Lessons Learned from Boxed Sets

highland-shifters-3d-new_2000I’m no expert on the subject, but I did have some “lessons learned” from two boxed sets to which I recently contributed. I had certain expectations going in…

  • I’m going to make a lot of money!
  • I’ll get lots of new readers!
  • This will be easy to do!
  • I’ll get on a list!

Some of those expectations were satisfied…and some were not. And if you’re not familiar with a boxed set or what’s involved–like I wasn’t–the following information are things I wish I’d known going into such a project.

How Does a Boxed Set Work?

I participated in two boxed sets in 2014. Excessica (Selena Kitt’s company) did the publishing of the set for Highland Shifters (HS) and 7th House (Victoria Danann’s publishing company) did the Passionate Bites (PB) boxed set. These two authors also contributed their own stories. So in this situation, we had participating authors' own companies handle the publications.

But there are also many people who have started their own companies to specialize in producing boxed sets – coordinating the compilation of the books and handling the formatting, the cover design, the publishing and finally, all the accounting to pay out the royalties. Sometimes, even the advertising.

Whoever publishes the set usually takes 10% off the top after the money starts coming in and it's usually paid out per quarter…which means you might not see your money for several months. What company publishes the set is only part of it.

The authors who participate in the boxed set are the biggest element and will make or break a project.

This is a group effort and the point is to combine our fan bases to generate enough sales to make money, but also to get exposure. Which means you should know the authors you're grouping with and trust them.

You want people who are going to work hard to get the word out and not sit back on their haunches and let everyone else do the work.

Boxed sets are a lot of work – marketing, contacting bloggers and FB pages, and newsletters going out to everyone's mailing lists. Some boxed sets require money up front for advertising. Others take all advertising out of the royalties. AND some authors put their own money into advertising on top of group contributions and efforts.
One more thing that feeds into the success of a boxed set is WHO is in the boxed set. You want to be sure you have some pretty big names or money-makers participating and their name gets to be on top.

My Lessons Learned

I think the MAJOR difference between the two sets was HS was all new material (except for my book, Midnight Hunt – Book 3, which had already been published) and PB was ALL backlist material. THAT was probably our downfall in PB and why we weren't as successful as HS.

Readers want all new material, so if you're going to participate in a boxed set, I would highly recommend all the books in the set be new material AND exclusive. None of the contributions to the set should be published elsewhere or separately until after the group agrees to take the set down.

Why only new material? If you put your backlist titles in the set, you're competing with yourself. My new release came out just after the two boxed sets were released and I did NOT make the money I hoped I would.

“I'm waiting for Passionate Bites to come out so I can get Midnight Captive. I can't wait!”

*groan* Yes, this was said several times in the FB events we were doing – both at the parties for the sets and my new release parties. I just wasn't thinking about this when I joined these sets, but I didn't have time to write new material. I was already late on my new release and was under pressure to get it published before I lost my pre-order privileges. Lessons learned that I hope others can benefit from.

Moving Forward

All that being said, boxed sets are starting to wane a little in interest. They're not quite as popular as they were last year and Amazon and the NYTimes bestseller list have changed things up a bit to compensate for the high rankings compilations were getting. NYTimes has now cut their qualification list from the top 25 bestselling books to the top 20 books. Many boxed sets were just squeaking by and getting their “letters”.

SIDENOTE: Making those lists requires sales of at least 10k copies for USAT and 14k copies for NYT in one week. Making a list is a lot of hard work for everyone involved.

If you want to participate in a boxed set, here are a few things to keep in mind…

  • Make sure you have the time to write a new story or have one ready to go. Most of the boxed sets have a length limit of 15k-30k per author due to the number of people contributing, so shorter pieces might be easier for you to do as a side project. And it must be publish-ready – edited and formatted based on the boxed set specs (usually communicated in the group).
  • I do NOT recommend timing a new release with a boxed set release. Though the new material won’t be competing with your back list, your marketing efforts will be DOUBLED. PITA! However, if you have the time and budget to do both…more power to ya!
  • Do your research!!!
  • Talk with other authors who have done boxed sets and ask them who they used to package it. Some publishers know what they're doing and some don't.
  • Ask about the costs involved (some groups require money up front for advertising).
  • Who did the advertising, what advertising was done and whether or not they were able to make any lists.
  • Ask them what they learned from the boxed set experiences and what they wish they knew before going into it.

I've heard from a lot of authors that they are burnt out on doing these, so making a list is more difficult because of the decreased interest in working hard enough to get sell enough copies to accomplish that task. And because of the lack of interest, you might have a rough time finding some of the big names to come along for the ride…unless you tell them they only need to send out a notice to their mailing list. The bigger the name, I hear, the less work they need to do because their name is carrying a lot of the sales. The perks of being a bestseller.

Expectations

I was disappointed in a few areas regarding what I thought I was going to get out of a set and I think going into a boxed set with the right expectations will help make it a positive experience.

  • DON'T expect to make money. Most boxed sets are released at 99 cents out of the gate. HS had 13 authors and PB had 9, and some sets have had up to 20 authors contributing! Remember that you're splitting 34¢ between all the authors in the set AND the publisher gets 10% off the top before the split AND the marketing budget is also taken out of that (if that was part of the agreement). Though the price of the boxed set eventually rises after the interest has peaked (in some cases), the sales soon drop depending on the set. That's not to say you can't make a good chunk of change, but not expecting it will make that check all the sweeter! So don't do these for the money.
  • DO expect to get exposure. The best thing about a boxed set is the exposure to new fans. Many authors make the mistake of inviting other authors to their FB parties, thinking they'll bring their fans with them. That is rarely EVER a reality. However, when authors participate in a boxed set, this is most definitely the case! I've seen comment after comment in the reviews of the boxed sets and my own novels where readers have said they learned about new authors AND readers have personally contacted me saying, “I learned about you through the _______ boxed set and I just had to get the rest of your books! I'm so glad I discovered you and you're now one of my favorite new authors!” *sigh* This is something to get excited about.
  • DON'T expect a lot of sales on your backlists…at least not right away. Even though you have a lot of readers giving the above feedback, the actual purchases of the your other books comes trickling in and not enough to really blow you away. Many people add you to a list and don't go out and buy your books until they're ready to read.
  • DON'T expect to make a list…but try really hard to do so! It's not to say you can't make a list…but the rules have changed. I've learned it takes a LOT of money in advertising to get a set on one of the lists and they rarely make the money back. I'm talking a few thousand dollars. AND many authors already have their “letters” so why put the effort in to make the list again? Boxed sets are now more about the exposure to new readers. NY Times and USA Today have changed some of the rules and criteria to making a list specifically because of boxed sets. Let's be honest – it's gaming the system. Who wouldn't want 20 stories for 99¢???

Those are most of the things I wished I had known going into a boxed set. Have you participated in a boxed set? Did you have a similar experience? Do you have any lessons learned you'd like to share? Please leave comments below to help others.

That's my two pence…

Self-Publishing Earns Authors More Money

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