When you have a series, the key to successful marketing is coax readers into reading book #1. You want readers to be enthralled, fully hooked on your characters and your writing style, and excited about buying book #2 (and book #3, etc.). When I finished book #5 in my Mike Stoneman Thriller series, I took a hard, objective look back at book #1, Righteous Assassin, and came to a somewhat disappointing conclusion. Book #1 was not as good as the rest of the books in the series.
It wasn’t that much of a surprise. Righteous Assassin was my first attempt at a thriller. Four years later, I was a better writer. My plots were tighter. My dialogue was better. My characters were richer and more interesting than they were when I started the series. As a result, marketing book #1 as a reader magnet was destined to be less successful than I wanted it to be. Why? Because the book wasn’t as good as it could be. It wasn’t as good as it would have been if I wrote it in 2022 instead of in 2018. How do you fix that? You do a full edit of that first book and then publish a second edition.
It’s like dragging yourself down into that dark basement where you left the body of the guy who tried to murder you last night. You don’t really want to go, but you know you must. You need to take a hard look at your old writing. In my case, I had to cut. The original edition was 125,000 words. It was too long. The audiobook was 13 hours. Value for your money, but too long to effectively market. I had to cut, and hack away text I had sweated over for months. I cleaned up the dialogue, cut excessive dialogue tags, trimmed long chapters, and made the book better. I also sent the whole revised text to my editor for a full re-edit.
In the end, the second edition of Righteous Assassin is not only better, but more consistent with the following books in the series. The original text had more graphic violence than any of the other books, which focus more on the characters and relationships – even with a little romance. The serial killer story of book #1 needed a certain amount of violence to define the killer’s character and set the mood properly. But it was too much. Several reader reviews mentioned it. Readers who continued on to the later books and who were expecting the same thriller-level descriptions of gruesome killings were bound to be a little disappointed. Meanwhile, many big fans of the later books told me they almost didn’t keep reading because the violence in the first book turned them off. Since the later books were much less violent, I needed to make book #1 more consistent with the tone of the later installments. It was a difficult undertaking. It tore at my heart to cut my prose, but it was needed. Now, readers of book #1 have a novel that is an appropriate example of the writing style and quality they will experience in the rest of the series. As a reader magnet, Righteous Assassin is now exactly what I need it to be.
If you are in that spot – where your writing is better now (after several novels) than it was when you started book #1, consider making the effort to review and revise that first book. Things for you to consider include:
- · Look at the reviews of book #1. Are there recurring criticisms that you could fix if you had another shot at the plot, characters, writing style, or pacing?
- · Ask your most loyal fans (your street team or newsletter subscribers) to give you some honest feedback about what they didn’t love about book #1.
- · Send your revision out to a team of beta readers who will give you brutal criticism.
- · If you had a DIY cover for your first book, now is a great time to refresh the cover images to make your cover pop and make it more consistent with your subsequent books. (If the whole series has less-than-wonderful covers, perhaps refresh them all.)
- · If you didn’t have a professional editor for your first book, now is a great time to send it out for a full professional once-over. (I can give you a good recommendation.)
- · If you didn’t get great editorial reviews for book #1, send out your revised versions to magazines, bloggers, and fellow authors and get some good editorial review blurbs for your book’s sale page, back cover, and for your website.
Every marketing guru will tell you that the best way to sell more books is to write more books. Now that you have done that, the best way to get read-through on all the books in your series is to make sure that book #1 is the best it can be. Remember, this is the book you will be marketing hard. Your future series sales depend on a great first book. Take the time, make the effort, and you won’t be sorry.
Kevin G. Chapman is the author of The Mike Stoneman Thriller Series (currently five books, with book #6 due out in 2024), along with two stand-alone mystery/thrillers published since publishing book #1, Righteous Assassin, in 2016. Visit Kevin at www.KevinGChapman.com.