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Authors' Forum => Writers' Cafe => Topic started by: Nicholas Erik on September 19, 2017, 10:51:46 pm

Title: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Nicholas Erik 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:

(http://www.davidmcelroy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Three-feet-from-gold.jpg)

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

(http://static6.businessinsider.com/image/5245811eeab8ea8e5b8f040a-1177-500/screen-shot-2013-09-27-at-8.57.42-am.jpg)

This isn't the first time I've tried some sort of relaunch (more on that here (http://nicholaserik.com/write-to-market-failure-lessons/)). 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

(https://i.imgur.com/UAysZNk.jpg)

> 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!

(https://i.imgur.com/7tpIZSb.png)

(https://i.imgur.com/0oDO9tK.png)

> 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.

(https://i.imgur.com/nRjLB1n.jpg)

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 (http://nicholaserik.com/write-to-market-failure-lessons/)) 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
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Book Cat 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Patty Jansen 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
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: PearlEarringLady 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: VanessaC 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!)
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Crystal_ 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Vale 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: T E Scott Writer 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: aimeeeasterling 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: thesmallprint 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: DmGuay 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Wired 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!
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Anarchist on September 20, 2017, 08:38:02 am
Excellent writeup, Nick.

Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Anonymouse 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: AliceS 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: jaehaerys on September 20, 2017, 10:50:59 am
Nick, that was an enjoyable and valuable read. Thank you.  :)
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: EC Sheedy 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.

Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: DmGuay 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Nicholas Erik 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 (http://nicholaserik.com/write-to-market-failure-lessons/)). 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
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Out of Ink 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

Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Nicholas Erik 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
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Jenny Schwartz 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.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Out of Ink on September 20, 2017, 09:57:25 pm
Quote
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.

To be clear, this is my speculation. I don't work for AMZN, and I haven't seen any disclosures about their formula. I know how I would build the algo. Derivative features like Author Rank are an obvious add to refine predictive power.

There is a risk to total reset: AMZN may decide the content in the new account infringes the original account and ban the reboot; but, hey, as long as you didn't cancel the first account, you can republish and continue as you were. The downside is lost time; plus, if you're successful in a reset that's later shut down, you lose a good brand. Banning duplicates is the most likely outcome in the long-term because if authors find success in resets, AMZN will block the practice. This may seem paradoxical--AMZN punishing authors for success, but it has been their MO from the start with any type of algo manipulation, e.g. free-to-paid ranking transfers, promo spikes, shill reviews, click farms, etc.

If you haven't had success with a handful of books but you've learned how to write, publish, and market, try resetting with your next new book. There's little downside with a new account and new content, and no record may be better than trying to overcome a poor one. It's not a pure A|B test but if you do reset, let people know how it goes.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: TellNotShow on September 20, 2017, 11:49:43 pm
Nick. First, thank you, again. So much excellent info here.

Second. If I could buy shares in you and your publishing company I would. Aside from everything else you have going for you, your willingness to intelligently take risks, then not make excuses when things go badly, will help you to succeed. Much respect.


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.


While I agree with Nick that this would be a complete gamechanger if it worked, I have a tiny piece of evidence that indicates it may not. Then again, a single piece of evidence is VERY inconclusive, and also, the one I know of was not a very good test. I'll share it anyway.
An author I know did this with SOME of her existing titles. SORT OF.
They'd done reasonably, never set the genre on fire, but sold in reasonable numbers. Book One had been free awhile, the series had decent sellthrough at that time. The series then went into KU. Again, it did OK, ranking was higher but it was making less money over those few months, even though Book One got a Bookbub. After awhile both her page reads and sales were well down, and she wanted to go wide again, but didn't want to "appear disloyal to Amazon."
So she carefully opened a new account (I know she used a different IP address, etcetera, as it was the first thing I said to her, that they'd know just by that), and transferred that one series to the "new owner of the books." (Her boyfriend -- different name, different address, etc.) (Also, they were the only books under that pen name, just to be clear.)
She got a few extra sales, not a lot, to begin with, but it seemed to help a tiny bit -- as you'd expect, what with them technically being new releases, but with plenty of reviews.
Soon after the transfer, she did get a Bookbub for the first box set. Her sellthrough was OK but nothing to write home about, and rank and visibility on Amazon slid quickly and is not very good now. She estimates it's right about where it would have fallen to anyway, had she not gone to all this trouble. (At least she's selling a few books wide again now.)

Of course, the fact that this was done with existing books (and bringing the reviews and history along with them) would quite possibly just bring the author rank along with it in creating a rank for the "new" publisher.
So, like I said, not a great test, but I still think this was worth sharing.
And I too would be VERY interested to see if a complete reset would help.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Mark E. Cooper on September 21, 2017, 12:14:39 am

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

The above is how I HAVE and DO handle my back list. I have 4 series running.

If you want to skip my life story, go to the end:

All the books in ALL the series have had multiple cover refreshes over 17 years of my publishing life. 17 you say? How the eff can it be 17 when self-publishing started in 2009 (2011 in UK) because of Kindle?

Not so.

There was life before Amazon Kindle. Gasp. I  KNOW right? Unbelievable. Back in the mists of time, when I was a mere sprog at age 35 or so, I wrote a book and an artist created a cover. It was effing horrible, but I published it anyway using Lightning Source. Kindle didn't exist, but POD was a brand new thing, and I went for it.

I lost a LOT of money. The cover alone never earned back, let alone all the fees needed back then. I did 2 more books in that series, same artist, same results. New series, different artist, same result (horrible covers). Gave up, spent years playing games. Got addicted. Quit. Started writing again.

KINDLE arrives. I dump Lightning source, go select. It's 2011. I make $187 in 2011. WhooooHoooo! I'm on the road to success. I go wide, write more books. Covers are still horrid. I make $21,000 in 2012.

MONEY. I have money. New covers, yesireee. New covers. Everything. Money to burn. New covers, keywords, categories will make me rich. New designer comes in. Covers are much better but still horrid by today's standard. 9 books done. Only 1 series is doing well, others just ticking over. Ignore the bad series, write in the good. $44,000 made in 2013.

AUDIO!! OMG, audiobooks. New covers for everything, because once in audio at ACX they can't be changed (I thought, but they can via email and fast talking--I didn't know then.) THIS time the covers have to be fantastically good, they MUST work first time and not need changing. Get in the new boy, a guy called Tom Edwards. Maybe he will know what to do.

KABOOOOM!

Audio and Tom Edwards (now a big name) hit it out of the park. Audio sells millions (okay 1000s, but who is counting?) and I go full time. Write more books and stare at those 3 series limping along.

NEW COVERS for the limping 3 series! but this time I choose 3 artists, 1 for each genre/series. The cover styles, are WAY different from before and each other. Genre specific (gasp, who knew?) AND FINALLY, I have MY peeps lined up. My brand, my series, MY GOD I'm selling. Still wide, still never relaunched, sill have all the old reviews and ASINs etc but all the books have new covers (about 5 times each) and new blurbs (about 100 tinkers each result in all new Bryan Cohen blurbs). Finally I am here. It's 2017, and I am a 6 figure author (still can't believe it, I check and it's not dollars either. 6 figure author in good ol' Stirling.)

Why didn't I just relaunch? Because throwing good money after bad is what I've always done (all that time stressing out, all that time and money spent on new covers over and over and over.) I learned my lesson.


JUMPERS LAND HERE:

The skinny is this. I have 3 neverending series dragging me down (they sell, they give me hope, they have readers DEMANDING MORE BOOKS, but they won't ever be big sellers), and 1 series giving me my 6 figures.

The future IMO is write lots of trilogies, not gigantic neverending series that if they fail to hit simply drag you down the rabbit hole of hope and despair. I'd release 3 books at a time, and write more trilogies. I'd use the artists I've finally learned are the right ones for my genre covers, I'd stay wide, keep using my facebook page and my newsletters.

What will you do Mark (about your old series)?
I will end my oldest by writing a 5th and final book, and walk away to write a new sci-fi series.
I have made one (proposed series) into a du-ology and already walked away.
I will continue writing my flagship series and try to end at book 12
My last current series will be at least 4 books. I have covers etc done.

Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Fel Beasley on September 21, 2017, 09:20:07 am
Thanks for all the information in the OP. I love your posts.

I did super cringe at your CPCs. Had you been able to get those down a lot (and fast) I think you'd have had more success with the relaunch. Or at least saved a bit of cash ;)

But managing a successful CPC campaign for a launch (or relaunch) is a lot of work (aka hours). I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't already run successful CPC campaigns on their other books. Even then, ROI campaigns and launch campaigns are two different beasts. And there's a big risk that you are simply setting money on fire.

Getting visibility on Amazon keeps getting harder, and without some algo love from Amazon (which they are more likely to give to a new release) I'm not sure a big relaunch is a great idea. So I agree with your post. I've found incrementally increasing sales for a series that is older and not selling has a higher chance of success (though that success won't be huge or anything) at a much, much lower risk rather than a short, big burst.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Athena Grayson on September 21, 2017, 09:58:09 am
Nick,
First off, thank you for your analysis! FWIW, here are some random thoughts from someone who's been very good at doing the wrong thing for a long time:

1.) Get out of KU. Your page-reads don't seem to be making up for the missed opportunities.
2.) I think your covers are fine, although they're not super-remarkable, and maybe that's what you need--you did good on picking out the "fits the genre" elements, but now you need to also have something that tells the browser how you stand out.
3.) Selling Urban Fantasy at 99 cents is probably killing you. The average UF reader has the choice of one 50k book for a buck, or an astonishing number of UF box sets featuring twenty whole books for a buck. Your "one for a buck" CANNOT compete with the volume appeal to the volume reader. And you said it yourself--the Zon is about the churn, and the age (relatively speaking) of this series has already tied ankle weights to it. Go up to full price. If you're not selling at 99 cents, you can not-sell about the same amount at 2.99 or 3.99 and come away with more money.
4.) Do not rule out the fact that shortly after your re-launch, large portions of the United States were experiencing weather and events usually only found in B movies on the SyFy channel. While it is arguably true that the US is not the center of the world, it's a pretty big market, and you were competing for attention with attention grabbers of epic and biblical proportions.

To those playing the home version of the game show, the churn is one possible way to float up to success, just like the lightning strike. There are things you can do to ride the churn or to goose it, but if they don't work, churn prompts are only going to be as effective as the average beerfart in a whirlwind. Long term, you must ask yourself if the books are ones you want to be known for in two, three, or five years. Do they reflect you as a writer? Do they fit into your body of work? Did you have fun writing them? Do the stories speak to you and the reason you started writing in the first place? What makes them special? Who is the ideal reader that would be changed by this story/series? These questions can help you figure out the long-term viability of a series.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Out of Ink on September 21, 2017, 10:18:23 am
Thinking about how the math would work, author rank probably has the greatest impact for titles with no data and as a rank tiebreaker. Thus, you're most likely to see an impact at low ranks where the large numbers of authors produce a greater chance of a rank tie by selling the same volume (or none at all) over the same time period. Skilled marketers will quickly generate sales on new releases, elevating their title above the maddening crowd where author/publisher rank will have less effect because of both fewer rank ties and smaller differences between reputations.

Before you decide on a reset, plot your author rank on a graph with your title ranks. You'll see short term spikes in both and long term trends that will give you a sense of how much inertia the author rank produces. I can see a historical impact in mine, but I'm past the point where a reset makes sense. Consider a reset only if you're near the back of the pack, i.e. no brand value to lose, and you truly get how to market titles now, which is a stretch if you're at the back but possible.

Quote
I was told they have already banned the use of duplicate KDP accounts?
I'm not going to get into a ToS discussion because ToS have never stopped people. They will either achieve their goal in a ToS compliant manner or ignore the terms (frequently w/o consequences).
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Goulburn on September 21, 2017, 10:21:18 am
Thank you. Nick for such an honest and interesting read.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: ibizwiz on September 21, 2017, 03:04:01 pm
Nick, and Out of Ink, thanks especially to both of you. I'm in fact getting ready to do a relaunch/series completion so Nick's thread is wonderfully timely. Not to mention comprehensive and (as always) honest, with a nice summary of the many potential bumps in the road for a series relaunch campaign.

Then, as I draft this comment, here comes Mark Cooper!

The skinny is this. I have 3 neverending series dragging me down (they sell, they give me hope, they have readers DEMANDING MORE BOOKS, but they won't ever be big sellers), and 1 series giving me my 6 figures.

The future IMO is write lots of trilogies, not gigantic neverending series that if they fail to hit simply drag you down the rabbit hole of hope and despair. I'd release 3 books at a time, and write more trilogies. I'd use the artists I've finally learned are the right ones for my genre covers, I'd stay wide, keep using my facebook page and my newsletters.


Before I began rewriting the six published novellas into the first two novels of the relaunched series, I studied you experts in here and concluded:

-   The new series will be a trilogy (of 60-70K novels) with new covers
-   The various WIP I was drafting for the follow on stories will also be implemented as trilogies, with lots of intriguing cross-story arc links to "hook" readers into those trilogy series as they're published
-   The trilogy launches will be three at a time
-   The most popular characters from the relaunched series/trilogy will get their own trilogies over time

Wow! The successful Mark Cooper has today re-affirmed my basic strategy going forward, and that, coupled with the great comments in this thread are really motivating.

I'm going to assume that Mark would agree that this three-up, rinse and repeat approach also will yield a steady stream of 9.99 boxed sets.

In a few areas, I'm not planning to follow Mark's (and others') path. FWIW:

-   Pricing - Each novel will be priced at 5.99 -- after reading the latest thinking in here, and having decided the folks who like my characters and story will pay more
-   KU - Since the first trilogy has no significant visibility, the three novels will initially spend at least 90 days in KU. The follow-on trilogies can go wide at the outset. These stories are all "realistic erotica", and the options for going wide with erotica are few, so we'll see going forward
-   A collection, fairly early in the game, of sexy short stories featuring the younger characters getting into comic troubles 
-   An active author blog and newsletter, with bonus and fun content targeted at readers of "realistic erotica"
-   Direct sales - This is my long-term objective as the best hedge against a fickle KDP, and the uneven reliability of the other platforms. I've run ecommerce sites, so it's not scary, especially with all the tools now available to a small indie storefront
-   Community - Beginning with a true newsletter-based mailing list, we'll build a community of adult readers of richly-developed characters and story-arcs. I was a ten year Amazon Merchant of humorous goods, so know how to integrate related products to the blog sales backend.

Thank you all again for your comments on the relaunch and series promotion threads! I only wish my MMC's timing was as good as yours!
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Nicholas Erik on September 21, 2017, 04:42:55 pm
If you haven't had success with a handful of books but you've learned how to write, publish, and market, try resetting with your next new book. There's little downside with a new account and new content, and no record may be better than trying to overcome a poor one. It's not a pure A|B test but if you do reset, let people know how it goes.

[snip]
Of course, the fact that this was done with existing books (and bringing the reviews and history along with them) would quite possibly just bring the author rank along with it in creating a rank for the "new" publisher.
So, like I said, not a great test, but I still think this was worth sharing.
And I too would be VERY interested to see if a complete reset would help.

I was told they have already banned the use of duplicate KDP accounts?

This is all very interesting, indeed. I would likely do a test if it was easier. I don't think it's against the TOS to have multiple accounts if they're separate entities (e.g. you have a different TIN/EIN for each one, so they're different companies). But don't quote me on that; I'm not a TOS ninja. Nonetheless, even if it's allowed, you might be risking some mix-ups with Amazon KDP service. And it's a logistical pain in the butt, regardless. It'd only be worth it if Amazon's predictive algos were essentially tying lead weights to your account for each new release. Hopefully that's not the case.

The theory of a pen name's history holding it down has been suggested before. Anecdotally, there have been significant breakouts from people with previously unsuccessful pen names. So I don't know if your name's history acts as a negative or not. I'm inclined to say no - or it's such a minor factor (e.g. the rank tiebreaker that Out of Ink mentioned) that it's not worth the trouble of creating a new pen name for the most part - but there's no way of being sure. And Amazon's algorithms change all the time.


I did super cringe at your CPCs. Had you been able to get those down a lot (and fast) I think you'd have had more success with the relaunch. Or at least saved a bit of cash ;)

But managing a successful CPC campaign for a launch (or relaunch) is a lot of work (aka hours). I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't already run successful CPC campaigns on their other books. Even then, ROI campaigns and launch campaigns are two different beasts. And there's a big risk that you are simply setting money on fire.


Yes, the CPCs were absurdly high. Part of that is my lack of skill, the other part comes from scaling up too rapidly. Also, a lot of ads just don't scale at all; they might work at $5, but then they're terrible at anything higher. Costs hit a point where they just go vertical. Starting with big daily bids + budgets pretty much guaranteed that I was going to take a bath. Wouldn't do that normally (the launch was a special occasion), but I also wouldn't do it again for a launch.

@ Athena - I agree; I'm going wide & the titles are $3.99, now (and have been since Aug 20). Maybe seasonality and other outside factors had an influence, maybe not. Hard to say, so I don't tend to worry about acts of God.

@ Mark Cooper - I like the idea of trilogies as both a writer (to not get bored) and a publisher (to mitigate risk). On the other hand, if you do have a hit with high read-through, a long-running series blows your advertising opportunities wide open - you can spend a (comparatively) enormous amount to acquire a reader, which means you have a virtually endless revenue stream with little competition. I think I'm going to write in trilogy arcs, so that I can cut off a series at 3, but have the option to keep going for as long as it's profitable and readers are interested. This probably varies by genre; some readers were frustrated that I only wrote a trilogy for this series, since UF tends to run many books.

@ ibizwiz - interesting plan. I know nothing about erotica, which seems like a whole different ball game. I think it'll definitely support higher prices, especially since your new books will be fairly long in a genre where people will pay $2.99 for shorts.

Nick
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Patty Jansen on September 21, 2017, 05:03:51 pm
Quote
On the other hand, if you do have a hit with high read-through, a long-running series blows your advertising opportunities wide open - you can spend a (comparatively) enormous amount to acquire a reader, which means you have a virtually endless revenue stream with little competition. I think I'm going to write in trilogy arcs, so that I can cut off a series at 3, but have the option to keep going for as long as it's profitable and readers are interested.

This is one of the things I said in the Three-year Plan post. Make sure you have natural rest points in a longer series, where you can let it sit for a bit without feeling incomplete, or walk away from it, either for a while or forever.

I have a long-running series that I've invested a lot of time in this past year. It has a read-through of as close to 100% as you can get from book 2 onwards, so as long as I keep writing new books and shovelling people into the freebie book 1 funnel, it's printing money. But I plan the books in sets, so that I close off an arc, and I can go and write something else for a while while goosing sales with a Bookbub on book 1 or other forms of advertising. A soft relaunch (which I've done) could focus on a few things:

I could go for increasing wow appeal through a new cover and nicer design (this is is what I did), in order to woo Bookbub (which I got and was my best-performing Bookbub ever), or I could go for increasing read-through. I would do the latter if readthrough was quite poor, or if there was a genre expectation mismatch. But I chose to do the first, because I could see the appeal, because readthrough was so high.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: TellNotShow on September 21, 2017, 05:08:04 pm
I was told they have already banned the use of duplicate KDP accounts?
Which is why my friend "sold" the copyright of her books to her boyfriend. A lot less trouble than her creating a separate new business entity just for that purpose.


 but if they don't work, churn prompts are only going to be as effective as the average beerfart in a whirlwind.

Your whole comment was great, but this line, this line deserves to be written on the wall in a colourful, large, eye-grabbing font. For more than one reason. We are not only impressed by your logic, we are downright and outright amused. Thank you.


Before I began rewriting the six published novellas into the first two novels of the relaunched series, I studied you experts in here and concluded:

-   The new series will be a trilogy (of 60-70K novels) with new covers
-   The various WIP I was drafting for the follow on stories will also be implemented as trilogies, with lots of intriguing cross-story arc links to "hook" readers into those trilogy series as they're published
-   The trilogy launches will be three at a time
-   The most popular characters from the relaunched series/trilogy will get their own trilogies over time

Wow! The successful Mark Cooper has today re-affirmed my basic strategy going forward, and that, coupled with the great comments in this thread are really motivating.

I'm going to assume that Mark would agree that this three-up, rinse and repeat approach also will yield a steady stream of 9.99 boxed sets.

In a few areas, I'm not planning to follow Mark's (and others') path. FWIW:

-   Pricing - Each novel will be priced at 5.99 -- after reading the latest thinking in here, and having decided the folks who like my characters and story will pay more
-   KU - Since the first trilogy has no significant visibility, the three novels will initially spend at least 90 days in KU. The follow-on trilogies can go wide at the outset. These stories are all "realistic erotica", and the options for going wide with erotica are few, so we'll see going forward
-   A collection, fairly early in the game, of sexy short stories featuring the younger characters getting into comic troubles 
-   An active author blog and newsletter, with bonus and fun content targeted at readers of "realistic erotica"
-   Direct sales - This is my long-term objective as the best hedge against a fickle KDP, and the uneven reliability of the other platforms. I've run ecommerce sites, so it's not scary, especially with all the tools now available to a small indie storefront
-   Community - Beginning with a true newsletter-based mailing list, we'll build a community of adult readers of richly-developed characters and story-arcs. I was a ten year Amazon Merchant of humorous goods, so know how to integrate related products to the blog sales backend.

Thank you all again for your comments on the relaunch and series promotion threads! I only wish my MMC's timing was as good as yours!

Now this is a PLAN! It's going straight on the wall too. (I am now very carefully not saying anything about the MMC's timing, most particularly in relation to what's going on the wall.)

Look at all the great strategies coming out of this post of yours, Nick!
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Yayoi on September 21, 2017, 08:28:13 pm
I gotta say, I'm posting this reply even before I read what the OP has to say. He's that good.
Okay, gotta go reading now.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Skip Knox on September 21, 2017, 08:52:20 pm
Lots of well-deserved praise here, so I won't repeat all that. I'll only say this:  I'm sufficiently impressed by Nick's posts that I'm going to buy one of his books; and this from someone who flat out does not read urban fantasy.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: ibizwiz on September 22, 2017, 11:44:29 am
I was so excited by Mark Cooper's response to Nick's great thread I missed this advice from Athena Grayson:

Long term, you must ask yourself if the books are ones you want to be known for in two, three, or five years. Do they reflect you as a writer? Do they fit into your body of work? Did you have fun writing them? Do the stories speak to you and the reason you started writing in the first place? What makes them special? .... These questions can help you figure out the long-term viability of a series.

She has written the necessary, sometimes painful steps in analyzing one's reason for putting up with Amazon, weak platforms, fickle readers, arcane formulas, and more promotional tips and tricks one can count, much less fathom.

Athena makes me realize I've been thrashing each of these questions ever since I decided to become a self-published author two and a half years back. Putting these questions so clearly would be reason enough to thank her. But with her final questions:

Quote
What makes them special? Who is the ideal reader that would be changed by this story/series?

Athena smacked me upside the head: she's raised the basic, fundamental questions in audience targeting, and I, with nearly a half century in marketing, didn't even think to ask them for our upcoming three-novel series!

Even more embarrassing, my books are "realistic erotica", and, given the way the Zon and the other platforms abuse erotic sub-genres, one would realize knowing one's reader is critically important, more so than for the thriller writers, or the vanilla romance authors.

Oh, sure, I've chipped away at Athena's question these past eight months of furious (for me) writing. We figured out that about 40% of the mailing list subbies are male, for example. That raised a big flag, since the stories clearly appeal to adult men, quite apart from the women.

The Beta readers, all female, tell me that the stories are ultra hot. Cool, but I didn't bother to relate their opinions to their perspective as women with wide worldly experience.

Now, thanks to Athena, I'm rethinking just who these stories are for. It's always been clear to me that smarter women were the primary audience, in three demographics. But that says little about the story elements these segments will find most engaging. Further, following Athena's insight, assuming we can connect with enough targeted readers, I have to ask if we've devised a story arc that engages them, and written a group of characters that will make most readers wish to share the characters' journey and sexy adventures as more trilogies within the story family are added.

I won't go into boring (for most) details how this self-examination has changed our launch plan. Suffice to say we'll be running numerous low-budget tests of precisely defined FaceBook audience segments against A/B/C/D blurb copy on the new author website, so we can get much more specific about our "ideal" female reader. Then, we'll do the same for the more shadowy males readers in several likely segments.

Thanks, Athena, for your cut-through-the-talky-talk advice! If only I'm able to keep it in front of me and our little team going forward.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Crystal_ on September 22, 2017, 12:22:44 pm
To be clear, this is my speculation. I don't work for AMZN, and I haven't seen any disclosures about their formula. I know how I would build the algo. Derivative features like Author Rank are an obvious add to refine predictive power.

There is a risk to total reset: AMZN may decide the content in the new account infringes the original account and ban the reboot; but, hey, as long as you didn't cancel the first account, you can republish and continue as you were. The downside is lost time; plus, if you're successful in a reset that's later shut down, you lose a good brand. Banning duplicates is the most likely outcome in the long-term because if authors find success in resets, AMZN will block the practice. This may seem paradoxical--AMZN punishing authors for success, but it has been their MO from the start with any type of algo manipulation, e.g. free-to-paid ranking transfers, promo spikes, shill reviews, click farms, etc.

If you haven't had success with a handful of books but you've learned how to write, publish, and market, try resetting with your next new book. There's little downside with a new account and new content, and no record may be better than trying to overcome a poor one. It's not a pure A|B test but if you do reset, let people know how it goes.

I've wondered this, but I don't think it's the case. But first three books bombed hard and I've still had many other books find success. You never know with Amazon, but I doubt publisher history has a big impact on algos.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Patty Jansen on September 22, 2017, 02:58:42 pm
I've wondered this, but I don't think it's the case. But first three books bombed hard and I've still had many other books find success. You never know with Amazon, but I doubt publisher history has a big impact on algos.

I sometimes feel that people get so hung up about Amazon algos that they throw their most valuable baby out with the bathwater: their existing readers. This is why I'm not at all a fan of all this pen name division of audiences.

I noticed that Nick also has multiple pen names. I think this ultimately harms far more than it helps.

People get starry-eyed for new changes with virgin names and new series and poplists and HNR lists and yadda yadda yadda, but when you do something like that, you ditch all the readers you already had. I fail to see why that is beneficial. Oh, but the ALGORITHMS! Seriously, algorithms, schmalgorithms. It's about your readers who like your fiction and have already liked your fiction.

So, if you're like Nick and spent that much on a mailing list, you want to make sure that you advertise all your books at them. ALL of them. Not just these ones in this little pen name over here. Those are the people who will make a book fly or sink because they are your readers. And if they're not, you sort them out until they are.

It seems to me that far too much of relaunching hinges on the nebulous hope that somehow it will tickle different algorithms.

Earlier this year I relaunched a novella I wrote a few years back. It almost sold to a trad magazine, but it fell through and I couldn't be bothered to send it back onto the submission circuit so I published it for a look-see under a pen name. Well, no one looked and no one saw. I had no audience for that name, and I realised soon that having an extra pen name would cost far more work than I was willing to put into it, so I let it sit. I unpublished the thing a while back, and did a new cover. Republished with a new title under my own name. Sold 500 copies. Most of them to my list, my audience. I know, because I could see the affiliate links come in. The thing is still selling.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: ibizwiz on September 22, 2017, 03:31:48 pm
I sometimes feel that people get so hung up about Amazon algos that they throw their most valuable baby out with the bathwater: their existing readers. This is why I'm not at all a fan of all this pen name division of audiences.

I noticed that Nick also has multiple pen names. I think this ultimately harms far more than it helps.


Thanks, Patty, for this comment and for oh, say, about a hundred others since I've been a KBoarder. Your experience and others have affirmed my decision to build my chosen pen name rather than dilute it. Earlier this year, as I was planning my relaunch and series completion, I briefly toyed with rolling out one of the WIP trilogies under another name. Not so much to reshape the algos -- I agree that most authors place far too much emphasis on Amazon's reputed and alleged algorithmic manipulations. My thought was to develop an alternate persona and reputation. I even went so far as to begin developing a kind of "parallel" world to that described in the first three (scheduled) trilogies -- nine books --in the new scheme as outlined by Mark Cooper.

Then it hit me: the readers I want will, if I do my writing job well, tend to like any book in the vast story arc I've mapped out for all my trilogies and supporting one-off promo books. Why then would I want to confuse their loyalty? I settled on doing as you say, instead: all the trilogies will be by the same author, and set in the same "world" as the other books.

Full disclosure: This is a lot easier for me than for most long stroy arc authors. My "world" is simply an overlay on the very real one we live in right now. All I had to do was re-write the relaunch set of three novels to "plug in" some characters and events and secret entities that were originally conceived for the future WIP series. Now, all share the same reality, and common history and background. A new event or major MC can have an impact across the entire family of trilogies, if that's useful.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Lefevre on September 22, 2017, 03:40:42 pm
Thanks Nick! Great post.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: sela on September 22, 2017, 06:18:32 pm
Great post, Nick -- I did something similar in 2015 and saw pretty good results, but times were different at that time. Also, different genre (Paranormal Romance).

What I did:

1. New covers
2. Permafree first in series wide
3. Started Facebook ads for Boxed Set and permafree
4. Got a Bookbub

ETA1: I should put in some $$$.

New Covers: $499 for 4 books and 1 boxed set.
$30 for stock photos used in covers
Facebook ads: $10K or thereabouts
$300ish for a free Bookbub.

Definitely got a good ROI -- about 282% ROI.

Who can say what helped most?

I would suggest the permafree first in series and wide plus advertising back when Facebook was just getting started for Indies (IOW after Mark Dawson's course on Facebook ads ;) ) However, Bookbub was indispensable but I didn't get one until after I had success with Facebook ads and got some better rank and reviews.

Everything changed for my series, as you can see. It went from underperforming to doing pretty well.

Here are the results of my big push in 2015:

(https://s26.postimg.org/mc7g520eh/Screen_Shot_2017-09-22_at_7.10.47_PM.png) (https://postimages.org/)

ETA: Actually, I realize I haven't included data for Smashwords in this table. So you can add on another maybe $20K in 2015 & 2016. I don't have access to my data for Smashwords as easily as the other retailers and I forgot about them! Will work on it and post a revised table but you get the drift. Relaunching and trying different stuff with advertising and price worked for me.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: TellNotShow on September 22, 2017, 06:31:51 pm
Re relaunches, I stumbled across something interesting on Amazon just now.
Seems HM Ward has recently done some repackaging/relaunching of a series she sold (literally) millions of books from. And at this early stage -- going by Amazon ranking alone, which is not the full story of course -- they're kinda failing.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0748NJZ4L/ is Book One.
It's been out almost two months and is currently ranked 285,000. And it only has five reviews.
This book is marketed as a "Psychological Thriller" and is actually books 1-4 of the series, The Arrangement.
Thing is, The Arrangement is still available, and is marketed as New Adult Romance.
However, the "new" book has two very short chapters added at the start, which is presumably what make it a psychological thriller. No idea if other changes will be made in subsequent books. There's nothing about that on the Amazon sales page.

It has a really great cover, IMO. That's how I noticed it. Great title too. "The Girl by the Grave"
Book Two's been out a few days, and it's ranked 179,000. No reviews yet.

Now, I know nothing about these books except what I just said. For all I know they'll burn up the charts soon on the back of some promo. Or maybe they're just a victim of their own previous success. No idea.
Whatever the problem is, the results, on amazon.com at least, are not good.

Yes, I know each case is different, and everyone's mileage may vary. But Nick is one of the most knowledgeable marketers around, and while he admits he could have done some things better, I'm 100% certain that I would have done some of those things worse.
So I'm absolutely not going to relaunch anything. I'm going to concentrate on new stuff, and be grateful that some of my old stuff continues to sell a bit.
Because it also seems to me that if a popular writer and master marketer like HM Ward can be having such poor early results relaunching books from a series that's sold 13 MILLION copies, I'm not sure how wise it would be of us mere mortals to do so unless at least one of the three things listed below apply. Or probably two of them:

Quote
Quote from: Patty Jansen on September 19, 2017, 11:27:35 PM

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




Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Anita Chance on September 22, 2017, 06:38:32 pm
Great post. Thanks for going to the  effort to document all this and share it. I wrote a book I had some success with a few years ago, but things have changed a lot since then, and I need all the advice I can get!!
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Patty Jansen on September 22, 2017, 06:50:15 pm
Quote
Because it also seems to me that if a popular writer and master marketer like HM Ward can be having such poor early results relaunching books from a series that's sold 13 MILLION copies, I'm not sure how wise it would be of us mere mortals to do so unless at least one of the three things listed below apply. Or probably two of them:

Maybe I should add a 3a: when it's so blatantly obvious that you're trying to sucker onto a trend. That does not feel genuine. Good cover, but really? Really, really? I would think once you have a brand you stick to your own brand and attempts to copycat will backfire.

Just one more thing and it's probably going to come across as a bit snarky, so forgive me.

We all love Nick's detailed posts about all the stuff he tried and the results of these experiments. I mean that seriously. But. A good marketer, I don't think he ain't, because a good marketer would have aced a relaunch or not bothered.

Not saying I am a good marketer (far from it), but the value in Nick's posts is that he explains what he did and what the results were. That alone may eventually make him a good marketer, but at the moment he's experimenting. I really wish people would see these posts in this light, because I (sadly) see people burning a lot of money in relaunches "because some respected peeps on the KB said you should".

Please be careful. Don't gamble money you can't afford to lose.
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Jack Krenneck on September 22, 2017, 07:30:24 pm

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.


Good post, as usual.

Item 4 on that relaunch list is the one that strikes me as optimizing the chances of success. But wouldn't you be worried about getting dinged in reviews by people who have purchased the book in its previous incarnation?

If a book has only sold a few hundred copies before being launched with a new ASIN, then no problems. But what if a book has sold several thousand copies? This is less than a drop of water in an ocean of potential sales - but surely some people will accidentally re-purchase it, and they wouldn't be happy when they realized this...

One way around this would be to mention it's a relaunch in the blurb. But some people don't read blurbs. Also, I don't think mentioning it is good marketing. It will only turn people off the book.

Even with this potential issue, an all-out relaunch is an attractive temptation for a book that never really hit its stride...but that might the second time around...
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: kathrynoh on September 22, 2017, 07:40:56 pm
Great post, Nick.

One of the things I've found is that there is not only an opportunity cost in finishing a non-performing series but it's something that will erode your audience. Release one book that doesn't resonate with your readers and they will just ignore it but, by the time you've released three books they've stopped opening your emails or unsubscribed. Your readers just stop being excited. Even if you're releasing a book a month, that's three months where you've not engaged people. You've become a writer who doesn't write books they like, in their minds. I know I get mails where I see the sender name and mentally think I don't deal with that person/business even though I've forgotten the reason why.

Killing an under performing series is definitely a smart option especially if you have an established reader base. The series doesn't work for them and maybe it will eventually find a new audience but that's a risky thing. If you want to finish it for some reason, it's a labour of love or you've written the entire series before release, etc then stagger the releases.

Doing nothing can be a worthwhile thing. About 18 months ago, I released a 5-part serial, spent a decent amount on the launch and it never caught on. Because I was doing a quick release schedule, I'd written all the books before assessing that it was a bomb. It gets good sell through, close to 100%, from #1 but the problem was not enough people picking up the first book.

I panicked, trying to work out how I could get it happening then decided to do nothing with it. It doesn't really mesh well with my other books on that pen name and I don't plan on writing any more in that sub-genre.  I put it wide, made #1 permafree and threw the occasional $5 or $10 promo at it. It's just sat there, making a bit of money every month- on a good month, edging into triple figures. I figured out this month that's finally in the black. Maybe I'd make more from it if I tinkered around with a relaunch but maybe it'd just be throwing good money after bad. Not just money but time and head space too. The alternative is that I can keep doing nothing and have it earn a bit every month forever :)
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: anniejocoby on September 22, 2017, 08:38:41 pm
Great post, Nick! I read every word, as I always do with your posts. I agree, totally, about killing off series early. Basically, my rule of thumb is that if I release Book One, and it doesn't hit, I might release one more book, and make the first book permafree, and then assess. If the sell-through is anemic (<2% during promo months), then it's time to pull the plug. I went through three series where I kept on writing books in those series, long after I knew that the series were duds, and it was months and months of wasted energy on my part. Energy that should have been going towards something that might actually resonate.

And I tried everything with those three series. Different covers. Sunk thousands into that. Facebook ads, a lineup of heavy-hitting promo sites. Nothing. I even got a BookBub ad for one of the funnels for one of the underperforming series. That did nothing. When BookBub doesn't work to revitalize things, it's time to face facts. Nothing is going to make that turkey fly.

I know that there's a thought around these boards that you're supposed to keep on writing in an underperforming series, because people don't pick up the series until there's three books in the series, or whatever, but here's my thought - that conventional wisdom, about keep on producing long after the series failed to catch on, is probably for brand-new writers who don't have a name. But, once you have at least a small fan base, you really shouldn't keep on throwing good books after bad. IMO.

Plus, I don't think that's necessarily true that fans will wait until there's a bunch of books in a series before they try it. I believe that Annie Bellet knew right away that her series was a hit - from the first book. In my current series, my first book stuck pretty well the entire time, even before there was a Book Two. I just kinda think that the handwriting is on the wall after the first book, although I could be wrong. That's just been my experience - if Book One doesn't take off, it's kinda time to reassess.

YMMV and all that...
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: sela on September 22, 2017, 09:31:43 pm
There are several reasons why a series might be underperforming:

1. The series does not appeal to a large audience.
2. The quality of the writing gets in the way of sales. No sell through is a big tell in this case.
3. Improper marketing -- categories, keywords, covers, blurbs, leading to a lack of visibility.
4. Lag time between launches.

In case #1, there's really not much you can do. Even if you reached every potential reader in your target market, you might not make much money on that cross genre non-tropey category-bending story.

In case #2, you can get an edit, either line or developmental, which might help you see the story's flaws and fix them. I remember early days in the series I posed above when I got beta readers who offered suggestions and when I made the edits, wow. The result was significant. A good edit can make a story flow better, get rid of writerisms, and help with pace and other issues. I find issues with pace are key. A great opening and a great pace (appropriate to your genre) keeps readers turning the pages and wanting to buy the next book in the series.

In case #3, the right categories and keywords can mean that your book is put in front of the right potential readers. The covers and blurbs may make your book irresistible to those readers once they see it.  If your potential readers never see your book because it's mis-categorized or has bad covers or an unappealing blurb, they may never click on that purchase button. You can fix this by recategorizing, revising blurbs, and getting genre-appropriate covers. You can also help by advertising to the right readers, using comparable authors and books as interests in whatever platform you choose to advertise. That's a good way to find readers who like your kind of book.

In case #4, those readers who are impatient to read the next book in a series may forget your name when they move on to someone else. Unless you are a huge seller, this is quite possible. I had someone who bought my first big seller back in 2013 who only learned three years later that Book 2 was out. It happens. The longer you go between launches, the greater the chance that your first readers will forget about you.

I think you can definitely relaunch a series that is faltering or that never took off. The issue is whether you have a product that has a market and whether you have been unsuccessful in getting the book in front of that market. Once you do, it's possible to find success.

My series is a case in point. The first three books sold pretty poorly in the first years. The original covers were not appropriate to the market. The first books were not edited beyond a proofread and so there were a number of places where the pace and prose could be improved. Nothing much happened until I got new covers and went wide with a permafree first book. The series started to sell. I also started to advertise the boxed set and that's when things definitely improved. Every book sold better. I released the next book and the series made mid-five figures that year and the next year.

I only spent a lot of money on advertising once the series was showing a positive ROI. I made enough money and more so that advertising was well-worth the price. In other words, I put in minimum investment in advertising and relaunching up front until I saw results and then I doubled down. I didn't go all out before the relaunch and spend thousands of dollars. I spent about $550 total on new covers and nothing to go wide with a permafree first in series. Once sales started to increase, I considered advertising and took Mark Dawson's Facebook Ads course. I started out with $5 a day ads and when that showed results, I upped spend to probably $50 a day and had 300 - 400% ROI for months. Facebook ads kicked my series into high gear. THEN and only then did I finally get a Bookbub, which meant my books sold even more with a nice long tail.

This is the chart from Book Report for the series in 2015. You can see I was in KU 1.0 in January. I pulled my books out in February and put them all wide by March 2015. I started to advertise in April and you can see the step up in revenue in April and May and then a slight decrease in June. In July, I had my very first Bookbub for the series -- a free promo for the first in series. You can see it was a very good  month. The revenues dropped back down in August and I pulled it off wide distribution in September and put it in KU 2.0 but you can see the 30-day cliffs clearly like a stair case going down. I pulled it back wide in December and ended the year back at a pretty low level because of my stint in KU. Of course, this is a graph just of Amazon and doesn't show the revenues from iBooks, B&N, Kobo and Google Play but you can see how fortunes changed on Amazon over the course of the year.

So yeah. Maybe most underperforming series are best to stop and the author move on to something new. But my example shows it can be done and you can improve performance of a series with editing, new covers, blurbs, categories, keywords, ads, and promos plus finishing the series. You don't have to sink a lot of money into it and probably should be cautions, watching performance to see how it goes before doing a huge spend. Start minimally and increase as you see positive results.

(https://s26.postimg.org/f1ubbwdjd/Screen_Shot_2017-09-22_at_10.17.33_PM.png) (https://postimg.org/image/q1fini3yd/)
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: jaehaerys on September 23, 2017, 09:19:55 am
There are several reasons why a series might be underperforming:

1. The series does not appeal to a large audience.
2. The quality of the writing gets in the way of sales. No sell through is a big tell in this case.
3. Improper marketing -- categories, keywords, covers, blurbs, leading to a lack of visibility.
4. Lag time between launches.

In case #1, there's really not much you can do. Even if you reached every potential reader in your target market, you might not make much money on that cross genre non-tropey category-bending story.

In case #2, you can get an edit, either line or developmental, which might help you see the story's flaws and fix them. I remember early days in the series I posed above when I got beta readers who offered suggestions and when I made the edits, wow. The result was significant. A good edit can make a story flow better, get rid of writerisms, and help with pace and other issues. I find issues with pace are key. A great opening and a great pace (appropriate to your genre) keeps readers turning the pages and wanting to buy the next book in the series.

In case #3, the right categories and keywords can mean that your book is put in front of the right potential readers. The covers and blurbs may make your book irresistible to those readers once they see it.  If your potential readers never see your book because it's mis-categorized or has bad covers or an unappealing blurb, they may never click on that purchase button. You can fix this by recategorizing, revising blurbs, and getting genre-appropriate covers. You can also help by advertising to the right readers, using comparable authors and books as interests in whatever platform you choose to advertise. That's a good way to find readers who like your kind of book.

In case #4, those readers who are impatient to read the next book in a series may forget your name when they move on to someone else. Unless you are a huge seller, this is quite possible. I had someone who bought my first big seller back in 2013 who only learned three years later that Book 2 was out. It happens. The longer you go between launches, the greater the chance that your first readers will forget about you.

I think you can definitely relaunch a series that is faltering or that never took off. The issue is whether you have a product that has a market and whether you have been unsuccessful in getting the book in front of that market. Once you do, it's possible to find success.

My series is a case in point. The first three books sold pretty poorly in the first years. The original covers were not appropriate to the market. The first books were not edited beyond a proofread and so there were a number of places where the pace and prose could be improved. Nothing much happened until I got new covers and went wide with a permafree first book. The series started to sell. I also started to advertise the boxed set and that's when things definitely improved. Every book sold better. I released the next book and the series made mid-five figures that year and the next year.

I only spent a lot of money on advertising once the series was showing a positive ROI. I made enough money and more so that advertising was well-worth the price. In other words, I put in minimum investment in advertising and relaunching up front until I saw results and then I doubled down. I didn't go all out before the relaunch and spend thousands of dollars. I spent about $550 total on new covers and nothing to go wide with a permafree first in series. Once sales started to increase, I considered advertising and took Mark Dawson's Facebook Ads course. I started out with $5 a day ads and when that showed results, I upped spend to probably $50 a day and had 300 - 400% ROI for months. Facebook ads kicked my series into high gear. THEN and only then did I finally get a Bookbub, which meant my books sold even more with a nice long tail.

This is the chart from Book Report for the series in 2015. You can see I was in KU 1.0 in January. I pulled my books out in February and put them all wide by March 2015. I started to advertise in April and you can see the step up in revenue in April and May and then a slight decrease in June. In July, I had my very first Bookbub for the series -- a free promo for the first in series. You can see it was a very good  month. The revenues dropped back down in August and I pulled it off wide distribution in September and put it in KU 2.0 but you can see the 30-day cliffs clearly like a stair case going down. I pulled it back wide in December and ended the year back at a pretty low level because of my stint in KU. Of course, this is a graph just of Amazon and doesn't show the revenues from iBooks, B&N, Kobo and Google Play but you can see how fortunes changed on Amazon over the course of the year.

So yeah. Maybe most underperforming series are best to stop and the author move on to something new. But my example shows it can be done and you can improve performance of a series with editing, new covers, blurbs, categories, keywords, ads, and promos plus finishing the series. You don't have to sink a lot of money into it and probably should be cautions, watching performance to see how it goes before doing a huge spend. Start minimally and increase as you see positive results.

(https://s26.postimg.org/f1ubbwdjd/Screen_Shot_2017-09-22_at_10.17.33_PM.png) (https://postimg.org/image/q1fini3yd/)


Thank you for this post, Sela, it's very helpful!  :)
Title: Re: The $3k Relaunch: A Detailed Case Study
Post by: Nicholas Erik on September 24, 2017, 08:17:46 am
Thanks, Sela, for your two detailed posts - they've already been quoted, so I won't requote them. Always good to have a counterpoint. This has sparked a good conversation.

Thanks for the comments and anyone (Skip mentioned it specifically, but anyone lurking) who bought the books. That's wasn't the goal (or a goal) of sharing by any means, but thanks.

I've wondered this [that pen name history impacts future books' ranks], but I don't think it's the case. But first three books bombed hard and I've still had many other books find success. You never know with Amazon, but I doubt publisher history has a big impact on algos.

I'm leaning this way, too, although there's a tiny dash of hope skewing the scale, merely because it would be super-annoying if accounts/pen names were heavily weighed down by past performance. My new pen name did a lot better than the old one, but that's mainly because I wrote better books and had a better idea of what people wanted.

Great post, Nick.

One of the things I've found is that there is not only an opportunity cost in finishing a non-performing series but it's something that will erode your audience. Release one book that doesn't resonate with your readers and they will just ignore it but, by the time you've released three books they've stopped opening your emails or unsubscribed. Your readers just stop being excited. Even if you're releasing a book a month, that's three months where you've not engaged people. You've become a writer who doesn't write books they like, in their minds. I know I get mails where I see the sender name and mentally think I don't deal with that person/business even though I've forgotten the reason why.

Yeah, optimally we'd all get to the point where readers will wait, regardless. That's rarified air, not air I've tasted, but what the real purpose, I think, of all these marketing efforts is: to get readers excited about your storytelling voice and style, and willing to follow you through a few duds or books that don't resonate with them specifically. Hard to get there, but the "resilient" authors who have survived through many changes seem to have this quality.

Good post, as usual.

Item 4 [the full relaunch with new cover/ASIN] on that relaunch list is the one that strikes me as optimizing the chances of success. But wouldn't you be worried about getting dinged in reviews by people who have purchased the book in its previous incarnation?

I see most authors doing such a relaunch specifically state at the bottom of the blurb that the book was previously published under a different title/pen name (if applicable). Seems like the standard go-to practice, so wouldn't worry about turning buyers off. I think they'll appreciate the heads-up. There might be a couple people who mistakenly pick up the book again, but I wouldn't be too worried about an influx of negative review scores. Most readers will just return it if they buy a duplicate copy.

Great post, Nick! I read every word, as I always do with your posts. I agree, totally, about killing off series early. Basically, my rule of thumb is that if I release Book One, and it doesn't hit, I might release one more book, and make the first book permafree, and then assess. If the sell-through is anemic (<2% during promo months), then it's time to pull the plug. I went through three series where I kept on writing books in those series, long after I knew that the series were duds, and it was months and months of wasted energy on my part. Energy that should have been going towards something that might actually resonate.

Annie brings up a good point: it's a good idea to develop your own mental heuristics/rules of thumb specific to your own career. Having these principles in place can cut through the fog on what to do next when it comes time to make difficult decisions. Otherwise, it's way too easy to get spun for a loop, where even good information that might not be relevant to your goals can distract you.

Book recommendation to anyone interested in that mode of thinking: Principles (https://www.amazon.com/Principles-Life-Work-Ray-Dalio-ebook/dp/B071CTK28D/) by Ray Dalio. Boring name, great advice.

Nick