What Makes an Author Bundle Successful?
It’s no secret that we at Reedsy like to explore the power of communities and what they bring to authors and publishing professionals (maybe because we’re building one ourselves!). I firmly believe that authors grow stronger when they unite and work together, a prospect that–like indie publishing itself–only gets easier with new and better technologies.
While the notion that “like attracts like” brings independent authors together with other indies, and hybrid authors in commune with other hybrid authors, the next wave of online community-building is a frontier awaiting those eager to experiment and explore new opportunities. Outside the Box: Women Writing Women is the perfect example of that: 7 indie and hybrid authors (all members of the Alliance of Independent Authors) launching a “contemporary fiction” bundle, available for purchase on Amazon for a limited time.
Sharing resources, sharing readerships
The idea behind such a collective effort is simple: explore the power of the group. “I’ve admired the power that author collectives like Triskele Books have,” says Jane Davis, author of the novel An Unchoreographed Life, which is included in the Women Writing Women project. Creating a bundle, is, in a way, like forming a collective for a limited period of time.
Boxsets usually have an “expiration date” that functions for two reasons: First, it creates a sense of rarity. This, coupled with the uniting of several prominent voices, makes it easier to generate excitement both among readers and in the media. Or as writer, editor, and bestselling ghostwriter Roz Morris told us in an email:
“We’ve already been interviewed by The Guardian books pages, Books + Publishing (the Australian counterpart of Publisher’s Weekly) and have interest from the arts programmes of BBC Radio 4. If any of us had approached them on our own– impressive though our CVs might look–we probably wouldn’t have got even a reply.”
More importantly, a bundle aggregates reader bases. While it’s likely that some of Davis’s readership already knows a couple of other authors in the bundle, they probably haven’t heard of a majority of authors included. So it’s still a bargain for them to get the bundle and the 4-5 books they haven’t read yet for $12.
Cumulated reader bases usually result in cumulated sales. Though sales aren’t usually the #1 objective of forming a bundle, they can unlock additional discoverability potential. Let’s take the example of the Deadly Dozen. This boxset was released in March of last year by The Twelve, a consortium of thriller authors who joined their marketing and promotion efforts and managed to sell over 100,000 copies in the first six weeks, hitting both NYT and USA Today bestsellers lists.
Though the boxed set was priced at a mere $0.99, appearing on both bestseller lists tremendously increased the profile and discoverability of The Twelve, and gave its participant authors access to new readers they might have never have found on their own.
The Twelve’s Deadly Dozen was pulled a few months after its release. The 7 authors from Outside the Box have also set an expiration date to the bundle: it will be available for 90 days, and not one more.
Why run bundles on a limited period of time if they sell so well? First, there’s the rarity factor that comes with a “limited edition”. But more importantly, bundles usually record most of their sales in the first few weeks (as do most single books); box sets are more about aggregating existing readerships than finding new ones, unless you hit a list or special ranking or get exceptional PR – which all bring immediate results anyway. Once these readerships have purchased the bundle, there aren’t necessarily many more sales to be made.
David Gaughran also shared a similar experience with me when I asked him about The Indie Author Power Pack, a box set he released in October 2014 together with Joanna Penn and Sean Platt/Johnny B. Truant:
“The primary aim with the box was to shoot for the NYT. The original plan was to leave it up only for November and December for two reasons. 1) All the promo was front-loaded to try and hit the NYT so sales were naturally going to tail off anyway, and tail off faster than if we were aiming to, for example, maximize sales or maximize income. 2) Plan B if we missed the list was to slowly raise the price as it fell in the rankings and make some money out of it. And 3) Sales of the box set were cannibalizing sales of the individual titles, so it was always going to be a temporary thing.”
Raising the voice and standard of self-publishing
There is something even more interesting in the Outside the Box initiative. When I asked the authors about their goals, they didn’t mention hitting lists or even making sales. Instead, they focused on the excitement this new projects brings both to them and to readers. Kathleen Jones expressed it perfectly in a recent email:
“I’m intrigued by the contrasts and resonances that are set up when you put seven very different books and authors together. You know your work is going to be read by readers who wouldn’t normally have bought it. There’s an edge to that and it’s very exciting.”
The main message that comes from this initiative, though, is really the desire to brandish and wave the indie flag as high as possible. By uniting 7 critically acclaimed works of indie contemporary fiction, their authors hope to demonstrate that author publishing is a valid quality route even in a genre that is still perceived by many as a traditional publishing chasse guardée, according to Jane Davis:
“I would like to change readers’ perception of self-published fiction, particularly those who are clinging to the belief that it is the preserve of amateurs. I too was sold that line.
The fact is that there is a new breed of hybrid authors who look at each writing project and decide if it is one to submit to their publisher or one to go it alone. With the Society of Authors advising their members that publishing contracts are no longer fair or sustainable, my belief is that the predicted growth in self-publishing will now come from authors who are currently under contract.”
Roz Morris goes on to express a similar concern, which she hopes this bundle will continue to tackle:
“We want to prove that fine, original authors are self-publishing as a mark of independence and integrity, and doing work of value and quality. You might ask: is that still necessary? Does anyone still consider self-publishing to be ‘vanity’ or second rate? They clearly do, because this is one of the issues we’ve been asked about most frequently.”
To achieve this noble goal, the authors spared no effort when it came to giving the bundle the polished feel readers expect from sets managed in traditional publication. Each author contributed to production and promotion according to her strengths. Far from a collaboration in name only, the effort seems to have made a bona fide community of these writers that can only serve to better this project and the women’s individual endeavors.
Finding the right balance
When we think about bundle success, a lot depends on pre-launch marketing and promotion, and on the number of authors involved. But I believe there is one inherent quality to a bundle that the author-partners absolutely must get right: the diversity balance.
The books in the bundle must be diverse enough to make the box set interesting for readers (and to reduce their likeliness of having already read all its books). On the other hand, all books in a box set also have to be written in such a way that they appeal to the same target market–grouped either by genre, theme or core topic (non-fiction).
Even within fiction, the landscape for bundles has become much more competitive. In his 2015 predictions for the publishing industry, Mark Coker announced that he believed this year would be one of collaboration between authors. If that is the case, we are about to see many more bundle efforts across all genres, which might threaten, in time, the “rarity” factor that has so much to do with their effectiveness.
In that regard, the 7 authors of Outside the Box: Women Writing Women are ahead of their time; “contemporary fiction” bundles are rare due to the broadness of the generic distinction. But Outside the Box has been structured around an original common core that Joni Rodgers describes as “artistic integrity, serious craft chops and an unshakable belief that books by and about women are important.” Says Jane Davis:
“I think it’s an incredibly strong set of books without borders. I don’t insult my readers by assuming they only like to read one type of fiction. Visit any book club and you’ll see that readers welcome variety. […] But the irony of fighting against labels is that, ultimately, it was necessary to define what the box-set was about. Our decision was to focus on our characters and the boundary-breaking nature of our fiction.“
It might very well be that OutsideThe Box: Women Writing Women is setting the template for indie author bundles in 2015. Here’s to their success.
We want to personally thank all the authors of “Outside the Box”, and David Gaughran, for their answers to our numerous questions on their respective experiences.
This post was edited by our lovely editor Becca!
What’s your take on author bundles? Have you ever contemplated doing similar? What’s been your personal experience? Do let us know what you think in the comments below!