Saint Justice sales page tweaks – 2020 Writing Week 6

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week I was kind of busy at work, so had less brain space for writing – but I have been on an emotional rollercoaster re- ads and the sales conversion of Saint Justice.

Last Mayor rank/sales

For some reason, my zombie boxset has tapered off from sales rank circa 3000 to more like 8000. I’m not sure why exactly, it seems to be selling a pretty consistent 15-20 /day just like the high times. A lot of fellow zombie box sets have dropped also, but a couple haven’t so…

I up the AMS spend, try some new targeting techniques – including grabbing ASINs via Chrome extensions like the ASIN grabbing tool and the ASIN picker, then snatching up either also-boughts from mine and related book pages, or picking books that are on a Kindle daily or monthly deal.

Results yet to come in.

Saint Justice low conversion

The conversion rate of Saint Justice has continued to be a concern – especially with the audiobook coming. I need to be able to sell in numbers to recoup the audio investment, but to date it seems my ads are not paying off.

Here’s what happens. FB sends me lots of clicks, way cheaper than AMS (around 20p a click compared to 60p on Amazon), but very few become sales. Like, maybe none. Likewise on AMS, it doesn’t serve my daily budget, but what it does serve doesn’t lead to sales. In the last 7 days I spent $60 on ads but sold 2 books due to that.

Ugh.

So what is it? Well, the ads both show the book cover and a snippet of blurb, and that is pulling people in. When they get to the sales page though, they are turned off. Of course, the market is competitive, and there are lots of other more accomplished thrillers on my book page, but still. It’s cheap, the cover’s good, and reviews are fine (4.1 out of 5). I have got some shitty reviews weighing me down, but can’t do much about it other than rework the book, which I’ve already done.

So it’s the blurb?

I researched other thrillers. Mainstream thrillers like Jack Reacher skew heavily on ‘patriotic’ and being ‘clean’ of swear words. They don’t use words like brutal or terrifying or vicious. Off-beat thrillers like Dean Koontz go darker, may talk about mutilation and brutality and such – but focused on serial killers. None that I could see double terrorists with brutality.

That’s what I do. I want to hit the mainstream – it’s bigger. My cover says mainstream. My book though is off-beat. I’ve been filing off edges for a while now. There are very few swears now, damage to Wren is less, brutality is reduced, death count tamed somewhat, political messaging pushed into the background.

So I remove ‘brutal’ and ‘frightening’ and ‘what the hell did I just read’ from my blurb. Swap them for ‘pulse-pounding’, ‘exciting’, and ‘patriotic’. Make the book ‘safer’. I want people to enjoy reading it, not be exhausted and have no interest in reading the second. No bad taste in mouth at the end. Goodies win bigger.

I also put out a call on a forum asking for thoughts – someone said a few pointers on my cover – would be better with a running man that a calm hitch-hiker guy. I swap it. Fix the font weight on my name (MIKE and GRIST were different sizes – visually complex). Also, someone says there is too much world-building, and maybe even it strays into SF. I didn’t know what was SF – ‘psy-ops’? ‘death cult’?

No.

This person says ‘A civil war is brewing in the wilds of America’. Like, it’s dystopian, end of the world. Also – that line is too real, too politically uncomfortable. So I swap it- ‘A major terror attack is brewing in the wilds of America.’ It’s just as true. Also – I change the psy-ops to anti-terror, the death-cult to suicide cult, and trim words in other places too – ‘beginning threads of a mass trafficking conspiracy’.

So – faster, cleaner, more urgent cover, no SF (I hope – I can’t see it anyway), and less brutality. Will conversion rise? It has to! I will keep tweaking until I hit it. Fascinating stuff, really. What do 65+ American men really want from their thrillers? It’s not the brutal and gory stuff I’m accustomed to on shows like Game of Thrones and Walking Dead. It’s more like Elementary, maybe…

Interestingly, I found the Jack Reacher/Bourne/Rapp readers are male 65+. The Dean Koontz/Jeffery Deaver readers are tilted toward women 55+. Hmm.

Any thoughts on new cover and blurb? https://www.amazon.com/Saint-Justice-Christopher-Wren-Thrillers-ebook/dp/B07RNDMDSV

Saint Justice audio & more AMS trials – 2020 Writing Week 5

MJG Weekly Media Update, Weekly Writing Update Leave a Comment

This week I’ve been drafting hard behind my fantastic narrator, Nick Cracknell. He finished up reading Saint Justice yesterday, and I put together a helluva edits document, with lots of re-reads, snippets to be cut out, and so forth.

He finished it today. Now all that remains is for me to double-check, approve, pay, make the audiobook cover, and BOOM goes the dynamite, my first Wren thriller will be up!

Wow. A month, all in. Feb will be for book 2, maybe also book 3. So exciting.

And so many edits! I’m really glad Nick is game to do them. There’s nothing like hearing a narrator read your work to spot where the slow parts are. I highlight them, give him a timestamp, and he snips them out. Easy!

Other Wren thoughts

In the last couple days I wrote another 3000 words on Wren book 4. I re-read and edited those sections, and man, they are good. Left me feeling jacked. Propulsive, high-octane, like nothing I’ve read or seen before, but grounded in reality (I think). Excited to get this fourth book out the door.

Only problem is, Saint Justice is barely selling! Is this down to AMS ad failures? I’m spending some $10 a day of a $30 budget, getting clicks but very few conversions. Why is this? I don’t know. It’s true there’s enormous competition. The star rating of 4.1 is competitive. Is the sales page not convincing?

This week I took a couple steps to try and tackle this:

Saint Justice cover

I had a couple things I wanted to change about the original cover for Saint Justice:

  • The clouds were very jaggy and repetitive, especially on the right, since I’d just copy-pasted them.
  • The title was perhaps odd – my name so huge was the only thing you could read at smaller sizes. But who am I?
  • Wren himself is small. The contrast is off, so he doesn’t stand out too much.

I set out to fix these issues. Here are a few iterations:

I started with the text. I made the title big and my name small, but it ended up looking odd, and it wasn’t consistent across books, and it wasn’t how I’d designed the images in the first place.

So I shifted back! This was after a day of tweaking and fiddling. Often it takes tweaking and fiddling, like with the text of a book, to figure out what direction is best. I took out the tagline, trimmed the blurb from Oli Harris, and reduced the series tag substantially.

Maybe you can’t see much difference. This level of tweaking took all day!

Already the cover is cleaner. I also fixed the sky with a sky image I already bought, made the title wider, and then zoomed the whole thing in. Now the landscape is bigger and Wren is bigger too. Finally I added contrast around Wren – made the oval around him brighter so his silhouette pops more.

I like this cover better. The changes are subtle. Will they make any difference to sales conversion? I kind of doubt it, but maybe…

Saint Justice blurb

In recent edits I took out all mention of cults, white supremacists and such. I thought I was making it more palatable, but in truth there was little left. So I looked at some competitors and did some copying. Here is the new blurb, as amped up as I can make it:

SOLE SURVIVOR OF AN ALL-AMERICAN DEATH CULTTHE GREATEST PSY-OPS AGENT IN AMERICAN HISTORYNOW AMERICA’S HUNTING HIM

SAINT JUSTICE is the first standalone vigilante thriller in the bestselling Christopher Wren series:

On the run from Uncle Sam, cult leader and ex-DHS agent Christopher Wren walks into a biker bar in northern Utah, looking only to get beaten up. What he uncovers instead is repugnant – a vast human trafficking operation run with ruthless corporate precision, funnelling thousands of homeless people from the streets to…

Nobody knows. Nobody cares.

They should.

But the Department of Homeland Security won’t listen to Wren’s warnings. Outlawed for running his own secret ‘cult’ on the side, a group built to rehabilitate criminals the system couldn’t handle, DHS’ cross hairs fall squarely on him.

Now mass civil war is brewing in the wilds of America. One spark in the tinderkeg could ignite the inferno, and Wren finds himself alone in the dark, hunted by both DHS and the brutal traffickers, watching the spark fall.

It takes a cult leader to kill a cult.

If you like action heroes with the grit of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, the intelligence of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon and the sheer audacity of Barry Eisler’s John Rain, then you’ll love Christopher Wren.

Pick up SAINT JUSTICE and start your Christopher Wren adventure today!

What readers are saying about the Christopher Wren series:

***** “Brilliant. A brutal and disturbing foray into the underbelly of humanity with a truly flawed protagonist.”

***** “Brutal and bloody, and a bloody good read!!”

***** “Adrenaline junkies take note. Mike Grist has what you need!”

***** “Frighteningly realistic. A fantastically scary read!.”

***** “Kept me captivated from beginning until end. Grist is an amazing story teller. Not for the faint of heart…”

***** “Floored! What in the hell did I just read? Five stars!”

Each book in the explosive Christopher Wren series is a standalone thriller. Begin with whichever book you want. But be warned: once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

Book 1: SAINT JUSTICE

Book 2: MONSTERS

Book 3: REPARATION

Book 4: RELEASE CHRISTOPHER WREN (coming soon)

It’s longer, fuller, and hopefully more exciting. Many rivals talk about how their guy is the best assassin in the world or some such – so I made a similar boast – the best psy-ops agent in history. Now we lead with America hunting him. After that I’ve basically combined my oldest blurb with bits of the newer one.

I also added select reviews – I think these really help. They’re all genuine. Will this make a difference? No way to now.

Further AMS ad experiments

This week my experiment was to set all bids at 50c. The zombie ads partially served and the Wren ads didn’t serve at all. Therefore – I need to boost.

OR – what I’ve actually done is twofold.

  • Reduce Saint Justice back to 99c. I saw some other newish thriller authors do this for their first book. OK.
  • Started up some FB ads. All new copy, but the same images. Basic copy, though, same old targeting. Here’s the ad:

I think it all helps. FB ads have been delivering at knockdown prices of 12c / click. It compares great to AMS ads, where the going rate is at least 75c

Repetition! Explanation! AMS Experimentation – 2020 Writing Week 3&4

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Oh my word, do the lessons about my writing frailties ever end?

Saint Justice edits

I thought a had a bead on my tendency to run long, self-indulge and repeat myself endlessly – but actually all those lessons have come most powerfully since I edited the Last Mayor whole series. I blathered via deep-cut technobabble, repeating events from alternate perspectives and just foggy logic.

That’s all gone now from the Last Mayor. But the Last Mayor edits took place after I wrote Christopher Wren 1. Oh my. Now, with the narrator reading the book and presenting it to me in a whole new way, it becomes super clear when a section is getting boring.†

  • Wren explains things. He explains things again and again. The same things. He uses different metaphors to explain them, stacking atop each other. He explains a bit more. How this works. How that works. The weight of the mental cost of whatever action he takes.
  • I explain things. Forcing plot threads to marry up, when they don’t need to be forced – lots of unnecessary solder applied at the weld line.

I can so easily detect these sections in the audio – which I can’t easily see in the text. I start drumming on the desk and thinking ‘Come on! Move on, please’.

No. There is often another paragraph of reflection to come. Maybe more.

It’s mostly too late to fix these things in the audio. I can get a few re-read, maybe get some paragraphs chopped out whole by the narrator, though it’s going to cost me more. At the same time, I can make changes to the ebook as I see fit.

It’ll be so sleek after this!

I don’t get great readthrough with Wren. There are other potential issues (tiresome hammering of social issues) – but I think this bagginess makes people innately feel like the book was a lecturesome trudge, always getting stuff explained. It doesn’t help that, in the very theme of the book, there is a lecturey style.

People don’t want that. They don’t feel compelled to read the next book – it was too slow and frustrating at times. I don’t want that anymore. I’m stripping out the slowness as much as I can.

AMS Ads

I’ve been developing a model for Amazon AMS ads in my head for a little while now. Essentially, my ad budget on AMS is like a puddle of water trying to run to the lowest level. Ad campaigns are channels cut into the sand, leading away. Big bids equals deep channels. They run fast but don’t go very far – the water runs out. Low bids run slower but go further. Lots of channels drains the puddle faster.

So – I appraised all my ads. I picked the keywords that were doing well, converting to sales, and dug those channels deeper. Up to $2 a bid in some cases. Crazy high. But I figured, if they convert well, it’s worth it. At the same time, I turned off ALL my low bid keywords that never converted. Thousands of them. So I basically forced the whole puddle to run through a few deep channels.

Guess what happened? I spent a lot of money, very fast, for very little reward. My ads tapped out by lunchtime at high prices. So, that was a mistake. The budget running out early means I never get a chance to bid for the cheaper clicks that come at the end of the day, when everyone else’s budgets have run out.

So I turn all the cheap keywords back on. I limit everything to 50c max. Now I have many thousands of shallow channels. And the result? Well, it’s too early to really say, but my sales yesterday were as good as any prior day, for a third the price. A third of the impressions, but if they are better targeted and cheaper, maybe it is fine.

We will see. The key I’m thinking now is to lower my bids until the budget rides the edge of not spending completely. At that point, rather than deepening my channels (raising my bids), I just add more ads. More channels. More keywords. Scoop up the cheap keywords on books that are not so popular, scoop a click here or there, all cheap, but together adding up to enough to drain the daily puddle.

Soon the puddle will be a lake.

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

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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

Double ugh.

But smile 🙂

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

Wren 1 audiobook

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

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

LIA

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

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

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

Wren 4

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

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

Well. It may come.

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

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

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

Wren audiobooks

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

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

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

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

Wren edits

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

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

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

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

New words

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

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

Weekend writer!!

2019 Writing Update & 2020 Plans

MJG Writing, Yearly Writing Update Leave a Comment

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

Primarily three projects defined the year:

1. Mr. Ruin rewrite, rebrand, relaunch

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

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

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

2. Last Mayor box set launch and subsequent rewrites

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Christopher Wren trilogy launch

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

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

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

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

Major lessons

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

As for 2020, what is my major goal?

Make consistent replacement money

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

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

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

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

Who knows what 2020 will bring?

All the best!

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

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 1 Comment

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

In turn:

The Light rework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m pleased.

New series?

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

So what will mine be.

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that’s exciting.

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

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

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

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

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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

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

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

Uh, what?

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

Well, now I stopped the FB ads, and –

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

Well, let’s say I raised my profile 😉

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

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

Editing Book 9

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

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

Writing Wren Book 4

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

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

Finishing old job

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

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

Audiobook auditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret editing project

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!!

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

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 1 Comment

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

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

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

Well, I felt better after realizing a few things:

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

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

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

So – no need to feel down.

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

Audiobooks

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

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

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

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

Wren too horrific?

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

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

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

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

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

So…

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

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

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

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