Yesterday I wrote a post about calculating my readthrough on the Last Mayor series – ie. how many people who start book 1 then read all the way through to book 9.
By a conservative estimate, I came up with 3%, which seems extremely low. There’s got to be a problem there.
I thought about how to figure the reason out. There’s a big drop off in sales from book 1 to 2, but maybe this is because book 1 is often 99-cents, and 99-cent readers are less likely to finish a book, and more likely to pick up a book in the first place that may not really appeal to them.
Reviews are all solid, except for book 3 which is a little lower, but still 4.2. I thought about hiring an editor, but to get them to read all 9 books and calculate the drop-off point would take ages and be prohibitively expensive.
So I had another idea – ask my fans. I put together a newsletter – I owed one anyway – that linked to a simple google form questionnaire with 3 questions.
- Which book did you drop off on?
- How would you fix it so you didn’t drop off?
I didn’t expect much. A handful of replies, maybe? I decided to incentivise response with two $25 amazon tokens offered in a raffle draw. Why not? This is extremely valuable information to me – easily worth far more than that. If I hired an editor for this it would be thousands.
Well. Responses started pouring in immediately. I could hardly turn away each time before another response popped through – many of them with long, thought-out comments as to why they dropped off the series. I was amazed. As of this morning there are 78 responses.
I had no idea I would get that – or that so many would be so happy to offer their thoughts and expertise. Now I have a surplus of suggestions, and what do they say? Let’s take a look.
Which book did you drop off on?
All right, this is some real data. It looks like Book 1, 3, 4 and 5 are the culprits. I’m surprised Book 2 The Lost, about Anna, wasn’t blamed more often. All the tiny slivers in the top right are people who gave an ‘other’ response – usually to say they read it all or they haven’t started yet.
So what is it about those books?
Why did you drop off?
Lots of answers here. I’ll categorize them as best I can, then follow up with solutions after:
- Cost – Quite a lot of people talked about the price (and number) of books. 9 books is a lot. Each book has been priced at $4.99 for the last year or so, except for book 1 which was 99c. Actually, this is a lot of money to fork over. Almost $40 to get them all! Many people can’t and don’t want to spend that much on just one series – especially with so many lower-priced books everywhere. Added to which, my boxset bundles are also expensive ($9.99) and I haven’t released the boxset for books 7-9 yet.
- Not enough Amo – Many people talked about how they wanted more of Amo. This is good, in a way – it’s why they went on to books 2 and 3. The bad point is I didn’t give them much. Book 2 is all about Anna, with a little Amo at the mid-point. Book 3 did the same but for Cerulean, with a little Amo at the mid-point. We can see Book 3 is the biggest drop-off after book 1 – so this clearly plays a big role. I wanted to widen the world with 2 different perspectives on the early days of the apocalypse, but readers want to move forward and see what happens next.
- Repetition – If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know this is one of my major issues. Thanks to movies like Groundhog Day and certain episodes of LOST, I’ve come to think of seeing the same events from a different perspective as a really gripping, interesting narrative device. But my readers think I do it too much – and I think they’re right. Books 2 and 3 really do repeat quite a lot of the same ground from book 1 – as seen by first Anna, then Cerulean. I thought it’d be cool to have 3 entry point books, any of which could be the book you start on, but of course it doesn’t work that way. People start with book 1 – so a lot of books 2 and 3 is just repetitive.
- Time-hopping – Connected to the above 2 points. Originally – meaning the version most of these readers read, book 1 opened with some serious backstory and exposition, perhaps 3 out of 4 chapters was narrative summary of past events. That so many of them dug through all that is impressive. Then Anna’s book picks up back at the start of the apocalypse, and we have to read half the book to get up to date, then it’s a 10 year jump forward! Then book 3 for Cerulean, we open even earlier than the apocalypse, jump forward, jump back, swap to other perspectives, and…. Exhausting, I suppose, and lacking in narrative urgency across the series.
- Complexity – This is more of a latter book thing, going from 5 onwards. The above are mostly early book issues. Complexity picks up with Anna’s quest to take out the bunkers, and more backstory starts rearing its head. People say they didn’t know what was going on. Book 6 is OK, but then 7, 8 and 9 are humdingers. I totally accept this. Book 8 is crammed with ‘theory’ and probably needs a massive thinning out and simplifying. I’m sure they all do. Few people really understand what ‘the line’ is – there were requests for a glossary to explain it.
- Brutality – Somebody expressed the charm of book 1 by saying it was ‘an unexpected hero in the apocalypse’. This charm however faded as the books move forward. Book 6 stood out as being about a brutal serial rapist. Book 7 is the big one, wherein Amo becomes needlessly cruel. For some this is a shark-jumping moment. I get it.
- Magicky – As ‘the line’ develops in later books, Amo, Anna, Lara and others start to get magic-like powers. This is true. It was kind of baked in to the concept after book 1, though I never saw it going as far as it ultimately did.
- Off-genre – Similar to the above point is the fact that these books quickly stop being about zombies. Maybe only book 1 is truly concerned with them, and for only half of the book. After that they become a post-apocalyptic hodge-podge – some cults, some bunker-fights, some The Stand, a magicky war. I get this – zombie readers want zombies, not necessarily what I offer.
Phew. That’s a lot. It’s fascinating, and confirms so much of what I’ve been learning about the flaws in my storytelling, as explained in this earlier post. The answers to resolve these problems will probably also be similar to solutions I took with the Mr. Ruin books – just bigger, and more involved, because there are 9 books! And those solutions are:
How to fix it
- Cost – Lower prices across the board. There really is no reason not to do this. The books weren’t selling at higher price points. I’ve got people telling me they want them cheaper – so I make them cheaper. A slice of a smaller pie is better than no slice of a bigger pie. All books are now $2.99, and book 1 is 99c again. Boxset 1-3 is $4.99 and 4-6 is $5.99. I’m getting a 3D cover for books 7-9 made right now, and will release that boxset soon also at $5.99. I think these are fair. You’ll soon be able to get all the books in 3 boxset gulps for only $17 – half the price of before.
- Not enough Amo – This is a tough one. I’m not going to completely rewrite books 2 and 3 to fix this, but what I can do is what I already did with book 3. In edits a year or so back I opened it with Amo and Cerulean talking, after the events of book 2. So – up to date. From there, I set a threat, then dive back into backstory that builds on that threat. It then works back up to the modern day and goes forward. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. I can do the same for book 2 – so open right after the end of book 1 (instead of beginning in anna’s backstory), set a threat, the dive back to explain, work up to modern day and go forward. It’ll be better, and link the books in a straighter narrative.
- Repetition – As I do the above and straighten things out, I think there’ll be less need for the repetition. I’ve found this in editing the Ruin War – I could cut large chunks that previously served as mini-catchups on where things were up to, because we’re proceeding full flow and a catchup is not necessary. Trim and cut to the bone. I expect books 2 and 3 will be substantially reduced in length – as I’ll also trim areas that are thematically repetitious – like the first time Cerulean kills a zombie or such. We know from book 1 that it’s easy to do, and there is little threat. So get on.
- Time-hopping – This will still happen, perhaps even more so as per the plan above. But – it’ll be less jarring. As each book picks up with Amo front and center, continuing from the previous book, with a clear present-day threat outlined before we hop back, it should make more sense how things connect. Backstory stuff will be briefer. The focus will remain on the current thread of threat. I expect these 80k books (2 and 3) could drop to 50k each.
- Complexity – This just requires me to bull through and simplify, mostly in the latter books. Explain the line clearly, and reduce the level of detail on everything else. It’ll mean word cuts too – but I welcome this. I’m through with wanting people to read pages of dense conceptual technobabble. Just get to the point and get on.
- Brutality – I want to fix this. Having Amo be needlessly cruel is – if not entirely out of character for him at this stage of his life – a massive reader no-no. He’s been a good guy until now. People just instantly switch off when he becomes a bastard. There are ways around this – like Amo can think he did brutal things, and punish himself accordingly, only to find out later that he didn’t actually do them. The effect will be the same. Also, I can trim references to what Drake is doing as a serial rapist. It can happen, but we don’t need it shoved in our faces as much.
- Magicky – Another tough one. It’s mostly book 9 where it goes wild. I can try to tamp this down somewhat. Simplifying things, and clarifying the line, will probaby help. Ultimately, it’s the story, so I have to be willing to take some hits on this.
- Off-genre – As above, very little I can do here. I rebranded the series years ago as Last Mayor from the original Zombie Ocean, to take things away from pure zompocalypse in branding. It quickly becomes broader post-apocalypse fare, with bunkers and sci-fi touches and such. I still market it very much as a zombie book, because that’s the hook of book 1. I also market to post-apocalyptic people.
So – that is a great deal of work! When will I do all this work? I don’t know. I need to get on and write a few more in my new thriller series – and if that goes as well as I hope, I’ll probably be writing thrillers non-stop for a while.
I want to do all these changes, that’s the main thing. Maybe they’re the kind of bits I can do between writing new books. Fix a book at a time and upload to Amazon. I can judge then if it’s making a difference, and readthrough climbs. I’d start with book 1 and move through.
It’s pretty exciting, to think I could breathe fresh vigor into these old books. As ever, I’m sure in the editing process I will learn a lot. Thank you again to all my readers who shared their thoughts and expertise!