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1: Should I continue my series or start a new one?

This week we answer a question posed inside our community Slack group: 

I’m putting out the third book of a trilogy in March, and I have a small group of loyal and non-family readers who would like to see this series continue. And I would like to keep writing it. However, I’m a better writer now than in the first book. Would starting a new series with a stronger first book be a better idea from a marketing and time management perspective?

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Transcript

Crys: Welcome to The Author Success Mastermind podcast. Which we will be referring to this as TASM (taz-um) going forward because that’s a mouthful. I’m Crys Cain and I’m with my cohost… 

J: J Thorn. what’s up, Crys?

Crys: Oh, always a ton in good ways and bad ways.

J: Where are you? Where are you recording today? 

Crys: I’m in my bedroom, my palace. 

J: There’s a little story that goes along with that. Why are you in there today? 

Crys: Yeah,  my roommate decided to have band practice today and I happened to have three recording sessions, and so I have retreated to the most insulated and heated room in the house. So it is quite toasty.  But we’re just going to get the work done. 

J: That’s right. 

Crys:  Our first question for our first full episode comes from a member in our mastermind group.  We thought this was really interesting because it is something that a lot of authors come up against after they have their first few books out.

 I’m going to paraphrase what they said: 

I’m putting out the third book of a trilogy in March, and I have a small group of loyal and non-family readers who would like to see this series continue. And I would like to keep writing it. However, I’m a better writer now than in the first book. Would starting a new series with a stronger  first book be a better idea from a marketing and time management perspective?

J: Interesting. What were your initial thoughts on this question? What was your gut reaction? 

Crys: My gut reaction is to ask the question, what is your goal? And this is really, really hard for a lot of newer writers to answer, because when I ask them is your goal reader satisfaction or is your goal money? They say both. 

And the problem is you have to pick one and that answer is never going to be the same for the same reasons for two different writers. 

J: Why do you think you have to pick one? 

Crys: You can’t measure a metric that has multiple endpoints. 

J: Okay… example? 

Crys: You can’t say have two completely different success metrics and want them both.

So reader satisfaction and money might be… what’s the word for when they’re the opposite of each other? You might have a lot of financial success, but actually low reader satisfaction. You know that you didn’t put the, those other books out, or that you continued this series and they didn’t like it, but other readers liked it or you can.

It’s hard to have them both go up at the same time at the same rate. And that is what most people expect. “Well, I want it all!” You might luck out and get it up well, but if you want to have success and have a point at which you can say, “I succeeded at this.” You need to say, “This is the thing,” the one thing that I am going to gear everything toward. My efforts, my time, my planning are going to make that one thing happen, secondary things might happen along the way. And I can fudge my plans to support secondary things, but if I am pointed in two different directions, I’m not going to end up going, very far. 

J: So this is a really tricky question. Let’splay out a scenario here.

Let’s say that this author wants to go for reader satisfaction. She doesn’t care about the money. How do you know if your readers will be more satisfied if you build on your existing series versus starting a new one?

Crys: Well, with this particular trilogy, I would ask, does the trilogy wrap up satisfactorily? That’s part of the question. Readers are always, your loyal readers are always going to want more in a series. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give it to them.

If you’re arbitrarily wrapping up that third book when it’s not ready to, I would say that’s probably a negative on the pursuing reader satisfaction if that doesn’t match with your personal desires. 

There’s so many factors, it’s so complicated making any of these decisions because it’s so particular to each author and what they want out of things.

If the series could simply be continued easily, but it is wrapped up, and you’re choosing to continue this series for your readers’ sake, but you don’t actually have the heart for it because you’re also not receiving monetary compensation, then it might be time to start a new series and hope that your readers do follow you and that you gain new readers. 

I think a lot of it just depends on how satisfied you as the author are with what you are receiving. If you are receiving the accolades from your readers and that’s enough, great. If you’re receiving the accolades, but you’re disappointed in sales, maybe you do need to move on to the next series and just come back to that first series as you have more energy for it. 

J: Interesting. So I’m being a little cagey because I answered this question in Slack and I don’t, I think I came at it from a different angle than this author was considering it. And I can’t take credit for this. 

This is totally Annie Duke, but I warned her about being guilty of resulting. And this is one of those things it took me a long time to wrap my head around this… whether it’s “should I write the next series?” or “should I change my pen name?” or “should I ask that boy out?”

All of these, what we do is we base our decisions that we base the quality of our decisions on the results of those decisions. And if you say that to somebody, will they go well? Yeah. Like, how else would you judge a decision and when Annie Duke says is we’ve got that all wrong.

It’s something she calls resulting.

And she sees that in poker players. So the way resulting works with poker players is they have a particular hand and they sort of know the odds. Poker is not an exact science, but there are certain hands and that you play them a certain way. 

So if you’re a poker player and you have a particular hand and you know the odds are in your favor, if you play this particular card, and then you play that card, that is a good decision, regardless of what the outcome is, because you are informed about your options. 

You understand the situation and you make the best decision with what you have. 

What you can’t control is the rest of the world, luck, fate, whatever you want to call it. So you could make the exact right play, make the right decision and still lose the hand. 

And so what Annie Duke said is that poker players can’t be guilty of that because it distorts their decision-making process. They can’t base their decisions based on the outcome. 

And so that was my sort of response to this author. I said, you can’t judge the quality of your decision based on the outcome.

So you can’t say, “Well, I’m going to continue in this series,” and then have it bomb and then say, “See? That was the wrong decision,” because you can’t control that. Nobody can control success. Like if we could, every movie maker would make a number one blockbuster hit. Every author would write a number one New York times bestseller every single time, if we knew how to control the outcome. Right? 

But we can’t. So what I told her was, let go of the outcome because that’s out of your control and ask yourself what is it you really want to do. Now to give some context, it’s a good decision no matter what she decides, because she is an accomplished author. She has written and published many books. She understands her audience. She understands her readers. 

It’s  not a decision that she’s just sort of making up on the fly. She’s being very thoughtful about it. She’s gathering all the information that she needs, but then she’s going to make a decision and the result of that decisions out of her hands.

My recommendation to her was just do the one that you really want to do and then let go of the outcome. It seems like it got her moving in the right direction. That’s a simple exercise I try and do with myself. And I’m just as guilty of it. I look back at decisions I made, I see what the outcome is and I say, Oh, that was a good decision or not based on the outcome, but that’s kinda not how it works.

Crys: I agree with most of what you said, particularly the bit about at the position she’s in either decision or any decision is the good decision based on why she chooses it. I however, have made a lot of decisions that aren’t the thing that I want to do. Putting this in, in the poker player’s gambit, I might want to play that risky card that could pay off or that risky hand that could pay off really well.

But the logical hand is something different. And I consistently,talking specifically about, I continue to write romance when it is not the thing I want to be doing because it’s logically the thing that is going to get me where I want to be right now. 

So when we’re talking about someone who is in this position and there isn’t a logical play, like the choice can’t necessarily be made 100% on logical, you brought it back to the thing you want to do.

I think an extra question is, is there a logical play here that works with what I want to do? Because my end goals matter more than my short-term goals for me. And if there isn’t any particular logical play, then the logical thing is to do the thing I want to do. Does that make sense? 

J: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think I disagree with that.

The big example that I use, is in 2017, I made an awful terrible decision, which was too quit my teaching job  when I was making $200 a month on royalties with about two months severance pay coming. 

That was a terrible decision. I never should have made that decision. It turned out, but that doesn’t make the decision a good one.

At the time, I did what I wanted. My wife, she knew it was risky. She said, “I believe in you.” But that still doesn’t make it the right decision. The right decision would have been, wait, save up some money, maybe six months income continue writing at night, slowly transition. That would have been the “right” decision.

But that’s not the one I made. Now, like I said, that the outcome is separated from the decision-making process, terrible decision, good outcome. So that’s sort of the inverse of it. 

Crys: When should people make terrible decisions? 

J: I don’t know. That’s… I mean, that’s, we might be going in circles here, but  that’s where I think I come back to this author and I said, just… like whatever you want to do.

Like I think for her, like her options were so similar, I don’t think it mattered. And I think that was the point I was trying to get to her. I think that the closer your options are to each other, the less it matters. And the more you can just sort of go with your gut or do what you want to do. 

There are decisions where the options are radically different.  I think that’s a different situation. And I think if you willingly make a really terrible decision, Most of the time it’s not going to work out in your favor. But when you’re weighing options and those options are very similar, then you get into paralysis by analysis, trying to figure out all the permutations on each branch of that decision.

And if they’re not that different, you just have no way of knowing. 

Crys: Yeah, I will say another tool that I use for making decisions… I use it most often when deciding what we’re going to eat for dinner, because my roommate and I can do there about that forever. So I have come to the point where I will ask arbitrary questions. It could be like as simple as, for debating about pasta or a rice, I’m like, well, do you want to throw it in the Crock-Pot or do you want to cook it on the stove?

Neither one matters, but you just have to pick an answer. And if I have any leaning towards one or the other, I just go with it. When you’re dithering about, what do I want of these similar questions? Make an arbitrary decision if you do not actually have any strong leaning towards one or the other.

J: Yeah, I think too, especially within the realm of publishing and marketing,  the options are very similar. This could be another example. She didn’t ask this, but do you put your book in Kindle unlimited or do you take your book wide?

There’s there are people who will line up and die on the sword of KDP. And there are people who will die on the sword of going wide. There’s not a right answer to that question, which means you can’t really make a bad decision because you don’t know what the outcome is.

You could say, well, I want to go into KDP select because I’m going to make so much on page reads. 

You don’t know that.

Again, like we go back to the bestseller idea. If we knew what sold, every one of us would write a bestselling book every single time. And that doesn’t happen.  

It would be a bad decision if you had no idea what KDP select was, and you’re like, Yeah, I’m just going to try it. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how it works, but I’m going to give it a shot. 

Like, well, that’s a bad decision because you haven’t done your homework. You haven’t looked at the possible scenarios. But once you have all the information, or once you have the most information you’re going to get– 

Because that’s another thing is we never have all the information in life. We never do. There are just times where we’re going to have to make a decision. We don’t know everything. We don’t even, sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know. 

But if you’ve gone through and you know in your heart, if you’ve like really gotten to the bottom of what you can and figured out what you can, if you’ve investigated the difference between KDP and going wide then you just make a decision. The results might not turn out the way you want, but it doesn’t mean it was a bad decision. 

Crys: I agree with that. And I think that’s why I emphasize so much when everyone, anyone asks, what should I do about X, Y, Z? My question is, what do you want out of it?

Even though that sounds like it’s a results based question, it’s more like, what are your boundaries? What are your, morals isn’t the right word… But like, what is the kind of thing that you want to build? What are you working toward? 

And most people can understand that in a goal oriented question versus setting up some kind of grand statement of their purpose in writing and publishing.

And so if I asked somebody, well, what is it that you truly want? That’s asking them the question, trying to get them to dig into a high level so that they can look at whatever options are before them and say, well, this is the logic that gets me there someday. 

J: Yeah. And I think that I agree with you and that’s something Zach and I used to say all the time on the Career Author Podcast, which is a variation of what you’re talking about.

What’s your why? Why do you want to do that? What do you hope? 

It doesn’t mean that you can get it. It doesn’t mean you can decide your way to that result, but at least knowing what you hope to achieve will then help inform you about what you need to figure out to make the decision.

Crys: Absolutely. 

J: I think that’s a great question to kind of kick off the podcast, and it’s certainly an interesting one because every day, whether you’re,  publishing books yet or not, you have to make decisions.

I would love to hear if folks want to comment, tell us what’s your decision-making process? How do you make decisions? How do you determine the quality of your decisions? Or react to anything we said, it’d be, I’d love to hear it. 

Crys: Comment below! And if you would like to join in any of these conversations real time, you can check out The Author Success Mastermind.

Comments on 1: Should I continue my series or start a new one?

  1. R.J. Spears says:

    Yay! Another podcast by J. Thorn! (and you, too, Crys)

    Seriously, loved this episode and the way the two of you answered the question.

    I do agree that you have to take into account in what makes you happy (if that’s your “Why”) and that there are a multitude of factors outside your control.

    I think there is another factor, though, and that is time. For me, there are many projects that can make me happy, but if I spend a lot of time in a single series, I could be facing an opportunity cost loss when it comes to exploring other writing projects that make me happy.

    And this is coming from a guy who is working on book 9 in a series and also wrote 4 companion books to the series.

    1. Crys Cain says:

      Logic + joy = decision

      is probably the closest equation I can come to. Time availability definitely fits into the logic element.

    2. J. Thorn says:

      Thanks, buddy! And yes, time is also a variable to consider.

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