Episode # 84 – Are Serials Alive and Well? With C.C. Wall

In Uncategorized by Angela McConnell46 Comments

wallcovernewThere 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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Links:

Black Star Canyon – Season 1, Episode 1 (Available free!)

C.C. Wall |Cliffhanger Master – Mystery Author

C.C. Wall’s Amazon Profile Page

Creep Creepersin’s Amazon Profile Page, C.C. Wall’s Horror/Bizzarro Alter Ego

Podcast 451

blackstar

 

Mentions:

Angela McConnell – Responsible for these excellent show notes and action steps.

ReadCheaply.com

bknights on Fiverr.com

kindlenomics on Fiverr.com

Episode #38 of the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast – How a Street Team can be Great for Book Marketing with Victoria Danann

Episode #82 of the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast – Amazon Imprints, Kindle Unlimited, and Kindle Serials with Roberto Calas

Episode #51 of Podcast 451 – Michael Coorlim, Writing Steampunk, and Promosites

Twin Peaks

Lost

Dexter

Michael Coorlim

HabitRPG

Show notes:

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.

Productivity

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.

Action Steps:

  • 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.

Simon Asks:

If you are making Kindle Unlimited work for your series like C.C. Wall, contact me (simon@rockingselfpublishing.com), or leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about your experience.

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Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Angela McConnellEpisode # 84 – Are Serials Alive and Well? With C.C. Wall
  • Michael Coorlim

    Thanks for the mention CC. I’ve taken some of your refinements of the street team gamification and applied them back to my own program, and what you’ve been doing has given me back a whole slew of ideas.

    • C.C. Wall

      You are awesome, Michael. We need to have masterminds on just street team alone! LOL.

  • C.C. Wall

    Thanks for having me on Simon! That was a dream come true, man. Super fun. 🙂

    • SimonRSP

      Haha, you’re totally welcome. Great chat. Thanks for taking the time 🙂

  • Sharon Springfield

    FYI – Kindlenomics doesn’t seem to be on Fiverr anymore. 🙁 GREAT podcast though!

    • SimonRSP

      Hmm, that’s a shame, couldn’t find it either :(. Glad you enjoyed the show though.

    • C.C. Wall

      To be honest, kindlenomics was the lowest performer. I wouldn’t use them again. 🙂

      • Sharon Springfield

        Thanks! I picked up a couple from bknights for Wednesday. Hoping it will help.

  • John L. Monk

    Great show, as usual. Very interesting guest.

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks John, glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    • C.C. Wall

      🙂 Thanks!

  • Crissy Moss

    Have you ever been to Pottermore? The Harry Potter website? That website is so gamified it isn’t even funny. I love that website. I go there just for the game sometimes. I can totally see that on any real series.

    • SimonRSP

      I have now :D. I might have just spent a useful 5 minutes casting spells 😉

      • Crissy Moss

        OOPS, i may have just introduced you to another distraction, 😉

        • C.C. Wall

          Holy crud balls! There goes my weekend! 🙂

          • Crissy Moss

            I know! It’s so well done. She hired some fantastic people to do her website.

    • Toni Kenyon

      Why did you send me there… I’ve got a serial to write *bangs head on keyboard*

  • Richard Keller

    CC, it was Days of Our Lives and Another World in our house. During my senior year of high school we’d hang in the Senior Lounge and watch DoOL on a regular basis. I’d be ticked when they changed it to One Life to Live. I still catch DoOL sometimes and am shocked by the folks who are still on there.

    • C.C. Wall

      LOL. Yeah, I had a roommate that was a Young and Restless fan, before the days of DVR. That’s a very brutal and violent time in my life. My not so secret, guilty pleasure right now The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE for all you UK peeps or Hulu subscribers) Thank God, it’s not on everyday, or I would seriously never ever get anything done.

  • CC, have you considered sending your books to other subscription services like Scribd or Oyster? I can’t access Kindle Unlimited (well, me and most of Asia), but we have Scribd and I could totally see myself binge-reading a serial (hinthint).

    • C.C. Wall

      As my complete seasons are coming out of KDP (which I think is next month) they will be on Scribd. I use Draft2Digital for that, I’m not sure if they have Oyster on there. I’ll look into it.

      • Cool! I look forward to reading Black Star Canyon!

        • C.C. Wall

          Message me on my contact page on my site and I’ll send it to you 🙂

  • SimonRSP

    This is a comment emailed to me from a listener (Janalyn Voigt) who was having trouble with the comments system:

    “Thanks, C.C. and Simon, for providing such useful information in this episode. I loved your opening story, C.C. There was a scary canyon not far from my house when I was a child, too. :o)
    You’ve confirmed my own suspicion that the serial is not dead. I’m glad of that, because this art form is one that can connect us with readers on an ongoing basis that allows us to build relationships.”

  • robertscanlon

    Really great show, Simon. @CC – thanks for sharing your info, it gave me a new appreciation about how much effort goes into this! I like how really drilling into a genre (horror/thriller) and subculture (people addicted to serials who love cliffhangers) can produce results like this, especially if you’re willing to keep testing and learning as CC obviously is.

    Rather inspiring! (And I don’t like serials OR cliffhangers! But inspiring from a writing perspective, so thanks.)

    • C.C. Wall

      🙂 Thanks man!

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Robert 🙂

  • Pingback: C.C. on Rocking Self Publishing – Are Serials Alive and Well? | C.C. WallC.C. Wall()

  • Very enjoyable, informative, and educational!
    Thank you 😀

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Mgon :), the trifecta!

    • C.C. Wall

      Thanks! 🙂

  • Athena Grayson

    Great episode, Simon! Oddly timely for my efforts, too. CC, if you’re still around, have you played with timing your release strategies at all? I understand KU gives you that 30-day new release boost–have you looked into taking more than a week between episodes to sort-of stretch that boost out with episodes–say, 2 or 3 weeks (which still gives you multiple titles on the new release “high” but stretches out the momentum over a longer period)?

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Athena, glad you enjoyed it. CC has been active in the comments, so I’m sure he’ll chime in 🙂

    • C.C. Wall

      HERE I AM! LOL. I haven’t done it that way. The main reason, is because I am very OCD when it comes to certain things. And I know from my own experience in digesting serials or television, that I tend to forget or lose interest if I have to wait too long for the next one. Yeah, I’m the guy that missed the fourth episode of Game of Thrones and then forgot to watch the rest of the season, and who still hasn’t watched it yet. LOL. I know that when Amazon was releasing serials, they were releasing them every two weeks. They would know reader’s buying patterns better than I do, but for me personally I don’t think I would like it. It I was making a two week break serial, I would probably make it around 30-40k words per episode to make up for the missing week. The other thing that I don’t really remember if we talked about on the show, is the 6 weeks of constant promotion in the series I get every time it comes out. I’m promoting the same product all the time for about two months, but since there’s a different cover every week, people tend to not get annoyed by the constant marketing. And usually around week three or four, people who have never read any of them, start writing me asking me what the hell are all these Black Star Canyon covers for. It’s really exciting. I guess I can see how that would work on spreading it out to bi-weekly. I might do something like that in the future with a different title, but I think I need to keep Black Star the way it is, since weekly is the reader habit for it. 🙂

  • Richard Keller

    If you look at Amazon Prime or M-Go, they have a episode/series pricing policy which seems similar to CC. Their prices start between $1.99 and $4.99 with series in the tens or twenties. CC’s pricing is something I’m going to consider when I launch my serial in March.

    • C.C. Wall

      I have noticed that on Prime. Let me know how your serial goes!

  • dream109

    I’m a fellow Serial writer, although I’ve released one episode a month instead of a week. I’m going to adopt C.C’s way of releasing them once a week, but will write them in advance. My serial is doing quite well and I recently put it in Select. I also ran a big promo on a bundle over Christmas and did really well. Planning to do another one in March that will coincide with the permafree promo and countdown on all the other episodes.

    Great podcast, it’s nice to hear from a serial writer. 🙂

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks for listening. I think not writing a weekly serial ahead of time is for masochists only 😉

      • C.C. Wall

        LOL

        • dream109

          Haha 🙂

    • C.C. Wall

      That’s awesome! What is the serial you write?

      • dream109

        The serial is called Avoidables 🙂

  • Fantastic episode! I’ve been working on something similar. Now to start reading Blackstar Canyon so I can see how C.C. did it. I love writing fast and furious like this.

    • C.C. Wall

      Thanks man! 🙂

  • R.J. Spears

    I’m just getting caught up and this is a fantastic episode. Thanks to CC and Simon.

    • SimonRSP

      Sure thing, thanks for listening R.J. 🙂