Major Christopher Wren overhaul – 2020 Writing Week 13

Mike Grist Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Bad blurb

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

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

It takes a cult leader to kill a cult.

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

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

Nobody knows. Nobody cares.

They should.

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

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

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

It takes a cult leader to kill a cult.

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

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

Nobody notices. Nobody cares. Nobody except Wren.

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

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

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

Book cover for book 4!!

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

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

Cool, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s tackle them on the criteria:

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

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

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

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

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

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