Scifi horror writer Nick Sansbury Smith is currently ranked as a Top 26 author, or better, in five different categories on Amazon. This week, I talk to Nick about his decision to sell his Orbs series to a traditional publisher after self-publishing the first book to great success, why he decided to self-publish his second series to wild success, and why he’s returning to traditional publishing for his upcoming series Hell Divers.
Nick came on the indie scene back in March 2013, when he published his debut novel, The Biomass Revolution. The book took him 6-7 years to write, he says; he didn’t do marketing, and it didn’t do well. Around that time, while traveling in Mexico, he happened upon a beach wedding party with blue orb lights, and it gave him an idea for an alien invasion story.
At that point, Nick got serious about his writing, and wrote and published Orbs, the first book of a planned trilogy, in November of 2013. Within the first couple of months, he sold 10- to 20,000 copies, and started getting interest from film and audio companies. He sold the audio rights to Audible, and eventually the entire trilogy to Simon & Schuster by February 2014. Simon & Schuster re-released Orbs, then published Orbs II in October 2014, and Orbs III in March 2015.
Nick followed up the Orbs trilogy with The Extinction Cycle series, opting to publish the series himself in short succession. He releasedExtinction Horizon (Volume 1) in December 2014, between the releases of Orbs II and Orbs III; then Extinction Edge (Volume 2) in February 2015; Extinction Age (Volume 3) in July 2015; Extinction Age (Volume 4) in October 2015; and the final book in the series,Extinction End (Volume 5), currently available for pre-order, comes out in February 2016.
As of this writing, Extinction Horizon (Volume 1) has over 1,200 reviews with a 4.6 rating and is currently ranked 301 in Paid in Kindle Store. He’s sold over 100,000 copies of his books between digital, paperback, and Audible, enjoying the No. 1 spot in Audible for a couple of days.
Nick’s new trilogy, Hell Divers, has just been sold to Blackstone Audio with the first book scheduled for release in mid-2016.
After he finished writing Orbs, Nick then got serious about marketing. He based his approach on the launch strategy outlined by Darren Wearmouth (RSP #07 – The Incredible Book Launch Strategy with Darren Wearmouth), relying on ARC readers to help him get a good amount of reviews right out the gate. He also published Solar Storms, a short story prequel, at the same time as Orbs, giving it away for free as an introduction to the series.
Nick says it was his fans (he probably had 50 fans from his first book The Biomass Revolution) who helped launch Orbs into the phenomenal sales that eventually caught Simon & Schuster’s interest. At that point in time, he was active in a lot of groups on goodreads and offered ARC copies of Orbs to anyone who wanted it, gifting around 150 copies.
Giving away copies, he says, was and is a business decision, an investment. He felt it was the best way to get his book into readers’ hands.
For the launch of each book in The Extinction Cycle, Nick gave out 150-200 free digital copies to reviewers. He made the offer to his subscriber list that if they left a review for Book 1, he’d give them a free copy of Book 2, and so on. By January 2015, he had to cut off that offer to new subscribers as his list had grown to 250 people.
By this time, Nick had also stopped spending so much time on goodreads as his Facebook page and mailing list had grown. He put out the paperback of Extinction Horizon (Volume 1) a month before the Kindle version came out and sent out Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) in paperback form to anyone interested, resulting in some 30 reviews by the launch date for the Kindle.
He released the book at $.99, using book promotional sites to market it, kept it at $.99 for two weeks, until he had sold 5,000 copies, then raised the price and put Book 2 up for pre-order.
For the launch of Book 2, Extinction Edge, Nick sent out 250 ARC copies, kept the momentum going, scheduled Kindle countdowns and more book promos until Amazon’s algorithms picked up on it and started pushing it.He also made sure to have the pre-order of the next book ready with each release, noting that 20-25% readers tend to buy through.
Traditional vs. Indie
While Nick enjoyed his experience with Simon & Schuster, he decided to self-publish The Extinction Cycle. He felt that there was a ready market on Amazon for the type of post-apocayptic “zombie” story he had that traditional publishers wouldn’t be interested in. He points out that the Amazon market is different than the market for traditionally published books, and while publishers may have moved on from the “zombie trend,” there were still readers on Amazon who were still hungry for more.
Nick also feels that it’s important to get books out to readers quickly, every three months, while they’re still hot on a series, and traditional publishers just aren’t able to meet that timeline.
Nick also wanted greater control over marketing and pricing. One point of contention, he says, was that his mailing list link was taken out of the back of his first Orbs book and wasn’t included in the following two books, as the publisher opted to include links promoting their own brand, effectively shutting down the growth of his mailing list at 500 subscribers for close to 10 months. His subscribership has since grown to 2,000 since the release of the The Extinction Cycle. It’s important to note, he says, that once you sign a contract with a publisher, it becomes more about the publisher than the author, making it more difficult to build your own brand.
So why, after the wild success of publishing The Extinction Cycle on his own, did he decide to return to traditional publishing with his next series?
Firstly, Blackstone Audio did a wonderful job, he says, with the audio versions of The Extinction Cycle, securing award-winning narrator Bronson Pinchot, as well as a Daily Deal with Audible that catapulted his first book in the series to No. 1 for a short time.
Secondly, Blackstone doesn’t follow the typical path of traditional publishers. Primarily an audiobook publisher, they are now expanding into book publishing. Their plan is to release his next series Hell Divers in hardcover first. They want to publish the first book in April/March 2016, whereas the typical turnaround for traditional publishers is about a year.
They’ve also discussed price points and marketing/promotions. Nick says Blackstone seems to be very intuitive about how the market and Amazon works. He likes the flexibility, and seeing how well The Extinction Cycle had done with Blackstone makes him confident they could have a repeat with Hell Divers.
Next Big Thing:
Nick has just returned from Rome where he traveled with fellow scifi thriller writer (and biomedical engineer) Anthony J. Melchiorri to work on a book that they are co-writing together. He also has the final installment of The Extinction Cycle due out February 2016.
- Release a free short story prequel at the same time as a Book 1 launch. It’s a great way to introduce readers to your new series while keeping your Book 1 as a paid item.
- Give, give, give. Nick gives away digital copies and paperback copies of his books to readers and fans, as well as other promotional items, such as Velcro patches. He finds it’s a great way to engage with his fans, and they show their appreciation by leaving reviews and telling other readers about his books.
- Make sure readers of your series have a place to go for the next book. If you’re not releasing your books at all once Netflix-style, make sure you have a pre-order for the next book up. As Simon mentioned, “My desire to read the next book is never stronger than after immediately finishing the first book.”
- Invest in professional editing. Nick has a team of editors he uses, as well as beta readers, to make sure his books are as good as he can make them, and he feels strongly that this has made all the difference in the reviews.
What is has been your most successful launch strategy for a series?
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