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Sunday, 9 June 2019

Re-branding a series - a success story



Since I re-branded and re-launched the Eden Paradox series at the end of January earlier this year, after an initial slow pick-up, all four books are doing well. By doing well I mean I'm selling 80-100 eBooks a day, and the lead book, the Eden Paradox, is in and out of position #1 in the Galactic Empire sub-genre on Amazon UK and in the top 5 in half a dozen other categories, with book two, Eden's Trial, also in the top ten in a number of science fiction categories. In the US the showing hasn't been as marked, though this morning it was in the top 20 in Cyberpunk, the book's strongest initial category.

So, how did it happen? A ton of marketing? Strong use of newsletters and mass email lists? Extensive use of Amazon paid marketing? A twitter frenzy or blog tour to give a pre-launch buzz?

None of the above.

I'll let you in on a secret. I don't like marketing. I know many authors feel the same way, but we all end up doing it anyway, because the market is in such a state of deluge that if you don't do something, then no matter how great your book is, it won't be visible. If it isn't visible, or, to use the vogue term, discoverable, then people won't buy it because they won't know about it.

Even if you get a deal with a publisher - spoiler alert coming - many of them will not do much for your book, especially if you are a first-timer with them. If it takes off immediately because it has thirty or more 5* reviews via NetGalley when it is launched, and there is a big buzz around it, then it can shoot up the charts from the start, and if it is a good book, it will probably stay there and, well, jolly well done and good for you! But if it doesn't do brilliantly, and they haven't given you an advance they want repaid in sales, then their marketing budget will quickly switch to other books that are doing well or about to be launched. It's a business, and money follows success...

So, back to what I did, but first, some necessary background. This was a re-launch. The books were initially published one a year from February 2011, four books in total. In 2012 there was a spike and I sold a thousand books a week for two weeks, for two of the books which went viral, which was bloody fantastic to watch, but then sales petered out quickly. Nobody seems to know what caused the spike, but hey, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, right?

And then after a couple of years they flatlined, and I was selling a few books a month. There is a word that describes how this makes an author feel. The word is crushed. I had two indie publishers who weren't doing any marketing for the books any more. But I did have some excellent reviews on all four books in UK and US. I figured I'd done okay, that they'd had their day, and that I should move on to other books. And then something tragic happened.

My Mum died.

She'd loved my books, never read one of them, just given me and them that unquestioning love and pride a mother gives and an author yearns for. So, I came into a bit of money, and I thought, holiday? New TV? Car upgrade?

No. I wanted to make her proud. In case she was watching.

I bought back the rights, and paid for some serious artwork to re-brand the books. My favourite science fiction artist is John Harris, and he is just awesome, and if you're reading this, chances are you're looking at one of his art pieces on the header. This kind of artwork is not how most science fiction books look these days - they are full of very cool digitally-created pictures. John's are oil paintings. Old science fiction books sometimes looked this way, and I wanted to make a statement, that my books are in a sense a throwback to Asimov and Clarke and Herbert and early Brin, and Jack McDevitt who also uses John Harris artwork. I also wanted my books to stand out on Amazon pages in amongst the 'pack'. They do.

So I re-launched them on Amazon, kindle version and paperback. Aside from the artwork this cost me nothing, as the tools are free. I had to unpublish the original versions, but Amazon kindly transferred the original reviews to the new versions. I did not enrol in Kindle Select, as I wanted to also have the books on Apple, Kobo and Nook. Even though I sell few books there, it's important when doing any advertising to show that you're playing to a wide audience. And some of my friends use these other platforms.

I did a few blogs, sure, and some tweets, but not many to be honest. I tried Amazon's own marketing, where you bid for clicks etc., and that got it off the ground and did make it discoverable, though my ACOS (basically the ratio of what you pay for advertising and what you earn) was never good. I then did some advertising with BooksButterfly, and that accelerated things, selling around 10 a day. Initially it was book one, but then of course some readers (not all - I don't kid myself) went on to read the rest of the series. Book Two, Eden's Trial, is very gritty, and I know I always lose a few readers after that one, but those that continue do go on do read books 3 & 4.

I then used BargainBooksy for a one-day sale, and sold 160 books in a day, and from then onwards it started selling 30+ books daily, mainly in the UK, and slowly but surely it climbed upwards. Then one day it hit the Best Seller spot (#1 in Galactic Empire), and there was a step change in sales up to 80-120 a day, which is where I am now. I do think there was some luck here, in that at this time both of Adrian Tchaikovsky's books were ahead of mine in the Cyberpunk and Colonisation categories, and these are just such amazing books to be rubbing shoulders with, that I think it gave my books an 'uplift'.

I did try Bookbub, the biggest advertiser, but they didn't accept my ad. Maybe later.

I've kept the price of the ebooks low, with Eden Paradox and Eden's Trial (the first two) at 0.99 (US$, GBP, etc.), while the other two (Eden's Revenge and Eden's Endgame) fluctuate between 0.99 and 2.99. I recently released an Omnibus version (all 4 books in one volume) at 7.99, which is not competitive, but still some people buy it. If ever sales do decrease markedly on the other 4 books, I'll do a sale of this one. At the moment I absolutely won't do a sale on it, as it could be a serious strategic error marketing-wise.

The other thing I did was play with the categories, initially every few days, seeing if I could nudge the books into top 10 slots. Cyberpunk was my strongest, until Eden Paradox made it to #1 in Galactic Empire, and then it got the 'Best Seller' label next to it, and then, well, I just watched the sales take off.

In terms of resources and advice, I should mention that I signed up with Jericho Writers for a year and devoured their video tutorials on self-publishing. I didn't do everything they said, but I did take on board their advice on Amazon descriptions and category selection, and played the latter like the stock market, nudging the first book in particular into top 10 categories. Once everything is set up, this is easy to do and takes 5-10 minutes. By the way, Amazon sometimes ignores your category selection, but they are also trying to make money, and sometimes they make a better choice.

Oddly enough, having sold >3000 copies, it has only led to 2 reviews, both 3*, and one of which is double-edged. I don't mind, as I know that many people are reading all the way to the end of the series, so I'm trusting in the silent majority. But it is definitely harder getting reviews these days.

Have I re-couped my costs? Yes! More than that, an audiobook company approached me out of the blue and gave me a nice advance for audiobook versions of all four books.

My Mum is smiling somewhere.

That's about it. It goes without saying that none of this works if your books aren't good in the first place. No promises. Maybe I got lucky. Maybe I had an angel pulling some strings for me. In any case, if you are thinking about re-branding and re-launching, I hope some of the insights here help you. And if you are prepared to do all the marketing razzmatazz I ignored, I'm sure you could do even better.

Best of luck to you!

Barry




Saturday, 18 May 2019

Website makeover...

Well, if you're reading this, chance is you've already noticed that I've updated the website with the new artwork from John Harris, which also forms the cover art for the omnibus version comprising all four books (on kindle that's over 2000 pages). I haven't done any marketing of this tome yet, as the other books are enjoying a surge in sales, almost 1000 in the past month alone, particularly in the UK but also the US. I think Kalaran must be behind it, it's the only explanation... This blog page, however, is going to keep the original artwork for the series, as I still like it!

http://www.barrykirwan.com



Sunday, 12 May 2019

Omnibus Version of Eden Paradox series published...

Eight years after The Eden Paradox first hit the streets in February 2011, and four years after the finale Eden's Endgame was published, I finally got around to producing an 'Omnibus' version containing all four books. At the moment the individual books are selling well, and it's cheaper to buy them singly than this version, but that may change, and this is intended as something of a collector's item. I was able to gain some fabulous artwork from John Harris, so that now all five volumes use his cover art, and this final cover has a more optimistic feel to it, which you'll understand if you make it all the way through the series.

While editing it all into one tome, I read most of it all through again, and have to say I miss these characters and their fractious universe, and it makes me wonder, and that's all I'm doing at the moment, wondering, but I inadvertently thought of a title, which is a dangerous thing to do, but now it's in my head and I can't unthink it...

Eden's Return.

Monday, 22 April 2019

A nice spike...

Since late January I've been re-branding and re-launching the books. Seems to be working. Although the books had sold quite well originally, in the last couple of years sales had pretty much slipped into a coma. I bought back the rights from the two indie publishers, and spent a lot of time on Kindle Create. So far, they've sold 600 in the past three months, and yesterday there was a nice spike (160 ebooks sold in one day) on Amazon US, UK and I got some new readers from Australia. Drove the first and second books up into the top 100 Cyberpunk and Alien Invasion categories on Amazon. They are still there, though maybe not for long...

So, while I'm waiting for the new novel to be reviewed (one of my pre-readers just finished it and loved it) I've started production of an Omnibus Edition of the entire Eden Paradox series - all four books in one volume. Few will buy the paperback version (though there will be one), but I'm hoping quite a few will buy the Ebook version, opening the series up to a new audience.

So, now I need to find a new cover, which is the fun part, and then compile all 4 volumes seamlessly into one, which is going to take me some time...

Friday, 15 March 2019

Is re-branding worth it? A case study...

When I wrote the Eden Paradox series - 4 books published between 2011 and 2014 - particularly the first two, but also the entire series, sold well into 4 figures (i.e. in the 1000-6000 range, mainly eBooks). But after 2015 sales waned. By 2018 sales hadn't exactly flatlined, but it was a slow, coma-like pulse of a few books a month.

At the end of 2018, after discussions with the publishers, I re-acquired the books. I then produced new covers for the first two, using better artwork more consistent with the style of the last two books, and re-published them myself on amazon kdp. The re-pubishing part was free though laborious, but by Jan 25 I was ready to re-launch the entire series. I didn't do much personally in the way of marketing as a few 'life events' were getting in the way, but the results - whilst not spectacular in terms of best-seller sales - were heartening, as you can see from the graph (250 sales over 6 weeks) taken direct from KDP's site yesterday.

In particular book 1 has done well, but a healthy number of readers are going on to read the entire series (it's early days so I hope the sales of books 2-4 will strengthen). Most sales are in the US, with UK close behind, with some in France, Canada, and one Aussie.

I'll be launching a new book (the first in a new series) by the summer, so hopefully if that one does well it will keep an interest in this series, too, and vice versa.

So, is it worth all the effort to re-brand and re-launch an old series? Well, as with most authors, it's not about the money, it's about being read, and for me this has been a definite 'win', having gained a new batch of readers for a series I poured heart and soul into five years ago. I'll review sales figures at the end of the year, to see if they were sustainable.

In the meantime, for other authors who may be pondering this same question, the answer is simple - re-branding and re-launching can breathe new sales life into a series.




Sunday, 3 March 2019

On alien AI...

I'm editing the final chapter of the new novel, When the Children Come, and without giving too much away, the human protagonist encounters an AI (Artificial Intelligence). But this is not a human-created one, it comes from an alien race. So it doesn't carry any human baggage in its algorithms, including the stuff we'd like to rid ourselves of, such as hatred, our capacity for war, etc. However, it wants some...

AI is not new - whether your starting point is Asimov's robots, the robot from The Forbidden Planet, or Star Trek's Data, the typical idea is of a mature and pure intellect. Purity in Scifi seems to have nothing to do with good or bad, so AIs have often been portrayed as evil, ruthless and even malicious, though as a psychologist, I'm not sure how the emotional content would get coded...

The basic idea behind an AI is that it is a learning system, whether via neural nets, machine learning, or some other way, running on basic algorithms that can later become self-adapting. This means AI's can become very smart (though whether knowledge and data alone breed wisdom is another question), and make very fast decisions. Future warfare scenarios will probably involve AI's, who can make judgement calls (based on instilled values such as loss of life, mission criticality, collateral damage, use of resources, etc.) far faster than a battle commander - in theory. In practice warfare is about as messy as humanity gets, so there are rarely any clean decisions, so maybe (I'm hoping) there will always be a human in the loop.

The fear, most eminently expressed in the Terminator film series, is that the AI does indeed get smarter and decides humanity's fate in a nanosecond. But surely there could be an off-switch, or a way of detecting AI turning into 'malware'? Not so much, because of the complexity. There are big debates going on right now about whether AI 'thinking' must remain explainable. Think of self-driving cars for a moment. Imagine one such car runs down a cyclist. Why did it happen? To unravel the thousands of lines of code (make that hundreds of thousands, and probably millions), to work out why it behaved in such a way, is very laborious, and may soon become intractable. That's because when we go ahead and tell an AI to learn, we effectively push it out of the nest and let it learn to fly on its own.

So, coming back to science fiction, what about Asimov's three laws, that he implanted in his robots' psyches so they could never harm humans? Could we have such a 'backstop' in AI's? In the upcoming novel, the AI in question comes from a benign race. But it wants some of the bad stuff, and sees humanity as a way of overcoming the backstops in its core programming. Which gives the humans in question something of a dilemma, as they are going to need this AI in order to survive...




Thursday, 24 January 2019

New cover branding for books one and two



I'm getting some new artwork for the covers of The Eden Paradox and Eden's Trial, using two paintings from John Harris, who was the artist for the last two books (Eden's Revenge and Eden's Endgame). While this happens the versions may go off-line for a short while on Amazon etc., but it should be worth the short wait... I simply love his artwork! 

I discovered him after reading several books by Jack McDevitt, one of my favourite American SF writers, as he sometimes uses JH images for his covers. So, stay tuned, new covers out soon...

Sunday, 20 January 2019

New cover art for the Eden Paradox & Eden's Trial

I'm getting two of the covers re-done for the Eden Paradox series of 4 books. Below are the ones I'm thinking about. Any comments / preferences welcome! They are all John Harris artworks, so will fit with the third and fourth book covers (the final image below is the JH cover for Eden's Revenge).









 
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