Wren 4 Finished! & FB experiments – 2020 Writing Week 20

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week I set out to finish Wren book 4, now titled Ghosts, and I succeeded!

It has left me feeling pretty shattered. There were quite a few surprises through the end. It does all kinds of unexpected things, and I have a lot of sympathy for poor old Christopher Wren. He’s more broken now than ever.

Next up is book 5! Goal is to at least write that, maybe even book 6 by the end of 2020, if I can get really going.

Hmm – I thought I’d have more to say, but it would all be spoilers.

So, Facebook ad experimentation!

The key finding of this last week, spurred on by various expert authors making suggestions, was that pretty much all of my previous ads were not working great.

The Conversion rate was abysmal on some ads. The video ads I talked about a few weeks ago were getting 1 sale in several hundred clicks. Even if clicks are only 6c, that’s still $6 plus for a sale. It’s far too scattershot.

I mentioned last time that I was trying desktop targeting. I’ve continued that, but even that doesn’t produce such great results. Better conversion, but still like 1 in 50. Money-losing.

Then I saw David Gaughran talking on a Youtube video about using the actually book image in the Facebook ad. It was always the most obvious thing, but common wisdom has ben that it didn’t work, because costs per click were so high. I know I tried it before and pulled away.

I’m trying it again. Here they are:

They’re very similar, in line with what Gaughran suggested. Because click costs are higher, I’m getting fewer results than before for the same budget, but can already say that the conversion rates are better than ever. 1 in 20? Still not great. More costly. Maybe it comes out a wash?

Next I’m tackling targeting. With that book right there in the image, I’m not going to be getting random clicks anymore, from people who are just looky-loos. When you see the book, and the ad says ‘SHOP NOW’, by the tie you click you’re seriosuly thinking about buying.

So – why not open the targeting back up?

I am accordingly going back to targeting mobile users. There are way more of them and clicks will be cheaper. I can potentially even dump narrowing targeting factors like ‘Kindle’ or ‘Ebooks’. With that book graphic, I’m sending a clear signal to readers.

That’ll be next. Try a big audience of many millions, and trust the FB algorithm to get me the best clicks, and hope that all those clicks are warm and follow through to buy.

That’s next week.

Next week goals:

  • Widening out targeting experimentation, remove narrowing factors, go big with mobile.
  • Finish the edit of Book 4 Ghosts and send it out to Foundation Inner Circle ARC readers.
  • Finish the edit of Su’s book and get it out to Beta readers. Finalize the cover.

Wren post-TWW rewrites – 2020 Writing Week 19.5

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This last Saturday I woke up at 4:40 am to attend the Tokyo Writer’s Workshop Zoom meeting – a critique group I used to be a part of 6 years ago, when I lived in Tokyo. I was invited back by my friend Matt Finn, was psyched, and blearily got all set up for the 5am start time at the dining table.

Only to find out I’d got the wrong day. D’oh! It was on Sunday. I went back to bed.

Sunday morning at 4:40am I woke up, went to the dining table, and set up for the call. This time I was bang on. There were a few familiar faces: Matt, John, Karen, Greg and a couple others I knew a little. There were 9 pieces to get through (down from 12!) which I’d read over the previous few days.

I’d submitted Saint Justice’s first 7500 words. Basically, Wren goes into the biker bar, gets beaten up, goes to Eustace, deals with Eustace. Their comments on this, especially coming in light of my recent concerns about Wren being unlikeable, were massively informative, and made me think I should do a critique group, or shell out for a full edit, more often.

Here are the revelations:

  • Wren comes across as stupid. Why does he go into the bar and get beat up, if his plan is to infiltrate the gang? There’s got to be a better way. Now – this is not his plan, but if it comes over that way at all, it’s my problem.
  • If his plan is just to get beat up, what makes him think he can survive? I’d for a long time thought this was a charm/unique point. The bikers are maybe a bit ineffectual. Wren is just really good at dodging. But this in turn makes the bikers look weak, Wren all-powerful, and adds to the feeling that he is a BULLY.
  • If the bikers are really evil, they first need to show it. They are, after all, hardened racists. They are also killers and slavers. Someone made a good point – just one person needs to hit Wren with a crowbar, and he’s basically dead. Definitely broken bones. You can’t wriggle around that. And if they’re really bad-asses, why wouldn’t they do this? Why would they let him survive?
  • Next – Wren constantly judges everyone. It’s inescapable for the reader, and can come across as sanctimonious. I thought it just came over wise and pithy, but it is forcing people out of the narrative – they are not allowed to discover people and events for themselves. They have to have Wren’s worldview forced onto everything.
  • Wren bullies Eustace, and Eustace rolls over easily. Someone said his advice is Dr. Phil-like. Too basic, not nuanced enough. Wren knows a few words won’t flip Eustace around, but it’s not coming over here.
  • Some issues with overwriting. The approach to Eustace’s house in particular – overegging the message that, what, poor people suck? Are full of despair? It’s not necessary to overdo this.
  • My use of semi-colons is not right. Ouch. I need to learn this again.

Now, I found all of this riveting. Every drop feels like wisdom and money. As people are telling me these things, I’m feeling casual readers drop off. It’s a big deal that he survives a beatdown basically unhurt. He’s either a superhero who is invulnerable, or the bikers are weak/timid and not that bad at all.

In both cases, Wren comes over as a BULLY. He goes into their chapter house and starts a ruck by insulting everyone. He really targets them. He’s not an underdog at all – he’s the overdog. I’m doing something very wrong when the readers start being sympathetic to neo-Nazis.

So. I set out to fix it. It didn’t take long. Here is what I did:

  • Make the bikers badder. This starts early, by returning them to ‘meth and underage porn’ and assigning various murders to their case history. That’s pretty bad. Then when Wren goes in, he is less antagonistic to them, and lets them round on him. They are more racist (I don’t want to do too much here, as that can put people off too), and also more aggressive – trying to humiliate him, get him to kneel, give them donkey rides, etc.
  • Wren doesn’t get beatdown. That’s not his intention. His goal is just to pick a fight, and give as good as he gets. As the scene ends, he is still standing and dishing violence back. Ultimately, he flees. This is why he doesn’t die. He held his own.
  • Wren’s trip to Eustace has been heavily shortened – it was two chapters, now it’s one. I cut a lot of description, and overthinking and analysis. Let it just play out. Matt had the great idea that we don’t know what Wren is going there for. Maybe he means to kill Eustace? That keeps tension for the reader. Also, make it less so Eustace rolls over completely. He just snitches, basically.
  • Trim various overwritten sections. I feel it’s only the beginning of book 1 that suffers from this, but maybe I will go to the TWW again and have them look at another book beginning. See if it’s also overegged.

So. I wanted to write this midweek while it’s fresh in my mind. I also decided to add the flashbacks back in. I wrote them, so why not? They’re fast, they inform Wren, they don’t spoil anything and they’re pretty funny and light. Makes for a nice break.

I wonder if this can lead to a big change in my readthrough. I’m confident people won’t give up as often or as fast as they might have been doing. I was geting comments like – this is not what Reacher would do. Reacher would never purposefully lose a fight. And that’s legit – even a semi-suicidal dark hero wouldn’t go straight in to die, unless he was really serious about dying, in which case we don’t want to read that.

Well.

We will see. Better readthrough rates and reviews would be wonderful. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Wren words, editing Su’s book & A-B testing – 2020 Writing Week 19

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Last week this time I was at 55,000 words on Ghosts, the 4th Chris Wren thriller. Now I’m at 69,000. That’s 14,000 words across the 7 days, 2,000 words a day- pretty nice going really.

It started hard, though. I didn’t write on the weekend, and then Monday felt kind of like a lost day as I tried to figure out the precise next step. When I put the book down the Thursday before, it was with a twist I hadn’t at all expected coming.

It felt right though. Making it work, however, felt like scrambling to backfilling one of Trump’s whacko conspiracy theories. So Monday morning I researched, Monday afternoon I wrote something, Tuesday morning I rejected it, Tuesday afternoon I saw another way to make it work, and then finally the whole thing unlocked.

I roughed out the last 15 chapters in one go. Magic. From then on, it’s been serious writing, and it will be next week. I’ll likely get it done, it may finish just shy of 80,000. That feels short to me, though it’ll probably expand a little in editing – filling in gaps and such. It likely won’t shrink – it feels pretty tight already.

Plotting vs. pantsing

I’ve plotted before. The zombie books were all pretty much plotted out in advance, chapter by rough chapter. With Wren though, I can do that. I think this often – the fact is, both Wren and his father, the Apex, are smarter than me.

It takes me a long time to figure out what Wren will do sometimes – when to him it would be obvious. And the Apex is a devious, Moriarty-like bastard – who knows why he does the things he does?

Well, I have to. Setting off on writing each of these books is like riding a sail boat across an ocean. I have to have faith that the winds will carry me in the right direction. Whatever craft I’ve got I use to try and steer – but with such a mega-story as this, I can’t know everything in advance.

If I did try to plot tightly, I don’t think it would be very interesting. the reversal that just happened – I had no idea it would happen until I was right on top of it. After that, it seemed totally necessary. Obvious, even. things tie together neatly in ways I never could have predicted.

Su’s book!

So I am OK to share the secret now – my wife has written a book! I’ll leave it toher to announce title and cover when release rolls around – but it is really such good fun, a delightful chick-lit romcom lite about a Korean girl in Japan.

I was honored to help out with editing. We’re in the final stages now, getting a cover, smoothing final wrinkles, then release. I’ll mention it further at that time. It’s very exciting for her, and for me, really. It’s so different from what I write, but in editing it I got to adopt her voice a little and add a few interstitial bits, and that was fun.

Could I write romcom in the future? Well, maybe incorporate it into thrillers… It’s possible 😉

A-B Testing

I’m A-B testing a couple of new variables with my Facebook ads this week, and also severely cutting back & condensing my Amazon ads. The Facebook variables are:

  • Desktop vs. mobile

For a long time (forever) I have been focused on getting the cheapest clicks. CPC. CTR. I did everything I could to get them cheaper. I recently tried video ads to achieve this – I succeeded, thousands of cheap clicks – but no sales. And sales are key. So now I am focusing way more on conversion, and try to only run ads I know are working.

To that end, after a great FB thread, I’m experimenting with desktop only ads. They cost more – hence I was never getting them whe I optimized for low click price. Results are coming in slowly, but at the moment it looks like they are much more effective. I’ll keep running this one.

  • Split-testing targets

At the same time, I’m wondering which of my author targets are actually working for me. It is possible to know this too – so I made several ads targeting one author each, with analytics, and ran them. The authors are Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming and Lee Child. The ad is the same. The results?

It’s only been a couple of days – Fleming and Child returned a sale rate of 1 in 15 clicks, approx. Ludlum has had 80 clicks with no sale. Maybe he needs to be nixed off my list.

However, I was running this on mobile. I wasn’t running it for desktop, so maybe I need to run this again on desktop, if desktop does prove to be better. So many dang ways you can slice it.

  • Also, Amazon ads.

Some folks are saying it is bad practise now to have 100s of Amazon ads. It’s better to have all your star keywords in one ad, and only run keywords that work. Turn the rest off. So one keyword ad, one category ad, one auto ad, one ASIN ad.

I’ve done this.

Results? Too early to say. Not great. Spending some of my budget. Making some sales. Maybe coming out even? I only run little budgets because I’m not convinced it’s so useful.

And that is it!

By this time next week, Ghosts should be done and on first round edits, Su’s book could even be out, and hopefully I’ve mastered my FB ads and fine-tuned them down to a handful for each book.

PS – I have the Tokyo Writer’s Wrokshop tomorrow, online via zoom. I put in the first few chapters of Wren 1, to get their take. I used to attend TWW back in my OG days. It’s at 1pm there, so 5am here! They discuss a whopping 12 pieces each time, and it takes up to 5 hours. Wow, amirite? I’m behind on my reading – better get caught up, I’m waking up soon!

Wren sales boost & Bookbub – 2020 Writing Week 18

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Week in summary:

  • I hit the promised goal of 55,000 words on Wren book 4 by Friday. Great!
  • I got a Bookbub on The Last Mayor box set. Great!
  • I actually made some decent sales of Saint Justice. Great!

There was a nice chunk of good news this week. The biggest would probably appear to be the Bookbub – but I’m feeling the strong day of sales for Saint Justice more closely. More on each of these:

Bookbub

Bookbub are the #1 email newsletter promotion tool for authors. They have millions of readers on their newsletter lists, divided by genre. The last Bookbub I had (I’ve had 3 in total over the years) was on Saint Justice, discounted to free, and it was not great.

It lumbered me with some awful upvotes on negative reviews. It did not lead to great readthrough across the series. It barely made its substantial cost (around $800) back – if at all.

So I turned away from Bookbub and other similar promo sites. But, as with swings and roundabouts, I’ve come back around to it now. I figured – why not apply with both the zombie books and Wren.

Well – they took the zombie book within hours. Snapped my hand off, really. The 9-book box set will be reduced for 7 days from 27 May to 99c. It was 99c recently anyway, so this is no big thing. Except Bookbub will shift a large amount in a day.

I hate to predict numbers. I’d hope over 500. It should lead to loads of page reads.

That’s the cool thing. This box set is in Kindle Unlimited – Amazon’s reader subscription service. I get paid per pages read, and it’s a long series. Additionally in KU I get to run Countdown deals – I can reduce the price to 99c for a limited period, and Amazon will still pay me 70% royalty plus potentially push the book themselves a little during that time.

Oh, but quandary! The Bookbub deal was for 5 Amazon regions – US, UK, India, Canada and Australia. But I can’t run a Countdown in those regions. So I’d be left to reduce the price to 99c myself, take the 30% royalty, and get no extra promo push.

Except. I asked Bookbub if they would limit my deal to only US and UK – the only Countdown-enabled markets. This will reduce my total sales – none in the other markets, as no promo there – but should increase my punching power and profits in the US and UK, the 2 markets that matter the most.

This could be big. It’s exciting. So why am I more excited about a minor day of good sales for Wren?

Wren good sales day

Yesterday I sold 12 copies of Saint Justice, 5 of Monsters and 3 of Reparation. A few audiobooks were mixed in there. This is probably a record sales day – and one of the few days that this book has actually made a profit since release.

Wow, right? So what happened? Did I do some big promo push?

No. Nothing special. The same $25 worth of ads I’ve been doing every day for ages. What I did change though was the blurb. I way simplified. I added the new tagline ‘Justice will be done’. I made it punchy. Here:

A terror conspiracy like nothing in history. A man with nothing to lose. Justice will be done.

When rogue DELTA operator Christopher Wren uncovers a vast warehouse crammed with human cages in the deserts of Utah, the payback will be swift and righteous.

But Wren soon learns there’s more than caged humans at stake – there’s a terror conspiracy threatening to destroy the very idea of the United States.

And Wren will never let that happen. Not on his watch.

It has less interest, less intrigue, and more excitement. It promises ass-kicking. With one day’s worth of reporting, it is doing better than any previous blurb. Today is also looking good.

So why am I so excited about this?

Well – I love that the zombie series makes money. But it’s in the past, and it’s future profits are limited. The audience is smaller. The story is done.

Christopher Wren on the other hand has such huge potential. I’m still writing more books in the series, for one. It could go on forever, theoretically. The thriller audience is big. I also have audiobooks for all the Wren books – they can lead to big profits, if I can get people hooked on them.

One day in the black, finally, is pretty exciting. It’s what I want to see. People reading book 1 and 2 and 3 – they’re reading through. That is excellent. Let’s get some more.

55,000 words done

On the question of getting some more, I’m two thirds done with book 4. It was going to be called Release Christopher Wren, but now I’m thinking it’ll be called GHOSTS. One big reason for this is kind of silly – Release Christopher Wren was too long to fit neatly on the book cover.

Really?

Sort of really. But also – each book to date takes its title from the names of he villains. Well, not book 2 exactly – though MONSTERS is what Wren and the others call them. The BLUE FAIRY or PINOCCHIOS might even be better. Anyway, the rule holds.

So call book 4 GHOSTS means that’s the name of the villains – at least how Wren et al refer to them.

I just hit a big flip at 55,000 words as well. I thought the story was going one way, and now it looks to be going another. It should be better. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it, but I’ll probably manage, and it’ll be cool. Unexpected.

The story is going big.

Movie review

This’ll be a fly-by movie reviee – I finally saw Star Wars 9, and really disliked it. Though dislike is too strong a word. My feeling was an aggressive ‘blah’.

What is the point of that movie, I guess I was thinking. What is the point of any of this? It doesn’t matter how badass the baddies are, how many millions of death star-type ships they have, there is always a Rebel Alliance, always hidden on a whole plaent, with tons of ships and fighters and resources and…

Haven’t we seen this movie before? Oh yes, we have. We’ve seen this EXACT same bad guy before. Palpatine was a major, major misstep. I really don’t care about this joke old guy. He already got beat once. He’s a retread. Plus he doesn’t even do anything all that villainous in this movie. We’re just supposed to remember he’s evil.

Ugh.

It all felt empty to me. Contrast that with LAST JEDI, which I rather liked. Not wholly, but it was interesting. Luke’s character development was fascinating. Nothing was so simple as he thought. This was made even more interesting by Kylo Ren’s descent into darkness.

Of course – after Snoke died, Ren is the big bad. We have to come to grips with that. He is evil like we’ve never seen before.

Except, not. He is emo evil. there is no clear reason why he’s doing any of his evil stuff, except he really thinks his granddad had a cool hat. He wants a hat like that so much he gets his old hat remade. I mean, what? Who cares? This is not cosmic. This is just nothing. It doesn’t matter. What’s at stake, other than the usual BS?

It should be his soul. Oh, but it is! He’s redeemed at the end!! Leia dies to redeem him with love!

What? Nonsense. Like Anakin, this guy is too far gone. He needs to be killed, by Rey, with prejudice, because he’s insane. Not play-acting insane, but actually insane.

And Rey? Don’t even get me started on her being a damn princess. I hate that. So much better that she be a ‘common person’.

So, blah. Glad it’s over. I won’t be tuning into anything Star Wars for a good long while, I expect. They don’t know what they’re doing.

Wren likeability & covers – 2020 Writing Week 16/17

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This past 2 weeks (I totally lost track of time – the days just meld into one long smoosh now – but a smoosh that included my 40th birthday – hurray!) I somehow got sidetracked onto reworking Saint Justice.

It was probably started by some bad reviews, or maybe a sense that my readthrough from book 1 to book 2 wasn’t as high as I’d liked. I started asking people if Wren was likeable or not.

I got lots of answers. Here’s what people said:

  • He’s not relatable. He’s a cult survivor, cult leader, fentanyl/booze addict commando. There is no moment where he seems like a normal person.
  • He’s an ‘abusive hero’. This is a great term. I did this because of Jack Bauer in 24. When there’s no time, there’s no time to be half-decent, friendly, to accept no for an answer and come back with a better offer. He can only constantly compel people, my way or the high way. This means-
  • He never barters with other people. He never ‘gvies’ anything. It’s always his plan, his way, right now. The reader just has to accept this. More than one person said this made them uncomfortable.
  • Nobody pushes back against Wren. Nobody gets to suggest their idea and then maybe approach things via teamwork – except maybe the old lady at the end, who tells him ‘No, son, I’m driving the semi.’

Those are fairly damning. They are certainly clear. Notice these issues were not the issues I used to be dealing with. Before it was all about the extreme violence, the gore, the disbelief that he could survive. People aren’t saying that so much right now.

Better problems.

So what can I do?

  • First up, I wrote some flashbacks. There are now 4 flashbacks for book 1, showing his life with his wife and kids, how they get along, with plenty of funny/normal moments. BUT – the book was already carefully calibrated to NOT give this stuff away too fast, if at all. Wren spends all his time NOT thinking about this stuff.
  • So where does it go? I put it in. I took it out. Now it is out. Maybe I can add it to later books, or find another place for it, or make a prequel, or… Having written it now, it certainly informs him going forward.
  • Plus, I feel a little that trying to resolve this through flashback doesn’t resolve Wren’s unlikeability in the present. That’s the key. So:
  • I stop the constant rush. there were several instances in book 1 where one of his Foundation members said – “Can we talk?” and Wren said “No, not now” but also thought about how he was letting them down. Ugh. I can fix this. He can make a little time. He can say please and thank you.
  • I also make everyone push back on him more. He has to work a little harder to get what he wants – and his first go-to maneuver is not to compel them, but to try to win them around. To expain. He can compel as a backup strategy. This begins now with Eustace – Wren doesn’t force him into the Foundation. He gives him a choice.
  • I’m thinking where I can add more teamwork moments. Banter would be good, though he is largely solo in this book.

Right now, I like it better. I always felt he really cares about his Foundation members, but that wasn’t necessarily on the page. I’m putting it in.

In other news, I’ve been working on covers.

I made a new cover for Saint Justice, inspired by other authors in the genre who are doing well. A hero striding toward something meaningful – a building of some sort. I found an awesome image of a dark desert motel and put a new Wren with a gun in front of it. I shared this on a writer’s forum, and the response was overwhelming.

The new one is better.

But, to my horror, I found the image I’d used was actually not available to be used as a book cover. I had to scratch the whole thing. I spent most of a day trying to recapture the look of it by compositing other photos, but I don’t have the skill for that. So I’m back at the old cover, but with the gun guy, a new font and a new tagline:

JUSTICE WILL BE DONE

I like the tagline. The old one – ‘It takes a cult leader to kill a cult’ was clever and interesting, but not exciting. This new one is, even if it is cliche. Cliche is a pretty good tool actually, I think.

Further inspired by this embrace of cliche, I wrote a new blurb:

Justice will be done

When rogue DELTA operator Christopher Wren uncovers a vast human trafficking operation in the deserts of Utah, he aims for the payback to be fast and righteous.

But Wren soon learns there’s more than thousands of caged humans at stake – this conspiracy threatens to destroy the very idea of the United States itself – and Wren will never allow that. Not on his watch.

Wren enlists the help of his off-book vigilante ‘cult’, the Foundation, but that only brings all the heat of the CIA down on his head. Now hunted on all sides and fighting for his life, Wren must race across the country and against the clock to take the terrorists down, before the country he loves blows apart at the seams.

It’s faster. It’s snappier. It actually gives less away – which I think means more sizzle, less steak. It’s probably not perfect, but maybe it will draw people more.

And what about new words???

Yes yes, I was talking big the last time about how I’d hit 40,000 words by the end of last week, maybe 50,000 this week. Well, I have been writing, though intermittently, and am curently at 44,000.

Remember, of course, I wrote about 8,000 words in flashbacks which I’m not using currently. So I wrote a fair bit, just not forwards 😉

Now, for sure, I am redoubling my focus on Book 4. Until I hear something more about Book 1. At which point I’ll probably go back and change it some more. It is kind of unavoidable – if book 1 won’t sell, then nobody will read 2, 3, and certainly not 4. A higher readthrough rate would be killer, and make all my ads more effective.

So, yes! Book 4!! 55,000 by next Friday!

Wren book 4 & ROI ad analysis – 2020 Writing Week 15

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Coronavirus lockdown drags on, and I don’t know about anyone else, but my stress levels directly related to the virus have dropped right off. It’s largely a known quantity now, it seems we’re doing the right things to manage it, and the daily death count horror has receded.

No doubt it is horrific if you’re in thick of it. There are still terrible stories in the news, but then there are always are terrible stories in the news.

So, my coronavirus reaction is more one of just being cooped up for a long time. It’s not even that bad, as I like my house, but I do miss other people’s cooking. We would normally go out to eat a few times a week, nothing too fancy – just the local greasy spoon, maybe a takeout, possibly a nice meal on the weekend – but without that, we’re only left with food we make ourselves, and that is kind of samey, no matter if we try a new recipe or not.

No surprises.

Onto writing. I have focused on writing this week – producing something like 2000 word a day – but not everyday, and also drastically reworking my Facebook ads.

Writing

It is kind of amazing that I launched Wren book 3 6 months ago. I’ve been dabbling on book 4 since. This week I made a big push ahead, but didn’t get too far before running up against some issues.

One is the usual one – which always comes at about a third in. Once I’ve had the ESCAPE section of the book, extricating Wren from whatever immediate attack the bad guy launches, it’s time to consider the next step.

The main difficulty here is not only Wren’s next step, but the bad guy’s. What is their plan? Is it feasible? Is it overly complex? Would it work? What are they seeking to achieve?

It always takes me some time and multiple false starts to get over this. I’ve got to put myself into their head, and hold those thoughts in my head at the same time as Wren is bouncing along trying to figure out what they’re doing. It’s fun but exhausting, and it does feel a little like sculpture – carving out a shape that already exists.

I just have to find it. Whatever the inciting incident was, the ‘first murder’ if this was a straight detective thriller, it tells me what the ‘second murder’ will be. It’s all baked in there right at the start.

A second issue is one of realism. I’ve had a few comments on previous books that Wren is a bit of a superhero, that events are unlikely, that it might be like a comic book. This is a little annoying, though not massively, and I was aware of it, but I’d like to dial it back. At the same time, I want every action scene to go big!!

No answers on this. Try to set things up so they are realistic. Also, any time his hackers do something a little ‘magical’, I try to pave the way so it doesn’t seem so outlandish. Nothing they do, I feel, is impossible with modern tech – but I can imagine to some it seems like sci-fi.

Anyway, I’m in a good place to push forward through the middle.

Word count – 33,600. Almost halfway.

Ads

In previous weeks I was doing a complex analysis of ad clicks, CTR, CPC and other metrics. This week I simplified everything and looked just at outlay and income by book and region. The individual ads vary, of course, but I wasn’t doing a deep dive ad by ad anyway, rather book by book, so this is not so different.

I took Ad Spend, Revenue, and calculated Profit/Loss per day and ROI. The analysis leaped right out:

  • The only region where Wren book 1 is making money is the UK, with ROIs of 10-100%. US, AU and Ca all just lose money day on day. This is largely because of low conversion – 1 in 50 or less, which is terrible. I don’t know why. Maybe the high number of vindictive likes on my worst reviews? I contacted Amazon to have a look at that.
  • The zombie box set is generally losing money in Au and Ca, despite good-looking sales numbers. This is odd, but probably due to fewer page reads in those countries, as fewer people are in KU.
  • The zombie box in UK and USA is funding everybody else.

Conclusions were:

  • Turn off Wren book 1 ads everywhere and turn on the boxset. It has basically no reviews, but should be more appealing to KU readers as it is a 3-book set, so better value for their single pick. An upside of no reviews is I bypass those unfairly upvoted negative reviews.
  • Focus my spend primarily on the zombie box in the UK and US. Aim for ROI daily of 100% – basically doubling my money. Not easy.

All this keeps me very busy.

I also essentially reinvented all my ads today, after hearing Adam Croft say on his podcast that he was sending $800 a day on FB and getting 6c clicks with great profits. What!! I get 14c cicks at best. What is he doing?

I go look on his ads library. It is all short video ads! The videos are super basic, 7 seconds long with no sound and have very little to do with his books, but perhaps set a mood.

I can do that. I went and found some free footage, often from drones, downloaded them, trimmed them to length, then made ads. 4 stock footage for zombies, with a new ad copy inspired by the ’empty’ video, and 4 for Wren – one a car racing along what looks like Joshua Tree National Park – the exact spot the first book’s cover comes from.

I turned all other ads off. Now I have a couple of audiences set in US and UK, and all ads are dynamic. Thus far, only one ad switched on, but was getting 6c clicks! We will see if they convert. If they do, maybe I just increased my sales x3?

That would allow Wren to be profitable. I could expand back to Au and Ca and make money too. We will see.

Next week’s plan

I’d love to get serious words done next week. Beyond 40,000 would be the minimum. 50,000 would be very encouraging. That’s only 17,000, which is only 2,400 a day. If I stop tinkering and focus, it’s doable.

Finish by the end of May. Get book 5 by end of August, book 6 by end of December, then that’s another box set, and 6 books all told. A good target. Then book 7, which may close out the current cycle, in early 2021. Then onto whatever comes for Wren next. I don’t know yet.

Also I’ve got the new post-apoc series I’ve been kicking around. Would be good to get on with that.

Christopher Wren boxset books 1-3 – 2020 Writing Week 14

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I’ve had the first 3 books in the Chris Wren series out for about 9 months now, but I’ve been holding back on launching it as a boxset because I wanted book 4 to be available before I did that.

But, um, why?

It’s an odd one, to be so worried about losing the follow on sales that I don’t get potential sales right now. To cut this Gordian knot, I looked at what Mark Dawson does and found an answer I kind of already knew.

Book 4 not written yet? Make it a pre-order. Not sure you can fit the timescale? Set it for a date far out, then you can bring it forward as required.

Pretty cool, right? It just means making the cover and blurb for book 4. Well, I work on the blurb first thing now, before I even write the book – it absolutely helps me figure out what the story is gonna be. If the story can’t express well as a blurb, well, then the story needs to shift.

I made the cover, as documented last week, put it up, sorted all my links, set the pre-order, then I was clear for the boxset!!

Next up was making the boxset cover. This was kind of fun to do. I thought about using a fiverr service for just $5, as I’ve done before, but I liked the idea of having different color spines for each book in the set, so I just went ahead and did it myself. Ta-da!

I love it – bright, eye-catching, fun. There’s a page on my site for it now. It costs $8.99, which is $2 less than if you buy all 3 books separately.

Next step will be to make the audio box set, but for that one I will wait a little – until I’m getting book 4 made in audio. Then there really is something to go onto – and I don’t want to steal the current audiobooks’ thunder, as they’ve just come out.

In other news

We had our first meeting of the London Indie Authors group via Zoom. I was hosting, but my computer chose that exact moment to crash, so I had to dial in on my phone and cede control to someone else. Then my Internet got spotty. Still, it was a good session. I talked a lot about my ads.

I’ve been spending more on ads this week, almost entirely on Facebook. I did a couple of things:

  • Expand spend to Canada and Australia – to pretty powerful effect. Australia in particular seems hungry for thrillers.
  • Make new lookalike audiences and narrow them only by Kindle. I tried this before when I was living off KU reads, and it was a big fail. Now it seems to be working well.
  • I changed audiences because I noticed my frequency creeping quite high on some audiences. The zombie + kindle audiences in both US and UK are kind of tapped out for me – I’ve reached 80,000 people to each of them and now I’ve shown the book to all those people an average of 3 or 4 times. That’s quite a lot. Correspondingly, they click through less. It’s not a big surprise.
  • I also am making dynamic ads. I’ve got lots of images, lots of blurb texts, and now FB can figure out which is best. It also has the benefit of pushing through high frequencies, when they come back around. The same audience will constantly see a different ad.

Broadly results are profitable. Wren is almost breaking even in the US and UK, and making money in Au and Ca. The zombie set does well everywhere, with a surprising number of full price sales. At some point I may take it wide and advertise to those audiences – a whole new batch of people who’ve never had a chance to read it.

Right now though it’s doing well in KU. I’m not ranking high, but money matters more.

Fresh words

With all this mad marketing going on, and all the editing before that, I haven’t written fresh words for ages, so it’s been really nice to settle down to a bit of writing.

Today I got 3,000 words on Wren book 4, after 2,000 yesterday. It’s pretty silly right now, in what feels a petty glorious way. I’m seeing reviews on these books that they’re not quite realistic, but I am right now cool with that.

The most fun action movies really strain credibility. People love Mission Impossible and John Wick and such, and those movies really push things to the max. Wren does similarly. He’s doing some crazy thigs with vehicles this time around.

WIP wordcount – 23,000 words, and speeding up. I can see a lot of what’s coming, probably up to the midpoint. I’ve already got the end. Just the final act really to break, and it’ll come when I get there, as these things tend to do.

If you build it, he will come.

Major Christopher Wren overhaul – 2020 Writing Week 13

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I’ve been doing a lot of things this week that are not writing! It’s been hard to focus, maybe because of coronavirus, but also because my head’s ben heavily into marketing.

The mystery of AMS and FB ads!! How hard it is to make them pay!!

The primary experiment this week was to raise ALL my prices. Saint Justice is now $2.99. The zombie boxset is $9.99. The only book in my catalog that is 99c is The Last, zombie book 1.

At first sales went well. It’s very exciting to see 10 copies of the boxset sell – that’s $70 right there. Mid-week they dropped, which prompted a lot of self-doubt, but over the weekend they’ve picked up again.

Partly this is due to my expansion into Au and Ca FB ads. I’ve done this before and lost money – but that was when I needed to make KU page reads to profit – now that it’s straight sales (plus KU!) Au and Ca are proving very profitable.

Christopher Wren is also selling at the same rate he was at 99c! No benefit to the cheap price – so it can stay at $2.99 then.

BUT

None of that is what this post is about. Primarily, I’m getting annoyed at the low Chris Wren conversion rate. People click on the ads, but don’t buy the book. Why? Lots of potential reasons:

  • Bad cover
  • Bad blurb
  • Bad price
  • Bad reviews
  • Too much competition
  • Doesn’t match expectation from ad

Some of these are in my power and some aren’t. I set out to fix those that I could. Skip the blurbs if you want – new covers will follow!

Bad blurb

Was my blurb bad? Here is the most recent one for Saint Justice (really the only one that matters):

“Addictive, intelligent, edge-of-your seat writing; as urgent and gripping as it gets.”Oliver Harris, bestselling thriller author.
“I’m a big Jack Reacher fan, and I read Saint Justice in a few days. It is a ripper of a tale!”J.R., Goodreads star reviewer.

It takes a cult leader to kill a cult.

On the run from past colleagues, cult leader and ex-Homeland Security agent Christopher Wren walks into a brutal biker bar in northern Utah, looking only to bring the local chapter down.

What he uncovers instead is repugnant; the beginning threads of a vast human trafficking organization run with ruthless corporate precision, funnelling thousands of homeless people from the streets to…

Nobody knows. Nobody cares.

They should.

A devastating terror attack is brewing in the wilds of America. One spark in the tinderkeg could ignite the inferno. Now Wren finds himself alone in the dark, watching the spark fall.

Now – this has already been changed countless times. So what’s wrong with it this time? Maybe it’s wordy and vague. Nobody cares about Homeland Security. ‘Brutal biker bar’ is soft. ‘Beginning threads of a vast human trafficking organisation run with ruthless corporate precision’ is a helluva mouthful, and sets people up for a traffickng story – which this is not.

Also those 2 reviews at the start are pointless – not famous enough to be worth mentioning. Let the hook speak for itself. Here’s the new version:

It takes a cult leader to kill a cult.

On the run from past colleagues, cult leader and ex-CIA agent Christopher Wren walks into a biker bar in northern Utah, looking only to drown the guilt of his past.

What he uncovers instead is repulsive – a vast and ruthless cult ripping thousands of homeless people off the streets and launching them toward some dark, violent fate.

Nobody notices. Nobody cares. Nobody except Wren.

A civil war is brewing in the wilds of America. One spark in the powder keg could ignite the inferno. Now Wren finds himself alone in the dark, watching the spark fall…

So – the reviews are gone. The unwieldy ‘corporate precision’ is gone. ‘Human trafficking’ is gone. The much-earlier he goes into the bar ‘looking only to get beaten up’ has been replaced by ‘looking only to drown the guilt of his past’ – same thing, but much more eays to grasp.

Now there’s a cult, there’s the dark fate – I think it’s better. Shorter sentences, easier words too. So far, conversion is up, so maybe it helps.

Book cover for book 4!!

I also thought I should release the boxset of books 1-3, since for many authors the boxset does the best business. It definitely appeals to whale readers and KU fans. So, to do that I need a cover for book 4. It’s unfinished, but I figure if I make the cover, it may also hurry me along to write the damn book.

I threw something together in 20 minutes, and it ended up being pretty awesome:

Cool, right?

But. Of course there’s a but. I put this cover next to the first 3, showed them to Su, and asked what she thought.

She went straight to book 4. It’s the best. This of course breeds mixed feelings. Awesome, of course! But also, damn, why can’t this be book 1? It matters most to have a great book 1. Here they are all lined up:

(Now, first off it’s worth saying that I’m well aware that tinkering may either make things worse or make no difference at all. I could spend hours ‘fixing’ something that doesn’t need fixing. To that I say – I’d rather try to learn why somethig works than just thank the stars I stumbled upon something that does.)

So – what do you think? It’s book 4, right? Well, why? Here are my thoughts:

  • It’s more dynamic. The guy is running.
  • The contrast is very strong. Light green on black really pops.
  • Sight lines lead us very clearly to the figure in the center. There can be no doubt where we’re supposed to look.
  • It tells an immediate story. Nobody needs to ask – well where is he running? He’s clearly running away. The title doubles down on this. The story is right there.
  • It’s claustrophobic and dark. Both these build a sense of threat and urgency.

I didn’t realize all this at once. I spent most of yesterday tinkering, figuring it out. So let’s look at the others on the same criteria.

  • They are not dynamic. I made all that effort to do a photoshoot, then just went back to a walking guy. Honestly, he looks like he’s out for a stroll in some idyllic beauty spot. A slow stroll, hands in pockets. This is what other books do – Jack Reacher most notably – but not all covers do it, and I’m not sure I can afford to.
  • The contrast is pretty good – book 1 in particular has a very dark sky. One problem of this though, is a thunderous, cloudy sky (with lots of contrast and definition between clouds) helps portray threat. But there can be no detail in these clouds, or you can’t read the author name/title. Tricky.
  • Sight lines are weak. In 1 and 2 he’s on a road but it’s bland – not highlighted like book 4. The middle-lower quarter is brighter thna the rest, but that only draws our attention to a band. Not to the center. For that matter, the cnetral figure is not even in the center. Again, Reacher does this, but he may not be my best model. In book 3 there are no lines at all leading anywhere – where are we supposed to look?
  • There is no story. He’s walking – and not even into a town. Into the wilderness. There’s not much threat in the wilderness. It’s hiking. Again, Reacher does this – but normally he’s walking into a town.
  • They’re all less claustrophobic. Book 1 he can get out on either side. Book 2 he can get out anywhere. Book 3 he can even get out of the top. I copied a Jo Nesbo cover for this, all white, but I’m not convinced it works now.

So, I tinkered all day yesterday, trying to figure the above out and how to apply them to my books. Here’s what I came up with:

Let’s tackle them on the criteria:

  • They are all dynamic. The guy is running. there are also extra elements (which I hope don’t look tacked on) – the cropduster, the smoke, the helicopter. There is clearly motion (and I added motion blur too, so I’m certain of this!).
  • The contrast is similar. Book 1 and 2 largely unchanged, 3 I added the dark sky back in.
  • Sight lines are improved. It’s subtle, but in book 1 I highlighted the paint marks on the road left and right, while darkening the vegetation to left and right. Our eye is driven more to the center. In book 2 the smoke itself leads in. In book 3 I mirrored the mountains to point inward, along with the dark town line. The figure is now dead center in all.
  • There is now a story! Maybe too much… I tried him running without additional elements, but then it looked even weirder – a guy sprinting into the wilderness? It’s worse thna taking a stroll. So now we have the cropduster plane, the fire, the helicopter. They’re all relevant to the story, provide a distant focus (foreground, middle ground, distance), and hint at where he’s going.
  • I feel the above combine to make for more threat. No way out. Only one way forward. It’s no longer purely PvE (Player versus Environment – a gaming term) it’s now PvP (Player versus Player). Good.

What do you think? I’m confident the helicopter looks good. The smoke I’m not sure. I’m not too worried about the plane – it looks OK, added a bit of shadow and motion blur.

Oh, I also altered the typography a bit. Less of it, basically.

Phew. These are now uploaded to Amazon. I doubt they’ll make a substantial difference, but maybe they will. They undoubtedly say action and thrills now – not a sedate walk in the park.

I also made a boxset image for books 1-3 and put book 4 up for pre-order (light a fire under me to get it written!), but I’ll deal with that later. Basically – fun. I rather like tinkering.

FB & AMS ad mysteries – 2020 Writing Week 12

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 1 Comment

First off, the grand news – Wren book, Reparation, is finished in audiobook format. More on this when it releases. 3 months ago I had just 1 book in audio – The Last – pretty soon I’ll have 4, with 3 in a series. All the backlist is tight, produced, and polished.

Unless…

Can I get the zombie box set back into profit? This is the mystery. If I can, then it will seem worthwhile to buy back the Last Mayor rights and make the whole series in audio. That’ll be about $10k – real money. It’s also a whole new audience – audio listeners love the zombie apocalypse, it seems.

Which brings me to the major challenge of today – figuring out what the heck has been gping on with my ads.

The FB & AMS ad mysteries

Earlier this week I posted in some detail about recent ad losses. The key takeaways were:

  • From Sept to Fed the Last Mayor box set was making strong profits with an ROI around 100% – doubling ad spend. Every dollar spent earned a dollar. CTR (clickthrough rate) was high. CVR (conversion) was between 1 in 3 and 1 in 5. This was on a varying mixture of FB & AMS ads.
  • In March I noticed the returns were reducing, and tried to juice them with ramped up ad spend on FB, AMS and Bookbub too. In return, I got punched. I started making losses.
  • Why?

At that point, I didn’t know. So I started recording daily stats, CVR, clicks/sales, clicks/KU, sales/KU and tried to spot the pattern. I tried FB only, then tried adding AMS back in. It’s only been a week, and it’s not statistically significant, but still I want to be guided by the stats as much as possible.

Facebook ads:

  • FB ads for the zombie set in both US and UK convert to sales pretty reliably at 1 in 4/5. At 15c a click or so, that’s 75c to make a sale. I only get 33c from each direct sale, so on this level, as expected, I’m losing money. So we turn to KU page reads.
  • The same FB ads, where I can separate their influence from AMS ads, convert to full KU readthroughs at anywhere between 1 in 30 to 1 in 100. That’s low. Compare it to the best KU conversion I got, in Jan when I was running only AMS ads, of 1 in 10, and it’s a long way off. Some figures:
  • For a full readthrough I earn about $12. 100 clicks at 15c costs me $15. Add the $12 to the money from sales (100/5=20×0.33=$7) and I get $19. Actually, that’s a profit. But that’s only if the clicks convert 1 in 5. In Feb I was getting 1 in 10. That works out to a $3 on 100 clicks. $12 plus $3 = $15, just what it cost me for those clicks.
  • Except, in Feb my average CPC (cost per click) was 43c. Not 15c. Because AMS and Bookbub are both much more expensive. So, major losses.

So – we can clearly see that if I can get 1 in 5 CVR on sales and even 1 in 1000 CVR on KU, I can make money as long as clicks are cheap at 15c. The only place I can get such cheap clicks though are on FB, and here’s what I found about FB ads:

  • Throughout this week I increased FB ad spend in both UK and US. Over the 5 days, US CVR sales peaked at 1 in 5 and CVR KU at 1 in 30, for 100 clicks total at 17c.
  • The cost of that was 0.17×100=$17.
  • The sales revenue was 100/5=20×0.33= $7
  • The KU revenue was 100/30=3x$12= $36. Total $43 – $17 = $26. An ROI above 100%. Good.

But that dropped as I increased US FB ad spend. I went for 150 clicks and sales CVR dropped to 1 in 7 and KU CVR dropped to 1 in 100, for 20c clicks! Loss-making territory.

What’s the conclusion here? Well, these are just single days during an unusual time, so I can’t be concrete – but it may be that trying to spend too much in a single day reduces the quality of FB clicks, while increasing the cost. So I should find the sweet spot of max clicks for cheapest CPC and best CVR, and not try to scale up any further.

How then do I get more KU page reads?

Amazon Ads:

I said above my best KU CVR number, full readthroughs to number of clicks, was 1 in 10 in Jan when I was running only AMS ads. So maybe AMS ads are the key to getting page reads. The only trouble is, AMS ads are so expensive, averaging around 60c a click in the US.

But if they sell at 1 in 10 levels?

  • Full readthrough = $12
  • 10 clicks at 60c/click = $6
  • 1 in 10 KU CVR means $12-$6 = $6
  • Great. But 1 in 10 was my max. Average seems to be about 1 in 20. Run it again, and we see that’s $12 cost. Breakeven.
  • Ugh. Crazy. How did I ever make money?

Hardly once this week has KU CVR risen above 1 in 50. If 1 in 20 is breakeven, 1 in 50 is clearly loss-making. Now, this week I’ve primarily been doing FB ads. Perhaps it makes sense that FB readers are less likely to buy through KU.

If I look back to Jan and Feb, when I ran only AMS and no FB, I was doing well with KU reads. Somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 is profitable. Add to all this that KU reads in the US totally dropped off in the last few days, when I was only doing FB ads. Like, dropped in half, when it’s never done that before.

So, hmmm…

Conclusions:

  • What is the use of FB ads? I can sell a lot of books at 99c, but I basically lose money. It can push my book into bestseller charts, but I’m not convinced such visibility is worth what it once was. There are too many charts, and people don’t peruse them like they used to.
  • I need to get into Amazon’s automatic emails, pushed to whale readers, and the only way to do that is to generate a lot of KU reads. The best way to generate KU reads, it seems, is to do a lot of AMS ads.
  • Which I was doing. For Jan/Feb I was running no FB ads at all. It was only after I saw the data and the power of FB clicks that I doubled down on running them for March.
  • I guess I overlearned the lesson.

My current thinking is that a little FB ad trickle, juicing straight sales and keeping the ranking respectable, benefits the Amazon algorithm on whether it shows my ads or not. That little trickle lets KU reads bloom.

So.

My next step is throttle back the FB ads to a trickle, say $5 or $10 a day, then turn up the AMS ads again. I’ve got Machete to help me stay on top of things. Yes, OK. This is tomorrow’s experiment. I may lose my rank and bestseller tag on Amazon UK, but whatever. That’s vanity, not profit.

Another interesting step I could take would be to drop the crazy 99c price point, then double down on FB ads. Currently I get 1 in 5, say that drops to 1 in 10, clicks 20c, that’s $2 to make a sale, but I make $7 at $9.99, so $5 is mine. 100 clicks a day, 10 sales, that’s $50 profit. If I could also make AMS ads work at that price point, I’d be killing it. You’d think KU readers would see a $9.99 box set as better value for their limited borrows than a 99c one.

Hmm. Maybe this is next week’s experiment. My only concern is that I spend money on ads, send people to my page, then they get pulled down a rabbit hole of my competitors whose box sets are still at 99c. We shall see.

Coronavirus ad fail? – 2020 Writing Week 11.3

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I have a painful confession to make. So far this month I’ve made some nasty losses on my ad spend. Ack! Ouch! Thwack!

For several weeks I’ve been aware I was deficit spending – putting more into ads than I was getting back on a daily basis. I was doing this because the last 3 months of data – which I wrote about here and here – showed the zombie box set was moving in a crazy way.

Through Dec, Jan and Feb it was selling at the rate of 1 book for every 3 clicks. Every click I paid for earned a profit of 50c to $1. KU page reads came in at 1 full book read for every 3 or 4 copies bought at 99c.

Those were amazing stats. I figured – wow. The more clicks, the more money. So I doubled down, starting this month. I ramped up Facebook ads, AMS ads, and even Bookbub ads.

The results felt pretty great – I definitely have the ability to force the book up the charts. It hit 2800 in the US store and 600 with a bestseller tag in the UK.

BUT.

Results

I was waiting for the month to end to do a proper analysis, but upon realizing the daily deficit was getting too big, I went ahead and did an analysis of the last 3 weeks, and the results are ugly.

1. Page reads disconnect

With sales of 600 books in the US in March so far, I’d expect KU page reads to be similar to December, which had about 600 sales and 400,000 page reads. Nope. It’s only been 200,000 in March. That’s half of December’s numbers. Considering I make the money on page reads – this is a major problem for profit. It works out to around 1 full KU readthrough for every 7 purchases.

In December it was 1 in 3! Twice as many. So for the clicks I’m getting, less than half the people in KU are reading now as were reading then. What the heck?

It was the same in the UK. Off 600 book sales in March so far, I’ve had only 100,000 page reads. In January, when I got 300 sales, I had 200,000 reads! so if that had been 600, it could have been 400,000. That’s a quarter as effective now. It was one full KU readthrough for every 3 sales, now it’s down to 1 in 20. Ugh. The monetary difference is big.

But that’s not all.

2. Massive conversion fail

Not only are fewer people reading through on KU, but my ads are just not converting to sales like they were. In the US in March so far, I had a whopping 4200 clicks total. That’s more than any of those stellar months going back to December.

December had 3000. Of those 3000 clicks, 800 became sales. That’s a stellar 1 sale for every 3 or 4 clicks. In March so far the 4200 clicks have yielded only 600 sales. That’s 1 sale for around every 9 clicks! Two or three times less effective.

Double ouch.

It’s not so bad in the UK, but still bad. Off 3000 clicks I had 700 sales. That’s 1 sale in about 5 clicks, compared to the earlier heyday of 1 in 3.

Combine this poor conversion rate with the weak readthrough, and I’m losing money every day. Really, what the heck is happening?

Analysis

1. Page reads disconnect

I needed more data. Previously I ran the numbers through to Dec 2019, but now I decided to go further back. I discovered some things I’d pretty much forgotten about – November was a huge month. In the US 1000 copies sold, 450,000 page reads, conversion still 1 in 4, but interestingly KU page reads were down to 1 full read through for every 6 sales.

Hmm?

I went to October. Another banner month! 1000 sales again, but page reads at 400,000, 1 full read through for every 7 sales.

Eh?

It was the same in September. 600 sales – I’m finding the point where I first ramped up ad spend – and only 220,000 page reads. That’s also 1 full read through for every 7 sales.

Exactly as it is now.

Answer – I anticipated this, but hadn’t reckoned on how long it would take to manifest. People who pick up a big book in KU may not start reading it immediately, and even if they do, it’ll take some time before everyone reading it will reach critical mass and show up en masse in my page reads.

So – the page reads I’m seeing in those stellar days of Dec, Jan, Feb, the 1 full read in 3 or 4 sales days, were likely generated earlier in the 1 in 7 days back in Sept and Oct. So it takes a month or two to really get the ball rolling. We see this as the rate increases over the months to peak in Jan at 1 in 3, then tail off afterward.

This answers the KU page read disconnect. Basically, it’s fine. It’s not the reason I’m losing money. In Sept last year, off 600 sales, I had 200,000 page reads. Right about where I am in March so far, 600 for 200,000. But in March I’m charting a loss, whereas in Sept I made a healthy profit.

So what gives?

2. Massive conversion fail

The deeper data going back to September has some bearing on this question. In Sept I had 1200 clicks and 700 sales. In Oct I had 2000 clicks and 1200 sales. Those are actually better than 1 in 2 conversion rates! That is amazing. It’s almost 2 sales for every 3 clicks. Absolutely killer!

In November I ramped up clicks and conversion dropped to 1 in 3. Still amazing, but less so – this was 3000 FB clicks and 1500 AMS clicks.

In December I cut back a little, maintained around 1 in 3, but only sold 800. I had 3000 clicks total, 50% more clicks than in October, but almost 50% less sales. Huh? Why so much weaker conversion? Had I already exhausted the market? Or were those clicks somehow less targeted, less likely to convert?

Well.

Answers

Here’s what I’m thinking now. Current weak conversion, and decreasing conversion since October 2019, could be down to a few things:

  • I changed Facebook targeting to reach more people around October. Before that I was targeting primarily Kindle readers, but I broadened that slightly to include all ereaders. This might explain some of the drop-off, but it shouldn’t be so big. My audience is still predominantly Kindle readers.
  • I had saturated the market – all the easy buyers had already bought. I sort of doubt this, as I see many other zombie boxsets in the market holding stronger rank than my book, with considerably more reviews – which suggests they’ve been selling a lot and consistently for a long time. The readers are there. However, it is of course possible I saturated the market for my book.
  • I ran a few ads, several times, using videos that included a slightly sexy picture – these earned crazy clicks, also crazy cheap, but I don’t think they converted to sales at all. I tried that again recently, and it was the same again. Wasted clicks as people went looking for more sexy images…
  • I ramped up AMS ads around October – which might have ended up including lots of bum keywords. I’m getting on top of that more with the keyword analysis tool Machete now, but it has definitely stung. I need to cut non-performing keywords rapidly, or I’m just spending money on clicks that go nowhere.
  • This month I tried a new targeting approach via Facebook custom lookalike audiences. 1000 of the clicks this month came from there – there’s no way to know, but maybe they weren’t converting well because they didn’t double-target Kindle readers.
  • Finally, coronavirus. I’ve read plenty of accounts in my various author FB groups that coronavirus has decimated sales. Other people are turning off ads altogether. I thought my book – as it was charting so well, and because it’s post-apocalypse – might be impervious to this, or indeed even benefit from a fascination people have currently with the end of the world. But maybe not. It also makes sense people aren’t reading as much just yet. When the panic clears a little and folks get bored at home, they may read more.

So, what does all this mean?

Action Plan

First off, I’m not going to worry about the KU pages readthrough. At 1 in 7, I’m right where I was back in September, kind of priming the pump. I believe the sales I’ve invested in now will lead to page reads over the next couple of months that should right this ship somewhat.

Ad conversion is the main area I need to focus on.

My immediate plan is to squash ad spend mightily. It would be nice to know if it’s AMS or FB delivering the lion’s share of the sales, so I may try shutting them off back and forth over the coming week. Turn off AMS tomorrow but leave FB running, then turn off FB and leave AMS running. It’ll give me some taste of what’s working.

I’m also immediately canceling all expansive targeting – so the 1% lookalike audience is gone, and I’m back to targeting Kindle readers with an image that is not sexy at all. At the same time, I’ll become more ruthless with non-performing AMS ads, and throttle them back with Machete.

Perhaps most importantly, I need to keep a close eye on conversion rates. Maybe even daily – it’s not a tough calculation to run. If they start to creep up in the next few days/weeks, it may be that coronavirus was responsible for this slowdown. If that’s the case, I’ll start to ramp up again steadily. I’ll be certain though not to do any more deficit spending. Even back in September, when I was priming the pump for future KU reads, I was also making a healthy profit because the conversion rate was so good.

I want 1 in 3 again. 1 in 2 or 1 in 4 are also acceptable. The gulf between 1 in 3 and 1 in 9 is massive. It’s good profit against unpleasant loss.

But what if conversion rates never go up again? Then I guess that is it for this boxset. It’s done a great job, but it can’t go any bigger, and will maybe tick along happily at a low spend level for some time to come. Time will tell.