There has been much industry talk and speculation that serials are on the decline. Well, this week I spoke with C.C. Wall, the author of the horror mystery thriller series Black Star Canyon, who believes serials are alive and well. We also talk about the importance of deadlines, the beauty of the cliffhanger, and why Dexter should have stopped after Season 4.
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Black Star Canyon – Season 1, Episode 1 (Available free!)
Creep Creepersin’s Amazon Profile Page, C.C. Wall’s Horror/Bizzarro Alter Ego
Angela McConnell – Responsible for these excellent show notes and action steps.
bknights on Fiverr.com
kindlenomics on Fiverr.com
From Local Legends to Movie-Making to Self-Publishing
C.C. Wall grew up in Orange County, not far from Black Star Canyon, the inspiration and setting of his horror mystery serial thriller. A local hiker’s hangout, Black Star Canyon also served as the local meeting place for satanic killers, werewolves, windigos, and other urban legends. Naturally, the first chance he got as a kid to go out there on his own — at night — he took it. Yes, he saw red eyes in the mist.
As a kid, C.C. developed a love for soap operas, thanks to his grandma overriding He-Man in favor for Days of Our Lives. He loved that serials created a space for characters to actually exist and live and grow for indefinite periods, like real people, something that making movies didn’t always allow for.
Not that he didn’t love making movies. In fact, before the Black Star Canyon series, C.C. made a name for himself as a fast and budget-conscious screenwriter, typically turning out screenplays in four days, keeping production costs down in the script, and then often directing and/or producing the project in a matter of days. While this training proved to be beneficial in his own writing approach, he found it difficult for a while to shake the small budget-conscious mindset and think big.
Black Star Canyon was originally conceived in 1999, as a television pilot. Influenced by such popular cliffhanger series as Twin Peaks, Lost, and Dexter (up to Season 4, mind you), C.C. Wall knew he wanted to do Black Star Canyon in a soap-opera style, following the characters through lengthy, continuing story lines. However, a television pilot with 35-40 characters can be very expensive to produce, and thereby, very difficult to sell. So he continued to make movies.
While C.C. had previous experience with a small press publication, it was pre-Kindle and the Big Digital Disruption, and it wasn’t until December 2013, that he published the first book in the Black Star Canyon, following up the debut with weekly installments. Today, he is just one episode shy of completing his third complete season in the series.
Writing movies in 4 days trained C.C. Wall for fast production, and he’s definitely used that to his advantage. While writing a season, he typically turns out 17,000-word episodes in a week’s time from draft to publication. C.C’s production schedule is admirable: he starts writing on Thursday, sends out his pages to beta readers as he goes along, gets everything to his editor (and collaborator and amazing book cover designer) Zoe Humphries by Saturday or Sunday, makes all the corrections changes, and gets it posted up on Amazon on Tuesday so that it’s available for sale on Wednesday. Then he starts the next one. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
The Benefits of Having a Deadline
C.C. Wall doesn’t flub his own deadlines. His movie-making experience has left him with the enviable sense that he will “get in trouble” if he doesn’t have his story done in four days. That sense of urgency translates into more than just a well-received story — it fires up a sense of urgency in his own characters, often resulting in him blazing through 8,000 words in a day as he approaches the end of an episode.
Damn Sexy Book Covers
Zoe Humphries, C.C.Wall’s collaborator, editor, and Podcast 451 co-host, is responsible for the distinctive look of all the Black Star Canyon books. Wall was inspired by Saul Bass and old Hitchcock movie posters, and knew he wanted the covers to feature geometric shapes. The result is noir-inspired works-of-art in branding worthy of hanging on one’s wall.
Pricing Strategies for Serials Using Kindle Unlimited
Initially, C.C. Wall launched his first season episode at $.99 for a week, then bumped them up to $1.99, and then finally offering the complete season for $2.99. The reason for the $1.99 price point was not necessarily to entice readers to buy the individual episodes, but to encourage them to go for the better deal of $2.99 for the complete season.
Starting with Season 2, however, he launched episodes at $.99 for a week, then bumped them up to $2.99 (thus, giving him the 70% commission versus the 30% of $1.99), and finally offering the complete season at $3.99.
After Season 3 was launched, Wall noticed that his Kindle Unlimited sales were going up “a lot” on individual titles, a fact he attributes to two possibilities: either increased marketing, or the increased pricing. In fact, his earlier episodes are coming off of the KDP Select exclusivity period, and he intends to make the season compilations available on all platforms, while keeping the individual episodes in Kindle Unlimited.
Marketing Strategies for Serials
Wall’s series received a huge spike in a free book promo — his first book in the series is permafree — by scheduling three discount promotions back to back using ReadCheaply.com and two Fiverr gigs. As a result, he’s seeing a nice long tail from the promotion, he’s seeing a good read-through rate, and he’s experiencing consistent numbers. So far, he’s only experimented with promoting his free book, but he plans to promote paid titles in the future.
Building a Subscriber List with Free Content
C.C. Wall tried four times to publish “Welcome to Black Star Canyon: A Tour Guide to the Town,” to Amazon’s platform as a non-fiction companion guide to the series. The book is attributed to Ernest Wilson, the Black Star Canyon Town Historian…who also happens to be a completely fictitious person. He is, in fact, a character in the book. The book was denied publication based on right to publish (Wall had to prove he had the author’s permission) and that there was too much content in the book that could be found on the Internet. So Wall made the book available exclusively on his website, giving it away free to new subscribers, a win-win strategy for both him and his readers.
In addition, Wall has focused on writing auto responders with headlines that read like non-fiction, sort of click-bait stories from Black Star Canyon, with the main goal being to engage the reader, pique their curiosity, and keep them reading for more.
Street Teams – Gamifying Things
Street teams are basically die-hard fans who are willing to help an author promote their books through word-of-mouth, beta reading, and social media. Podcast 451, which C.C. Wall co-hosts with his collaborator Zoe Humphries, recently interviewed author Michael Coorlim, who has “gamified” his street team by offering points and rewards for various tasks that support the series. Gamifying things makes everything more fun, even building habits. Coorlim’s strategy inspired Wall to gamify his own street team by offeringThe Secret Society of Black Stars Training Manual, which outlines the various ways fans can earn points and rewards.
What’s Next for C.C. Wall?
More serials, of course. After he wraps up the series of Black Star Canyon, he is planning a weekly, open-ended series called “The Gavel,” with an old pulp feel. Also on deck is “Hit Man Black,” sort of a dark version of James Bond.
Under his Creep Creepersin pen name, he has more Zombie Alpha books coming out, as well as more Shallow Giallo titles.
- Productivity is the key to a successful serial, especially one built on cliffhangers. If you want to build a successful series, you need to build up your productivity as a writer, which means building a daily writing habit. Cliffhangers are fine as long as you don’t leave them dangling for too long.
- Stick to your deadlines. Just because you made them doesn’t mean you won’t get in trouble if you blow it. Inconsistent releases can lose readers.
- Get a damn sexy book cover. Think about branding, what’s attractive to readers in your genre, and how you want your product to be perceived. Then make it your own. Part of the distinctive look of the Black Star Canyon covers is the customized font used on every title of the series. If you’re not a designer, hire one. Your book covers are the face of your business.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with pricing. The benefits of writing a serial is you have many titles to play around with. Also, don’t be afraid to play in and out of KDP’s playground. There are thousands of readers of many different platforms waiting to discover your work. As C.C. Wall’s titles fall out of the exclusivity period, he is considering making the compilations available on other platforms, while keeping the individual installments on KU.
- Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive…or a lottery-win of a BookBub ad. C.C. Wall was able to leverage one free promotion and two $5 promotions off of Fiverr.com, resulting in downloads of his free series debut episode, which have led to a nice read-through conversion rate.
- Make sure you’re building your subscriber list with good content. What can you offer your readers to entice them to sign up for your email list? Consider writing a non-fiction companion guide to your story, as Wall did. Or perhaps short fiction that takes place in your universe.
- Build a kick-ass street team. How can you make your fans a rabid, die-hard, social-media-wielding mob raising pitchforks and torches in your name? Make it fun. Offer rewards and exclusives to your readers in exchange for shout-outs, beta-reads, and reviews.
If you are making Kindle Unlimited work for your series like C.C. Wall, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about your experience.
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