Friday, 5 June 2015

How to Make a Box-Set: Lessons Learned by Jane Davis


Jane Davis
How to Plan a Box-Set


In 2014 I experimented with producing two box-sets, firstly releasing my own three novel box-set, and then collaborating with six other authors to produce a multi-author limited edition box-set. 



'Outside the Box: Women Writing Women' a bundle of 7 novels by 7 different authors in a limited edition.

I called my own box-set Second Chapter as it contains what I consider to be the results of the second chapter in my journey as an author, which began after my first novel, Half-truths and White Lies  won the Daily Mail First Novel Award in 2009 and was published by Transworld. Second Chapter contains three full-length novels, I Stopped Time, These Fragile Things, and A Funeral for an Owl. The idea was simple. I wanted to attract new readers by offering three books for the price of two.

Of course, single author box sets are the perfect solution for authors who write a series, as JJ Marsh explained about her European crime novels on the release of The Beatrice Stubbs Box Set: 'Readers often say that after reading one, they immediately want the next in the series, so a box set is a handy way to get three at once. As I plan six Beatrice Stubbs novels in total, it seemed logical to split them into two sets. Box Set One contains the first three novels and can be read in any order.'


My collaboration with six other members of the Alliance of Independent Authors was slightly more unusual. While collaborative efforts like this have been fairly common among genre fiction authors, we were not aware of any other multi-author collections of contemporary novels. This post will focus on the multi-author box-set as it is the more complicated of the two projects, but many of the issues highlighted apply equally to single-author box-sets.



Orna Ross, Joni Rodgers, Roz Morris, Kathleen Jones, Jane Davis, Carol Cooper, Jessica Bell - Seven very different authors.
Why?

The idea was simple. We wanted to explore the power of the group. A box-set aggregates reader bases and the theory was that our combined reader bases would result in increased sales. But there was more behind our project. We also wanted to demonstrate the tremendous quality of fiction that is being self-published.

Things to consider when deciding who to collaborate with:

The group will need to have share the same values and aims, and these should be set out in an agreement (something I will return to later), which can serve as a useful reminder of why you started out on this journey when the going gets tough.

Make sure you are happy to champion the other authors' books as you would your own. We were fans of each others' fiction before we came together as a team.

No two books should be too alike, but they must have enough in common to appeal to the same target market. Our decision was to focus on our characters and the boundary-breaking nature of our fiction.

Make sure that the other authors are eligible to participate. (Better to discover sooner rather than later if they have signed up to KDP Select).

Find out if all of the books have been professionally copy-edited and proofread. (Assume nothing. You will save time by asking this very simple question).

Do the books have a high number of 5 star reviews? You may find it very difficult to garner reviews for a box-set, especially if it is only available for a limited period, so it's a good idea to have a stock of headline quotes to draw from.

Outline Agreement

Once you have an agreement in principle, now comes the nitty gritty. Even though it may be your intention to operate on trust, there are certain issues that you must nail down at the outset.

Decide how you want to work on a logistical level.  Will one person act as the overall leader or manager or will each author take responsibility for a different area of responsibility? What issues will you put to the vote and how will decisions be made if you are up against time limits?

Set out your main aims and what you are prepared to do to achieve them. How else will you measure your success?

There should be a written agreement that each author will retain his/her own rights, but grant consent for the party taking responsibility for uploading the e-book to publish it. (This really is a key responsibility. That same person will receive all of the proceeds from sales and will have to act as treasurer for the team. We are so grateful that Jessica Bell took on this mammoth task.)

Release date - bear in mind that print magazines put their books and features pages to bed three months before publication. Newspapers have a faster turnaround, as do radio and TV, and two months' notice may well suit them. Whilst you may not have aimed for publicity via these channels when self-publishing as an individual, don't underestimate the power of the group. We were featured in a number of major publications, The Guardian, The Sun and New Edition to name but a few.

Pre-orders - now available on most platforms.  A word of caution: our experience was that people want e-books instantly.

How long will the box-set be available for? Consider the appeal of a limited edition product (the rarity factor) v the benefits of having the product available as a 'taster' of all of the authors' work in the longer term. If some of your authors have published only one or two books, they may be less keen for the box-set to remain on sale. We decided on a period of 90 days only.

How will the product be priced?  Box-sets are usually value-priced, meaning that the box-set costs the reader far less than purchasing all the books individually. Generally, the more limited availability is going to be, the keener the pricing needs to be. We settled on a price that represented a discount of 75% off the price of the books if bought separately, which represents tremendous value, but was at the top end of the e-book pricing scale and this undoubtedly had an effect on sales.

What is each member expected to contribute, both in terms of money and time? I was simply blown away by the skill-sets within our team. Having a cover-designer, interior formatter and website designer in-house meant that we didn't have to pay other professionals for these services. And there was surprisingly little overlap in skills, so we were all able to play to our strengths.

How each member will be paid and when (Pay Pal is useful).

A general statement of commitment to summarize what is expected of everyone.


Branding

Title - As well as capturing the theme that links the books together, it's a good idea to mention the word "box-set" in the title, together with the number of contributing authors.

Cover design - 2D v3D? As instructed in the Smashwords Style Guide, Smashwords can't accept '3D' images (a digital rendition of a three dimensional box-set). And they are not alone. If you wish to publish on any other platform than Amazon, and you only want to have one cover image, it will need to be 2D.   NB: All authors should be listed on the e-book cover image.

Your brand will extend to author photographs, memes, Facebook banner, website domain name and design, all the way to any Twitter hashtags you adopt.

Our brand also extended to video trailers and promotional goodies to giveaway.

Jane's latest novel 
Formatting and Interior layout

You'll combine the multiple books into a single e-book file. While a Table of Contents is not essential for individual novels, it becomes crucial for box-sets.

We listed each book and author name, and included a short bio, blurb and headline quotes after each title page. You might also add "Other books by Author Name" or "Connect with Author Name," with electronic links.

Proof-reading - It is vital to ensure that errors have not been introduced during the formatting process. Set a clear deadline, but don't underestimate the amount of time that will be required. As a minimum, each author should proof their own book and one other novel.

Communication within the team

How the team communicate is critical. We found it extremely helpful to set up a closed Facebook Group. We also created a shared spreadsheet which was effectively a diary of all of our marketing efforts. This ensured that we didn't duplicate efforts and that we weren't all asking favours of the same contacts!


Publicity Campaign

We were fortunate to have our product endorsed by respected industry professionals, including Alison Baverstock and Dan Holloway, who gave us amazing quotes which we were able to use on our cover and in press releases.  We also made The Guardian for International Women's Day and were recommended reading in The Sun.  [Note: It helped that Carol Cooper is a columnist for The Sun, and that Roz Morris is one of the tutors on The Guardian masterclass series of  fiction workshops.]

We utilised social media to full effect, adopting #womenwritingwomen as our hashtag, setting up a Public Facebook Group and targeting reader groups.

Press Releases - we designed three separate press releases with slightly different emphasis in order to suit the bias of the publications we intended to approach.

We wanted to come up with a fresh idea for giveaways that would cost very little but treat the winning readers to something of genuine value. Joni Rodger's daughter (Jerusha Rodgers of Rabid Badger Editing) created a fabulous digital swag bag that included a critically acclaimed novel by Joni, a free music album download by Jessica Bell and a host of delightfully fun and artsy surprises. We also gave away a couple of Kindle Paperwhites. Giving away upscale prizes in a promotion builds awareness, and brings us email addresses and other takeaway benefits.

Joni is also experienced in audio editing, so she created our book trailer - again using one of Jessica's songs. She also made a 60 second review for each book in the set.

Blog tours - we adopted a dual approach, pulling in favours and paying for a blog tour.

This is the link to our website with links to our trailers and video reviews and full information on the seven authors - Orna Ross, Carol Cooper, Jessica Bell, Roz Morris, Joni Rodgers, Kathleen Jones and Jane Davis.


What we will take away from the experience:

Joni Rodgers: I've learned a lot about marketing and production, and that's something I'll gratefully take with me when our 90 days is done.

Roz Morris: Certainly I learned that promotion in a group gives you more courage. I find it agonizing to write assertive press releases on my own behalf, but it was dead easy for our ensemble. I'll channel that when I start bumbling through a release for my next book.

Kathleen Jones: I enjoyed working with such a diverse group of writers whose books and professional expertise I admired. And it was good sharing the load.  One of the problems of being a one-woman band is that you can't be good at everything - in a group there's usually someone who can do what you can't.  Collectives, or creative collaborations, are - I suspect - going to be a good way forward for Indie Authors.


Jane Davis's first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as 'A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.' The Bookseller featured her in their 'One to Watch' section. She has since published five further novels.  Compulsion Reads describes her as 'a phenomenal writer whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless.'   Her latest novel is An Unknown Woman.

To find out more about Jane Davis:
Visit her website: www.jane-davis.co.uk and subscribe to her blog
'Like' her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage
Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/janerossdale

Follow her on Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/







3 comments:

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Fascinating account, Jane. What were the general results in terms of sales? And perhaps more importantly, what was the knock-on effect afterwards and did you collate the stats as a group purely for your own information? I can imagine that this taught the participants a lot in terms of publicity and promotion, but I'd be very interested to know whether it had a significant impact on sales of individual authors on digital platforms. It seems like a lot of hard work, but then any worthwhile venture is - it would be worth it if there was a significant rise in sales across the board.

Mari Biella said...

Very interesting, Jane, and full of useful information and ideas. It sounded like fun, if hard work! I think that collaborative ventures of this sort may well be useful for authors, especially indies.

julia jones said...

Very useful - clear and stimulating, thanks