Rapid release is a strategy where authors withhold their finished books from publication while they continue to write the next books in their series. When the series is completely written, they release the whole series in a short window of time. This is a popular strategy with indie authors.

A Novel Marketing patron asked me this question: 

“I learned in the Book Launch Blueprint course about the importance for indie authors to wait to release a book until they can do it right, including putting together a launch team to help them have a strong release. 

Now I’m learning more about indie authors who do rapid releases of their books, releasing a month or two apart without launch teams or building anticipation for a release. 

Do you think the rapid release strategy works just as well as big book launch strategies? 

When should an indie author try rapid release instead of emphasizing the book launch more?”

So, is rapid release a shortcut to success? Or is it a trap that could destroy your author career?

Why Rapid Release is Risky

Rapid release is often presented as a way to kickstart a new writer’s career. But let me tell you a true story about one writer who took that advice to heart.

This writer had never published a book before. He’d heard that he wouldn’t need to build a platform or do a book launch if he rapid released. So, instead of publishing his first book when it was finished, he immediately started writing book two.

After two years, book two was finished, and he then spent another year writing book three. 

All told, he spent about five years writing, then he released all three books in a six-week window.

And then… nothing. 

Nothing happened. He sold a few dozen books between his three titles. 

When we spoke, he had just spent five years writing a series of books that had not sold. He was so discouraged that he had no idea what to do. Instead of having one failed book experience to learn from, he had three failed books all at once. He was considering giving up on publishing altogether.

As I researched this topic, I discovered this story is far too common. 

Many authors who rapid release end up quietly quitting publishing. Whether from embarrassment or sheer discouragement, they don’t share their stories, and other authors get a distorted view of how effective the rapid release strategy is.

Rapid release is incredibly risky for the following reasons. 

#1 Rapid release isolates you from reader feedback.

As a new writer, you are still finding your voice, resonance, and audience. If you are following The Five Year Plan, you are writing short stories and receiving feedback. The feedback you receive from readers of your short stories will change you as a writer, and your writing will improve.

Even people who are not following the five-year plan are publishing their first book as soon as it is ready. Both of these approaches give you more reader feedback than rapid release.

With rapid release, on the other hand, you write an entire book, not a short story, and you withhold it from readers even after it is ready to publish. As a result, you receive no reviews or feedback that could positively influence your next book.

Sometimes, a supporting characters becomes more popular with readers than you expected. Readers will tell you they like Hermione more than Harry, and if you know that, you can make her a more major character in subsequent books.

But how will you know what your readers like if you hold back your books?

Rapid release works better for authors who already know how to thrill their readers. Once you’ve written a dozen books or so you get a good feel for what your readers want, it’s less risky because you’ve learned how to thrill them.  

#2 Rapid release inhibits marketing innovation.

If you are following the Book Launch Blueprint, you know that each book launch is an experiment. 

Each time you launch a book, you grow your platform while simultaneously learning how to better launch your book. You learn what works and what doesn’t for your books and your audience. 

After a few launches, you develop a reproducible system for success. 

But with rapid release, everything happens so quickly that before you know it, it’s over. By the time you’ve learned what works best for launching your books, it’s too late to implement what you learned. 

Rapid release works better for authors who have already launched a dozen or more books. They have developed a working system, and they know how to execute a rapid-fire launch. Most importantly, they have an email list of thousands of readers who are ready to buy their books.

#3 Rapid release squanders anticipation.

My daughter, Mercy, turns two this month, and she is super excited. We have a chain of paper loops on the wall, and each day we get closer to her birthday, we cut one of the loops. She is jumping out of her skin with anticipation about having “purple cake.”

But anticipation isn’t just for toddlers. 

Researchers studied whether vacations make people happier. They wondered whether vacationers felt happier after their trip than people who did not take a vacation at all. What they found surprised them. When they compared non-vacationers to post-trip-vacationers, both groups experienced the same level of happiness even though one group had just returned from vacation. 

Vacationers, however, experienced greater levels of happiness during the weeks of anticipation before their trip than their non-vacationing counterparts. 

Anticipation in magic.  

Anticipation is the reason Christmas Eve is more fun than the day after Christmas. Anticipating your gifts is more fun than actually playing with the toys.  

When you create anticipation about your next book for your readers, their connection with you and your brand is solidified. When readers visit your website with anticipation, wondering when your book will release, they will see it with new eyes. Each visit is a chance to invite them to subscribe to your email newsletter and to introduce them to your books. 

When you rapid release, every day feels like the day after Christmas. Click to Tweet

Rapid release works better for authors who already have readers who anticipate their books. If you have a large established readership and a robust email list, you can build anticipation around your first book and the entire series at the same time. You can even build anticipation around the fact that the series will rapid release. In such cases, authors can enjoy the benefits of reader anticipation and the rapid release. But this only works for authors who already have a large following of fanatical readers. 

How can readers get excited about a series from an author they don’t know about?

#4 Rapid release is expensive.

After developmental edits, copy edits, typesetting, proofreading, copywriting, and cover design, it costs about $5,000 to indie publish a book. You can spend more or less, but $5,000 is a round number to illustrate my point. 

With a normal book launch strategy, you would spend $5,000 and try to earn it back (and then some) during the launch. If your launch brings in $6,000 in net sales, you’ve covered your costs and have earned an additional $1,000 to spend. Your next book will only cost $4,000 out-of-pocket to publish. 

If the launch of your second book is just as successful then book three will cost you only $3,000 out-of-pocket and so on. 

If you follow this strategy for all five books in your series and never pay more than $5,000 out-of-pocket, by the time you release your fifth book, it will only cost you $1,000 out-of-pocket. Each book pays for the next book with a little extra besides. 

Eventually, you will publish each new book with “house money.” Or, put another way, your publishing profits will cover all your future publishing expenses.

On the other hand, if you decide to rapid release your five-book series, you’ll need five sets of everything up-front:

  •  5 cover designs
  •  5 rounds of all three types of editing
  •  5 typesetting fees
  • 5 back cover copywriting fees
  •  $ cha-ching $

You’ll need a total of $25,000 up-front instead of $5,000. 

Chances are, you don’t have $25,000 in the bank. Most people don’t even have access to $25,000 of credit. And if you don’t, you’ll be forced to cut corners. 

The first thing to go is the developmental edit. Then instead of a top cover designer, you’ll hire a budget designer. Then you’ll decide to write your own back cover copy, and pretty soon, your book isn’t as good as it could have been. That difference in quality could be the difference between a hit and a slow slide into obscurity. If the books flop, you may never earn back that $25,000. 

Rapid release works better for authors who already make a lot of money with their writing. Writers who earn $25,000 per month from their existing books can rapid release without shortcuts or debt. 

But if you’re gust getting started, this is so risky. If your series is a dud, it will be a huge financial loss.

#5 Rapid release squanders the book launch.

Book launches are magical times. Your friends and family are more willing to help during a book launch (by joining your launch team) than they normally would be. But it is not just friends and family who are motivated to help. Media outlets and podcasts are more likely to schedule you during your launch. Your local newspaper might cover your book launch, but they won’t cover your rapid release.

Everyone deserves a birthday, and every book deserves a book launch. Click to Tweet

Don’t trade your opportunity to launch for a dim hope that an algorithm will smile on you. It’s far too risky. Each book launch cross promotes the existing books in the series.

#6 Rapid release creates unrealistic reader expectations.

Most readers won’t know you withheld books in order to rapid release. They’ll think you wrote one book per month. Once you finish your rapid release, you’ll retreat to your cave for two years to write your next batch of books. But your readers who have just binged your books will be disappointed that you’re not giving them a new book every month. You will lose all the momentum and goodwill you built with your audience. 

Often, authors who rapid release start to work with ghostwriters to help them keep the pace. Some get so burnt out they quit writing even after a huge success. 

Don’t start your publishing marathon at a dead sprint. Learn to write faster and choose a pace you can maintain for the long haul.

Rapid release works better for authors who can rapid write. The faster you can write books, the faster you can release them without having to hold them back.

You can’t build a career on algorithm hacks.

Novel Marketing is the longest-running book marketing podcast because we don’t buy into marketing fads. The Novel Marketing approach is based on the kind of marketing fundamentals taught in business school. Our Marketing 101 series is inspired by a marketing textbook I keep handy for generating episode ideas. 

The problem with building a career on hacks is that they only work for a short time. It’s like building your house with straw. The big bad wolf always blows down your quick progress. There are no shortcuts in publishing. There is only The Long Way and The Very Long Way. 

As Pippin said in the Fellowship of the Rings, “Shortcuts make long delays.” 

A strong author platform is bookstore agnostic, which is to say, if bookstores didn’t exist, it wouldn’t affect your sales.

If you follow the Novel Marketing method and Amazon happens to lose an antitrust case and get broken up by the government (something both Democrats and Republicans are talking about), your book sales would be fine. Why? Because you have a direct connection to your readers via your email list.  

It’s fine to dabble with gaming the system, but only try it after you have a firm platform to stand on. 

When does rapid release work?

You may be asking, “What about all those success stories I’ve read about on Facebook?”

I am not 100% against rapid release. It can work. Perhaps it can work for you. Let’s talk about when it works and who is best suited to succeed with this strategy. 

Rapid release works when you are contractually forbidden to publish books. 

Some publishing contracts preclude you from publishing books with other publishers (including yourself as an indie publisher) while the contract is in force. I know some traditionally published authors who can write books faster than their publishers care to publish them. So what do they do? They write the extra books anyway, and rapid release them between their traditional contracts.

When done well, this hybrid approach can provide the best of both worlds, and make money on both sides of the fence.

Rapid release works when you have a tome. 

Sometimes your story gets out of hand. What do you do when your 75,000-word fantasy novel turns into a 300,000-word epic fantasy?

Readers expect to pay about the same price for a 75,000-word story and a 300,000-word story. But print-on-demand publishing gets expensive for longer works. Printing your 300,000-word book could cost you $9 or more per copy! That doesn’t include distribution, fulfillment, and the cut the retailers take.

Compare that with the $4 it costs to print a 75,000-word book. Few readers want to buy a paperback for $25, but when it cost you $9 to print it, you’ll be forced to price it around $25. 

But what if you split that story into three 75,000-word volumes and rapidly release them? 

You’ll also earn more money with this strategy. Instead of selling one book for $25, you can sell three different books for $12 each. When you do the math, you end up with $36 for those 300,000 words rather than $25 while simultaneously having cheaper more affordable books. 

This strategy also gives you flexibility in your marketing. You can make your first book “permafree,” and then earn your money back selling your second and third books in the series. 

Or you could frequently price-pulse the first book in the series to attract new readers while still making money on books two and three. 

Rapid release works when you can write rapidly.  

If you are a fast writer, then go ahead and write your trilogy in six months and rapid release it. Authors who write this quickly still reap the benefits of a rapid release without experiencing many of the disadvantages. 

Most rapid release authors are also rapid writers. Learn to rapid-write before you rapid release.  Click to Tweet

I have some episodes to help you with this:

Tools like Plottr (Affiliate Link) can help you plot and write faster.

If it takes you a year to write a book, rapid release is a trap.

Rapid release works when you write in a genre with binge readers.

Not many people binge Literary Fiction. Sometimes, I think I am the only one who binges business books. Romance readers, on the other hand, binge on love stories all the time. 

Many of the rapid release success stories are Romance authors or authors who write in Romance-adjacent genres. 

I have seen rapid release work in Science Fiction, and I imagine it could work in Fantasy as well. 

It’s important to know who your readers are so you know how often they want a new book. Do they want you to release books faster? 

Some genres have readers who only read one book per year at the beach. They want to take your book on vacation, and they won’t buy another book until they take their trip to the beach the following year. If you release faster, they won’t buy. 

This is why it is important to know your readers and your genre.

Rapid release works when you have an established platform. 

Hundreds of new books launch every day, and they compete with the millions of books already published. Listing your book on Amazon will not bring you more readers.

Releasing a series of books back-to-back will not magically attract readers. You still have to spread the word about book one. Click to Tweet

And your first book must be so well-written that readers are compelled to buy your next one. 

But what happens when authors already have a fan base of at least 1,000 true fans

If you can sell 1,000 books in the first month, you have a good chance of being the #1 New Release in your category on Amazon. If the same thing happens the next month, you could have the #1 New Release in a category month after month.

Now, what do you suppose the Amazon algorithm does with an author whose books are consistently the #1 New Release? Amazon will promote that author to new readers who have never heard of the author before. 

Rapid release can do amazing things for that author, and it’s the reason having a strong sales-generating platform is so important. Authors who rapid release without a strong platform are blind folded dart throwers hoping to hit a target.

“To him who has readers, more readers will be given. But to him who does not have readers, even the readers he thinks he has will be taken away.” 

~ Thomas Revised Version

Bottom Line: Rapid release is a strategy for established authors.

Rapid release is a strategy that can help successful authors find more success. If you have hit a plateau in your writing after releasing a dozen books and you need something to boost you to the next level, rapid release may be a strategy worth your experimentation. 

But only experiment with rapid release if you can rapid-write. Otherwise, it will alienate the fans you already have. 

If your writing career is just starting, rapid release is a dangerous gamble. Just because people have won the lottery doesn’t mean you should invest in lottery tickets. Your career deserves a more reliable strategy.

What is that strategy? It is the Book Launch Strategy. Nearly every bestselling book is presented to its readership with a book launch. If you want to hit the USA Today Bestseller list, you need a much-anticipated book launch. 

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For many of us, writing, editing, cover design, and publishing our books isn’t nearly as intimidating as launching!

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