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!


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