A Few Measures of “Success” for a Series

As a writer sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re on the right track. Sometimes it’s obvious. If you have a thousand five-star reviews on a book you can bet that book has found an audience. And if you win awards or see people talking all the time about how wonderful your book is, that’s another one. Obviously, people writing to you and telling you how much they loved your book is also a good sign.

But most books don’t have a thousand reviews, good or bad. And most books aren’t so amazing that they generate buzz. And most readers aren’t going to drop you a line even if they love your book.

So a couple things I look for when it comes to a series of books:

First, I want my top also-boughts to be the rest of the books in that series. The theory is that also-boughts are generated from the list of how many people who have bought Book A have also bought Book B. If your other books aren’t in the top of your also-boughts then that means more people who bought your first book bought someone else’s book rather than your next book in the series.

To me that says that the first book they bought had potential but that it didn’t meet that potential.

This is less true in non-fiction than in fiction, but I do still look for it with my non-fiction titles. Here, for example, are the current also-boughts for Excel for Beginners:

Excel for Beginners Also Boughts 20181029.png

You can see here that there are four other books of mine in the top 7 also-boughts and that the two Excel titles that are in the same series as Excel for Beginners are in the first and second positions.

Even after a big promo I still expect to see this, because I expect people to buy my second in series more then they bought other books promoted on the same day. Here are the also-boughts for Rider’s Revenge in the UK. It had an international Bookbub a couple weeks ago:

Riders Revenge Also Boughts 20181029 in UK.png

A promo might mix up the also-boughts beyond those first few positions, but my books should always hold the top spots.

Second, I want to see that my review average is increasing as the series continues. This is definitely more for fiction series that must be read in order. The theory here is that with book one you’re going to attract readers who are not your reader, especially if you run price promotions that let people sample your work for free or 99 cents.

Those readers might review that first book but then should drop off as the series continues, which means that the people who review the later books in the series are the ones who liked the first books in the series.

If your review average is going down as the series progresses, then you’re somehow not satisfying the readers who did like the first book in the series. Mayeb you gave them the literary equivalent of cotton candy in book one and then offered them mussels in book two. You don’t want to do that. You want to keep the readers you found satisfied.

So, for example, here are the Goodreads ratings for the Rider’s Revenge series.

Goodreads Review Average RR Series 20181029

You’ll see that there are fewer reviews as the series continues, but that the review average went up as the books continued (from 3.75 to 3.94 to 4.25). If instead book 3’s review average was a 3.25, I would known that I’d failed to end the trilogy in a way that satisfied the readers who had stuck with the series to the end.

Now, granted, it’s not a perfect way to measure if you’re doing well with a series. (I actually consider the Rider’s series to have been a bit of a commercial failure. It took until just now to breakeven.) But it is one way to judge a series performance.

And it can tell you other things about your writing.

So, for example, my contemporary romance pen name has two novels and a novella. If I look at the also-boughts for each of the novels the other novel is in that #1 slot, but the novella is not in the #2 slot. It’s in the top 5 of the also-boughts for each novel, so it’s up there, but not right at the top. That’s because not all novel readers are novella readers and so that difference in story type means lower sell-through to the novella.

It’s also not the same characters, which could be another part of it.

That tells me that for that name I’m better off writing another novel than a novella. And perhaps staying in the same story world.

So if you’re seeing that your other works aren’t in the top of your also-boughts, ask yourself why. If it’s a related series, then you’re not hooking readers into continuing somehow. If you’re writing standalone works then it could be a different length or different type of story issue. Figuring out the cause and fixing it can make a significant difference in how well you do going forward.

Just something to think about…

(And note that I chose examples where this was actually the case as opposed to the ones for my books where it isn’t. Trust me, I have ones where this isn’t the case.)


Save the World, Grow a Rose

There’s a book I want to write about a grandmother who saves the world by growing roses. It seems like a ridiculous premise, right? What’s interesting about that? Where’s the conflict, the tension, the struggle, the triumph?

But, see, I think sometimes we focus too much on the conflict and triumph. We focus too much on escalation.

Today another disturbed person lashed out and took innocent lives. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they did so in an environment of escalating tension and rhetoric. That they did so during a time when people are being encouraged to take sides, to protect what’s “ours”, to see those who aren’t like us as a dangerous other.

It’s so tempting in times like this to lash out. To take the hurt that others cause us and spread that hurt. To receive hate and return hate. They hurt us, let us now hurt them. An eye for an eye, right?

It’s so much more difficult to take hate and turn it into something beautiful. To take the negative energy of others and instead of spreading that negative energy with our reactions or our words, to instead transform that negative energy. To use that awful momentum from an act of evil and somehow use it to produce a thing of beauty.

Because we each have a choice. To spread darkness or light. To push others down or lift others up. We have a choice to take what comes at us and spread it onward or transform it.

I haven’t written that novel yet, because I’m not sure how to write it. And I’m not sure anyone wants to read it. Think how boring or how frustrating it would be to see someone’s world attacked or destroyed and to see them take that pain and heartache and instead of fighting back to dig in the soil, plant the seed, water the soil, pull the weeds, and grow something of beauty in the midst of loss. To see them not fight back, not take an eye for an eye, but instead just…grow a rose.

I’m not sure I could do it if it were me. I’m not sure most of us could. I’m not even sure most of us should. What would that mean. Would you have to let evil run unchecked? What happens to hatred when it’s met with silence? Does it grow? Does it become more powerful? Maybe it withers. And dies. Maybe it tries harder for a time and then dies without fuel to keep it going.

I don’t know.

But I do wonder what the world would look like if each of us took the ugliness we experience and found a way to stop it instead of spreading it. If each of us found a way to transform this pain and loss into something beautiful or productive.

I suspect the world might be better for it. But I’m not sure I can do it…I’m not sure any of us can.

Selling Direct

In this business if you’re not moving and trying new things, you’re dying. So I spent most of the morning uploading files to Payhip so I can sell ebook versions of my books directly from this website.

Now that I’ve done that anyone who wants to should be able to purchase the .epub and .mobi versions of most of my books without having to go to Amazon, Kobo, Nook, or Apple to do so. (I don’t currently list my non-fiction titles on Google because they seem to give away the whole book if you’re search savvy enough.)

They can just go to my Payhip store instead: https://payhip.com/mlhumphrey

There is a way to create direct links straight into Paypal, too, but for now I’ve just set up the Payhip store. It was pretty straight-forward from what I could tell. (I might’ve messed something up and not know it yet.) So I’d say definitely worth taking a little time to set up.

A few things for anyone thinking about doing it:

1. I originally had separate products listed for the .epub and .mobi versions but because there’s no easy separation into product categories on the page it quickly started to look messy doing that, so I had to go back and delete the second version for each title and then upload the second file type to the remaining version for each title. Save yourself that time and just have one product with multiple files for each title instead.

2. They have some nice cross-promo options that are incredibly easy to set up. For example, now if someone buys Excel for Beginners through my Payhip store they can get a 10% discount on Intermediate Excel if they buy it at the same time.

3. I’m not 100% happy with the appearance of the store or book page. I really wish I was a CSS whiz right now so I could customize the heck out of my store, but I’m not, so it is what it is. (I did a quick internet search and no one seems to be selling CSS templates for something like that either if there is someone who is a whizz out there looking for a business idea. My main issue is not being able to have sub-section within the store. I’d love to be able to have an Excel Essentials section and then those three books and then Word Essentials and those three books, etc. rather than have everything all grouped together the way it is right now.

4. They do seem to be actively improving things. I found a blog post from earlier this year that had some wish list items that now exist, so I hold out hope for the future.

5. It’s free to get started if you’re willing to pay 5% of each sale on top of Paypal’s fees. (So figure about 10% total cost per sale). If you’re doing well enough they have two additional plans you can choose that charge a fixed monthly fee and then less per transaction. No getting around Paypal’s fees, though.

6. I didn’t find the support information terribly robust. We’ll see if that’s a problem if and when I get sales and/or if and when I have issues with those sales.

For now, I think it was a few hours well spent. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Writing Books Available in KU

I forgot to mention that my general writing advice books are now available in KU, so if anyone had wanted to try one but wasn’t sure about shelling out the cash, now would be a good opportunity to do so.

Writing for Beginners, Excel for Writers, and Achieve Writing Success are all now available via KU.



I wrote a post earlier about how furious I was with Amazon for disappearing a large chunk of my paperback sales for the last six weeks. I took it down not because I am okay with what happened, but because I was giving them too much benefit of the doubt. I assumed it was just some mis-reporting on the dashboard glitch that they’d fixed. Nope. Turns out they have disappeared all print sales for my top-selling print title. I emailed about it as soon as I realized the sales were missing and emailed again when I realized the cause but six hours later they haven’t even bothered to acknowledge my emails.

With business partners like Amazon who needs enemies?

That Hurt…

I just put up a post on my Alessandra Clarke blog announcing that I won’t have a new novel out under that name before year end. (Also announcing that Rider’s Revenge is on a 99 cent sale this week and that the box set is just $4.99.)

It hurt to write that, because even though I only have a dozen or so people who probably care, I don’t like not doing what I said I would do. As a matter of fact, if I had made that promise to one specific individual who I knew was waiting for the book I’d probably force myself to work insanely long hours to get that book out just to keep that commitment. (I’m #5 Responsibility on Strengthsfinder. It’s what we do.)

I have always envied those people who had one direction they knew they wanted to go in and who went in that direction without hesitation. With writing if you can be that person and you give readers what they want, it’s a path to tremendous success. (If you don’t give readers what they want, it can be heart-breaking to an extreme because that’s the only direction you want to go.)

But the fact is, I’ve never been that person. In high school I played three sports, enjoyed all of my classes except history, and also did mock trial and other extracurriculars. In college I triple majored and would’ve majored in ten subjects if they’d let me.

And because I’ve never been that person I have to pay the cost of it. Namely, with writing, the slower sales build and the risk of disappointing fans with what I choose to write next.

The good thing about my approach is that I am diversified and can shift direction easily. (Assuming I want to, which is another thing entirely…)

Anyway. Thought I’d share my writerly pain of the day. In good news, I did finish the first draft of that cozy mystery before my Strengths coach training so am hoping to get it edited and published in the next month. (Which will give me a whole new batch of fans to disappoint! Good times! Haha….Sigh.)