As of Saturday, I've adjusted the settings on the Season Two episodes of The Second Realm at Smashwords to allow people to sample the first 20% without 'buying' (you can still pay what you like, with no minimum price).
Sampling was disabled because I guessed that most of the people downloading episodes from Smashwords would be people who'd found the series here and gone there to get it in e-reader-friendly formats - people who know that you can sample the whole series completely free on here.
To put it bluntly, that guess appears to be dead wrong. The four episodes of season 2 (don't forget the newly-released fifth) have generated a grand total of 14 downloads/sales over the last four months. In the same period, the eleven episodes of season 1 produced 500 downloads. Alright, the first season episodes can be downloaded in full without a Smashwords membership, but even averaged out that's ten times as many downloads per episode.
I need to do something to get those 500-downloads-worth of readers reading season 2, and wherever they're coming from, I think some sampling may help. Immortal Remains, released five months ago and barely promoted at all - in particular, lacking the benefit of subsequent releases in a series - has generated almost as many sales as the four Second Realm episodes put together, and, counting samples, more than twice as many downloads.
I'm not expecting this to be a magic bullet, obviously. There are no magic bullets in this business. But it is important to keep tweaking your strategy - this is one of the pieces of advice you'll hear most often from the old pros who've gotten into self-publishing (particularly Joe Konrath). If what you're doing doesn't work, change what you're doing.
BUT, and this is very important, it takes time for anything to work. I put this sampling strategy to the test for four months (because I forgot to change it last month, but still, three months). I'm still not sure I'm not jumping the gun a little bit by not giving it six months. The thing is, time feels a lot longer to live through than to talk about, and it's very easy, when the numbers climb at the average rate of one a week, to feel like you've been 'trying something' for ages with no success when really, it's only been a month.
Remember always - a successful author is one who kept going. The only way to definitely, absolutely and forever fail in this business is to give up. Try new things, but don't panic and abandon them when they take a few weeks to work. They may never work - but give them a chance.