I’ve been reading and analyzing a lot of thrillers recently – mostly Michael Connelly but also Jeffery Deaver, and that includes looking at their covers. Here’s a few:
Granted, this selection is limited, but reasonably representative. Let’s compare to the Saint Justice cover:
Let’s break down a quick analysis by area.
Author name& Title – The other books all have the author name first, mostly at the top and above the title, taking up approx a quarter to a third of the cover. They largely seem to use the same font for the title. Saint Justice by contrast has the title first, different fonts, and author name take up maybe one sixth of the cover. Hmmm…
Contrast/legibility – It’s hard to read text against a complex background. You don’t want a lot of detail behind your text. The other books follow this rule nicely – they either have block color or misty skies behind their text. Saint Justice has some misty sky, and some blurry blacktop, but it also has those buildings either side, chopping through the words, and the smoke rising up. This doubtless makes it harder to read. There’s also more overall contrast in the other books. there’s dark and then there’s light. Saint Justice is a bit fuzzy.
I spent some time making alternate covers. It’s quite likely none of these is an improvement, but it’s been an interesting exercise. I come to the conclusion that the cover image, as in, the little guy running, is perhaps less important than the text atop it. He’s a signal to genre and quality. The rest should be big and bold, as per the genre.
This may be one of the most misguided pieces of advice out there for authors. It’s everywhere, and I believe it’s wrong.
Let me qualify that – it’s wrong to do it more than once, if what you’re looking to do is sell books (unless that first time is an epic success, which it won’t be).
Writing from the heart is a lottery ticket with incredibly long odds. There is a near-infinitesimal chance that a book born from the virgin writer’s heart is going to sell. It’s like walking into a university and saying your first research paper will revolutionize particle physics, or like walking onto a basketball court and expecting to dunk on LeBron James.
It’s not going to happen. You may have thought a lot about particles. You may have watched a lot of NBA. But you’re nothing yet, not until you get your particle physics PhD or work your way up on the courts.
But we all want to win the lottery. We want to believe that the perfect book resides in our heart, and if we can just write it out, it’ll soar.
Most likely it won’t. Just like you won’t win the lottery.
And if it does soar? Then you won the lottery. It’s amazing. We hear about this happening all the time – because it’s the better story than the truth, and people want to read about the fantasy. The truth is that most authors barely sell a handful of copies of their books.
We all dream of winning the lottery, but you can’t plan on it. Play that game once, for sure, by writing one book purely from the heart. Maybe your heart has the winning lottery ticket. Get that book out. See if it flies.
Most likely it won’t. And that’s OK. It’s far from over. It’s time to roll up your sleeves. Start working toward your PhD, hit the courts. For us writers, that means moving toward the reader.
Move out of your heart. Writing from the heart is an act of invitation. You’re inviting the reader into your heart, 100% on your terms. You want them to come all the way over to you, validate you, and we all know how wonderful that’s going to feel.
But, again, it will only happen for an infinitesimally small number of us.
Far better is you quit inviting and start going out to meet. Build a bridge from your heart to the reader’s. This means you validating them, by figuring out what they want and giving it to them. This goes for your cover, your title, your blurb and your book’s body text itself. It covers genre, sub-genre, tropes, motifs, themes, settings, plot, character.
You go to them. They come to you. It’s beautiful, because they get their expectations met and validated. You get someone on the road to your heart, engaged in an act of true communication. They give. You give. Everybody gets.
Do this well, and often enough, and you can win the lottery of book sales through hard work. Not luck. Not random chance. Like a particle physicist. Like an NBA baller. Like a bestseller.
All the time I see people in FB groups asking why their books don’t sell. I’ve been there. With some of my books, I’m still there. So I can recognize a fellow traveler of that road, influenced by this terrible advice.
Write from the heart once? It’s a sensible gamble. You really may have what it takes to dunk on LeBron the first time. But again and again, to the same poor result? That’s the definition of madness.
We see it in covers that don’t draw in the right kind of readers. Blurbs that don’t match expectation. Books themselves that are off-genre, left unwanted on the shelf. And many writers have dozens of these books. Still they keep on writing more, because they’re writers, and they think that writing from the heart is the right thing to do, when all they’re doing is chasing bad bets.
Why don’t we retire the advice to write from the heart? An infinitesimal number of us are going to win the book-from-the-heart lottery. All the rest need to quit buying lottery tickets and start listening to our readers.
Don’t insist the reader comes to your heart. Build a bridge and meet them halfway.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This month has been spent writing my first non-fiction writing guidebook, and it’s been a great experience filled with contemplation and new learning. I’ve also had Saint Justice on Prime Reading and in a Kindle 99c deal. Thirdly, I joined a group of fellow writers and had a great back and forth with some real good ideas. Fourthly, I made a little headway on Wren book 7. Sixthly, I rejoined ALLi to try and take advantage of their agent hookup.
Let’s get into it.
Master Your Genre
Here’s what I wrote a month ago, last time I wrote a post:
It’d be great by this time next week to have all the ideas for the non-fic book written out fully, maybe max out at 30,000 words and lots of illustrations/diagrams. Then I can focus on wrestling it into shape, which is both the fun and the challenging part. Maybe another week after that and we’ll be ready for beta reads, cover and launch.
That’s kind of exactly how it went! I banged out most of the text, 25,000 words with illustrations, in a week or so – then started a series of iterative beta reads. First up was Su, who came back with great feedback swiftly, then 3 rounds of pairs of fellow authors from the London Indie Author group read it and gave feedback.
I changed lots of things, added lots of ideas, thought harder about what Genre really was, what the difference between Art and Commerce was, about who I wanted to target and how I wanted to speak to them (tough love or gentle), and now here we are.
Pretty much ready to launch. I got an awesome cover. I’ll put it out pretty soon. A few things I need to do first:
Update my author mentoring page so it looks good, links to the book and provides an easier route to hire me.
Set up the FB page for folks to join seeking free advice
Finalize the blurb in a LIA meetup
Then launch! I won’t do some big event – I don’t have any non-fic followers, so I’ll start running ads and see if it has legs.
Saint Justice in Prime and 99c
I won’t lie, being in Prime Reading and having my book at 99c all month in the US was no benefit for me. If anything my revenue dropped – I continued sending about the same number of clicks to the sales page, but with every sale worth $2 less, the profit margin really got squeezed.
The hope with something like this is that Amazon is going to push it, sell loads of copies that lead to strong readthrough and higher rank, but I saw none of that. Just the sales I was sending to Amazon. So, I asked them to take me out of Prime reading early. They it prety fast on .co.uk, and have finally done it now on .com.
Ah well, you live and learn. I won’t do that again.
New Author group
This came out of nowhere really – I emailed my bud Dan Parsons, who also writes zombies and non-fic, to ask if he’d beta read Master Your Genre. In response he said yes and also invited me to a group of writers who’ve been meeting for a while.
Pretty cool. I came along to the Zoom meetup, and had a great chat with those guys. One chap, Stephen Taylor, is doing really well in Amazon uk, so we scheduled a secondary meet to follow up and share more deets.
It was a 90-minute discussion, where we shared loads of solid info. He shared his excellent backmatter setup, which includes using images and universal genius links, and success with Amazon ads. I talked about changing titles and some Facebook tricks.
In the aftermath I went to remake my backmatter, which took most of a day. Is it leading to better readthrough? Too early to say, but I’ll keep an eye on it and we’ll see. I increased the price of the first two books in the series, from $2.99 to $3.99. I figure the readers I’m sending from FB are not so price-sensitive, so why not charge a bit more? I’ve seen no difference in sales so far, so it looks to be true.
Further, I’m doing more Amazon ads again, and seeing a little success, though I mostly end up paying for clicks on my own name, from people who were searching for my name anyway. Maybe no benefit to this? Well, I’ll keep going anyway. Possibly those defensive ads saved me from losing a potential reader to another ad.
Wren 7 Backlash!
I’d written a couple of thousand words early on, but left it to one side while I worked on Master Your Genre. As that finished up, I turned back to it. The opening is big, maybe too crazy, but I’ll keep writing and we’ll see where we go. Anyone who’s with me at book 7 must be cool with big and crazy action. I’m a Mission Impossible man, what can I say?
So, we’re currently at 4,000 words. There’s no big rush on this one, but with no other main writing to do, I’ll turn my attention to this more. I may also work on a second thriller series that I’ve had in my back pocket for a year now. We’ll see.
I was in the Alliance of Independent Authors for a while, then let that membership lapse because I saw no benefit to being a member. Then I saw that they offer the service of an agent if you reach a certain membership level – which I now do. So I applied, paid my dues, and sent an email to the agent in question. The goal here is to get Saint Justice into the hands of TV and/or film producers. It may be a long shot, but no one else is going to do it for me 😉
We’ll see. Extra benefit is that the ALLi dues can be written off against tax, so I don’t actually lose anything.
So, by this time next week?
I’ll probably launch Master Your Genre by this time next week, and be having a crack at FB and AMS ads for it. Everyone says non-fic ads are different than fiction, maybe easier, so we’ll see if that holds true for me. If it can’t sell via ads, then I’m not sure how to market it. Try and get on some podcasts? Yeah, maybe. We’ll see how it lands and how I feel about that. It would be cool to do sme regular mentoring/coaching. Talking about Genre is fun and challenging, and also a chance to practically help other authors achieve.
In terms of fresh words, if I focus on Wren 7 more, I could be up to 10,000 words even. I’ve got it plotted that far, for sure.
These past 2 weeks Wren 6 launched, and I turned my attention to finally writing my non-fiction book on how I got the Wren books selling.
Wren 6 launch
The launch of Enemy of the People has been the best I’ve yet had, with nearly 500 pre-orders lining up over the last 6 months. I didn’t do anything else special to promote it, just keep on pushing the whole series at a usual daily ad spend. On that note, Amazon has book 1 in Prime Reading for 3 months and as a Kindle Monthly Deal at 99c in the US, but I’m not noticing any big spike in rank.
That’s fine, I’ll just keep on doing what I do. Book 7 is scheduled for a year off, so lots of time to build up pre-orders and for me to get it written! The goal is by the end of the year, but first I need to get my non-fic book done.
I’ve been kicking around basic drafts of this book for a year or so, waiting on the moment that I actually have authorial success to write it. Now I have the success, seems like a lot of material, and am wrestling it into some kind of logical shape. It’s a lot of stuff that defies easy categorization, bits that I did here and there in no particular order. Systematizing it is tricky.
My goal is to get this done quickly, kind of a palate cleanser between writing fiction. This is the kind of thing I could do after every fiction novel, if it goes well and I enjoy it enough. I suppose writing the book has actually sucked my energy away from writing this blog too, since it’s the same kind of thing.
I think it could be a great book. I’m very curious what fellow authors will make of it. More on this as it develops.
By this time next week
It’d be great by this time next week to have all the ideas for the non-fic book written out fully, maybe max out at 30,000 words and lots of illustrations/diagrams. Then I can focus on wrestling it into shape, which is both the fun and the challenging part. Maybe another week after that and we’ll be ready for beta reads, cover and launch.
The big news today, as of 30 minutes ago, is I put the first lock on Wren book 6, Enemy of the People. This week I hit 1000 reviews on a single book on Amazon for the first time in my author career. I also have Saint Justice in Prime Reading in both the UK and US stores at the same time, which could offer unprecedented visibility!
I just finished the ironing draft of Wren 6, converted it to epub, pdf and mobi, and fired it off to my beta readers. That’s 40 people with only a week’s notice – so here’s hoping they will have time to read it and report back before the second lock goes on June 25, and I can make no further changes in avdance of the pre-order delivery.
Currently there are 427 copies on pre-order. A number 3x bigger than any pre-order I’ve run before. It’s pretty amazing. Here’s to 10x-ing that for book 7!!
I feel weird right now, with the lock on. I’ve had this deadline hanging over me for months, been thinking about it pretty constantly one way or another, so to have it done? Out there for it’s first audience reception? It’s wilder than previous launches, because I’ve never had this many people waiting for a release before.
But for now, my role goes kind of quiet. At some point I start writing book 7 and the wheel turns around. For now I’ll just chill, though, and wait for beta readers to share their thoughts. Hopefully there are no typos, but if there are, hopefully they catch them all!
1000 reviews for Saint Justice
This is a pretty big deal. On one level it means nothing, but on another it’s a kind of proof of popularity. The book has sold quite a lot, and holds a 4.1 star rating on Amazon Us, 3.9 in the UK. Why the disparity? Don’t know. 4.1 is great, though.
Here’s what that looks like in the US:
And in the UK:
It’s really excellent. I checked these reviews way too often in recent days, waiting for the numbers to tick over. Now here we are 🙂
Prime Reading is a program where anyone in Prime can read books for free. Saint Justice is enrolled for the next 3 months in both the US and UK. Any copies that go through Prime, I don’t get paid for, but they do raise my rank, and hopefully those readers will roll through to the sequels.
My rank is pretty high in both stores right now. Around 1500 in US and around 300 in the UK. It’s been holding there for a few months now. It’s be great to get higher, and maybe Prime will give it a boost to get there.
Beta reader for W1
I had a few reviews recently about Saint Justice, where people were saying it was unbelievable, as well as difficult to follow. Now, I didn’t know what they were talking about, so I hired a couple of beta-readers off fiverr to do a readthrough and tell me what they meant.
The first one came back in a few days, and said he found no issues with ease to read, but had a couple of comments on believability:
Wren managing 300 people in the Foundation on his own was a crazy notion. OK. This is a really easy one to fix. When I first wrote it I put 100. I bumped that to 300 to make it sound more impressive, but yeah, maybe that’s a lot for one guy with no management infrastructure to manage. So now it’s 300 🙂
There’s an awful lot of people breathing black smoke at the end of the book. Fair point. I pumped it up here, but perhaps realistically, you can’t breathe black smoke at all. If that’s all there is, you’re dead in seconds I guess. This is another easy fix – I just change the smoke from black to gray. Reduce the fire intensity a little, and only amp it up right at the end. Should help.
I have another beta reader reading it too. We’ll see if they come up with anything else.
By this time next week
I don’t have any hard work to do by next week, other than launch the book, but that’s easy really. Make changes as beta reader reports come in. Prep a mailing list announcement for the launch. Maybe make a FB ad to engaged fans.
I also want to explore if I have a non-fic book in me on writing a book to genre. I’ll try to lay the learnings down in the simplest format possible. when I’ve done this before, I just tend to ramble and go on and on. Better to make it a short book with concrete actions. So maybe some progress on this.
Well well well, I spent the week (week 22) immediately after finishing writing Wren 6 Enemy of the People feeling super pleased with myself. Just totally fulfilled without needing to do much by way of work. Honestly, it was pretty great.
Wren 6 edits
Not that I go through life always thinking about things I should be doing or the contribution I should be making. Those are useful drives to have, of course. If I felt like I did last week all the time, I’d get literally nothing done. So while I surfed that sense of accomplishment gladly, in week 23 I got back on the ball and started editing book 6.
There is plenty to do! Ironing, I always call it. Going back and taking out dangling bits of the story engine’s structure that I never ended up needing. Making what remains look wholly purposeful rather than partly speculative. Planting a bit more shadowing. Reducing the over-writing, which is something I will probably always do.
Eg – In one 3-chapter stretch of car chases, every turn Wren made was ‘hard’, every acceleration was ‘hard’, etc… Pretty tiring to read at that level of intensity. In the moment of writing I’m really into it, but the reader’s experience takes literally minutes, while I will have written those sections days apart. Every time I had to re-intensify the mood just to get it written – but on the edit I’m looking for flow.
I’m at chapter 25, the midpoint. It should speed up now. It’ll be great to finish edits in a week, give i to beta readers for a week, then launch.
Sales and Marketing
Sales of the Wren series continue really well. Having 5 ad images that I rotate between, served to really 1 target audience group in UK and US, keeps the ads fresher and the cost per click manageable. It remains profitable. I’m in a steady cashflow situation now where I’m reinvesting everything that comes back from Amazon.
Facebook is my bread and butter, as ever, but I’m looking at Amazon ads again. It would be wonderful to crack them. I never yet have, but if it’s ever possible, it must be with this highly-ranked, strongly-converting series. If this can’t make money on Amazon ads, what will?
Tokyo Bicycle Bakery
I was working on Su’s blurb some in week 22, which culminated in putting it forward for my London Indie Author group critique. They all had similar thoughts, which was really helpful – they said there was no jeopardy. I hadn’t thought there needed to be – mostly because I don’t really understand romance or women’s fic. But they were adamant.
So, I wrote a new blurb with more jeopardy. Then I looked at the Eat Pray Love blurb, took inspiration, and after that the book has been selling at around break-even rates ever since. Only $5 ads every day, and 2-3 sales average, but this is the best it’s ever done. It’s very hard to ever make money off a single book, so this is already good.
To get to this point we also made changes to the body text. Several whole chapters and plot threads went. When we get a minute (and I finish Wren 6 edits), we will also look through the book, in particular the first few chapters from Amazon’s Look Inside, and rim them right to the plot.
Less floaty description. More movement. That’s what the LIA group also said. A really useful session. I hope we do more of these ‘Book Labs’ going forward, but folks have to submit, so we’ll see.
Reviews & Pre-orders
In a couple of cool bits of stat news, I’m getting close to hitting 1,000 total reviews on a single book for the first time ever. Saint Justice has 950 or so currently. Hitting 1,000 doesn’t mean anything in particular, but it’s a cool milestone. Even better that the books downstream are picking up more, and positive, reviews too. All but book 5 have 100+ reviews now, all at 4.5 stars. That’s great for whole-series purchasers to see.
In pre-orders, I’m almost to 400 for Enemy of the People. That’s the most I’ve ever had by a long stretch. I put up book 7, order date a year away, for pre-order, and it already has 20 purchasers. Thank you, readers!
Some reviews have pointed out some mistakes I made, additionally. There were a few complaining about typos – I did some reading and squashed a few of those. Someone caught a mistake where I wrote Teddy and Abdul instead of Henry and Abdul, so I fixed that. Someone said there are no military ranks in the CIA, so calling Wren ‘Corporal’ is wrong. Fine, now he is just ‘Officer’.
All these little fixes help. Oh, I also settled on Wren’s nickname – I had taken to calling him the ‘Executioner’, only a few times, but it’s not very imaginative, and apparently some famous thriller author has a character named that already. So, only 2-odd years after settling on the title for book 1, I finally realized Wren’s nickname should be ‘Saint Justice’.
lol. Obvious, right? It works perfectly. His introduction. Prior to this, that title just meant, getting justice against the Saints. Now it also means that, but mostly it’s just Wren’s name. Works for me.
By this time next week
Recently on the weekends we’ve been going out a lot, to see family or friends. We went to Greenwich 3 times in the last month, and we love it. Maybe this weekend we will stay home and chill here and write. So, by his time next week, I should be fully done with Wren 6 edits, and sending it out to beta readers. Then it will be launch.
I don’t have any special launch plans. Send a newsletter email, maybe boost a Facebook post, and that is probably it. With nearly 400 on pre-order, and knowing the funnel from book 1 through to 6 already works, I don’t need to do anything special, I figure.
Then to work on book 7! I have a deadline of June 4 2022!! Aim to get it done by Dec 2021 though, but give myself some leeway 😉
As of thirty minutes ago, Wren book 6, Enemy of the People, is finished!!
It is closing out at 85,000 words. It’s still a month until launch, so I’ll use that time to edit it, proofread it, polish it up. I think it’s pretty much polished already, so that shouldn’t be too hard. I already have the cover, and it is epic. I’ll share that shortly. What else is there to say?
Nothing much. I’m feeling super pleased. It is often the case through the middle of a novel that I am uncertain if I will be able to land it properly. This one had me more uncertain than usual. I knew I’d land it, because that’s just writing. But land it well?
I believe I hit my marks.
In other news, reviews of the 5-book Wren series on amazon.com have all turned to 4.5 stars (apart from book 1, which is 4.1 currently and rising). This is great. Makes it look very attractive to readers considering a series.
I also got a fantastic review of the box set on Amazon US:
Christopher Wren is so much larger than life that he should be a humorous caricature. His exploits are Marvel Universe save the country ridiculous. This cannot be a serious series. Yet, some how it is. Characters are deep, complex, flawed and awesome. The action is great. How Mr Grist rides this edge I don’t understand. But then I don’t have to, I’m here to be entertained… and I was!
I love this. Thank you CloudSmasher. I guess this is what I am going for with these books – big time special effects and action, combined with complex characters. It wasn’t overt – I wanted to write a book series like a great action movie. This is what I got 🙂
I continue with the Facebook ads as ever, while also trying to market Su’s book the Tokyo Bicycle Bakery. It is a really beautiful and uplifting romance that we’re struggling to find the audience for. It will be down to the blurb, cover, title, opening chapters – and we’ve recently reworked all those.
Yesterday we had 5 sales. Pretty great, off a very minimal ad spend. Today fewer. It’s a puzzle at this stage, as I don’t know romance well, and don’t have either the targeting of audiences or the ad copy mastered. We need to experiment who are her best comp authors. Also double-check her blurb and first chapter to try to make them appeal the most.
I may throw what we’ve got to a wider audience of authors and see if they have any idea why it doesn’t convert more.
Since lockdown has eased we’ve had some lovely busy weekends full of socializing. Last weekend we went to Greenwich to see my old high school friend Nick with his wife and their 3 kids. It was awesome. A meal from Greenwich food market, coffees and cake, chased with football and frisbee in the park. It doesn’t really get any better.
Then we went to see my Dad and Aileen in Kent, enjoyed chatting it up and eating vegan burgers, walking around the fields.
This coming bank holiday weekend we’ll go back to Greenwich just to wander, shop, eat, drink and hang out in the park, then we’ll also go see my mom, where my sister with her fam and my brother’s fam will be. We’ll take along the cornhole gear and play some garden games. Looking forward to it. Haven’t seen these kids in a year, and my mom always puts on a great spread!
I’d hoped I might close out the whole of Wren book 6, Enemy of the People, this week, but in the last couple of days progress slowed a little as I chewed the great wodge of words I’d produced in the last week. I also spent some time fooling around with ads.
Wren 6 progress
Right now we’re at 71,000 words. Everything but the finale. This time last week I was at 57,000, so that’s 14,000 words this week. 2,000 a day, not bad. Is it all great? It may get trimmed on the edit, but I think it’s all solid. Action, revelations, clues, with more to come.
Now the finale!! It’s going to be epic. I will buckle down next week and get it done.
On a side note, this pace is pretty great. 15,000 per week, if I kept that up, I’d be producing a book every 2 months. Give me a month to edit, that’s 4 books a year. Totally do-able. I should do it!
The big change I made this week was to try and introduce some old images and get them pinging over to the books. the idea is to get cheaper clicks because the image is fresh. I have all these prior covers, which always did pretty well on Facebook. They just didn’t convert books.
So I made a bunch of ads, and started serving the red/black face cover as an ad. It served really well, was getting me much cheaper clicks, but almost immediately sales flat-lined. I tried it in multiple markets, to different audiences, and the result was the same.
People clicked that image happily. When they got to the book page, they just ran. Maybe the mismatch between the ad image and the book image on the sales page put them off. Maybe they’d already bought a Wren book but didn’t realize it because the image was so different. Maybe the face image set them up for a different kind of book, and the sales page didn’t deliver.
It’s a mystery. But it’s undeniable. So from now on I will aim to only use the book covers in my ads. Least cognitive dissonance between the ad and the sales page. Just means I need more book covers in the series, to use as more ads 😉
ALSO – I thought why not try to sell some zombie books, using this new knowledge? I’d tried a few times recently, but failed to shift copies. This time I tried again, pointing at the series page and the box set both. For the series page, I dropped the price of the first 4 books to 99c each, so the whole series can be one-clicked for less than $20.
Straight away, the series page started performing better. I guess it’s just more focused. There are way fewer ads for other books on that page. No other box sets priced at 99c, that make my $9.99 look terrible. And people are clicking the one-click buy all button. I get maybe $12 every time they do that, and way more visibility for all the titles in Amazon rank.
So I move all budget to the series page. Also I turned off the UK ads, which were barely paying for themselves. Would be great to scale this series back up and get it selling again. No reason why it shouldn’t – it’s very highly rated.
Next up, Facebook ads for Su’s book!
By next week
By next week this time Wren 6 should be finished. 80k or thereabouts. Ready for editing. Wow.
It’s a big writing week this week, in line with my offensive to get book 6 done by the end of May. Last week (which was actually Sunday, because I did it late) I was at around 40,000 words. Today I reached 57,000, and I might do a few more today.
I’d hoped to hit 60,000 and close out chapters 30-40. I’ve hit chapter 38 and just need a few scenes to hit 40. Today or this weekend. Next week will be the final push. Would be amazing to close it out at 80,000 words within a week.
A lot of things have happened in this last 17,000 words. I think that’s the thriller writing style. A heck of a lot of interesting interactions, with different people, with different kids of threat, with Wren coming out on top in different ways.
Sometimes he straight-up physically beats someone, though there’s usually a chess-move component to that, and sometimes he persuades someone via threats or promises, sometimes he spots something no one else does, asks the right question. Sometimes he bulls through on a hunch just far enough to get results, sometimes he manipulates with mindgames, and sometimes he gets helped out by a member of his team.
It’s pretty great fun. It takes a lot of acts of invention. One time in this last push I took a wrong turn and floundered a bit. It was too easy, or too wacky too fast. I took a step back, rewrote from that point, and now am actually able to use most of that earlier stuff in a legit-feeling way. Needed to set it up better, was all.
We’re almost into the endgame. The beginning feels like such a long time ago. Only 60,000 words, but I wrote it in January. It’s changed so much since then. I’ve rewritten most of the books in some substantial ways during that time. Sales climbed in unexpected ways. I’ll be interested to read it through from start to finish, work on tying it all together.
Foreshadow. Echo. It’s pretty unified already, I think, and I see myself dropping echoes as I write. A few more, and we’re good.
Is it wholly realistic? Hmm. There’s a couple things so far people could take issue with. Nothing major, I think. No ‘using helicopters to open buildings like can-openers’. Plenty of action. Chases. Fights. Puzzles. Interrogations. Classic Wren.
Amazon have asked me to enrol Saint Justice in both Prime Reading and put it forward for a Kindle Deal, in the UK and the US. I think I’ll do both. It’s a bit of a gamble, but not much to lose. I can always turn down my ads, if they stop being profitable.
The Writing Life
This past week has felt like the most accurate taste of what the writing life might feel like, if I ever go full-time. Of course if I went full time, outside of a pandemic, I’d almost certainly go into town several days a week to enjoy various coffee shops as my writing spot. It’d be a fun way to explore London. Different coffee shops every day, different restaurants. Go to the top areas. Chelsea, Mayfair, whatever. Enjoy the best views.
I’ve spent times busily writing before, but never with the marketing so on autopilot, with sales and pre-orders happening right there without much effort from me. Book 6 has 234 pre-orders now. Not breaking records other than my own. Those folks are my employers right now, and I have to get that book to them on schedule.
Maybe book 7 could come within 3 months. If I write at this pace, don’t need to mess around with rewrites, making print copies, tinkering with ads. If all that goes on auto-pilot, I could become a production machine. Someone complained in a review that the only problem with the books was that I wrote them too slow!!
Good problem to have, from my perspective.
Book on Writing
That said, I would like to write and publish a writing/marketing book I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while now. After I had that popular post on 20books about rewriting to genre, I think I’ve got something to offer. The book would be about how to meet genre expectations. It could be a doorway to coaching, courses, speaking, publishing others, if I want. If it goes well.
This would definitely slow down production on the next Wren. We will see. Now time for some exercise!