SFFMP 56: Self-Pub vs. Small Press vs. Trad + Effective World Building with Liana Brooks and Amy Laurens

Today we chatted with Liana Brooks and Amy Laurens, sci-fi and fantasy authors who both got their start with short stories and have branched out into novellas, novels, and creating their own press: Inkprint Press.

Here’s some of what we covered today:

  • The differences in marketing when you’re indie published, small press published, and traditionally published, including how much work you can expect to do on your own.
  • The importance of networking with other authors, especially as an indie author.
  • Participating in anthologies (bonus points if you can get into an anthology with a bigger name author)
  • Getting the rights back to previously published short stories and self-publishing them
  • The challenges of marketing novella-length fiction
  • Getting custom business cards for each of your series, so you can tailor what you’re trying to sell to the individual you meet (they use Moo.com NFC-chip cards to allow people to hold the card up to a smart phone and automatically get a free download delivered right to the phone)
  • Aspects of social media that they’ve found useful
  • Are blog tours still worth it? And organizing one as an indie
  • Do you run into problems when cross-promoting between indie and trad pubbed books?
  • World building tips from a science stud (Amy) who has a book on world building coming out in 2016 — you can sign up to hear when it’ll be out on her site: From the Ground Up, notification list.

Both authors have work in the free Tales from the SFR Brigade that you can check out. Their books are, of course, available from Inkprint Press as well as the usual spots. Liana recommends trying her Even Villians Fall in Love series (superhero romance) or The Day Before Time (sci-fi).


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  • Scott

    It was mentioned in the episode that “most series don’t become popular until their third or fourth book”. It seems unwise from a marketing standpoint to continue writing a third and fourth book in a series that isn’t selling. Would Lindsay, Joe, and Jeff care to comment on whether they’ve found this to be the case with any of their series?

    • Lindsay

      I’ve seen a series hit with the first book (Annie Bellet, whom we’ve had on the show before, had this experience), in particular if it’s something with wide appeal that resonates with fans of the genre. It also helps if that Book 1 starts life at 99 cents or (as of right now) in KU where borrows can boost the rankings. A Book 1 can still become a hit at full price and without being exclusive with Amazon, but that seems to be rare, unless the author already has a following.

      I’ve seen other authors drop a Book 1 to 99 cents or free when their third or fourth is released and only then have the series gain a lot of readers. If you’re starting from scratch, it can take a few books to build up a mailing list and accumulate enough readers that you’re able to launch a new book into a category Top 100 on Amazon, so there’s that too. This is about how things went with my Emperor’s Edge series (my first books). I managed to hustle enough to sell some Book 1s at 2.99 back in the day, but it was when the third book came out and I made the first one free that I gained more momentum.

      A lot of us wait until we have multiple books in a series out to do the promo on Book 1, since you stand to sell more books overall if there are more out for the reader to buy, assuming said reader likes Book 1. I wouldn’t fold up a series and move on until I’d tried a big ad campaign combined with lowering the price for a sale on the first book, and probably cover redesigns and blurb tinkering. If all that didn’t result in much enthusiasm for the series, I would then move on to something else, assuming this series wasn’t the passion of my life that I couldn’t stand to abandon prematurely. 🙂

    • I agree with Lindsay. A book one, or even a standalone, can hit big. But if you’re in it for the long haul, it’s more valuable for the first book in a series to hit it big once there is at least one, two, or more books to follow it up. Three books seems to be a sweet spot for this, because that’s the point when most people will consider something to be a series. That’s why, particularly if you’re still enjoying the process of writing the stories, I recommend sticking with a series until the third entry. If you’re NOT enjoying the writing process, it might be time to cut your losses and try something new. You can always come back to it later.

      • Scott

        Thanks, Lindsay and Joe. So what’s the ideal number of books for a series? I have noticed that the later books in many series tend to have far fewer reviews and a worse sales rank than the first couple of books. Is there a point where the sell-through is low enough that the diminishing returns make it impractical to keep adding to a series, and you’re better off starting a new series?

        • SFFpodcast

          I definitely think there is, Scott. I did 7 books in my EE series (later adding one more), and I had a lot of people following the whole thing since the overall story was still unresolved. Reviews on the last couple of books are fairly even with the rest in the series (Sometimes fewer reviews on later books is just a byproduct of those books having not been out for nearly as long as the earlier books), aside from 1 which has been permafree for years and naturally gets more reads and reviews. I’m about to publish the 7th book in my Dragon Blood series, and I think that will be the last or second to last, too.

          In an SPP podcast, Ed Robertson had some interesting thoughts on later books in a series not doing as well because they weren’t as visible and fans didn’t even know they were out: https://sterlingandstone.net/178-audience-targeting-amazon-ed-robertson-self-publishing-podcast/

          If a series is still selling well when you get to the end of it, you can definitely write some more. But if things have tapered off, then it may be time to start something new. I’m actually planning a stand-alone Dragon Blood book that I hope can work as another entryway into that series. Since it’s outside of the core series, and won’t require that readers be familiar with the world, I should be able to promote it at the various sites (I don’t usually promote Book 2s and so on since they basically require that the first one have been read). So that’s another thought if you feel you’ve already advertised your Book 1 everywhere and are trying to get more people to check out your series (and hopefully get to the later books).

  • Hi Scott –

    I’m throwing my hat in with Lindsay and Jo. If you’re really trying to make it as a professional writer then you definitely want to be certain you finish what you start. You don’t want to leave your readers wondering what happens next. I also agree with the magic number, for a series, to be at least three. By that time whomever has purchased your first and second book will have become hooked and will generally purchase any other title you’ve released.

    Writing should be fun; enlightening. If it’s a struggle for you, or else you’re flat-out not enjoying it, then I’d definitely do as Jo suggests. Step back for a bit, see if you can get those creative juices flowing again, and then give it another go. If you’re truly not happy with your writing then your discomfort will typically be transferred to your writing and your readers will be able to tell.

    With regards to wondering how long to keep a series going, if you have a following, and they continue to purchase your titles as you release them, then I see no reason why you should stop. If, however, the sales start to diminish, or else you feel a need to move on to a different series, then I’d recommend putting that series on hold, trying something new, and then perhaps coming back to it later.

    Or you can do something crazy, like switch genres, write in a different style, and continue to write the next title in your original series – concurrently – just to give yourself a challenge. 🙂