Wren 6 progress – Writing Wk19 2021

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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.

Writing

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.

Marketing

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!

Wren 6 goes a bit Dan Brown – Writing Wk17/18 2021

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It’s been 2 weeks since my last update, and they’ve been crazy weeks. We got our first Covid jabs, AstraZeneca, and they knocked us a little sick. In the midst of that, we were first deeply contemplating big home renovations, then chased that by making moves to sell our house and move, and chased that by realizing we were actually super happy where we were, with the house as it is, and putting the FOMO days of Covid firmly in the past.

I will be so glad to have coffee shops and restaurants as a home away from home again! Cinemas are coming too, and that is great.

In the midst of all that, I’ve been writing book 6. The deadline is fast approaching, June 30, and I have more pre-orders than ever, 210 so far, so I cannot disappoint. The book stands at 43,000 words, around halfway, so there’s a lot to do, but I’ve broken so much important theory in the last 2 weeks that I’m hopeful those words will almost wrie themselves.

Wren 6

I commissioned the cover from my artist. I have no idea if it’ll be the best reflection of the book, because I haven’t finished writing it yet, but that’s where I am currently. It’ll definitely look cool, if it’s like his earlier covers, and that’s the main thing.

And the story! It’s going crazily Dan Brown. Down a puzzle-rich, symbol-laden rabbit hole of Pyramid theory. Not too deep, not massive info-dumps. Rather I’m finding it fascinating. Pretty much everything is in position. Big plot turns are happening. Moments from which there is no going back.

I need to write at least 1,000 words a day going forward to have a shot at hitting the deadline. that sounds easy. It should be. I’d like to smash it much faster than that. Close out by the end of May would be amazing. Have penty of time for self-edits, a proof-read, get it sharp.

Add to this, Amazon US has, I think for the first time for me, offered a Kindle Deal for book 1 in the month of July. This is kind of perfectly timed to my new release of book 6. They can of course do different degrees of promo on my behalf. Saint Justice may appear at the bottom of a long promoted list of 99c books. It could also be at the top of a short one. It could lead to huge numbers of sales and page reads. It may not at all.

Maybe bigger than a Bookbub. Like a Kindle Countdown deal that can last an entire month. I’m running substantial Facebook ads every day, so I’ll have to play it by ear when the amazon deal starts. Make sure I’ve got a clear baseline so I’ll know when to throttle ads back, or even ramp them up. 99c books convert much better than full price. I’ll probably make new sets of ads to press that home.

Exciting.

Today I wrote 3,000 words, and set up the next 10 or so chapters. I have the major movements. The theory. I have the next 10 chapters after that in loose form. They’ll be tricky, but I’ll figure them out. Then we’ll be done!

So this time next week, it would be great to close out chapters 30-40. Hit 60,000 words. Have 2 weeks before the end of May to write the last 10 chapters and 20,000 words.

Ads

Facebook ads are going as well as ever. I partially gave up on solely relying on the Facebook algorithm to select which ad images it’s going to run for me. Now I’ve narrowed my ad sets and audiences way back, so it’s simpler to oversee this myself. If on any day ad clicks rise, I may first reduce the budget substantially, and if that doesn’t help after a day or so, I’ll turn off the expensive ad image and rotate another one in that’s done OK before.

It keeps the offering I’m putting before the FB audience constantly fresh. When I get new book covers made, I’ll use those images too. Constantly refreshed. New blurbs/ad copy for variety, as I come up with them.

Thus far it is working. Click costs stay pretty low. If I leave it to the FB algorithm, it’ll keep pushing a dud ad image for days before maybe switching over. If I do it myself, I rescue my cost per click. It’s got so I don’t need to spend much time on analysis, especially as I’m no longer trying to ramp things up. I don’t have the budget to go bigger, right now!

When some of these amazon royalties come in, I’ll look at going bigger again. We shall see.

Reviews

Some great reviews have been coming in. I’m really pleased:

Do not start this book late at night. You won’t be able to sleep until you finish it. Wren is a hero who recognizes the need for allies, a characteristic a lot of heroes would be better off for sharing. Is the story realistic? How would I know? I certainly have never been a CIA operative. But Frost makes you believe Wren is the real deal. Great book

Frost is doing a god job! Nice one, Frost 😉

Great story…Christopher Wren is a combination of John Wick, Jack Reacher, and Jack Ryan….doing the right thing even when dangerous. I will read other books by this author…well worth my time.

Love this comparison to Wick, Reacher and Ryan. My thoughts exactly. And one more:

A horrific story, but unfortunately believable! A gripping tale which drags you along with the pace of the action. Great writing. Will find another when I have recovered from this book.

Great stuff, I’d like it to be a little less horrific, but won’t make any changes until I hear a bit more about what in particular comes off as so horrific.

Wren 1-5 in print – Writing Wk15/16 2021

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 1 Comment

The last 2 weeks have seen my ads settling into a 50% return zone, with click costs rising. I wrote a handful of new words on book 6 and mostly focused on getting books 1-5 updated and into print.

Wren 1-5 in print

I don’t usually bother with print. For my zombie books I made book 1 in print then never bothered with books 2-9. It’s a big hassle and I rarely sell any print copies, so it didn’t seem necessary. Recently with the thrillers though, people kept asking me about paperbacks.

Part of this is a corollary of my advertising. I’m hitting wider, non-ebook-only audiences, and they want print copies. I had a couple of dialogues where I was promising folks to get the print copies out within a week. I’ve said this kind of thing before then let the bother of formatting delay me unto oblivion.

This time though, perhaps because making the paperbacks went hand-in-hand with streamlining the whole series in the new, consistent style, I felt like it was an important thing to do.

So I’ve done it 😉

It is cool to have them ready like this. In order to get this far, I had to work on books 4 and 5 (about to go into print).

Book 4 needed:

  • Remove all Gruber side stories. The first one was easy, the latter ones a little tough because his viewpoint overlaps with Wren. Some essential information came through Gruber, some came through Wren’s, so I had to rewrite a couple chapters to make it work. We also lose some of the in-depth indoctrination stuff, but I’m thinking few people care about that anyway.

Book 5 needed:

  • Remove all Rachel Day side stories. This was pretty easy, few of them did anything more than provide interesting cult-indoctrination. I’m sad to lose this, as ever, but the main stuff comes through the Wren viewpoint already anyway. There’s a good amount of repetition.
  • Remove all David Keller side stories. This required a bit more thought. The first one opens the story with the broader threat of the Apex, after which there isn’t much in the Wren story to get things going ’til maybe chapter 10. So I switched it around, put Wren at Keller’s rally, and highlighted their conversation that was only offered as a flashback before. There’s a similar challenge at the end, where the denouement matters overlap between Wren and Keller’s POV. I had to weave it together from Wren’s POV. It’s actually much simpler now, no repetition, so I’m feeling good.

Now all the books are sleek, single-POV action adventures that move ahead fast. They rarely pause to go deep on back or sidestory. A little here or there.

Click costs rising

At the same time, click costs continue to rise and my reviews on amazon are dropping. This concerns me but it’s out of my control. Now the first three books in the series have a 4-star rating, rather than 4.5. It doesn’t look great. Few of these people who are marking me down are telling me why. It’s too soon after my last round of beta readers to dig in and make editorial changes. I need to hear from a mass of readers what it is they’re disliking. Maybe that’ll come with some more time.

I’m also throttling some ads via bid cap controls. This’ll likely squash my sales, reduce my spend, and I’ll probably spend the next few days panicking and undoing the damage. lol. The reality is, expansion is hard! Maybe I need some whole new batches of ad images. I’m struggling to find new audiences that convert well.

The work goes on!

Book 5 is coming in print!

Book 6

I’m at 31,000 words on book 6. Chapter 20. That’s not very much, and the deadline is approaching, so I really need to buckle down and get this done. I used to write a book every 3 months. Now it’s more like every 6. Let’s flip that back. 40,000 words by Friday this week would be a good start!

Wren 6 26k & $1k day – Writing Wk14 2021

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Wren 26,000 words

This last week I’d hoped to get 30,000 words on Wren 6, after several weeks of aiming for that same goal, and I finally came close with 26,000 words. It’s incredible how much more slowly I write now. I put these down to 2 main things:

  1. I’ve taken on so much feedback on my writing, that I am always second-guessing the creative process. This sounds like it would be bad, like you shouldn’t let anything get in the way of flow – but I find that in my case this is a little like adult control of emotions. Adults control their emotions, and that’s almost always the right thing to do. It’s similar with my writing – if I don’t exert more conscious control, I fall into bad habits. We all know what those are. Hopefully these conscious efforts will bend my habits into better practises, after which point flow will be smoother again.
  2. With this being book 6 in the series, and the series aiming to cap (or at least resolve the current threat) at book 7, we’re starting to see the Apex’s major plans in greater detail, as they escalate to an incredible level. Everything has to come together while the threat keeps on rising. Of course I’ve done this before, with the even-longer 9-book Last Mayor zombie series. But – that series gets criticized for the last 2/3 books going heavy on backstory, and leaning deep on ‘magic’ outcomes and solutions. I can’t do that here, and don’t want to. So it has to be clever, and that takes some deep thinking.

All that said, I think 6 is shaping up nicely. I wrote some, reflected hard, rewrote, and now I’ve got the main threat for the book, and the engine that makes it work, and the middle, and the end. I pretty much just need to write it now. So by Friday this week, it’d be great to hit 35,000 words, amazing to hit 40,000.

$1k day

Easter weekend was pretty incredible for my ads and sales. Click costs dropped even as I ramped up budgets, with conversion doing incredibly well. This set me up well to hit my first ever $1000 day on Tuesday. Wow, right? Not all profit, about 50/50 cost/profit, but still.

There’s been a pretty steep drop-off after that, though – click prices returned to normal as everyone went back to work, and I didn’t scale my budget back down fast enough, hoping to keep riding the wave indefinitely. That doesn’t work, and my profit ratio plummeted.

I’ve got it under better control now, and with the help of affiliate links on various audiences, I’m getting a much better idea of which are my best audiences, how much spend they can tolerate per day, and and which are the most efficient places to put budget on (profit per click).

It’s pretty cool. I also have started seeing some new comments in my Facebook ads that suggest people have started to see my books around, and consider them, and me, a brand. Somebody writes ‘This’ll be my first Mike Grist’. That’s really cool, and I’m happy to see it.

Fb Ads + Wren 3 & Pequeno edits – Writing Wk13.2 2021

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This week I’ve mostly been absorbed with scaling up my FB ads while writing a couple new chapters for Wren book 3, Make Them Pay.

FB ads scale up

I’ve been serving my suite of Saint Justice ads (5 of the book covers in both square and rectangular, copy is the book blurb) to 3-4 primary audiences for the past month, but never really knowing which ones were working and which were just spinning my wheels.

Now, thanks to judicious use of affiliate links, I have a much better idea of who converts and who doesn’t. This is super valuable. It’s also kind of obvious – but when I’m managing my FB ads, it’s easy to pour more budget into the ad set that’s getting the cheapest clicks. But that way lies madness. If that was all I cared about, I’d only run video feed ads (and make no sales at all!).

So, who’s performing? Here are the ad audiences and conversion:

  • TAK Thriller Authors & Kindle CVR: US 10%, UK 8%
  • TAE Thriller Authors & Ebook CVR: US 5%, UK 4%
  • AMK All Media (Thriller Movies/TV/Books) & Kindle CVR: US 5%, UK 5%
  • LA1 Lookalike 1% CVR: US 5%, UK 4%
  • LA4 Lookalike 4% CVR: US 1%, UK5%

This is invaluable data. With the TAK ads getting 1 sale in 10 clicks, compared to everything else getting 1 in 20, I should be willing to spend anything up to double the price on the TAK ads. If I’m not doing that, I’m not optimized. But to date I’ve not been doing that. I’ve been splitting my budget pretty evenly across these 4 or 5 audiences. This tells me I need to double down on TAK. Only move budget over to the others when TAK is double the price they are.

Also, the LA4 ad in the US performs terribly. 1 sale in 100 clicks is unacceptable. I can switch that off easily and only save money. Otherwise, 1 in 20 seems the order of the day. Real useful data. I’ll keep an eye on this.

Make Them Pay new chapters

I just finished edits on Make Them Pay, right? Right – but then I got a review from a guy who’s loving the series, but he said he felt short-changed by this book.

🙁 That was a downer. I don’t want to disappoint fans. It’s true it’s the shortest book right now, at 63,000 words. I made it that way by cutting out a lot of non-scene verbiage. Like, repetition of explanations, action, events happening twice. So I felt bad. I wondered what I could do. Last week I thought about adding a few additional acion opening chapters – and I still mean to do that.

But – on a brief glance at the middle, I found a spot where I can smoothly add in new chapters and a whole new setting. It’s right after Wren breaks social media. Previously he did this twice in a row, bu to sort of no avail, setting up a Black Lives Matter thing in the street. Fine politics, but unnecessary. Also, after this he gets winged off to a strike where all the detective work has been done by his hackers. He just takes their word for it and kicks ass.

Not very satisfying. How was the detective work done? Well, the hackers built a matrix, and… (yawn). I don’t wan to rely on hacker ‘magic’. So I came up with a source Wren could shake down, happily just up the road from Silicon Valley – San Quentin Prison.

It’s a cool double chapter sequence. Only adds 4,000 words, but they’re solid and worth having. Now he sets it all in motion, and his hackers only follow orders. Better.

Saint Justice concerns

I got a couple of painful Saint Justice reviews this week, and the average star rating dropped from 4.1 to 4.0 to boot. I’m not happy about that. The worst review went like this:

Not as described!

Based on the one paragraph summary, I bought the 5 book set. After reading St Justice, and learning that the serie’s plot revolved around chasing groups that abused minorities, women & children, I deleted the entire series. I read for enjoyment, and I found nothing enjoyable in this book.

That’s not good. I feel bad that someone dropped 5 books’ worth of cash then deleted them all. I don’t wan to misrepresent the book. Likewise I don’t want to put all that stuff in the blurb, because I know it’ll crush conversion. It’s a tricky problem. So what can I do?

Well – change the body text to make it fit. I’m starting off small. So far I have:

  • Gone through all the books and changed the offensive term ‘Pickaninny 3’ which the Apex uses for Wren to ‘Pequeno 3’. I feel there’s nothing lost. The Apex is not racist anyway. He hates everyone equally.
  • The bikers in their opening Saint Justice interaction with Wren mention racial slurs maybe 3 times. I can cut all those and we still know who they are, when they’re talking about nooses and calling him ‘Boy’. It’s enough.

That’s it so far. I don’t know that I need to get rid of it all. It’s the core plot. But if it lifts readthrough, which is currently sub-50%, I don’t mind doing it. I could:

  • Change the assassin’s almost use of the N-word, and remove Wren’s response.
  • Flip the whole plot from being a ‘race war’ narrative to something else. Supremacism but not based on race? Or maybe hatred of religion (by the bad guys, obviously)? That’s dangerous territory too, but less heated than race.

I could do that. But should I? And it doesn’t help me with book 2, but I’ve really moved the child abuse angle of book 2 deep into background. We hardly come near it – though we all know it’s there in the background. Hmm…

To help me decide, I’ve hired 2 more beta readers via fiverr, and asked them to assess Saint Justice and tell me what I can do to get higher ratings and better readthrough. We’ll see what they suggest. I’ve not had full feedback from anyone yet on this latest iteration of the book, so it will be interesting.

Generally, it’s getting better.

By this time next week

I absolutely must focus on book 6 now. It’s due out in 3 months, and I have 20,000 words. Gotta get it done, edited, sharpened, cover made and put out. It’ll happen. So – 30,000 words by this time next week!

First 10k month – Writing Wk13.1 2021

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Early this week I made my first major post on the 20booksto50k Facebook page. It’s the biggest group of Indie authors I think there is – almost 50,000 members, brought together by a shared ‘climb up the mountain’ toward book writing/publishing/marketing success.

On there you’ve got folks making 100k+ a month and more, and sharing how they did it. You’ve got people who run their own small presses, who write a book every two weeks, who’ve been full time indie authors for a decade and more. I’ve never written a post there before – lots of comments, no real content, until March brought me my first 10k month.

That’s a real milestone. I wanted to mark it while also sharing what I’d done to get there. I posted the below in the morning, and within an hour it had 200 likes. Now on Friday that’s up to 1000+ likes and 250+ comments. I guess I mention that because I never expected it. It’s hugely encouraging.

Here’s the link to the post: https://www.facebook.com/groups/20Booksto50k/permalink/3471122772994162/

Here’s the post, for posterity’s sake:

My first 10k month

I just reached $10,000 revenue for this month, March 2021, and would love to share how I did it and what I’ve learned in the long process to get here. A couple of quick stats first: I cleared 10k on an ad spend of approx. 66%, almost entirely on Facebook ads. That’s a 50% Return on Investment – I’ve no doubt others are doing better, but I’m blown away to be making this kind of reliable (thus far) return.

The tl;dr version of this post boils down to this – Working on your ads skill won’t matter if people don’t want to buy your book. Simple and obvious, maybe, but I’m sure there’s many folks out there who, like me, have dug deep into ads looking for the magic copy or image, when what you need to do most is make your book into something your target audience WANTS to read. 

My story (at slightly more length)

I’ve been self-publishing since 2014, starting with 2 weird epic fantasy that struggled to sell (though I did get a Podium audio deal), followed by 3 hard science fiction that really struggled to sell (though some famous authors provided blurb copy), followed by 9 zombie apocalypse thrillers that sold pretty well – especially when I rewrote them for pace and content then combo-ed them into a 9-book boxset which sold for 99c – making most of its money through KU page reads.

Nearly 3 years back I decided to make the move to writing thrillers. I wasn’t a massive fan of reading in the genre, but I loved Lee Child and Barry Eisler’s books, while watching most big action/adventure movies and TV shows – with a particular soft spot for 24.

So I wrote my first Christopher Wren thriller. I wrote three in the series, self-edited, made my own covers, wrote my blurbs, then fast released them all in June 2019. It wasn’t to crickets, but it wasn’t good either. The series responded to Facebook ads, had a Bookbub or two, but mostly lost money for a year or so.

I kept the faith, reinvesting my zombie book money (which was starting to dry up) on making the Wren audiobooks while writing books 4 and 5. There were various revelations through this time – primarily that the series had abysmal readthrough (around 10% to book 2), with reviews broadly saying that while people thought it was a good book, various off-genre features turned them off and made them not want to read on. It held a 4.1 star rating on Amazon US, but something was clearly wrong.

Investigation

I was adrift for a while, wondering if I ought not just move on to a different series. That’s a vast amount of work to write off though. 5 books and 2 years of all my energy poured in. Plus what guarantee was there that in my next series, I’d hit the market square on if I didn’t even really know why this series wasn’t selling?

I decided to dig in and keep trying to figure it out. I solicited reviews from blog tours and net galley deals, and they were all excellent. OK. So maybe those reviewers are not my target audience. I looked to get editorial help, but I’ve had bad experiences with editors in the past, and didn’t want to go big or rely on any one person’s opinions too much.

So I looked at Reedsy and Fiverr, and over a period of time hired a range of manuscript assessment deals and beta readers. Comments were generally incredibly helpful – when I asked them to focus on why people weren’t wanting to read through to book 2.

Results

What came in for me was that the book was off-genre by quite some way. This is a simple way of saying – “It’s not what people want to read”. Super simple, but pretty much the core reason I think anyone who’s struggling to sell is struggling to sell. People just don’t want to read it, and nothing you can say in your ads is going to convince them otherwise.

I’ve been learning this lesson for years. My epic fantasy books were very weird – in setting, narrative, hero, villain – kind of Victorian steampunk with invented races and a crazy kind of memory-magic. Totally my kind of thing, but not mainstream. In my hard science fiction books I just went all out crazy, with a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk mind-jacking adventure through ruins and nightmare-scapes. Again, wholly my bag, but almost impossible to find the audience.

I tried very hard to market all these. I put solid dark epic fantasy covers on the fantasies, but couldn’t reach ‘my’ readers. I put cyberpunk covers on my science fiction, but nobody really reads cyberpunk now, and the books only loosely fit that genre anyway. My zombie books however had great covers and only subverted the genre tropes reasonably late in the story (naturally, I had to flip everything), so people were reading through more.

It’s turned out to be the same story with my thrillers. Jack Reacher thriller readers want thrills that are fun and exciting, not gross-out, dense, deep, confusing, disturbing – which is what my books were. I had lots of blood and gore, lots of death of sidekicks, a hero who was violently dark and out of control thanks to mega past trauma, multiple viewpoints including from the perspective of killers (great for serial killer genre, not great for lighter thrillers), lots of swearing, real downer endings, real downer beginnings.

I basically bludgeoned the reader. In some genres this may work really well. Not in this genre.

Action

So I worked to learn the genre more – not what we see in movies and TV, which is what had largely inspired me, but in what we see in books. I am still learning it. I got those fiverr and reedsy readthroughs and acted on comments I kept hearing, changing the body text across all 5 books. I read lots of books in the genre. Things finally transformed when I realized I had to remove ALL the multiple viewpoints, straighten out the narrative, make my hero way more in control, massively reduce the violence, blood, swearing, brutality and downer vibes, and basically make my books less challenging and more FUN.

So I did all the above, including writing all new action openings for books 1 and 2. I added new slightly cliff-hangery endings. I made big cuts of downer stuff – book 1 dropped from 90,000 words to 70,000, book 2 from 100,000 to 80,000, book 3 from 90,000 to 63,000 (very short! I am currently bulking it back up).

I got new covers made by a pro on 99 designs. They are dark and on genre for terrorism thrillers. I wrote new blurbs. Things totally kicked off when I put up the new version of book 1 on Amazon, with its all-new action opener scene, and a new tagline to hook people in.

‘They stole his truck. Big mistake.’

Sales

Book 1 started selling like never before. Conversion on my low-level Facebook ads spiked. I watched readthrough to book 2 jump from around 20% which I’d coaxed it up to over the past year to around 50%. That carried over to later books in the series well. Reviews coming in on both Amazon and on the Facebook ads are so different from what they used to be.

Previously people said a lot of ‘I liked this book, but I’m going to need some time to recover before I read book 2.’ Now they were saying they leaped straight to book 2. Yes.

So, I cranked up my ads. I read the recent income report posts by Blake Hudson (thank you!) and started making more images, trialing more audiences, and expanding my spend. I made $200 in a day! Then $300! Then $500! Then it dropped because Facebook cost per click went up, so I made more images (both square and rectangle) and went back in hard.

Yesterday I made $650 in a day, off about $350 spend. That’s nearly 100% return. Wow. How far can this go? I have no idea. It might all disappear tomorrow. But the lesson I’ve learned is simple and super clean.

Lesson

Ads won’t sell a book. I’ve done nothing really different with my ads to cause this recent surge, other than scale up once they started working. I always was using my cover image as the image, always was using my blurb as the copy, always targeted a mixture of interests (Thriller authors narrowed by Kindle) and Lookalikes (built off my Facebook ad click engagement), was always sending clicks to both the series page and the first book in the series, was always targeting mostly newsfeed in both US and UK primarily.

The thing that sold my book was the new blurb, and the cover, and the opening chapters for the Look Inside, and the fact that they finally were all singing from the same hymn sheet. Fun. Exciting. On genre.

Write and package something that readers want, and they will come to you. Ads will suddenly start working like someone opened up a spigot. If your ads are not working, look to your book, and your genre, and roll up your sleeves to start syncing them up…

Enemy of the People 1/4-point – Writing Wk12.2 2021

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I already wrote in 12.1 about finishing up Make Them Pay – through the week’s end I chased that with some oddball tinkering on books 1-3, re-made the boxset and re-issued it, then dug into book 6. Also lots of ads nonsense ;).

Enemy of the People 1/4-point

I had been concerned even before this latest spate of rewrites that the Enemy of the People opener was not propulsive enough. It is all down-time reaction to the events of the last book, with some problems of Wren’s physical and mental state.

At the core though – it’s not fun to read about a Wren who’s so mentally broken. If he needs to be chivvied along and properly motivated, then I’ve not made the threat adequately immediate. So, I’ve fixed that:

  • New opening sequence, that extends the escape from DC that ends book 5 and also introduces the book 6 villains right off the bat. I think it’s going to work pretty great.
  • When we check in with Wren, he’s not mentally defeated – though he is physically broken. We recover him from that pretty quickly though, and get straight into the action.
  • In writing the last couple of days, the scale of the story just leaped a notch. A mass violence/riot event that would have closed out one of the earlier books is now happening as standard. It shocked me a little, but until that point I’d been worried the threat wasn’t really there. Now I’m certain it is.

So I’m finally at 20,000 words! Only 60-odd k left to go. Though if it runs short like the earlier ones now do, it may close at 70k. So short.

Facebook Ads

A while back I turned off all my affiliate link ads because they weren’t getting through Facebook for some reason. Now they are, so I spent many hours setting them all up again. Now I get an extra 6% every time I make a sale, which of course is great.

I also get to see which ads/audiences are converting. Answer? So far, they’re all doing about the same… I also figured out you can send an affiliate link to a series page. Previously I was only running series links, and getting a good number of people who bought all 5 books in one click.

Then I tried sending to book 1 only. Conversion on book 1 went up, but sales of the rest of the series dropped a lot. Hopefully readthrough will take care of that, but why leave it to chance that I’ll sell books 2-5 later when I get just sell them upfront now? So I’m going back to pushing the series link.

Next week target

By this time next week it’s probably realistic to hit 30,000 words. I’d love to hit 40,000, but I’m both slow and kind of lazy at the moment. It’s also true that writing fast thriller scenes takes me way longer than the baggier kind of writing I was doing before. So much critical thinking goes into drilling down to whatever the core story is. Better for the reader, more work for me.

Make Them Pay rewrites finished!? – Writing Wk12.1 2021

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I just closed out the Make Them Pay, Wren book 3 rewrites, and am feeling celebratory. I already wrote about everything I did to change the book, but as I accelerated toward the end, I was really feeling it.

This thing hums. I am getting better at spotting the bits that lag. I had 2 chapters that were kind of coda, catching up on where everyone was up to. Now I’m thinking that kind of stodge is a readthrough killer. If you give kind of happy-ever-afters to all the characters, and end with little sense of threat and a feeling of closure, who’s going to feel compelled to read on?

It doesn’t have to be a cliffhanger, either, although that works. I changed the ending by about 20 words, and suddenly there’s a compulsion to race onward. I feel it. The threat is closer to home than ever. We need to read book 4 to find out how it will play out.

Previously people had asked – will there be a 4th book? If Wren’s in jail now, is that it for him? and I can’t blame them – I had lines like ‘ Wren’s father might be out there, but it was OK, and things would work out’. Not exactly that, of course, but basically that.

I also had a bolted on ‘revelatory’ flashback, but it was a nothing revelation, easily removed. We already had our big revelations, we don’t need a minor added one.

The trick now is to keep carrying this momentum forward. It is super obvious to me now that book 4 opens too gently. The opening line is actually – ‘Wren liked his cell’. Are you kidding me? We need urgency from the start. We need a genuine injustice that threatens Wren to the core. Not too much, not to gross us out or make us uncomfortable, but being content in a black site cell is just silly. So, this plus lots of other changes. Here are some more I dreamed up, to carry the threat forward and spice things up generally:

  • New Make Them Pay opening chapters. Instead of bunch of narrative fill for why Wren is up in Deadhorse, we’ll just show it. Have him tackling another Pinocchio cabal, put a child at direct risk, have Wren mop up those guys and get a clue on his father. Hi-octane, high injustice, high payout on vigilante justice done. Propel the narrative up to Deadhorse.
  • New False Flag opening chapters. Now Wren is desperate to get a message out about his family, under direct threat by the Apex. At the same time, Humphreys is trying to break him via torture. Make this horrible. Put Wren up against an interrogator like Nurse Ratched, trying to crack him. This could even be a great way to intro all the flashbacks. Have Wren defeat the interrogator by turning the tables. Some real stakes. Then we move onto Humphreys and the main story.
  • New Firestorm opening. This one can be Wren bouncing around hunting his father still. Can include the conversation with Gruber that is now delivered via loaded narrative summary. Have him raid somewhere filled with threat. Fill in the gaps – then go see the Ghost as the last resort.
  • New No Mercy ending/tweak? Currently I think the kicker to threat is not there.
  • New Enemy of the People opening. I’m about to refocus fully on getting this book done. It’ll be tricky to have an action opener, and I may dip back into Wren’s back catalog to get there. Maybe even a flashback to his Pyramid days, but propulsive. Then on with the present story.

Having these kicker opener and endings seems super key to readthrough to me. I’m reading the David Baldacci book A Long Road to Mercy, and he has such a killer opening. An FBI agent whose sister was killed be a serial killer as a child, now confronting that killer in a max security prison. Kind of Silence of the Lambs, but more intense because of their history. After that, the story goes super flabby and slow, but that powerful opening holds me still. Imagine if the body story was as powerful as that opening?

That’s the goal. Make Wren utterly addictive. It feels like super hard work. Crafting and crafting. But worth it.

Wren sales down, Facebook ad mystery and W3 rewrites – Writing Wk11 2021

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The past week has been a little disappointing sales-wise, as my Facebook ads are delivering less bang for their buck. Thus far they’re still profitable, though I’m spending more to make less, and that is naturally frustrating. What is causing this?

Facebook ad mystery

It’s a mystery, so I don’t know, but every day I try new ad combinations that are attempts to test the water and figure out some kind of mastery. Here are some disconnected comments:

  • Maybe I have already shown my Wren 1 ad image and copy to all the cheap clicks who are likely to buy, in all the major targetable areas who are likely to buy. Only maybe 1% of any given audience have seen my ads on Facebook, but maybe that 1% are the cheap clicks who buy.
  • This is borne out by data – click costs on my Wren 1 ad are up between 20-30p, a lot more than the 12p of the heyday 3 weeks back.
  • So I try new ad images, to the same audience, using the other book covers. Copy doesn’t matter, I can use the book 1 blurb or book 2 or 3, I’m back to getting very cheap clicks, BUT not the sales of yore…
  • So are each of these new ads just targeting the same 1% batch of cheap clicks who buy? And any of them who would buy have already bought, hence the dwindling returns? I don’t think there’s a way to know this or check if these are the same people across ad sets. Maybe they are.
  • If they are, and that’s why they’re not buying, I should stop running these parallel ads. I’ll probably do that tomorrow. Double down on the old ad and its higher cost per click, in the hope that these are new clicks. My ad spend will drop significantly. I’ll be able to get back in touch with who amongst all these ad sets is actually converting.
  • This then is an argument for stopping making new ad sets. Within an ad set, FB is unlikely to show my ad to the same people too often. Across ad sets, I’m thinking each set considers the whole audience afresh. So by running ads in tandem, I’m really hitting the same people multiple times per day. Perhaps a useless thing to do…
  • Funnily enough, something like this actually happened when I first launched Saint Justice with a different cover. I got good sales for cheap clicks for a week or two – then it just went away. Maybe there is a pretty tight group of big buyers on FB, and you can burn through them in days. Maybe…
  • Then the strategy would be, ride one ad image until it can really no longer perform. Then turn it off and start a new ad image to the same audience. Keep moving to new ad images. You’re sort of inundating the audience, but they’re only going to see one ad in any given period.
  • The alternative to all this is that the big spike I had wasn’t even due to FB, but maybe to Amazon. Perhaps they were giving my books some headwind in that period, sending me out in emails. It’s possible. I might never know it. It would throw off all my data. Hmm.

So, that was a lot. My next step is to prune my ads way back. Find out who is performing by adding them back in one at a time. But maybe ditch the parallel ads regardless.

Wren 3 rewrites – Make Them Pay

I swiftly rewrote this back a few months back, mostly to take out the side stories. Now I’ve been looking at it again, in the light of writing new openers for books 1 and 2 that set a very persona stake for Wren, and finding far more wrong than I ever imagined.

This is backed up by reader reviews. Weirdly it has 4 stars on amazon, not 4.5 like book 2. Also weirdly, this is exactly what happened with my Last Mayor series. Book 3 got 4 stars, book 2 got 4.5 Normally when readers are 3 books in, they love your writing. Not in this case.

For the Last Mayor, I ended up making substantial changes to book 3, which ended up with being very short, maybe 50,000 words. Turns out there wasn’t much story in it. Bizarrely, it’s going the same way here. When I first wrote this book, it was probably 90,000 words. Now it is just 60,000! So what am I changing?

  • There are many occasions where I’ve made Wren unlikeable, sort of didactically. Either he is weak (collapsing, weeping, feeling suicidal, going on about all his guilt/PTSD, pointing out his own mistakes, dwelling on his past failures, being unconscious for long stretches of the action, neglecting his Foundation members), or childish/reckless (laughing manically in major action scenes, getting high, getting peevish about ownership of his Foundation, charging in half-cocked) or cruel/incredibly violent (shooting Rogers and leaving her in a suicide cult, berating the Anti-Ca girl endlessly, being brusque with Gruber, horrifically attacking innocent civilians at Namecheck) or doing something unbelievable (having a team who can hack and mobilize dozens of remote driverless vehicles within hours, getting shot a couple of times and feeling mostly fine), or some equally unpleasant behaviour.
  • That’s really a lot. I’m kind of surprised by it all. Why have I done all this? And it was worse before earlier edits, remember. He was harsher. Just a selfish bastard, really. A violence-spraying psycho, like the editor said, acting holier-than-thou but actually completely out of control.
  • To be out of control, whether it is to whims, circumstances, your own choices, is not why people read these books. They want a cool guy dispensing with bad guys in clever ways with clever bon mots. That’s kind of it. They don’t want to be beaten over the head with a guy spraying violence because of some horrific past he still hasn’t processed.
  • So. All that above has changed. It’s a lot. I rewrote whole chapters so Wren’s competence and decency shine through. He’s not taking drugs, feeling sorry for himself, fighting over silly shit anymore. He’s pumped to hunt his father. It’s personal. He hates injustice. He never calls himself a cult leader.
  • Up until now he was still calling himself that. Ugh.
  • Also there are whole chapters gone, largely due to repetitiveness. Right after he breaks NameCheck, he goes down the street and basically does it again with Iota. Why? It adds in a sort of BLM scene, out of nowhere. It is eminently unnecessary, so I cut it. With Jessica the cult girl, he basically makes her flip allegiance to him 3 times. Once would be enough. Now I have it happening twice, which is maybe OK. This happens often with reference to what’s going on on the Internet. I keep mentioning it. But nothing much has happened since the last time I mentioned it, so…
  • Bad events are not properly processed (suicides at Anti-Ca). Mundane events are dwelled on (the Foundation intervention). Long boring calls are made (most calls to Humphreys).
  • I’m fixing all this. Straightening things out so it’s taut.

I’m almost done. It’ll be 60,000 words – really short. Hopefully it’ll be loved, and readthrough will climb. It makes me wonder though, how much of these problems still exists in books 1 and 2, maybe 4 and 5 also? Why would it be in 3 if it’s not also in 2?

Boy oh boy. I’ll need to look through them all, and carry all the lessons forward to book 6. I need to get writing that soon.

By this time next week

I should have a better understanding of my ads. I imagine a smaller budget, more tightly focused. I should also be done with book 3 rewrites, and take a few stabs at book 2. I feel the middle of it may be bogged down. I’ll try to clean it out.

Wren sales & Facebook ad lessons – Writing Wk9+10 2021

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2 weeks ago I felt like I was teetering on a highwire – sales rising crazily, ads working like never before, selling books like hey were hot cakes. I had no idea if it was a weird blip or a one-off, and feared any single change I might make could mess things up.

Well – that hasn’t happened, though I’ve done a number of things that messed things up, reset the ads and dropped my rank. A torrent of horrible reviews hasn’t rushed in, crushing my star rating, and if anything, people have been saying very nice, positive things.

There was the one review that called the book WOKE TRASH, but really it’s about time I got something like that. Better problems, really. They’re not horrified by the gore, bored by the side stories, confused by the incoherence. It’s the social message that gets them. That’s a problem I’m happier to have.

So, what has been happening these last 2 weeks?

I learned a lot about Facebook ads. In the glory days of 2 weeks ago, I was getting good clicks at 13p. Amazing. That rose after a few days toward 20p, and I tried to stop/offset that in a couple of ways:

  • I started some video ads, served to video feeds. As ever, these achieved nothing while wasting a bunch of money. Lesson learned (again).
  • I swiched my whole performing campaign over to Campaign Budget Optimization. This reset all the algorithms knowledge, and ended up just pushing all my budget to the chepaest, but least converting ad sets I was running.
  • I undid that, then tried making 4 new ads, 1 for each of the other books. These got converting clicks at the old, cheaper levels – but didn’t sell book 1 – rather I sold more copies of book 2. I guess that is good, but it feels a sub-optimal experience. It’s better readers start with book 1. So I turned those ads off.
  • I experimented briefly with narrowing by Engaged Shoppers. This made no discernible difference to conversions, but did halve my audience and potential clicks, so I turned that off.
  • After that, I can’t get the cpc back down to 13p, and am starting to accept that is reality. I’m targeting some big audiences, millions in them, but what % of those millions are 13p clicks? Maybe not many. With big ticket advertisers on FB, I’d guess clicks can cost up in the high dollars range. So that is reality.
  • As a result, I’m going to raise my bid caps. One thing I’ve learned about bid caps, is they are not in any way a control or an incentive to FB. If I say, don’t bid above 23p a click, that doesn’t really push the algorithm to get me cheaper clicks. It’s already trying to get me cheaper clicks. It’ll just throttle the ad if there are no cheap clicks available anymore.
  • When that throttling happens, the ad set become Bid Limited or worse, Learning Limited, and it needs to be re-started so it can do the Learning Phase again. That’s all wasted Learning time, not optimized. So my aim now is to have looser Bid Caps, and manage things with the overall budget. That has to be managed gradually, to avoid going back into the Learning Phase.
  • I’ve also learned about hard caps on daily spend per audience. If I have a lot of ads serving to the same audience, they’re all in competition with each other. There’s overlap and it’ll cost me. Some audiences can only sustain a certain amount of daily spend – they just can’t be ramped up higher and stay profitable. I’m looking at my revenue per click, and it’s somewhere around 40c per click. So I can afford anything up to 40c bids before I start losing money – as long as that conversion holds. Somewhere between here and there will be a profit sweet spot – I need to figure that out.
  • Currently I’m running mostly ads to book 1 and a couple to book 2, hoping to get cheap book 2 clicks while book 1 maintains a workhorse-like stance.

So all that has kept me busy. I have also been rewriting some. In these last 2 weeks I wrote a whole new opening for book 2, which starts Wren off in Minsk attacking a dark Internet server farm. I think it’s pretty cool. The last few days I’ve been speeding up the book 3 opening, and trying to come up with a new way to frame the income inequality core issue.

  • Essentially, I was worried about the current Handel Quanse arena stuff because a- it’s grotesque and b- would that really kick off mass rage against rich people? I tossed and turned with this question for a day and a night, and now I’ve come to an answer. It’s fine. It works if I frame it correctly. People are already angry and afraid. This is a catalyst. It’s good.
  • This doesn’t resolve other issues. The way Wren gets access to the social media companies is brutal, and I can soften it. Also what he does to coerce the CEO is very tough. Maybe I can make it less so.
  • His raid on Anti-Ca is also harsh. I already softened this, but maybe can make it feel more righteous. I’m always putting Wren against soft targets, when they should be hard.
  • His reaction to Yumiko burning alive is way overboard. With this new, ready-made tougher Wren, I can undo much of that. I think readers probably found that way too emotional. It may be a big part of the reason book 3 has a lower review score than book 2. Crazy, but true.

So my plan for March is to finish reworking books 3 and 2, take a look at 4 and 5 if there’s time (mostly just to remove the side stories, which will make them match the others in the series), then I really need to focus on book 6. The launch date is July, so I’ll have 3 months. I want to hit that date, so we’ll see.

Not much else going on. We’re still locked down, though the country is gradually loosening up. Work keeps me pretty occupied. Main goal is get that readthrough up, and optimize the max number of clicks per day to get the max profit. Also – keep trying to crack Amazon ads!