episode 10 (or when I uploaded the wrong file and it came out gibberish for that same episode. Clearly, that week was when my exhaustion started showing). I missed my launch window, but I can schedule a "re-launch," and this time make a better marketing plan. Kindle Unlimited is nothing if not in constant flux, so this month's missed shot is next month's dodged bullet. Readers are still discovering the series every day, and I have lots of opportunities to find them. In the meantime, I'm working on the spin-off series, the second season, and still more content surrounding the universe I've built.
And yes, I'm still making mistakes.