Writing Episodic Fiction Experiment Update

Almost a month into my writing episodic fiction experiment, I'm ready to share another update with the Amazon May sales data to work with. If you're a fiction writer considering serial fiction, hopefully you will find this post helpful.

April, May, and early June have historically been the months in which I

have sold the fewest number of books. I suspect people, even committed readers, have other spending priorities during this part of the year and purchase fewer books. Possibly their discretionary spending goes to vacations, new summer clothes for the kids and family, etc. Other authors I know have told me their book sales also tend to be flat during the same period which I think supports my theory.

Typically, my book sales tend to pick up toward the end of June and then accelerate through the end of the year and into January. In my experience February sales level off, but overall remain strong through most of March before plummeting precipitously when April hits. Sales historically have continued to languish until mid-June when the cycle begins anew.

The circumstances outlined above were again true for me during 2018. My primary goal of the experiment when I decided to try writing episodic fiction was to see if it might pull my book sales from the doldrums during the late spring and early summer months.

As a review, I launched the first episode in the Perdido County serial, Hard Road, on May 14. The release of the second episode, Someone's Daughter followed one week later on May 21. Since then I've released the third episode, Illusions, June 4. Episode 4, Fentanyl, will be released next week, June 18.

Using Preorders for Serial Fiction

All episodes have been made available for preorder on Amazon. While my Malone series books have usually done quite well in preorder, my other books have never attracted a lot of interest until released. Typically for other books I've sold only a handful of preorders. So, I wasn't expecting a large number of preorders for the Perdido County episodes and haven't been pleasantly surprised. I've sold a few for each episode, but the numbers haven't been amazing. That's fine though because I've only used preorder for the series to make certain the episodes get published exactly on the promised dates. In other words, preorders have only been used for scheduling purposes.

That said, I feel making the episodes available for preorders has been worthwhile. If nothing else, I feel it showed potential readers I had the commitment to deliver all ten episodes as promised.

Advertising Serial Fiction

For those who may be curious about it, I didn't spend a huge amount on advertising the Perdido County serial. I have spent a nominal amount on BookBub ads, but mostly I've relied on weekly #BookBubbles through Bublish to take advantage of free social media advertising to get the word out. Bublish is a platform I highly recommend. It provides a super means of advertising your books (or in this case serial episodes) on social media without it appearing like you are spamming your followers with "but my book" posts.

Impact of Writing Episodic Fiction on May Book Sales

As I've said, I didn't approach this serial fiction experiment expecting to make heaps of money from episode sales. Certainly if enough readers end up buying or reading all ten episodes on Kindle Unlimited, even at 99 cents for the first episode and $1.49 for the other nine, it could produce a good amount of income. Still, my overarching goal was to increase the visibility of my other full-length novels on Amazon through more frequent publishing. More visibility is often the major driver in increased book sales. Based on only the first 30 days of available sales data, I believe the experiment is achieving my goal.

Now to the bit most authors will be most interested to learn about. How has writing episodic fiction impacted my May 2019 book sales?

Drum roll please. My books sales during the month of May 2019 increased by a rather astounding 2,180 percent over May 2018 sales.

I have published a new book in both my primary series since May 2018, and hopefully after another year has passed more potential readers have discovered my books. But, I believe I must attribute the most significant part of the impressive improvement in book sales this May over last to the greater visibility generated by the serial fiction experiment.

Most of the book marketing experts I'm familiar with believe the frequency of publishing directly impacts visibility, especially on the behemoth Amazon platform where readers have around ten million eBooks to choose from. Publishing content bi-weekly is an effective way to do that.

Impact on June Book Sales

The sales data for June is far more limited than May being only twelve days into the month. But, thus far it still looks very good. For one thing, based on historical sales data, my book sales picked up earlier in June 2019 than in June 2017 or 2018. For the first twelve days of June, my book sales for June 2019 have increased at a far more modest pace of 518 percent over June 2018 in comparison to the May figure. But, I'm confident if June book sales stay on the present trajectory, by month's end, the increase may surpass May by a few percentage points.

Kindle Unlimited Reads

I wasn't sure what to expect from Kindle Unlimited page reads. Frankly, I'm not a fan of KDP Select or the companion Kindle Unlimited program. Regardless of what Amazon or anyone else might tell you, the paltry amount Amazon pays out to authors based on page reads computed solely by Amazon with zero independent verification is not a good deal for average authors like me. A 300 page novel for example, enrolled in KDP Select will earn an author less than half the cover price of the book when people read it on Kindle Unlimited.

That said, I think enrolling serial fiction episodes in KDP Select can be a good decision for other reasons. First, Amazon puts some amount of organic promotion behind books enrolled in KDP Select that the company does not put behind books not enrolled in the program. And, Kindle Unlimited page reads figure into the super top secret "we can't tell you how works or we'd have to kill you" Amazon algorithm. But, page reads do impact a book's ranking on Amazon like sales do, at least to some degree. The higher the rank, the more visibility.

Profitability aside, I think enrolling the serial in KDP Select has been a good decision. Since May 14, I have had very few days without at least a few hundred page reads by Kindle Unlimited subscribers. From the standpoint of visibility of all my books on the platform, that's a bonus.

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In conclusion, based on the early data, it seems writing episodic fiction can be an effective way to help fiction authors improve the visibility and discoverability of their books on the Amazon platform. Check back next month for another update if you're interested to see how my June 2019 results compared to May at month's end.

The ninth episode of Perdido County, Election Day, was completed this week and is now available for preorder.  So, I have only one episode remaining to write and publish. That takes the Perdido County serial out to August 27.

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