Edits on The Lash & lessons for Wren – Writing Update 2019 Week 46

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week has been consumed by editing The Lash, my Last Mayor zombie book 9. There have been some real ups and downs, crises of confidence, which I didn’t get when editing the earlier books in the series. This one took one major unusual step – flipping Amo from the good guy to the bad guy – and addressing that was a challenge.

Here’s what I did with them all:

Cerulean dreams

Naturally there were some interwoven, consistent Cerulean dreams throughout the novel, all in Amo’s POV. It happened in the Yangtze Darkness – some complex stuff about Amo getting in a packaging box on a conveyor belt, which itself was rotting and full of maggots, and get carried blind through the plastic drapes to the end, where he fell off and …

Stuff.

Why was this all here? On one hand, because I love Ceruleana nd don’t want to let him go. One the other hand, because I wanted a further way to show how mad Amo is going.

But it’s not fun. It’s drawn out, overwritten, and has no stakes. So what if he falls off the conveyor belt in a dream? It’s a dream! What does anything Cerulean says mean? He’s dead! Ooh, maggots. Gross.

So, I cut all of it. Now there are a few tiny snippets of Cerulean – hallucinations Amo sees built into the real world. They will doubtless be more powerful now.

Lara

There were some 6 chapters of Lara – after New LA blows up, she rolls across the country talking to Crow. We get a lot of Crow background, Native American stuff that’s earnestly written but probably hokey, and we get a lot of Witzgenstein from a distance.

It’s a lot of narrative threads to think about. All the others – Amo, Anna, Lucas are tied directly to what is going on with the bad guy for the book – General Marshall. So I trim it all. Now – at the very end – Marshall mentions Lara. Amo gets confused. It makes sense to have a brief catch-up with Lara then. The threat she’s facing. And those 6 chapters barely need any condensing – there’s one threat through them all that doesn’t change, so put it in one chapter.

Tech backstory & lepers

I had expected to seriously lighten the tech load. Stuff about the hydrogen line is dull. The more explanations I offer, the more confusing it gets. I trim a great deal – the line is going crazy, Amo has black light power, helmets can protect you but are imperfect.

Fine.

But then I hit the lepers at the end of the book. They play a pivotal, but very dreamy, role in the book. They confuse things enormously. Essentially, they are the awful byproduct of the efforts to make helmets that resist the hydrogen line.

They look like mummies, they are chaotic, and when they get near you you start to go mad. They turn your brain to static – and Marshal set them free. Amo takes one on in a very dreamy fight that invovled Cerulean. But I never explained them. I didn’t set it up. Amo does nothing special to survive – he just is strong enough.

I thought – why not cut it? It is cool, but without it the story suddenly streamlines. Amo, Marshall, Lucas, the helmets. Everything clarifies. So I cut it. It may cause problems in book 8! Hopefully I can intro the lepers again, if needed.

Amo goes bad

In this book, Amo decides he must become the villain to make his people survive. He has to kill all the bunkers, tens of thousands of people. But not only become the villain, he decides he has to become cruel. He has to learn how to enjoy being cruel.

That was a shark-jumping moment. I pushed it very far. Amo just becomes awful – when his signature characteristic throughout the series has been his morality. He transgresses many times – like in book 1 when he wipes out the zombie horde then kills himself out of guilt – but his morality crashes him back into line. There is just something inside him that prevents him from enjoying this kind of horror.

This book squashed it. Amo died. So – what are we reading for now?

That’s the problem. There’s no good guy left. There is too much despair. And I have Amo doing that with a crazy, laughing kind of madness. So off-putting. I found myself reading and just not caring.

So – I had to try to walk the line. The series is about saving Amo’s soul, after all. So I can push him to the edge, but not beyond. To do this, I up the influence of Drake on him. I cut out any element of enjoying cruelty. I get rid of the mad laughing – and instead I just make Amo extremely intense on protecting his people. Much like Marshall. No need to go mad. Just go intense.

I’m pretty sure it’s better. I had some uncertainty – after I make him a good guy falling into awfulness, have I lost my narrative drive? Well, then I need to clarify Marshall – and make the coming clash between these two intense men more suspenseful. Have I achieved it? I really don’t know. What I need is some more reviews that either confirm this or don’t.

Do I keep the sympathy of the reader? Do I keep the interest?

Lessons for Wren

There are definite lessons for my thrillers in all this. Wren is always dark, but in book 3 he goes darker – getting similar to Amo. He never seems to enjoy it, but he easily goes dark.

It’s hard for readers to roll with that. I think I can still have Wren be brutal, but walk the line better with a few lines to show he’s reluctant to do this. I throw him into it with gusto and no pause – that’s fine – but he doesn’t like it. I can help this by clarifying further how necessary it is. He really believes he has to do it. He’s also right.

I’ll look at Saint Justice this coming week – in advance of the big Bookbub. Streamline, speed, but minor changes at best. Quite excited to dig in.

Bookbub for Wren, The Lash edits & stellar email – Writing Update 2019 Week 45

MJG Marketing, Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Lots of writerly action this week – with income contuining to hold at around $160 a day, 50% ACOS at around $80 a day on FB, AMS and BB ads. I have since squashed the BB ads (ineffective), trimmed the sails of the AMS ads (too expensive), and cut the Anna-image FB ads (they got very many cheap clicks due to the slight sexiness but very few sales).

Indie Authors London

I also had the Indie Authors London group Meetup which I run – we had some 14 people attend – including a big guy who looked like Idris Elba who wrote a book on attracting women as well as the return of Jon-Jon.

It was a mostly unscheduled session – we went around the group and heard what folks are doing. I talked about my sexy ads and starting basic FB video ads. I think nobody else was making much money in the group this time. I wonder what to do to keep the pro authors coming.

Maybe we need to make more effort to get expert guests in? I’m kind of lazy to do that though – it’s hard to get proper experts. But without proper experts, it’s true, why would the pros come? Maybe it’s natural that they stop coming when the members stop being their peers…

On with the major topics:

Bookbub for Wren!

I’m always applying for Bookbubs – even when I have no hope of getting them. All my books are currently in Kindle Unlimited – BB rarely pick books that are KU-exclusive. My plan was to wait until Jan (when Wren rolls out of KU and I put it wide for a few weeks again) and submit Saint Justice for the 2nd time @ free.

Then I thought, well, no harm in asking while it’s in KU. It’s a process of seconds only. So I did. And they said yes.

Yes!

Wren book 1 will go out to some 3 million BB readers on Nov 28, @ free, while in KU. This could be big. I’ve had BBs before that didn’t do much. This’ll be my best exposure yet. Visibility within KU, while on a 5-day free spree, should lead to visibility like I’ve never had before. Hopefully a huge tranche of page reads, followed by readthrough to books 2 and 3.

Really it’s ideal. $628 for the mention. I stack 2 days before it with ENT, Robin Reads, Freebooksy, Book Adrenaline, KND free highlighter and maybe a few others – for a few hundred dollars more. Try and grade the splash into BB a little.

I’m excited. Not too much. In moderation. And – prior to this, I must run a few edits! In particular:

  • After Wren is tortured by the Saints, he whizzes off to fight the Alpha and rescue people from a fire, naked!! I had just forgotten he was being tortured while naked. I need to give him some clothes!
  • People have pointed out the horror tones of this book and the others. I want to tone it down a little. Not completely. A bit though. I already toned down swear words. I am a pushover when readers complain!
  • The beginning may be a bit slow and meandering. I can afford to speed this up probably.
  • The number of perspective flips has me uncomfortable. Wren and Mason is plenty. I also have Acker and Sinclair. I will look at cutting these and sharing the info some other way.

The Lash edits

As expected, this is hard. Key edits thus far include:

  • Taking Lara’s story out of it. A recent review said the books 1-6 were good, and after 7 it got disjointed. It definitely does. There are 5 perspectives in the story – often not related much at all, though they often interweave in chapters. This has to be confusing and annoying.

Lara’s story is the least related of all, and the easiest to replace with narrative summary elsewhere. Maybe she will be the kicker at the end of the book. I can’t cut it completely – as her story is important in book 8.

As for the others, I try and set them in a better order so they feed onto each other. We flip to Anna only when she becomes relevant to Amo’s story. We flip to Lucas only when he’s relevant. It should read smoother.

  • Taking Cerulean dreams out of it. I guess I was in love with the idea of Cerulean and the Yangtze Darkness still playing a role in these books. I kept putting them both in, when there’s enough conufsing stuff already. Cut it all almost entirely.
  • Amo reveling in cruelty. I can cut this but have to be careful – he does need to go mad. I have him sickened by it, and I have Drake taking him over more now. I hope I’ll keep people on side this time.
  • Complexity of the line is getting reduced. It’s still a little foggy. Maybe in re-edits in a few years I will be able to smoothe it all 🙂

I kind of dread re-working book 8. It is massively about backstory. Half the book, really. We will see.

Stellar email

I got a really lovely email – I won’t reproduce it as I don’t have permission – but the writer said they were reading the early zombie novels to their new grand daughter, only 8 days old! And she seemed to like it!

I am honored and flattered that this should happen. Some might argue a zombie book is hardly appropriate fare – but I say NO – you can never be too young to get your training in for the apocalypse! The grand daughter in question will no doubt grow up to be a great zombie fighter.

Also, as Tom Selleck said in 3 Man and a Baby – ‘It doesn’t matter what I say, it’s only the way I say it that matters.’

Exactly. That is one great granddad sharing his zombie books with his new grand daughter!

Brutality in my books, Massive Edits & Confirmatory Reviews – Writing Update 2019 Week 44

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

It looks like I had a lot to say last week, as I wrote two extra blogs about the following topics:

The upshot of both is that I finished editing book 6, The Laws, and moved on to Book 7, The Lash, where I faced the old challenges – simplifying complex technobabble, reducing repetition, speeding up action scenes – as well as a new one – losing sympathy for the main character when he goes too dark.

I was aware when I wrote book 7 that Amo’s turn to the darkness – essentially using the people around him to train himself to enjoy being cruel, so he can be completely thorough in destroying the bunkers – was tough. I pushed the envelope pretty far.

Too far, I think. People told me that directly. In tackling it the last few days – in particular a scene where Amo whips a helpless guy with his belt, and enjoys it – I can see how there’s no pleasure to be had in reading further. At this point our hero becomes someone else, loses his basic decency and seems unredeemable.

Going forward from that point, I found myself losing any sense of why I should care. This is always a tell-tale sign that something went wrong earlier. I lost my own sympathy. If he can do awful things with no cost, where’s the tension? The interest comes from a good person forcing themselves to do awful things, and hating it, but doing it because the other choice is worse.

So actually enjoying it? It takes that tension away. It compares to book 1, where he slaughters thousands of the ocean and hates it so much he kills himself.

It’s a tricky line to walk. Too much inner monologue about how unpleasant this all is starts to sound like whining. Too little and the character appears monstrous.

This is further relevant because I’ve had feedback on a similar scene with Christopher Wren in book 3, Reparation. Wren is in an interrogation situation, under fire, where he’s got a group of cult-followers briefly captive and needs to get something out of them in seconds.

He picks a pregnant woman, puts a gun to her head, and threatens her. It’s pushing it about as far as it can go.

Of course I’m thinking, and know, that Wren hates doing this. I know that it’s a bluff, and that he regrets the bluff because of the damage it will do, but also that he believes with absolute certainty that if he doesn’t get the information he needs, countless people will die.

It’s the torturer’s defense. But then, he is a vigilante – it’s what we sign up for when we pick up the book, frontier justice. He’s done the same thing before to varying degrees.

Maybe though I sold his bluff too well. People are turning off him because of this. There is no inner monologue throughout to soften things for the reader. It’s presented starkly. I can’t see how it would hurt to add that monologue in a little. Reassure the reader he hates this, regrets it, and that it’s a bluff. It’s all still awful, of course, but at least we’re not in the head of an evil man. Morally compromised, certainly, but agonized over it.

It’s good to think about this. Editing these zombie books is definitely giving me lessons I can apply to Wren. Fix one thing, and more interesting problems appear.

Before I go on to book 4, I’ll probably do a quick sweep through Wren 1-3 to smarten them up and file off a few sharp edges. Less horror, basically.

Facebook Ads!

On another note, I’ve been trying a new ad on Facebook. I took the image from book 5 of Anna, wrote a much sharper, shorter copy, and fired it up. It’s only been a day, and it’s getting clicks for half the price the old ad was getting. More sales though? I’m not seeing it. It’s odd, because it’s the same audience. Why would they click then not convert when it’s only 99c?

Mystery. Answers may come. Hopefully they’re all KU readers and I’ll see a massive spike in page reads coming soon. Here’s the ad:

I also made a short video version – it’s doing well so far.

Confirmatory reviews – Last Mayor is on the right track!

MJG Last Mayor, Writing 2 Comments

A month ago I received this review of the Last Mayor box set books 1-9 on Amazon US:

Started off like a snowball down a mountain. By book 4 it slowed to a pebble rolling down a rocky slope. Well defined characters, interesting premise but some points go against all common sense. But still a good read. But cant bring my self to give a five.

Oddly, I found this to be incredibly reassuring. This person had read an earlier version, where I’d edited books 1-3 but hadn’t yet touched books 4-6. So – what I’d done was working! The new stuff was fast, the old stuff was slow. I took it as confirmation of the editing process, and was encouraged.

Last night I was just thinking how great it would be to get another review saying a similar thing for books 1-5, which I put out a few weeks ago. No sooner did I think it than I saw this review on Amazon UK, put up only hours earlier:

It started off well but went completely off the rails and lost my interest after book six, it got very disjointed and abstract! Which was a shame because up till then it was mostly very good!!

It’s like they actually read my mind – exactly what I wanted to hear, and also exactly what I think.

So – onward with the edits! I had intended to spend the end of this year writing a new Wren thriller, but given the heat around the zombie box set right now it makes sense to sharpen all 9 books ASAP. Deadline of Christmas. Hopefully readthrough will spike higher, reviews will be better and all will be well in the world.

Massive edits to the Last Mayor 6: The Laws

MJG Last Mayor, Writing, Zombie Ocean 2 Comments

In the last couple of weeks I have been editing The Laws, Last Mayor book 6, and am almost at the final word count. It started off at 107,000 words. That’s a decent length book, bigger than an ‘average’ novel length of 80,000. It has great reviews on all vendors, basically a solid five stars. It may even be crazy to edit it at all – since something about it is working. And yet…

I have now cut it down to 55,000 words. That’s basically chopping it in half. Here’s what I cut, and why:

13,000 words of Drake’s backstory.

This was served up interspersed with another 10,000 words of Lara’s backstory, at an early point where we still haven’t even met Drake and don’t know what threat he represents.

In these backstories I went deep. I went back to Drake before the apocalypse even hit. That’s 12 years ago in the timeline, 5 books ago in the series. We spend some time with him freaking out over a rude waiter on a cruise ship. Then his family flip to zombies, he spends a few days killing all the zombies on the ship with his family last, then he goes to the mainland (Europe) and finds a girl – Myra. They hook up. It goes great, until he starts thinking about repopulating the world. He traps her, becomes a rapist, makes her pregnant, and she dies in childbirth.

It’s not uninteresting. Some parts of it massively drag, though – particularly on the cruise ship. The stuff with Myra is pretty horrible. Not graphic, but graphic enough. We are in the POV of a rapist, basically, and that’s grim even if we see nothing.

So, I cut it out, moved it to the end of the document, and figured I might add it back in at an appropriate point – at least once the conflict is really chugging along. But the problem with that theory is – once the conflict is really chugging along, who wants 13,000 words of backstory? Especially backstory that goes back to a boat 12 years ago?

So trim it to the bone? But then if I start trimming, why keep any of it? ‘Because it’s interesting’ is not good enough, when the actual story is exciting. So what then? Well, my solution is to feed a bit more of it in through it’s effect on the current story. Brief narrative summary – a few lines here and there. The funny thing is – I’d already done this.

Myra comes up again later, and gets a mini explanation. Like people hadn’t already read all about her. So why have the dramatized earlier stuff, when I already have the summary in place later…

Yes.

10,000 words of Lara backstory

This was interwoven with the Drake stuff – so already that makes it unappealing. It dealt with Lara two years ago on the timescale, events we didn’t see but were referred to in book 5. Essentially – after her coma, what happened?

We already know she had a tough time, and Amo was deep into his guilt trip. These 10k words fleshed that out. But it doesn’t really do anything else, other than deepen the sense that Lara was lastingly impacted by the demon-induced coma.

I can do that way faster, via narrative summary here and there, a line at a time. So I did it. Bye bye, backstory info dump. 23,000 words gone so far.

10,000 words of Lara front story

I wanted this book to be Lara’s POV. I started with her having her hallucinations – she wakes up the night before New LA are moving to Sacramento, and goes for a walk. She hallucinates Cerulean in the sea and swims out to save him. She almost dies.

This serves the purpose of showing how damaged her brain is. But it does take ages. Why not just do this, again, with narrative summary. And actually, while you’re at it, get rid of-

Maybe 5,000 words of Cerulean hallucinations

Weirdly, Cerulean was in the book a lot. I suppose he was a kind of plot bandaid, when I wasn’t really sure how to twist the narrative flow onto the track I wanted. Give Lara a dream of Cerulean pointing the way!

It is dull. So much metaphorical dream stuff is completely skippable. So I skipped it. I think Cerulean gets name-checked a few times now. We hear about her hallucinations of him, but we don’t have to experience them.

So that’s 38,000 words cut. What else?

8,000 words of Anna and theory

There was quite a lot of Anna bantering and exchanging deep theories about the hydrogen line. Really deep, way more than anyone needs to understand. It’s already complex enough, baked down to the basics. We don’t need to hear every step in the logical chain leading from A to B.

Plus some of the banter is annoying. We can cut a lot, so I did. That’s 46,000 words – the rest is random bits here and there. There’s a section where Lara goes off thinking about the Hitler youth. Another section about Ai Wei Wei. both cut. There’s great detail about seeds, and the planting schedule of New LA, and how they chose Sacramento as the new base.

All gone.

I also added words

The pain of this edit was the amount of words I had to write fresh, so things would make better sense. Now it’s all Amo’s POV until Drake knocks him out around a third in, then it flips to Lara. Much of that is fresh, streamlining Lara’s more baggy earlier POV. Also the cleaner, faster description of Lara’s powers and their development is new.

Then Anna. Her sidestory is confusing. I still have to cut it further. She crash-lands her plane, then goes to the Bordeaux bunker, but why? I couldn’t even remember the reason. It’s not very clear. So I will cut that. She will have to hunker down, and only get saved later by the big change on the line.

Maybe the book will be 50,000 words by the end. Barely a book! More a novella. So why do this?

Because it’s better

It’s definitely better now. I’ve known for some time that people were not reading through the series. They were dropping off at various books – when the pace got to them, or the complexity, or the dream sequences, or the flashbacks, or the technobabble.

By the time I was writing book 6, I was on a roll. It felt like everything I wrote was great. And don’t get me wrong, half of the stuff in this book IS great. Fast, impactful, powerful. I thought back on it as one of the most fast-paced in the series, but then I was selectively misremembering the backstory chunks.

People gave it great reviews, and I love them for it – die hard fans who adore the series. Thank you! But the number of those reviews is telling. 245 reviews on book 1. 20 on book 6. Some drop off is natural, but not that much. People were just not getting that far.

Now they are. Up to book 5 has all been recently reworked, and flows way better. Book 6 will stick in their craw, so I smooth it. Now I have to do 7-9, and I know those’ll be hard too. All the same reasons. Massive backstory dumps, deep theory on the line, dreams, repetition, etc…

But it’ll all be better. I wish I’d had an editor at the time to point this out to me – but the truth is, if they’d suggested these major changes, I wouldn’t have listened. I had to come to it for myself. So – I am always learning. At some point I’ll probably go back over the Wren thrillers and find plenty to cut too!

Adding Bookbub ads – Writing Update 2019 Week 43

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

The stellar performance of my Last Mayor box set books 1-9 continues unabated. This remains something I am surprised by, don’t fully understand, and have no idea how long it will go on for – therefore I am enjoying it very much while it lasts!

It is selling some 70 copies a day, with around 20,000 page reads. That’s around $100 gross a day. Of course I am paying around 40% for the privilege. On days when AMS spends my ad budget it does better. Likewise with FB ads – though somehow the FB ads have been cutting themselves out very early. Technically it is set to spend about $50 a day on FB ads, and it’s only spending $10.

Wha-? This happens more normally on AMS. So I keep making fresh FB ads targeted to new audiences to try and persuade it to spend more.

The book has been a #1 category bestseller in a couple of categories on and off all week. It is in the first or second page of also-boughts for the top box sets in the genre.

Since this box set is converting so well, I’ve fired up a few Bookbub ads as well. I have never had any success with these before. It’s too early to say if I will now – so far I’ve spent $20, $10 a day – and CTR (clickthrough rate) is maybe 0.8%, CPC (cost-per-click) is around 80cents. That’s a lot.

Will it come down? Bookbub ads say they now split your results by the authors you use for targeting. This would be excellent, if it worked. It’s only been two days, so maybe this data will populate soon. Then I can turn off any authors with awful CTR and optimize.

Here’s the Bookbub ad:

It may be my best-looking ad yet. I like having the price as a sticker on the book – I can never pick a spot in the ad that looks as good.

My hopes that the Soul Jacker box set might follow in its footsteps appear to be unfounded. Well, let’s be honest, they weren’t founded on much to begin with. It is selling a few copies, but it needs to earn pagereads to make money, and that isn’t happening yet. Fingers cross that it will.

Until that point, the zombie box set is subsidizing both Soul Jacker and Christopher Wren ads. Wren is starting to get some take-up down the series (3 books so far). Clicks cost a lot more, though. It’s all a big investment. Lots of nice reviews are coming in too, which is great.

On Wren briefly – I’ve had a fair number of reviews say he’s unlikable, but fascinating, flawed but gripping, even one person said they like to read about him but wouldn’t want to get a beer with him, whereas they would get a beer with Jack Reacher. It’s tough to hear – I obviously like him. However a review came in yesterday that said, while he was flawed and tough and vulnerable, he was also kind.

It’s what I think about him. I’m glad someone else got that.

Sell the sizzle not the steak in book blurbs – Writing Update 2019 Week 42

MJG Story Craft, Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

When I launched the Soul Jacker box set last week, I also took a hard look at the blurb I was using for Soul Jacker book 1.

This blurb was only a few months old. It’s a book I’ve re-blurbed multiple times. But somehow, this time around I could see how little of the ‘sizzle’ was coming through. It was all steak. Descriptive. Interesting.

Not exciting.

David Gluckman Case Study

Maybe it was doing a mentoring session with David Gluckman, inventor of Bailey’s Irish Cream, a few weeks back that helped me see this. In advance of our session I took a look at the blurb for his book – a business biography about his numerous drinks inventions – and immediately felt like it was all steak with no sizzle.

Here is what he had on Amazon (and still has at the moment) for his book That Shit Will Never Sell:

The book is about ideas, mainly in the alcoholic drinks sector. Its centrepiece is the creation of Baileys Irish Cream. It is written in a light anecdotal style and will appeal to both business people and others who are interested in the way ideas happen.

It’s apparent. It’s descriptive. It may even be interesting, but it certainly is not exciting. Now, this is non-fiction, so exciting doesn’t have to be about conflict. As a business book, it should make me feel excited to learn something new. I’m getting the lowdown on the inside track.

I started kicking around a new blurb in my head. Develop an instant conflict. Pump it up with superlatives. If we can learn anything from Trump, it’s that people respond to confidence and authority. Here’s what I came up with:

The untold battle for Bailey’s Irish Cream (and other classic drinks brands) by a visionary drinks supremo.

4 billion bottles sold across 230 countries. A product family 15 layers deep. A brand emblazoned into the global consciousness – and in 1973, when neophyte drinks entrepreneur David Gluckman brewed Baileys Irish Cream from the ground up, the investors said:

“That sh*t will never sell.”

They were wrong.

This iconic business autobiography is crammed with delightful anecdotes, jaw-dropping drinks photography and the inside story of a dozen famous drinks brand – telling in loving, laugh-filled detail the unexpected story of David Gluckman’s rise from drinks dreamer to global alcohol impresario.

Learn:

  • How to keep faith and earn buy-in when doubters pour scorn on your creativity.
  • When to push hard in a pitch and when to ease back and take a critique.
  • How to shepherd your idea through the gauntlet of the modern business machine.

It starts off with conflict and secrecy using evocative language. It pumps up the authority of the author. It makes sense of that title (That shit will never sell), and adds powerful adjectives. It adds the Learn list, which I believe is common in these kinds of business titles.

So, this was the marketing department (that part of my brain) at work. I figured, if it can do this for someone else’s book, why not my own? Pump my blurbs up with steroids. Make them exciting. Everyone else is doing it, so why not me?

Soul Jacker Case Study:

So here is the old (pretty recent) blurb for Soul Jacker:

“MJG proves that cyberpunk is alive and kicking.” – Michael Marshall Smith, bestselling SF author.
“Superb – a Fantastic Voyage into the soul.” – Pat Mills, creator of 2000AD featuring Judge Dredd.
2364. A terrified girl flees a brutal slumlord…
It’s been a long time since Ritry risked his sanity on a deep-brain Soul-jack. Once renowned for hacking the most lethal minds, now he peddles cheap memory implants on the neon-lit slums of the Arctic Circle – staying out of trouble, mostly.
Then a terrified girl bolts into his jack-site, seeking a unique brain-hack to escape Don Zachary, the vicious slumlord. Ritry’s no hero, but he won’t stand by while another innocent dies.
Yet the Don does not forgive. Hounded from the slums, Ritry flees into the forgotten ruins of the old world, only to find a far crueler predator lying in wait, one with a dark taste for living Souls – plunging Ritry into one last desperate jack with the Souls of all humanity on the line…

On reflection, I feel it’s lacking in sizzle. The opening quotes are nice but not 11 out of 10. The opening paragraph is fair, though opening with ‘It’s been a long time…’ hints at long waits, which is slow and dull. It ends with a hint of a kicker (staying out of trouble, mostly…), but paragraph 2 (Then a terrified girl…) does not really carry that kicker on.

The enemy is a slumlord? OK, but not fascinating. Humdrum SF crime, maybe. It’s implied that Ritry helps the girl. So what? What’s at stake?

In paragraph 3 things compound. Maybe they get confusing. It was a slumlord, now it’s a crueler predator? It’s too many steps. Slumlord, and Ritry does this, then predator, and Ritry does this…

So let’s simplify, clarify, pump it up, and re-serve:

The Complete Acclaimed Soul Jacker Trilogy in One Box Set! Ferocious new SF – bristling with razor-bright ideas and action.

Once the greatest of the Soul Jackers – shock marines deployed to hijack pivotal enemy minds – Ritry now peddles cheap memory implants on the neon-lit slums of the Arctic Circle – staying out of trouble, mostly.

But trouble is stalking him. On a drunken night out at the slum’s floating edge, Ritry stumbles upon a bizarre murder scene staged just for him. The killer calls himself Mr. Ruin, a long-lived cannibal of souls, and threatens to eat Ritry’s soul alive if he won’t attempt an impossible heist – stealing a mythical weapon from the no-man’s-land of the inner mind

Now Ritry must plunge into the most dangerous jack ever, racing both the murderous Mr. Ruin and the terminal defenses of the inner mind, with the souls of all humanity hanging in the balance…

“If you’re a fan of Stephenson and Gibson, you must read Soul Jacker!” – Pat Mills, creator of 2000AD featuring Judge Dredd.

Right from the off, we’ve got power words that say the story will be 11/10. Ferocious. Bristling. Razor-bright. Paragraph 1 is the same except it has shock marines, hijack, pivotal. Paragraph 2 is a complete change – the girl is gone, the slumlord is gone, we’re straight in picking up the kicker (Trouble is stalking him). We go fast to ‘cannibal of the soul’ – pretty wacky.

People may balk, since they don’t know what that is, but I can’t explain everything. The words will have to explain enough. Intrigue is it’s own hook, and there’s more of it with the murder scene staged just for him. Why?

Then we go direct to stakes. This is what Ruin wants – a heist to get a weapon from the lethal inner mind. This is what he’ll do to Ritry – eat his soul. All done by the end of paragraph 2, forming a clear kicker: what will Ritry do?

We zip to paragraph 3 – Ritry takes on both, Ruin and the inner mind, and the stakes get bigger – not just his soul but everyone’s.

Then the quote – mentioning Stephenson and Gibson here, in Pat Mills’ words, is surely the most impactful. This is what readers need to know.

So, sizzle!

What do you think? I feel it’s better than ever. Punchier. More aggressive. Cleaner, and more gripping as a blurb.

I can do this for you too. Check out my mentoring page.

The astounding binge power of book box sets – Writing Update 2019 Week 41

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Some hard talk to start – and one possible reason I stopped the Weekly Writing Updates 24 weeks (half a year!) ago:

My big Soul Jacker relaunch failed.

No point beating around the bush. It hurt at the time – like any setback. I’d spent a lot of time rewriting this trilogy which I first wrote in 2014/15 – paid for developmental editing, got new covers, labored for the 5th year on the blurb. I got amazing testimonials from top authors in the game (Michael Marshall Smith!, Pat Mills!) built a hell of a promo stack around a Bookbub New Release deal, dropped thousands on Facebook and Bookbub ads, and…

Nothing.

Despite selling over 1,000 copies in launch week, Amazon didn’t pick up the book and push it to their readers. There was no post-launch bounce. It climbed as long as I spent money, then it disappeared.

Ugh. What to do?

Well, retreat into a cave and write seemed a good idea, so that’s what I did – writing two Chris Wren thrillers and re-working 3 of my zombie books. Now I emerge from the other side freshly invigorated, like a beautiful butterfly freed from its spun-silk cocoon, to fly high as the mountains on gossamer winds of inspiration.

And the truth that has finally set me free?

Box Sets

In particular, one box set. I’m wary. I’m branching out. But hands down my most successfull book, which currently makes double the money for whatever ad spend I put into it, is my Box Set books 1-9 of the Last Mayor series.

I’d been planning to do this for ages. It seemed like a 20% activity though – fiddly busywork not likely to yield any real return. There were no books after this to go onto. Discounting it wouldn’t help.

Except.

There are so many complete box sets in the zombie genre right now, many 9 books and longer, that it’s hard to look competitive without doing this. And those other bumper box set? They’re predominantly on sale at the perma-low price of 99c/p.

This makes no sense. I get that. When I launched my set I did a Countdown down for 7 days to 99c/p, to try it out. It went well. Nice boost in rank, page reads, a good number of sales. It took me a few weeks more to take the plunge and drop the price perma-low to 99.

It’s been there for a month now. Sales are through the roof. 60 copies a day is standard. Page reads steadily climb as I steadily inch ad spend up. Currently something like 14,000 pages a day. That’s amazing, and by far my biggest earner.

The reason is pretty apparent. A 9-book box set just looks like phenomenal value. Drop that to 99c/p, and people are just predisposed to click BUY. It’s a steal. Combine that with streaming culture, where folks are accustomed to Netflix binge a whole series in a weekend, and surely this is where we are all going?

Who wants to mess around picking up book by book, each one with it’s own nuisance charge? Of course Kindle Unlimited is a way around this, Amazon’s own ‘streaming’ free read program, but there are still plenty of people who aren’t in that who want to ‘stream’ a whole season in one go.

A 9-book box set will do that. It scratches an itch. And with all the competition doing it, it’s becoming the price of entry. but it’s no price – I’ve never regularly sold this much, day on day.

So I want to expand this. Next up for the treatment is Soul Jacker. Maybe this series which has been a hole in my heart for so long can finally find an audience as a perma-low box set? Lower the barrier to entry far enough, and people may start climbing on board.

We can only hope. Fingers crossed. Here we go.

Chris Wren 3, Last Mayor Rewrites & Mentoring – Writing Update 2019 week 39 & 40

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Hoo boy.

It has been 24 weeks since I last updated this writing blog! What have I been doing?

  • Wrote book 3 of the Chris Wren thrillers, Reparation.
  • Substantially rewrote and released book 4 of the Last Mayor series, The Loss.
  • Just now (an hour ago) got done rewriting book 5 of the Last Mayor series, The List.
  • Mentored another writer on marketing 1-1.
  • Spoke to a writer’s group on marketing.
  • Released books 1-3 of the Chris Wren thrillers.
  • Ramped up Facebook and Amazon ad spend such that I’m now making around $40 profit a day.
  • Put all the Last Mayor books together in a box set, dropped the overall price to 99c (!!) and am now selling 60 copies a day with 10,000 pages read (my main earner).

A lot of crazy stuff there.

With Chris Wren, I’m not doing any advertising right now, with book 1 wide and hoping for a Bookbub. If it doesn’t come, I’ll go back in KU and ramp up ad spend for a while, until I try Bookbub again in a few months.

With the Last Mayor, I’ll keep on rewriting the books through the series. More on that now:

Rewriting the Last Mayor

I finished the series with book 9 18 months ago. Honestly, I thought I was done. Through that time I ran some ads to book 1, then to books 1-3, but didn’t get great take-up. Then, on a whim and after looking at what competing zombie authors were doing, I put all books into a 9-book box set.

Boom. Sales rose. Reads rose. I had it at $9.99 and I was getting organic sales, without any ad spend. I turned some ads on, it got a little better. I figured, fine. Go 99c and keep it there, see if page reads increase.

They have. I’m stunned. It’s a great value proposition. 60 sales a day keeps the book at a decent ranking, which helps KU readers pick it up, which helps with page reads, which helps with rank.

I’m slowly increasing ad spend. At the same time, I’ve been rewriting. A year ago I rewrote books 1-3. They were the biggest drop-off points in series readthrough to start with. Remember I did that poll?

Book 1 was biggest drop-off. Then book 3. Then book 5.

It’s funny, because all the books get good reviews. Yet readthrough to book 9 is sub-10%. Maybe sub-5%. Poor.

Why? I asked people. Reasons involved repetitiveness, slowness, too many dream sequences, too much tech babbling, too much violence.

I know how to fix that. I sped up book 1 first with a new opener, less dreaming and navel-gazing, and fewer interruptions – with a new epilogue directly teasing book 2. 2 got most of its dream sequences removed, along with the Interludes gone completely. 3 lost a massive chunk of far-back backstory, with a faster start and cleaner tech.

4 I knew was a beast. Lots of tech, lots of backstory. Much of that is now gone. It was 100,000 words. Now it is 70,000. Mostly that was backstory in the Interludes – all gone. Repetition gone. Dreams gone. It is way faster and cleaner now.

5 I just finished, from 90,000 down to 60,000! It’s fine. Many long dream sequences that could easily be summed up as ‘Anna had a nightmare’. Done. Tech stuff simplified. Backstory bits sped right up and trimmed.

Phew. It means fewer pages, but I’m hoping people with stick with it.

Is that happening? Well – I got a review recently saying ‘books 1-3 sped along manically, then at book 4 it slowed right down.’ This person read the new version of books 1-3, but the old version of 4-6. Pretty telling.

Now it should be full speed ahead through 1-5 at least. At some point I’ll tackle 6-9. A lot of violence and tech stuff to thin out. I’m up to the job. But first I need to-

Write Wren book 4

This is the next big thing. My goal should probably be to get it done by the end of the year. I’m not feeling a lot of pressure though, as it’s still early in the series. It’s only been 3 months since book 1 came out, and there are already 3. Few people will have read all the way through. I’ve got time.

& Mentoring

This is a thing I’ve been toying with for ages. Do I know enough? Do I sell enough? I don’t have a unique gimmick – one thing I’m an expert in. I just follow best practises of the experts. But maybe I could be an expert.

I gave the talk this week to the Tufnell Park Society of Authors group, and the section that was perhaps most engaging and best received was about ‘knowing your genre’ with regard to covers. I’ve got lots of experience in this area. as a photographer and designer of my own covers, I know a thing or two about this. Add that to blurbs, and you’ve got the essential marketing package.

Maybe I could be an expert on that. Write a calling card book – ‘Know your genre.’ Lots of cool examples. Misfires. A deep understanding kind of thing.

I’ve got a mentoring session today with a real-world marketing pro. I’m doing the mentoring. It will be interesting to say the least. Also gathering some testimonials for when I get round to making a dedicated page:

“Mike’s presentation on self-publishing for the Tufnell Park Writers was brilliant. Some of us are complete beginners, others know more about the topic, a few have self-published – but everyone found the session a complete eye-opener. We all gained a new appreciation about the wealth of digital technologies and services out there, and how to make them work for you as an author. I appreciated Mike’s easy-going, clear, and jargon-free teaching approach, but especially his openness: he was unflinching in answering questions about money (e.g. “How much did that cover design cost you?”), generous with details about some of his mistakes along the way, and candid about the pros and cons of different service providers. Probably the best session our group has had since it started.”

– Andrew Wilson, author of Translators on Translating: Inside the Invisible Art

“Michael Grist is a powerhouse of knowledge and energy when it comes to indie publishing, and in particular to marketing. His knowledge comes from his own experience as an indie author and in our one-hour session he was able to lead me carefully through the process of setting up an email list, together with reader magnet and landing page and all that jazz. He is patient and understanding especially when it comes to techie stuff. There is nothing like a one-to-one tutorial as we are all at different stages when it comes to marketing and IT expertise, and Michael seems to understand algorithms as much as they are humanly understandable. He also makes sure he keeps up to date with the latest goings-on at Amazon etc.”

– Patsy Trench, author and scriptwriter for TV, radio and theatre, co-founder of The Children’s Musical Theatre of London,

Pretty sweet. I’d love to run workshops for larger numbers, get a pro room with decent wifi and no distractions. Maybe in the future.

A Shadow Intelligence by Oliver Harris – Review

MJG Reviews, Thriller Leave a Comment

As a big fan of Oliver Harris’s Nick Belsey police thrillers, I came to this book loaded for bear, expecting a rollicking ride in the grips of a dark hero operating on the fringes of legality/lethality. I ended up getting scooped up and swallowed whole. Damn, Harris knows what he is talking about, and damn if he doesn’t stream that knowledge hard and fast through a sniper’s ricocheting trickshot of a plot.

We begin with MI6 agent Eliot Kane, man of many identities and worlds, getting pulled from a mission and furloughed in London for reasons unknown – in the midst of which he receives a mysterious video file showing some CGI-rendered deep fake of himself appearing in a place he’s never been and meeting someone he’s never before seen – sent by his spy ex-girlfriend who’s now gone missing.

Damn. Kane slips his MI6 handlers, activates protocols to go dark for a while, and absconds to Kazakhstan – where his ex-gf was last seen and where the footage came from. Thus begins the Belsey-esque pinballing of Kane between his multiple cover identities past, present and future, between private and government intelligence agencies, state actors, environmental groups and more, following the trail of his deep-fake mock-up and his ex-gf, who of course was mixed up in something bigger and scarier than anyone expected.

I know for a fact that Harris went to Kazakhstan and drank deep from the local experiential trough – the details he parses out throughout this story are utterly convincing, and when combined with the level of tradecraft on display I’m starting to think Harris the author is actually a deepfake of himself, covering for a spy identity unveiling his cryptic, fast-moving world for us norms to see.

The storyline races at a hectic pace as Kane pursues his off-book investigations throughout the Kazakh capital Astana, all the while trying to keep MI6 off his back and unpuzzle the threat his own deepfake image poses to him, to his ex-gf, and who knows, maybe the world? The writing is spare when it needs to be, full-bodied when we’re ready for more, and deeply in command of the facts.

If you like Belsey this is definitely for you. If you like Fleming, Le Carre and Rankin this is for you – but come loaded with heavy-gauge munitions and be ready to dance – you’re in for a helluva ride.

Get it here – https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Intelligence-Oliver-Harris-ebook/dp/B07JL2TDNR