Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nebula Nights - the Making of a boxed set

Boxed sets are a popular commodity at the moment. You see them everywhere, collections of stories by a variety of authors, grouped under some unifying label. But there's a lot of work involved in putting a set like this together. That's why we thought we’d share our experiences and lessons learned.
Earlier in the year, one of the members of the SFR Brigade asked for volunteers for an SFR boxed set. Eleven of us promptly banded together, and our Nebula Nights collection appeared in e-bookstores in record time. Since its release at the beginning of August, the set reached #1 on Kobo and All Romance, and charted as high as #3 on Amazon in science fiction romance. The book maintained an Amazon ranking above 10,000 for most of those three months. So you could say it did well. At the end of October, our contract with the publisher expired, so we decided to go it alone, since the set is still selling quite strongly. This article is a combination of what we did, and what we learned from our experience with the publisher.
Ready to go?
What's your goal?
There's no point in embarking on a project like this if you don't know what you're intending to achieve. In creating Nebula Nights, we wanted to showcase our genre, and encourage readers to purchase more of each author's work. In quantifiable terms, we aimed at reaching one of the major lists, like the NYT or USA Today. It’s good to dream big! 
Don't expect to make money
Let's face it, boxed sets are loss leaders, intended to lure readers on to our other books. We had eleven stories, most of which were full length novels, on sale for $0.99. Any money we earned was split with the publisher after Amazon and the other ebook retailers had taken their slice, and the rest went on advertising. Self publishing the set won't be much better, in terms of royalties.
Choose a theme
Boxed sets ideally have a unifying theme. Readers want to know what they're buying, hoping to find at least a few titles that fit their interests. In our case it was relatively easy – science fiction romance. We didn't limit the heat level. There are books in the collection ranging from sweet to erotic, although most are best described as spicy. Say three on a scale of 1 to 5.
Collect a group of committed, enthusiastic authors
This part can't be stressed enough. We had eleven people whose only trait in common was that they wrote SFR books. Some had decades of publishing experience, others less than a year. All of those women had to meld into a group to make decisions, and to provide essential input in a timely manner. If any one of us had faltered, the project would have been delayed.
Just a word about timeliness. Originally we’d thought of publishing the book later in the year, to give ourselves more time to get organized. Then we realized that the boxed set trend was growing by leaps and bounds and if we didn’t get Nebula Nights out there fast, it might not receive as much notice as we’d hoped. If you’re trying to ride any new, innovative marketing trend, the trick is to be as close as you can to the frontrunners. Publishing is ever-changing!
Bear in mind also that boxed sets are loss leaders, so there's not much point for an author with only one or two books available to participate in a boxed set. The ideal situation is if you have a series already out there for readers to buy, and can put the first story into the set, thereby enticing people to branch out later and read your entire series.
Choose a publisher
There are plenty of firms out there offering their services to put together a boxed set. Do your homework, compare what each company is offering. Read the contract. Make sure you:
  • Retain your copyright and all other rights. You must read the fine print, ask questions, negotiate anything that you find to be a problem for you. It doesn’t matter if every other group of authors the publisher has worked with accepted the terms and conditions – this is your book and you have to watch out for your own best interests.
  • The company can only use your book for this boxed set
  • There is a time limit on the boxed set which can be extended by agreement from all parties
Of course, you can elect to do the work yourself, as we have for the second edition of Nebula Nights. In that case, you'd need to be very sure about your contributors' commitment, and be certain you have the skill sets in the group:
  • formatting
  • uploading
  • marketing
  • social networking
Choose a title
The group brainstormed ideas, a short-list was created and then we went with the most popular. Yes, we did consider 'Love Among the Stars' – but that had already been used fairly recently for a boxed set about movie stars. Lesson learned: research your titles. It’s a good idea to check Twitter and Facebook as well, to see if the title or some variation is already being used, as a hashtag for example.
Commission a cover
Based on the collections' name (Nebula Nights: Love Among The Stars) we commissioned a cover designer. We discussed two options and everyone had input into tweaks. After that, it was a consensus decision.
Determine the order in which the stories appear
Several options were canvased for order of appearance in the anthology. We could have listed the stories alphabetically, by title or by author name. Or had the works by the better-known authors first, or last. After discussion, we used a random number generator to come up with an order.
Provide the publisher with the manuscripts
The publisher took the eleven books and put them together to form the boxed set. We had expected that formats for each book would be the same, with a title page and chapters. A hyperlinked table of contents would allow a reader to jump easily to any title.
After the boxed set was released we realised the formatting was not as we had hoped. For this second version one of the authors, a computer professional, took on the task of formatting the book. Once the work was completed, each of us checked our own book in the collection and signed off on each version (mobi, pdf and epub) after any errors were corrected. This is an important aspect of quality control.
Produce abbreviated blurbs and author biographies
The typical blurb found on the back of a book for an individual story is too long to use in a boxed set. Readers want to be able to peruse a table of contents and quickly get a feel for what the books are about. Each of us came up with a two line summary of her story for the blurb, and a few lines for an author biography.
However, you still will need a blurb that summarises the whole set. That led to another round of drafting and editing from everyone. This is what we ended up with:
11 Sci-Fi Romances that'll sweep you away!
If you like your science fiction blazing with adventure and your space opera spiced with romance, this boxed set is for you. From first contact to battles for survival and love on war-torn planets, this collection from bestselling & award winning authors, including Cathryn Cade, Veronica Scott, PK Hrezo and more, will leave you sighing with satisfaction.
Promotion and Marketing
Yes, as always, these activities are required. Sorry about that! There's no point in doing all this work if nobody knows it's out there. One reason we initially went with a publisher was that the company offered a marketing package, to be paid for by earnings. But as a group we went much further.
  • A number of people paid for additional advertising on sites. These are just some of the possibilities available
  • Night Owl Reviews
  • Requested and got a mention on Dear Author’s daily deals
  • eReader Cafe
  • Romance Junkies
  • The Romance Reviews
  • Coffee Time Romance
  • The Daily Bookworm
  • Kindle Books and Tips
  • Digital Book Today Deal of the Day
  • The Kindle Book Review AND The Kindle Romance Review
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Nation Daily
  • Bargain Booksy AND World Literary Cafe
  • Ebook Booster 99 cent bargain site register.
  • The Kindle Book Review Kindle Fire Giveaway
  • My Romance Reads
  • Facebook ad boosts
  • etc
  • We created a Facebook page for Nebula Nights and organised a fun, fast-paced online launch, with two authors taking one hour slots over a five hour period. We continued to share fun photos with the page, to keep reader interest.
  • Produced a blog hop with author interviews
  • Added one-line review quotes for each book into the editorial section of the book's listing on Amazon
  • Came up with a hashtag for Twitter, and a bunch of tweets
  • Trumpeted the new collection on our own websites and pages
  • Were featured on the USA Today Happily Ever After blog
What did we learn?
It has been a great experience, combining the skills and talents of eleven very different individuals. The spirit of cooperation has left a lasting impression on all of us. So much so that everyone was happy to take on the task of a new release without the help of a publisher.
One disadvantage of working with a publisher is that we won't know actual sales figures for another few months. Many of us are used to publishing our own books, and are accustomed to being able to see actual sales figures as they happen – which is an advantage when planning marketing campaigns.
For the new release, we have concentrated more on quality control, to ensure readers have a smooth, uniform experience. Although the original version was readable for most, some people encountered formatting issues, and that's the last thing we want.
The boxed set in its original form was a bit too long. The publisher told us it was the longest collection that she ever produced - well over one thousand pages. The larger the book, the longer it takes to process – to produce the anthology, upload to sales sites, and download to customers. Ten authors may have been a better number, if only from the point of view of perception. Ten is neat.
We didnt break onto any of the nationally-recognized best seller lists wed been hoping for, but it was good to have that as a goal, out there in front of us, encouraging us to keep doing the promo. Some of us did see satisfying spikes in the sales numbers for our other available novels. And I think we succeeded in bringing renewed attention to the science fiction romance genre, which is always an excellent result.
If you haven't bought your copy of Nebula Nights, here are the links to the new, improved version. It's an absolute steal for $0.99. 
 And (ahem) if you enjoy it, do please leave a review.

Her Cybog Awakes - Melisse Aires
With her cyborg turned warrior by her side, Sabralia must stand up to each danger and challenge or lose the man she loves. Sensual Sci-fi Romance.

Duty knows no family. Love has no price. Secrets can cost you everything.In this Japan-inspired tale, one woman's family destiny is key to the survival of the last city on Earth.

Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc. - PK Hrezo
A futuristic romance along the winding path of time. It's the year 2069 and even though eighteen-year-old Bianca Butterman is heir to the family time travel biz, she never expected to be earning her official time-craft license with golden boy pop superstar, Tristan Helms, in tote. Her life is about to get a lot more complicated ... and exciting.

Noelle In His Heart - C.E. Kilgore
A holiday romance with a sci-fi twist! Noelle wishes for someone who understands she has love to give but commitments to honor. Stranded on Earth, Steve longs for someone who will understand that his alien heart can love just as deeply.

Stark Pleasure - Cathryn Cade
Can she survive the perils of the galaxy on her wits ... or will she have to use her body?

Birth of an Empire - Catrina Taylor
War rips lives apart, but three people will show the universe that love can bring about peace.

Escape from Zulaire - Veronica Scott
Winner of both a National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award and an SFR Galaxy Award!
When the planet erupts into war, Sectors Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane must decide whether to save Andi Markriss, the intergalactic businesswoman he loves, or sacrifice her to save Zulaire.

Solia's Moon - Lyn Brittan
When her terraforming company expands into creating humanoid life, Lunar Physician Solia Calian has to find a way to stop them. She'll have the help of her ex, the mysterious sheriff Giancarlo Sable, but they'd better hurry up. When the creatures they want to liberate start turning on them, figuring out where the real danger lies is the only way to leave the colony in one piece.

When Sara Donovan joins Project Enterprise she finds out that what doesn’t kill her makes her stronger. An Air Force pilot – the best of the best to be assigned to this mission – Sara isn’t afraid to travel far beyond the Milky Way on an assignment that takes her into a galaxy torn apart by a long and bitter warfare between the Dusan and the Gadi.

Iron Admiral: Conspiracy - Greta van der Rol
The Galaxy teeters on the brink of war. Can ex-admiral Saahren persuade the woman who hates him to help him prevent the coming conflagration? And perhaps even love him?

Mirror Image - Kristina Gause Stutts
When one woman learns the truth of about herself, she must accept reality beyond comprehension, and face an enemy who wants her dead. Paired with her clone, and the one man who makes her heart flutter the world must be saved at all cost.


  1. I took part in a similar box set this year with What Tomorrow May Bring, a box set of dystopian novels. It was quite successful (I noticed a significant uptick in sales after the launch, and for several months after). It definitely exposed me to a new batch of readers.

    My advice for anyone doing one of these is to urge every author involved to make the box set exclusive to Amazon in order to take advantage of the promo opportunities (as well as Kindle Prime and Kindle Ultimate).

    We couldn't do that, as some authors weren't willing, or weren't able, but I would definitely make a much harder case for that next time.

    1. I'm one of those authors who refuses to go exclusive to Kindle. For many reasons. If I did, most of my family wouldn't be able to buy my books. We're a family of Nook owners.

      I also have major problems giving Amazon even more control of the ebook market. I haven't shopped with them in several years, because I don't like the way they do business.


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