When is a book not a book?

Christmas crackerIt’s the season of dreadful cracker jokes, so in the spirit of ‘When is a door not a door?’* here’s a festive riddle for you: 

Q: When is a book not a book? 

A: When it’s a series. 

OK it’s a rubbish joke, but the point is very serious. 

One huge mistake that first-time authors make is to try to cram everything they know into their book. The book – and possibly you, and almost certainly the reader – will likely collapse under the strain. (How do I know this? Because I make these mistakes so you don’t have to.)

Productivity expert Grace Marshall put it well in her Extraordinary Business Book Club interview when I asked her for her one top tip for novice business book authors: 

See this as the first book you’re going to write, not the last book you’re ever going to write.  Rather than, “I’ve got to write everything” or “I’ve got to write the best thing ever,” see it as the first book, as a starting point. 

Takes the pressure off at a stroke, doesn’t it? And it allows you to be so much more clear and focused in your message. In our ridiculously busy world, less really is more. Nobody will thank you for burying the nugget that will change their world deep inside a 100,000 word book. 

One of my recent workshop attendees was planning a book around thriving in later life, and feeling stressed about the sheer range of stuff she needed to include. What if she left something out? How could she possibly do justice to every topic – health, finances, work and so on? We reframed it as a series, and the question then was simply which topic she’d focus on first. 

Here are a few good reasons to consider a series rather than a single book:

  1. You can write shorter, more focused books, more quickly. Which means each one is more likely to get done. 
  2. You can do each topic justice, rather than having to cut it down into a single chapter. 
  3. You can target your audience’s needs much more precisely. Which means it’s more likely to be found and purchased by the people in the market for solutions to that problem at any one time. 
  4. You can cross-promote titles in the series: list the forthcoming titles in the front of the first, and add to the series list each time you do a new one. 
  5. You’ll almost certainly make more money from 6 books at £5.99 each than 1 book at £15.99.
  6. On some platforms, such as Kobo, you can do an ebook box set which gives people another way to buy (Joanna Penn has a great blog on this, although it’s primarily focused on fiction). 

So if your book is getting out of control, check it’s really a book, and not a series in disguise. 


*When it’s ajar. Geddit?