Recently, Nick Cole gave an interview on Geek Gab, touching on his launch strategy with his new series Jason Anspach – Galaxy’s Edge. They’re doing extremely well: Book one, released in June 2017, is still at 3200 in the kindle store, and the latest release (3 weeks ago) is at 787 in the kindle store.
Clearly, these guys are doing awesome! In the interview, they touched on several things that they’ve done to ensure that these books were a success. One really interesting thing was focusing on how to jump genres from their prior books, and getting their books recommended to genre fans in that new genre.
Discovery is always an interesting problem, eh? And they cracked the issue of discovery and the Amazon algorithms in a way that’s utterly logical and sensible, and flows with Amazon’s philosophy.
Before I get to that, though, let’s back up, and explain what Nick Cole calls “ghettos”, and I usually call “pools of readers.” Readers cluster. Sometimes they even cluster in formal fan groups around a specific author, like Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter Nation. Rarely, a publishing house may have such a strong editorial vision or consistency in what they offer that they have a fan club, like the Baen Bar.
Generally speaking, outside of Amazon, the way you get discovered is to have somebody in that group read you, think your book is awesome, and then happily tell everyone else in that pool of readers about this book that they’ll like. This is part of why I was thrilled when Peter was invited into a Baen anthology for Michael Z Williamson’s Freehold world ( Forged In Blood ), because that let all the Baen readers who enjoy Mad Mike’s space opera and milscifi try a story by Peter.
You can see this in your book’s Amazon also-boughts; beyond your own books, Amazon will show clusters of what people read. Cedar Sanderson has a great space opera named Tanager’s Fledglings. When you look at the also-boughts, on page 2 you’ll see other MGC authors – Peter’s fantasy, and Ellie Ferguson’s latest urban fantasy release. This means that there’s a group of readers who like reading this blog’s authors. (Hey, readers! THANK YOU! Glad to entertain! )
After Peter was published with Castalia, the Castalia readers promptly started working their way through Peter’s entire backlist. Similarly, after Peter was published in the Baen anthology, (okay, after Baen released the advanced reader copies, because knows how to satisfy their voracious readers and hard-core fans), I saw a distinct uptick in the number of Baen books in the also-boughts on Peter’s books.
And this is a good thing, if you’re working hard to get any discovery at all – because if you start getting recommended to a new pool of readers, then they hear about you from friends, and see you in the also-boughts of stuff they like, and they’re likely to pick you up and try you. If you’re releasing in the same genre as your usual, this means your new book will show up in also-boughts of your fan’s current reads, and even if they missed the notice, they’ll be “Ooh! A new Bujold!” and snap it up.
If you haven’t already, go to http://www.yasiv.com/ and plug your book’s ASIN into the tool – it’ll create a spiffy visual chart showing also-bought links.
And here’s the drawback… why Nick Cole calls them “ghettos”: because Amazon will market your new book in a new genre to your existing fans, not to the fans of that genre. For example, take a look at one of Peter’s westerns, Brings the Lightning.
The also-boughts are for his other books (his fans), Castalia house books (Castalia reads), books by J L Curtis and Lawdog (gunblogger readers… although J L Curtis’s Grey Man series is modern day westerns with cowboys vs. drug smugglers, so it gets western readers, too.), and finally, past page 5 in the also-boughts, some westerns.
Which means that when Peter put the book out, he announced it to his fans, and Castalia announced it to their readers, and they all went “Western? I don’t read those, but hey, why not? He’s a good author.” And then they bought it. (You can see this in the reviews, too, where folks went “I don’t usually read westerns, but..” or “This reminds me of the westerns I watched with my grandpa as a kid…”)
And Amazon’s algorithms took a look at the first wave of buyers, and went “Who likes this book? Who do I market it to? Readers of Military science fiction, space opera, and Castalia house books.” It did not market it to western readers. And when everybody was likely to buy it because “it’s Peter Grant” had done so, the sales tanked – because it’s not being marketed to westerns, or appearing in their also-boughts. So the genre readers don’t see it!
Nick Cole and Jason Anspach wanted to break into a new genre with Galaxy’s edge. So instead of announcing it to their current readers, they deliberately set out to announce it first to hard-core readers of that genre’s readers. They used street teams, asking some of the big names in that genre if they could trade announcements on mailing lists, and in general building genre-specific excitement. And then they announced the release only to those hard-core genre readers, to train the Amazon algorithm with the first 100 sales to market it to that genre’s readers alone.
That’s right, the first announcement was not to their general fan list.
And it worked!
Listen to the interview yourself, and chew that one over. Because it’s almost the inverse of traditional word of mouth.
So, you ask, what do I plan to do with this info? First, I’m going to send out a query – probably an easy quiz – to Peter’s email list, to see who likes which genre the most. Also, likely, if they want to hear about the others when they come out. And then I’m likely to split the list by genre, so people who really love his westerns but not his space opera will get the first announcement when the next western is published, while people who really love the MilSF will be the first to get that announcement.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch actually runs a mailing list per major series (which is also per genre), and a separate one for her romance penname. I thought that sounded entirely like too much work for no real return, but turns out she was right and I was wrong!
Here’s the interview! If you have the time, it’s really worth listening to the whole thing, because there’s a lot more in there.