2021 Writing Review, 2022 Plans

Mike GristWriting, Yearly Writing Update Leave a Comment

It’s been a huge year in my writing career, ever since March when the Wren thrillers took off in a way I could only dream of.

I set out into 2021 with a few clear goals:

  • Write 2 Wren thrillers and 1 book in a new series
  • Make replacement money from my writing
  • Get all the Wren books into audiobook format

I hit almost all 3 of those. I got the 2 Wren thrillers done and launched, I made replacement money, and I got 4 audiobooks made. Let’s get into it:

2 Wren thrillers

As the year began, I was wavering a little on how far I was going to take the Wren books. The Production Department (me writing) was doing its job, but the Marketing Department (me running ads) wasn’t having the success to make the Production feel worth it.

I thought I’d close out the arc with Wren’s father, and see how I felt. The series could cap at 6 or 7 books, and I’d move onto a new series.

Then March happened. I wrote all-new opening chapters for book 1, and changed the text throughout, and got a new blurb and new covers for the whole series, and overnight everything flipped. I’ve detailed this at length elsewhere, but the impact these changes had have been foundational.

That month I made enough to call myself a 6-figure author, if that amount continued.

Replacement money

In the following months, as I ramped up my Facebook ad spend to dizzy heights (that threatened my cashflow solvency), the amount I was making increased too. That lasted for a whopping five months.

It was incredible. Then in September it stopped, and sales and profits basically halved. There’s a few potential reasons for this, including the various things both Apple and Facebook did that made ads less effective and profitable, but the core issue was this:

  • I exhausted the audience on Facebook.

Facebook was the primary source of all my sales. For those 6 months since March, I was getting excellent response rates on Facebook, because the audience of thriller readers hadn’t seen my books before. My costs per click were cheap, because first-time viewers of an ad click way more than second or third or fourth-time viewers.

Gradually, though, I burned through the audience. You’d think an audience of approx 7 million people couldn’t be easily burned through, but it was probably never actually 7 million. Facebook say that, and that includes everyone who checks into Facebook once a month or some such, as well as everyone in the 18-45 demographic who aren’t even getting shown my ads.

So maybe it’s a couple of million, max. This was borne out, because Australia was the first market to tap out and start getting more expensive, followed by the UK, then the US. From small to large, they got exhausted. My Frequency count rose (how many times each viewer had seen any given ad) to 4 or 5 (very high). My first-time viewing percentage dropped to 10-20%. My cumulative % of the audience reached was getting up to 70% – which is basically 100%, considering the remaining 30% probably check into Facebook once a month.

So, September the ads stopped working as well.

I eked it out for as long as I could by producing new ads, new ad images, trying videos, trying different audiences – but ultimately the best audience i the best audience, and the best ads remain the early ads.

After this, I wasn’t so sure what to do. I figured there was probably a daily maximum spend in each market I could budget, where there’d still be that trickle of new people daily. So I dropped my spend hugely, to try ad find the sweet spot. At the same time, I cast around for a new source of sales.

Amazon ads were the most obvious source, but I’d never cracked them before.

Amazon ads

Looking over my past Amazon ads, I noticed that the best source of actual sales came from ads came from top of search placement, rather than on product pages. So I prioritized the Amazon spend to that placement. It was immediately profitable, but it didn’t scale up at all. I couldn’t get more than a few sales a day, even if I was offering a large budget with $1-2 click bids.

Then I had a chat with my thriller friend Stephen Taylor, and he suggested just go in with big bids across the board, go for product pages, and winnow from there. I figured why not? So for the last month or so I’ve bene doing just that, and the result?

Sales are climbing back up again. Page reads are rising to numbers like they haven’t since the Facebook heyday in the summer. Yesterday I spent $120 on Amazon ads in the US, and that was profitable. £30 in the UK, and also profitable. Also, now that Christmas is over, Facebook ads have dropped back to a sensible click level. I may not be able to go BIG with the series again, like I did this year – but any new and future books I release can1 do so, because they’ll all be new.

2022 Plans

The obvious lesson from all this is that, while the early books in the series are far from played out or burned out, they are on facebook, and at some point they’ll hit that point on Amazon too. I’m figuring out the slow-burn max I can spend on Facebook, and I’ll figure that out for Amazon too.

The other arrow in the quiver is new releases and a new series.

I would love to massively increase production. I think I’m capable of it. Now the major Wren arc is closed out, he’s free to take on stories that require fewer trailing threads to be developed. I want to make each of his books more standalone, even as they all will push his story forward. It would. be amazing to write 3 Wren books this year, numbers 8, 9 and 10.

On launch, I’ll push each individual book hard on Facebook. Let the existing readers know there’s a new book out, while also making another bid to suck new readers into the series as a whole.

Also, it’d be great to get out 2 books in another series – the one I’ve had on the back burner for a while.

AND, get one more book out as a series starter. This one I have nothing on yet, just some ideas I’m kicking around. Ideally, they can all interact and create a Wren literary universe. Art some point, they can team up like the Avengers, to make a blockbuster.

So, more books. More ads.

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