• April 27, 2017

The Judas Cypher – Turning A Failed Launch Into A Win

The Judas Cypher – Turning A Failed Launch Into A Win

815 485 Greg Dragon | Author

I can’t believe I’m here already, finishing up the rough draft for the sequel to, The Judas Cypher. This was a grittier take on a futuristic story, inspired by my love for cyberpunk and detective stories. I started writing The Judas Cypher for National Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2016, and while I’ve kept my entries—in the past—to the 50,000 words required to “win” the event, I used it as a launchpad this round.

Stepping away from sequels to my current books, I wanted to try something new, so a tried a mystery/thriller. This is a genre that I actively read and love, but since I’m me, I wanted it to have a twist of Science Fiction to it. With the political atmosphere and the activism going on, it was an easy choice to go with a futuristic world of tension between one set of people and another.

In the Judas Cypher, you have a broken guy, he’s a detective who grew up with a nanny who was a synthetic person (android). He has love for the synth people despite being a human himself, but dislikes the way they are treated, so he becomes a police officer to help.

The Story…

The story begins years after he quits the force to become a bounty hunter/private investigator that specializes in synths. This role in my world has adopted the title, “skiptracer”, so we pick up with our guy, Dhata, as a skiptracer on the job. Dhata is on the scene of a murder, where a man’s spine has been cut out, and with his detective friend they find out that it may be a synth behind it. The implications of such a thing could mean a nationwide panic, so the clocks starts ticking on figuring out the truth behind the man’s gruesome death.

It’s been quite a journey, primarily because I am not a full time writer. I have to get it in where I can, and the places where I did just that makes the Judas Cypher special. It took me from my little home office, to camping in Florida, where I was sneaking back to my tent to write. Then there was Christmas, where I was with mom for a week, standing at her counter, notepad in hand, and writing longhand while my laptop charged.

Vacation in Key West, posted up outside by the water, one hand holding my cigar, while the coffee sent pleasant scents into my nostrils. Caffeine and tobacco together is writing on speed, though I only smoke moderately, the times I do those words spill out.

Bathroom breaks? I had my HTC in hand, thumb sliding around rapidly trying to keep up with the thoughts in my mind. The 50,000 words of NaNoWrimo grew into 75,000, and by the end of January I had a rough draft of the Judas Cypher, ready to go.

Developmental Editing

While I loved what I had, I needed a second opinion, especially since it was my first real thriller. On KBoards, a forum that I frequently lurk, I saw that, Chris Culver, a successful thriller writer was offering developmental editing to newbies such as me. Chris helped me to understand where I was going wrong, and most importantly what I was doing right.

The good thing about a developmental edit is that it stays with you forever. I have a bad habit of assuming readers will become bored with a focused plot, so I tend to veer off into side stories. Another bad habit I have is misjudging the heat when it comes to sex in my books. Originally there was a lot of graphic sex in The Judas Cypher, and he made me trim it out, that and side stories which did little for the plot.

He helped me to make Dhata vulnerable but strong, smart but not a genius, and what I ended up with, was a flawed hero that people could get behind. This was by far my best investment, and it boosted my confidence. I was left with a story that I knew was good, and most importantly one that wouldn’t annoy fans of the genre.

For the cover I went with Kerry Hynds, as always, and she drafted up two mockups that would represent The Judas Cypher. When I put the covers up to vote, people loved the man, I was skeptical—it reminded me too much of the topless men that dominate Amazon’s book covers—but I went with the winner and used it.

Salvaging a Failed Launch

The launch was set for March 23rd with a definite plan to get reviews and sales. I emailed my mailing list of 1,500+ people, offering them a first read, and was stunned by the poor response that I received. This was the first kick in the gut, but I got three emails requesting the ARC. I placed a form on this website, asking for more advanced readers, and got several responses that my contact form decided not to forward (more on this later). So in my mind I had zero interest … what the hell had I done wrong?

Seeing that the 75+ ARCs that I planned to give out was now really only five, I gave out copies on LibraryThing, and BookLikes, bought a package on Reading Reviews (which generated no interest), and forked over a lung to be on NetGalley. In the end all of that effort earned me about 20 ARCs sent out … at the time of this writing, I have eight reviews on Amazon’s US store, a couple on the UK, and one or two on KOBO … so much for ARCs.

One love to those of you who came through for me.

With five reviews at the time I booked promotions with the handful of places that allow books with less than ten 4-star reviews (yeah it’s really that strict, and don’t ask me about their ROI after asking for that sort of high ranking book). Betty Book Freak came through, and I moved a few, then BargainBooksy which has always been golden. I spiked some sales but then it dropped, and I was back to wondering…

I had bombed HARD, despite all that planning, and I began to wonder, what the hell did I do wrong? The blurb isn’t something you see until you click the cover, so I immediately began to question my cover choice.

Everyone and their mom, loved the original cover, Kerry is quality, so I was not surprised. Big, bad, black man, looking tough, with cool static graphics on the text … Tampa Bay below … it reflected my book, all the way, but I wondered, was it reflecting my book to people perusing the stores?

Despite this horrible start I petitioned BookBub, who reigns supreme as the biggest promotion site that an Independent author can win.  How big is BookBub? Let me put it this way, getting in with them for Anstractor’s boxed set, put the series in the black and continues to push sales three months later. They don’t mess around, and they—unlike the others—judge you for other things other than your reviews. They denied me, and at that point I was ready to slit my wrists (added for dramatic effect).

The Comeback … Somewhat

After discussing this epic failure with fellow authors in a group, I was given some golden advice by Patty Jansen that sales will come when people see that its more than one book. I took this under advisement, and continued writing the follow-up that I had started. I reached out to Kerry to give me a different cover, one focusing more on typography and less on the title character. What she gave me was this beautiful thing, and I swapped out the covers on the stores. Sales picked up a bit, but I kept on writing regardless, and waited for another thirty days to try BookBub again.

Note on that ARC Form that was on this site: I was very lucky that a year ago, I installed a plugin to collect the emails sent through my contact form. A few weeks ago I looked into it, and saw a lot of emails requesting my ARC … Can you imagine how pissed I was? The forms should be working now…

Why go big? BookBub, really?

Well, if I have a short chip stack you better believe I’m pushing all-in blind if I got something else to do.  Poker analogy, but for those of you who don’t play, I’m the type of guy to gamble big instead of sticking around, playing it safe. I was fully expecting them to deny me again, considering the fact that I had six reviews, and one was a three out of five (Must have all fives for the Bub, right?) Imagine my surprise when I got the acceptance … one time for the new cover, and making the call.

So … my launch bombed, but this promo could be huge, and yield me the reviews and sales to make up for the terrible start. I am 70,000 words in to the rough draft of The Unsung Frame, and have put it up for preorder, in case the BookBub buyers want more.

What I’ve learned from this journey is that despite planning to do things right, sometimes you just wind up with a terrible hand. I could have folded, took my bumps, then returned to the safety of my other books, but I know I have a winner, I just need people to try it, and I am going to take Patty’s advice and get the sequel finished.

As to the mailing list, I’m not sure anymore … I gave away so many free books in hopes of support on my new releases. It is looking to be a bad investment, so I’ll be going a different direction, but I will adapt and find better ways to get my work into the hands of those who enjoy it.

The Judas Cypher is available for sale on most eBook retailers. It is available in paperback form on Amazon, and will get an audiobook soon. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed, especially if you love thrillers and high-tech worlds.

  • Meenaz Lodhi

    So sorry to hear about the failed launched. It’s true there are too many half naked guys covers( not a fan), but yours was of a tough and charismatic guy(ok, dashing also😉). Anyways, I hope this time it goes perfect for you. I really enjoyed the book and am very happy to know there’s a sequel ( I preordered it), so, have faith and strength!

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Meenaz. I loved the original cover, but I’ve learned a long time ago that while I get to decide on the content, the wrapping needs to be what appeals to everyone. Thanks for preordering, and have a wonderful day.

      • Meenaz Lodhi

        You’re right. I must say the new cover Is very appealing and catchy, even kind of mysterious, specially the way Cypher is written. Congrats on the new cover!

  • Bill Brownlow

    Just finished the Judas Cypher and thought it was outstanding. So much so I went and purchased one of the boxed sets from B&N.

    I thought the development of the characters was excellent with the right mix of action and involvement from the various characters. While I can often pinpoint the villain in many of these stories, I completely missed the clue at the farm. Well done!

    • Hey Bill, I really appreciate it … wow, I am at the end of the second story for Dhata Mays, and with so many positive comments like your own, I am truly hoping that it holds up. Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know what you think, it really does help me to keep going.

  • Adrijus Guscia

    Interesting stuff. Weird about email list not working this time but I wouldn’t write it off. Could be many things, like just the new genre didn’t attract attention as they expected old genre book. Etc. Also depends on how often you email and what… in any case, great job sticking with it and experimenting with covers. Old cover was good looking but it didn’t really match ‘Cypher’ name/theme and new one does better there. So maybe cover just didn’t nail the genre/story well enough (altho graphically it is pretty!).

    P.S. Well done on this website too, good example of how indie author should run it. Keep up the good work.

    • I appreciate you Adrijus, and I agree on everything you’ve said. I do enjoy this series (finishing the third book now) being a fan of classic cyberpunk, but I honestly feel that it is one of those niches that timing wasn’t in my favor. I may have jumped the gun on the redesign, but I can’t unring that bell… I will use the original cover for the “collection” though, and maybe then the reading public will be ready for it.

      Thanks for your insight and kind words. All the best.

      • Adrijus Guscia

        There is one way to actually test the covers and see which works better. Use Amazon ads. Test each cover with an ad and you can see how results differ for each cover (while blurb stays the same etc).

        Good luck!

        • Great idea. Will give that a try and see.

          • Adrijus Guscia

            Hope it works well!