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!

Further thoughts on the narrative structure of Mr. Ruin.

MJG Editing, The Ruin War, Writing Leave a Comment

As I wrote yesterday, I got feedback from my beta-read/developmental edit that the new version of Mr. Ruin got dull in the back half. I’ve been thinking about this since then, and this is where I’m at.

I’ve got two threads, call them A and B. A is the ‘real world’, set approx 2364, and it follows Ritry Goligh and his battles with Mr. Ruin, leading to a climactic battle. Thread B follows the chord as they jack deep into a mind, seeking some unknown target at the center.

I wrote the book entirely as an A B A B A B pattern. It threw people off because it was complex. Each thread was hard enough to follow on its own – with concepts and vocabulary and characters – so interweaving constantly left people very confused about who or what any of these people were, what they wanted and why. It didn’t help that both threads are told in present first-person tense.

So I switched it a little, opting for AAA BBB AAA BBB structure. This gave the reader more time to identify the individual threads and figure out what each one was about, before the flip came to the other thread.

In my recent edits, the plan was to go completely AAAAAAAA BBBBBBBBB A end. You see here that the B-thread happens right at the climax moment of the A thread. This chronology is unchangeable. I figured that it could work, gambling people would transfer their sense of narrative urgency from the A-thread to the B-thread smoothly, heightening everything.

Well, I’ve had my editor say otherwise, and that makes sense. At the climax of the A-thread, readers want the climax of that story. They are definitely not in the mode for another 40,000 words of build up to the joint climax.

This makes perfect sense. Even if readers continue reading at that stage, it’ll be with one eye on the A-thread climax, just waiting impatiently for that to come. In all my editing over these months, bringing out the narrative urgency of each individual thread, I didn’t think too much about how this cross-over would work practically.

In most narratives there is one thing providing the urgency. Other goals and threats may dance around it, but ‘story’ itself is one major threat or change. In A-thread it’s Mr. Ruin and the survival of Ritry. In B-thread it’s the general survival of the chord against a range of environmental enemies. Even though they’re connected, they’re different things. you can’t just transfer a feeling of narrative urgency.

A great parrallel is the movie Inception. The first half of the movie is largely told in the real world, with dives into the mind. The second half is one long and deep dive, much like my current strcuture. The difference is – in Inception the characters are all the same characters, pursuing the exact same stakes, fighting fresh enemies but really they’re the same enemies as all along.

In my book the B-thread characters are all versions of my A-thread lead character, but it doesn’t feel that way. The enemy is quite different, ie – it is not directly Mr. Ruin.

OK. So all that leaves is to go back to intertwining threads. AAAA BBBB AAA BBB.

I’m glad to see this. It’s frustrating but I think it’s real, so this is what I’ll return to, and call it done!  

Reeling from the editor’s comment on Mr. Ruin…

MJG The Ruin War, Writing Leave a Comment

It’s late, but this is a tough one and I want to get my thoughts down now before I go to bed.

So, I got the beta-reader/manuscript assessment editor’s feedback on the reworked version of Mr. Ruin. Broadly, he loved it. Great sci-fi. Well-written. Hardly needs any work at all, except…

It’s a big except. Much of the second half of the book was dull.

This a huge blow. Of course it’s just one person’s view. It doesn’t mean they’re right. But – this is what I was always worried about with this story – that straightening it out would leave some parts hanging in the wind.

To briefly explain, I originally wrote Mr. Ruin as two intertwining narratives that didn’t really intertwine until the very end – at which all (maybe) became clear. Readers had to swallow a fair bit of confusion to get that far.

So, really the big idea of the editing I’ve been doing for the past many months was to try and straighten the narrrative out into chronological order. I’ve just got all 3 books straightened, and now my editor says it doesn’t work. By the time the second plot started at the midpoint, all he cared about was the first plot. It makes sense. Straigthened out, you can see how the two plots connect easily, but not a lot of the narrative urgency of plot 1 carries directly into plot 2.

They each have their own urgency. When interweaving, the challenge for a reader was to absorb these two threads of urgency and invest in them both. Now the challenge is for a reader to even care about the second thread, which is hard because in this latest version it comes so late, essentially at the climax moment of thread 1.

People won’t want to delay that climax for too long. They’ll get impatient for the end.

I asked the editor what he thought about re-interweaving. He seemed pretty jazzed about it. Sigh. It does make me feel like I’ve basically accomplished nothing in all this time of editing…

BUT, I also know that that is not true. The de-interweaving really didn’t take that long. Minutes of copy-pasting, really. Most of what I’ve been doing should benefit the twin threads no matter how they’re structured – speeding things up, cutting redundancy, foregrounding narrative urgency – the usual.

SO, it should be better, still. I could argue that straightening it out really helped me see the hooks and kickers that develop through the chapters and serve to bring urgency. They’re accentuated now. It should help.

I guess I’ll re-interweave, then send him book 2 already interwoven, and see if he thinks it’s better that way.

Writing Update 2019 week 6

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

So much happened this past week! I doubled-down on FB ads, finished first-draft editing the Ruin War series, reworked the book 1 blurb with lots of peer input, calculated readthrough for the Last Mayor series and polled my fans with 120 detailed responses now and counting.

All that plus I networked twice – at First Monday Crime and my Indie Marketing group. Phew! Here are links to the key developments:

It’s been a fascinating week for me – so much useful feedback coming in. In summary – the lessons I got from both the Last Mayor survey and the blurb rework largely confirmed my findings in my post – Why I’m not yet a millionaire author. Repetition, slow pace, jargon, too much focus on world-building over narrative urgency. Really useful to keep on learning this.

In coming posts I’ll soon debut the new Mr. Ruin blurb soon, after getting feedback from the Indie group and further suggestions via email later on. I’ll also share my better-performing Facebook ads with some analysis.

Right now I should talk about all the networking I did:

Networking

At First Monday Crime the 4-member panel were really interesting – with most attention seemingly focused on Will Dean, breakout star writer of a Scandi-noir detective series beginning with Dead Snow. He spoke extremely well, was amusing, and was generally a great panel guest.

At the end of the panel I asked the question on my mind – How important to you is Primary Research? If you’ve been following my networking adventures, you’ll know this issue got me down at the end of last year, after a previous First Monday panel waxed lyrical about all the many ways they’d committed to experiencing the travails of their heroes.

Will Dean straight up said – I’m an imagination guy. I love that. Yes, check your details, and for sure – he lives in Sweden in a forest much like the setting of his books, so his whole life is a kind of primary research, but still. Yes. This. Others on the panel I think broadly agreed.

After the panel I went and bought Will’s book and asked him to sign it. We chatted a little on the research topic – he said he was concerned his answer wouldn’t satisfy. Maybe we are all a bit worried about this topic? Well, let’s cut that out. I, at least, am a storyteller first, then a marketer, then lots of other things, and a journalist last.

After that, we went to the pub. I understand a little better now why it was hard to get into chats with the more successful authors present last time – in the audience (and presumably in the pub) it is a target-rich atmosphere for them too, marketing-wise. There are publishers and agents and editors present, apparently.

It makes sense the authors would want to hobnob with these people – kind of gravitating upward. I’m the same way – keen for interesting discussions with interesting people. I get that I am low on the totem pole for this – I don’t even have a thriller published yet! It’s kind of refreshing to see we’re all trying to climb. When I got stuck in a conversation with a reader (obviously not one of my readers), it was time to bail!

We did manage to snag Will briefly – Simon had done his research and read Will’s blog, so was able to grab him on a bit of his life. Pre-research on the panel authors is clearly a must. I’d been reading Will’s book, but I suppose the blogs and social media are more arresting.

Indie Marketing group

This was a great session for me – getting really useful feedback on the Mr. Ruin blurb. We did a quickfire question round at the end, which was new too, but went well – we covered lots of areas like networking, a quick oral critique of Beatrice’s blurb (which she was not interested in any advice on! 😉 ), an issue with Jon-Jon’s Victorian cover showing a modern gun magazine rather than a revolver, and various other things. Good to do these mini checks that wouldn’t occupy a full half-hour.

Looking forward to the next one! I also got some nice comments afterward for running the group well (and on time, I think – I’m strict with the timer). Someone even said I made people ‘feel safe’, which was somehow lovely, though I’m not entirely sure what it means.

Pub was good after, catch up with folks and chat a little to the first other sf-writer I think we’ve had at the group ever!

The answers! Why people don’t read through The Last Mayor series.

MJG Last Mayor, Writing 2 Comments

Yesterday I wrote a post about calculating my readthrough on the Last Mayor series – ie. how many people who start book 1 then read all the way through to book 9.

By a conservative estimate, I came up with 3%, which seems extremely low. There’s got to be a problem there.

I thought about how to figure the reason out. There’s a big drop off in sales from book 1 to 2, but maybe this is because book 1 is often 99-cents, and 99-cent readers are less likely to finish a book, and more likely to pick up a book in the first place that may not really appeal to them.

Reviews are all solid, except for book 3 which is a little lower, but still 4.2. I thought about hiring an editor, but to get them to read all 9 books and calculate the drop-off point would take ages and be prohibitively expensive.

So I had another idea – ask my fans. I put together a newsletter – I owed one anyway – that linked to a simple google form questionnaire with 3 questions.

  • Which book did you drop off on?
  • Why?
  • How would you fix it so you didn’t drop off?

I didn’t expect much. A handful of replies, maybe? I decided to incentivise response with two $25 amazon tokens offered in a raffle draw. Why not? This is extremely valuable information to me – easily worth far more than that. If I hired an editor for this it would be thousands.

Well. Responses started pouring in immediately. I could hardly turn away each time before another response popped through – many of them with long, thought-out comments as to why they dropped off the series. I was amazed. As of this morning there are 78 responses.

I had no idea I would get that – or that so many would be so happy to offer their thoughts and expertise. Now I have a surplus of suggestions, and what do they say? Let’s take a look.

Which book did you drop off on?

All right, this is some real data. It looks like Book 1, 3, 4 and 5 are the culprits. I’m surprised Book 2 The Lost, about Anna, wasn’t blamed more often. All the tiny slivers in the top right are people who gave an ‘other’ response – usually to say they read it all or they haven’t started yet.

So what is it about those books?

Why did you drop off?

Lots of answers here. I’ll categorize them as best I can, then follow up with solutions after:

  1. Cost – Quite a lot of people talked about the price (and number) of books. 9 books is a lot. Each book has been priced at $4.99 for the last year or so, except for book 1 which was 99c. Actually, this is a lot of money to fork over. Almost $40 to get them all! Many people can’t and don’t want to spend that much on just one series – especially with so many lower-priced books everywhere. Added to which, my boxset bundles are also expensive ($9.99) and I haven’t released the boxset for books 7-9 yet.
  2. Not enough Amo – Many people talked about how they wanted more of Amo. This is good, in a way – it’s why they went on to books 2 and 3. The bad point is I didn’t give them much. Book 2 is all about Anna, with a little Amo at the mid-point. Book 3 did the same but for Cerulean, with a little Amo at the mid-point. We can see Book 3 is the biggest drop-off after book 1 – so this clearly plays a big role. I wanted to widen the world with 2 different perspectives on the early days of the apocalypse, but readers want to move forward and see what happens next.
  3. Repetition – If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know this is one of my major issues. Thanks to movies like Groundhog Day and certain episodes of LOST, I’ve come to think of seeing the same events from a different perspective as a really gripping, interesting narrative device. But my readers think I do it too much – and I think they’re right. Books 2 and 3 really do repeat quite a lot of the same ground from book 1 – as seen by first Anna, then Cerulean. I thought it’d be cool to have 3 entry point books, any of which could be the book you start on, but of course it doesn’t work that way. People start with book 1 – so a lot of books 2 and 3 is just repetitive.
  4. Time-hopping – Connected to the above 2 points. Originally – meaning the version most of these readers read, book 1 opened with some serious backstory and exposition, perhaps 3 out of 4 chapters was narrative summary of past events. That so many of them dug through all that is impressive. Then Anna’s book picks up back at the start of the apocalypse, and we have to read half the book to get up to date, then it’s a 10 year jump forward! Then book 3 for Cerulean, we open even earlier than the apocalypse, jump forward, jump back, swap to other perspectives, and…. Exhausting, I suppose, and lacking in narrative urgency across the series.
  5. Complexity – This is more of a latter book thing, going from 5 onwards. The above are mostly early book issues. Complexity picks up with Anna’s quest to take out the bunkers, and more backstory starts rearing its head. People say they didn’t know what was going on. Book 6 is OK, but then 7, 8 and 9 are humdingers. I totally accept this. Book 8 is crammed with ‘theory’ and probably needs a massive thinning out and simplifying. I’m sure they all do. Few people really understand what ‘the line’ is – there were requests for a glossary to explain it.
  6. Brutality – Somebody expressed the charm of book 1 by saying it was ‘an unexpected hero in the apocalypse’. This charm however faded as the books move forward. Book 6 stood out as being about a brutal serial rapist. Book 7 is the big one, wherein Amo becomes needlessly cruel. For some this is a shark-jumping moment. I get it.
  7. Magicky – As ‘the line’ develops in later books, Amo, Anna, Lara and others start to get magic-like powers. This is true. It was kind of baked in to the concept after book 1, though I never saw it going as far as it ultimately did.
  8. Off-genre – Similar to the above point is the fact that these books quickly stop being about zombies. Maybe only book 1 is truly concerned with them, and for only half of the book. After that they become a post-apocalyptic hodge-podge – some cults, some bunker-fights, some The Stand, a magicky war. I get this – zombie readers want zombies, not necessarily what I offer.

Phew. That’s a lot. It’s fascinating, and confirms so much of what I’ve been learning about the flaws in my storytelling, as explained in this earlier post. The answers to resolve these problems will probably also be similar to solutions I took with the Mr. Ruin books – just bigger, and more involved, because there are 9 books! And those solutions are:

How to fix it

  1. Cost – Lower prices across the board. There really is no reason not to do this. The books weren’t selling at higher price points. I’ve got people telling me they want them cheaper – so I make them cheaper. A slice of a smaller pie is better than no slice of a bigger pie. All books are now $2.99, and book 1 is 99c again. Boxset 1-3 is $4.99 and 4-6 is $5.99. I’m getting a 3D cover for books 7-9 made right now, and will release that boxset soon also at $5.99. I think these are fair. You’ll soon be able to get all the books in 3 boxset gulps for only $17 – half the price of before.
  2. Not enough Amo – This is a tough one. I’m not going to completely rewrite books 2 and 3 to fix this, but what I can do is what I already did with book 3. In edits a year or so back I opened it with Amo and Cerulean talking, after the events of book 2. So – up to date. From there, I set a threat, then dive back into backstory that builds on that threat. It then works back up to the modern day and goes forward. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. I can do the same for book 2 – so open right after the end of book 1 (instead of beginning in anna’s backstory), set a threat, the dive back to explain, work up to modern day and go forward. It’ll be better, and link the books in a straighter narrative.
  3. Repetition – As I do the above and straighten things out, I think there’ll be less need for the repetition. I’ve found this in editing the Ruin War – I could cut large chunks that previously served as mini-catchups on where things were up to, because we’re proceeding full flow and a catchup is not necessary. Trim and cut to the bone. I expect books 2 and 3 will be substantially reduced in length – as I’ll also trim areas that are thematically repetitious – like the first time Cerulean kills a zombie or such. We know from book 1 that it’s easy to do, and there is little threat. So get on.
  4. Time-hopping – This will still happen, perhaps even more so as per the plan above. But – it’ll be less jarring. As each book picks up with Amo front and center, continuing from the previous book, with a clear present-day threat outlined before we hop back, it should make more sense how things connect. Backstory stuff will be briefer. The focus will remain on the current thread of threat. I expect these 80k books (2 and 3) could drop to 50k each.
  5. Complexity – This just requires me to bull through and simplify, mostly in the latter books. Explain the line clearly, and reduce the level of detail on everything else. It’ll mean word cuts too – but I welcome this. I’m through with wanting people to read pages of dense conceptual technobabble. Just get to the point and get on.
  6. Brutality – I want to fix this. Having Amo be needlessly cruel is – if not entirely out of character for him at this stage of his life – a massive reader no-no. He’s been a good guy until now. People just instantly switch off when he becomes a bastard. There are ways around this – like Amo can think he did brutal things, and punish himself accordingly, only to find out later that he didn’t actually do them. The effect will be the same. Also, I can trim references to what Drake is doing as a serial rapist. It can happen, but we don’t need it shoved in our faces as much.
  7. Magicky – Another tough one. It’s mostly book 9 where it goes wild. I can try to tamp this down somewhat. Simplifying things, and clarifying the line, will probaby help. Ultimately, it’s the story, so I have to be willing to take some hits on this.
  8. Off-genre – As above, very little I can do here. I rebranded the series years ago as Last Mayor from the original Zombie Ocean, to take things away from pure zompocalypse in branding. It quickly becomes broader post-apocalypse fare, with bunkers and sci-fi touches and such. I still market it very much as a zombie book, because that’s the hook of book 1. I also market to post-apocalyptic people.

So – that is a great deal of work! When will I do all this work? I don’t know. I need to get on and write a few more in my new thriller series – and if that goes as well as I hope, I’ll probably be writing thrillers non-stop for a while.

I want to do all these changes, that’s the main thing. Maybe they’re the kind of bits I can do between writing new books. Fix a book at a time and upload to Amazon. I can judge then if it’s making a difference, and readthrough climbs. I’d start with book 1 and move through.

It’s pretty exciting, to think I could breathe fresh vigor into these old books. As ever, I’m sure in the editing process I will learn a lot. Thank you again to all my readers who shared their thoughts and expertise!

Calculating readthrough on the Last Mayor series

MJG Marketing, Writing Leave a Comment

Readthrough is a fascinating concept that may seem a little complex and alien at first, but is actually super obvious and essential to know when selling books in a series. You’ve probably heard Mark Dawson banging on about it. Maybe you’ve had a crack at calculating it.

It basically means – what percentage of people who read your first book in series go on to read the later books? I’ve had a go at this before, and came up with something like a 50% readthrough for my whole Last Mayor 9-book series. It’s important because it helps you determine the Cost of Sales you can bear when advertising book 1 in the series.

You calculate it by looking at sales from a given period. 10 copies of book 1 and 5 copies of book 2? That’s a 50% readthrough. 3 copies of book 9? That’s 30%. Factor in KU page reads, and you get a complete idea of how much money you can expect a single copy of book 1 to ultimately earn.

Yesterday I read Michael Cooper’s book My Facebook Ads Suck, and he went through this, and provided a handy Google Sheet that calculates Readthrough and total sales value. I did it a few different ways. All 2018. Jan 2019. The last 6 months. It was hard to get a clear idea, because I’ve variously done mass free giveaways, plus I have the boxset books 1-3 and 4-6, throwing things off.

I just ran a master calculation – not useful for getting the ultimate sales value of book 1, but more to know what my read through is. I add sales and reads for book 1 and books 1-3 boxset together – that’s step 1. Then I add book 4 and books 4-6 boxset together for step 2. Then books 7, 8, 9.

The readthrough number is disappointing. From step 1 to 2 it is 35%. Ouch. Michael Cooper says 50-60% is a good average readthrough. I’m well below. But OK, he makes compensation for 99-cent opening books – and these books were both very often at 99c. 99c readers are less likely to read the books they buy, and they pick up books less likely to really appeal to them in general. So maybe 35% is not so bad.

Then let’s take step 2 to step 3, into book 7. We’re down to 10% from step one. Again, not necessarily so bad given the 99-cent thing. But from books 4 and 4-6 to book 7, the book-over-book readthrough is 30%.

Crap. Two thirds of my readers who’ve already bought in to the series twice (ie – made purchases twice) don’t want to take it on to book 7! From there readthrough is 66% to book 8, then 55% to book 9, which is better, but yes – we’re down to much diminished numbers already.

So what’s going on? Forget the ultimate sale value – it’s probably around $5-$6 (more in a Facebook Ads post soon) – why am I getting such drop-off?

Let’s look at the books, and the reviews.

  • Book 1 – 235 reviews, 4.5 star
  • Book 2 – 40 reviews, 4.7 star
  • Book 3 – 31 reviews, 4.2 star
  • Book 4 – 40 reviews, 4.9 star
  • Book 5 – 28 reviews, 5 star
  • Book 6 – 21 reviews, 5 star
  • Book 7 – 28 reviews, 4.8 star
  • Book 8 – 18 reviews, 5 star
  • Book 9 – 18 reviews, 5 star

Hmm, no real help here. We can clearly see total review numbers dropping off, which matches the sales readthrough calculation. It also makes sense that reviews get better as we get deeper – only the fans are still reading.

But why the drop off from Book 1 to 2? Hmm. Book 1 has great reviews. Readers like it. It’s true there is no cliffhanger – the book is resolved, so perhaps there is no big drive to readthrough? Maybe some people have just had enough of me and my writing style at this point?

Book 3 is a drop off in star rating – so maybe there are issues there? However, I remember when this used to be 3.9. I made numerous edits to speed the book up over a year ago, so now to see 4.2 seems a reflection of this. People like it better.

So why? It’s a mystery. I’d love readthrough to be way up there. It would make doing advertising a lot more rewarding. Maybe I will hire an editor to look at this in particular – why do people stop reading? Your thoughts welcome!