Wren audiobook, LIA, Wren 4 – 2020 Writing Week 2

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week was my second at a new job, so it’s been tricky to find the time for writing – I got motion sickness from trying to write on the bus, and ended up nauseous for three days. Ugh, never again. To boot, the campus I’m at is right next to an airport (like two hundred yards from the runway across water) so every time a plane goes up or comes down, the air fills with the pollutant backwash of burnt jet fuel.

Double ugh.

But smile 🙂

I’m much better now, and the weekend is here!

Wren 1 audiobook

The other thing that’s been hoovering up time is proof-listening to my narrator’s work on Christopher Wren 1. This is obviously a great thing to do, I enjoy hearing the story performed, but it does take time, and my narrator is fast! So this week it’s been almost an hour a day of listening to stay abreast of things.

It’s a fantastic performance, though. Accents bring it to life. We’re halfway through now, then hard onto book 2 and 3 straight after!


For the London Indie Author group this week we had in Jo Forshaw, who worked for trad publishing in the audio department – managing the transition of thousands of books into audio format. She says ‘just do it’, basically. No reason to not have a book in audio. Like having a Masters degree these days, it’s considered bare minimum for entry.

She also cautioned though that it may not pay off. It can cost around £2000 to get an audiobook made. A big outlay for an indie.

Why did my audios not do well before? I put it down to unfinished series. I only made Last Mayor book 1 in audio – so people didn’t look too closely at it. Now I’m making all the Wrens, and will do so going forward. Simultaneous release, if possible. Get the biggest bang on launch that I can.

Wren 4

I’m also working on Wren book 4. This is proving a little tricky; lots of complexity in the set up, as things need to start moving on now. They need to build, sewing in previous plot threads. Also the stakes need to rise. It can’t be just the same level of threat as previous books. It has to go bigger.

I’m getting there. Dealing with a chunk of backstory. Wouldn’t it be good to get our first look at the Apex?

Well. It may come.

So, a workmanlike week. Let the weekend be full of words! Exercise! And some tasty food (we’ve been on vegetarian chilli all week – I’m so ready for a splash of tasty meat in burger form!).

Polishing zombies, Wren edits for audio – 2020 Writing Week 1

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I finished major edits of the Last Mayor series right on target at the end of 2019, but there were a few little bits to rework in book 1 in the first week of the new year.

We had a holiday! Su and I went to Stratford on Avon for 2 nights, stayed in a great hotel with good spa facilities. Our days we spent being inspired by the Bard, our afternoons in the spa (sauna for me), our evenings editing and reading.

Wonderful. A mini writing retreat. I chopped The Last a little, then put it up. Now I really want to buy out the audio rights and get the whole thing remade. 9 books, 500,000 words, it’ll look like fantastic value to Audible listeners – I’ve heard they pick up the biggest books they can using their one free pick. 9 books should cut it.

We will see – because right now I’m focused on making Wren in audio!

Wren audiobooks

I put Saint Justice up on Findaway Voices, but they took so long and offered so few narrators that I decided to float it on ACX, and in the last 3 weeks 40 narrators read the 8 minute sample text. Wow. Thank you all.

I’ve now made a selection. It was damn hard. Su and I listened again and again, drawing up favorite lists – but one guy in particular kept rising to the top.

I’m doing this with upfront payment, and it’ll be exclusive to ACX, so only on Audible and iTunes. I’ll do all 3 books as quick as the narrator can do them, then release the text/audio boxset at the same time as book 4 comes out.

Big splash. Kindle countdown on the box set. Get eyes on the audio. Conquer.

Wren edits

In prep for the audio – which fixes the text in a pretty permanent format – I’ve been running last minute edits on Saint Justice. Nothing structural was needed, so not major changes, but lots of little bits in response to feedback and reviews:

  • Both my writer friend Matt and Su told me that Wren often runs too far ahead of the reader. He may spend a few pages setting something up, while the reader has no idea why. This requires constant suspension of expectation and understanding. It’s better to say – Wren needs to do this now. Here’s what he does. So, I straighten those out. In particular when he goes to Chicago – we expect him to follow up the receipt, but he spends ages with Cheryl, and it’s not clear why.
  • Another pass for gore. I keep finding more. I thought I’d got it all, but there was a lot. Missing eyes, noses, etc… Easy to remove when I find them. I mean the references, not the actual body parts 😉
  • Swapping Wren’s employer. This was a big one I’ve been aware of for a while. I picked CIA because FBI seemed old hat, but CIA don’t operate within the USA. Problem. Reviews pointed it out. I thought I would shuffle this – Wren seconds himself to multiple agencies: FBI, CIA, etc… But still, he needs one big boss. So9 – I discover DHS! Department of Homeland Security. Massive umbrella agency, works with the others, specific remit is terrorism and homeland protection, so works well for Wren. Done throughout all 3 books.
  • De-superhero Wren. I found one section where he doesn’t sleep for maybe 2 days. Actually, initially I had him sleep in the warehouse, but it seemed such a null time, so I cut it. Now I have him sleep in an Uber while en route. Faintly ridiculous, but whatever. In other areas – Mason beats Wren up as torture – I reduce the impact and severity. Wren gets shot/knifed a lot, so I grade these down. Make it a bit more realistic. Honestly, I thought I was being realistic by having Wren get injured in each fight. But now it is unrealistic in another way. Hopefully fixed now.
  • Sexualised women. A reader mentioned this. Sinclair definitely is sexualised, on purpose and as a weapon. Cheryl is – her backstory. I found a random woman walking around in high heels though – and changed those to sneakers. Something to bear in mind.
  • Cut some noodling. Wren, like Amo in the Last Mayor, occasionally stops to think about all his huge guilt. A bit boring and self-obsessed, so cut these right back. A reader mentioned it was boring, and they’re not wrong.
  • Su said she wants to know more about who Wren is. Part of my approach with these books is to gradually introduce Wren – but he needs a bit more upfront. Make him a little more sympathetic. So now I don’t only talk about the ‘fog’, but also nightmares, night terrors, and panic attacks. On the first page. Likewise in his interactions with Eustace – he comes across as a bully. I added a few paras to explain why Wren does what he does – based on experience, for Eustace’s own good.

It’s quite a lot! But each one was pretty fast. Definitely improved. Wish I’d known all this prior to publication, and prior to the Bookbub!, but feedback comes after readers see it, so…

Or I get an editor? Maybe that is next step. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I want to learn it.

New words

No new words! When will I get some? I don’t know. Busy now with reworking Wren books 2 and 3 in advance of the narrator getting stuck in. Also the secret editing project which I want to finish up this month. So maybe next month new words?

I planned out, roughly, Wren books 4, 5, 6. I came up with the concept for my new apocalypse books. Now need to do the work! Oh, I also have a new job, so that jumbles my schedule quite a bit.

Weekend writer!!

2019 Writing Update & 2020 Plans

MJG Writing, Yearly Writing Update Leave a Comment

2019 has been the biggest year of my writing career to date, with a lot of learning, a lot of rewriting, some new launches and no small measure of success.

Primarily three projects defined the year:

1. Mr. Ruin rewrite, rebrand, relaunch

I had pretty high hopes for the rebrand of Mr. Ruin as Soul Jacker. I put a lot of time, money and effort into getting various edits, rewriting the books, getting new covers, attaining high-profile blurbs and setting up a lot of promotion in early 2019, only to find that the readers just weren’t there.

It was a bit of a battering. In the process, though, I learned so much about genre, covers, pace, narrative drive and so on. Now I can reflect and see that these books were quite unlikely to ever sell in this market. Cyberpunk is an unpopular genre. LitRPG has eaten its lunch with a brighter, faster and overall more fun approach to the future.

Maybe it’s something about the Cold War too – cyberpunk thrived in a different age. The Matrix was the capstone. It just doesn’t appeal anymore. OK then.

2. Last Mayor box set launch and subsequent rewrites

Early in 2019 I reworked portions of Last Mayor books 1-3, thanks to feedback I got in a poll of my readers who said most gave up on book 3.

I had to investigate. I found a lot of flaws and started to eliminate them. This resulted in book 3 shrinking in length from 80,000 words to around 40,000. I pulled a similar trick for books 1 and 2, then put the 9-book box set together and released it for $9.99.

It made some sales organically. I did a Countdown deal at 99c, and it earned some bestseller tags. Ey up, I thought, what’s all this? I researched and found other box sets at 99c permalow, so I replicated it.

The books sold more than ever. Page reads crashed in. I threw ads behind it and watched it sell. Unbelievable. The book image itself – a 9-book box set – must be a powerful aphrodisiac. Also the ‘Complete’ tag. People like to binge a whole series in one go. No one wants to wait years.

Reviews started to come in – critical ones. The first 3 books were fine, but then it slowed down. So I made speeding it up a priority. By year’s end I’d reworked all 9 books. Each was cut almost in half. I learned a lot. Down from nearly a million words to 500,000. Quite a drop.

Sales are still going strong. Reviews are getting better. It’s amazing. I aim to get the audio done. Without a doubt, these zombie books are my greatest success.

3. Christopher Wren trilogy launch

After getting rejected by all the agents I submitted to, I self-published Chris Wren 1 and 2 while finishing book 3, then put it out at the tail-end of a fast-release strategy.

Sales were very strong at the start, fueled by Facebook ads. I kept the ads running at a loss for months aiming for brand recognition. Now I’m all in for AMS ads. Is Chris Wren making money?

Maybe not much. It’s not the fault of the books, I think – though I have made a number of changes in line with the preponderance of reviews – caught up in all the reworking excitement. I think it’s rather people’s unwillingness to try something new.

When I put out book 4, and make a box set of books 1-3, I expect to see a boost. At that point I should have audiobooks out as well, to capitalize on ad spend.

Major lessons

I learned a lot about my own writing this year. This is invaluable and should help hugely going forward. I am better able than ever to see my own writing from the reader’s point of view. I also learned much more about ads, marketing, packaging and such.

As for 2020, what is my major goal?

Make consistent replacement money

Replacement money means enough to replace the money from my job. Some days I’m hitting it now – though it isn’t consistent. There are ups and downs, almost wholly tied to the fortunes of the zombie series.

I want to level that out. Get the thrillers paying. Get some audiobook income. Maybe diversify into another apocalypse series. †

Everything leads up to this, really. It’ll involve further mastering my craft and marketing, writing new books and reworking old ones, plus investing in audiobooks.

If I do have that kind of success, all kinds of interesting things could follow: going to fun writer’s retreats and writer’s conferences around the world; traveling more generally; writing more; possibly taking on and publishing other authors; maybe a move to more central London.

Who knows what 2020 will bring?

All the best!

Finishing The Light edits, & a new series? – Writing Update 2019 Week 52

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 1 Comment

This week has been a full-time load of editing, with fitting in some family time in the middle. I’ve been working on the secret editing project, thinking about Wren book 4, finishing up The Last Mayor book 9 rework The Light, and ALSO dreaming up a new series.

In turn:

The Light rework

With this last book in the Last Mayor series reworked, I have now completely rewritten the whole 9-book series!

It is a pretty huge thing to do. I had it down for some future date, if I had time, spread out over years. Rather, thanks to sales holding strong over the past 3 months, I’ve burned through it all now. As I’ve said multiple times already, I’ve learned a huge amount. Major lessons?

  • I am capable of some really fantastic, urgent, emotion-twanging writing. Funny, sharp, witty, driven, clever.
  • I am also quite capable of putting that great stuff right next to oodles of backstory, repetitive narrative summary, muddled technobabble and stake-less thrills.

The skill lies in knowing which is which, and hopefully writing only the first and not the second on first writing. Can I do that? I don’t know. Su is reading Wren book 1, and finding that the opening commits many of these same sins – albeit on a smaller, faster scale. Ideally – don’t commit any of them at all!

I am quite excited for what the zombie series might do now. For the first time, I’m getting reviews of the whole set, because people are reading it all the way through. The most recent review said something about how fantastic it all was, but the last book was too esoteric.

That’d be the book I’m editing now. So the changes I made to clear out the underbrush from books 1-8 have worked. They forgive me for book 9. But now book 9 blisters along. I’m actually going back to book 1 to have another edit. It’s the entry point, and now the longest in the series. The others have all dropped to around 50,000 words. It’s 70,000. I can surely drop it by 10 or 20k and speed things up.

Don’t let anyone get away. Don’t give anyone an excuse to put it down.

I’m pleased.

New series?

In the last few days, and largely off the success of the zombie series, I started thinking about writing some more books set in the apocalypse. Lots of zombie authors do this. They do their zombies, then their aliens, then their EMP, then whatever.

So what will mine be.

Well, I have a loose idea. I may have a character. I started thinking through plot threads. The big challenge when sitting down to write something new is, for me, figuring out what the bad guy wants. What the bad guy is. What the conflict and opposition is.

I used to want to delay the appearance of the main bad thing until a quarter into the book. That’s all those writing books on structure talking. But then you need bridging conflict, and why bother with that when there is an actual story to tell?

Start with the story. Right? And the story is the moment something goes wrong. Without something going wrong, it’s a diary entry.

With apocalypse, it’s the apocalypse. What does it look like. How do we escape it. How do we rebuild. My new idea, still floating, does something that I think is very new. It’ll take advantage of what I’ve learned writing thrillers, and apply it to the apocalypse. A new Wild West. Let’s see. I’m tentatively excited. It’d be a whole new landscape. Lots to explore. Questions I certainly don’t know the answer to yet.

Yeah, that’s exciting.

When would I write it? Who knows. If I was full-time, I could write thrillers in the morning and apocalypse in the afternoon.

6 books a year? People do far more. As is, with a new full-time job starting in Jan, I expect I’ll manage 3 thrillers. Maybe one of those could be a new apocalypse.

I’ll do my year in review shortly, and plans for 2020 too.

Stopped all FB ads, ACX auditions, edits – Writing Update 2019 Week 51

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

The last week (almost last week of 2019!) I’ve been working on 5 things:

  • Battling the intro and concept for Wren book 4
  • Reworking Last Mayor book 9
  • Editing a secret project (not mine – more some point later)
  • Listening to audiobook auditions for Saint Justice
  • Finishing up 5 years at my old job, On Campus London teaching English.

I’ve also done my taxes and taken stock of ad success in the last few months. Thanks to affiliate links attached to various Facebook ads, I’ve known for some time that those ads didn’t seem to be connected very much to sales.

Uh, what?

I’ve been spending 50 pounds a day or so on FB ads, and making a handful of sales, according to the tracking links. Like, 3 or 4 books. But that couldn’t be for real, could it? How else was I ranking so well? Why else were books selling? At the same time, I didn’t dare stop the ads in case I broke the spell.

Well, now I stopped the FB ads, and –

Nothing happened! Page reads didn’t stop. Sales didn’t drop off. So what the heck? Was I paying 50 pounds a day to Zuckerburg for no reason at all, for months? Ha, maybe. What’s that – about 3000? God, how ridiculous!

Well, let’s say I raised my profile 😉

So I stop FB ads and up my profit margin. At the same time, I put some of the daily 50 into Amazon ads. Up my budgets, start some new ads, and –

Sales increase. Page reads increase. Well. That’s pretty clear. Forget Facebook.

Editing Book 9

Like all the other books in this series, I am probably going to end up cutting the word count in half. From 90,000 down to maybe 50,000. What am I cutting?

  • All Lara’s stories. I did this for book 7 and 8 so had to follow through. Lara is back home in the USA, facing an enemy that Amo already defeated in book 6. Witzgenstein. None of it has any relevance to the major story arc. It feels lie retreading old ground – kind of like how Lara’s INTERLUDE story did in Book 1. I cut her out then. I cut her now, and suddenly we’re charging ahead at pace. Sorry, Lara…
  • Depth of technobabble. As ever, I offered multiple possible explanations for how the line worked. I overcomplicated it. Now it is getting very simple.
  • Dreams. Lara’s sections had a lot of dreams, but so did Anna and Amo. Amo’s opening three chapters were primarily dreams. He talked to Cerulean, Drake, his dead parents, etc… Why? I think probably just to pad out my opening. I cut it all, make his opening rush up to the mid-point, and end his section on a big kicker. Much better.
  • Rachel Heron’s doubts. I’m trimming this way back, keep her uncertain as to what she’s going to do until we get there. Keep it a surprise, make it faster.

Writing Wren Book 4

It’s always tricky getting started on a new book. I wrote a few opening chapters a few months back, reflected on them, rewrote them, and now I’m back to the original. It doesn’t exactly make sense. I will have to make it make sense.

And how will Wren get out of jail? A CIA black site. Not easily done. Part of the joy of writing is to solve these problems.

Finishing old job

When I arrived back in the UK 5 years ago, I found a job after three months as a teacher at an EAP Foundation school, based in Birkbeck College in central London. I did that for 5 years!

Now I have a new role starting in Jan, providing Academic Support direct to a university – the University of East London. I’m excited. It’s a great step up, one I’d hoped to hit 5 years ago, but I am just glad to hit it now.

Audiobook auditions

I put Saint Justice up for audiobook auditions on ACX, the Amazon/Audible narraotr/author site, and have so far received about 30. I offered $100-200 pfh, or per finished hour. In total that’s between $1000-2000, given the book is about 10 hours long.

Listening and trying to choose is exhausting! It’s hard to know what criteria to use. I listen to narrators for other thriller books. I check all the reviews of the narrator auditions I have. I look if they’re ACX-approved and at their pfh rate. I check out their blogs.

One easy trimming criteria is the age of the voice. Old guys have particularly deep voices. My guy is young, 36, so a 70-year-old voice, while often incredibly authoritative, just doesn’t sound right. Another easy trim is voices that are a little nasal. Maybe this is one kind of American accent. I want gravelly.

I have it honed down to one guy. Like quite a few of these narrators, he seems to be starting out. He’s done mostly romance to date. He gets great reviews from romance readers saying he’s sexy. That’s gotta be good, right? He reads Wren well.

I’ll wait one more week, get the next month’s Amazon payment in, pay my taxes for the year, then commission him. Hopefully we’ll whizz out books 1-3 in the next 3 months, by which time book 4 will be ready.

At the same time, I’m looking into getting my Last Mayor books remade. I was very happy with the first guy’s work, but I’ve trimmed the book so much since then that it doesn’t make sense to keep using that version. Get all 9 made in one go. That’ll be thousands. Ouch. Can I eat the cost? Maybe. Probably we’ll see if the Wren books make any money in audio first. That’d be a help.

Secret editing project

It’s a secret! It’s fun, though, and intensive.

Well – one more of these and we’ll close out the year! I’ll do a proper review of my writing progress in 2019, and spend some time making goals for 2020. In some ways, I could almost be on replacement money already. As in, if I wasn’t worried about earnings tanking, I could quit my job and live off writing now.

Full time writer!! Guess what 2020s goal is?

Merry Christmas!!

The Lies breakthrough & Wren comments – Writing Update 2019 Week 50

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

The Lies – For 2 weeks I’ve been struggling with my zombie book 8, The Lies – trying to figure out how to cut it so it makes sense, goes faster and captures what I wanted to do originally.

Challenges standing in the way are the usuals, but in complex ways – repetition of past material, proliferation of deep tech explanations – plus something less problematic in previous books: low-stakes but high energy conflict.

The central story is Amo learning who he needs to kill, setting up book 9 and the climax. There’s a lot of backstory, told live in a way that I believe is pretty exciting. A detective story that Amo tags along for. I don’t think this is the problem, though it certainly needs trimming.

The problem is what’s happening around that story – Anna and Lara’s stories. They both face a series of conflicts in their own worlds. Anna has about three different coup moments as she fights for control of Istanbul. Lara bounces off Witzgenstein maybe three times as they rise toward climax.

The problem is, neither of these catch my interest much. We’re coming to the end. At the end of book 7 Anna basically conquered Istanbul. Lara and Amo basically dominated Witzgenstein. Now we have to have those fights again? It’s kind of boring, even though both stories are full of action. It’s not action we care about.

At this stage we want to see the stakes rising. Anna and Lara need to power up and get ready to play a real role.

So – for Anna I reduce to coup attempt to one chapter, over very rapidly, then pivot directly to a very relevant threat – the lepers. They get a proper introduction here. They are an increased stake.

With Lara, I’ll accelerate through the Witzgenstein stuff to the moment Lara is burning on the stake. Just cut right to it, as a spur for Lara to take her power back.

Reviews – I’ve been getting more reviews saying the books are slow! Some people thnk books 1-3 are slow. Others think the later books are slow. I believe they are probably all slow. When I finish book 9, I’ll probably go back and have another look at book 1! Crazy, but I am certainly learning with every pass I do.

Wren reviews – The same is true for Saint Justice. Despite multiple edits, I’m still getting the comments about goriness and super-powered Wren. Clearer reviews spell this out for me a little more, for which I’m grateful.

Torture – There are numerous instances where torture is grotesque. They were kind of throwaway moments in the writing, but they have clearly had a bad effect. Henry, Wren’s cult-member, has one eye removed. Abdul has his hearing destroyed by close-up gunshots. OK, both are horrible. In the Order, the Core are made up of extreme acolytes who have all had eyes, ears, etc removed. Also extreme. A tortured body had been skinned earlier.

So I change these. I don’t want to sicken people. It’s too graphic. I don’t lose anything to make the torture more conventional.

Superheroics – One instance was clarified for me, which has probably contributed to people complaining Wren is too invulnerable. In an escape, he gets shot in the thigh. A woman wrote in a review that her son was shot in the thigh and it shattered his femur. Completely incapacitating. Now, I thought I’d put something in there about the bullet being a ricochet, not full powerful, and therefore a flesh wound.

I checked. I did put that information – but only on reflection, several pages later. People could be forgiven for overlooking it. So I add it immediately. Wren is smart – he knows if gets hit by a bullet that doesn’t do tremendous damage, it had to be a ricochet. hopefully this will assuage some of it. Maybe I also need to reduce the beating Mason gives him.

Other changes – Other changes I made are to do with Mason’s descent into the white supremacist cult. I had several pages where the Alpha really gets to outline his ideology. It’s pretty horrible, really. Why am I giving voice to this stuff? Number 1, we all get it. So why go on about it? I cut those bits right down. To the same end, I reduced some of the racialized language. It’s a part of the book, it’s obviously real, but people don’t want to read it.

Also there were some of my usual ‘catch-up’ narrative summaries, explaining how all the pieces moved behind the scenes. Nobody cares. I cut them right back. The mechanics don’t matter. People can infer it.

So I’ve been busy! Hopefully zombie book 9 is more straightforward. I think it is. Still trying to close these edits out by 2020, then start fresh on the next slate of Wren thrillers.

Wren Bookbub, audiobooks and too much gore – Writing Update 2019 Week 47, 48, 49

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 1 Comment

On Thurs Nov 28 (Thanksgiving) I had the Bookbub for book one of the Chris Wren thriller series – Saint Justice. It was free in all markets, exclusive to KU. I never thought I’d get the BB without going wide, and was in fact planning on a wide run early in 2020, but applied while exclusive anyway on a whim.

Well, they took it and ran it and now we have results – 24,000 free given away on the 28th, another 4,000 on the 29th, another 1,000 on the 30th. It held #1 position in Amazon free stores in UK, Au and Ca, but maxed out at #2 in the USA.

I was down about this briefly for a few reasons – that I wanted to hit #1, and that the BB estimate was 38,000 average giveaways. So what gives?

Well, I felt better after realizing a few things:

Firstly, the BB numbers are surely for a book that is wide. Mine was KU exclusive. If I had added other vendors like kobo and google, quite likely I’d be at 40,000 or more total.

Secondly, I looked at my stable mates at the top of the US free store, and found almost every other book in the top 100 was a romance. Maybe 10% were not romance. #1 was a romance. Every other book in the top 10 was romance. Even several other books in the thriller genre, that had their BB at the same time as me, were not even close to my rank.

So, that means for that day, I was giving away more free copies than any other thriller author. It’s pretty good. To beat out romance, when they are such big readers, and free readers, would be really amazing, but probably too much to expect. Maybe next time 😉

So – no need to feel down.

It’s been a week since then – and page reads and sales of the Wren books have been averaging about $100 a day. Of course there is some ongoing ad spend. Maybe in a week the BB will be paid off – then Wren can go back to having his ads sponsored by my zombie books :).


I’m looking hard at getting audiobooks made for both Wren and the Last Mayor series. It involves buying out the rights to The Last, which I made on revenue share through ACX 3 years ago. If I can do that, then I have to remake it all.

After editing, it’s probably around 600,000 words total over 9 books. They say 1 finished hour of narration is around 10,000 words, so that’s 60 hours. Per finished hour rates range from $100 up to whatever, $400+.

If I got a narrator at $100 pfh, that would be $6000. Actually not bad, considering it is 9 books. $200 is more likely, then it is $12,000. Ouch. Will the audiobooks ever pay that off?

It is certainly possible. The big zombie audiobook box sets have thousands of reviews on them – which means they sold surely tens of thousands. My series still has problems – but the complete series is getting strong reviews. People are reading it all the way through. Some say the first 3 books are better. Others love it all the way. I’m still editing books 8 and 9. Either way, there are possibilities here.

Wren too horrific?

A review for Chris Wren just rolled in (moments ago) that crystalizes a concern that’s been niggling in the back of my mind – too much horror. Here’s the review:

Grist has a lot of talent as a writer. Most of the book was so good I couldn’t put it down. But he is too hung up on describing tortures. He fills it with so much sick stuff you no longer want to read. He over does it …way over does it! It’s sick. If he wasn’t so hung up on that he could be on of the better authors of thrillers.

That is a kind of awesome review. 3 stars out of 5. But still – ‘could be one of the better authors of thrillers’, ‘I couldn’t put down’ – even though they wanted to.

Well. I want to squash these horror moments. People are saying it constantly – dark, grim, not for the faint of heart. Fine, but a vast majority of the audience have ‘faint hearts’. Or more fairly, they don’t want their noses rubbed in grimness.

I need to address this. It is a blind spot of mine. I guess I come from horror, and even in my sf and fantasy there is plenty of horror. I don’t know why, as I can hardly stand horror myself. I don’t watch horror movies. I hate graphic violence and torture porn films like Hostel. John Wick 3 had parts that made me really queasy.


I’ve already been reworking this book constantly – little things. Dumbing down the social justice warrior and racial aspects of Wren. I cut the potentially confusing perspective jumps – now each book has only Wren and a few chapters with one person getting sucked into each respective cult. I also did a search and replace on every instance of blood, mutilation and other keywords. There were a few. I toned them all down.

So what else needs fixing? Areas I didn’t yet touch up include the torture scene in Teddy’s basement (a tableau Wren discovers), the persistent branding of Mason, and the death of Henry and Abdul. I think those are the grosser bits. It doesn’t hurt anything to reduce the horror here. Leave it implied. That is the next job, after I finish the zombies. They are still the bigger meal ticket!!

Def needs to be done before I move on the audiobook, though.

If you have thoughts on the horror level, do let me know!!

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

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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 …


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.


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.


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.


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.