As authors, we write the best stories we can. Regardless of whether we’re writing for passion or writing to market, the goal is to produce our best work. And while we might think that what we’re writing is our best, unfortunately, a lack of sales and negative reviews tell us it’s not. If you’ve written enough books, you know what I’m talking about. Every author, at some point in their writing career, will face a book or a series that, for whatever reason, didn’t meet expectations. For the sake of this post, I’m going to talk directly about series, but this applies to standalone books, too.
There are several reasons why a series fails to meet up to our expectations. It could be that we rushed the series before we gave it enough time to percolate in our minds. We might feel pressured by a deadline or have some readers who are anxious for the books, so we do whatever we can to get them out there as soon as possible. Or maybe we happen to be at a difficult period in our lives where it’s hard to give our everything to our work. Anything that puts us under stress (whether it be loved ones, financial burdens, or even our health) can affect our ability to focus clearly when we’re writing. Or maybe what we’re writing doesn’t meet a defined set of expectations for a particular genre. Whether we want to hear it or not, most readers go into a series with a set of expectations for the genre they like to read. If we don’t meet those expectations, we often disappoint them. That doesn’t mean the series is bad; it just means that the series didn’t satisfy the list of things they wanted to read when they picked up the series.
Most series, thankfully, meet up to our expectations, and every series we put out there will stay published as long as two things are accomplished. These two things are good sales or good reviews. You don’t need both of these. You just need one. If you don’t have one of these, then it’s really hard to convince yourself the series is worth keeping up.
This leads me to the topic of this post. What if the sales AND reviews on your series suck? What are your options?
1. Take the series down.
I’ve done this to some books in the past. What’s the point in having something up there that obviously disappoints a lot of people? We already take a hit from the negative comments that come in our emails, blogs, social media messages, and the like. We are aware that our books don’t please everyone. Having the books stay up there where they continue to get slammed while not making money off of them gives us no incentive to keep them published. In fact, it often seems like those books are making us look worse.
We only get one book to make a good impression. Readers don’t usually purchase another book unless they like the first one they pick up, and we have no control over which book they will choose to read first. Making sure each book is liked by the majority of people who read them is in our best interest. We don’t aim to please everyone; we just aim to please the people who read our genre.
There’s nothing wrong with unpublishing anything. Contrary to what some will say, you don’t have to keep up everything you’ve ever done.
2. Rewrite the series (or the weak books in the series) and republish it.
If you love the series, this is worth pursuing. But this has to be a series that you are absolutely passionate about. It’s worthless if you’re just writing to market. If you’re writing to market, just move on to another idea because there’s a chance this rewrite might not pay off.
Here’s what I do when I’m not sure if a book is worth republishing or not. After I’ve unpublished the book, I work on other books. I wait a year or two. If that book keeps poking at me to put it back up, I’ll rewrite it and republish it. If I have no such inkling to get it out there ever again, I let it go. This is a long-term approach, but I’ve never regretted doing a full rewrite if the book kept prodding me to work on it.
Now, some series won’t require extensive rewrites on all of the books. There might be one or two that needs work. I’ve done it both ways. If you believe in your series and totally love it but have one weak book, it might be worth taking that weak book and giving it an overhaul. But only you can determine if this series is worth it because you’re the one who is emotionally invested in it. It’s highly unlikely that a reader is going to love your books as much as you do.
Never put in this work and effort for an “eh” series. In my experience, it hasn’t been worth it. I’ve made this mistake early on, and I wasted half a year on this fruitless endeavor. In the end, I unpublished it all over again, and this time I put it away for good. I haven’t missed those books at all.
3. Write a brand new series with the same ideas or characters.
This is kind of like the rewrite, but it’s not. You’re basically starting from scratch. Everything can be different. Sometimes you can fall in love with your characters and not want to unpublish “them”. If that’s the case, you can bring them back and put them in a different storyline. Give them different conflicts to overcome. And if, let’s say, you didn’t like the characters, create new ones. Then put them in the same idea you had before. You’d be surprised how much a story changes when you bring in different characters. Maybe these characters will make your original story idea stronger.
One exercise to try (and I do this, too) is to work on a story/series in your mind for a few weeks. Don’t write anything out. Just let things evolve in the mind. Explore the different angles you can try. See what would happen if certain things were changed. Then decide if any of those scenarios spark your interest. If something deep within gets excited by one of the avenues you mulled over, then it’s worth a closer look.
I took down a series, but for reasons other than sales and reviews.
Hmm… This is an interesting position because it’s coming from an angle I hadn’t thought of. It sounds like your motivation was more of a personal one than one that can be gauged from objective measures. And now I can’t help but compare an emotional reason from an objective one. If this series was making $3K a month, would you still have taken it down?
Maybe. It certainly helped that I wasn’t making that much a month.
I agree. It is a lot easier to put away a series if it’s not making anything. I’ve kept a series up that definitely wasn’t my best (it is “way too modern for historicals) because they consisted of my most reviews and sales. I’ve also had a few that I wasn’t too thrilled with that I kept up due to sales and reviews. Books I did pull off usually had no interest in them at all, so it was a no-brainer to take them down.
Ah, the business of writing. It is a colorful, creative world we live in. But it is still a business.
Yep. As much as we might want to embrace the passionate side of things, we still need to be practical. 😀
Although, to be fair, reviews and sales can be viewed as emotional since they do impact us.