I missed a week! I will make up for it by posting a day early and doing a combo post – there’s some big things happening, so I’ll start off easy.
Wren 6 words for the last 2 weeks
Last blog I was talking about how to push through a slow-ish talky beginning to book 6. Now I’ve doubled down on that talky beginning, but I don’t think it’s slow.
Wren is broken at the start. He has to be, after the events ending book 5. We need him to get unbroken (heed the call to adventure) before we can dive in, so we have to unbreak him. How? Well, psychological manipulation, of course!
Early problems with writing this sequence involved:
- Wren no fully grasping all the misery that’s been thrown at him, and only responding to it in part. Obviously, he’s going to be deepest affected by the deepest stuff – not just the immediate monster-of-the-week threat.
- Wren recovering too fast. It has to be earned. He can’t just get over it without any push or payment.
- Wren getting too weepy in the recovery. He can’t do this either. While crying is fine for men, Wren can’t do it because he has to be strong, and for him, that strength has to come from the inside. Certainly at the open of the book, anyway.
- Picking the friendly-fire antagonist who pushes Wren to deal with his grief. I picked wrong a couple of times. I think I have it now.
So the sequence is set. I have 13,000 words. That may shrink, but we will see.
Facebook limit and new reader group
The last week in marketing was marked by my attempt to set up a Facebook Custom Audience based on my 2,000-strong newsletter list (for retargeting and making lookalike audiences – as recommended by Mark Dawson). I couldn’t do it without first making a Business Manager account, so I did that.
Unfortunate side effect of this was that my account got limited to a $50 a day spend, because it looks like a new account. That holds for 2 weeks. I’ll be able to import my newsletter after this 2 weeks also.
All fine. But the $50 a day limit really made me realize a couple of things:
- Facebook is pretty much the only way I profitably sell books
- I am therefore super reliant on Facebook – what if things changed and these ads were blocked/prices surged/some other unforeseen outcome that prevents me selling?
- At the same time I listened to a 6 Figure Author odcast with Joe Solari who talked about marketing other than ads.
Marketing other than ads?
Essentially it’s about delivering more value to the customers you already have rather than chasing new customers (ads). This is done through content marketing – and hoping they love it enough to spread it to their friends for free.
Well – I’d been meaning to do this for ages – I set up my writer group on Facebook, and decided to go ahead and make a Wren fan page. Here it is:
I invited my ARC team and 11 members have come over to join – there’s been a little interaction, and I think it’s going to be a fun thing to build, run and contribute to. I’ve got lots of ideas for content. Having a more direct connection to readers is a great thing.
Further – I’m thinking to cross-post some of the best content from the FB group to this blog, maybe other social media. We’ll see if I bother to do that ;).
More Wren 1 rewrites
Another corollary of the FB ad limit is that I felt I had budget for boo improvement/promotion, but nowhere to spend it. I did my Amazon ads again but thye ever work, so quit.
I decided to revisit series readthrough. And it’s actually looking pretty bad. Easiest way is maybe looking at money – as that includes both ebooks sold and pages read through KU.
This month so far, book 1 sold $430. Book 2 sold $120. That’s 27% reading through, less than a third. Book 3 is $80, which is 20% readthrough.
Now, this is obviously bad. It is also a huge step up from a year ago, when I was getting a 15% readthrough. Improvements have worked. De-violencing, unkilling, unswearing, speeding up, they have all aided readthrough. That’s great.
But 27% is still not good enough. At 27% I am scraping a profit. Imagine if I had 60% readthrough – which is what many authors report. 80%. Wow. I’d be making ROI of 100% thanks to readthrough. I could crank up ad spend massively and see massive rewards.
So, yes. Book 1 is still a problem. Read through from book 2 to 3 is 75%, which I’d prefer to be closer to 90%, so that’s a problem too. There is room for improvement, and I have budget so…
I hired a couple of beta readers on Fiverr. About $150 total. Within 4 days, the first had replied, and it was a doozy. She went after the book, and Wren, hard. Really seemed to hate him. Said no man would want to be him, no woman want to sleep with him, a violence-spraying monster worse than the monsters he hunted.
OK ouch. She’s not done though. She says he’s a Designated Hero – which means the author wants him to be the hero, but the reader doesn’t see why. She said he’s a textbook case of Darkness-based Audience Apathy – which means things are so dark nobody cares. She says he’s the antagonist at the start, comes across as an asshole, but looking on the bright side, this means people can stop reading before they go any further.
lol. Crazy. Rudely harsh.
But, probably not wrong. People have always said the opening scene paints Wren as a bully. An antagonist. Yes, the guys he is going to fight are white supremacists, and bad dudes, but right in that moment they are doing nothing wrong. Wren antagonizes them. Picks a fight. Not because he’s righting some wrong, but because he’s miserable and is using them to make himself feel better.
Ugh. Right? Dark. And why does he feel dark? SPOILER – it’s because he had night terrors and beat up his own family. Gross. If we don’t believe in Wren – this might sound like the kind of excuse a Domestic violence guy wuld come up with. I was asleep. It was a night terror. I didn’t mean to do it.
It paints Wren as, at the minimum, dangerously irresponsible.
Compounding this, the beta reader said the story is told in a convoluted way. We open with Mason, when we should open with Wren. Throughout we get distracting Mason flashbacks. There are also Wren flashbacks these days – which I added in an effort to humanize him.
Double ugh. Triple punch. KO.
She says there is too much. Cults. Race war. His family. Mason. His father. Pick one or a couple max and pursue that. Very helpfully, she cited John Wick.
John Wick is miserable at the start, until some guy steals his car, or is it steals his dog? Anyway, sets off to get it back. Limited response, set right a smal injustice. But that small injustice keeps ballooning, so his response keeps ballooning. Wren should be the same. He shouldn’t be the antagonist.
I think about Jack Reacher. I read Midnight Line – in which he hunts a woman based on a hunch. He’s the antagonist, inserting himself in a case where there isn’t really an injustice. It plays badly. Thanks to his intervention, lots of people die and injustices happen that needn’t have.
Compare that to Killing Floor, the first Jack Reacher. He walks into a town and gets arrested and framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Instant injustice. We are on Reacher’s side. He must act to clear his name.
I need that with Wren. I also need people to feel he’s a normal human operating at the edge. Not a wildly dangerous monster.
To the rewrites
I took all this on board and thought hard. I went to bed thinking of it, dreamed all night about it, and woke up the next day thinking of it. No answers came. How to fix these issues – they felt too deeply buried in who Wren is.
If I straighten out the timeline and remove some of the darkness, then do I come up front and say Wren beat up his family via night terrors in chapter 1? Who would read on? It’s monstrous, and way too much horror/guilt to take on. Most of these books have a dead partner/wife/friend/family caused by terrorists or the CIA or some bad guy.
I wanted to subvert that. Maybe I was being didactic about mental health issues. You pump someone full of horror, it’s going to spill out. But readers don’t want to be lectured. They don’t want to be lashed with horror. they want a good guy who takes out bad guys. You can dirty that up some, but not so much.
Wren is too dirty. So if I want to straighten out his timeline, I have to change his backstory. Further, I have to make him not the antagonist. He can’t walk into a bar and pick a fight – making himself feel better at someone else’s expense.
Another big point after this is Mason. I can take him out pretty easily – I’ve done it before for a short trial. One thing this beta reader said that made me think taking him out is a good idea – is the scene where Mason shoots Wendy disgusted her. That is the point – but I don’t want to disgust people.
Take Mason out, that visceral scene is gone. We can reference it later and it will be there, but not visceral. The same goes for every book int he series. It is always these alternate POV scenes that are most horrifying. Openings of books 2 and 3 are particularly horrible.
I can cut them. Important details get repeated in Wren’s POV anyway. Maybe I lose nothing. The story gets cleaned up. One POV, like Reacher or John Wick. It makes me think my story currently is hanging with lots of heavy weights. Didactic stuff, dark stuff, complex mystery, overlaping timelines. There is an engine and a story, but they are bowed under the weight.
Take them off. One more thng she said, which I am as yet uncertain how to andle – is that the story moves too fast. To the MAX at all times. I don’t know. There are plenty of moments of reflection, I thought. I figure I fix all the above, and then look at this…
How am I fixing Wren 1
First up – I want to say there’s no need to worry. The original Wren story will always be there. It won’t be lost. This is a remake, maybe. Here’s what I’ll do:
- Cut Mason’s POV. This’ll knock maybe 6,000 words off the story. OK.
- Cut Wren’s flashbacks. This’ll straighten things out and knock off another 6k. Now we’re down to 60,000 words!
- Open chapter 1 with Wren’s immediate backstory. I’ll embed it in present threat, like Baldacci’s Memory Man, so I think it can work. His backstory is now quite different. He quits the CIA. He goes home to see his family – but instead of happy times chased by violent night terrors, they are just gone. His wife learned he is CIA somehow. Fearing for her family with this incedibly violent guy who’s lied to her for years, she just goes. Maybe we hate her? Doesn’t matter. We aren’t hating Wren. This is, perhaps, an injustice done to him. Certainly not an injustice he has committed (though he lying is – no way around that).
- So we need immediate threat that dovetails with the rest of the story. I resolve this with Wren sitting in his truck, staring at the desert. Not a biker bar. BUT – bikers come to him. Round on him on the side of the road. They’re going to lynch him. Steal his truck. Clear injustice. Not a million miles away from a common fear – getting carjacked on the highway.
- We pick up with Wren heading to Eustace. Same as before. Now though, his forgiveness of Eustace must look better. Also – he’s not just chasing the Jeep. Some drawings from his kids were in the car. He wants them back. This has got to be stronger motivation – one people can get behind. Simple.
- From there on, the story continues as before. Wren gets pulled into the bigger injustice and chases it around the country, thinking of his missing family still. What he’d do for them.
Well. This is by far the biggest change I’ve made yet to this book – as it involves fundamentally changing chapter 1. Previously I had altered it lots, but always tinkering with ways of keeping Wren going in the bar, but making him seem less antagonistic. Making the bikers worse.
Those ways didn’t work. Maybe this new version will.
Once this is done, I’ll need to go through all the books to make them synchronized. Wren’s changed family backstory will play a role. I’ll remove all the alternate POVs. The horror will come down. The story will straighten out. I may keep a couple here or there – like the Pyramid flashbacks with the pit and Chrysogonus.
It’s tricky. I really like the alternate POVs. They dig into radical human psychology. But maybe that is the problem… I’ll try it. We’ll see. Kill your darlings, right?