2019 Writing Update & 2020 Plans

Mike Grist 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!

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