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Author Topic: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study  (Read 4766 times)  

Offline Nicholas Erik

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The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« on: September 19, 2017, 10:51:46 PM »
I recently released the final book in an urban fantasy trilogy. It'd been awhile since I'd done a big launch, so I figured I'd double down and relaunch Book 1 at the same time. It's been a month since everything came out. What happened? Glad you asked.

Basically, the first book came out earlier this year in January. Solid reviews, didn't sell well. Second book had a similar outcome.

Would Book 3 be the magic bullet that changed the trilogy's fortunes? Did fixing the problems in Book 1 result in riches?

Well, you'll find out (I know, try to control your excitement at those spectacular cliffhangers), because this case study covers:

> My general thoughts on relaunching
> Why I bothered
> What kinds of relaunches you can do
> The relaunch strategy & results
> And, finally, takeaways

I have no idea how long this thing is, but it's probably way too long, so feel free to skip to any section and check it out.

Relaunch philosophy

First of all, I'll state upfront that my views prior to this relaunch differed greatly from the KBoards consensus. My views afterward haven't really changed.

Relaunching or reigniting a moribund series has obvious appeal: one, we can leverage existing work, and two, it gives the chance for work that we believe in another chance to shine. Obviously, the backlist is critical, and I suggest you do what you can to maximize its impact. However, often the best thing you can do for your bottom line is...next to nothing. Why?

A) Amazon is set up to churn. This has only become more pronounced over the years, so I doubt that's a trend that will reverse itself any time soon. The 30/60/90 cliffs have become sharper, with a lot of the algorithmic love running out after the first 30 days. This isn't a suggestion to write a novel a month, by the way, just a way of saying that fighting Amazon's downward inertia can be very expensive in terms of ads and other relaunching costs. It's easy to get carried away and end up spending hundreds of dollars.

Subsequently, given the choice to throw $1000 behind the launch of a new book or $1000 behind the relaunch of an old one, the former will likely perform far better solely because Amazon will show it at least a little love.

This is less relevant if you're wide, and we wouldn't want to base our entire publishing career on 90 day intervals, anyway.

B) Assuming you have a good cover/blurb and a solid book, coupled with some past marketing efforts, if your book isn't selling this is usually a sign of a hidden problem or a lack of current market demand. The former can be fixed, but they can be incredibly difficult to find or fix. It's obvious what needs to be done if your fantasy book is in the non-fiction category and has a cover made out of popsicle sticks. Less so when everything is competent. And market demand is something none of us have control over.

All of this is relative. I don't judge a book's "future" prospects based on the launch, nor its rank. Again, to repeat: the launch isn't everything. I judge it based on the expected response versus the actual response. If I'm expecting 100 sales and get 25, that means there's something wrong. That kind of thing. You can get that data point during the launch (which I recommend, since it's faster and Amazon gives new releases visibility boosts, so it's a good time to promote) or after, but when it comes through, you have a decision to make:

1) continue, and change nothing
2) continue, and fix obvious problems like an awful cover or bad blurb
3) continue, but heavily retool to varying degrees (relaunch)
4) stop the series immediately and write a new series, because something in the current series isn't resonating.

When you get some visibility on your book, and the presentation + content are well-done, but you still don't get a decent response, the issue isn't usually solved by paying more money to get more visibility, writing more books in that series, getting new covers or any of the other stuff you can do. Occasionally it is, but that can quickly become expensive, as we'll see below. Note that "decent response" is based on genre, your existing fanbase, the amount of marketing you did and many other contextual factors that will vary from author to author.

Naturally, we can't be certain that a relaunch won't solve our problems. You could be doing this, which is what we're all terrified of:



But, from experience, the result is usually more like this:



This isn't the first time I've tried some sort of relaunch (more on that here). There are other examples that I haven't written up, but have generated  similarly lackluster results. My opinion: it's better to wrap-up a non-performing series early, rather than invest more words (time) and capital (money) into it. I say this as someone who has tried very, very hard to get this to work. It's like investing in a stock that's going down based on news that you didn't have when you first invested. Things could change (and sometimes they do), but as they stand right now, the original assumptions you made when "investing" in the book are no longer valid. Fighting against the marketplace is usually a losing battle.

How Can I Revive Backlist, Then?

1) Email autoresponder - this is one of the best ways
2) social media/Facebook
3) your website, backmatter etc.
4) new books that have a better chance of becoming popular.
5) much more moderate promo/PPC campaigns (e.g. $5/$10 a day)

The first three points are obvious, but they're easy to ignore. It's easy to assume that our readers - and our fans - automatically know everything that we've put out. That's not the case. Even if they love your work, you often need to give them a reminder or a nudge to go check out another book or another series. Make sure you're mentioning your backlist semi-regularly. It lacks the sexiness of a large-scale relaunch, but it's also free and usually more profitable.

And the best advertising you have? More books. Just, you know, ones that people are buying.

I make these points with a few key assumptions:

1) most authors struggle in the face of a poor selling (defining "poor selling" as a book that does not live up to sales expectations) book or series. This isn't necessarily a cash consideration, although that can be a big factor. It can also be about readership: it's difficult to continue writing when you know very few people will read it.
1a) releasing three or four books in a row that aren't successful can also kill your confidence. I think a lot of this game is just about hanging in when things aren't going your way. So adding more things that probably aren't going to work out from a financial/mindset perspective doesn't help.

2) most authors don't have the cash flow to subsidize a poor-selling series until it becomes mildly/moderately profitable. This trilogy will make money at some point, particularly if I have some breakout hit later down the line. But to get to "down the line" you have to get through right now. If you're losing money that you need to continue, then I don't think that money should be "bet" on a series that you know is already a poor performer. This calculus changes if you have a day job, supportive family, money on hand, and so forth. By the way, I'm not saying a book has to earn out in 30 days or 90 days, or some arbitrary timeline to justify a sequel. I'm saying your money is valuable, and each "bet" you make on a book has an opportunity cost.

3) more on opportunity cost: the main thrust of my argument against relaunching is simply that the money can be better invested elsewhere, in a new series. Why? You've presumably become a better writer, learned some things about marketing and such. And you can examine where your assumptions caused your last book to "flop," and adjust them to give your new series a better chance of success. Amazon's algorithms are also friendlier, but even if you don't bother with a big launch (or any launch at all), this gives you the best chance of investing.

I think it's really important to mention that you have to stay in the game if you want to succeed. If you lose all your money, you can't play any more. If you get so frustrated by the numbers that you quit publishing, then that's not good, either. Obviously, there are no guarantees or certainties that a new series will hit - and I certainly don't recommend jumping to and from book to book or series to series frivolously. Just the simple fact that, when the numbers aren't good, they're probably not gonna get better.

They're probably gonna get worse. If you can't accept that, or don't have the capacity to look REALLY long in the future, then this amplifies the problem of continuing a non-performing series/trying to revive it.

4) and, finally, that you can swallow the sunk costs and are willing to tie things up early. This is usually the most difficult point, and one authors balk at. Which is why we have this little sidenote...

That Sidenote

I don't think it's a good idea to just leave a reader hanging with a massive cliffhanger. This gives us a problem: cliffhangers (tend) to increase sell-through, but if we're testing the waters with a Book 1, or Book 3, or however long our "test" is, if we stop writing, that leaves readers with an annoying unresolved storyline.

There's no elegant solution to this, but two that can work is 1) don't have major cliffhangers at the end of the books themselves. Or, 2) write an epilogue and include that in an updated file if you determine a series isn't doing well. Imperfect, to be sure, but better than leaving a character half-dead and in peril.

I know we've all been burned by TV shows cutting off mid-series, or books being dropped by publishers. I get that we, as indies, don't want to do the same thing. But no one claimed this thing would be easy, right? And there is an option three: you can put a series on the backburner. With all the obsession over super-quick releases, it's easy to forget that trad-pub cycles are a year or more. In a couple years, you can come back and finish a series. Maybe five years. Ten. When you have the cash and the time, and if it's important to wrap-up, you have that option, too.

But first, you gotta make it to that point.

So, Why'd I Bother Relaunching?

Simply put, relaunching is alluring. I'm hardly immune to that siren's call. If you believe in a series and like it, it can be hard to let things go early. Truth be told, it probably would have been best not to write a second book at all; the first book doesn't end on a cliffhanger, so it would've just wrapped up fairly well on its own.

It's also hard to accept sunk costs: trying to turn a small loss into a gain is tempting for ego-based reasons, but it usually just leads to a larger loss.

Finally, the "what if" factor. I think that might be even bigger than the four points I talked about above: that nagging voice that whispers in our ear "what if you did write the book?" That voice can get you to take certain leaps of faith, but it's also dangerous. Getting from 90% certainty (where I was at Book 1) to 99% certainty is a costly endeavor.

Flavors of Relaunching

Relaunching has a range of definitions, so let's cover the most common ones:

1) optimization: basically a brush-up of your Amazon page. Usually free stuff, like categories, the blurb and so forth - fixing obvious problems. Might include doing some marketing, if you haven't done any, or didn't do it properly the first time around.
2) reskin: you get a new cover, maybe brush up a few things in the book itself (say the intro sucks), tweak the blurb, do more advertising. Maybe you take the book wide, or put it in KU to shake things up.
3) all-out: you re-tool the entire book/series, new cover, new blurb, tons of advertising
4) all-out + new ASIN: resets the clock on the 90 day cliffs.

I've done the first three. Not the fourth. Frankly, they've almost always been a waste of time and money. Optimization is low-risk and low-cost, so it's where you should start, but it can quickly become a time-suck as you change things just for the sake of it. This is not to say that some of you wouldn't benefit from doing these things - again, if the presentation of your work is bad right now, then any of these might be in order. But if something isn't clearly broken, then a relaunch generally is not the answer. It's either the book, the market, or something intangible/"hidden."

If I was insistent on doing a relaunch, however, and was going to invest a decent amount, I would absolutely do #4. Get that extra algo love. There is no reason to spend $3,000 like I did, and not get that algo love. None.

The Strategy

Basically, I was releasing the last book (Blood River) in a trilogy in mid-August. Since Book 1 (Lightning Blade) was the entry point to my funnel (and these books need to be read in order), I decided to retool Lightning Blade, brush things up, get it into a lot of people's hands, and make it the center of my marketing campaign. The majority of the ads funneled to Lightning Blade, although a few of them went to the series page on Amazon, where people could buy all three titles (once Blood River was out).

As for the flavor of relaunch, I was doing something almost at the level of an all-out effort (#3). A hair below, let's say, since Lightning Blade wasn't being rewritten, nor did I get a new cover. This is where I should point out that, prior to investing in this new odyssey for Book 3's launch, I'd already done the following from January (when Book 1 came out) to July:

> expanded Book 1 from ~35,000 words to 57,000 words
> added multiple categories
> retooled the blurb multiple times
> ran $1,000+ in advertising to the page
> released Book 2 in April
> used multiple review services/my ARC team to build up the review base to 100+ on Amazon
> wrote a number of side stories that I gave away for free on my mailing list
> wrote a prequel lead magnet that I gave for free to my mailing list/on Facebook/through cross promos

In short, I had a lot of convincing data to suggest that Book 3 was not the answer to getting this series to take off. Since we've already gone over my rationale for doing so, here was what I planned:

SUNDRY DETAILS



> series in Kindle Unlimited
> urban fantasy with a 1st-person heroine
> no Book 3 pre-order, mainly because I missed the last one
> 50,000 - 60,000 words, with KENP of 330 - 360
> Book 1 had 100+ reviews with a 4.3 - 4.4 average, Book 2 around 20+ at the time of launch
> Lightning Blade is Book 1, Shadow Flare is Book 2, and Blood River is Book 3.
> Run a special sale for all three books at $0.99/ea during the launch
> this trilogy is tied into my other trilogy, which acts as a "prequel," so there's greater opportunity for backlist sell-through.

GOALS

> 10,000 subscribers by launch (10124)
> 1200 Facebook likes by launch (1246)

The Facebook likes were just a byproduct of running ads. I don't try to accumulate likes, so I have no idea why that was a goal, other than to make the page look more engaged.

PRE-RELEASE


This was about 2 - 3 weeks before Book 3's release.

> add a couple scenes to Book 1 and get it copyedited ($650)
> finish Book 3 ($250 for proofreading; I bought the cover last year for $150)
> Kindle Fire to my mailing list ($55) - to build up some Amazon followers
> Book 1 free via Facebook ads (667 subs for $505)
> AMS ads for rank on Book 1 @ $0.99 (52 sales for $374)
> BookBub PPC on Book 1 @ $0.99 (77 clicks/$97) - just to test out

All of the marketing stuff was a waste of money. I would have been better off just burning it, because then I would have saved time. On the other hand, I learned something about getting AMS to spend your budget (it can be done, people! but you probably don't want it to), the interesting fact that Book 1, a full-length novel, performed WAY worse as a lead magnet than the prequel, and I actually tried to give away two Kindle Fires, but only 189 people on my mailing list entered, so I escaped with just giving away the one.

Basically, I was trying to get the book in people's hands and also get my mailing list excited about the launch. Fix any lingering problems in Book 1.

About that copyediting: I didn't give myself enough of a buffer to actually get it done on time. In fact, I still have yet to upload the copyedited/updated edition. The book has already been proofread professionally, so it's not like there's a bunch of typos in the current version. Just haven't gotten around to it.

So yeah, the copyediting didn't find any glaring issues. Nice for the peace of mind, I guess, but probably not worth the 600+ bones. 

Total spent: $1050 for production stuff + $1031 for marketing.
Total sales (7/20 - 8/9): 247 sales + 73 full read equivalents

Needless to say, this is horrible. Whatever. Live and learn, right?

ACTUAL RELEASE

I was aiming to spend around $2500 total; I'd already spent a lot on the failed attempt at building buzz, so I probably ratcheted down my spends a little as a reaction. Still nudged well beyond my original budget. The strategy was fairly simple: give Book 1 away for free (two days) and then have Books 2/3 available for $0.99 during that time to maximize visibility. Book 1, when it came off free, would also be $0.99. Pricing at $0.99 is not really a great strategy for later books, because the visibility spikes don't tend to get you far enough up Amazon's lists to actually get you any organic love. So basically you sell your books for $0.99 to people who happily would've paid $3.99, losing a ton of money in the process.

I would not recommend doing that. A $0.99 launch for Book 1 makes sense, and then dropping the price for Book 1 at subsequent launches (if you want) also makes sense to use promo sites and get more visibility. But I would go $2.99 for Book 2 etc. in the future if I'm trying to give my fans a temporary deal. Just leaving way too much money on the table and not getting enough visibility/tail (or, um, anything really) to make up for it.

Original plan was to run the $0.99 promo for 3 days, but the book didn't go live on Amazon until late on the 14th, so I decided to extend it to the 20th. That made for a 7 day launch.

> 11 promo sites on Book 1 ($486, 4974 downloads). Basically everything decent besides ENT, who declined. Split up between 8/10 and 8/12. Not a typo - there was a day that went back to paid at $0.99 in the middle. This had no effect, really - good or bad. I was fine with this outcome, especially since Lightning Blade had been free a couple times before, and had run with most of the sites already (the book was only seven months old, so those runs were recent, too). I ran it for two days and backloaded, because I wanted it to pop off the free charts and get a decent number of sales at $0.99 for visibility.

The plan was for Book 3 to come out on the 10th and enjoy the spillover traffic from the free run on Book 1. I didn't get it done until the 14th, thus rendering this promo largely useless. Hooray for getting things done on time!





> BookBub Ads (162 clicks/$211). These were a huge flop, but thanks to a few people (and someone who emailed me), I've fixed those problems. In the meantime, these just incinerated cash during the launch. I ran about half of these on 8/11, when Book 1 temporarily went back to paid between the two free days, and then the other half from 8/15 - 8/19.

> 2x Facebook Boosted Posts (2x $150 = $300). These weren't a great use of money. Probably should have spent less on them, but I did get some nice comments and engagement. Ran on 8/15 and 8/19.

> Emails to list (free). Sent 3 emails, total - one August 14, announcing Book 3 and that all Books were $0.99. One on August 16th, to non-opens, then August 20th, to those who still didn't open. This netted me a total 47.3% open rate and a 7.2% click rate, which was decent in my book. I've found some great subscribers and fans via Facebook, which is where the list has been mostly been built (by giving away this series' prequel, Bone Realm), but the sales numbers haven't been worth the $6000+ it's cost to build. I'll have to determine whether I want to continue, or if it's better to find a different place to get subs.



Full page reads are just the total # of KENP read divided by the KENP per book (e.g. 3000 KENP/300 KENP for that book would be 10 equivalent full reads). Not a perfect metric by any measure, but it allowed me to show them both on the same chart. The scale is thrown off by the huge spike of sales on Day 11, but you can see that when the price increases back to $3.99, the page reads bump up from 29 to around 43, and then hold much steadier as the sales drop into nothingness by Day 29 (September 7).

The chart ends on Day 29 because I basically stopped advertising then. I did some PPC advertising from Day 11 - Day 29 that I'm not including in the tallies below. Just too complicated.

Blood River was released on August 14th, which is Day 5 on the chart (135).

The spike on 11 is August 20th, which was the last day of the $0.99 sale. I massively increased my PPC spend on that day ($364) and the looming end of the deal obviously encouraged people to buy.

Peak ranks:
#2101 (Book 1)
#3469 (Book 2)
#3054 (Book 3)

Total cost = $997. I think I ran some Amazon ads that spent very little toward the end of the launch, since I was gunshy from my previous $374 waste of money.
Total sales (8/10 - 8/20): 1387 sales + 205 page read equivalents; would've been better if I'd actually, you know, gotten Book 3 done on time

Total series revenue during from 7/20 - 9/7: $2073; total spend = $3078; -$928.21

TAKEAWAYS

> should have relaunched Book 1 with a new ASIN. Worth losing the reviews (although I probably could've saved them); I'd expanded the book since it came out in January, anyway, so a new ASIN was justified.

> probably should've gotten a new cover for Book 1. They look nice as a set, but Lightning Blade doesn't resonate as much as the others in the series. That's a problem, since Book 1 is the most important. I chose the coloration, which I think was the wrong move; the whitish-blue to represent lightning instead looks sun-faded and doesn't grab the eye in the store. The other two, plus the prequel, have much more eye-grabbing colors. Again, this was my specific choice and my error, not the designer's. Book 2's cover (Shadow Flare) was originally going to be the first book, which would've worked better, I think.

> I'm not great at paid ads. It's really easy to incinerate money. Start with conservative budgets/bids and scale your winners. Otherwise, the platforms often don't optimize the ads well, and you spend a ton. Also, as your budget increases, expect the CPC to head up - at some point, this will get SUPER steep, since you're reaching beyond your core audience.

> This is so, so basic, but get things done on time. I had half of this stuff scheduled for months, then blew some of it by just not having the book out on time.

> Expensive pre-release stuff is pointless if you don't have pre-order. Fairly obvious, I think, but worth stating.

POTENTIAL ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS

Perhaps relaunching is not a bad strategy, but, rather the execution was lacking. Fair enough. Let's talk about possible explanations for why this didn't work:

> bad writing. The readthrough rate from Book 1 to Book 2 is around 45% (paid sales) and 50% (Kindle Unlimited). Those aren't great numbers. Reviews are all very positive, and readers say they love the main character. It's concerning that more of them aren't picking up Book 2, but that could be due to other factors like the relative lack of a cliffhanger.

> ineffective blurbs/covers that don't fit the genre. Possible, but strikes me as unlikely. The prequel cover (when used as an image) gets a relevance rating of 9 - 10 on Facebook, and garners lots of comments about how striking it is. It's done by the same artist as the main series, so it stands to reason that these are hitting the right tropes. I don't claim to be the world's best blurb writer, but the first book's is solid.

> wasting money. This is a valid counter-argument; probably $1500 of this spend did about as much to help the series as, say, buying a new 4k TV would have. In other words, it was useless. Nonetheless, I'll stop here to say that a modest profit ($2k or whatever) over 6 months really wasn't my goal, and isn't a great hourly wage/ROI. So I wouldn't consider that a success. YMMV.

> bad marketing choices. Again, possible, but unlikely. If you scroll up the list, I've tried quite a few things that are well-established, and even threw in some things (a giveaway, FB boosted posts etc.) that I wouldn't normally try to cover my bases.

> books aren't long enough. UF readers seem to want books of around 60k, so these are a little shorter. Nonetheless, there are plenty of indie books that are shorter doing well, and Amazon doesn't display word count.

I'm sure there are possible alternative explanations; if anyone has any counter-arguments or thoughts, feel free to post them below and I'll see if I can address them.

FINAL WORD

I debated posting this at all, since the decision-making was flawed from the start (e.g. I knew relaunching usually ends in sadness), and some of the marketing attempts were...not good. Like, really, really, really bad. But hopefully it's helpful for two reasons: one, there's an illusion that having money (to market or produce a professional product) will solve all your problems. It helps - there's no question about that. But you still need to execute well. That's the difficult part. Getting good covers and writing good blurbs and doing market research - all skills that money can't really buy. You can get expensive covers that don't sell books (guilty in the past, and I'm sure it'll happen again). If you can't execute a $5 ad, 100xing your spend is just going to 100x your losses.

So, if you don't have money, hone the skills that are free while you gather your powder and wait for your shot.

Two, while this series will make me money in the end, there is a significant opportunity cost. I've touched on this already, but it's so important to consider: we have to make the best use of our time and capital possible. Most people have limited time and funds to devote to what they hope might be a profitable side-gig or a full-time job at some point. For reasons we won't go into, I like experimenting and also have a certain safety net built-in where I can fall on my face and not be screwed. I can also write all day, if I choose to. I don't think that's most people.

Nonetheless, I'm still not at the point where I can just eat having a six month or so "lull" and lots of outlaid money that's not really working for me. Very few authors are in that position.

This is a hard business. Being sentimental about books or chasing losses makes it harder. I'm as guilty of that as anyone. If I had never released a sequel to Lightning Blade, I would have lost a few hundred bucks. But I would have had the intervening six or seven months to work on other projects. As it stands, if I end up making $10k or whatever over the next 5 years (which is entirely possible, even probable, by the way) that wasn't worth writing two more books and four more stories. I'm happy readers like these books - no question about that. I really like the characters, and my writing improved a lot. There are plenty of positives.

But I could've accomplished those same things with a new series that had a better opportunity to hit.

Yes, I could get lucky, or something could "catch" later on. And you need a backlist. It's not the worst thing in the world to have a completed trilogy available. But the best backlist was the one that performed decently well when it was frontlist. I'm not going to define what "well" is, because it's going to vary based on your expectations, genre, and current career point. That could be 5 copies in a year, or it could be 500,000. Context is everything, which is one of the most annoying things about any form of writing: as a form of mass-communication, it reaches ears to which its message is not relevant at all.

Discerning what constitutes "doing well" requires a little experience of your own. But when a series doesn't hit that threshold, whatever it might be, you have to seriously consider your options.

This also flows from knowing what you want. To some, money doesn't matter; they have a story, and they want to release it. Knowing what you want is another post and matter entirely, but suffice to say your strategy should flow from your overarching goals. Since my overarching goal is to sell lots more books than I am currently, this was a decidedly poor use of my limited resources.

Anyway, I hope this case study (and the other one from last year) illustrates that relaunching is a lot harder and riskier than most authors would suspect. Like way, way, harder. If you are going to attempt it, make sure you bring your ladder, as the old saying goes. And, in many situations, it's better to leave things alone and start writing a new book.

Nick

Offline RileyMorrison

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2017, 11:21:10 PM »
I've only dipped into this so far, as I am low on time, but this looks like pretty valuable information! Thanks for going into so much detail. I'll have to read it all later.
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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2017, 11:27:35 PM »
Thanks for posting this. I believe there is a bit of a must-relaunch mantra out there, and for most people, it probably wouldn't make sense.

A couple of things I'd like to highlight:

Quote
My opinion: it's better to wrap-up a non-performing series early, rather than invest more words (time) and capital (money) into it.

This

And this:

Quote
How Can I Revive Backlist, Then?

1) Email autoresponder - this is one of the best ways

My take on your lack of success:
- IMO the covers lack oopmh. They're kinda monotonous, out-of-the-box. Not that appealing and very samesy to what's already out there.
- The books are too short

My take on relaunching in general:

Only do it when any of these applies:
1. The covers are laughably bad, but you can see potential in the series
2. The series has out-earned its original covers and there is money for a relaunch (I've done this)
3. You like burning money

My take on keeping back list selling:

1. FFS get your arse out of KU
2. MAILING LIST autoresponder. Give book 1 free to new subscribers, and remind them that they have it.
3. BOOKBUB

Online PaulineMRoss

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2017, 11:46:52 PM »
Thanks for going into this in so much detail. I had a sort-of relaunch of my fantasies earlier this year. No rewriting, but I got new, more genre-appropriate covers, and had a big promo push on book 1 (although not as expensive as yours! Just regular promo sites plus some AMS ads). Result: 93 sales. The release of the next book in the series a couple of months later was way, way more effective.
   

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Offline VanessaC

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2017, 11:47:36 PM »
Great post, as usual, thank you - I am a total newbie, and always, always, learn a lot from your posts. In particular I really appreciate the way you break down the good the bad and the ugly.

Interesting that you mention (to paraphrase) the emotional attachment as I think it must be one of the hardest things as a indie author - in general, I think, we work on stories because we love them, and we think everyone else should love them too, and finding out that's not the case must be a tough lesson. (And one I will doubtless learn for myself when I eventually get round to publishing!)

Offline Crystal_

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2017, 11:50:00 PM »
Thanks for the post! I've also found that the only way to get AMS to spend is to bid so high I don't make a profit. It may work for first in long series, but it's no good for standalones and bundles and I can't actually do the math on if it works well on first in series as I'm also running FB ads. So it goes.

I am relaunching some old books next month (work new ASIN). I'm not sure how it will go. Readers might be p*ssed I'm repackaging new (highly edited) content, or I might give those books new life. Only time will tell. If it goes well, I'm going to rewrite and relaunch my first series, though I suspect that might be more like lighting time and money on fire as it's quite off trope... Though I think I can get it there. I did admit it's an emotional attachment (all that time and money), but I and doing to set metrics and only go forward if I believe I can hit them.

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2017, 01:10:44 AM »
Thank you for the detailed write up, Nick. I found it really interesting to read through and see your insights, conclusions, and counterpoints.

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2017, 02:06:40 AM »
Thanks for the info, it must have been rather painful to write so kudos for sharing. Its so easy to burn money advertising. I spent 300 quid on facebook ads for my book 1. I read all the books etc on how to do it and I still only sold maybe 100 copies through the ads. At 99c that's a hell of a loss.

We all like to think that our books just need a little something (better cover, more editing etc) and they will be wildly successful. Its not always true.

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2017, 03:39:26 AM »
This write-up is fantastic! It's extremely helpful to a newcomer like me. Thanks so much for sharing your experience in such detail!

Offline aimeeeasterling

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2017, 05:13:59 AM »
I had to make a similar decision about a series earlier this year. It wasn't a total dud --- book one netted $1,600 in its first month. But that was mostly just from my most loyal fans, because ranks and profits plummeted soon thereafter.

Book two was already in the works at that time and I'd written a prequel novella slated to go in an anthology in August. But I opted not to write book three (easy because these are interrelated standalones) and instead re-covered book one (part of the problem) and spent $250 on a free run for book one around the time when book two went live.

The result? Both books one and two are in the black, but they're not doing much. I figured I gave them a second chance and they blew it, so it was time to write something new. And that appears to have been a good choice since my new series (more written to market) appears to have far longer legs.

I haven't quite given up on the dud series though. When the novella comes out of the anthology in six weeks, I'll toss it up there as a free prequel and see if that gets any new eyes on the series. Meanwhile, I'll package the trio as a box set and run facebook ads to that higher-priced item. The stories are good, if not bulls-eye on the heart of the market, so I figure it's worth using them as a low-level money maker. In the meantime, though, it's a relief to be writing something more readers enjoy.

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Offline thesmallprint

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2017, 05:16:56 AM »
That's a great post, Nicholas, as yours invariably are. That leads me to suggesting that you could very probably back up your fiction writing by making a every second book a non-fiction How To.

I know you already have some How Tos out for writers, but your talent for analysis, organization and your ability to explain things clearly would, I think, stand you in very good stead in any How To subject.

Good luck.

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2017, 05:47:26 AM »
Thanks for the detailed write-up. I've just been rereading Chris Fox's book on relaunching, too, and trying to determine what I can do for my books versus what I should do. I have an unfinished series that gets little love and I do plan to revise the ms. draft and finally wrap up the series, but I don't have much hope that will mean the whole series suddenly starts selling big time.

I'm just relaunching a book, having spent no money on anything (got a free new cover that's much more appealing than the original). I decided to go the low-budget way:

1. ARC reads; this book currently has zero reviews
2. Kindle Countdown to half price (the cover price is $5.99, so at $2.99 we'll see if it's viewed as a bargain)
3. AMS ad resumed for an indeterminate period
4. Two or three newsletter pushes to my thousands of subscribers who aren't my fans
5. A newsletter to my few dozen organic subscribers, god love 'em

My book is a stand alone that I never really launched because I thought the cover was lame. I believe everybody else did, too. This relaunch will tell me if I was right about that.

Bottom line on relaunches is the sunk cost principle: Don't throw good money after bad. I do think it's worthwhile to test the waters with an inexpensive relaunch. Another version of it could possibly include a blog tour, obtaining reviews from Vine reviewers, etc. In other words, the tactics of three years ago.

Thanks again.

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2017, 06:08:38 AM »
Is there a like button I can hit?  ;)

No? Well, I do.

Thanks for being honest and detailed. These kinds of posts are super helpful for people like me who are just starting out and are trying to figure out our game plan.

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Offline Wired

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #13 on: September 20, 2017, 07:54:51 AM »
Is there a like button I can hit?  ;) No? Well, I do. Thanks for being honest and detailed. These kinds of posts are super helpful for people like me who are just starting out and are trying to figure out our game plan.

This!

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #14 on: September 20, 2017, 08:38:02 AM »
Excellent writeup, Nick.

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #15 on: September 20, 2017, 10:11:42 AM »
Thank you, Nick.  I've learned a lot from your posts, and I'm grateful for your willingness to share.

I'm definitely guilty of obsessing over old works.  Every year or so I dig one of my dead books out of the grave and try to revamp it--new covers, new blurbs, new promo runs, etc.  None of these efforts have ever resulted in significantly improved sales--the books get a brief glimpse of sunlight, and then sink back into obscurity.  So long as I don't spend more than they can eventually earn back, I'm okay with it.

I don't have much to add, though I do agree with Patty Jansen about the covers.  They hit the general UF targets--engaging young cover model, nighttime city backdrop, "energy-flow" effects--but are sort of lackluster.  I also wonder if they need a little more magic to really be unmistakable as fantasy-related.  Besides the colored smoke around the gun, there isn't much magic going on.  Maybe if she had something a little more in-your-face, like a pentacle necklace or arcane-symbol tattoos or something, it'd help.

Probably wouldn't make a super-big difference, though.

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #16 on: September 20, 2017, 10:24:49 AM »
I wonder how this would work in a romance series of standalone books where individual books are more likely to garner interest based on what they're about versus just pulling in people interested only in the series as a whole. As in, you release a new book that is much more marketable (whether by design or fluke) and end up revitalizing a slow selling series.

What's the thinking on that in these special cases where books are more independent of the whole? Give it a new series name even though it's part of the same series or just keep going?

I don't have any evidence one way or the other for which is better. I have two books out in two series and one in another that didn't take off, but I can see that some books I'm interested in writing for those series might have a lot more appeal than others and it feels like the potential is there to help the series as a whole. But there's also the possibility that the series as a whole could hold back the new books.

I'm one of those people who believe that you can put stuff on the back burner and finish it off later. As long as you don't tell anyone you're done with the series, you aren't breaking trust with the reader. I just tell people who ask that I'm a slow writer and that some books take longer than others (which is pretty much true anyway).

Anyway, good post. Very interesting.

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #17 on: September 20, 2017, 10:35:16 AM »
Thank you Nick! Now I don't feel guilty for letting an old series slide. It didn't sell well and I threw a little money at it with very little results and went on to other things. But it always niggled at me - that what if. Maybe it just needed the right ad to get it going. Now I can keep going forward with less of the guilt.


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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #18 on: September 20, 2017, 10:50:59 AM »
Nick, that was an enjoyable and valuable read. Thank you.  :)


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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #19 on: September 20, 2017, 11:02:27 AM »
Whenever I read one of Nick's posts, I have this image of a great whirling ball of creative energy. That he expends some of that energy by sharing with us is truly appreciated. As usual a great and informative post. Thank you.

 

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #20 on: September 20, 2017, 11:06:52 AM »
I do wonder, though, about the significant revisions/additions/updates after release.

Were you in a rush to release? Did something better come to you later? How many times did you edit/revise before release?

Very curious.

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Offline Nicholas Erik

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #21 on: September 20, 2017, 02:02:46 PM »
Thanks for the comments, everyone. Glad you found the breakdown helpful.

- IMO the covers lack oopmh. They're kinda monotonous, out-of-the-box. Not that appealing and very samesy to what's already out there.
- The books are too short

That's fair, I think. The covers are designed to fit comfortably within the UF genre. There's some risk in becoming "invisible" as a result, since people have already seen the same thing dozens of times. I think they're strong as a set in terms of branding, and some of the details don't show up at thumbnail. That's problematic, since most people will only see one of them at a time in the store, at a very small size.

Length-wise, I guess Annie Bellet's first UF book is about 35k. TBH, I can't think of any others, so maybe her tremendous success has made it seem like more people are succeeding with shorter books in the genre than is actually the case. Could also be wrong about that word count. I know a lot of the trad pub stuff is around 80 - 100k, so it's definitely short in comparison to that.

I am going to take these books out of KU and see what they do wide. No question that needs to be done.

Thanks for the post! I've also found that the only way to get AMS to spend is to bid so high I don't make a profit. It may work for first in long series, but it's no good for standalones and bundles and I can't actually do the math on if it works well on first in series as I'm also running FB ads. So it goes.


Yup. I was bidding between $0.90 - $1.50. Got tons of clicks, always met the daily budget. It's basically the only way to reliably get consistent impressions for competitive keywords (fantasy, urban fantasy), but the results weren't worth it all. My conversion rate wasn't bad (9.1%), although that was helped by the book being $0.99. That doesn't include KU reads, just sales. I don't see any way of making that profitable, unless the series converts stunningly well and is really long with amazing, amazing sell-through. Even then...probably going to lose a lot of money.

I haven't quite given up on the dud series though. When the novella comes out of the anthology in six weeks, I'll toss it up there as a free prequel and see if that gets any new eyes on the series. Meanwhile, I'll package the trio as a box set and run facebook ads to that higher-priced item. The stories are good, if not bulls-eye on the heart of the market, so I figure it's worth using them as a low-level money maker. In the meantime, though, it's a relief to be writing something more readers enjoy.

I think that's a good point: if you have this extra content "lying around," then it makes sense to try a few things with it that are low risk. Box sets are obvious candidates, taking it wide (or KU, if it was wide) is another. I'm putting one of the side stories in an anthology. I'm going to box up the complete trilogy + the four side stories/novellas into a "complete collection." That can be done for like $50, although I spent $800 (!!) on an illustrated cover, because I wanted to test what Patty pointed above - whether the current covers were getting "lost" in a similar shuffle.

I'm just relaunching a book, having spent no money on anything (got a free new cover that's much more appealing than the original). I decided to go the low-budget way...

I think that's generally the best way to go: low-risk, trying to fix obvious problems that might have hurt the book the first time around. Lacks the grandiosity of a big relaunch, but also lacks the (usual) corresponding money pit.

That's a great post, Nicholas, as yours invariably are. That leads me to suggesting that you could very probably back up your fiction writing by making a every second book a non-fiction How To.

I know you already have some How Tos out for writers, but your talent for analysis, organization and your ability to explain things clearly would, I think, stand you in very good stead in any How To subject.

Good luck.

Appreciate that. It has crossed my mind to explore non-fiction more, but I only really do these things when I'm interested (I know, who writes a 5k or 10k post about random book marketing things out of interest?), which seems to totally evaporate if I decide to write this stuff on a set schedule or as a dedicated project.

I don't have much to add, though I do agree with Patty Jansen about the covers.  They hit the general UF targets--engaging young cover model, nighttime city backdrop, "energy-flow" effects--but are sort of lackluster.  I also wonder if they need a little more magic to really be unmistakable as fantasy-related.  Besides the colored smoke around the gun, there isn't much magic going on.  Maybe if she had something a little more in-your-face, like a pentacle necklace or arcane-symbol tattoos or something, it'd help.

Probably wouldn't make a super-big difference, though.

I didn't mention this in the original post, but one of the reasons I didn't get a new cover was because I've replaced an expensive trope-y cover (SF) before with a different one without any success. That's a small sample, of course, but swapping covers quickly gets pricey, and I'd need four of them. One of the issues is simply that it could be other factors: the title, the character name, the series name. I compromised, in that I got a new one for the upcoming boxed set that's different.

We'll see if it changes things.

I wonder how this would work in a romance series of standalone books where individual books are more likely to garner interest based on what they're about versus just pulling in people interested only in the series as a whole. As in, you release a new book that is much more marketable (whether by design or fluke) and end up revitalizing a slow selling series.

What's the thinking on that in these special cases where books are more independent of the whole? Give it a new series name even though it's part of the same series or just keep going?

As a non-romance writer, I really couldn't say. I've previously had a series of books that could be read as standalones (referenced in the link in the post above - here it is again). None of the books "broke out," but I improved significantly in marketing and writing over the year it took to complete the series. Didn't do much. I think, even if you have a series of standalones, a lot of people will start from Book 1 - so if Book 1 isn't compelling for some reason (presentation/writing etc.), then that hurts the rest of the books' chances.

Thank you Nick! Now I don't feel guilty for letting an old series slide. It didn't sell well and I threw a little money at it with very little results and went on to other things. But it always niggled at me - that what if. Maybe it just needed the right ad to get it going. Now I can keep going forward with less of the guilt.

Yeah, you'll never be absolutely certain, which is the most difficult thing. It's easier for me to accept, now, because I've spent a lot of time and money trying to do it. Even then, I fight it (see: expensive illustrated cover, this relaunch experience).

I do wonder, though, about the significant revisions/additions/updates after release.

Were you in a rush to release? Did something better come to you later? How many times did you edit/revise before release?

Very curious.

That's a good question. The original novel (Lightning Blade) was written basically in 5 days. Basically one draft, one revision read and then publish. I was in a rush to release because I had a strict deadline (due to ads I was running). I released it the same day (two days after, actually) as the third book in the "prequel" trilogy, which was written the same month. So it was a mad scramble. I hit that deadline, the book was fine, but certain plot points could be expanded on. And I figured it would have better legs at solid full-length novel size, rather than right on the cusp.

So I spent the next month or so fleshing it out, while writing the second book. The plan was to release the second book in February along with the expanded edition, but I was pretty burned out from trying to write two books in basically two weeks the month prior, and it just didn't happen. I finished up the expanded edition and got it out at the beginning of March, I think.

Then, as reviews rolled in, some people commented that you needed to read the prequel first, or that the backstory was unclear (which is covered in the prequel). So I decided to add a couple scenes and details from the prequel. This is the risk of a backstory prequel novella lead magnet, by the way: you might omit important information. I'm torn on this book, because I think it was fine as it was, and TBH a lot of people skim through backstory or get bored by too much of it early on.

But I added another chapter, which bumped the word count to almost 60k. And now that second updated edition has been sitting on my hard drive.

I would not recommend any of this. Get the book done and then release it when it's done. I'm not really a fan of adding content that probably should've been there originally, or was cut due to time constraints. This is common in other industries (e.g. gaming), but it's not the best practice, IMO. It's also unprofessional to release a book without proofreading, and while I write clean, a few early reviews mention the lack of editing.

Hard deadlines can help you get things done, but if you rely on them, oftentimes your true skills/work habits shine through in some fashion before the end. This happened at the release of Book 1, where it wasn't as long or as polished as it needed to be; it happened for the release of Book 2, which needed to come out a month after, but instead came out three months after Book 1; and it happened with the release of Book 3, which I delayed multiple times, then pushed back four days, from August 10 to August 14. Which meant all the marketing I'd set up on August 10 was basically for nothing.

My work habits have gotten a lot better over the years, but they're still not at the level they need to be at. Part of the issue is that I always studied or did papers the night before in school. That can be done with a 2500 word essay, but it doesn't work, really, to leave 5 days for a book that needs to 60,000k+ words. Working for yourself is hard.

Optimally, I would write a bare bones outline + list of ideas, write the first draft, revise it for continuity and pacing in the second draft, then stamp out typos and lingering minor problems in the third draft. Then send it to a proofreader. And read it one final time after it's formatted. That happens now, but usually it's like a couple drafts, maybe proofreader or maybe release, then the other stuff after, with me uploading a few new files. That's just not good enough in today's environment.

Everyone's writing process is different, so that's not a suggestion to copy mine. But professional polish is key, so once you have a system that guarantees a quality book, you need to abide by it closely.

Nick

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #22 on: September 20, 2017, 05:51:45 PM »
Full disclosure: I'm neither new to kboards nor new to writing and publishing. I've decided to post incognito on kboards because I've been around here long enough to realize I'm more comfortable with anonymity.

Every one of my launches I wish I had handled differently in retrospect. Spending money on a relaunch only makes sense to me if I can learn whether those mistakes mattered. The OP indicates you had data from your efforts on book one that suggests an on time delivery of book 3 wouldn't have helped much. I think you're making the right call on ending the series.

Bundling the trilogy and going for a $0.99 BB may yield a positive ROI on the BB fee, but I'm guessing your tail sales will disappoint because you lack an extended series. Still, the data may be worth a go.

I'll add a fifth bullet to your flavors of relaunching: 5) Relaunch w/ a new ASIN in a new KDP account with a new author name.
Why? Because AMZN needs to predict what a new book will do before it has title-specific data. Where can the algos find such data? The publishing history of authors and KDP accounts, i.e. Author Rank and the undisclosed, but likely calculated, Publisher Rank. The more titles with poor performance to your name, the steeper the algo climb.

Think also about the differences between and convergence of genres. My sense is that UF is evolving into a market that looks a lot like romance, in no small part because readers and writers have crossed over. That means publishing rates increase, revenue per title decreases, and promo ROIs shrink on individual titles while the need for long-running series, high production values, and flawless multi-prong marketing becomes critical. Your results reflect, not just relaunch effectiveness, but also genre market dynamics.

FFS being in/out of KU makes no difference. (I like when Patty says FFS, so that's why I said it, not because I'm raging. ;)) Sure, try wide. Cost effective marketing is hard when wide if you can't get BBs. Yes, I know about FB FFS.  ;D


Offline Nicholas Erik

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #23 on: September 20, 2017, 09:04:42 PM »
Bundling the trilogy and going for a $0.99 BB may yield a positive ROI on the BB fee, but I'm guessing your tail sales will disappoint because you lack an extended series. Still, the data may be worth a go.

This is my plan, and actually the main reason for taking the series wide: easier to get a BookBub. It'll definitely be profitable, if BookBub accepts me (big if; they don't take much indie UF). I also think the wide waters might be a little less competitive in UF, since everyone is fighting over KU reads. I'll take the rank hit, since none of my books have ever killed it in KU, anyway. If it's wide, I can give away the first novel free on a variety of platforms, including Instafreebie, and maybe some cross promos. Just get thousands of copies of Book 1 out there each month. Use it to build my mailing list, too. I don't think that will necessarily turn the trilogy into some huge winner, but once the KU reads die off from the launch tail, that'll probably be more profitable than just letting it ride in KU.

I'll see with the PPC costs are wide, but I'm not optimistic. I've soured on stuff like FB a lot; hard to turn a profit these days in UF. I think it's a competition issue, as you've said; I've had the same inkling that UF is becoming like romance. Part of the issue is that these books - while professional - are a just a hair below that current competitive rung on the marketing organization, length, publishing schedule and presentation levels. That's a problem, because while I don't claim to be master of the book marketing universe, I do know at least a few things. And this experience definitely suggests the bar has been raised significantly - and will continue to be raised. So a plan that might have "broken out" here won't be good enough three or six months from now - it'll need to be sharper, faster, and better.

Quote
I'll add a fifth bullet to your flavors of relaunching: 5) Relaunch w/ a new ASIN in a new KDP account with a new author name.
Why? Because AMZN needs to predict what a new book will do before it has title-specific data. Where can the algos find such data? The publishing history of authors and KDP accounts, i.e. Author Rank and the undisclosed, but likely calculated, Publisher Rank. The more titles with poor performance to your name, the steeper the algo climb.


This is a fascinating theory, and one I haven't seen on the boards. Do you have evidence that publishing history affects how the algos handle a new release? I wouldn't be surprised if this was true, or part of the calculation. But confirmation of that theory would be a complete gamechanger, IMO.

Nick

Offline Jenny Schwartz

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Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
« Reply #24 on: September 20, 2017, 09:55:02 PM »
Nick, your posts are always so informative - and they make me think, which while painful, is useful. Thank you.

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