The Anomaly by Michael Rutger – book review

MJG Book / Movie Reviews, Reviews Leave a Comment

For 20 years I’ve been reading books by the author variously known as Michael Marshall Smith and Michael Marshall, beginning with his sci-fi triumvirate of Only Forward, Spares and One of Us – three mind-slappingly entertaining thrillers – and moving through his Straw Men series as well as various creepy standalones.

Now he’s writing under a third pen-name, Michael Rutger, and the first book is The Anomaly. As soon as I saw it, I picked it up. I still have those early MMS SF books on my shelf, despite having lived in Japan for 10 years – I took them with me both going and coming back. So I came to The Anomaly with plenty of baggage.

It opens kind of slow and steady. We’re introduced to Nolan, a conspiracy/occult theorist with a youtube channel show, who at first blush appears kind of a loser/drip. He failed in his Hollywood job, his wife dumped him, everybody (even his film crew) think he’s kind of a laughing stock. He’s all washed-up, constantly going out to these sites where supernatural phenomena allegedly occured and looking for them, only to find nothing.

Yet pretty soon we get to see Nolan is none of these things. Yes, he has a ribald mocking relationship with his crew, and yes he is aware there’s some exploitation going on in all his failed searches for some evidence that the truth is out there – but he’s also kind of a bad-ass. He is incredibly knowledgeable, and speaks engagingly both on and off-camera about the deep research and flaws in scientific thinking surrounding the places he goes to visit. When an accompanying reporter digs in and insults him, he digs right back.

He is not a wimp. He has a backbone, and beneath the surface-level kookiness and veneer he exploits for his show, he really is asking interesting, informed questions about the things we do not know. I got to really like him quite quickly – he’s unapologetic about his out-there views. He can back up everything he says with facts. He’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone.

The story of The Anomaly is about Nolan’s latest planned adventure with his crew – he’s discovered this 100-year-old record of a secret cave embedded in the wall of the Grand Canyon, which nobody has ever since been able to find since, apparently crammed with evidence that subverts our current understanding of human origins.

Now I’m interested. It takes quite some time for the team to get to the Grand Canyon, then get down into it, then go hunting for the cave – but I was really engaged throughout. Interpersonal dynamics offer plenty of conflict – all of the above character work letting Nolan show he’s not really a washed-up loser, he’s just wearing the clothes of one. Really, he’s just a smart, competent, hard-working guy who’s fallen on a patch of bad luck.

The way MMS (Michael Rutger) feeds in real-world info through Nolan, about bizarre cave paintings and great flood records and other occult-adjacent theories, is entrancing. I would definitely watch this youtube show if it existed – kind of a wannabe Indiana Jones, putting himself out there for the sake of deeper understanding.

Then we get to the cave.

We go into the cave. I won’t say much more because that would be venturing into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt scared like this when reading a book. I don’t know that a book has ever really scared me. Grossed me out, sure, but actually scared?

It was delightful. As the crew press deeper into the cave, and long before anything at all happens, I was feeling tingles down the spine. It was late at night. I stopped reading.

I don’t know what magic trick the narrative worked to make me feel this way. I’ve been in dark, creepy, off-limits caves plenty of times and never felt like this. Like this is a really dangerous place where we shouldn’t go, and I almost want them to turn back. I suppose this is an effect of the characteristation Rutger has built up by that point – I cared about Nolan and his banter-filled crew. I wanted them to do well.

Then it all goes crazy. Weird things happen – MMS kind of sci-fi, puzzlebox, inexplicable things. I loved it. I raced through the puzzles, gamely trying to figure out what was going on just like the characters were. It feels a bit like an Escape Room situation, like Saw even, at times. The stakes are high. The puzzles keep stacking up. The truth gets bigger. The reversals compound…

I loved it. I want more like this from MMS. Nolan is a guy I want to root for through multiple adventures like this on the fringe of science and belief. Michael Marshall Smith has been tapping this well in fresh ways since One of Us, and I think he’s hit an incredibly rich seam here. Like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, with his expert knowledge of symbols, Nolan is an expert in esoterica and knowledge at the fringes. He’s an X-Files kind of guy, rootling around at the edges and sometimes stumbling upon real, creepy stuff. What will he do when he finds it?

Yes. More please. 5 stars.

Soul Jacker art + promo plan

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I thought I’d be done with all this Soul Jacker editing by the end of January, freeing me up to get on with my thrillers, but the vicissitudes of merciful fate have conspired to make the Soul Jacker launch a #prettybigdeal.

It launches March 31 at 99c. All of April will be promo time:

  • I have the Bookbub after 3 days,
  • multiple other promo sites already booked in (including Robin Reads, Fussy Librarian, Bargain Booksy, Booksends and others).
  • I’ve got potential blurbs from famous folks coming.
  • I’ve got NL swaps underway.
  • I’ve got art and targeting for FB and AMS ads.
  • I’ve got the paperback launching.

The one thing I’m not doing is a simultaneous audiobook launch. The cost is prohibitive. If it does well, maybe Podium or another audiobook publisher will pick it up and take the risk.

Today I made the paperback, and it took pretty much 4 hours to typeset and make the cover. 4 hours! Hopefully books 2 and 3 will be a bit faster, but it’s just a pain-in-the-ass process. I don’t expect to sell many in print at all – the only reason to do this is to make the Amazon page look more legitimate!

The cover is cool though:

Sweet.

I also made the banner ad to go on Facebook ads:

Eye-catching.

This is shaping up to be my biggest launch ever. That’s pretty darn exciting. I’ll keep you posted as I make covers for the sequels!

Oh, another new thing I’m doing is a bit more keyword research and optimisation, to improve organic reach. Hopefully once the book starts to climb these extra keywords will boost visibility across Amazon.


Media Review 2019 week 8 & 9

MJG Weekly Media Update Leave a Comment

Books

  • Dead Pines – This debut Scandi-thriller by Brit Will Dean has been the talk of the town. I briefly met Will at theFebruary First Monday Crime session and he seemed a very interesting chap – lives in a Swedish forest off-grid with his wife and kid, chops wood, freezes his waste, etc… The book flummoxed me though. His character is a deaf journalist ‘investigating’ several murders in the forest. We learn a great deal about the experience of being deaf: pillow alarms that shake you awake, recharging hearing aid batteries, putting the aids in desiccant when they get wet, hearing the tweak of Twitter alerts going out. We also get treated to a bunch of Swedish forest-dwelling weirdoes and acres of evocative description of moody Swedish skies.

But what does our heroine do? I got to halfway through the book waiting for her to do something. Sure, she goes places and talks to people and sees things, but none of these play a role in anything. She is more like a ghoulish ambulance-chaser than any kind of proper investigator.

Not only that, but she actively avoids doing things on numerous occasions, or recklessly delays taking action for no good reason. Eg – a guy jumps in the back of her truck in motion, trying to break the glass to the cab. She just about manages to shake him off, and what then? She goes direct to the police, right? The guy is still in the vicinity. If not her as a victim, someone else could be targeted, yeah? She has a responsibility. But no. She waits about 24 hours, beyond lunchtime the next day, to tell her pal at the police. Why? I absolutely could not understand this. Likewise a creepy taxi driver pulls her over in a deserted area and it’s a toin coss whether the guy rapes her or not, and what does she do? Tell the cop late the next day. In the same guy’s house she discovers he uses a high pitch mice-killing alarm that is clearly a torture to his son, because he can hear it, and who does she tell about this child abuse? Not one soul. Instead she spends her time rustling around in the woods.

I got very frustrated. The pretty writing about the forest continued, and so did the deaf schtick, but where was the story? Where was the heroine getting stuck in and directing the flow of events? It wasn’t here. She was a tourist not only in the nvestiagtion, but in the lives of everyone she crossed. I ended up skipping large chunks just to see if she ever did anything. Yes, we can infer that the stories she writes have an impact on the villagefolk, but not in any interesting way – such as getting them to come out with new information. Just to get her ostracized.

In the end – spoiler – she uncovers the killer completely by accident, chases after said killer for no understandable reason without instead running off to tell the cops, and gets herself captured. She gets the full horrifying confession from the killer, then she dies.

No, wait. She gets rescued. Of course she does. So what did she do? Just hang around seeing things. It’s not at all my idea of a thriller. Rather it’s disaster tourism.

  • The Anomaly – I’m reading this book by Michael Rutger, a pseudonym of Michael Marshall Smith, about a conspiracy-theorist/ghost-hunter type Internet TV show host who is hunting a fabled cave in the Grand Canyon. I’m only a third in, and while it was a slow start, it’s really picking up – I’m actually getting scared as they delve deeper. And nothing bad at all has happened yet! The main guy started seeming like a useless drip, but he’s not – he’s actually incredibly knowledgeable and very able to punch back at others when the need arises.

Movies

  • The Breadwinner – An animation by the makers of the Secret of Kells and the Song of the Sea, neither of which I liked. This one was better, but the degree of repetition was infuriating. When you’re padding out your movie by having the main character tell a fairy story, including lines spoken in the fairytale, then have the character in the fairytale say those same exact lines, you’ve left me cold. Why do that? It annoys me. But the overall story was fascinating, set in Taliban-held Kabul, Afghanistan, where women are prisoners in their own homes and get beaten if they step out without a man. Our heroine is a young girl who has to pass for a boy to keep her family alive when her father gets taken to prison on a petty Taliban gangmember’s whim. Sad, shocking, beautiful at times.
  • BlackKKlansman – I loved this, a fascinating story with an incredibly charismatic lead. Probably his level of success and the way he is treated in the police station – the first black police officer in his town back in the 70s – is fairy-taled up a bit just to make an even stronger contrast with the real events tacked on at the end, which include Charlottesville and other recent racist events under Trump. Powerful and also entertaining.
  • Inconvenient Truth 2 – Another call to arms from Al Gore. Good stuff, but somehow a little sad – like he is inhabiting the shell of the man he might have been, had he become president. Acting on the international stage, but at the fringes, shown respect by the major players, but not wieldign any real power. He has clearly done things, and played a role, but somehow the movie’s efforts to make him look instrumental instead make him look like he is sidelined. I don’t know what the answer is to this. I appreciate his work. I wish he had been president instead of Bush…
  • Fyre – A documentary about the Fyre festival mega-con from 2017, in which Billy (some conman guy) and Ja Rule (a rapper?) spend millions to pre-promote a music festival on a Caribbean island by getting 10 top supermodels and having a party on yacht, with photos and a single orange square placed on the social media feeds of super influencers for cash. It goes huge and viral – but has basically already spent all its money. So begins a herculean effort to hustle, blag and swindle folks out of more money to try and actually put on the festival. Here we see a case study of what Trump has done, on a smaller scale but played out to the end. Incredibly competent social media bullshitting (in getting people to pony up millions for the chance to meet famous people and do something cool) combined with utter incompetence in actually achieving logistical things in the real world. Shameless, emotionless swindling and conning that leads to an utter shit festival that gets canceled with no bands turning up, and hundreds of contractors going unpaid. Billy gets arrested and bailed, and what does he do next? Takes up residence in a 5-star penthouse and goes right back to swindling the people on his Fyre festival mailing list over new meet&greet opportunities, biling them of more millions! People are so dumb, and people are so shameless. Trump!
  • We also tried a number of movies that sucked and we had to switch off. Time Share was one, a miserable piece about turning up at your Time Share villa and having to share it with another family. Why would I want to watch that? Probably some others too but I have gratefully forgotten!

TV

  • Death in Paradise – A solid choice to watch over dinner.
  • Star Trek – Still enjoying season 2 very much.
  • Great British Sewing Bee – Really not my bag but Su seems to like it.
  • The Umbrella Academy – Pretty boring new Netflix-own superhero X-men hybrid. I like the actor from Black Sails, but they give him absolutely nothing to do here. I liked the guy from MisFits when he was in MisFits, but not here. How sad that he left a good superhero pastiche years ago, seeking better things, and only managed to land in a much worse one years later. We’re done on episode 3.
  • Russian Doll – I hated the first episode. We were done with it. Then a read a review that loved it, but described the main character as a woman who used her body as an ashtray and was pretty disgusting, getting her comeuppance. I thought – OK. So maybe I was right in my first appraisal – we’re supposed to dislike her, and then take pleasure in her dying? I guess so. I’ve now watched 4 episodes and am enjoying watching her die, and even gaining some sympathy for her along the way.

Facebook ad February – $1000 spent and 300 book sales

MJG Facebook Ads, Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

My month-long experiment with Facebook ads may be at an end. Here’s the story so far:

In summary – a month back I read Michael Cooper’s book about Facebook ads, which focused heavily on the essential importance of getting good book readthrough in order to make a profit, and decided I wanted to give it a real go.

Now I have. I pushed book 1 in the 9-book Last Mayor zombie series and book 1 in the 2-book epic fantasy Ignifer Cycle. I experimented with ad copy, ad images and targeting. I watched sales come in with some dizzy highs and some disheartening lows. At times I thought I had it cracked. At others I wanted to just pull them all.

So, results:

  • Total money spent on ads – $1060
  • Total sales – 328 books
  • Total page reads – 31,000
  • Total money earned – $850
  • Profit – -$210

So, it’s a losing proposition. Not by a huge amount, it’s true. The fact is, I knew that from the first few days – it was clear I wasn’t making my money back on a day-for-day basis, but that wasn’t the point.

The point was waiting for readthrough. People buy book 1, set it aside, then at some point read it and hopefully read on to book 2 and further. When do those extra sales come in? Within a month? Within two?

It’s still possible that this investment will earn out. Readthrough should keep trickling in over the coming months, and who knows if it will lead to profit. One important thing to consider though is that the total sales above are certainly not all attributable to Facebook ads. I typically make about $200 a month just from ambient sales.

So actually it’s more like a $400 loss on the ads. That’ll be pretty hard to pay off with readthrough. And really, there’s no need to keep running ads now to see if the readthrough materializes – it’ll come in whether I sell more book ones or not. For that reason, I’m probably going to cut these ads until I know more.

Now for some breakdowns:

Ad effectiveness

Ad effectiveness has faded with time. On one day I sold 30 books – that was a heady 24-hours! It seemed for the first time that this thing might have legs. But then 8 books got returned for refunds and the wind sucked out of my sails.

Clicks have only grown more expensive since then. Engagement has dropped off. Fewer sales have been coming in, and the frequency of ad display (how many times any one FB user saw my ads) has been creeping up toward 2 times.

I tinkered with the ads. I tried new target markets, new copy, new images – but nothing topped the earliest ads. Seems I got it right first time. Briefly I was getting clicks for 11p on both ad campaigns, but very few sales, leading me to the more important metric.

It’s not how many clicks you get, it’s how many sales you get.

That’s obvious, I suppose, but the easiest metric to look at is cost-per-click. Michael Cooper focuses on it. I was getting hundreds of clicks from a pretty generic, million-strong audience, but no sales. It wasn’t targeted enough.

The Last campaign

  • Total ad spend – $530
  • Total money earned – $310
  • Total book 1 – 80 sales, 10,000 page reads
  • Total book 2 – 5 sales, 1,400 page reads
  • Total book 9 – 11 sales, 400 page reads
  • Conversion to book 2 – 6%
  • Total income – -$220

There’s quite a lot of news that looks bad here. Of course the loss is foremost, but the readthrough is appalling. Yes, again, people might not have had a chance to read book 2, but it’s not really all that far from the less clean data I already have from the last 4 years – these books don’t score a lot of readthrough.

Sigh. I could spend months reworking them to counter this. I could do that, but it won’t help the ads run better to sell book 1. I’m getting weak sales of book 1 and far weaker sales of book 2. It seems the series is dead, and no amount of CPR will revive it. I could keep it running like a zombie, but probably better to chop off its head now.

So I pulled the ads.

The Saint’s Rise campaign

  • Total ad spend – $540
  • Total money earned – $540
  • Total book 1 – 132 sales
  • Total book 2 – 24
  • Conversion to book 2 – 18%
  • Total income – $0

These stats are better, and actually make The Last stats look even worse. The Saint’s Rise is twice as long as The Last, but it’s readthrough is 3 times better even within the single month. So fair readthrough within a month is possible.

Ah, it is disappointing that the Last Mayor books don’t do better.

Anyway, The Saint’s Rise is holding it’s own, when I take into account sales on other vendors besides Amazon. $0 is not much to boast about, though – again considering that some of these are ambient sales and not directly attributable to Facebook ads. I’d have more money if I hadn’t run the ads, basically.

Conclusions

So what have I learned?

Bookbub – One important factor to take into account is that I got a Bookbub on The Saint’s Rise. I’d already applied for this multiple times, and always been turned down. Now I got accepted – and while this could be for any combination of reasons, I can’t help but think that the higher ranking the book had thanks to the FB ads played a role.

If I was Bookbub, I wouldn’t want to promote a book that was in the 100,000s in ranking. I’d want to see it was already selling. So maybe this month of $0 has led to the Bookbub – in which case, it’s a win, and maybe a future strategy for getting a Bookbub. Juice the ranking with ads in advance of an application.

Readthrough – Undeniably this is where the money is. If a book series converts well, it’s possible to make money. Maybe cliff-hangers are necessary. People need to feel compelled to read on, and The Last doesnt offer that compulsion at all. I never intended it as a series, and it probably shows.

The Saint’s Rise does end on a cliff-hanger of sorts. Major conflicts are resolved, but there’s still threat hanging. It could be this, or the quality of the books generally, or who knows.

Ad targeting – Massive million-strong audiences with great low click rates are not good – they probably won’t buy while burning through clicks. More focused 100,000-strong audiences may buy, but the cost per click will jack right up. Of course what matters is not cost-per-click, but cost-per-sale.

My best audience was for The Saint’s Rise – I picked a whole range of fantasy authors, excluding George R.R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien, because they are sucking in fans of the movies, and I want readers.

The Last was far harder to target. My best audience was a combination of Walking Dead fans (a TV show and comic) with Kindle readers. The trouble here is, I think many of these folks thought I was pushing an alternate TV show or comic. They clicked but didn’t convert when they saw it was a book.

I tried different copy to highlight that it was a book – and sales and clicks dropped further. Ugh. There are a few zombie authors admitted as targetable interests on Facebook, but the click costs were double what I wanted to pay – 40p plus, without a corresponding decent number of sales.

So how to target these readers? I don’t know. I tried SF great authors combo-ed with zombie movie fans and Walking Dead, I tried Apocalypse Fiction fans (basically the Hunger Games) tied with Kindle and zombie movies and Walking Dead, and just SF greats, and even paranormal fiction (like Twilight!) and none of them were better than Walking Dead plus Kindle.

Ah well. It’s tricky.

Ad copy – By far my best copy were the challenge plot blurbs. The best, which got great engagement, was the Saint’s Rise:

“Better than The Name of the Wind AND Locke Lamora!”

Fantasy fans knew these authors and argued with me in the comments. That’s good, arguing improved engagement and lots of people said the boldness drove them to buy. Good!

It didn’t work as well with The Last. The best one was this:

“Better than the Walking Dead (and definitely better than seasons 7 and 8!)”

It didn’t get engagement. It made people think it was a TV show I was pushing, maybe. Still, it was the best. I tried a few challenges that compared to more famous zombie authors, trying to get the readers involved, but that did even worse. Famous zombie authors are not famous the same way epic fantasy authors are, I guess…

After each of these I had a brief plot blurb.

The lesson is to do a challenge using comparable books/authors that are well-known and will start an argument.

Conclusions

And that is it! It has been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. It feels good that in 3 months I’ll get most of this money back – so it’s not a major loss. I can’t justify continuing to run The Last ads though. I could keep fine-tuning, but I don’t think fine-tuning will do it.

As for The Saint’s Rise, I may keep running them just to keep some momentum going as I approach the Bookbub on March 24. Otherwise, they’re actually a net negative. Maybe just $5 a day on US ads, to keep it ticking over.

Final thoughts for FB ad success:

Success = Great readthrough + 300,000 targeted readers + Challenge plot blurbs on famous authors/books + striking image

2 Bookbubs!!

MJG Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

This is insane.

A few days ago I got approved for a Bookbub on The Saint’s Rise – a 99c wide promotion that’ll go out to over a million people on the Bookbub lists on March 24. It costs $500 but I expect to make much more than that back.

That was dizzying enough.

Now today I’ve just been approved for another Bookbub a week later! Normally you need to be 3 months apart on Bookbub promos, I think, but in this case it is a New Release Promotion. This is a new thing Bookbub are offering, and they don’t offer average stats – so there’s no way to know what kind of return I’ll get.

Yes, it’s for Soul Jacker (the rewrite of Mr. Ruin)! It’ll be on April 2, 3 days after launch, at 99c. I think it’ll be on Amazon exclusively (not entirely clear), which is great, because then I can get KU reads as well at full price. At the same time, books 2 and 3 are already available on pre-order at $2.99.

This could be huge. Two Bookbubs basically stacked on top of each other! Plus I’ve got lots of other promos to book, I’ve got blurbs hopefully coming in, and I’ve got a number of cross-promo newsletter swaps set up.

My days. What a turn-up for the books. I’ve been applying most months for three years since my last Bookbub, and suddenly two trot along at once. Cross your fingers for me…

ps – I saw Gary Lineker today, walking proud as you like through Bloomsbury. I stared but didn’t say a thing – too gobsmacked. Went right past me – inches apart.

Writing Update 2019 week 7&8

MJG Facebook Ads, Marketing, Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Somehow I always let these weekly updates slip for a week – I think it’s down to these days having just too much to say! I want to get it all into its own separate post, on separate days, and thus I over-run.

So this update will combo multiple major developments, starting with:

BOOKBUB!!!!!!!!

In December I had an International Bookbub for the Saint’s Rise, yah boo who cares right? I sold some 400 at 99c internationally, but because there is no tail in any of these countries, there is no ongoing cashstream or much more than breaking even.

Maybe it leads to some reviews on international sites. Maybe? But anyway, I applied twice since then for a Us Bookbub (the Holy Grail) and this time got it. The Bookbub fantasy list is 1.2 million strong. For a 99-cent novel it costs $500, and they average 1700 copies sold.

That would instantly double the number of sales I’ve achieved in the whole past year for this book! It’s a helluva rain bomb. To help out, I’ll crank up various promo sites and pay-per-click ads in the run-up, to try and relaly make a day of it. Maybe after all the dust settles, it’ll seem more than ever like time to write book 3 in the series – delayed for many years!

I have had a US Bookbub once before, but that was for a free book – books 1-3 in the Last Mayor series. I gave away maybe 30,000 copies, but that was a different time. These days I only care about selling, because selling equates directly to rank, and rank is what means sales in the long tail.

A final point to make here – I think in part I got this Bookbub because of the Facebook ads I’ve been running, which have kept sales figures up. It would make total sense for Bookbub to look at rank and sales stats for any book that gets submitted to them. If a book is already selling some, they’re far more likely to select it than a book that is beyodn 100,000 in the ranking.

Something to remember for the next time I apply for a Bookbub run a week or so of ads in advance.

Editor feedback on thriller 1

I paid $350 to an agent/editor to run a manuscript assessment of my thriller book 1, and they came back with results the other day that were incredibly useful and insightful. My book deals with race issues, and they recommended a sensitivity read, plus some major changes to the endgame. Also deep structural change, and character shifts, and lots of little bits to up the pace.

I can’t argue with any of it. They are bang on the money. This is why a major publisher wouldn’t want to take on this book. Even after I fix these issues they still might not want to take it on, because the issues will still be so fraught.

Pretty much all the issues raised I’d had suspicions about myself, or other readers had raised, but I wasn’t sure they were deal-breakers. The endgame twist seemed impossible to change, but also deeply problematic. Now that the editor pointed these same things out, they are undeniably problems. Immediately I started thinking of ways to sidestep and solve the twist problem another way.

And came up with it. Ultimately, it’ll be better. The twist may be less shocking, but it’ll work, and it’ll have the right message. I’m psyched to dig in and make these changes. first though I gotta get the editor’s take on book 2, then I have to write book 3, then they can all be released.

A famous author replied!

After my last failure at reaching out to a famous author in hopes of getting a blurb, I took another shot at it and maybe have some success in sight. I won’t name any names, but this particular author said they had a ban on reading to blurb, but my book description (so painstakingly labored over!) had sounded good and they were willing to give it a try.

Yes! If nothing else, I hooked with the blurb! I sent a copy and fingers crossed they will read it, and like it, and blurb it!

This author is someone I’ve been reading since I was 18, so 20 years ago. Lots of genres over the years, lots of great books. I rebought an old book from those days, as well as their latest book to get up to speed again. Exciting.

Endless editing on Mr. Ruin rewrites

The Mr. Ruin rewrites (Soul Jacker!) are now all up on pre-order on amazon, and I am still making changes!

This is impossible. I’ve been through them all twice over now, and still keep finding things I have to change. Quite big things. As ever, it is interest over excitement. The trick is, once I’ve tightened up early sections, it only becomes incredibly obvious how slack later sections appear. Like tightening a piece of rope in sections, it becomes apparent which section is not tight.

I don’t know why I wrote with tension and excitement so far from my mind. An hour passes. Four hours pass. A lot of slow pauses happen. People do things idly. There are sections with no chasing, no worry, nothing but absent musing.

Oh my God. These now stick out like a sore thumb. As I read them, I’m wondering why I’m reading them. They’re so dull! If there’s nothing happening, why is it in there?

Tightening these sections up takes ages. They are immeasurably better (I think) once I get done, but taking out the slack is exhausting. I have to go through all three books again doing this. I have a month on pre-order ahead of me for book 1, so it should be fine, but yes. On it!

And now

Here are highlight posts from the last two weeks:

It’s been a lot of narrative tightening, editor feedback and Facebook ads. A lot of money spent! Probably around $1000. Damn. $1500 if you include the Bookbub payment I already made.

3 weeks in to Facebook ads

MJG Facebook Ads, Last Mayor, Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

I have now spent £600 on Facebook ads! You may remember from my analysis a week back that I was losing money. So am I in profit yet?

Ha ha, no! I have made £500 so far, so I am still £100 underwater. This is actually pretty generous too, assigning all earnings to FB ads, which is not accurate – even without ads I get a couple of sales a day, so it’s probably more like £200-£300 losses.

Well well well.

Oddly though, I am holding my nerve still. In practical terms, I have only lost £100, which is really not that bad considering the number of books sold – a cracking 235 – and general exposure. I have to think most people who bought book 1 in a series will still be reading it (or are yet to even start), so readthrough hasn’t really kicked in yet.

Maybe next month it will, and cash will fall like manna from heaven?

Let’s break it down:

  • Costs per Click – these are getting lower, which is great. Average over the period across The Saint Rise promo is 15p, with The Last at 20p – but in recent days these have come down to 13p and 19p. Every penny counts, and I’m constantly tuning.
  • What tuning? Trying new blurbs, new images, new targets. Honestly, there is so much to take on board with all of these. More on this shortly.
  • Clicks per sale looks to be about the same – a sale per every 20 clicks. To help The Last I raised its price to $2.99 from 99p. This should help off-set cost of ads. I figure once people click an ad, whether it’s 99p or $2.99 doesn’t make much difference. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t look it so far.

Facebook ads call

Today I got a call (after scheduling it) from a Facebook rep that lasted for maybe 30 minues, where they offered some advice and ideas on how to deliver better ads. Here are the highlights:

  • Every bit of engagement on an ad is weighed by the FB algorithm as a good thing, and likely to reduce cost-per-click. This can be clicks to full-screen the image, clicks on the Read More if the text is long, even just pausing to look at the image – FB knows how long you look at something! These are good things. Engagement is key to driving down costs.
  • My challenge blurbs – saying things like ‘Better than the Walking Dead!’ and ‘Better than The Name of the Wind!’ definitely drive more engagement. People call me bold. People call me out. But a good number of people say they’re trying the book based on the boldness. Why not, right?
  • Maybe my blurbs are too long… The agent said best practise is an ad text that doesn’t need to be clicked via a Read More. So I reduced one and started it running today.
  • The agent suggested running a carousel ad. I’ve only heard people dismiss these, but I decided to give it a try. I picked 6 promo images that viewers can rotate through. FB will also rotate through them automatically, and discover which one is best at converting and make that the default. They are:

It closes out with an image of me – which the agent said was very handsome :).

Will the carousel work? Will the shorter text work? Hard to say at this point. Hopefully people will click to look at more images, that increases engagement, that sells them more, and they go buy in their droves…

Or maybe it satisfies their curiosity and they don’t click the main link, having figured out it’s not for them. But even in that case, maybe it’s good. They don’t need to click the expensive (to me) link to find out this is not for them. Instead their curiosity clicks serve as fuel to boost engagement.

Well, we will see. I’ll experiment here first, and if it works then carry things over to the The Saint’s Rise promo. If FB are recommending to do it, you’d think it must work…

I’ve scheduled myself to talk about ads to my marketing group in a week or so. It’ll be interesting to dig into this – we’ve never really had anyone talk to us about FB ads before. I hope my experimentation here gets other people experimenting, and thus we all learn from each other.

8 books returned in one day!!?!

MJG Facebook Ads, Marketing, Writing 1 Comment

Yesterday I had an epic day in Facebook ad response – 29 books sold across two series, earning $54 there and then with more to trickle in over today and tomorrow, on $65 worth of spend.

Almost getting to the breakeven point? I had some great responses to ads, and as I learned from Michael Cooper, every comment on your ad increases its relevance in Facebook’s eyes. My challenge blurbs are raising a few hackles, but more people are saying they’ve gone on to buy the books in question because of the boldness!!

Someone compared me to Levar Ball. Huh? I asked. Apparently he said he could beat Michale Jordan in one-to-one basketball. I replied – “I can’t speak to that, only to the faith I have in my book.”

Yeah.

I dreamed last night of truly epic sales. 50 books! $100! I wasn’t disappointed to see the 29 sales in the morning, including one person who’d bought the whole Last Mayor series from start to finish! 8 books, $2 each to me, seemingly bearing out the theories on readthrough! Hurray!

Then today in the afternoon each of those books gets returned for a refund. I am in the negative with Amazon today! Wtf is this? Who buys 8 books by accident like this, or even on a whim, then realizes they didn’t want any of them within one day?

It seems to me like the tactic a vengeful fellow zombie author might use to hit me in the rankings. Maybe it has worked – I’ve had hardly any sales today! 29 yesterday down to just 2 today, what sense does that make?

Ugh. People can be such punks. Here is a nice picture of all 9 books to soothe away the pain:

Media Review 2019 week 6 & 7

MJG Reviews, Weekly Media Update Leave a Comment

It’s been a slow few weeks of media intake.

TV

  • Sex Education – All the week Su and I watched Sex Education! Of course I’d already watched it, but I thought that she might enjoy it too. She doesn’t normally like US high school stories about kids trying to get laid on prom night, which is what this basically is, but I figured there’s more to it than that. She loved it. I enjoyed watching it over again.
  • Russian Doll – Everybody is talking about this show, about a woman who dies again and again, like Groundhog Day. I watched the first episode, and found her abhorrent, and everyone along with her. Just awful, overly confident, slimy, gross, annoying, smug, awful people who think they’re witty and funny when they’re not, who I wouldn’t want to know. So there’s supposed to be pleasure in watching her die repeatedly? I don’t get any appeal of this show. That said, I didn’t like ‘Killing Eve’ either. This seems to be going for the same unlikable woman as a lead – I wouldn’t watch a protagonist like this whether it was a man or a woman. I can only think people just love how irreverent and rude she is. Yeah…

Movies

  • Battleship Island – Just finished watching this Korean big-budget movie about the infamous haikyo/ruin Gunkanjima, and the Korean war-slaves who were press-ganged into running its vast underwater coal mine. At 130 minutes it’s a little overlong, but the trademark Korean brutality really builds into genuine present day rage at how these people were treated by the Japanese, and how the Japanese still like to deny they did any of this stuff. If Germans deny in the same way, it’s an actual crime. In Japan it’s government policy. Some fantastic action, some rousing court-style arguments, and an amazing climax. A great movie.
  • All the Boys I’ve Loved – Light rom-com about a high-school girl who writes letters to, you guessed it, All the Boys she Loved, without ever intending to send them. But, they get sent, and rom-com antics ensue. It was fun. I don’t know if the acting was up to much, but that doesn’t really matter.
  • Us and Them – Chinese love story, not a rom-com but with plenty of laughs, set in Beijing as two youngsters grow up alongside each other as friends, becoming lovers, and… It’s a really nice, but emotionally draining movie. It makes China look just like the US or UK – and I think that’s interesting. New Year there is much like New Year here. They live in nice-looking cities. They are regular first-world people living in cramped conditions, hunting for work. Is this what it’s really like? I haven’t been so I don’t know.
  • Velvet Buzzsaw – Wacky Jake Gyllenhaal horror vehicle where he plays a feted art critic who comes across a hoard of paintings by a dead man which are imbued with evil. A nice bit of fun, with Jake’s performance just hilarious even when he’s only looking at a piece of art and not even saying anything.

News / podcasts

Nothing much going on. Brexit continues to be a thorn in the country’s sude. Trump too. The fever on both is going to have to break soon. Brexit is in a month!

Facebook ad success?!?

MJG Facebook Ads, Ignifer Cycle, Last Mayor, Marketing, Writing 1 Comment

Two weeks back I wrote about how I was getting back into Facebook ads. Well, I have done that with a vengeance, and while spending $500 from Feb 1-15 I have experienced some of my best results yet.

So am I making money?

Technically, no. But maybe yes? Let’s break it down.

After reading Michael Cooper’s book ‘My Facebook Ads Suck’ I got wise to the importance of knowing your readthrough payments. If you know what any single first-in-series book is worth to you overall, as in how much money you’ll make from a certain proprtion of people who read the whole series through, you calculate your ‘pain point’ for ad spending.

I had some troubles doing this for the 9-book Last Mayor series as there are mutiple points of entry. At the most conservative I calculated a 3% readthrough to book 9. Not good. I polled my newsletter fans and got great results on that – our focus today is on the value per book 1 sold.

Conservatively I peg that at $6, and more generously somewhere between $10 and $15. Of course it matters which it is. I’m going to have new, better, cleaner data soon.

So, armed with this, we can figure out how my ads are doing. Straight dollar to dollar, I’m losing money. Stats? Stats:

Feb 1-15 All Books

  • Total ad spend: $490
  • Total clicks: 1770
  • Average cost per click: 25 cents
  • Total books sold: 155 (Amazon, + 11,000 pages read) + 20 (Smashwords)
  • Total income: $330 (Amazon) + ($60) Smashwords = $390
  • Total loss: $100

Ouch, right? I’m paying money to Zuckerburg to lose me money. Of course, this doesn’t break down by book by book. I’m running 2 sets of ads on 2 series, let’s look at them each:

Feb 1-15 Last Mayor books

  • Total ad spend: $240
  • Total clicks: 910
  • Average cost per click: 27 cents
  • Total books sold in Last Mayor series: 76 (Amazon, + 10,000 pages read) + 5 (Smashwords)
  • Total income: $150 (only on Amazon)
  • Total loss: $80

So I lost $80 on these ads – and that already takes into account some readthrough. Actual direct sales of book 1 only accounted for $40. So $120 were sales of sequels. But, given that in a 2-week period few people will have read more than 1 or 2 books, it’s not really fair to consider that the whole readthrough. Prior to these ads I barely sold 80 copies in the last 6-months.

Therefore, let’s take the conservative $6 figure and recalculate sales

  • Total ad spend: $240
  • Total sales of book 1: 43
  • Sales calculated at $6 value: $260
  • Total proft: $20

Ha! $20. If my conservative figures are right, I’m treading water on these ads. Not gaining. Not losing. As I said earlier, I wasn’t selling Last Mayor books organically before this, so this is a worthwhile thing to do, if only for the few extra reviews it’ll generate and the longstanding bump in rank (maybe worth something?)

Yet that’s not all. Let’s do a few more stats:

  • Cost of Sale (the actual cost to me of acquiring a single sale): $240 (ad spend) / 43 (number of book 1 sold): $5.58

So every sale costs me $5.58, and I make $6. How efficient is that?

  • Clicks per sale (how many clicks on a FB ad does it take me to sell a book): 910 (total clicks) / 43 (total sales): 21

That’s actually a pretty good-looking stat! Michael Cooper estimated 30 clicks per sale on his ads, so I’m converting well. So why am I not profiting more? The issue is those costs-per-click. At 27 cents per click, I’m eating any possible profit margin – but, I am getting some low click rates:

  • Walking Dead-targeted ads: 20-cent clicks
  • Apocalypse fiction-targeted ads: 29-cent clicks

I’ll probably turn off the Apocalypse fiction ads, as they are pulling the average up, and just run the Walking Dead ads. At 20-cents per click, I should start seeing better profits on readthrough. These are with blurb ads (just the book blurb) and blurb-challenge ads (book blurb opening with a boast about how it’s better than Walking Dead).

So, yes. I’ll keep eating the current cost, and fine-tuning, because potentially this is profitable. We’ll see over a month or longer if the readthrough is really $6 or if it’s better. Maybe it’ll dig me out of the hole and then some. Maybe I’ll also write a post about what my specific book blurbs are.

Now on to The Saint’s Rise.

Feb 1-15 The Saint’s Rise

  • Total ad spend: $260
  • Total clicks: 1240
  • Average cost per click: 20 cents
  • Total books sold in the Ignifer Cycle series: 79 (Amazon)
  • Total income: $180 (Amazon) + $50 (Smashwords) = 230
  • Total loss: $30

So these are remarkably similar to sales numbers on the Last Mayor series, but a lower loss. The cost-per-click is way down, but probably the number of clicks per sale is going to be higher. First, let’s consider readthrough value – assigning an observed readthrough of 25% (not great but give it a while longer to come through) to The Rot’s War. So each sale of The Saint’s Rise is worth a figure of $3.50.

  • Total ad spend: $260
  • Total sales of book 1: 64
  • Sales calculated at $3 value: $224
  • Total loss: $36

Yeah, that is not so bad – actually I realize this is the exact same calculation as the total figures, just run in reverse. The poor readthrough to book 2 may be an issue here, but again, I don’t have clean data right now, and won’t for a while. Most people who picked up the first book won’t have read it through in the last 2 weeks (160,000 words).

So, readthrough may be better. I need to keep holding my nerve to see if that readthrough materializes… Let’s look at efficiency:

  • Cost of Sale (the actual cost to me of acquiring a single sale): $240 (ad spend) / 64 (number of book 1 sold): $3.75

So there it is. I’m making $3.50 with readthrough and spending $3.75. Really interesting. I thought the Saint sales were propping up the Last sales, but it seems they’re both doing about the same business.

  • Clicks per sale (how many clicks on a FB ad does it take me to sell a book): 1240 (total clicks) / 64 (total sales): 19

I am getting good conversion! Even better than with The Last, which was 21 clicks per sale. So what to do here? Each sale costs a reasonable amount, but far less than sales on The Last. I make fewer money per book through due to weak readthrough, but that may not be accurate. What’s the answer?

I think I’ll raise prices on these books by a dollar each. If I can raise prices and maintain the same conversion, I’m doing good, and should edge past breakeven whether readthrough increases or not. If I can’t do either they’ll only ever lose money and I should shut them down.

Hoo boy. It’s good to do a deep dive.

Conclusions and Action Plan

  • Hold my nerve on Last Mayor ads and try and get clicks below 20-cents regularly. Ultimately I should do some work on the series to improve readthrough rates. Also, I’ll keep an eye on the read through rate and check back in a few weeks to see how it stands, with this cleaner data.
  • Raise prices on The Saint’s Rise and hold my nerve to see if readthrough improves.

So can I call these ads a success? I think in the sale per click situation, I’m converting well, and better than Michael Cooper laid out as a benchmark (he said 1 sale per 30 clicks, I’m getting 1 per 20). On readthrough though I’m doing poorly – that’s a big thing to fix. I can’t do anything with the Saint’s Rise as it is now locked forever, after they made the audiobooks, but I can make changes to The Last Mayor series, at some point when I have time.

So, yes. Next step, apply this learning to some new books with better readthrough!