Starting Wren 5, sales page conversion & mentoring – 2020 Writing Week 25

Mike GristWeekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Starting Wren 5

Last week I planned to write 10,000 words in Wren book 5 by today – so much have I done?

2,000 words. Ha! But then, I wrote 5,000 on one track, did a lot of research, then had a long night of dreaming about it to realize it didn’t work. There are two reasons it didn’t work:†

  • It was totally crazy, and highly unrealistic. Mission Impossible-level cool, but a bit too mad, and I’m tired of getting comments about the realism of these books. I don’t want to jump the shark!
  • More importantly, it glossed over so much of the past 4 books. It jumped ahead to the next sequential threat, without taking time to register the building threat level overall, or properly address Wren’s response to it. This is tough stuff. In Jack Reacher books there is zero carryover book to book. In mine there is, though I’d like them to stand alone. In this case, the threat has to really build. So, a different start.

I’ve got 2,000 words on this new start. I’m very excited about where it will go. Hopefully by this time next week, I’m at 12,000 words.

Sales page conversion

This is really fascinating stuff to me. I talked about it some last week, regarding Wren book 1, trying to get the conversion rate up. The changes I made were – reduce amount of blah social proof, reduce genre confusion with reference to ‘apocalypse cult’, take out all mention of Wren as a cult leader, reduce length, remove series order.

This immediately made a difference. I didn’t change anything about my ads, so I should have been getting the same quality of leads, and conversion went from 1 in 20 to more like 1 in 10.

Wow, right? As if by magic. Why hadn’t I done this earlier? Well, because I didn’t know!

Anyway, I wasn’t happy with 1 in 10. I did some more research, and decided to model a Jack Reacher blurb. I discovered most of the Reacher blurbs include a strong woman. It’s legit – Reacher always teams up with a woman in whatever town he lands in. Surely this must help him appeal to women?

I look at FaceBook audience insights and see that the Jack Reacher fan page likes are split evenly men and women. I look further, and see that the Kindle page likes skew massively toward women.

This is relevant, because when I advertise on Facebook, I always narrow by Kindle. So the people seeing my ads are primarily women. I can see my click stats, they’re about 50/50 women. But they hit a sales page that doesn’t mention women once.

Now, I’m sure women read stories that are only about men all the time. I am also sure that women like to see women in stories in decent roles. They probably like a bit of romance. Heavy thrillers with no women and no hint of romance will perform less well with women than thrillers that have that. The trick is to put it in there without putting off the men, who probably don’t want romance.

Here’s how I added it to Saint Justice. A tagline I never used before, though it is the first chapter hook of the book:

A homeless veteran saves his pennies to buy flowers for his sweetheart. But his sweetheart’s gone. Kidnapped in a violent, tactical strike by paramilitary forces. Along with hundreds more.

I think this is probably my strongest tag yet. We isntantly like this homeless veteran, right? He seems sweet, a bit hapless, a bit romantic. It sets the stakes as being about these two helpless sweethearts. Then we get the injustice.

Thsi was the other learning I had from reading Jack Reacher books – it doesn’t describe some far-off injustice – it makes it happen to Reacher, up front and personal. See:

Jack Reacher jumps off a bus and walks fourteen miles down a country road into Margrave, Georgia. An arbitrary decision he’s about to regret.

Reacher is the only stranger in town on the day they have had their first homicide in thirty years.The cops arrest Reacher and the police chief turns eyewitness to place him at the scene. As nasty secrets leak out, and the body count mounts, one thing is for sure.

They picked the wrong guy to take the fall.

We have a para on Jack, then one where he is arrested and framed, a sentence showing things spiraling, then a promise of violence to come.

Pretty great. We immediately feel the injustice. Here’s my new version:

Rogue DELTA operator Christopher Wren pulls off I-70 after three weeks on the road and walks into a biker bar in Price, Utah. An arbitrary decision he’s about to regret.

Wren’s a stranger in a gang bar involved with human trafficking. The bikers attack Wren, leave him for dead and steal his truck.

Now he’s going to get it back.

From a secret warehouse in the desert. Ringed with fences. Filled with human cages.

As a dark national kidnapping conspiracy unfolds and the body count mounts, one thing is for certain.

It’s longer, but not by so much. I’ll probably iterate and optimize over time. But it solves a problem I had earlier – Wren being a bully, and the blurb operating at a level of ‘interest’.

It used to be – ‘Wren walks into a biker bar, looking only to get beaten up.’

There’s no injustive here. Only curiosity. Why would anyone ‘want’ to get beaten up? It’s not nearly as powerful as injustice. So now I have 2 injustices stacked, and connected. The homeless vet gets his sweetheart snatched, and Wren gets beaten up and loses his truck.

So far, it seems to be working. Since I had this blurb up, with no other changes to marketing, I’ve been converting around 1 in 7. The book has actualy been profitable for several days in a row – pretty much the the first time that ever happened! Wow. That is the power of genre, and the blurb.

I liked this result so much I decided to apply it to my zombie series, The Last Mayor. This huge 9-book boxset is already profitable. It has been for ages, and is what has been sponsoring Wren through his losses. But what if it was more profitable?

The demographic has a similar gender breakdown. If anything, more women read these kinds of books. Matched with the more women in Kindle, I’m looking at a female audience. They clearly like blood, guts and gore – but wouldn’t they like a little hint of romance too?

I’ve never hinted at this in the blurb. It has always been straight zombies, apocalypse, end of world. It’s weird, because it is Amo’s primary motivation in the book. Find Lara. So, I add it. Here:

Talented comic book artist Amo finally asks his beautiful local barista, Lara, on a date. That night, the world ends.

New York is overrun.

Zombies rampage through the streets of Manhattan. Planes spiral out of the sky. Amo is alone, maybe the last person alive in a world of the raging dead, but now he’s got a job to do – search for and save Lara, along with any other survivors.

But the zombies are not what he thought they were, and soon everything will change…

This is way simple. I had a lot more, about Amo’s migraines, how he’s risking his life to date a girl, but all that is interest – not excitement. I think ‘finally’ does a lot of work to make us like Amo. He’s been building up to this. It’s not easy for him.

Then, like with the Wren blurb, hope is snatched away. The female character is ‘beautiful’ and named – Lara. She recurs later on. The rest of the blurb is just the same, except for adding Lara.

I have no idea if this will convert better. I’m definitely sending majority women via clicks to this sales page. I guess it depends what those women are looking for. My feeling is – they like the human relations, the little communities, more than the zombies. I added a testimonial, only one of two now, that mentions how much someone loved the characters, and read the books multiple times.

I want to get that stuff in there, while not putting off the men. We will see over the few days if it has worked. Immediate results yesterday, with a half-done blurb that was way more wordy, was bad. Lower conversion. I’m also dealing with exhausting my audiences on Facebook, though. So we’ll see. I can always go back to the previous blurb.


I did 2 mentoring sessions this past week or so, with members from my marketing group. Primarily this was about Amazon ads – I know quite a lot about these, though I’m not having the best success with them. They cost a great deal per click, around 71 cents compared to 18 cents on FB, and I’m very dubious.

Anyway, I gave some advice on managing clickthrough rate and stuff.

The more interesting discussion came with one author’s genre. She was struggling to sell in an unpopular genre – one I know a fair bit about. The cover signaled this genre strongly, the blurb signaled far more broadly, and apparently the text doesn’t signal it at all. The text is a whole other genre, but with a character who falls outside of the normal age range for this kind of story.

I recommended changing cover, blurb, and making alterations to the text to better reflect the true genre. Knowing this wouldn’t happen, I recommended some light changes to better match the unpopular genre. I doubt it’ll sell, but that is the way things go, sometimes. We used to have agents and marketing departments to provide these guiderails for us. Now we have to know our genre ourselves.

By next week

I should be up to 12,000 words on Wren book 5, and I should have solid data on whether my blurb alterations for both Wren and the zombie series have been consistently effective at increasing conversion. Fingers crossed.

Maybe I’ll write a book on this subject. It’s pretty key, and seems to be underserved. I’ll kick around some ideas.

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